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Academy Award nominations will be announced on Thursday, Jan. 15.

But who cares about those? You should only care about what I, your trusted Independent film reviewer, thinks. Right?

Here’s my list of the Top 10 films of 2014.

1. Birdman: In a year of many incredible directorial feats, the top honor goes to Alejandro González Iñárritu. By making his film about a washed-up actor (Michael Keaton) look like one continuous shot, he pulled off a technical miracle.

He didn’t stop with visual wonder, because his film is hilarious and emotionally impactful, and stacked with amazing talent, including Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis. After much debate, inner turmoil and anxiety-ridden sleepless nights, I am deeming this the year’s best film. It wasn’t an easy call; any of the next three films could have taken the title, too.

2. Whiplash: Miles Teller, amazing in The Spectacular Now, put himself through the wringer for this one—and that wringer is named J.K. Simmons. Simmons, as the meanest, most bad-ass music teacher to ever occupy a film, is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. Strangely, Teller isn’t getting the same buzz. He goes toe-to-toe with Simmons, and he does his own drumming, which is phenomenal.

3. Boyhood: This is an amazingly cohesive movie for something that was filmed a little bit at a time over the last 13 years. The film looks as if it was filmed all at once; the performances are consistent and strong; the story is powerful. Director Richard Linklater’s very best movie.

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson has one of the most impressive streaks going in Hollywood. Over the past 18 years, he has made eight features, all of them either very good or excellent. This one, in which Ralph Fiennes plays an oddball concierge, ranks among his best.

5. Selma: David Oyelowo portrays Martin Luther King Jr. in director Ava DuVernay’s stunning depiction of the civil rights march from Selma, Ala. If you weren’t fortunate enough to see the film during the opening-night screening at the Palm Springs International Film Festival (which featured the presence of Oyelowo and DuVernay), never fear: It opens in wide release later this week.

6. Frank: Michael Fassbender wears a huge mask for the majority of this film; this is a movie that delves into the eccentricities of being in a band trying to create meaningful music. It’s a funny, overlooked gem.

7. Edge of Tomorrow: Tom Cruise dies thousands of times in Doug Liman’s crazy, hilarious and ingenious take on the alien-invasion genre. It’s surprising that more people didn’t see this. Even Cruise haters could take pleasure in seeing him die in so many ways.

8. Foxcatcher: Steve Carell disappears into the role of John du Pont, the crazy rich guy who took it upon himself to shoot and kill one of the wrestlers on a team he created. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are heartbreakingly good as the Schultz brothers, two Olympic gold medal-winning siblings who, unfortunately, worked for du Pont when he had his breakdown.

9. Interstellar: This was a great year for science fiction, and Christopher Nolan’s take on space travel is grand moviemaking. It’s a film that dares to go everywhere. Also, it has the year’s best piece of late-in-the-movie casting.

10. Under the Skin: Another great science fiction movie. This is the year’s trippiest film. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien that is wearing human skin, driving around Scotland and picking up guys. (In actuality, many of the real men she encountered had no idea who she was.) It’s an interesting way to cast a film—and the results are surreal.

Published in Previews and Features

Here’s my list of some of the better DVD/Blu-Ray gift options for 2014.

A warning: If you give one of these as a gift, and the person who gets it has actually read this article, he or she will know you cheated and aren’t at all original in your gift giving. But that’s OK … we all have our shortcomings.

The prices listed here are from as of the time of this writing (and for some reason, prices change ALL THE TIME, so consider yourself warned).


Guardians of the Galaxy (Blu-ray) $19.99: One of the year’s better blockbusters is out on Blu-ray just in time for stocking-stuffing. Giving this one also provides a nice excuse for you to make somebody a mix tape.

Godzilla (Blu-ray) $14.99: At the beginning of the year, I said this was the film I most anxiously anticipated, and that if it were a bad movie, I would spiral into severe depression. As things turned out, I enjoyed it immensely, and I have a distinct spring in my step. The Blu-ray is cool, with some fun mock documentary stuff about Godzilla and behind-the-scenes items.

Edge of Tomorrow (Blu-Ray) $24.99: This was a blockbuster wannabe that fell a little flat at the box office. Tom Cruise’s character gets caught in a death loop and must die thousands of times—and the film is amazing. Give this one to that science-fiction-loving person who refused to plunk down the dough at the IMAX theater. They will love it, for sure.


Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery (Blu-ray) $83.81: Far and away, this is the best Blu-ray of the year. If somebody you know loves Peaks, get them this. When they open it, just throw your hands up like you scored a touchdown and start dancing.

One of the greatest TV shows ever made gets a spectacular treatment, full of archived features. You also get Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and the movie’s long-rumored deleted scenes. Yes, the movie would’ve been a little more fun had director David Lynch kept some of these in.

The show is coming back for season three in 2016, so this works as a nice primer for more things to come.

Family Ties: The Complete Series (DVD) $55.29: Alas, this classic series will probably never have a date with Blu-ray, meaning you will never see Justine Bateman’s Mallory Keaton in HD glory.

Batman: The Complete Series (Blu-ray) $174.96: Adam West and Burt Ward finally get their due on Blu-ray. I would suggest boycotting this, because the two fools skipped out on Reno Comic Con this year, but that would be unprofessional. If you feel like springing for another $400, get them the cool collectible dolls available over at There are some people on your list worth $700, right?

Fargo: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray): $29.96: I had my doubts about this one, but the Coen brothers movie’s TV-show offshoot, which stars Billy Bob Thornton, proved to be a worthwhile endeavor. The Blu-ray comes with audio commentaries, deleted scenes and making-of docs.


UHF (Blu-ray) $18.38: Shout Factory has grown into one of the cooler purveyors of cult-cinema home-viewing. “Weird Al” Yankovic’s one and only foray into being a movie headliner was great satire in its day, and it’s still funny. Michael Richards kicked ass as Stanley the Janitor, and the “We don’t need no stinkin’ badgers!” moment still kills me. You get a Weird Al commentary, his 2014 Comic Con panel, deleted scenes and more.

Eraserhead (Blu-ray) $26.49: What can bring on the holiday cheer quicker than an embalmed cow fetus crying for its mommy? Nothing whatsoever, I say! Gift this one along with the aforementioned Twin Peaks box set to give that special someone a joyous David Lynch geekgasm. It’s a Criterion Collection release, so that means it costs a little more than the average Blu-ray—but it’s totally worth it.

Snowpiercer (Blu-ray) $9.99: This came out this year, and it’s an instant cult classic. Yes, it’s an apocalypse film, but there’s lots of snow in it, so that qualifies it as a holiday movie, sort of. Even though this one is about the survival of the planet and contains some gross stuff, it’s no scarier than that freaking creepy The Polar Express animated movie.

Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go (Blu-ray) $18.74: The alleged last Python show ever was a little sloppy, but everybody still alive in the troupe is like 139 years old now, so we’ll cut them some slack. The five remaining Pythons were fun during this stretch of live performances in London, with big musical numbers and a surprisingly nimble Terry Gilliam, who jumped 10 feet off the ground during the Spanish Inquisition sketch.

Frank (Blu-ray) $12.99: Here’s another movie from 2014 that next to nobody saw, although it’s already garnered that instant-cult-classic badge. Michael Fassbender wears a big mask on his head the whole time, and the result is one of the year’s funniest movies. Give this to the music-lover who idolizes Syd Barrett.


Blended (Blu-ray) $22.99: Remember when we used to gather ’round the TV in the living room around holiday time, ready for a good laugh? We’d have the fireplace going, and we’d pop in the latest Adam Sandler flick for chuckles. We’d roast candy canes, and smoke marshmallows, safe in the knowledge that Sandler would provide a couple of good gut-busters. Those days are so gone. Long gone. This movie is a crime against movies, people, dogs and various insects. Give it to somebody you can’t stand, and then run out of the house as soon as they unwrap it.


Halloween: The Complete Collection (Blu-ray) $79.99: Hey, I’m not shy. This is probably my only chance to let folks know what I really want under the Christmas tree (over at their place, because I don’t have a Christmas tree). This puppy comes with all of the Halloween movies—even the ones Rob Zombie did—and a big load of extras. So … now you know. Would somebody buy this for me, please?

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Director Lenny Abrahamson has made a profound yet silly film about the soul-sucking madness that can come from the creation of art—as well as the perils of pursuing celebrity.

In Frank, Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson) clumsily tries to write music while living with his mom and dad in England. His attempts are pathetic—and he knows it. Jon happens upon a strange band, the Soronprfbs (yes, it’s impossible to pronounce), while their keyboardist is attempting to drown himself in the ocean. The band is fronted by Frank (Michael Fassbender), a possible musical genius who insists upon wearing a large mask with big bug eyes. He wears it all the time, whether he’s in public, performing or sleeping.

The character is based a bit upon Frank Sidebottom, the singing alter ego of the late British comedian Chris Sievey, who wore a mask similar to the one Fassbender wears in the film. Jon Ronson, a former member of Sidebottom’s band, co-wrote the script.

As terrific as Fassbender is, it is Gleeson (Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter movies) who commands most of the movie. Watching the previously grounded Jon nearly go insane is one of the film’s many pleasures. When Frank sings “I Love You All” in the final scene, he’s managed to create his most “likable” and accessible song yet—and it’s the catchy byproduct of madness, despair and the artistic birthing process.

Frank is now playing at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews