The Part-Time Critic

Monday, November 28, 2022

Favorite Music Guide: Top 50 Country Songs of All-Time

8:31 PM 0
Favorite Music Guide: Top 50 Country Songs of All-Time

*Last Updated: 11/28/2022  

Songwriter coined the phrase, "Three Chords and the Truth" to summarize the best of what country music could be. Many years ago now I put out a Top 100 Songs list and while I was happy with how it generally turned out, I always felt there was more work I could do the field of music. Long story short, I thought it might be nice to take a magnifying glass to various music genres and start building new lists. The past few weeks I turned my limited time to the Country music genre and published lots of little sub-lists on my social media accounts. The fruit of that work I am sharing with you here. A few notes about my list before we get into it.

I didn't really get into "music" until my family moved from an Air Force base in Japan to the states in the early 1990's. I would say I really became a fan of country music around 1994 and it lasted until 2004 or so. I was a mostly a fan of Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, and Kenny Chesney back then and that era of country will definitely have a large bias on this list.

*At the George Strait Country Music Festival with a friend

 However, my tastes have expanded over the last couple decades to encompass more eras and artists than what I grew up with. Still, most country purists will take issue at the lack of names like Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, and others of their like. To be honest, I just don't connect with that style of music, though a couple of their peers have made it on my list. My mindset in making this list was to try and be as diverse as possible - including as much of the full range of country music sound as I enjoy.

The list here will begin with songs 50-11 alphabetically ordered by artist. It will then segue into something like a top ten where I will share my individual commentary on each song. As always, this list is just my personal tastes, I'm no expert on the subject. Think of it as an invitation to enjoy the songs I have found highly impactful and enjoyable in my life. Feel free to share your thoughts.


Songs #50 to 11
(Alphabetical Order)
*No Fences (1990) by Garth Brooks

- “Song of the South” -Alabama (1989)
- “I’ll Take Today” -Gary Allan (1998)
- “Red River Valley” -Suzy Boggus (2011)
- “The Dance” -Garth Brooks (1989)
- “I’m Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” -Garth Brooks (1989)
- “Wolves” -Garth Brooks (1990)
- “She’s Not the Cheating Kind” (1994) / “That Ain’t No Way to Go” (1993) -Brooks & Dunn
- “Neon Moon” -Brooks & Dunn (1991)
- “The Stones in the Road” -Mary Chapin Carpenter (1994)
- “A Boy Named Sue” (1969) / “One Piece at a Time” (1976) -Johnny Cash
- “Crazy” -Patsy Cline (1961)
- “In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company” -The Dead South (2014)
- “Go Rest High on That Mountain” -Vince Gill (1994)
- “Remember When” -Alan Jackson (2003)
- “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)” -The Judds (1985)
- “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” -Toby Keith (1993)
- “Meant to Be” -Sammy Kershaw (1996)
- “Need You Now” -Lady Antebellum (2010)

*Everywhere (1997) by Tim McGraw

- “The House that Built Me” -Miranda Lambert (2009)
- “I See it Now” -Tracy Lawrence (1994)
- “Dance the Night Away” -The Mavericks (1998)
- “Blank Sheet of Paper” -Tim McGraw (2004)
- “Where the Green Grass Grows” -Tim McGraw (1997)
- “Heads Carolina, Tails California” -Jo Dee Messina (1996)
- “The Little Girl” -John Michael Montgomery (2000)
- “You Don’t Care Enough For Me to Cry” -John Moreland (2015)
- “Fishin’ in the Dark” -Nitty Gritty Band (1987)
- “Whiskey Lullaby” -Braid Paisley featuring Alison Krauss (2003)
- “Jolene” -Dolly Parton (1974)
- “Love, Me” -Collin Raye (1991)
- “El Paso” -Marty Robbins (1959)
- “I Let Her Lie” -Daryle Singletary (1995)
- “Tennessee Whiskey” -Chris Stapleton (2015)
- “Fool Hearted Memory” -George Strait (1982)
- “Don’t Think Twice” -Billy Strings (2020)
- “I Told You So” -Randy Travis (1987)
- “Before He Cheats” -Carrie Underwood (2005)
- “The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie” -Colter Wall (2015)
- “Don’t Close Your Eyes” -Keith Whitley (1988)
- "I'll Think of a Reason Later" -Lee Ann Womack (1998)

Top Ten Songs
(Alphabetical Order)

10. The Ultimate Fiddle Folk Song
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” -The Charlie Daniels Band (1979) 
- Commentary: This song is now well over forty years old but continues to feel fresh. I think this is because of the primary role that the instruments take here. The fiddle gets the spotlight, but the acoustic and electric guitar backing sounds pretty great too. There have been a ton of imitators who try to capture the same magic of this song, but nothing has ever really come close since. The voice of Charlie Daniel's is perfect for the folk story, no real singing necessary here. As soon as this song begins it just kind of sucks you into its tornado of sound and story, one that surprisingly and thankfully, comes in at just three and a half minutes. It's a fun ride.


9. The Classic 90's Country Song
“Passionate Kisses” -Mary Chapin Carpenter (1993)
- Commentary: As I was putting together my list of sub-categories within the country genre, I made the realization that there was a particular style of song in the 1990's that I responded to over and over again. I don't know another name for it other than calling it "THAT 90's COUNTRY SONG". I'm not musically inclined enough to describe it as it deserves, but here are some of the hallmarks: it has a medium speed guitar strum, an easy hook, simple but driving drums, a mellow tone, and its easy to sing along with due to its easy melodies and karaoke qualities. Other songs that would qualify under this category would be ones like (in alphabetical order): “Every Once in a While” by Blackhawk, “Lost & Found” by Brooks & Dunn, “Better Man” by Clint Black, "This is Me Missing You” by James House, “Amy’s Back in Austin” by Little Texas, “I Just Wanted You to Know” by Mark Chesnutt, “That Ain’t My Truck” by Rhett Akins, “Running Out of Reasons to Run” & "Learning As You Go" by Rick Trevino, “Some Girls Do” by Sawyer Brown, and "Living in a Moment” by Ty Herndon. 

To my mind, Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Passionate Kisses" is the pinnacle of this kind of song. I love the quiet piano intro followed by the drums and then we segue into that classic sound of the driving guitar, backing drum, easy melodies, and karaoke hooks. I think it helps that the lyrics aren't just about another relationship on the rocks, but hit a nice creative note with the female character reflecting upon what is and maybe isn't appropriate to expect from a partner in a relationship. The lyrics actually qualify it for one of my favorite little sub-categories of country music that are about women gritting through life, working several jobs and trying to find love/relationship. Shoutout to Reba McEntire's "Is There Life Out There" for being a great entry into that sub-category as well. Anyways, Carpenter's voice here is commanding and enjoyable. When she laments/cries out in the third verse "It's my right! Shouldn't I have this!" she is emotive and yet still pleasing to listen to. I think it's a tough balance to pull off in such an easy listening song. This one is so easy to listen to, so easy to enjoy, and so easy to sing with. I love it.


8. The Ultimate Story-Telling Song
“Almost Home” -Craig Morgan (2002) & "She Was" -Mark Chesnutt (2002)
- Commentary: Country music incorporates diverse stories into its songs better than any other musical genre I enjoy. The stereotype is that country music stories are about three things - cheating, trucks, and dogs (okay at least two of those are the subjects of songs on this list) - but it's much broader than that. I think the two best examples of country story-telling songs are "Almost Home" by Craig Morgan and "She Was" by Mark Chesnutt. "Almost Home" is a unique story in that it's about finding a homeless man on the side of the street who looks to be upon his deathbed. When the homeless man is awakened by a troubled passer-by he describes the idyllic dream he was having. The dream was of a day in his childhood, out messing about in the woods, and making his way home. There are two keys to the impact of the song. The first one is the incredible word choice to paint the scene, it instantly transports you to a very specific moment - even if your own childhood was different. The other key to the impact, is the contrast between the man's idyllic dream and the current reality he finds himself in, near death on the side the of the road. You can find both keys present in this part of the song, "I was close enough for my own nose to smell fresh cobbler on the stove, and I saw daddy loadin' up the truck. Cane poles on the tailgate, bobbers blowin' in the wind, since July of '55, that's as close as I've been." The story, which can be dismissed as simplistic and sentimental, actually deftly handles three emotions: the glorious nature of childhood summer days, the regrets we make that lead our lives astray, and how we deal with the knowledge that we are on our deathbed. I almost never hear the song without stopping and reflecting.

Mark Chesnutt's "She Was" is a more straightforward love story that spans a couple of generations. I know, it's a sentimental weeper, but my goodness, I just love it. I'm generally a sucker for a chorus that continues the same basic lyrics but has them change meaning depending on the verses (see also: "Don't Take the Girl" by Tim McGraw). I don't think a country song does this better and more surprising than the twists and turns in the story of "She Was." Additionally, like Alan Jackson, there's a nice country baritone sound to Chesnutt's voice here as he weaves emotion into the lyrics. Two songs that tell deep and moving stories within just a few minutes of listening time. 


7. The Ultimate Break-Up Song
“You Don't Even Know Who I Am” -Patty Loveless (1995)
- Commentary: Break-up and cheating songs comprise an unusually large percentage of the genre. Often they are just the same boring song over and over, but the genre has produced some insightful ones as well. Patty Loveless' "You Don't Even know Who I Am" begins as you would expect most break-up songs to, "You don't even know who I am, You left me a long time ago, You don't even know who I am, So what do you care if I go." Patty's voice is on-point and the first verse elevate this break-up song, but at this point, it's just a high quality entry. The second verse kicks in and we get a real unexpected turn, "So he said I've been doin some thinkin, I've been thinkin that maybe you're right, I go to work every morning, And I come home to you every night," and the chorus of "and you don't even know who I am" is repeated. Most breakup songs zero in on the emotions so well - the pain and the heartbreak of a failed relationship. This one though, has an intelligence to it that provides insight and a surprise twist that sets it apart from the usual strong fare country provides. This isn't a relationship broken by cheating or where one person is a saint and the other is a scoundrel. This song dares to blame both sides for the broken relationship, both sides for not contributing to a healthy love. One could never know for sure, but my guess is that most broken relationships come closer to being a "two sides" issue than just one. This one is in a class by itself.

6. The Ultimate Cowboy/Rodeo Song
“Amarillo by Morning” - George Strait (1983)
- Commentary: The story here is simple - there's a man who loves rodeo riding so much that he's willing to give up his time, his body, and his girlfriend for it. In fact, in giving himself so much over to it, he says he is a free man. I'm not over the moon about the story here, it's more of an interesting description of a life I'll never understand than a prescription for a life we all should have. What makes this song so great is the vibe. The simple guitar strum and the instantly recognizable fiddle kicks off the song and George's simple and smooth voice mixes so perfectly with this. It's such an easy going vibe that you just want to kick back, listen, and sing-along. I'd throw Garth Brook's "I'm Just to Young (To Feel This Damn Old)" and Strait's own "Fool-Hearted Memory" as songs with a similar vibe. They are just country songs that you could play and sing over and over. Wish I could express this one better than just "it sounds so good" but hey, that's what I got!

5. The Ultimate Country Love Ditty
“Forever and Ever, Amen” (1987)  AND "Deeper Than the Holler" -Randy Travis (1988)
- Commentary: Country music has a genre I call "ditty's". I'm pretty sure no one else would admit to this category and someone more musically inclined could tell me a better way to categorize it, but a ditty to me has a particular simple beat/rhythm and is very light on accompaniment, with the vocals taking center stage. To my mind, Randy Travis put out a two of the best little love ditty's in the country genre in back to back years. These aren't great love ballads that require string orchestra's or tear inducing stories of love's greatest sacrifices, these are simple little countrified folk songs with a nice beat (how's that for a category explanation?). I love how these ode's to a committed love find their expressions in distinctly southern terms,
"As long as old men sit and talk about the weather, As long as old women sit and talk about old men" and "My love is deeper than the holler, Stronger than the river, 
Higher than the pine trees growin' tall upon the hill, My love is purer than the snowflakes, That fall in late December, And honest as a Robin on a springtime window sill, And longer than the song of a whippoorwill." Randy's baritone lend a gravitas to these ditty's that might seem a little gimmicky if not for his serious take on them. Play this song on a guitar, start slapping the side of your thighs, and these two songs are ones that any two lovers would connect with.


4. The Ultimate Country Karaoke Song
- Commentary: A strange thing happened during an American football game taking place over in Munich, Germany recently, the fans in the stadium started singing, "Take Me Home Country Roads". A little less strange is that the a few years ago we had a Senior class in the high school I teach at adopt it as their kind of theme song. When we were closing out their Senior prom, what song did they want to end on? Yep, "Take Me Home Country Roads". Is it because a popular student was from West Virginia or because it was a tik tok trend? Nope, they just loved the song. More importantly, they loved singing it together. "Take Me Home Country Roads" started out a rural folk country song that was an ode to the wonder of country roads (West Virginia was really a fill-in for the songwriter who had never really been there before) in rural areas and has become an international folk song beloved by millions. The songwriters might have named West Virginia specifically, but their description of the countryside and the enchanting experience of driving rural roads is a kind of universal experience for anyone who has ventured beyond the city: "Life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze." This song has stood the test of time and ventured its way into the hearts of the world. It paints a beautiful picture, draws you into its experience, and is nearly impossible not to sing along to when a crowd is belting it out.


3. The Ultimate Country Ditty Song
- Commentary: I earlier described Randy Travis' two love song "ditties" earlier on this list as, "simple little countrified folk songs with a nice beat." This category recognizes Alan Jackson's knack to create perfect toe-tapping country ditties that tell heart-warming stories about family, love, and life's adventures. There's a whole well of similar songs one could draw on from Jackson's catalog here ("Livin' on Love" and "Gone Country" are fun entries), but I think "Drive (for Daddy Gene)" and "Chasin' that Neon Rainbow" are country perfection. If you forced me to choose, I'd probably pick "Drive" as the more layered song. I'll comment on "Drive" here, but nearly all the commentary applies to "Chasin' that Neon Rainbow" as well. On the surface, the song feels like a bit of a throwaway record. It's not too long, it doesn't break any new ground musically, and it the lyrics aren't typical country topics. However, if you look closer, I think it's got almost everything that makes country music great. It's a simple but catchy acoustic guitar song backed by a simple but driving drum beat and with accented by slide guitars. Jackson's easy country twanged baritone voice lends gravitas to the simple human story of parents, kids, and learning to drive. It combines three great emotions we can all relate with - the joy of driving, the joy of learning from your father, and the joy of teaching your kids. The lyrics aren't ground-breaking but they tell that story with such memorable color, "And I would turn her sharp, and I would make it whine, He'd say, You can't beat the way an old wood boat rides" that you can imagine the story in your head. By the time hits the final verse and Jackson is teaching his daughter to drive, the colorful scene setting and emotion come together perfectly, "It was just an old worn out jeep, rusty old floor boards, hot on my feet, a young girl, two hands on the wheel, I can't replace the way it, made me feel." Simple, human, catchy, a blast to sing. These two songs are country ditty perfection.


2. The Ultimate Country Love Ballad
- Commentary: Keith Whitley's version in the late 1980's was really good. Alison Krauss's version is an absolute stunner. It may not be surprising that the same writer (Paul Overstreet) was behind both this song and the Randy Travis love ditty "Deeper than the Holler." Each are simple guitar songs with folksy but instantly memorable lyrics. Comparing this song to a popular one missing from my list might help you understand why I think this one is so good. Willie Nelson wrote and sang the bittersweet love song "Always On My Mind" (and it was covered by many artists with great success as well). In that song, the lover recounts the many ways he lacked action in his love (I wasn't around, didn't speak loving words, etc) but he hopes it's some consolation that his beloved was always on his mind. Eh, that doesn't do much for me. You see, being "on my mind" is the cheapest and easiest form of love. I get the mood of the song, but it has always rung hollow to me. It's like what the biblical author James writes about a life of faith, "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no needs?" (James 2:14). The point here being that it's all well and good to "say" something, but your deeds are the true fruit of that faith. This is why I love "When You Say Nothing At All" - it's like James' argument come to life. In this case, the song talks about how the lover's actions toward the beloved speak even when he remains silent - "The smile on your face...the truth in your eyes...the touch of your hands..." Wrap this beautiful sentiment in Allison Krauss' angelic voice without any unneeded angst, cheese, or  gimmicks and you have what I think is the best country ballad of all-time.


1. The Ultimate Country Song
“Hurt” -Johnny Cash (2002)
- Commentary: I think this is one of the greatest songs and music videos of all time. I will spare you the background on the song's origin and how Cash came to cover it, I feel it has been told a million times by now. If you are unfamiliar then give the song's Wikipedia entry a quick read over. The rest of this commentary will assume you are familiar with the song, it's story, and seen the music video. 

Ever since I was a young boy I have been drawn to cynical views of life. When people would toss out simple proverbs like, "The early bird gets the worm!" all I could ever think about were the counter examples of those who showed up early and never got an advantage. It's only later in life that I realized the Scriptures understood the tension in their wisdom literature as well. The entire book of Proverbs is stacked with basic "rule of thumb" proverbs that are often true about life, but are also not true. The book of Ecclesiastes is like a counter-punch to anyone who puts their entire trust into simple A+B+C proverbs. It comforted me to read that God was acknowledging, through the writer of Ecclesiastes, some of my most cynical thoughts about life: we are all going to let each other down, life's pleasures are often very unfulfilling, storing up treasure on earth is worthless, and we are all going to die. These are powerful and sobering truths about our broken hearts in a broken world.

In "Hurt" the "three chords and the truth" aspect of country music moves from individual moments of life (falling in love, teaching your daughter to drive, driving country roads) to regretful reflection on a life full of brokenness. Every insight I found powerful in the book of Ecclesiastes is represented here filtered form the pen of Trent Reznor and through the haunting and vulnerable vocals of Johnny Cash. 

- "What have I become?"
- "Everyone I know goes away in the end"
- "My empire of dirt"
- "I will let you down, I will make you hurt"
- "Upon my liar's chair"
- "Full of broken thoughts, I cannot repair"
- "Beneath the stains of time, the feelings disappear"
- "You are someone else, I am still right here"

It's heart-breaking stuff. It's wisdom coming to us from a life lived. Guys, all of the stuff country music most often is about - gaining love, losing love, working hard, having fun, family, pickup trucks, dogs, beer, etc - mean nothing in the end unless we keep who we were made to be. The final line of the song hopefully talks about redemption, "If I could start again, a million miles away, I would keep myself, I would find a way." In other words, all of those things in life are not the reason for living - they are an empire of dirt. If he could do it all over, he'd find a way to keep himself. One cannot help but here the phrase from Christ echoing here, "What profit a man if he gain the world and lose his soul?" This is why I think this is the ultimate country song - the ultimate "three chords and the truth" - because it is ultimately a gospel song about our brokenness and our need for redemption. I think that's why so many find such power in the song as well.

What is the final word from Ecclesiastes then? In light of our brokenness and our inability to control our lives, we must humble ourselves, fear and love the Lord, obey his commands, and enjoy the life we have. The only way to do this, as the New Testament reveals and proclaims, is through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. If that's something you'd like to know more about, then email me at kyleleaman@gmail.com and we'll chat together about it. 

Thanks for reading, hopefully I've shared something helpful here. Let me know your thoughts.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Part-Time Review: Jurassic World Dominion (2022)

10:48 PM 0
Part-Time Review: Jurassic World Dominion (2022)


OVERALL GRADE: D+  

I thought that 2018's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was a terrible movie, but felt it at least ended with a hopeful promise that the eventual follow-up would plow some new ground for the franchise: dinosaurs have now broken out and now threaten the entire world. We got that follow-up in 2022 and I was absolutely wrong to feel hopeful. Jurassic World Dominion is an overstuffed and disjointed Frankenstein of a blockbuster action picture that flaunts its creativity crisis like a badge of honor - reiteration plus imitation without innovation. Asking if Fallen Kingdom or Dominion is the worst film in the Jurassic Park franchise is like asking if its better for a boss to ask you to come into work on a Saturday or Sunday - both are disgusting but the severity will vary by taste.

The most obvious and glaring problem here is in the creative process. The entire film plays out like a mish mash of a million story ideas with a ramshackle plot thrown around it (held together by massive coincidences). I count no less than TEN (!!) basic story ideas/themes here: dinosaurs now roam the world, people smuggle them and use them for their own bad purposes, the inevitable extinction of mankind, Biosyn designed locusts to control the food supply, Biosyn has made a dinosaur preserve, a cloned girl holds the key to genetic engineering (with BD Wong somehow at the middle of it all), the need to save Blue the velociraptor’s baby, that we need to trust and depend on each other to co-exist, and then just good old plain running away from dinosaurs who want to kill you.

Add on top of that other clear notes the creatives wanted: bring back the original crew & combine them with the new crew, introduce a new "biggest dinosaur" the Giganotosaurus, include lots of throwbacks to the original film, then give it all a "Fast & Furious" workin’ as a team vibe. The resultant film feels like a room full of creatives all taking turns at running their version of the film without anyone protecting the vision. No wonder it’s the longest film in the entire franchise. The Transformers films were bad, but at least they had something like a unified vision with Michael Bay behind them.
 

I just don't get this film at all. Who in their right mind thought the way to cash in on the promise of Fallen Kingdom's ending was to restrict the film to another "park" (but it's a reserve this time!) story? THE ENTIRE WORLD IS FILLED with dinosaurs now and we get a throwback to an evil engineering genius controlling a reserve of dinosaurs for his own desires? The franchise took an entire two films to setup the premise that the story has now gone global only to use the entire two acts of the next film to setup a return to a Jurassic Park -esque "reserve". Huh?

In a clear sign that the creatives behind this film don't really expect much of the audience's intelligence is the particularly insulting explanatory news broadcasts that open and close the film. Movies have always used news broadcast as a somewhat indirect way to share key exposition, but this one does so in a way that essentially retells you the entire story and even directly poses to the viewer the key questions and themes of the film. It’s almost as if the creatives are asking the audience during the film, “Did you get all the cool stuff we put into this? Did ya? Well, if you didn’t I’m gonna make sure you did cause I'm about to tell it you." It's one of the most egregious abuses of the news broadcast I've ever seen in a film.

Are there any redeeming factors? Man, that's tough to say here. Is it nice to see some of the old crew here? Sure. Do they get anything meaty or substantive to do as characters? Not really. It's pretty clear they are a cheap cash-in, shoe-horned in for some sense of grandness and closure to the story. While Ian, Grant, Saddler, and BD Wong are somewhat welcome returns, Pratt's Own and Howard's Claire continue to be a mysterious leading pair. Their relationship lacks chemistry and has been bungled so badly over the two previous films that the creatives seem to acknowledge it here by practically dropping it entirely from the script. There's a hilarious moment where a new character by the name of Watts asks Owen, "You love her don't you?" Owen's response is pretty much how we all feel - meh.


The action, which was never that good in the trilogy reboot, is pretty subpar here as well. Rather than featuring a few large set pieces, the film throws a bunch of shorter encounters with dinosaurs throughout the film. It’s a poor substitution that sacrifices memorable and gripping sequences with cheap moments that are forgotten before they are over. The best and most memorable sequence of the film takes place on the island of Malta and is emblematic of the central creativity problem plaguing the franchise. EVERYTHING about this Malta sequence says it was written/edited/reshot to be an action sequence in the vein of the other franchises. First, there's the Fast and Furious vibes with with multiple threads of a team working toward a goal and getting their own villains and conflicts. Second, there's the Mission Impossible/Bond franchise vibes with big stunts/chases with criminal elements in exotic locations (just with atrociraptors in chase rather than super skilled assassins). The creative crisis of the Jurassic World franchise is that the original premise has been exhausted so they are creating riffs on the same basic idea (we can't control genetic engineering or dinosaurs) and trying to dress it up in the success of other franchises. It's the old aged rock star who has nothing left to say but hires modern producers to make him sound like the kids these days. It's Bon Jovi making a cover of "It's My Life" in 2000. It's reiteration plus imitation without any innovation. The actual story about dinosaurs being smuggled and Biosyn keen on taking advantage of genetic engineering doesn't have any reason to give us this action and you can feel it with every scene as they rapidly introduce new characters, cut to confusing locations, give old characters new abilities (Claire is a roof jumping hero now?), and seemingly build an entire action sequence out of thin air. I don't know if the motorcycle chase with the raptors through Malta was always storyboarded and written to be presented as it is, but it certainly looks like a last second decision. Most of the sequences here are shot so tight in medium and close-ups to hide the CGI'ed Malta that it makes me wonder if the studio and creatives weren't tinkering and redesigning continually behind the scenes. Still, all that said, Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" while a creative void is quite an earworm and this still can still be quite enjoyable with just how ambitious and production heavy it is. Ironically, it's the best and most memorable action sequence of a creatively bankrupt film. (For a full run-down of every Jurassic Park action sequence in the franchise, click HERE)

I hope that Universal puts the Jurassic franchise into the vault for at least a decade or so. We don't need another entry, we don't need an immediate reboot, the franchise needs a nice long extinction. Let a future generation rediscover it, re-engineer it, and wonder if they should have brought it back to life. We already know the answer.

OVERALL GRADE: D+

Monday, August 1, 2022

Part-Time Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

10:57 PM 0
Part-Time Review: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

OVERALL GRADE: B+

It's been a long while since a film has come along that has so successfully presented a story that consistently upended my expectations, spans multiple genres, and feels like a fresh take despite having clear roots in other major films. It's even got some of the best kung fu comedy moments since 2004's Kung Fu Hustle! If you've not seen Everything Everywhere All at Once then let me try and give you a one line comparison: It's like if Charlie Kaufman was forced to write his own multiverse version of the original Matrix but had the Architect show up in the second act, then that script was directed by Michele Gondry - only stranger. The result is an engaging film that challenges the viewer to think and feel about life while still providing a funny and enjoyable movie to watch. I think it's a triumph of the humanistic filmmaking. I'm not a humanist though, at least not in the atheistic sense of the term. I'm a Christian. Thus, despite all the great craftmanship and beautiful images, I think there's something fundamentally false about the film that undermines me from being anything more than enjoying the film and admiring the way it gets across its message. There are four major points I'd like to make about the message of the film: 1) It does not provide a trustworthy tool for knowing truth about reality 2) It doesn't successfully defeat the nihilistic void it posits 3) It's view of "love" is self-defeating and narrow  4) Its intellectual curiosity stops far too short.

Before I jump into my main four points, let me say three quick things about them. First, it's impossible to give a full review without getting into spoilers. So if you don't want the plot, character arcs, and themes spoiled, stop reading and come back after you have seen it. Second, one of the strengths of this film is that it doesn't tip it's hand too early in the film. I really like that we go on a journey with Michelle Yeoh's character, learning about the multiverse as she does, and thinking incorrectly about it along with her as well. What I mean is that the character doesn't go from completely wrong thinking to completely right thinking. The character has spurts of insight, but also thinks in ways after initial growth that the movie wouldn't fully endorse. I bring this up, because it makes black/white critiques of the film's themes a bit more difficult. It also puts a heavy weight on the closing sequences to carry the true message of the film - after Yeoh's character has been enlightened to the message of the film. Thus, most of my critiques will be center on the final sequences as they provide the clearest way to understand what the film is trying to get across. Third, you can't understand my critiques clearly, without understanding the plot of the story. Since it's necessary, let's get into the story a bit.


The opening sequences of Everything Everywhere All at Once are overwhelming by design. The viewer is thrown into the chaotic and busy life of Evelyn Wang, played by Michelle Yeoh in a career best performance. Evelyn was possibly a bit foolhardy when she married Waymond, played by Ke Huy Quan, young and moved away from her family. They settled down, bought a laundromat with an apartment over it, had a daughter (who is now a young adult in same sex relationship - this will become important later), and now takes care of her elderly father. Oh, she’s also being audited by the IRS for constantly writing off her hobbies as business expenses and her husband is seeking a divorce! All of this is swirling as Evelyn attends an important IRS meeting with her audit agent played by Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s here that the film throws its first major twist at you. During the elevator ride to the agent meeting, Evelyn’s husband clicks into a different personality (her husband from an alternate universe, alpha Waymond as we come to know him) and offers her a Matrix like choice – to continue to the audit meeting or to meet in the janitor’s closet; red pill or blue pill. Eventually Evelyn finds herself in the closet where alpha Waymond tells her the fate of the entire multiverse is on the line and only Evelyn’s goodness can overcome it. We later learn that the Evelyn in the alpha universe was the scientist who discovered that you could connect with other versions of yourself in the multiverse. We also learn that in the alpha universe Evelyn saw potential for verse jumping (short for universe jumping) in her daughter Joy and pushed her, pushed her too hard in fact. The pushing turned her daughter into someone who could experience all the possible universes (everything, everywhere, all at once) and turned to despair over the existential meaningless of it all. They name her Jobu Tupaki and she becomes the central "villain" of the movie as she seeks out her mother to experience and despair at the universe's meaningless as well. In other words, on a basic level it’s a fantasy story about parents who push their kids too hard to become their best possible selves in every way and kids who want their parents to just be loved and be present with them. Of course, there's much more going on than that.

The first act of the film is about Evelyn learning how everything is connected. Evelyn learns in a kung fu fight with Deirdre (the IRS agent played by Jamie Lee Curtis) that she can "verse jump" into other versions of herself and acquire their unique skills. She does this several times throughout the film. In her first major jump she connects with a kung fu savvy version of herself and she witnesses a lifetime of what it would be like if she didn’t follow Waymond and the laundromat version of her life. This first act ends with Evelyn meeting and finding out that Jobu Tupaki is her daughter. It’s an interesting sequence where Jobu essentially can control/construct the universe however she wishes. In this case it’s changing her body, outfits, maneuvering other people in whatever ways she wants, and conjuring objects out of thin air. She then confronts her mother and in their discussion, she opens up to her: “Cause you see when you really put everything on a bagel, it becomes this…The truth…nothing matters….Feels nice doesn’t it, if nothing matters, then all the pain and guilt you feel from making nothing of your life goes away.” Everything is connected - everything is just a re-arrangement of particles and if that's true, she reasons, then nothing really matters. Act 1 - EVERYTHING.

The second act is about Evelyn making the decision to save her daughter by becoming like her - someone who is present EVERYWHERE - in all the possible variant worlds. This leads to a series of comical, philosophical, and athletic sequences where Evelyn has to fight off "verse jumpers" trying to stop her. The essential question here as Evelyn learns of all the different possible (better more intriguing) universes she could be in is this "Why not choose to live in one where you are happier or get what you want?" In other words, when you can be everywhere, why limit yourself to one filled with pain and suffering and limited happiness? Act 2 - EVERWHERE.


The third and final act features the final showdown between Evelyn, her daughter Joy (Jobu Tupaki), and the "verse jumpers" sent to stop her. There’s a pivotal moment where Evelyn connects with her husband Waymond who in a passionate speech declares, "The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind. Please, be kind. Especially when we don't know what's going on." Evelyn has a kind of enlightenment moment and realizes that the kindness and goodness she so often despised in Waymond is the one way she could actually fight her daughter and bring her back from a pit of existential despair.  As she fights off the jumpers on the stairway (her daughter is at the top) she does acts of kindness for them as she peeks into their lives: helping two of them to marry, spraying an old nostalgic perfume on a veteran, helping align someone’s neck, becoming a dominatrix for a man’s fetish, and encouraging a man’s dependency on a racoon to drive him. Ultimately, the winning message and move here is for Evelyn to love her daughter for who she is, to accept her, to be present with her through pain and suffering of life. Act 3 - ALL AT ONCE. On one hand, I love the message that we must accept the limits of the life and choose to be with one another despite our circumstances not always being the best and ourselves not being the best versions of ourselves. Why wouldn't I, there's a lot of overlap between a Christian worldview and that humanistic message. However, this film is not happy with that basic reading, it's deeper than that. Here are four major points that I think ultimately undermine the film's humanistic message.

1. It Never Provides a Trustworthy Tool for Knowing the Truth About Reality: The major philosophical conflict of the film comes into clear view as it enters the final act: is there any real meaning to life in this universe? In light of a multiverse where you've made every decision, become everything, where every particle is rearrangeable, life becomes meaningless. Is Joy right? Has Joy stared into the existential abyss and discovered the genuine truth about our reality? Evelyn experiences this feeling alongside of her daughter and it's clear she doesn't want to believe it, but struggles to argue and fight it. It's from the unlikely source of her husband Waymond that the film provides what it thinks is the ammunition to defeat Joy's existential meaningless: "The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind. Please, be kind. Especially when we don't know what's going on." This is a revelation for Evelyn (she literally has a third eye...well a googly eye...now to depict it) who decides to fight the despair with kindness. We get a clever fight sequence on a stairway as Evelyn makes her way to Joy that I'll comment upon later, but it's important to note that the film follows this logical argument: in the confusion of our seemingly meaningless universe we should be kind to each other and that kindness takes the shape of understanding what other people love and helping them affirm it. To that argument the film adds one last key ingredient. Evelyn tells Joy that in all her searching for meaning, she was still searching for her mother. Why? Evelyn believes that the family takes a key role in the kindness we must show to each other - this is what makes her major declaration "I am your mother!" so important along with the reveal that the entire family of the father and the grandfather were holding her back from the abyss as well. Love is family and family sticks and stays and is present with each other - even when they could be present somewhere else. There are parts of this message I like, but there's a huge fault line running underneath the entire thing. Did you catch it?


There is absolutely no reason to actually believe that being kind, particularly their view of kindness, is actually true. Look at the tools they used to argue it. First, Waymond says he is confused, but there is one thing he knows - we should be kind to each other. The obvious follow-up here is, "How do you know that Waymond?" The truth is that he just "feels" like that's the way people should be. He "feels" like it is right. Really? That's it? Later, Evelyn layers on top of that the point about Joy searching for her mother as a clue that family is essential to meaning/purpose - again, it's a feeling used as proof. We have no good reason to believe Waymond and Evelyn's feelings have any bearing on reality. In fact, given the multiverse setup of the universe, there's countless Waymond's and Evelyn's out there who feel differently. Whose feelings are the right one? Whose feelings have any authority over the other? Who cares? There feelings can change over time as well. Does that make them true or false? Movies are powerful because we can get caught up in their stories, their characters, and their emotions, but we need to be careful when we are arguing philosophically here. The primary and key tool the film is offering as the response to Joy's existential despair are the feelings of Waymond and Evelyn. This alone is not a trustworthy tool. 

2. It Doesn't Successfully Defeat the Nihilistic Despair it Posits: Because the film fails to adequately offer a credible response to Joy's existential despair, I think we have to believe that Joy is actually right; in light of a multiverse like the one depicted in the movie, life becomes meaningless (she is clearly arguing "objectively meaningless" here). When one can re-arrange particles to anything they desire, be present everywhere in all the possible worlds, what meaning can any decision or choice have? Everything is self-constructed - our purposes, our goals, our ends, our values, our looks, our loves, simply become whatever we want and desire. In a world lacking any kind of objective meaning, purpose, or value, then the only thing remaining is our subjective opinion. To my mind, this isn't necessarily a failing of the film though, but I think more a failure of the (atheistic) humanist philosophy to objectively ground meaning and morality of any kind. If there is no designer, no creator, no authority outside our own feelings, then how could there possibly be any kind of objective meaning to life? Joy is right - nothing really matters.


3. Its View of "Love" is Self-Defeating and Narrow: Because it's very easy to fundamentally agree with the movie that it's good to be kind to each other, it can be easy to miss that the movie slips in a very specific definition of kindness that it cannot support in any objective manner. The key sequence to understand this point is when Evelyn is walking up the stairs and faces off against all the "verse jumpers" standing between her and her daughter. Instead of kung fu Evelyn decides to fight with kindness and love so she peers into their soul, understands what they want and desire, and she helps to give it to them. She helps two of them to see that they love each other and they get married, she sprays an old nostalgic perfume on a someone for whom it reminds them of their old love, she helps to align someone’s neck causing them to lose their interest in hurting, she sees one mans sexual fetish and becomes a dominatrix for him, encourages one man’s dependency on a racoon to drive him, and ultimately approves of her daughter's same sex relationship and introduces them to her father. Notice how the movie has narrowly defined love and kindness here: it is accepting and affirming whatever someone seems to want. There's two main problems with this view.


First, as I mentioned earlier, the film offers no good tool to actually believe this definition of kindness is objectively true or real. It's main argument is essentially a logical fallacy - doesn't it just seem right? doesn't it just make you feel good? However, there's no good reason to justify it. Does Evelyn get to decide what the boundaries of kindness and love are for everyone? What if someone else "feels" differently? What if I want something that hurts others? Who is right? Again, the film loses the philosophical battle here between an atheistic humanism and an atheistic nihilism. 

Second, this view of kindness and love is actually a historical anomaly and to act like it is obvious to the viewer is to engage in a kind of chronological snobbery. There's not a single major historical culture I can think of that would fully agree that the different "acts of kindness" Evelyn performed going up the stairway was 'kindness' or that kindness should even be given. It is foreign to all the major religions as well. A major element of kindness that is lacking in Everything Everywhere All at Once is the basic idea that love sometimes must not affirm the actions and values of others, sometimes it must say "no - as any parent learns quickly. Perhaps a secular society could tolerate some desires as a necessary freedom, but we should not endorse and encourage whatever wish or desire passes through the human heart. The film's portrayal of "kindness" here is a historical anomaly. 

I can hear the critic respond, "But just like we advance in science, we have advanced in morality. Our understanding of kindness is superior just like our understanding of gravity is superior." Wrong. This is why it was important to point out that the film simply provided "feelings" as the basis of this superior definition of "kindness." Science has advanced because our tools have advanced in ways the ancient never had access to. What great advance does the movie point to? None. Even if it were true that Evelyn's view is an advancement, we could never KNOW it because there's no way to measure it and justify it beyond her feelings! In fact, rather being on the cutting edge of moral advancement, the film's resorting to "Love is affirming whatever we desire" is just a slight twist on one of the oldest views mentioned in the Christian scriptures: 
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:2-5)
The argument that people should be allowed to construct their own meanings and moral values is just another version of man's rebellion against God. "Who is God to define good and evil?" the heart of the rebel says. "Why can't I define it?" The twist our generation has put on this view is to argue that genuine love is to affirm whatever the person has desired. A critic might respond that they don't have a Christian view of this and that I shouldn't bring it into the critique. Here's the self-defeating problem the definition of "kindness" the movie finds itself in and why I offer Christianity as an important contrast.


If "kindness" has a right and wrong definition, which the film definitely seems to be saying, then we have to be able to determine which definition is right and which is wrong. In other words, how do we know if the definition offered by the film is the right one and my Christian one is wrong? Well, if the movie is right and the universe is essentially without a creator/designer and all possible worlds do exist, then how can there be any kind of objective answer to the definition of kindness? There can't. Everyone can define kindness according to their own feelings. Thus, if there is no creator/designer and all possible worlds exist, then the film's definition of kindness is clearly bogus - just another subjective feeling among every possible one in existence. Thus, it's a self-defeating view of kindness and love. 

In order for their to be an actual objective definition of kindness and love, their must be some kind of objective grounding for it. This is one of the reasons why the Christian view of morality has had such a powerful influence on our world the last two thousand years - it offers an intellectually satisfying way to objectively ground meaning and morality. We should love one another NOT because we "feel" that it's right, but because we were designed to! If everyone was able to define "love" however they wanted, then there would be endless definitions and twisting's of it. Thus, we should expect that when God shares his definition of love and kindess with us that it will be accepted by some by largely rejected by many. Why? Because if HE defines it, then he won't affirm and encourage versions of it that are not in harmony - that wouldn't be loving!

Let me wrap up this point with two images that I think illustrate this well. After Evelyn walked up the stairs doing her acts of "kindness" to the foes in front of her they all end up as puddles of humanity laying on the floor in a kind of trance of bliss. This is a great image of our Western world today, so indulgent of every passing pleasure and desire that we end up piles of "feeling" humans- seeking out whatever next hit of pleasure we can find (think Huxley's A Brave New World here). As G.K. Chesterton has said, "Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure." Instead of walking through a crowd and affirming every pleasure of the heart, no matter how devious it might be, think of the image of Jesus as he walked through the crowds. There are those whom he fed, those whom he protected from angry mobs, the blind to whom he gave sight, hearing to those who were deaf, knowledge to those ignorant. However, there are also the greedy whose money tables he turned over, leaders he called out for their greed, the self-righteous religious figures condemned for their pompous prayers and selfish plans, and rebellious humans for their sin. Instead of leaving a pile of humans laid out in some kind of pleasure overload in his wake, Christ left a trail of his own blood and a handful of transformed humans who would carry the torch of his self-sacrificing love to us today. The majority rejected him and crucified him for his version of kindness. Evelyn's "kindness" will certainly be lauded in our elite institutions of today, for why not, her love doesn't threaten, it only affirms whatever desires come and go. Christ, the definition and greatest demonstrator of kindness would certainly continue to be flogged and kicked out of society today not for its compassion, but for its truth. Either we live in a world where the daughter Joy is right, all is meaningless, including the movie's definition of kindness. Or we live in a world where there really is an objective kindness. I challenge you to look at the story of Christ and see it defined clearly for you.


4. Its Intellectual Curiosity Stops Far Too Short: I'll make this last comment a short one. I love the curiosity and imagination of the film. It shows far more reflection and insight than most of the "thoughtful" movies that fill our screens. I just think that its intellectual curiosity consistently stops short in frustrating and obvious ways. Let me give three quick examples. First, think back to my disappointment that the film essentially offers Waymond's "there's one thing I know" speech as the turning moment for Evelyn. Of course, the intellectually curious would immediately respond, "How does Waymond know that?" Its just merely asserted. All assertions can be merely defeated with contrary assertions. It gets us nowhere. In a film that is so questioning of reality and so imaginative of the possible repercussions of a multiverse - it essentially offer's Waymond's speech as its entire epistemology. For anyone who has a passing knowledge of the subject, it's just not satisfactory to stop there. The film adds on top of Waymond's speech Evelyn's point that Joy wasn't just searching for meaning, but was always seeking her mother to be a part of it as well. In other words, the film argues that our need for family is an essential essence of what it means to be human. Cool thought. Again though, if you just take that thought one step further it all kinda falls apart. Where did that feeling, that yearning for family come from? If we just ask this question of the world they present in the movie, you'd have to probably assume it was part of our biological evolution. Then it just becomes an accident of evolution. Your human longing for your mother is just biologically programmed by chance and not some insight into true meaning of life. Additionally, if there are multiple universes, then isn't it possible that other universes developed biologically different - like the hot dog finger universe? Isn't it possible the Joy there didn't have a desire for her mother? If you answer, sure, it could be different in every universe, the point is that they embrace their universe. My response is simply, okay, but that admits Joy's problem and destroys the humanism of the film - it's all meaningless, there is no objective meaning.

Second, the film goes out of its way to try and provide philosophical support for the same-sex relationship the daughter Joy is in. In the film's definition of kindness, it is important to accept and approve of this relationship. To be clear, I'm not here to debate the morality of same-sex relationships, but in how the film isn't intellectually curious enough to realize it has undermines its own goals. If it's true that there is an essential part of humanity that longs for family (whether it comes from evolutionary biology or wherever) and in particular her mother, then this is an interesting endorsement of the biological family unit - father and mother. If there is something fundamental about biological family, something inherent in humanity that came from our biological development that we must learn to accept and embrace, then where does that leave same-sex relationships - which evolution, by design, says can't reproduce children? The film can't have it both ways - picking and choosing what biological structures we must accept and what ones we can construct to our own ends. Again, it's obvious if you think it out one step further but the film never seems to make the connection.


Third and finally, for a film that is so curious about purpose and meaning and the makeup of reality, it seems to have zero interest in religion. This isn't some "equal time" cry from a Christian whose sad they didn't make Christ the answer - this is an argument that a film as curious as this one ignores the one place that the majority of people throughout all of human history and even today go to for meaning - religion. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a thoughtful movie, but it assumes an atheistic world (or at least a brutally deist one) without any exploration of the topic. Shouldn't an obvious repercussion of all possible worlds be that there's a world where Evelyn and Joy explore, join, & lead religious lives as well? Why wouldn't the beliefs, experiences, and "feelings" of the majority of humans throughout history not make up a large portion of the possible lives/worlds of a multiverse? I really enjoyed the film as a film and think it's extremely well produced and acted. It will likely do very well at my film awards. I just think its passionate argument for an (atheistic) humanism fails to see just how self-defeating, subjective, chronologically-elitist, and uncurious it actually is.


OVERALL GRADE: B+

Sunday, July 24, 2022

2013 Leaman Awards

5:21 PM 0
2013 Leaman Awards

*Last Updated 7/24/2022  

1993 Films Seen: 88  
Number of Films with 'A' or 'A+': 3  
Key Films Still to See: n/a  

Brief Summary: n/a


Not a "best of" list or a "favorite" list - but a list of the films and sequences (action, drama, comedy, & musical) that I think represent the best the year had to offer. So think of it as a strange mixture of favorite, best, and defining. Once you get to the top ten films, it definitely becomes more defined as a Top Ten list of the year. The number one film is my favorite of the year. 

Honorable Mentions: 42, Blue Jasmine, Ender's Game, Monster's University, The Wind Rises

25. Pacific Rim (B)
24. The Place Beyond the Pines (B)
23. The Railway Man (B)
22. Oblivion (B)
21. Iron Man 3 (B)
20. Red 2 (B)
19. Prisoners (B)
18. Mud (B+)
17. The Bling Ring (B+)
16. Cloudy with a Chance for Meatballs 2 (B+)
15. Lone Survivor (B+)
14. Out of the Furnace (B+)
13. Dallas Buyers Club (B+)
12. The Way Way Back (B+)
11. Short Term 12 (B+)

THE TOP TEN
10. All is Lost (A-)
9. Philomena (A-)
8. The Act of Killing (A-)
7. Nebraska (A-)
6. American Hustle (A-)

5. The Wolf of Wall Street (A-)

4. Captain Phillips (A-)

3. Before Midnight (A)

2. 12 Years a Slave (A)

1. Gravity (A)


FAVORITE ACTION SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
The Very Good:
  • "Escape from Mirkwood Prison: Barrel Riders" -The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Commentary)
  • "Finale Weapons Fight Fight with Surprise Villain" -Ninja: Shadow of a Tear
  • "Battle of Greenwich Finale: Thor vs. Malekith" -Thor: The Dark World (Commentary)
The Great:
  • "Finale: House Party Protocol at the Docks" -Iron Man 3 (Commentary)
The Best: "London Lift-Off: Shaw & Dom's Team Chase Shaw's Ramp Cars" -Fast & Furious 6
Commentary: The last great car chase sequence in the franchise that kept itself primarily grounded, with any big stunts being practical and mostly believable. This is essentially the big action opening to the film and it doesn’t disappoint. The goal here to take down this film's new big baddie Owen Shaw, played by Luke Evans, and his crew. One part of Dom's crew led by Brian goes to Interpol and Dom/Hobbs wait for Shaw so that they can track down Letty. When Shaw appears he blows several concrete pillars that the cops are waiting for him on while he blows by them. It’s hard to articulate it, but it’s a nice stunt and shows a lot of intelligence for Shaw’s planning. Dom and Hobbs follow behind. The main gimmick here is that the Shaw drives a formula one type car in a kind of wedge shape that when it collides with cars will launch them (like a speeding ramp) rather than impact them. It probably wouldn’t work that way in real life, but it’s filmed in a way that’s very believable, practical, and awesome looking. Shaw uses the car to glide back and forth and then launch incoming police cars at anyone following him. It’s quite a visual. It’s simple enough to be believable, but cool enough to be a spectacle. It’s right in the wheelhouse I enjoy. Brian’s team gets into a shootout at Interpol and then a chase. They have to deal with another wedge car, but also a “chip gun” that deactivates a car. They fire at Tej and Roman and deactivate their front tire and cause them to get into some spectacular wrecks. Seriously, this moment looks darn good on screen. The teams meet up, enter a tunnel, and then split up again. There’s even a really clever stunt pulled when Brian is ramming one of the bad guys who eventually swerve left only for that wedge speed car to come straight into Brian launching him high. Shaw’s thread comes to an end when Letty makes an appearance and draws Dom off and Hobbs makes a play on Shaw but misses. It’s so refreshing to see these “superheroes” in the later film bested and getting beaten. This chase is lengthy, grounded, practical, and good fun. It’s an underrated sequence in the franchise. It’s too bad the franchise launched too far into fantasy after this one. Click Here for more commentary on Fast & Furious action sequences.


FAVORITE DRAMATIC SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
The Very Good:
  • "Sitting Down with a Mobster and Almost Blowing the Con" -American Hustle
  • "Pirates Overtake and Control the Maersk Alabama" -Captain Phillips
  • "Deciding to Go Forward After an Imaginary Pep Talk" -Gravity
  • "Returning to Earth" -Gravity
  • "ISS is Struck by Debris and the Escape Pod is Attached" -Gravity
  • "Lost in Mirkwood: Getting a Clear View at the Top" -The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • "A Final Dream and a ‘Thank you’" -The Wind Rises
The Great:
  • "Debris Strikes the Shuttle Crew and Ryan is Tossed into Space” -Gravity
  • "Forgiveness...That Was Hard For Me" -Philomena
The Best: "Finale: Taking Down the Pirates and Giving Phillips a Checkup" -Captain Phillips
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE COMEDIC SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
*Didn't keep great track of this category initially
The Very Good:
  • "Please Mr. Kennedy" -Inside Llewyn Davis
  • "Dinner Song: Fare Thee Well" -Inside Llewyn Davis
The Great:
  • "News Anchor Fight Part Two" -Anchorman 2 

The Best: 
Commentary: 


FAVORITE MUSICAL SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
*Very few musical songs to choose from


The Very Good:
  • "For the First Time in Forever" -Frozen
  • "In Summer" -Frozen
  • "Let's Go Fly a Kite" -Saving Mr. Banks 
The Great:
  • "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" -Frozen 

The Best: 
Commentary: 

BEST DIRECTOR
Nominees:
  • Alfonso Cuaron Gravity
  • Paul Greengrass Captain Phillips
  • Steve McQueen 12 Years a Slave
  • Alexander Payne Nebraska
  • Martin Scorsese The Wolf of Wall Street
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE FILM ENSEMBLES
Nominees:
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • American Hustle
  • August: Osage County
  • Before Midnight
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Nebraska
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE MALE PERFORMANCES
Nominees:
  • Barkhad Abdi Captain Phillips
  • Christian Bale American Hustle
  • Daniel Bruhl Rush
  • Steve Coogan Philomena
  • Bradley Cooper American Hustle
  • Bruce Dern Nebraska
  • Leonardo DiCaprio The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor 12 Years a Slave
  • Michael Fassbender 12 Years a Slave
  • Ethan Hawke Before Midnight
  • Tom Hanks Captain Phillips
  • Jonah Hill The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Hugh Jackman Prisoners
  • Jared Leto Dallas Buyers Club
  • Matthew McConaughey Dallas Buyers Club
  • Robert Redford All is Lost
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE FEMALE PERFORMANCES
Nominees:
  • Amy Adams American Hustle
  • Sandra Bullock Gravity
  • Julie Delpy Before Midnight
  • Judi Dench Philomena
  • Jennifer Garner Dallas Buyers Club
  • Scarlett Johansson Her
  • Jennifer Lawrence American Hustle
  • Lupita Nyong’o 12 Years a Slave
  • Meryl Streep August: Osage County
  • Julia Roberts August: Osage County
  • June Squibb Nebraska
  • Emma Thompson Saving Mr. Banks
  • Emma Watson The Bling Ring
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE SCREENPLAYS
(original or adapted)
Nominees:
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • American Hustle
  • Before Midnight
  • Captain Phillips
  • Gravity
  • Nebraska
  • Philomena
  • Short Term 12
  • The Way Way Back
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
Commentary: n/a


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Nominees:
  • The Act of Killing
  • Tim's Vermeer
Commentary: n/a


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Nominees:
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
  • The Croods
  • Frozen
  • Monsters University
  • The Wind Rises
Commentary: n/a
BEST FILM EDITING
Nominees:
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Gravity
  • Rush
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
Commentary: n/a


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Nominees:
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • Captain Phillips
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • Nebraska
Commentary: n/a


BEST ART DIRECTION
Nominees:
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • Her
  • The Lone Ranger
  • Oblivion
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
Commentary: n/a


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Nominees:
  • Gravity
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Iron Man 3
  • Man of Steel
  • Pacific Rim
Commentary: n/a


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Nominees:
  • Gravity
  • Man of Steel
  • Oblivion
  • The Tale of Princess Kayuga
  • The Wind Rises
Commentary: n/a


BEST SOUND DESIGN
Nominees:
  • All is Lost
  • Captain Phillips
  • Gravity
  • Oblivion
  • The Wind Rises
Commentary: n/a


BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Nominees:
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • American Hustle
  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Lone Ranger
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
Commentary: 


BEST MAKE-UP & HAIR DESIGN
Nominees:
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • American Hustle
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • The Lone Ranger
  • Lone Survivor
Commentary: n/a

BIGGEST GUILTY PLEASURE
Nominees:
  • Bad Grandpa
  • Fast & Furious 6
Commentary: n/a

MOST SURPRISING FILM
Nominees:
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Iron Man 3
  • Pacific Rim
  • Philomena
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
Commentary: n/a


MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM
Nominees:
  • Elysium
  • A Good Day to Die Hard
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • The Lone Ranger
  • Start Trek Into Darkness
Commentary: n/a


MOST UNDERRATED FILM
Nominees:
  • The Bling Ring
  • Ender's Game
  • Lone Survivor
  • Man of Steel
  • Oblivion
Commentary: n/a


MOST OVERRATED FILM
Nominees:
  • The Grandmaster
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Star Trek Into Darkness
  • Stoker
  • This Is the End
Commentary: n/a


WORST FILM
Nominees:
  • Oz the Great and Powerful
  • The Purge
  • Stalingrad
  • This is the End
  • White House Down 
Commentary: It’s tough to determine if this should be considered alongside other war films or as a fantasy action war film - that's how bad this film is. Ostensibly, this is a film about the war of attrition in the Battle of Stalingrad. The macho/jingoistic tone here is so dramatic and over the top that it is hard to take seriously - I think Michael Bay would blush at a few of the ideas here. Add to an overly simplistic plot with horrible acting, artificial and cheesy dialogue, and you have one of the worst films I watched for this project. On top of that, there is truly bizzare and forced framing device as this Stalingrad story is being told by a rescue worker talking to someone in the rubble of the Japanese tsunami in 2011. I mean, what? After getting the Russians out of the rubble they are asking, "Where is the man who told the story?" as if telling them this story got them through the horribleness. It's so strange. Imagine a film that started out with firemen arriving at the scene of the 9/11 World Trade Center rubble and then proceeding to help those trapped in the rubble by telling the story of perseverance he endured during the Second World War during the Battle of the Bulge. It's that strange folks.


BEST COMPILATION OF WORK
Performances/Accomplishments (that I saw anyways):
  • Christian Bale: American Hustle, Out of the Furnace
  • Bradley Cooper: American Hustle, The Place Beyond the Pines
  • Leonardo DiCaprio: The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Tom Hanks: Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks
  • Hugh Jackman: Prisoners, Wolverine
  • Matthew McConaughey: Dallas Buyers Club, Mud, The Wolf of Wall Street 
Commentary: n/a


ERIC BANA AWARD
*Given for the best performance in a bad film (See 2004's Troy)
Nominees:
  • Ethan Hawke The Purge
Commentary: n/a


THE END!


"Philomena: Sister Hildegarde, I want you to know that I forgive you.
Martin Sixsmith: What? Just like that?
Philomena: Its not 'just like that'... it's hard. That's hard for me. But I don't want to hate people. I don't want to be like you... Look at you.
Martin Sixsmith: I'm angry.
Philomena: Must be exhausting..." -Philomena