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David Oyelowo portrays Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, director Ava DuVernay’s stunning depiction of the civil rights march from Selma, Ala., in 1965.

In an attempt to gain equal voting rights, Martin Luther King, Jr. organized the march despite violent opposition from citizens and law enforcement officers. The film covers everything from MLK’s dealings with President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to the bewildering, despicable actions of Alabama Gov. George Wallace (an evil Tim Roth). Oyelowo delivers a star-making performance as King, while Carmen Ejogo excels in the role of Coretta Scott King for a second time. (She played the role in the 2001 TV movie Boycott.) Wilkinson and Roth, both British, do well with their accents and create memorable characterizations.

This is one of those films everybody should see, and it should become mandatory viewing in schools. It’s a true accomplishment.

Selma opens Thursday, Jan. 8, at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430) and the UltraStar Mary Pickford Stadium 14 (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100).

Published in Reviews

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

The film Selma is one of the most acclaimed movies heading into awards season. It’s nominated for four Golden Globes, including Best Drama, even though it doesn’t open in wide release until Jan. 9.

A week before that opening date, the film was the star attraction as the official opening night screening of the 26th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival, at Palm Springs High School, on Friday, Jan. 2.

On the unusually crowded red carpet, director Ava DuVernay and two of the film’s actors, David Oyelowo and Common, graciously posed for photographers and spoke with news crews and reporters about the controversy stirred by the powerful film.

“We couldn’t have prepared for this. I’m just thankful that we made a truthful enough film that it is meeting this moment in a real and potent way,” said Oyelowo, who portrays Martin Luther King Jr. in the film, referring to current tension happening after the deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement officers in Ferguson, Mo., and many other areas across the nation.

“Seven years ago when I first read this script, I felt God tell me that I was going to play this role,” Oyelowo continued. “There were very frustrating moments along the road where the film just wouldn’t get made, so to look at this divine timing of it coming out now, for me, I don’t think it’s an accident at all. I just feel very honored and humbled to be at the center of it.”

Scroll down to see some photos from the red carpet.

Published in Snapshot