A breathtaking, harrowing, and visceral (3D) experience like never before. Director/co-writer Alfonso Cuaron, co-writer (and son) Jonas Cuaron, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki immerse moviegoers into the beautiful and mysterious atmosphere of space and never let go. Sandra Bullock is a tour-de-force as an astronaut in a universal story of adversities, life, death, and rebirth.
Disney Animation has reached another significant and unexpected milestone—perhaps a first since The Lion King. A fairy tale that is grounded in reality. Oh, sure, it’s still an adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson classic "The Snow Queen" as well as a musical. (It even takes it's visual cues from the 1950s artwork of Disney veteran Mary Blair.) But its characters (particularly sisters Anna and Elsa) wrestle with and experience the reality of relationships, family, and overcoming fear. Furthermore, it’s not so much romantic love as familial love that’s center stage here.
Suzanne Collins’ bestselling dystopian novels for young adults improve in this adaptation of the second book in her series, as heroine Katniss Everdeen (an engrossing Jennifer Lawrence) returns to her home district in Panem after her and teammate Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) survive the dreaded "Hunger Games" competition. But they get way more than they bargained for when they're forced to be representatives every year and eventually forced back into the arena after a series of rebellious acts against the equally dreaded Capitol and its leader President Snow (Donald Sutherland). A thoroughly compelling, haunting, and engrossing story that forces viewers to consider what should be and what shouldn't be deemed as "entertainment," and how one act (and/or person) can spark a revolution. "Remember who the real enemy is."
WRITER'S NOTE: The above song is just one of many on this film's soundtrack, one of the best I've heard in a long while.
Tom Hanks made an impressive comeback this year in two films, including this intense true story of the 2009 hijacking of the American MV Maersk Alabama cargo ship by Somali pirates. Shot with gritty realism and direction by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum), this film challenges audiences with themes of opportunity (including misguided views) and the costs of desperation when it goes the wrong way as well as too far.
Film legend Robert Redford owns the screen (superbly, as well as literally) in a simple yet subtly-complex story of a lone sailor who is lost at sea. Echoing elements of Cast Away and possibly Life of Pi, J.C. Chandor’s direction, along with Redford’s presence and expertise, make this a unique film experience.
The Walking Dead and World War Z weren’t the only respective small-screen and big-screen outings that featured a zombie apocalypse this year. This adaptation of Isaac Marion's novel, written for the screen and directed by Jonathan Levine (50/50), takes a unique and quirky spin on the genre with a love story. Headed by performances from Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer, there's a sense of hope and meaning in this film's bleak world compared to other films in the aforementioned genre.
The story of Mary Poppins’ journey from book to the big screen is recounted in this worthy drama as author P.L. Travers (a brilliant Emma Thompson) struggles through the adaptation process, and as Mr. Disney himself (a wonderful Tom Hanks) constantly tries to win her over. Not so much a behind-the-scenes account as a character study of Travers and her own childhood and family. Directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), and featuring a bittersweet score by Thomas Newman (Finding Nemo).
Illumination Entertainment returns with a sequel to its 2010 predecessor that is not only funnier and full of more Minion mayhem (although that’s an obvious given), but improves in its story as Gru and his three adoptive girls long for a significant other, all while Gru is recruited as a spy, with a fellow secret agent, to track down a villain at large. Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” has become a worldwide anthem.
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