DA Zapata's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

Split
Split(2017)

Split is a unique and sharply enigmatic thriller, despite its flawed and outlandish plot. Very few actors can pull off what James McAvoy did in this film, executing all 23 (though primarily 7 on-screen) of his personalities brilliantly, equal parts devilish humor and perturbing anxiety. Anya Taylor-Joy continues to be a goddess and revelation to horror, adding another trophy next to her performances in The Witch and Morgan. Split is an absolute blast from beginning to end, making its uneven pacing and lack of explanation somewhat forgivable. Split prides itself on its frenzied confusion, which may not sit well with many but should be expected from an M. Night film. It's also important to note that Split is one of those films that is 2 minutes too long, because it would be greatness without its tacked-on and unnecessarily irrelevant ending. I will never forgive M. Night for what he did to the ending of this film. What a deplorable stroke to himself. I will not spoil the film's end, but I will say it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH THE FILM IN ANY SENSE AND IS A TACKY JOKE. I'm going to split (pun intended) that snippet out of my memory and enjoy the film for the dementedly fun ride that it is.

La La Land
La La Land(2016)
½

I went into La La Land with incredibly high expectations and a negative agenda, particularly after its sweep at the Golden Globes. In many ways, I didn't want to enjoy La La Land, bracing myself for ways to criticize this film that's received a ridiculous amount of critical acclaim. Suffice to say, I walked out of the theater with tears in my eyes and my tail between my legs. La La Land is by no means a perfect film, but it is damn near close.

The opening number of La La Land was everything I initially expected of the film--a gushy, colorful, euphoric mess. I was convinced I'd be annoyed for the remaining 2 hours, before being blindsided and proven completely wrong. In all honesty, La La Land is at its best when it isn't a playing the part of a musical--partially due to the fact that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling aren't the best singers. (Ryan should probably stick to his awesome, spooky Halloween band and low baritone.) The two are an emotional tour de force in La La Land, which was a much unexpected surprise inbetween so many whimsical musical numbers.

La La Land is the epitome of artistic expression and escapism as much as it is a cinematic embodiment of aspiration, growth, love, and heartbreak. It starkly contrasts beauty with grit, comicality with sorrow, and dreams with solemn reality. La La Land is a bittersweet beauty, and I was wrong to ever doubt it.

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester By The Sea has officially topped every film I have seen all year. Nothing in 2016 has come close. I am an emotional disaster. Cinematically beautiful and heartbreakingly profound, Manchester By the Sea is a somber yet uplifting tale of love and loss. It is an astounding portrayal of grief and raw human emotion and deserves all the acclaim it has received. THE ACADEMY, LISTEN UP. THIS IS THE BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR AND CASEY AFFECK DESERVES HIS OSCAR. DON'T FUCK THIS UP.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
½

Rogue One is easily the best film (arguably second best after Empire) in the entire Star Wars saga. It is, additionally, the most diverse in narrative and individualistic film of all of Star Wars. Many times, it doesn't feel like a Star Wars film, seemingly having to remind you these characters exist in the Star Wars universe (with fun nods and callbacks). The aesthetic is much different, grittier, and incredibly darker. Rogue One is a grim tale of victory at the expense of death, and it is executed beautifully. As a highly dialog-heavy film, Rogue One brings each character to life with profound development and immense payoff. At its core, Rogue one is a dramatic war film. We just so happen to see Darth Vader in action, which is another part of what makes this film truly exceptional. Rogue One is a prime example of what Star Wars can be and should be.

Blair Witch
Blair Witch(2016)

I can't even begin my rant on how fucking awful BLAIR WITCH was because it will be ceaseless. Just, don't. Do not with this disgrace. My god, it has the worst acting and worst writing I've seen in film, ever. What a waste of telling a promising, mythological, fucked-up folklore?! I WANTED THE FUCKING BLAIR WITCH AND 95% OF THIS FILM WAS A WASTE OF TIME AND ENERGY (because the bit of methodology/philosophy of the Witch was fucking fantastic but NOT EXPANDED ON. So one star for making her fucking awesome for like 5 minutes. Aside from that, good riddance. This film is everything that is wrong about most modern horror.

Don't Breathe

My blood pressure must be through the roof right now, after what I'm sure was about an hour of heart palpitations. After takeoff, Don't Breathe is a claustrophobic and thrilling force to be reckoned with. It straddles the fine line between thriller and horror, making it a psychotic hybrid of suspense, gore, and immorality. This film is going down as one of the most clever, original, and brutal films of 2k16.

Suicide Squad
½

Suicide Squad doesn't deserve half the negative reception it's gotten over the past week. As far as the DC cinematic universe goes, this film exceeds Man of Steel and BvS by a long shot, and its success lies directly in the fact that it refuses to take itself too seriously. What the film lacks in coherent or meaningful plot it makes up for in fantastic character development, particularly Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Margot Robbie steals the show every time she is on screen and is easily the film's leading force. Sure, Suicide Squad isn't a masterpiece by any means, but it is an undeniably gritty, entertaining expression of violence and nihilism. You can argue this isn't what cinema or society needs right now, but Suicide Squad isn't meant to be a statement on political correctness or important social values. It's a riotous exploration of psychopathy, anarchy, and bloodshed. Take it at face value and enjoy the ride.

Green Room
Green Room(2016)
½

Mercilessly dark and gritty, Green Room is by far one of the most grueling and suffocating experiences I've had in a theater all year. Filled to the brim with sharp wit and sharper knives, Green Room is a definite test for the impatient and the squeamish, but it is a hell of a ride with immense payoff. Thrillers are rarely this maniacally fun.

Zootopia
Zootopia(2016)
½

After the massive success and intellectual grandeur of Inside Out last year, I figured it would be a very long time before any other animated film came close. Inside Out tackled our views on cognition and emotion in a beautifully creative way, making it not only a spectacle to watch but also somewhat of a crash course in Freudian psychology. In many ways, Zootopia is also an incredibly intelligent and creative film, though its purpose is for a different message-an important and relevant one our society needs. Through its use of vibrant and clever animals of all species, Zootopia addressed issues between animals which could be easily equated to racism, misogyny, LGBT rights, drugs, and other relevant controversies or crises in our culture. It's a colorful tale with a positive message, clever social awareness, and probably the greatest animated fox in all of cinematic history (though I may be biased, because I love Jason Bateman).

Zootopia takes place in a world where animals have evolved to such a high degree that predator and prey have come to live together in peace. Our protagonist, Judy Hopps, manages to become the first bunny cop to have ever existed in the city of Zootopia-because of course, all the cops are lions, rams, and other massive creatures. Fear begins to break out in the elegantly vivid and surreal city of Zootopia as predators begin to revert back to their instinctual nature, forgetting to speak and attacking "prey" without remorse.

Officer Judy Hopps, our lively bunny protagonist, takes it upon herself to discover the cause of these violent and inexplicable regressions, meeting a sly and clever fox named Nick along the way. As a dry-humored con artist and with an endlessly sarcastic personality, Jason Bateman is just as charming and riotous as an animated fox in Zootopia as he is in the comedy series Arrested Development or recent comedies such as Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief, and Bad Words.

Zootopia takes a brilliant plot and executes it with precision. Though a bit more catered for children than Inside Out, Zootopia is still primarily in the category of intellectual animated films, others being Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox (which coincidentally also features a charming fox) and the entire "Studio Ghibli" collection, my favorites being Spirited Away, Ponyo, Howl's Moving Castle, and My Neighbor Totoro. It's refreshing seeing animated films with positive and genuine message, particularly an intelligent one, and this is what makes Zootopia such a great success (as well as being the first best animated film of the year). It is skillful and quick-witted when making metaphorical connections to our culture, filled with perfectly relentless stabs at racism and discrimination and gut-wrenchingly funny characters. Best of all, it has a thoughtful and significant message that will impact both kids and adults, though adults will pick up on more of the subtleties.

The Witch
The Witch(2016)

I cannot recall the last time I felt so perturbed by a film, and I love that The Witch was able to have that effect on me. Many others walked out of the theater talking about how ugly and disturbed they felt, and for good reason. The Witch is a deeply unhappy and unsettling film. It is a dry, stark, humorless folktale about the true powers of evil by both humanistic and supernatural means.

The Witch takes place in the 1630s and looks the part with incredible elegance. We follow a deeply religious Puritan family and their Old English dialog-never missing a "thee," "thou," or "thine"-as they move to a home by an expansive woods after banishment from their home community in England. The family of seven, five being children, begin to suspect a sinister force in the woods after their infant son is kidnapped soon after their arrival. The family counters their psychological torment with prayer-infused warfare as a satanic evil begins to take hold of them and tear them apart.

Anya Taylor-Joy is an absolute revelation as the film's female protagonist, Thomasin. She is the eldest of the children and tries her best to maintain her stability as the wickedness spreads through the lives of her family. Her performance is raw and electrifying, particularly during the film's climax (which does not end till its final shot). Taylor-Joy, however, is only a part of what makes The Witch such a unique experience. It feels incredibly authentic, from the wardrobe to the dialog to its profoundly artistic cinematography. It is expertly crafted and paced, never losing the feel of a 17th century drama despite its relentless feeling of dread and almost nausea.

The Witch is not a film I could sit through regularly, unlike many other films in the horror genre. Its unnerving and chilling nature is unlikely to sit well with many horror audiences expecting a fun movie with jump-scares and CGI demons. The Witch is not that film. It is a genuinely horrific experience, which is precisely what the genre should be. The Witch is by far one of the best and darkest horror films I have seen in over a decade. It is a beautifully haunting experience that will be esteemed for its tense, agitating, and truly diabolic nature.

Deadpool
Deadpool(2016)
½

Before going into my deep, longing love letter to Deadpool, I applaud anyone who made it out to a theater to see it over Valentine's weekend. The holiday definitely added to the experience. The truth is, comic book movies aren't memorable anymore. This year alone, we have five more comic book films to look forward to (Batman vs. Superman, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad, and Dr. Strange).

As usual with big comic book years, it's easy to get jaded expecting a string of superheroes that will probably take themselves too seriously. This is precisely why Deadpool is such an essential part of both comic book films and modern cinema-it turns the superhero genre on its head with its over-the-top brutality and profanely snarky attitude. It is the funniest and most twisted tale Marvel has told us yet, pushing the R rating to its limit to remain true to its crudely sarcastic character. It is a raunchy and insane ride from start to finish, making it an unprecedented experience and an immediate standout from previous comic book films and those to come.

Deadpool's best quality, utilized perfectly throughout the entire film, is our protagonist's narration and fourth-wall breaks, speaking directly to the audience the entire time and even scolding other characters in the film for interrupting him while speaking to us. This also allows the film to take advantage of its self-awareness, such as how exactly Fox was allowed to make an R-rated Marvel film or taking jabs at Ryan Reynolds and X-Men (which Fox also owns). It also has, in my opinion, the greatest set of opening credits I have ever seen, along with the greatest Stan Lee cameo out of all Marvel films to date. Deadpool refuses to ever take itself too seriously and still manages to tell a magnificently compelling story-it just happens to be a wickedly vulgar and blood-spattered one.

As you may have gathered from this Valentine's card to Deadpool, I adored the film. Ryan Reynolds embodies Deadpool perfectly and is an unforgettable protagonist, telling a dark story of a man who is making up for his past mistakes and is hell-bent on revenge. Perhaps the reason I haven't discussed the plot of Deadpool thus far is because it feels like such a minimal part of the film, which feels strange to say about a film with incredibly important plot points. Ultimately, Deadpool is a successful experiment in filmmaking, making it more of an experience than a profound story. It strives to be witty, subversive, and completely one-of-a-kind, succeeding on all fronts. Films like these are a rarity, and unless you feel its satire is too heavy-handed or its humor is too indecent, you're bound to enjoy the frantic and hysterical Deadpool for what it is.

Spotlight
Spotlight(2015)

Absolutely phenomenal, heart-wrenching, and infuriating from start to finish. I've been sitting in silence for the past 20 minutes letting the message of this film settle with me. From a journalist perspective, Spotlight is an incredible achievement, showing the power and importance of real journalism in the modern world. In many ways, Spotlight is a much more difficult film to digest than its main Oscar competitor, The Revenant. Not to take away from Alejandro or Leo, but Spotlight is by far the most important and powerful film of 2K15. Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo prove once again that they are forces to be reckoned with.

The Diary Of A Teenage Girl

As a 25-year-old guy, I never thought I'd have so much in common with a 70s teen girl discovering her sexuality. There isn't a single film in recent memory that has felt as refreshing and full of life as Diary of a Teenage Girl. It straddles a very strange line between cute and grotesque, innocence and hyper-sexualization. At it's core, it's an imaginative and beautifully told coming-of-age tale, and in a much larger scope, it is a genuine piece of art.

Krampus
Krampus(2015)

I'm not one for Christmas-themed films, but Krampus might just be my favorite one of all time. It is a riotous, demented ride from beginning to end. Granted, as a fairy tale black comedy horror, it exists as somewhat of a niche film, but that doesn't take away from it being a ludicrously psychotic blast. Based on German folklore, Krampus comes to those who have misbehaved or lost faith in the true meaning of Christmas, in this case being an obnoxiously unbearable family with alcoholic aunts and angsty kids. What makes Krampus such a success is its lack of taking itself too seriously, filled with evil gingerbread men, demonic elves, murderous teddy bears, and even a carnivorous Jack-in-the-Box. Even at its most horrific, Krampus is gut-wrenchingly hilarious. There has truly been nothing like this film before, with perhaps its closest cinematic cousin being Gremlins, matched in its chilling atmosphere that remains consistently doused in dark humor. Krampus is a maniacally fun and immensely satisfying film for anyone looking for a change of pace from all the stereotypical, Hallmark-y holiday films. Definitely not one to be missed by comedy or horror fans alike.

Crimson Peak
Crimson Peak(2015)

It took exactly 227 days for my favorite horror film of the year to arrive, but I am thrilled it is finally here as the hauntingly majestic Crimson Peak. From its first frame to its last, Crimson Peak has transcended the clichéd disasters we've had to deal with in 2015, and it does so in an elegantly macabre fashion that only Guillermo del Toro has mastered. Reminiscent of other films he's directed and produced-Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone, and The Orphanage (all of which I highly recommend)-Crimson Peak tells a grippingly disturbing tale in a realm where the things you fear become embodied and monstrous. A taste of Crimson Peak's plot is perhaps the best way to demonstrate its importance as a piece of supernatural, Gothic, and romantic horror.

Crimson Peak takes place in the 19th century, where puffy sleeves and puffy hair and puffy everything (minus ridiculously tight corsets, of course) were all the rage. For men, newly pressed suits and ridiculously long beards were a must, because how else would everyone possibly know how rich and wise you are? The film follows the sinister events Edith and her puffy sleeves are lead into, all which follows an experience she has as a child where her deceased mother appears to her as a monstrously deformed ghost, warning her of "Crimson Peak...when the time comes, in approximately fourteen years, but I'm telling you now as a half-faced zombie to traumatize you as a child." The quote may or may not have gone like that, but you get the gist.

Jump fourteen years and Edith is now working on a ghost novel, but given it's the 19th century and no one cares what women write (yet), her prospects don't get very far. Being the feminist lead that she is, she doesn't give up-that is, until she completely forgets about her book and basically everything else in her life when she falls madly in love with Thomas Sharpe, played with eerie and seductive perfection by Tom Hiddleston. A young prospector looking to make his big break with a mining machine, Thomas becomes enchanted with Edith after meeting her father, and we follow their relationship through the horrific descent of madness that ensues.

Crimson Peak is an exercise in finding cinematic beauty in the dark and dilapidated, both physically and metaphorically. Edith eventually moves into in an old, decaying house with Thomas and his sister, Lucille, and this is when the omen she was told almost a decade and a half before comes to life in a gruesome manner.

Visual aesthetics aside-and highly aesthetically pleasing it is, I must say-Crimson Peak is a very grim tale about love, deceit, and the ghosts of our past that haunt us. "Love makes monsters of us all" is perhaps the greatest line in the film that captures its essence perfectly, told with morose distain by the elegant Jessica Chastain. If you're looking for a terrifying nightmare with jump-scares every ten minutes, Crimson Peak is not the film for you. However, those looking for a captivatingly imaginative film with a murderous twist will be pleasantly surprised.

Queen of Earth
½

"You are why people betray one another. You are why there is nowhere safe or happy anymore. You are why depression exists." Quotes such as these seethe throughout Queen of Earth, creating a deep existential mindset not only for its character but for its audience as well. Queen of Earth is masterful in tying its profound cynicism and under-your-skin moroseness with the indisputable realities of human nature and the morals by which we operate--with "morality" creating its own meaning in Queen of Earth.

Essentially, in the film, we are watching the downfall of a woman who is using her best friend as her pillar in her time of need. However, from the start, Queen of Earth has a palpable aura of tension and banality, as if these two friends have never truly been at peace with one another and operate on an unhealthy level, often feeling spiteful or even sinister in nature. In this manner, Queen of Earth is a gripping analysis of the narcissism and self-glorification of human nature. However, the film is also telling a tale of psychological instability and a woman's descent into madness, dense with feminism and societal relevance but always bitter and malevolent. It is a film without happiness, or rather, where all happiness is faked. Happiness is seen as a social construct in the evolutionary chain of our mental capacity, just like every other human emotion. Essentially, we are all selfish human beings who betray one another. So yeah, we're all horrible people and life sucks, sorry.

If it's not obvious by now, which of course the fuck it is, Queen of Earth is an unhappy film, but a really incredible one. Its even nightmarish during a spasm of emotional turmoil, escalating to a very Lynchian scene where Elizabeth Moss places herself amongst today's top scream queens. Much of the film feels very Hitchcockian--well-clean, organized, yet always sinister. For me in particular, I found Queen of Earth to be very reminiscent of Polanski's "Repulsion."

At its core, Queen of Earth is a darkly profound film about the core drives of our very existence as human beings--love, friendship, emotion, and the evolution of our psychological and physiological selves. It has many odes to philosophical concepts such as infinity and the ever-repeating cycle, as well as the doomed nature of self-fulfilling prophecy. It is not a film that will sit well with many, particularly not optimists or those looking for a happy ending, but will undoubtedly have a deep-seated and introspective effect on the inquisitive.

Creep
Creep(2015)
½

I honestly can't even place it why I enjoyed Creep, because it's not a particularly good film. It's mediocre, slow-paced, painfully awkward, and brings nothing new to the found-footage amassment. Perhaps I enjoy watching films about sociopaths too much--and this is something Mark Duplass does extraordinarily well in the film. He is totally out of his comfort zone in Creep, and it doesn't show. Though really Creep is an uninspired and anticlimactic mess, the film is worth a watch for Duplass' strange and chilling portrayal alone. Unfortunately, it signals we're still not out of the found-footage woods just yet.

They Live
They Live(1988)

Apart from being a masterfully original horror satire on its own, They Live functions as a lucid portrayal of media, government, and social constructs. It's both though-provoking and ridiculously over-the-top, making for a great throwback experience.

Cop Car
Cop Car(2015)
½

Cop Car is a very unusual exploration of gritty thrillers, operating on such a ridiculously over-the-top level that it's almost pure cinematic genius. Almost. Side note: I would like to believe that the children of the world are nowhere near as dimwitted as the two kids in this film, but I know I'm probably severely mistaken about that.

Attack on Titan Part 1 (Shingeki no kyojin: Attack on Titan)

As far as adaptations go, the live-action version of Attack on Titan is one of the most disappointing experiences I've had in my entire life. There's a whisper of the source material hidden somewhere in the film, but it's been so brutally massacred that everything on screen feels like a desecration to the AoT name itself. Perhaps that's a bit extreme, but this is definitely NOT a film for devout fans of the manga or anime. It's simply far too detached. We have characters with the same names in the film, but they're simply not the characters we know. Mikasa and Armin are perhaps the worst casting decision in the film, and this isn't even accounting for the fact that they are so severely unlike their original characters, that it's like watching an entirely different version of Attack on Titan--which is perhaps the best way to approach it. As an action/horror thriller, Attack on Titan works very well, pulsating with intensity and grisly death. And yet, there's no story. No background. The characters are so painfully two-dimensional, which is hard to watch considering the incredibly emotive and profound impact their backgrounds have in terms of the tale being told. The source material was all there to be worked with, and almost every single aspect of it is ignored for the sake of action and bloodshed. Aside from a few cheap thrills, particularly during the film's final scenes where we see Eren's Titan (IT'S AMAZING) and the squad in kill-mode using their maneuvering gear (ALSO AMAZING), Attack on Titan's live-action version is a massive disappointment. If you're a fan of a manga or the anime, you will despise it. Don't say I didn't warn you. (And if you don't believe me: Eren's mom never gets eaten and Levi was removed from the plot. Seriously.)

Goodnight Mommy

Dark, atmospheric, and relentlessly unnerving, Goodnight Mommy is a psychologically lucid exploration of mental stability, trust, and family. Though never quite living up to its full potential as a horror film, Goodnight Mommy creates a highly unique and agitating ambiance with immense payoff in its final, climactic reveal. Not one to be overlooked by arthouse horror fans.

The Gift
The Gift(2015)
½

Joel Edgerton is THE MAN. In his stunning directorial debut, The Gift is easily the most sophisticated and anxiety-inducing thriller of 2015--both through the gritty tone Edgerton sets as its director and in his chilling portrayal as the film's antagonist. Blurring the lines of morality and truth, The Gift is not only a perturbing tale of humanity and consequence, it is a vitally honest one. The film's message hits hard and quite unexpectedly, making it essential viewing for suspense-lovers and casual movie-goers alike.

Southpaw
Southpaw(2015)

I wanted to love this film. I really did. But when all it boiled down to it, it felt too much like a run-of-the-mill boxing tale with heart-tugging scenes at every corner and a ridiculously predicable plot. Jake Gyllenhaal's incredible performance, however, shone vastly through the Lifetime movie feel of it all.

Felt
Felt(2015)

Bold, eerie, and darkly haunting, FELT is a brutally nihilistic journey through the life of a cynical young woman disenchanted with love and the world around her. Though slow-paced and meager in providing any discernible plot, FELT succeeds as an unparalleled exploration of feminism, sexuality, and the bleakness of human existence. FELT probably also holds the record for the most fake penises and vaginas shown in a film.

Ant-Man
Ant-Man(2015)

Ant-Man is, hands down, Marvel's most clever and ambitiously successful film since Guardians of the Galaxy. Non-stop wit, gorgeous cinematography, and an absolutely stellar cast make this film another huge victory for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the groundwork it has set for those to come. Paul Rudd, welcome to the MCU. We're happy to have you and we'll see you in a few years.

Poltergeist
Poltergeist(2015)
½

Poltergeist 2.0 feels like a horror film for children with ADHD, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I went into the film with exceedingly low expectations and was insanely surprised by how fantastic it was. I had a total blast watching it from beginning to end. There was never a dull moment, the wit was razor-sharp, and while it may not have been particularly terrifying, it was highly entertaining. I don't have to tell you how unoriginal the film is--come on, it's a remake. Nevertheless, it's enjoyable and modernized enough to be a welcome inclusion among a sea of blandly unnecessary rehashes, all while paying all its creepy and clever homages to the original.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Immediately after Mad Max: Fury Road ended (and I collected myself from the insurmountable awe I was in), I downloaded the official OST and have been blasting it ever since-much to the dismay of everyone residing in my household and probably my neighbors as well. Its orchestral grandeur is matched only by its paired film, invoking a sense of blood-pumping suspense and cataclysmic insanity, and indeed, there is no other way to better describe the film. Mad Max: Fury Road is a thrilling, adrenaline-fueled ride through the dark mind of George Miller, who takes hold of Mad Max franchise with brutal ferocity for the fourth installment of the franchise. Best of all, Fury Road excels not only as an action film, but also as a highly artistic and stirring commentary on feminism, tyranny, and religion, all enveloped in the guise of mere savagery and gore.

But we'll get back to that soon enough. A little about Fury Road first. As previously mentioned, this is the fourth installment of the Mad Max series, with the last film having been released over thirty years ago. While the Mad Max installments from the late 70s and 80s focus on issues such as energy crises, petroleum shortages, and death duels, Fury Road centers on Imperator Furiosa, played with elegant ferocity by Charlize Theron, as she attempts to evade the tyrannical Immortal Joe with the Five Wives-five young women used for breeding. Furiosa escapes with the girls under the guise of heading for a fuel supply run, eventually going off route and catching the attention of Immortal Joe's vigilant War Boys. It is then that Immortal Joe realizes Imperator Furiosa's plan to escape with the Five Wives, launching the action-packed, film-long race as Immortal Joe and his army of War Boys pursue Furiosa and the Five Wives. It is a thundering, violent ride from beginning to end, with vehicles equipped with weapons ranging from long spikes, explosives, catapults, giant stilts, grappling hooks, and lots of guns.

Lest we forget the central character of the film, Max himself, played with mystery and ruthlessness by Tom Hardy. Hardy excels as the troubled yet loyal Max, aiding Furiosa and the Five Wives on their journey to "The Green Place," where they believe to find safety and solace. Nicholas Hoult, playing War Boy Nux, also deserves high praise for his intoxicating role, hell-bent on serving Immortal Joe and willing to sacrifice his life for eternity in Valhalla, spray-painting his mouth silver so that he may look "shiny" when entering the afterlife. This is a belief all the War Boys share, surmising that the War Boys share a skewed vision of Norse religion. Though they are never seen worshiping the Gods, their belief in Valhalla is specifically in line with the Norse beliefs of the Germanic heroes and kings, such as Odin, Thor, and Freyr. Additionally, the concept of sacrificial death is a large part of Norse religion, suggesting that the War Boys believed their martyred deaths would grant them immediate entry to Valhalla. The War Boys' silver spray-painting of the mouth is also aligned with Norse religion, as they believed the Gods were representations of sunshine and brightness.

The War Boys are a perfect example of the stunning array of eclectic and savage characters in Fury Road, making for an unforgettably lucid and vicious experience. The real power of Fury Road, however, lies with Theron's portrayal of Imperator Furiosa as she protects the Five Wives. She is undeniably the most authoritative and compelling character of the film, outshining the legendary Mad Max by a long shot. Her strength and passion, coupled with that of the gorgeously fiery Five Wives, makes Fury Road one of the most profound feminist films in years, which is a major accomplishment for an action franchise that has previously centered around the power of men. In an interview with Buzzfeed, Theron stated, "George [Miller] has this innate understanding that women are just as complex and interesting as men. Through just his need and want for the truth, he actually made an incredibly feminist movie." When questioned about the rage that fuels her character, she went on to say, "Surprise, women have that. I'm not the only one." Indeed, Imperator Furiosa is one rage-filled woman, showing that not only men are capable of insurmountable strength when it comes to fighting for a cause they believe in.

Ultimately, Mad Max: Fury Road (which I firmly believe should be renamed Feminist Road) is a stunning accomplishment both cinematically and societally. It is a gorgeously psychotic bloodbath with breathtaking cinematography and dazzling colorization. George Miller has truly created an action epic. Beyond that, however, Fury Road has broken the Hollywood cliché of the damsel in distress, in need of a strong man to come and save the day. Sure, Hardy has some vehemently murderous sequences-and boy, are they murderous-but it's near impossible to deny that Theron's Furiosa, along with the Five Wives and other females in the latter section of the film, are the real fighters. Fury Road broke a Hollywood mold that needed breaking, and is a highly hopeful sign of more empowering films to come.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron was everything I hoped it would be and more. Sure, it's filled with loads of same old wit and banter we all got used to with the first Avengers film, but Ultron brought an entirely new morbidity in what is possibly the darkest film of the MCU as of yet. Joss Whedon really knew how to leave the franchise with a bang. Age of Ulton has much more heart and humanity than any Marvel film as of yet, and its perfect balance with its breathtaking explosiveness makes for a hugely entertaining spectacle.

It Follows
It Follows(2015)

Ever since hitting indie theaters earlier this year, "It Follows" has been receiving an immense amount of critical acclaim, going as far as being deemed "the most terrifying horror film of the past decade." Due to its extensive positive praise and high-grossing status, the film was expanded to a wide release this past weekend for all to enjoy, and it did not disappoint.

"It Follows" has an ominous and simplistic plot, yet it is a difficult film to discuss without sounding ridiculous. It is important to note that the film is deeply metaphorical and requires a great deal of patience, but if given the time and post-viewing analysis it deserves, it will undoubtedly leave a great deal of viewers paranoid and highly unsettled.

After a brutally unsettling opening scene, we meet the protagonist of "It Follows," Jay, as she calmly floats in her backyard pool. Jay is a pretty, calm-mannered teenager with a close-knit group of friends. She's currently dating a mysterious boy named Hugh, and during their date one evening, he panics and forces them to leave the theater they are attending. Jay, however, is so enamored by Hugh, that she looks past his erratic behavior and continues to see him. On their following date, they drive out into the woods and have sex in the backseat of his car, and as Jay lies in the backseat discussing her childhood dreams of being with a cute boy and having a sense of freedom, Hugh attacks her from behind and puts her to sleep with a cloth dosed in chloroform.

Jay awakens tied to a chair, terrified by what Hugh will do to her. He promises her he has no intentions of harming her, but rather tells her she is in danger. He discloses that during intercourse, he "transferred" something to Jay-a supernatural entity that will hunt her down and kill her unless she sexually transmits it to someone else. "This thing... it's going to follow you," he tells her. "Somebody gave it to me, and I've passed it to you. Wherever you are, it's somewhere, walking straight for you. All you can do is pass it along to someone else."

The entity first appears to Jay while she is with Hugh in the form of a naked woman, as he tells her that only those that have been infected are able to see the entity, himself included. "It could look like someone you know, or it can be a stranger in a crowd," he continues. "Whatever helps it get close to you." The entity, essentially, can shapeshift into a person of any age, race, or gender, and will walk towards the infected until reaching them and killing them. If Jay is killed, the entity will attempt to kill Hugh again, and return back down the line of all those who have sexually transmitted it beforehand.

Jay begins to see the entity everywhere after that night, in the form of an elderly woman, a deformed man, and young girl, among other incarnations-always hauntingly walking straight toward her. Her only choice is to run from it, though it is impossible to ever escape it. Her friends seemingly play along at first, taking shelter in distant cabins and beaches, doubting Jay's sanity as she begs them for help. They soon discover that the entity is altogether real during a supernatural experience where they see an invisible force grab Jay from behind and fling one of their friends backwards, leaving a demonic, hand-shaped bruise on his torso. The group then agrees to do whatever it takes to keep Jay safe, and soon construct a plan to kill the entity before it takes her life.

Simply put, "It Follows" it easily the most effective and spine-chilling abstinence film ever made. Its metaphorical stance on safe sex and the spread of STIs are palpable and visceral, and yet, the film is so much more than that. It has the look and feel of a teen horror film from the 80s, with a sinister and atmospheric mood along the lines of the work of John Carpenter and Wes Craven. The film also has a gorgeously dreamy and nightmarish soundtrack echoing 80s horror synth-scores, adding to the film's suspense and intensity as it progresses.

Essentially, "It Follows" is as much a horrific experience as it is a subtle one. Although it builds suspense expertly, it is not a film with any large payoff, climax, or conventional jump-scares. Nothing in the film is overdone and it does not provide a sense of closure. For this reason, "It Follows" is a film that will appeal more to audiences looking for something outside the typical horror norm, where everything is allegorical and nothing is spoon-fed. That said, "It Follows" may not be the most terrifying experience you will have in a theater all year, but rather one that begs to be deciphered and judged as a whole. One thing, however, is for certain-many will be looking over their shoulders and practicing safe sex for quite a while after viewing.

Unfriended
Unfriended(2015)

This year has been incredibly lax for great horror films, and disappointingly so. Not only has there been a limited number of releases for the genre, but the quality of many of this year's releases have been tedious and less than mediocre-with perhaps the only exception being David Robert Mitchell's "It Follows." And yes, I'm very excited for the upcoming Sinister 2 and Insidious: Chapter 3. But as far as modern horror with original style and creativity goes, Unfriended broke an interesting mold in the genre, and will likely influence horror to come.

Taking place entirely in real time on the protagonist's MacBook computer screen, Unfriended treads new water for found-footage cinema by depicting the genuine feeling of being on your laptop, or really, the feel that you're watching someone browse through Facebook, iMessage, Skype, YouTube, Spotify-you name it. I think she has Jezebel on her bookmarks bar. The movie has believable progression due to its relevance on our age in technology and the cliché terms we all hear or say to one another. There have been few other films that have previously utilized this "computer screen found footage" approach-The Den, V/H/S-though none have done it as expertly paced and intricately stylish as Unfriended. This film is undoubtedly a timely horror film for the social media generation, making generous odes to the sites and apps mentioned above, in addition to Snapchat, Instagram, and ChatRoulette. While this makes for an entertaining experience, the film holds the distinct mark of today's relevant technology, dissenting it from ever being considered timeless. It will definitely be regarded a cult classic for our generation, much like Paranormal Activity was eight years ago. It also holds a similarity to The Ring. Ultimately, Unfriended is a relatable and shockingly dark experience, which is what allows it to get under the skin of the social-media-obsessed, myself included.

Unfriended opens with a cluttered Macbook desktop screen-a setting that will remain for the film's entirety. Our protagonist, Blaire Lily, is watching the suicide video of Laura Barnes, a girl who shot herself in public due to online bullying. This was recorded exactly one year prior to the events portrayed in the film. Before committing suicide, photos and videos of a highly inebriated Laura Barnes were posted online for all to see, including one where she is passed out in a dark alley and the video focuses on her having soiled herself. Blaire closes the screen and we first see her as she's Skyping with her boyfriend, teasing video sexting before their entire group of friends join the chat as they are undressing. The friends laugh, of course, and all get along with their own individual spark, yet each are a play on the clichéd nature of high-schoolers.

Blaire and her boyfriend, Mitch, keep in contact through iMessage on their computers as they begin to recieve sinister messages from Laura Barnes' Facebook page. Blaire attempts to report the page because she believes a person has hacked it, and when she is unable to, she "unfriends" Laura Barnes-and the film goes psychotic from there. Laura Barnes' account hacks onto all of the friends' computers and forces them to play a macabre game that grows more and more savage. The film uses glitches and other computer effects to create a unique and boggling experience, and its relentlessness becomes explosive during its second half. It is an expertly paced and wholly unparalleled experience. Yes, it has cliché moments, as expected from horror, but this could also be interpreted as the film's self-awareness as a play on clichés. Honestly, this all chalks up to: GO SEE IT. IT'S CREEPY AND FUN.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

If there has been any film in the past decade that has reinvigorated my love for vampire films, it is A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The film is a brutal, relentless, and absolutely gorgeously directed masterpiece. Marketed as "a black-and-white Iranian vampire horror-western," the film is an atmospheric and cinematically breathtaking work of art. It is dark, brooding, and violent, and high praise must be given to Sheila Vand for perfectly encapsulating her alluring and malevolent role as "The Girl." A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is gothic horror at its best, and definitely not one to be overlooked.

Chappie
Chappie(2015)
½

Artificial intelligence has been a common theme in the science fiction genre for almost a century, whether in plays, novels, television shows, or of course, cinema. The moral implications of creating sentient robotic life, or rather, robotic life that can cognitively think and feel emotions like a human being, have also long been portrayed and debated. For the most part, classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey to this weekend's newest sci-fi thriller, Chappie, have taught us one thing: dabbling with artificial intelligence does not end well. Don't do it. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong. In this sense, Chappie isn't really treading any new ground, but that doesn't take away from the film being a playful, satirical, and gory good time.

Chappie starts off promising enough, set sometime in the future in the South African city of Johannesburg, where armed and armored robots are utilized as police forces, greatly reducing the crime rates in the city and saving numerous civilian lives. The inventor of these robots, Deon Wilson (played by Dev Patel from The Newsroom, Slumdog Millionaire), is reaping the success of his creations, yet his sights are set on something of a much larger nature: sentient robots. For over three years, he has been working on software to create a robot that can rationalize and experience emotions in the same way humans can. After long nights of vigorous reconfiguration, Deon finally cracks the code and immediately goes to the CEO of Tetravaal, the company creating and distributing said police robots, for permission to integrate the program into one of the robots as a personal experiment. After being turned down, he sits gloomily at his desk as he stares at an inspirational cat poster pinned to his wall, providing the emotional breakthrough he needs to rebel against the company and create his own sentient robot. Looking past the glaring ridiculousness of this scene, Deon manages to steal a robot from the factory before being mugged by a group of thugs with the intention of threatening Deon to shut down the robotics program to perform a heist.

Yolandi and Ninja from the popular rap-rave group Die Antwoord play outlandish, criminalized versions of themselves in the film, forcing Deon to revive the robot with his sentience software, and here begins the life of Chappie. Deon's software appears to be a success, and much unlike the hardened, police-trained robots utilized in the country, Chappie is immediately afraid of his surroundings, hiding beneath a counter like a small child. Chappie is an innocent, adorable robot that learns to speak, act, and love like a real human, and it is a true feat to watch. Of course, it is not long before he is corrupted by the hardened criminals he is surrounded by, spouting vulgarities in a manner that is much more humorous than it is offensive. Much to Deon's discontent, Chappie is soon sporting gold chains, walking like a thug, and performing a series of robberies, yet he always maintains an air of compassion and innocence, unaware of his wrongdoings. The juxtaposition of Chappie's kindhearted nature with the cruelty of the real world is both gripping and distressing to watch, particularly as he tries to make sense of the world around him.

Chappie is one of the funniest and cutest robot entities to exist in both classic and modern sci-fi, and that in itself makes the film worth a watch. Additionally, Hugh Jackman playing the jealous and villainous Vincent Moore adds a vividly dark layer to the film as it progresses, leading to a violent and dauntingly climactic finale. As a whole, Chappie is a highly entertaining film with loads of laughs, explosions, and heart. However, it remains quite simple-minded as a story, never truly making any sort of original or foreboding statement about the dangers of artificial intelligence. At the end of it all, Chappie is an amusing popcorn film for sci-fi fanatics, but it is by no means a thought-provoking one that will linger with audiences after it is over.

The Last 5 Years

The Last 5 Years is an ingenious satirical musical that blends the new to the oldies in a witty and poignant manner. But it becomes so dark and convoluted that it is hard to find any purpose in it, perhaps due to its cynical nature. Regardless, it is a uniquely whimsical and beautifully relentless tale. Its opposite-occurring plots as the film progresses makes it an especially interesting watch.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service is the first great film of 2015, by far. Immeasurable wit, insane gore, and a totally surreal and original script. I haven't had such a blast at the theater in a long time. Definitely not one to be missed.

Fifty Shades of Grey
½

The problem with 50 Shades of Grey is that it doesn't amount to much. It is a mediocre, high-budget softcore porn film with an electrifying cast but a shit-poor script and absolutely moronic portrayal of BDSM. Dakota J. is adorably awkward yet strong-willed and Jaime D. is gorgeously brooding and mysterious. Unfortunately, it feels exactly like what a Lifetime-sponsored porn film would feel like: Bland and badly written, even if it gets steamy as hell. While certain aspects of the film, such as its ending , tackled very interesting concepts concerning feminism, dominance, and psychological instability, the film was more concerned in showing you two hot actors have sex for 20 minutes than it was in making a societal statement. The only redeeming quality of the film is Jaime looking intensely at Dakota and saying, "I don't make love. I fuck. Hard."

Coherence
Coherence(2014)
½

In what could possibly be the best sci-fi film of our generation, Coherence functions on such a high level of intellect and creativity that it is impossible not to love. What starts off as a simple party amongst friends becomes a thrilling and terrifying analysis on personality and morality, with a few quantum physics thrown into the equation (no pun intended). It's a beautiful and deeply philosophical film that isn't afraid to explore the dark dark side of humanity and ego, and it without a doubt demands more than one viewing.

Blackhat
Blackhat(2015)

If you're in the mood for an excruciatingly dull shitfest starring Thor trying to be smart for over two hours, has Michael Mann made a film for you! Highlights: Viola Davis being a sarcastic bitch, as usual. Chris Hemsworth staring off into the distance, pretending he has a brain.

Kidnapped For Christ

Kidnapped for Christ is one of the darkest and most emotionally tormenting documentaries I have ever seen. The events depicted and questions raised in this documentary are unlike any other and have lasting effects long after the credits have begun to roll. The documentary begins with various individuals being interviewed about the disappearance of David, a teenager from Greeley, Colorado. Friends, teachers, and neighbors all discuss their suspicions behind his disappearance, including the lies that were spread by his family pertaining to his whereabouts.

This is followed by interviews with children who were forcibly taken from their homes in the middle of the night, with strangers breaking down their doors and telling them nothing except that they were being taken to a school in the Dominican Republic, as their parents silently watched. The children were told they had no choice, and if they refused, they were tied up with belts and dragged from their homes.

After this ominous introduction, we meet the documentarian, Kate Logan. Logan was the only Evangelical Christian in her family and attended a Christian college after graduation, where she studied film and participated in mission trips around the world. This led her to the Dominican Republic, where she learned of a small, Christian boarding school named "Escuela Caribe" that claimed to rehabilitate troubled teens from the United States in an attempt to bring them closer to Christ. Logan states that she initially set out on this journey to document the positive effects private schools such as these may have on troubled children. What she discovered, however, was much more haunting than what she could ever have expected.

Logan begins the documentary by stating that she hopes to discover truth and see how this trip will align with her faith in God. She arrives at Escuela Caribe and meets the directors and instructors of the institution, who all seem cheerful and friendly, singing gospel songs and telling the teens their goal is to "restructure and rediscipline their lives, which are in disarray." The director of the community, David Wier, states that Escuela Caribe is a Christian therapeutic residential boarding facility. The wordiness of this location is a red flag in-and-of-itself, bordering on what a cult might sound like, yet Wier validates the necessity of this community by the manner in which it helps straighten out the lives of troubled kids.

Logan continues by interviewing counselors, officers, and staff at the location in an attempt to figure out how this place came to exist. She learns of the founder, Pastor Gordon Blossom, who experienced similar residential treatment in his youth as a juvenile delinquent. We then learn why exactly this "private school" is located in the Dominican Republic. Blossom believed that culture shock was a necessity for rehabilitation, calling it "culture shock therapy," in which taking a child's security from them and placing them in a land with a different language, different food, and different ambiance is seen as a necessity to make the child feel uneasy and alone, therefore giving them full control over the child. Parents are the ones responsible for signing up their children for this private school, where tuition is $72,000 annually. To put things in perspective, this is $10,000 more than Harvard. The staff in the community claims these children are only sent when their situations at home are severe or wholly unmanageable, calling for dire circumstances. A child's typical stay is from 18 to 24 months.

The journey through Escuela Caribe becomes even more chilling when you hear the reasons some of the teens were sent to the location in the first place. One teenage girl discusses her issues with panic attacks going untreated, leading to an attempted suicide. Another discusses having been raped and neglected by her family, finding security in drugs and shoplifting. David, who was discussed at the start of the documentary, was sent because of his homosexuality and the intolerance of his parents.

Logan expresses her surprise about the teens in the community. Where she expected to find hardened criminals, she seemed to only find troubled and misunderstood kids. Escuela Caribe soon begins to have the look and feel of a cult, with the children repeatedly chanting "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world" and being forced to follow daily routines and assignments, down to having the ends of their beds folded at a perfect 45 degree angle or setting perfect spacing between their hung clothes. They are disciplined through excruciating exercise routines, total restriction of any social contact with anyone in the school, being forced to stand facing a wall for hours on end, or given "swats," which are beatings delivered with a wooden paddle or a leather belt. Those in charge of looking over the students tell them not to burden them with their "emotional problems," because it gets in the way of productivity. Most teens in the school claim they are doing anything and everything they have to do just to get home. They are in a constant state of terror because every word they speak and action they commit has a consequence. The severity of the physical and emotional abuse these teens experience becomes much darker and unsettling as the documentary continues, and it is relentlessly enraging. Logan's dismay is poignant and unsettling, and you can hear the pain in her voice as she learns this place was not at all what she expected it to be.

In one of the most heart-wrenching interviews of the film, David discusses everything he misses from home: sitting by a piano or playing guitar and singing; talking to his friends; playing with his dog. He is clearly distraught as he tries to hold back tears, reminiscing about "the old days." Furthermore, David is punished with full restrictions for attempting to contact his friends back home, simply to let them know he's alive. David admits that he feels rejected by his parents and the staff at the community, stating that he feels as though he always has to put up a front that isn't his true self and is never truly able to open up. He says he has to hide behind a mask where he can never express who he is, causing a lot of repressed emotional pain. It is at this point that we begin to ask ourselves, does David, or for that matter any of the other teens forced to reside here, really deserve this sort of isolation and punishment? How could something so vile be done in the name of Christianity?

Logan is deeply discomforted with how the students are being treated in Escuela Caribe. She begins to questions everything the school stands for, and by extension, her own faith. She prays in search for answers, but the juxtaposition of her faith and the faith instilled by this school are too alarmingly different for her to fully comprehend. Escuela Caribe is not a good or beneficial place. It is socially, emotionally, and physically tormenting to those who are forced to attend it and nothing good has come of it. In Kate Logan's own words, "After all this, it became very clear to me that this so-called therapy was doing more harm than good." It is a place where you are forced to believe what is imposed upon you, and if you do not, there will be violent consequences.

Kidnapped for Christ is a deeply distressing, heart-wrenching, and enraging documentary. It is a clear depiction of abuse of power and a perversion of Christianity. It is a look inside a godless community parading with the idea of God. Logan is a true revelation as a documentarian, capturing not only the emotions of the tormented youth but her own during her experience. She is unrelenting, even after she is threatened with legal charges from Escuela Caribe and David's parents if and when she chooses to release this documentary. The horrors of places such as these are described with distressing accuracy by an ex-student of Escuela Caribe: "It's crazy how they would twist the words of the Bible just to make themselves sound legit. What they were doing was not right. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy. Not a day."

Kidnapped for Christ is now available for streaming on iTunes, Video on Demand, and Showtime On Demand. For more information on the documentary and stopping abuse in adolescent residential programs such as Escuela Caribe, visit kidnappedforchrist.com.

Ida
Ida(2014)

Set in 1960's Poland, Ida follows a young, orphaned nun named Anna who is near taking her vows in her Catholic convent. However, prior to taking her vows, Anna is advised by her Mother Superior of an existing relative she must visit before taking her vows, as a form of familial closure. Anna then visits her only living relative, Wanda, who juxtaposes Anna's innocent and reserved nature with her loud, drunken, and crude behavior. Anna is told of her true familial roots, learning that her real name is Ida Lebenstein and that she is, in fact, Jewish. Determined to trace back her lineage and find the graves of her family, Ida and Wanda begin a journey into their past, finding both beauty and heartache in their world set in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Presented entirely in black and white and shot with breathtaking artistry, Ida is a visually poetic masterpiece. Adata Trzebuchowska encompasses the role of Ida with, beauty, finesse, and a pure look of innocence as she begins to experience both the elegance and tragedy of the world for the first time. There is a deep internal struggle in Ida as she attempts to find her individuality through her lineage, her faith, and the nature of the outside world through her experiences with her aunt, and every emotion is felt and seen with subtly in Trzebuchowska's actions and expressions. She is captivatingly delicate, even in her silence, as we try to decipher the constant ponderous look in her eyes. As a newcomer to Polish cinema, Trzebuchowska is mesmerizing and alluring every moment she is on screen, and she inarguably has an overwhelming amount of potential in her future cinematic endeavors.

Birdman
Birdman(2014)

In what is perhaps one of the most metaphorically mind-consuming and cinematically astounding films of 2014, Birdman excels in its unique storytelling and symbolic undertones on the current state of humanity and entertainment.

Michael Keaton's talent and wit are unmatched as Riggan Thompson, a man struggling with his inner demons as he attempts to make his comeback in a Broadway production. However, it seems Riggan will always live in his own shadow for having played the infamous role of "Birdman," a blockbuster comic book adaptation he starred in twenty years prior to this.

The film is presented in one long, continuous shot, giving it a dizzying, maze-like effect akin to Keaton's state of mind as he constantly doubts himself and his mental stability. Every scene in the film is filled with thematic meaning, from its surreal imagery to its unnerving score. The film is also a fascinating character study on vanity, self-doubt, and fame, along with numerous other thoughts that buzz through Riggan's head-portrayed with comical perfection in voiceover form.

Ultimately, Birdman is a gorgeously stylistic and dense piece of cinema that demands to be analyzed and interpreted upon viewing.

Listen Up Philip

It has rarely been so enjoyable to watch the life of a jaded cynic fall apart as he insults and loses all the people closest to him. Philip, played with uncanny brilliance by Jason Schwartzman, is a rudely uncompromising writer living in the shadow of the popularity of his first novel. However, as the publication of his second novel doesn't go as smoothly as expected, Philip becomes as insultingly unrelenting as ever, making it impossible to empathize with him yet making it impossible to look away.

Elizabeth Moss shines in her role as his tormented girlfriend, Ashley, having to deal with his incessant rants and self-loathing temperament. Philip attempts to realign his personal perspectives by leaving Ashley and befriending one of his literary idols, Ike Zimmerman, who is almost equally as emotionally dissociated and self-absorbed as Philip. Zimmerman invites Philip to live with him in his country home as Philip teaches creative writing at a local liberal arts college, and the duo seemingly live for any bit of misery and deprecation they can gripe about.

The nihilistic undertones of the tale are palpable, and yet Listen Up Philip remains to be a highly entertaining and comical experience, proving that even the most insufferable characters can be the most pleasurable to watch.

Snowpiercer
Snowpiercer(2014)

In light of so many dystopian films as of late, Snowpiercer has been one of the few to make a truly profound statement about the injustices of politics and inequality rather than survival in a post-apocalyptic world.

The film takes place in a world that has entirely frozen over, with the remaining part of humanity aboard a massive train named "The Snowpiercer." Even on board this train, there is a class system in place, with the poor living in the back quarters of the train and the rich living towards the front, in a much more lavish environment.

Chris Evans delivers a spectacular performance as Curtis, a man labeled a lower-class citizen on board the train and forced to reside in the rear section. Curtis and a crew of other determined survivors violently fight their way through each segment of the Snowpiercer in an attempt to reach the front, intending to attain control of the engine to realign the social status that has been wrongfully imposed upon them.

Above all, Snowpiercer is a breathtaking and thrilling tale depicting a fight for equality despite dire circumstances, and it is philosophically and politically profound from start to finish.

Maps to the Stars
½

David Cronenberg's directorial work is always a much-anticipated and entirely unexpected journey, and Maps to the Stars is no exception.

Filled to the brim with A-listers, from Julianne Moore to Robert Pattinson to John Cusack, Maps to the Stars is a dark yet satirically relevant film about the state of Hollywood and the thirst for fame in a morally obsolete era. The film follows the Weiss family in their envious and self-obsessed quest for fame, showing the horrific and psychologically tormenting lengths they are willing to go to for celebrity status, and yet the film never loses touch with its humor and outlandish societal impressionism.

Maps to the Stars is a visually stunning, jadedly inhumane, and psychosexual piece of art that one can expect from Cronenberg, and it is absolute supremacy as a commentary on the cynicism and narcissism of our modern age.

Nymphomaniac: Volume I
½

Lars von Trier is by no means a conventional director. From Antichrist to Melancholia to his newest psychosexual piece of cinema, Nymphomaniac, von Trier has proven he can create some of the most artistic yet highly unsettling ambiances in film.

Comprised of two parts, each spanning the length of two hours, Nymphomaniac is a film that, quite simply, delivers what the title promises-it is a film about a woman who has struggled with sexual addiction her entire life. However, it presents this theme with such sharpness, beauty, and sorrow, that it is easy to look past the almost pornographic and bacchanal nature of the film to find its true meaning.

Nymphomaniac begins by leading us down a dark alley where we meet the protagonist of our film lying unconscious on the snow-covered cement, bruised and bloodied. A man named Seligman finds her and takes her into his home to care for her after she expresses apprehension about being admitted to a hospital. Seligman inquires about her injuries and we begin to learn more about our protagonist, Joe, and her deep sense of self-loathing and cynicism about life. Joe, however, finds it difficult to put her story into words, due to its length and density. Therefore, she uses physical objects and metaphysical concepts around Seligman's apartment to outline her tale. There is heavy use of symbolism in the film as Joe recounts her appalling story of sexual addiction, and she is vulgar and tenacious as she outlines the discovery of her sexuality and its destructive progression throughout her life.

Nymphomaniac is dark, unfiltered, and tragic, but it is inarguably a thematically dense and significant film about loss and the despairing struggles of personal demons.

The Babadook
The Babadook(2014)

The Babadook is arguably one of the most cerebral and effective horror films ever created, and it is a film that lingers with you long after it is over.

The film has received much acclaim for its atmospheric and macabre storytelling, following a mother and her son after they discover what appears to be a children's book named Mister Babadook. It becomes clear after reading only a few pages that this is far from a normal bedtime story, and the child becomes immediately traumatized by the idea of Mister Babadook coming to haunt him. The film builds slowly but surely in intensity, outlining the fine line between paranoia and psychosis.

The Babadook is not only hauntingly suspenseful and nerve-wracking, but functions also as an analysis on the relationship between a single mother and her son, particularly in terms of the psychological effects of a traumatic loss. It is dark, terrifying, and most of all, an important film when it comes to understanding love, loss, and all the calamities that endure between the juxtaposition of the two.

The Way He Looks

In what is perhaps one of the most sentimental coming-of-age films of the year, The Way He Looks is an artfully told Brazilian film that follows Leonardo, a blind boy dealing with the everyday struggles of life due to his disability. He is teased and ridiculed by others in his high school on a daily basis, and his best friend, Giovana, stands by his side every step of the way-physically and metaphorically.

Yet, Leonardo yearns for independence. He longs to discover the world, and moreover, discover himself. His life slowly begins to change as he befriends a new student, Gabriel. The two instantly click and become extremely close friends, sparking jealously from Giovana and afflicted feeling from Leonardo as he attempts to make sense of his thoughts, experiences, and sexuality.

The Way He Looks is a subtle yet magnificent tale about friendship, love, and hardship, and it is one that is flawlessly presented with sentimental and humanistic meaning.

The Double
The Double(2014)
½

The Double tells the tale of Simon James, a young man who has worked at the same company for over 7 years yet goes unnoticed by everyone around him, much to his discontent. Simon is quiet and gives off an awkward gawkiness, particularly when attempting to make conversation with his crush, Hannah.

However, Simon's sullen existential crisis hardly has time to irritate him as he's thrown into an almost supernatural whiplash. At his workplace, a new man named James Simon-a reversal of his own name-is hired and revered by the other employees, living off high praise at work during the day and being a seductive womanizer during the night.

We immediately know not all is as it seems as we're introduced to James Simon, largely due to the fact that he looks identical to Simon James. As a friendship flourishes between the two, it becomes evident that James is a cunning and manipulative individual, interested only in his own success and self-worth as he uses Simon to his liking.

The Double builds with sinister suspense, yet never loses touch with its satirical undertones and darkly gothic atmosphere. The film is both riotous and alluring, rendering a moodily artistic feel in an imaginative yet subtle dystopian future.

Enemy
Enemy(2014)
½

2014 was truly a year of phenomenal performances from Jake Gyllenhaal, considering he appears twice on this list as a film's leading actor.

Enemy is an artistically chilling tale in which Gyllenhaal plays two different characters that are physically identical yet highly dissimilar in their personalities and mannerisms. We are first introduced to Adam, a college professor that is quiet and solitary. Upon the recommendation of a colleague, Adam rents a film named "Where There's a Will, There's a Way."

As he watches the film, Adam unexpectedly notices a bellhop in the film with which he shares an uncanny resemblance. He is immediately intrigued and looks for the actor's name in the credits: Daniel St. Claire, which he discovers is the stage name for one Anthony Claire. Adam rents other films starring Anthony and becomes aware that this man is his physical doppelgänger-the two men look precisely alike. His interest in Anthony extends to stalking him, visiting him at his office, and eventually calling him.

When the two eventually meet, they discover they truly are physically identical to one another, right down to their scars. However, Adam is much more reserved and inquisitive, whereas Anthony is sexual and rudely outspoken.

The film progresses in a gorgeously surreal and psychologically thrilling manner, filled with symbolic elements through colorization, camera styles, imagery, and even creatures. Every shot in Enemy has metaphorical meaning, and above all, it raises a highly sophisticated statement on identity, society, and existential turmoil. It is artistically and intelligently layered, and the symbolic vitality of the film at its conclusion demands to be contemplated long after the film is over.

Starred Up
Starred Up(2014)

Filled with violence, grit, and palpable tension, Starred Up is a difficult yet wholly rewarding watch about the horrors of prison life and the psychological torment it inflicts on inmates.

The film follows Eric, a volatile and unpredictable 19-year-old who is admitted into an adult prison where he must endure and defend himself against older, hardened convicts. Jack O'Connell provides a powerfully impactful performance as Eric, whose only aid comes in the form of a group therapist named Oliver, though Eric's therapy sessions seem to result in only more anger and frustration.

It is not long before Eric discovers he is residing in the same prison as his estranged father, Neville, whose presence is both a blessing and a curse in the prison setting. Both Oliver and Neville attempt to help and protect Eric inside the prison, though it is nearly impossible in such a viciously unrelenting environment. Gangs and corruption are at every corner as Eric attempts to fend for himself, portraying the juxtaposition of his youth with the savage nature of prison life.

Jack O'Connell is a true revelation in Starred Up, capturing his role with fervent intensity, ferocity, and ultimately, emotional poignancy. He is captivating every moment he is on screen and has proven he can be one of the greatest stars to have ever graced the silver screen. He's definitely left his Skins days behind.

At the end of it all, Starred Up is a brutally intense film and a difficult one to sit through, but its emotional and serious nature make it a rewarding and highly compelling experience.

Love Is Strange
½

Films like Love is Strange prove that simple storytelling still has the ability to be deeply meaningful and impactful when coupled with strong casting and a beautifully written script.

Love is Strange follows Ben and George, a gay couple four decades into their relationship. The two are harmonious and witty in their exchanges, giving off the feel of a couple that known each other all too well and deeply care for one another. The film begins on the morning of Ben and George's wedding, with the couple starting off their morning routine followed by a graceful, serene wedding that is long overdue for the couple.

However, as heartfelt as Love is Strange manages to be, it is equally as invested in telling a tale about the bigotry that still occurs in the United States. George is fired from his job as a choir director at a Catholic church due to his homosexuality, marked by his officially outing at the wedding. Ben is an artist, struggling to make ends meet, and with both out of a job, they are no longer able to afford their mortgage.

The couple is eventually driven to live separately, with any friends or family members that will take them in. Their separate experiences are humorous, unsettling, and most of all, poignantly compelling.

Love is Strange is a patient film that takes its time developing its characters, but it never fails to evoke an emotional response. It is, ultimately, an intimate and transcendentally passionate film.

Only Lovers Left Alive
½

For a generation infused with generic, melodramatic vampirism plotlines, Only Lovers Left Alive stands apart with its captivating intellectuality, razor-sharp wit, and ingenious self-satire in regards to vampire mythology. It is darkly brooding, as any vampire film should be, but with intelligence, heart, and stunningly macabre cinematography.

Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, playing century-old lovers named Adam and Eve, embody the vampiric nature flawlessly, telling a tale of the secrecy and survival of the vampire race. Unlike other vampires, Adam and Eve refuse to feed off humans out of fear of drinking contaminated blood that has been affected by environmental decline, therefore retrieving only clean blood from local suppliers or blood banks.

Adam is a lonely, secluded vampire who was once a great influence on the music industry, though has since found solace in solidarity and collecting vintage guitars. He is soon reunited with Eve, his long-time lover, who brings life and joy back into his life as they explore the city and dance to old records.

Their brief moment of happiness and tranquility, however, is rudely interrupted by the arrival of Eve's younger sister, Ava, who leaves a trail of havoc and ruin in her wake, seemingly without regard for her consequences. The trio embodies an entirely different breed of vampirism than what we have become accustomed to in modern cinema, making Only Lovers Left Alive a pleasant change from the norm while never losing touch with its morbidity.

The Theory of Everything

Although having been labeled a Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything is a film that supersedes the simplistic retellings of a man's life. It is a thoughtful, passionate, and deeply insightful look into the past of one of the most influential individuals who has ever lived, and it is told with heartwarming poignancy.

We are first introduced to the newly graduated Stephen Hawking at Cambridge University in the 1960's, where he meets and falls in love with Jane Wilde. The two meet at a party and are immediately drawn to one another, particularly due to their contemplative and intellectual natures. They discuss everything from the concrete nature of science to the existence of God-something they stand at odds with yet something that does not impede on their affection for one another.

At age 21, Hawking is diagnosed with motor neuron disease, a disease known for its severe physical decline in terms of all motor functioning and limited life expectancy. However, this in no way hinders Hawking's success, as he becomes one of the most acclaimed physicists of all time despite his disability worsening over time.

The Theory of Everything is truly a film about everything, from existence to science to personal battles to the entire spectrum of human emotion. It is the beautifully told biopic Stephen Hawking deserves, and it is as melancholic as it is eloquently significant.

Locke
Locke(2014)

Films like Locke prove that a low budget should in no way coincide with mediocrity. Locke is a claustrophobic and intense thriller that takes place, from beginning to end, in a vehicle, with a powerful and uncompromising performance by Tom Hardy. This film is a perfect encapsulation of one's drive for success and moral responsibility, as Hardy tries to manage the strenuous nature of his job as they are juxtaposed with the consequences of his reprehensible actions from months before.

Pieces of the story are slowly delivered through a series of phone calls as Locke attempts to balance his success in his job responsibilities as well as what he deems to be his moral obligation, and the outcome is nothing short of astoundingly moving through one of the most original forms of character development depicted on film.

Locke is an impressive and compelling film that relies more on true humanistic integrity than action-packed thrill sequences, and therein lies its success.

The Zero Theorem

Terry Gilliam's directorial work has always had a taste for scientific absurdities and fanatically hallucinatory ambiances, from Brazil to 12 Monkeys to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It comes as no surprise that The Zero Theorem exists in the same vein of his surrealist filmography.

Starring Christoph Waltz as a hyper-intelligent and existentially tormented man in a seemingly utopian future, The Zero Theorem tells the tale of an attempt to decipher the meaning of life, or lack thereof, in purely scientific terms. Waltz is magnificent and unnerving in his role, always referring to himself in plurals and over-analyzing everything that is told to him in his daily interaction, whether with other humans or artificially intelligent beings.

As he begins to obsessively work on the theorem of life, or "The Zero Theorem," the lines between reality and cyber-reality begin to blur in a crazed and elusive manner, all while presenting deeply philosophical concepts such as the importance of life, love, and beauty.

The Zero Theorem, however, is never quite interested in answering these questions, but rather idealizing them in an enthrallingly bizarre manner. This is a film with remarkably absorbing ideologies that create a beautiful and ponderous journey through the human experience, making it insightfully unforgettable.

Under the Skin

With her recent endeavors in sci-fi films, from Her to Lucy, Scarlett Johansson has proven herself to be a highly resilient and successful actress in the genre. Under the Skin is no exception.

In the film, Johansson embodies an alien predator who has taken the form of a human, using her sexually alluring nature to seduce men. Upon lustfully luring a man back to her apartment, Johansson unclothes herself as the man she has seduced walks towards her, slowly submerging himself into a black liquid until he is fully underneath. His body then caves in on itself and disappears, leaving only the remains of his exterior skin.

Johansson's character does this repeatedly, though the reasons for it are never made entirely clear. Under the Skin is a hallucinatory experience with metaphorically dense roots in the power of human sexuality, lust, and sexism.

It is not a film with a linear plot or any key developmental points, but rather a film to be experienced and interpreted with a sense of mystery and dread. Under the Skin is not a crowd-pleasing film and is not meant to be pleasantly enjoyable, and by no means does it end on a satisfying note. However, it remains to be one of the most aesthetically hypnotic and exquisitely constructed pieces of art house cinema of the year.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
½

It is always difficult to approach the first part of a two-part film, particularly when it is essentially a set-up for the climactic finale (I'm looking at you, Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hobbit franchises). Yes, this is undoubtedly a Hollywood cash-grab scheme, but that is not to say these first-part films should be given any leeway in terms of mediocrity. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. I, along with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, have been solid proof that "the end is near!" films can be both highly entertaining and successful. I am pleased to announce that the same can be said about Mockingjay Pt. I.

Mockingjay is, without a doubt, my favorite film in The Hunger Games series so far. I suppose this came as no surprise to me, considering the final book is my favorite of the trilogy, and its bleak, despairing mood is captured impeccably in the film. The Hunger Games franchise is no longer about panicked children in an arena fighting to the death. The Games are over and the Rebellion against the Capitol has begun, with Katniss Everdeen (played with ravishing ferocity, once again, by the ever-lovable Jennifer Lawrence) as the Rebellion's poster girl-their "Mockingjay." The film makes profound statements about human injustices and the morality of governmental power rather than bloodshed and death, and therein lies the film's success. It has transcended from a violent tale of oppression to a deeply moving and masterful portrayal of fighting for what you believe in, despite the inevitably dire consequences.

Mockingjay is melancholic and nerve-wracking from its first shot to its final one, and is therefore an incredibly difficult watch for those expecting a happy or satisfying ending. It becomes clear in Mockingjay Pt. 1 that this is an unlikely outcome, and yet, this by no means makes the film and the statements it is making any less important. It is a tale of anarchism for the sake of rebuilding democracy, which is a fascinating juxtaposition with the utilitarianism of the Capitol. While Mockingjay may not be as action-packed as its predecessors, it makes a much more crucial and relevant assertion through its powerful dialog and somber depictions of the aftermath of a civil war. Fear not, Mockingjay has enough heart-pounding action segments to keep you at the edge of your seat, yet this is notably not the point of the film. From the beginning of the series, The Hunger Games has focused on the sorrow and desperation of government brutality in a dystopian future. As we near the conclusion, Mockingjay delivers the perfect set-up for a satisfying ending. In many ways, Mockingjay Pt. I is simply just that: a set-up for the grand finale. However, it does so without ever losing touch with its vitality as a part of the story and is equally as (if not more than) immersive as all the previous Hunger Games films.

You may have noticed I have keenly avoided discussing the plot of Mockingjay Pt. I. This is with good reason. The plot of this film is very keenly laid out and progresses with the perfect amount of subtlety and suspense. Every word spoken and every measure taken is of massive importance to the series as a whole, and giving anything away would feel like desecration. Yes, I have provided you with the basics: The Rebellion is in full swing, Katniss is as vivacious and unrelenting as ever, and the Capitol has initiated a murderous civil war. In all honesty, this is all one needs to know when entering Mockingjay Pt. I because there is truly nothing as satisfying as experiencing the film and contemplating its political and moral viewpoints afterwards. That goes without saying, many that have flooded (and will continue to flood) theaters to watch this film are avid fans of the previous films or the novels, and therefore know exactly what they are in for. I will admit that the film feels incomplete, but I believe that it should, because the best (or worst, depending on your viewpoint) is yet to come. Mockingjay Pt. I is undoubtedly the most profound film of The Hunger Games films as of yet, and I have no doubt Pt. II will surpass it next November-even if it does shred my heart into thousands of pieces. Stock up on your Kleenex, folks.

This review is dedicated to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was astounding in this film as he was in every role he ever played. May he rest in peace.

2001: A Space Odyssey

It is undeniable that Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is a cinematic classic. It is a hallucinatory and philosophically thought-provoking experience unlike any other, and it remains to be as relevant as any modern film could be, though was released in '68. This is not a film that, by any means, could be watched every day, or one would be driven to existential insanity. Still, 2001 is a film that deserves-almost pleads-to be watched every so often. If there is an opportunity to catch it on the big screen, there is no doubt you should be there. First-time watchers and avid fans alike will be awed by 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is impossible not to. Furthermore, the film marks a moment in cinematic history that is as iconic as it is entertainingly lucid.

Let me start off my saying that I am tackling 2001: A Space Odyssey as a half-review, half-analysis. If that gets annoying, I'm sorry, but hey, at least I've taught you some cool philosophy stuff! I promise not to get too wordy. Anyway, here we go. As promised, in the year 2001, we are taken on a journey through space, though in an entirely unconventional manner. We see the spherical horizon of the Moon and the Earth as the film begins-that is, after three minutes of darkness and a viscerally intense score that'll make you itch all over. It is soon evident there is a very surreal nature to this film and it lies wholly in its manner of presentation. 2001 is comprised of four segments, each telling a story concerning animalism, humanism, artificiality, and morality. Furthermore, the film depicts the consequences of attempting to understand what we perceive to be "the truth," or in other words, "the secret of life." Is there an afterlife? Is there a reason for our existence? 2001's astounding execution of questions such as these are strikingly brought to life in the four-part film, each providing their own importance to the film's central theme. The theme itself, however, is something for each person to interpret for himself or herself. There is no right or wrong when it comes to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

So begins the first segment: The Dawn of Man. This segment depicts the early stages of animalistic life, and ultimately, it sets up the animalism vs. morality theme of the whole film. We first see apes interact in a savage and territorial manner, full of rage and dominance. Upon waking one morning, the apes discover a large, rectangular, black monolith on their land, and are afraid and apprehensive to approach and touch it. When they all eventually do, they begin to understand causes and effects and perform higher cognitive functions as rational beings. It is a depiction of evolution, sharply framed as an ape grabbing a bone and smashing a skull open. From one frame to the next, we see apes transform in both physical figure and cognition. They learn weapons exist, as does death. This develops into the concept that we have an animalistic nature due to our evolutionary core. It is also important to note that the black monolith is a highly important aspect of the film as a whole. It is presented here first and exists as a symbol of morality and higher intelligence in the film.

The second segment, entitled TMA-1, follows a man named Floyd as he enters a space station orbiting Earth to attend a meeting concerning something "he is not at liberty to discuss." We are clearly no longer in the prehistoric ages anymore. The cinematography in this segment is cosmically breathtaking as we see people, such as Floyd and other passengers and crew, walk in all directions-such as making full 360 degree turns, thanks to velcro shoes! With gravity (and hence, other objects) always remaining at zero, this effect may be dizzying but is a beautiful spectacle. Neon lights cover the spaceship and detailed moon craters cover the ground. Upon attending the meeting, Floyd is told of a mysterious black monolith that has appeared on the Moon-identical to the one in the first segment, of course. As he goes on a mission to see the monolith, its eerie sound and almost menacing presence is as much a bewilderment to the astronauts and himself as it was to the apes.

2001 jumps precisely eighteen months into the future in its following segment, entitled Jupiter Mission. It can be said that here we encounter the two central characters of the film, or rather, for the remainder of the film. We meet the intelligent and handsome Dr. David Bowman on a mission to Jupiter with several other scientists, who remained in cryogenic hibernation until arriving close to the planet. (Hey, sci-fi flicks have used this from Alien to Interstellar!) The mission itself, however, came in the name of an intelligence machine that is "absolutely fullproof" named HAL 9000. This machine interacts with humor, sarcasm, and a highly cognitive form of intellect and inquiry, as seen in its discussions with the astronauts in this segment. However, the mission itself remains a secret only HAL can know, and the astronauts remain entirely on the whim of just how foolproof HAL can be-particularly when it comes to the "necessary success" of the mission's completion. These scenes range from satirical and to piercingly philosophical in terms of human communication and rationality. It is obvious HAL could not possibly have a morality complex such as human beings, therefore clouding its judgment. Or rather, is it possible that it could? Could a machine possibly interpret our morals and methods of rationalization, in turn mimicking human behavior? This becomes a thoughtful concept to consider as the film swings into a frenzy of suspense and uneasiness. The ideas are bold, as are its intense final seconds.

The final segment of the film, entitled Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite, continues with Dr. Bowman surrounded by the cinematic beauty of the planetary universe en route to Jupiter. This segment is without a doubt the most mind-boggling and philosophically dense part of the film-largely due to its manner of closing. Bowman discovered that the Jupiter Mission was conducted due to a black monolith found on the Moon (of course, again) transmitting powerful radio emissions toward Jupiter. His descent into Jupiter is a profoundly eloquent experience, and the reason I call it a descent rather than a journey is due to its hallucinatory and metaphorical nature. Bowman discovers another black monolith as he enters Jupiter and is immediately flung into a kaleidoscopic vortex. He sees translucent walls, waves, and shapes of all colors, possibly being a depiction of the Big Bang or cell reproduction or alien life. Bowman is eventually left standing in a room. This is the finale of the film and its progression is confounding. Therefore, it is best seen and deciphered by one's own interpretation and personal perspective. As previously stated, 2001 demands multiple viewing, and this is because every watch brings something new in the form of one making sense of the scientific and philosophical proposals made in this sci-fi tale. If you haven't caught on yet, 2001 is one of my all-time favorites and I could clearly discuss it for ages. It is truly a spectacle that remains highly regarded in all of cinema and with good reason-it is gripping, thoughtful, and relentless as an analysis of evolutionary and morality. There is absolutely nothing like it, and is therefore a must-watch for all.

The Guest
The Guest(2014)

Adam Wingard's development as a director has been astounding, from V/H/S to You're Next to his newest piece of gorily fluorescent euphoria, The Guest. This film is cold, hard, gritty proof that the man knows exactly what he is doing and builds intensity with perfect timeliness. Filled with alluringly smooth 80s music and one hell of an original storyline that escalates with massive unpredictability, The Guest flourishes as a uniquely constructed thriller. It is darkly intense and comical, as we've come to expect from Wingard's work, but the film's real strength is its spectacular cinematography, particularly towards the end of the film. Its neon-lights and gore-infused ambiance is a feast on the eyes, and Dan Stevens excels in his role as David with intricacy, mystery, and of course, seductiveness. (C'mon, look at those bright blue eyes. It's impossible not to swoon.) The Guest is, by far, Wingard's best work as of yet. As a die-hard fan of his, I cannot wait to see where he goes from here.

Fury
Fury(2014)

There has never been a WWII film in my generation that has impacted me as much as Fury. It is an intensely gory and horrific film, and allocates these aspects to depict the immoralities of history rather than mere shock value. It is emotively astounding and unrelentingly heartbreaking, showing that the realities of our history can be darker than any fiction. And a word of warning: this film will enrage you with a newfound hatred for Hitler, cringing at the sound of his voice.

Interstellar
Interstellar(2014)

The much-anticipated Interstellar arrived and immediately created massive explosions, both on film and in the film's response. Many, like myself, found it to be an unprecedented masterpiece. Others have called the film too outlandish or ridiculous, due to its fictitious scientific perspectives.

This, of course, also happened with last year's space thriller Gravity-and please take note, Interstellar is not Gravity. It is undeniable that both are true spectacles to watch, but Interstellar is a much more philosophical and emotional film. It is a surreal journey out of our galaxy and feels vividly alive, all while making you contemplate the realities of humanity and the spectrum of emotions we experience, such as love and how its manner of existence cannot be measured in scientific terms.

That being said, Interstellar is a very scientific film, yet it is one that brilliantly manages to balance out with emotional character development and astounding space cinematography. It can feel stark or it can feel mind-bending, and its transitions are superbly executed. Spectacular cinematography and original storytelling come as no surprise when watching a film directed by Christopher Nolan, best known for Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy. His entire filmography is astounding and highly recommended (by me, of course), so those hyped for the film due to his involvement flocked to the theater-along with Matthew McConaughey's huge fan-base since what has been labeled the McConaissance. A ridiculous term, yes, but let's be thankful he's gone from bad rom-coms to the dramatic roles he's thrived in, from Mud to Dallas Buyers Club.

The fact of the matter is, as a piece of cinema, Interstellar stands out. It has many odes to 2001: A Space Odyssey and even Star Wars, due to Nolan's love for sci-fi. However, much unlike these films, Interstellar remains grounded outside of alien life. Whether Interstellar dabbles into the supernatural is cause for debate, due to the film's scientific presentation mixed with fiction. This is precisely why Interstellar is an unprecedented experience. It presents real scientific facts and asks tough philosophical questions, yet remains a grippingly lucid sci-fi film.

Discussing Interstellar feels much like presenting someone with a gift and not wanting to give any hints as to what it is. The film's layers are cleverly peeled off and its progression is so beautifully carried out that there is truly nothing like experiencing it and absorbing its concepts and theories after it is over. I suppose I've delayed discussing Interstellar's plot because it is a film in which every plot point is important and imaginative, and giving anything away would feel like giving away a meaningful piece. I will, nevertheless, present you with an introduction and very minor synopsis of the film.

Interstellar follows Cooper, played by McConaughey, living with his father-in-law, son, and daughter, in a desolate Earth filled with extreme dust storms. Homes and human lungs are filled with dust as people struggle to survive with limited resources in a deteriorating, and depleting Earth. Cooper is a farmer who once flew for NASA before the Earth's descent, and his crops-along with crops around the entire globe-are dying due to the earth's excessive drought and dust plagues. Upon making entirely unexpected discoveries, Cooper is faced with making the difficult decision of leaving his family for the exploration of planets sustainable of human life in a galaxy outside of our own. With the spectacular Anne Hathaway at his side, not to mention a sarcastic clunky robot, Interstellar becomes a humorous experience as much as it is intellectually stimulating and incredibly moving. This is a film that simply cannot be missed due to its intricacy, beauty, and manner of evoking a response from all those who experience it.

Extraterrestrial

The dark storylines of The Vicious Brothers, known for their cult favorites Grave Encounters 1 & 2, have returned in an entirely new way for their newest film, Extraterrestrial. Given the title alone, we know exactly where this film is headed, and it wastes no time getting there. The film begins with an alien abduction, setting the tone and making it seem as though this will be nothing short of formulaic. Thankfully, it throws "formulaic" out the window.

Extraterrestrial is a disturbingly surreal trip through extraterrestrial life and its implications, yet always maintaining a darkly enjoyable tone of satire and humor. It is an incredibly fun and cringe-worthy experience, and much of its success relies on Drew Goddard's The Cabin In The Woods, considering its recent reintroduction to satirical horror. To be blunt, Extraterrestrial is basically what happens when you throw Cabin in the Woods and Signs into a blender, but that doesn't make it any less of a lucid and cerebral experience.

The film begins with a group of friends headed to a secluded cabin in the woods for the weekend, much to the dismay of April, who was hoping to have a romantic weekend with her boyfriend, Kyle. The couple and their three friends arrive at the cabin before being warned by a police officer to stay out of trouble and keep to themselves, due to the recent extraterrestrial disturbances (shown in the intro of the film). Yes, formulaic indeed.

The friends arrive at their destination and are quick to throw the party into full gear, filled with liquor bottles, pot smoke, and fireworks. As night falls, a friend filming the party notices a fire in the sky falling toward the woods nearby, creating a massive explosion upon collision. Drunk and nervously enthused, the group of friends drive toward the point of collision to find a crashed UFO. After finding a set of eerie footprints leading away from the crash, they speed back to their cabin, terrified by their findings. This, as expected, leads to alien attacks, abductions, and a surprising spew of horror and sci-fi satire.

A side-plot of the film follows a cop as he investigates the recent disappearances that have been taking place in the town, with people claiming UFO sightings and abductions. Of course, it is not long before the group of friends find themselves talking to the cops about the events they witnessed, including the abduction of one of their friends.

Extraterrestrial is a slow-burn film, taking its time to build intensity and doing so with such intricacy that the end becomes entire unpredictable. As an alien film, it feels like a slapstick throwback to early 60s alien cinema, embedded with its own mesmerizing and disturbing twist. The layers of Extraterrestrial are unmatched and encompass various concept and theories-some philosophical, some comical. Sure, at the end of the day, it's a b-horror flick with occasionally atrocious acting, but it's one that never loses the awareness of its outlandish nature. If it isn't taken too seriously in terms of character development and plot, it is a fantastically unprecedented watch. Extraterrestrial is fun and crazed, while maintaining an intellectual element of surprise, making it irresistibly gripping. It is also surprisingly artistic in its ambiance as it builds in suspense, and its dreamy CGI effects are quite stunning. At the end if it all, Extraterrestrial is a darkly enjoyable tale of aliens and the terror they entail, whether it's treaties with the US or the occasional abductions for experimentations (and of course, anal probes). Lastly, Extraterrestrial has one of the best executed and most disturbing final acts of any sci-fi horror film I've seen in the recent past. It deserves major credit for that.

Nightcrawler
Nightcrawler(2014)

Attempting to gather my thoughts during the last few seconds of Nightcrawler was an entirely mind-boggling experience. The film is saturated with different moods and commentaries that letting it settle felt almost uneasy. It is, without a doubt, a hauntingly provocative film. Every layer of the film slowly unfolds with ominous and grippingly dark events, and it is a spectacle to watch. Nightcrawler is a success as a dark tale of greed, psychological disconnection, and the morally questionable state of our television news. Furthermore, it is masterfully filmed in the dark and foreboding Los Angeles nightlife, adding to the film's corrupt but honest themes.

Nightcrawler follows the pale, long-haired Louis Bloom, played with chilling exquisiteness by Jake Gyllenhaal, as he struggles to live without a stable job. He is a highly intelligent yet morally depraved man, who can sell his positive demeanor along with the best business plans to anyone in under five minutes but could care less about anything but his own interests.

We begin Nightcrawler by learning that Louis has been getting by as a thief, stealing and selling to make a living. One night, he happens upon a car crash, where he discovers a camera crew headed straight toward the accident to retrieve footage of the burning car and a severely injured individual. Louis is immediately drawn to this prospect, and after a brief discussion with a video journalist, Louis learns he can sell footage to the news-something he sees could potentially solve his monetary issues. He soon gets a hold of a camcorder and a police radio scanner (through theft, of course) and begins his journey into "nightcrawling," the act of catching the best and most gruesome footage of the nighttime for the local morning news channels.

Louis evolves from an amateur to a professional videographer before our eyes, always doing his work with precision and never hesitating to air his sour yet intellectual thoughts. He hires an assistant, Rick, to aid him with navigation and additional camera footage. Louis becomes cocky and highly manipulative as he becomes the best in the business. He commits entirely immoral acts to further his career, and yet, everything he does is so expertly presented that it is impossible to look away. He represents a part of the social scale where dollar signs mean more than friendships and graphic deaths equate the value of television ratings.

Nightcrawler is a film that feels as though it should not sit well with audiences, yet reviews have been raving, and with good reason. It is a film that forces one to contemplate the boundaries of morality, social media, and the fine line between sociability and manipulation. Jake Gyllenhaal is transcendental in his role as the keen and sociopathic Louis, who will overstep every boundary and break every law to further his own self-worth. Ultimately, Nightcrawler is a film that stays seeded in your thoughts long after it is over, which has been rare for films to accomplish as of late.

V/H/S: Viral
V/H/S: Viral(2014)
½

It is a safe assumption to say that the V/H/S films have become modern day cult classics for horror fans, particularly those with a taste for found-footage. Viral is now the third installation in the VHS anthology series, during which characters have been known to watch horrific, violent, and supernatural events that have been previously recorded.

The first V/H/S film caught the attention of many indie horror fans, myself included, due to its original manner of plot progression. Yes, found-footage horror is a dime a dozen these days, but the first V/H/S installment managed to stand out due to its outlandishly frightening storytelling and the ever-expected gore one can expect from an indie horror release. For the most part, both V/H/S and V/H/S: 2 delivered the darkly sinister and haunting stories horror fans have yearned for. The first film presented the terrorisms of a succubus, serial killers, supernatural forces, and satanic rituals. V/H/S: 2 also recounted similarly grisly events, such as violent ghost hauntings, zombies, the practices of a satanic cult in Indonesia, and alien abductions.

In a nutshell, the previous V/H/S installments have all borrowed concepts common in the horror genre and added their own abhorrence and originality to the stories being portrayed, each with its own validation for the footage recording of each event. However, the previous two films have done something that V/H/S: Viral failed to do completely: include actual V/H/S tapes. Both parts one and two involve an individual searching through V/H/S tapes for answers. In the first installment, it was the search for a snuff film worth a lot of money. In the second film, it was the search for answers after the disappearance of a loved one. This is what has allowed the V/H/S films to function as an anthology series-the fact that we are experiencing the terror of a grainy video simultaneously with the protagonist of the film. There is always a core plot the film returns to after its bloodcurdling segments, and therein lies the fault in V/H/S: Viral.

Viral has no concern for explaining why exactly we are watching segments of V/H/S tapes, or rather, how they ended up as a compilation on the same tape we are watching. It is assumed that the anthological installments of the film were previously recorded on the tape, while the introductory plot of the film is told between the three main segments. Furthermore, Viral's three segments are recorded in a fashion much more electronically advanced than those of the previous films, such as the use of documentary storytelling, camera headsets on helmets, and even aerial shots from helicopters. While the continuity and explanation of the film is shaky, to put it mildly, V/H/S: Viral still manages to be a chilling and highly entertaining experience, delving into black comedy and surrealism that is much more original than the plots used in the previous installments.

The film begins with an enthusiastic man who cannot keep his camera off his voluptuous girlfriend as they return to his hometown for vacation. It is not long before night falls and he becomes aware of a car chase that is headed straight toward his home. In hopes of getting good footage to "go viral," our protagonist decides to follow the car chase on bike, leading to the abduction of his girlfriend by a suspicious ice cream truck that initiated the car chase. It is then that the grainy V/H/S tape goes into white noise and we are introduced to the first segment in Viral's anthology, "Dante the Great."

"Dante the Great" is told in a documentary-like fashion with the overall plot occurring in real time. It follows the account of Scarlett, a young woman working as a magician's assistant who made a disturbing discovery involving the manner in which Dante the Great "performs" his magic tricks. We are informed that Dante was arrested for the murder of several of his assistants, with a resoundingly haunting method of murder. "Dante the Great" is a supernatural tale of magic and deceit, filled with gorgeous cinematography, gore, and hilariously compelling plot development. It is easily the most enjoyable of the segments, although its much more black comedy than it is horror.

The second segment, "Parallel Monsters," is the strangest and most difficult to decipher from the three parts of the anthology. It is a Spanish piece that tells the tale of a man who is successful in creating a portal to an alternate universe. As he peers through the portal, he sees himself, and timidly talks to his alternate self to see if their universes are alike. Both are in complete awe and agree to trade places for 15 minutes in each other's universes. Due to the shock value and possible spoilers for this segment, I will no longer discuss it, but let's just say the thrills and bloodshed come quickly in this fast-paced thrill ride through alternate universes.

The final segment, "Bonestorm," is a fitting end to the anthology before Viral returns to its core storyline. It is both captivatingly humorous and monstrously unnerving that it is near impossible to keep track of how to feel throughout the segment. We follow a group of teenage skaters with headpiece cameras attached to their helmets, hoping to catch their stunts on video. Due to a lack of adequate skating areas, the boys decide to travel to Tijuana where they believe there is a superb area to film themselves skateboarding. Upon arriving at said destination, they find a disheveled woman whispering about blood and the unleashing of a creature. The boys ignore her and silly banter ensues as they find their supreme skate destination, hardly giving a second thought to the giant pentagram drawn onto the cement floor. Chanting figures with horrific make-up and cloaks soon surround the boys, and the segment plays out like a contemporary homage to the original Evil Dead trilogy by being equally gory and engagingly funny.

Ultimately, V/H/S: Viral is a highly entertaining horror flick that is more comedic and original in plotlines than its predecessors. However, that is not to say it is without its faults. The core storyline that is told between segments is one the film's failures, never living up to the expectation of terror promised by the ice cream truck kidnappings. The film's finale makes hardly any sense and is easily Viral's largest failure. Its lack of cohesive structure makes the film feel poorly executed and incomplete, which is a disappointment after such a strangely enjoyable experience. Overall, V/H/S: Viral is a film for horror buffs in the mood for a change in atmospheric intensity and storytelling. For better or worse, that is exactly what is provided.

Gone Girl
Gone Girl(2014)

Adapted from Gillian Flynn's best-selling suspense novel, Gone Girl is a film sealed with dramatic intensity and highly intellectual storytelling. Its manner of plot development is highly intricate and always has a sense of morbidity lying underneath. Every plot twist is so well crafted that it is never seen coming. That is, of course, unless you've read the novel. Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay herself and has made few changes to the big-screen adaptation, so fans of the novel won't be surprised by the story. However, they will undoubtedly enjoy watching this mind-consuming and grisly tale come to life.

Directed by the iconic David Fincher, one can already expect broodingly dark undertones and gorgeously vivid cinematography. He has a taste for grim tales about death or deception, such as Se7en and The Game, and this extends to the book adaptations he's directed: Fight Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Zodiac. Being the well-seasoned director that he is, it was inevitable for Gone Girl to be anything but gripping and cinematically exquisite both at once.

Discussing Gone Girl feels like having to slowly peel a story apart without taking too much away. Even events that must be mentioned feel like spoilers in-and-of-themselves, and as any reader, you're only getting about half the story unless you've already seen the film. At any rate, Gone Girl is a fast-paced thriller that keeps you glued from the start and also manages to make a statement on gender roles, marriage, and psychological instability, all underlying the complexity and psychopathy of the tale.

We first meet Nick Dunne on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary. He starts his day off by going to a bar and drinking with the bartender, whom we soon learn is his twin sister, Margo, and the two co-own the bar-named The Bar. Oh, the meta-originality. Nick seems tense but keeps a mundane composure around his sister. He then receives a phone call from a neighbor warning him of an occurrence at Nick's home. He rushes home to find the door open-with his cat sitting patiently outside-and enters cautiously, calling out for his wife, Amy. She is nowhere to be found.

Nick soon enters the living room in which a glass table is overturned and broken, alarming him as he immediately calls the cops. He cooperates with them as they arrive and is truthful about his morning and the events leading up to Amy's disappearance. After an interrogation in which he reveals that his wife has no friends and is a distant person, he advises her family of her disappearance. Vigils are held with large posters claiming "MISSING" in boldface, with a smiling Amy underneath along with a hotline number. It is not long before the media becomes engrossed in the case, with one female news anchor in particular bashes Nick for his apathetic looks at the vigils, implying he is careless about Amy's disappearance and may have well murdered her.

It is now important to discuss two details regarding the film. Firstly, as a tradition, Amy would leave three clues for Nick to find his gift on their anniversary-a treasure hunt. For investigative purposes, the police follow Nick through the treasure hunt to retrace Amy's steps before the attack took place. A riddle has to be solved at each location, where there are clues on clearly marked envelopes: Clue 1. Clue 2. Clue 3. The second aspect of the film is that it is told in two narratives. We follow Nick and the chaos that ensues from his inner demons as the media swoops in and tears him apart. However, from the start, we are also following Amy's recollection of her marriage to Nick in the form of a diary. We see her retell everything from the day they met, to their marriage troubles, to her eventual fear of Nick harming her. The cops, of course, find this diary as evidence.

And alas, this is as much as I can give you of Gone Girl. At the end of it all, it is a stunning film that has easily made my top-5 list of 2014 favorites. There is never a shot wasted with its darkly beautiful scenery, and every detail is presented before you and knows exactly where it is taking you. Gone Girl is a disturbing yet effective film as a social commentary on commitment and how far we are willing to stretch our morals.

ABCs of Death 2
½

Many horror fans with an affinity for cult films flocked to The ABCs of Death when it was first released in 2012. With such an original concept, it was impossible to resist. We have, 26 directors, 26 letters of the alphabet, and each director is given a letter and told to choose a word, creating a 3-5 minute short in which someone or several people are killed.

The first installment, as expected, had its short films that outshone others. However, as a whole, ABCs of Death wasn't particularly an enjoyable watch. It became overhyped by cult classic directors and was a disappointment for most. Fortunately for ABCs of Death 2, the directing is mostly solid and the short films range from enjoyable to unpredictable to and unapologetically offensive, and it is a blast to watch.

Yes, the same dilemma arises with ABCs of Death 2: Some short films outshine others, and several feel entirely outlandish and unnecessary. However, as a whole, this sequel is filled with insane storylines, violent brashness, and mind-bending segments that were simply nonexistent or entirely boring in the first film.

ABCs of Death 2 opens with a fantastic short film by E.L. Katz (Cheap Thrills) that sets the right pace for the film. Several segments that stood out to myself were letters J (is for Jesus), O (is for Ochlocracy), S (is for Split), and Y (is for Youth). However, as every horror fan has their own preference in storytelling, favorites will vary greatly.

Most important of all, ABCs of Death 2 is a gory, thrilling, cerebral mixing pot of hysteria and horror that many cult classic enthusiasts will savor. It is insanity from start to finish and definitely worth a look-even if you're still a bit on the fence because of the first installment. It's loads better. Trust me.

Annabelle
Annabelle(2014)

If you're even the least bit familiar with my reviews and genre preferences, you know about my love for horror. I watch too many gore-infused horror flicks dripping with cheesiness for my own good, and even the worst of those have outdone the disaster that is Annabelle. Presented before us is a film that exists as a side-story to the highly acclaimed horror favorite of 2013, The Conjuring. (If you have yet to see it, DO IT ALREADY. YOU'VE HAD A YEAR.)

So goes the tale of Annabelle, a doll presented in the introduction of The Conjuring, determined to terrify and revolt with its roots in Satanism and demonic entities. We begin Annabelle identically to The Conjuring. That's right, folks. The first few minutes are just carbon copies from The Conjuring. Eventually, we are presented with the necessary "One Year Earlier" frame, outlining the much-anticipated roots of Annabelle the doll. This is when we meet Mia and John Gordon, a happily married couple with a baby on the way.

Without giving too much of the plot away, here's an introduction to Annabelle: Mia and John experience a home invasion by two members of a Satanic cult. A female cult member stabs Mia in the stomach just as the cops arrive and is shot, bleeding onto the Annabelle doll as she dies. Mia, John, and the baby survive the attack, and their baby, Lea, is eventually born. However, there is a deep uneasiness lurking underneath the surface, and the couple moves homes after Mia begins to experience paranormal events she believes are linked to the attack.

From here, you expect Annabelle to kick it into full gear as it delves deeper into the Satanic and supernatural abilities the doll now possesses. For the most part, it presents them, but in the most mundane possible way. Annabelle is a film that builds in intensity but eventually fails to lead anywhere. We expect big thrills to come, and we are left empty-handed almost every single time. The scares are cheap and the film's opportunity to explore the mythological aspects of Annabelle and the cult responsible for its demonic possession are left untold. Instead, we get 98 minutes of suspense, leading to nowhere but a terribly executed finale. It feels like a drama film desperately attempting to be considered horror.

The scares in Annabelle, I will admit, are spine-tingling at times. There are several minutes in the film that are fulfilling for horror fans like myself, but the fact that it is only several minutes of the film proves that Annabelle is an awfully executed piece of cinema. The pacing of the film is highly uneven, the acting is subpar at times, and the script leaves much to be desired. For an October release, we deserve better than a poorly written, badly directed horror film like Annabelle.

I will admit, there is a possibility I am being more critical of this film due to my love of The Conjuring. And yet, in the scope of Annabelle existing outside of The Conjuring universe, Annabelle still feels like a lousy film. Few will enjoy it as a new favorite cult classic, but only if absolutely none of it is taken seriously. Believe me, with this film, it's not very difficult to accomplish.

The Maze Runner
½

The Maze Runner begins in pitch-black, and the first thing we hear is a panicked gasp. We then see a young man in a fearful state as he cautiously observes a metal cage he is in, which is being thrust upward. He emerges from the cage onto land, filled with other boys. He is in a complete state of hysteria and is unsure or where he is or what is happening. He cannot even remember his own name. This atmosphere sets the suspense caliber high for the film, right from the start, and this tension is felt prominently as the plot progresses. (Unless you've read the book.)

If any of your friends or family members were rushing to see The Maze Runner, it is likely they are devout fans of the young adult novels by James Dashner, who has completed two sequels and one prequel in the Maze Runner Series. As expected, the theaters have been filled with his literary fan base and the intrigued gapers of the film's trailers and TV spots (include me here).

Not knowing what to expect is what makes The Maze Runner such a deliriously exciting movie-going experience. For the book-readers, it is a chance to see the book come to life in an entirely vivid way. The film is an agitating mindbender, and it is one that gives clues very rarely. Here is what is known: A large group of boys have been surviving on a circular land, surrounded by immense gray walls. There is no form of escape.

The boys call the land The Glade, and there is a mysterious maze that lies in the center of the land. Our protagonist learns the rules and manners of The Glade while inquiring greatly about entering the maze. This eventually escalates to a physical dispute with a boy named Gally, who does not believe he should be a "runner," and our protagonist remembers his name as his head hits the floor during the fight-Thomas. His name is Thomas, and all of his memories are gone, as are those of the other boys. The only memory they are allowed to keep is their names. Who is doing this to them?

Maze Runner is much more dense than simply "who." It is also a film about hierarchy in an area with what appears to be supernatural behavior. There are numerous plot twists and character backgrounds that eventually come into light, creating a complete piece of intellectually stimulating and action-packed cinema.

Yes, the film has its faults. The dialog, at times, is quite atrocious. The lines may be worded horridly or too simple-mindedly, throwing the flow of the film off-balance. But that gets into the script blaming, then book blaming, and that is a literary road leading nowhere-because regardless, it is a fantastic film.

The Maze Runner is an enchantingly grim tale of deceit, rebellion, and power. This is largely thanks to the execution of its artistic and profoundly imaginative style, with brilliantly action-packed sequences starring Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, and an eclectic cast of testosterone-pumped young men. There is a sci-fi element in The Maze Runner as well, adding an entire dimension of lunacy and suspense to its already dystopian ambiance. It is a film that must be deciphered in terms of its supernatural aspects, sequential aspects, secretive aspects, and-okay, no more possible spoilers. Regardless of its faults, The Maze Runner is an impressive genre-bender that keeps you hooked from Thomas's first gasp in the dark at the film's beginning to its climactic and perilous finale.

The Kids Are All Right

This film is a perfect portrayal of how expansive emotion and authentic realism can still be made in modern-day American cinema. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening shine in their roles as Nic and Jules, lesbian mothers raising a teenage son and a teenage daughter. Both wives used the same sperm donor for both kids and when their eldest, Laser, reaches age 18, he decides to search for his biological father. This is something his sister refused to do when she turned 18, for fear it would hurt their mothers. The siblings eventually meet their biological father, Paul, and a deep friendship forms between the three. Paul also meets their mothers after they become aware of the situation, and there are mixed feelings between the mothers regarding Paul's presence in the lives of their kids. The Kids Are All Right is a witty and compelling dramedy that makes strong statements about relationships and isn't afraid to make you shed a tear, showing that all marriages have their faults, regardless of gender.

Out in the Dark

Out in the Dark is easily the most politically important film on my list, and it is with good reason. This Israeli romance film depicts the cultural boundaries of Israeli-Palestinian laws, such as their anti-gay laws and the corrupt ways in which they murder gay men in the Middle East. We first meet Nimr, a Palestinian student studying psychology and attempting to legally acquire a visa to attend a university in Israel. One night, Nimr escapes to a gay bar where he meets a seductive Israeli lawyer named Roy. They spend the night talking, exchange numbers, and are eventually able to meet again after Nimr acquires his student visa. The Middle East feels like a haunting character all its own due to its violent, homicidal laws and hate-groups against gay men. It is for this reason that Nimr and Roy proceed with discretion and cautiousness as they fall deeper and deeper in love. It is not long before outside forces surge against them, and the two fight for what they believe they deserve to the very end. It is passion, painful, and at utmost a noble film. The political standpoints portrayed in the film are frustrating and angering, allowing one to appreciate the freedom we have in retrospect.

Keep the Lights On
½

A word of warning: It took me several days to pick myself up off my own puddle of tears after watching this film. Keep the Lights On goes well beyond the boy-likes-boy storyline. It progresses as an alluring and intimate story of two charming men, Erik and Paul, meeting and tenderly falling for one another. But their soon-to-be romance tale is contorted by Paul's consistent drug abuse, landing him in hospitals and rehab centers. The damaging struggles they deal with tear at their relationship in this deeply moving yet cynically somber film. Ultimately, its striking realism makes it important viewing.

Blue Is The Warmest Color

There are immeasurable reasons this French romance drama film has received a great deal of critical acclaim. One can look to the themes expressed in the film, such as prejudices, social class, self-discovery, and the emotional turmoil of a relationship-particularly when it is your first. Others can look to the gorgeous cinematography and artistry of the film, filled with dense metaphors-and yes, of course blue is heavily symbolic. Yet, what makes Blue is the Warmest Color so heartfelt is its delicate sense of realism and truthfulness. It is the tale of Adele's first love for another girl, Emma, and the progression of their relationship over several years. Their relationship evolves with beautiful tenderness, sexual passion, and ultimately, the tumultuousness that comes with true love. Is it a poignantly masterful film that deserves to be watched by all, whether part of the LGBT community or not.

As Above, So Below

Found-footage horror films are a dime a dozen these days, growing in popularity since the first Paranormal Activity film seven years ago and fueling unwatchable copycat mediocrity. The scares are cheap, the storylines are bland, and the originality is nonexistent. Thankfully, As Above/So Below manages to break past these barriers and create a new, atmospherically tormenting energy.
One of the key aspects that makes As Above stand apart is its historical context. It is based on the real-life Catacombs that exist underground in Paris and the history that accompanies these Catacombs, particularly the manner in which it they were used as an underground cemetery and hold the remains of over 6 million bodies.
As Above/So Below is lead by a valiant and uncompromising heroine, Scarlet, whose main goal is to enter the underground tunnels of the Catacombs in search of the Philosopher's Stone-a journey her own father embarked on that resulted in dementia and suicide. With the help of her friends and a mysterious but trustworthy group of French explorers, Scarlet enters the Catacombs in search of the mystical Stone, which she believes holds the key to immeasurable power.
As the group descends into the Catacombs, it is not long before physical obstacles and an overwhelming sense of dread washes over Scarlet and the explorers. They plunge deeper and deeper into the unknown, and the dark mythology becomes palpable through hellishly surreal imagery. Shaky cameras and tightly closed areas make for a very chilling experience, so this is definitely not a film for anyone with claustrophobia or motion sickness.
As Above progresses with subtle intelligence, requiring one to listen to each character's backstory and the manner in which it plays into the film as it progresses. There is a constant, unnerving feeling of hopelessness as the group continues to descend thousands of feet underground in their attempt to escape. Essentially, As Above is a gritty survival film that just happens to step into the boundaries of mysticism and occult-like terror.
As a whole, the film is as cleverly constructed as much as it dark and menacing, despite its somewhat mediocre final act. However, this does not take away from its intensely distressing sequences and hypnotic cinematography. The Catacombs feel like a demonic presence all their own in the film, making the film all the more enjoyable for genre fans.
Of course, As Above/So Below is not a timeless horror classic. It uses typical jump scares and found-footage camera effects that we've all seen before. However, it stands apart as a mythological look into real history, capturing actual imagery of the skulls and bones that lie in the underground tunnels of the Catacombs in Paris. It is graphically dismal yet beautifully macabre, which functions in perfect duality with the frightfully suspenseful nature of the film. Despite its murky repetitiveness and cheap thrills, As Above/So Below is a bone-chilling tale of survival and the inner demons that haunt us, both above ground and below.

Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
½

Comic book to big-screen adaptations are always tricky, as we've seen with Marvel and DC's recent creations. They have varied from being cinematically gorgeous, full of creative intellectualness, one of each, or neither. Thankfully, "neither" has stayed away from 2014.
The Sin City universe, however, stands apart. It is grim but hypnotically exquisite, told in black-and-white narrations filled with a sleazy nudity and gallons of blood. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and its narratives are magnificently dazzling despite their sorrow, particularly with the film's symbolic use of color throughout.
That being said, Sin City has a cult following, as many enjoy the cinematic beauty and the gore while others are repulsed by the exploitative nature of the films. Ultimately, loving or hating A Dame to Kill For depends on whether you're a fan.
Dame to Kill For, like the first Sin City, is comprised of four narratives. However,
Dame is told in two separate timelines-the past and the present. Essentially, it is narrated in two parts occurring at different points in time, with each narrative focusing on separate groups of characters.
The film includes events that occurred before the first Sin City film as well as the events that occur after the first film ends. For that reason, rewatching the first film before viewing the second is essential. Keep in mind, the first film was released nine ago and deserves a revisit.
We enter the new Sin City installment with Marv, a character killed in the first film. This informs us that we are currently in the prequel timeline. His segment is an intense and bloody statement on morality and justice, slaughtering with the ever-expected gory deaths fans can expect from Marv.
We then enter the sequel timeline, showing us the events that occur after the first Sin City installment. We meet Johnny, a young and well-dressed gambler that believes he can defeat the "unbeatable" Senator Roarke in poker-a very power man in Sin City with an affinity for violence. Johnny is cocky, plays well, and defeats Roarke in a game. Roarke is unfathomably embarrassed and angered, taking out his rage on Johnny. Their narrative builds in suspense and is completed later in the film.
Now, we return to a sequel plot. A man named Dwight is unexpectedly called by his former lover, Ava, who is frantic and fears for her life. Dwight agrees to help Ava by saving her from an obsessive, violent lover. The tale unfolds into one of vanity, sexualization, and deceit. Lies always equal power in Sin City, and this is a grim plot one expects of the City.
Continuing in the sequel storyline, we are reintroduced to Nancy from the first film. She plans to kill Roarke as revenge for his influence in the death of the man she loved-Hartigan. In her plot for vengeance, fans will get exactly what they came for-closure for the first Sin City film.
A Dame to Kill For is fundamentally the Sin City film fans will want. As an avid fan, I sincerely enjoyed the film, despite its predictability. The dazzling contrasts and grisly storylines are a feast on the eyes. However, Sin City 2 exists mostly to please those interested in strange, artsy cinema and die-hard fans. As expected, its shocking and exploitative bleakness is a turn-off for others.

Boyhood
Boyhood(2014)

If Boyhood isn't a true cinematic masterpiece, I don't know what is. It is poignantly moving, artistically stunning, and philosophically thought-provoking in terms of how we view our lives and experiences over the span of time. The fact that it was filmed with the same actors aging over the span of 12 years makes it that much more of an extraordinary viewing experience.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be the most exhilarating and hilarious time I've had in a theater in a long time. With its stunningly breathtaking visuals, side-splitting laughs, and absolutely perfect cast, Marvel has indeed created a masterpiece.

Proxy
Proxy(2014)
½

It is difficult to process Proxy as a whole, because as film, it is divided into two segments both characterized by loss, obsession, deceit, and violence. Additionally, Proxy operates under two separate genres--horror and drama, in that order. It is told in a linear storyline and progresses in what feel like various acts, each separated by fizzled-out darkness and a dramatic change in tone.

At any rate, Proxy is incredibly intelligent in its design and highly original in plot. The art-house horror ambiance never leaves the atmosphere, and neither does the film's overwhelming sense of sadness and despair. It is both Hitchcockian in film technique and Lynchian in tone--perhaps a combination of each.

Proxy, as previously mentioned, is two separate tales told in one linear storyline with the same characters. Due to spoilers, it is difficult to pinpoint the dramatic shift in thematic tone, but the outstandingly artistic and blood-curdling gore ought to be a good indicator of a film's dividing shift.

Proxy progresses with both horrific shocks and artistic finesse, and best of all, does not disappoint during its final act. It is mind-bogglingly horror-drama told in fantastic form, and deserves acclaim for its artistic originality and thematic symbolism amongst the blood and the suffering. Proxy's dark tone, explicit gore, and sexuality make it a horror success, but its stylish avant-garde blood-splatter and metaphorical representations make it genre-defining.

The Quiet Ones
½

The Quiet Ones is a film with much going for it from the start, particularly a stellar cast including Sam Claflin from Catching Fire, Jared Harris from Mad Men, and the brilliant Olivia Cooke from Bates Motel in her demonically haunting role. Add director John Pogue, most well-known for his B-horror movie feel such as the cult classic Ghost Ship, and you've got the recipe for one strangely original horror film.

Originality, however, is not a word I'd use to describe The Quiet Ones. At its core, The Quiet Ones is a stereotypical demonic possession horror film, filled with the always-expected jump-scares and over-the-top supernatural aspects. What turns into a scientific experiment goes terribly wrong because, surprise, the occult is at it again.

And yet, that doesn't make The Quiet Ones a particularly bad film. On the contrary, as a genre fan, I quite enjoyed it, particularly as it progresses and the plot thickens with unexpected twists and a finale that leaves fans begging for a sequel. The Quiet Ones is a film of substance, relying on tension and a steady build in suspense to keep you glued to the screen--something it is unsuccessful in doing during the first half. While slow at times, the directing style of The Quiet Ones is absolutely fantastic, and quite easily the best aspect of the film. The film transitions from a normal storytelling directorial style to a grainy, 35mm fullscreen camera style to depict the experiments performed on our heroine, or rather, anti-heroine.

These subtle changes add both intensity and a purely macabre ambience that becomes more and more horrific as the film progresses. However, much of the final act feels like a missed opportunity after a promisingly disturbing build in plot. The Quiet Ones ends too much on a quiet note to truly leave an impression.

Oculus
Oculus(2014)
½

From its opening scene, it becomes apparent Oculus is of very sinister tone-one that continues until the film's shocking climactic finale. It is, at its core, a story about a brother and sister and the dark events of their youth that continue to haunt them. The film progresses slowly but develops with such intensity that when it is over, it is difficult to process the story as a whole.
Perhaps this is why many viewers are divided on whether or not, as a whole, Oculus is a good horror film. Comparisons may include Insidious and The Conjuring. However, Oculus is highly successful in originality by its well-executed style of filmmaking. By style, I mean the manner in which two storylines-a decade apart-with the same characters at their respective ages, are shown in the film. The stories eventually begin to intertwine, as do the characters. Confused yet?
Kaylie and Tim are siblings who viewed the brutal murder of their mother by their father and dealt with it in separate ways after the murder. Tim was sent to a mental facility for 11 years due to the events that occurred the night of the murder, while Kaylie lived a more normal, working life. Upon turning 21, Tim is picked up by Kaylie from the facility for now being of sane mind. She soon reveals to him that she has been investigating murders that have occurred in the past in connection to a mirror that hung in their home in their youth, and of course, she connects it to the death of their parents. While she believes the mirror possesses a demonically malignant presence, her brother is convinced their father killed their mother out of a fit of psychological mania. Kaylie, of course, thinks he's been brainwashed by shrinks.
Kaylie then reveals that she is conducting a recorded experiment by which she can prove the mirror holds supernatural abilities. As her project continues, both her and her brother become entranced or even possessed by the mirror, with difficulty differentiating reality from fiction. Now, cut to a scene of the siblings a decade earlier, moving into their house with their parents and putting up the same mirror in the same spot. The mirror has the same tendency for torment in the past as it does in the present.
As the two storylines come together, so do their violently gripping finales, all swirled into the same physical locations-this is accomplished by the fact that both storylines take place at the same home and with the intertwined use of both older and younger Kaylie and Tim.
Despite its cliché jump-scares and complicated storytelling, Oculus is a beautifully stylistic and sinister tale with a fervent build in tension. It is thoughtful and requires attention and reflection, a metaphor perhaps to the mirror itself. While I highly enjoyed this film, it exists primarily for the horrific enjoyment of genre fans.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Marvel is known for its action-packed popcorn film euphoria and comic book adaptation uniqueness in plot and scenario. Comic book loyalty aside, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a deeply intelligent statement on government rights with consistently exhilarating action-packed scenes of fantastic tension. For a sequel, political statements that are relevant to our current governmental system aren't common, and therefore, metaphorically important. This makes The Winter Soldier stand out alongside its hilarious banter and fiery explosions of ships, buildings, and everything in-between.

We are once again in the presence of the infamous Captain America, a genetically engineered super-solider created during the Nazi era who discovers a criminal organization known as HYDRA in the first film. Captain America: The Winter Soldier picks up 70 years after Captain America: The First Avenger, but perhaps it is easier to keep the Marvel timeline in perspective if this film is seen as two years after the events that occurred in The Avengers. Steve Rogers-okay, Captain America-is now an American vigilante icon with museums dedicated to his alter ego. He is called to serve S.H.I.E.L.D. once again-a secret law enforcement agency dealing with supernatural, pseudo-scientific, or threating alien forces. Villainy varies with Marvel.

The Captain is called for what is a seemingly low-risk mission and soon learns of a massive conspiracy leading back to HYDRA, but in a much more complex and sinister manner than what he dealt with in the first film. He learns that S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised, and with the unforgettable Black Widow at his side, The Captain must take out those loyal to HYDRA and the hellish bloodshed they have planned for humanity.

As the conspiracy unfolds, we meet the main villain of the film, known only as The Winter Soldier. He is a "ghost," or rather, an assassin of unknown identity who begins to attack S.H.I.E.L.D. As the storyline between HYDRA and the Winter Soldier begins to come together, the film becomes one cryptic twist after another. His identity, of course, will shock fans that haven't read the comics and leave comic book geeks highly satisfied.

Chris Evans has truly hit his stride as a Marvel icon in The Winter Soldier, particularly with Scarlett Johannson at his side, portraying the seductively deadly Black Widow. She is, quite possibly, the wittiest and most entertaining character in the film-yes, possibly more than the Captain himself. The banter between the two is as incredibly well executed as the most tension-inducing action scenes of the film. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a blockbuster success for Marvel in terms of its intelligence, entertainment, and promise for all Marvel films to come.

P.S. You should know by now, stay for both after-credits scenes for clues concerning the next film in the Marvel franchise-in this case, The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until 2015 to see The Captain and the Avengers assemble once again.

Cheap Thrills
½

I haven't stopped praising this film for the past month. No, seriously. To the point where I've befriended (and also been harassed by) the protagonist of the film on twitter, Pat Healy, one of the most fantastic indie actors in his prime. Teaming up with the gorgeous Sarah Paxton again, (Remember The Innkeepers? That was them two), their two characters come alive with glamour, agony, ecstasy, and desperation in Cheap Thrills. It is a fantastic film with gory depictions concerning the psychological dominion money has over us and the limits to which it can push us. I'm telling all my friends and if you're reading this, I'm telling you. Watch this film ASAP.

13 Sins
13 Sins(2014)
½

13 Sins is a fantastic, gory depiction of the psychological dominion money has over us, it's just that Cheap Thrills and Would You Rather have executed the storyline in a better fashion. At any rate, 13 Sins always keeps you second-guessing yourself and is a total blast to watch.

Noah
Noah(2014)

Films of biblical retellings will always acquire a great amount of attention and controversy depending on their scriptural accuracies or cinematic value. As for Darren Aronofsky, the director of "Noah," controversy arose over the fact that he is an atheist and chose to approach the biblical tale in his own manner. Aronofsky's manner, for those unfamiliar with his work, consist of exceedingly dark tones, from the psychologically tormenting "Black Swan" to the heart-wrenching despairs of addiction in "Requiem for a Dream."
Aronofsky, of course, acknowledges that this film was an odd choice for him, but his artistic admiration for fantasy-like storytelling drew him to "Noah," biblical undertones and all. However, the film becomes a very strange and uneven blend of the spiritual text and entirely fictitious plot points as it progresses. At one point, it feels like the Bible story and "Lord of the Rings" after being thrown into a blender.
The film follows Noah after receiving a vision from "The Creator," depicting the massive flood we are all familiar with and Noah's necessity to create the Ark, save his family, and all the creatures of the Earth. However, unlike scripture, fallen angels known as the Watchers descend from Heaven, remaining on Earth as giants beings made of stone, watching over humanity. The outlandishness continues with badly paced side-plots concerning political matters, distressed outsiders, and Noah's children. "Noah" eventually loses itself within its dull storylines until the grand finale, the film's only cinematically redeeming value.
It is difficult to say which audience "Noah" will sit well with. Darren Aronofsky fans will undoubtedly adore the underlining artistry of his film, from repetitive 5-second-sequences of a serpent in the Garden of Eden to a blood-red pumping forbidden fruit-like a heart encompassing what would be all of sin in humanity. Christians hoping for a spiritual experience will likely be disappointed by how fictitious and inaccurate the tale is in comparison to biblical scripture. There is no denying that "Noah" is explosively heart-racing at times, but as the film comes to a close, it remains nothing more than a Hollywood blockbuster with a biblical outline and adequate action sequences. It will be a two-hour gimmick to some and an enjoyable fantasy-like experience to others, and ultimately, nothing remotely profound for either audience.

The Den
The Den(2014)
½

The Den is a ferociously brain-twisting and intricately written thrill ride. Who knew webcam found-footage horror could be so good?

The Future
The Future(2011)

The Future is really a life-affirming film, once you look past its deep undertones of self-loathing and despair.

Nymphomaniac: Volume II
½

In this second and final installment of von Trier's Nymphomaniac, a much darker side of Joe's sexual addiction and psychological issues are portrayed, with in escalation in a feeling of existential cynicism and self-loathing due to sexual depravity. It is a need-to-watch after Vol. I and for all von Trier fans.

Stage Fright
Stage Fright(2014)

Horror-musical fans, we have found ourselves another cult classic. Stage Fright is as campy as it is gory and entertaining, reminiscent of the gore and macabre ambiance of "Repo: The Genetic Opera" or "The Devil's Carnival." However, it plays out as a non-musical film, or rather attempts to with the unmistakable musical nature of the film.

From red herrings and high sopranos, Stage Fright will keep you second-guessing every possibility of the film and the mystery of the murders that occur as the plot progresses, all wrapped in a hauntingly sinister sing-along soundtrack.

Stage Fright is not reinventing the wheel for horror-musicals, and in a way the film creates a subgenre of its own: horror-musical slasher flick. It excels in camp, gore, and wit, and is consistently entertaining.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Anyone familiar with Wes Anderson's previous directorial work knows his films are immersed with surreal imagery, immeasurable humor, and symbolic underpinnings throughout the entire film in terms of physical objects, colors, and even the symmetry of the screen. He has become an indie director icon over the years, creating artistically ingenious pieces of work such as the dysfunctional family comedy in "The Royal Tenenbaums" to the stop-motion animated social satire "Fantastic Mr. Fox." As an avid fan of his, I recommend his entire filmography immediately, and the same can be said for "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

With its vibrant colorization and laughs per second, "Grand Budapest Hotel" is an immediately enjoyable experience. Add a uniquely layered plot and immersive characters and the film becomes truly majestic. Anderson prides himself on the quick-witted charm of his characters, just as they are in "Grand Budapest," but this film adds a much darker layer of greed, sexuality, and even gore, making it unmatched to Anderson's previous light-hearted work. In any regard, "Grand Budapest" stands alone as a hauntingly beautiful and side-splittingly hilarious film that is impossible to walk away from without feeling visually and emotionally fulfilled.

"Grand Budapest Hotel" follows the retellings of Zero, the previous lobby boy and current owner of a hotel named-of course-The Grand Budapest Hotel. This vividly lavish and enormously maze-like hotel from the 1930s becomes a character all its own-a centerpiece for the peculiar and sinister events that occurred during the European 20th century. Zero becomes the right-hand to the hotel's concierge, the quirky and well-liked Monsieur Gustave. Gustave has a sexual yet affectionate affinity for elderly women, despite his homosexuality-a highly satirical subplot in the film's dialog. Days after seeing Madame D., an elderly woman Gustave deeply loves and highly respects, he is informed of her death, which occurred under "mysterious circumstances." Gustave inherits a painting from her will worth a large sum of money, enraging family members whom greedily expected the inheritance. Shortly thereafter, Gustave is then falsely imprisoned for the murder of Madame D. and Zero valiantly aids him in his illegal escape from prison to prove his innocence. The film then becomes a rapid rollercoaster of picturesque insanity, poignant emotion, and the perfect blend of beauty and anguish.

A note on uniqueness: the primary 1930s storyline is shown in square or "fullscreen" ratio to differentiate from the present-day storyline, shown in our prevalent "widescreen" ratio. As previously mentioned, symmetry and artistry are Anderson's commonalities.

At its core, "Grand Budapest Hotel" is a whimsical yet poetic approach to human emotion through its portrayal of love, humor, and malice. It is magnificent on the eyes, uproariously funny, and cleverly allegorical in storytelling. It is not to be missed, particularly for Wes Anderson fans that will now face the difficulty of reevaluating his "best film."

24 Exposures
24 Exposures(2014)

Say what you will about Joe Swanberg, but his written and directorial works are never short of original, vulgarly consuming, or a combination of both. 24 Exposures is no exception, as he works with the great Adam Wingard for a vile and semi-intellectual film concerning photography, depression, and the holy trinity: blood, sex, and gore.

Nurse
Nurse(2014)

Finally got around to watching Nurse (aka Nurse 3D), and it was one bloody good time.

Sure, it's a pretty brainless film that most feminists will despise, mainly due to its blatant sexualization of women. But honestly, where else are you going to watch an alluring lesbian nurse perform psychotic acts of gore, sexual perversion, and obsession?

Paz de la Huerta is a blood-soaked goddess in this film, and any horror fans looking for a decent thriller with just the right amount of dark humor and gore can't miss out on this one.

Need For Speed

Fast cars. Check. Hot girls. Check. Police car chases where the protagonist always miraculously escapes. Check. Congratulations to "Need for Speed" for successfully becoming one of the most generically mindless racing action flicks to ever be created. This is of little surprise for a film adapted by a video game series composed of over twenty "Need for Speed" games, and undoubtedly more to come after this film's release. To be entirely blunt, the entertainment value of "Need for Speed" equates to that of watching your friends race on one of the video games of the same title. The film, however, spoon-feeds us a cliché plot with a tormented protagonist, a thirst for vengeance, and of course, a need for reckless speeding. Who would've thought?

"Need for Speed" centers around Tobey, a mechanic and skilled racer who is framed for the murder of his friend after a street race, resulting in a two-year jail sentence. Upon his release, Tobey makes it his mission to avenge the death of his friend by finding the man responsible for the murder and proving his own innocence. This leads Tobey on a cross-country joyride with a determined heroine who aids him in his journey to the greatest illegal street racing tournament in the nation, where he will undoubtedly find the man responsible for his friend's death. From this point forward, "Need for Speed" plays by all the rules: the forced empathy of Tobey's dead friend, the inevitable sexual tension with his female companion, and the high-velocity police chases that occur when you happen to drive over 130 MPH. Admittedly, these racing sequences are highly entertaining at first, particularly when shown in first-person perspective. Additionally, the film deserves acclaim for its complete lack of CGI usage. All stunts in the film are real and quite thrilling. However, they become so repetitive and outlandish that by the time we reach the film's grand finale, the ultimate race almost feels like another chore to endure.

In light of recent racing films such as "Drive," "Rush," and even the "Fast and the Furious" franchise that has managed to remain successful after six films, "Need for Speed" feels stale, formulaic, and worst of all, tediously dull. The film's only redeeming value is Aaron Paul, most famously known for playing Jesse Pinkman on AMC's hit television series "Breaking Bad." Aaron Paul is the perfect protagonist, airing the same sarcastic wit and charismatic likability he is known for, particularly for "Breaking Bad" fans. His humor is unmatched and his glaring intensity during the car-chase sequences is extraordinary. Unfortunately, "Need for Speed" always makes you feel like you're in the passenger seat, drudging along the course with such predictability that the finish line can be spotted from the start.

The LEGO Movie

Sure, a marketed-for-children CGI film being regarded as eye-candy comes as no surprise, but a "socio-political masterpiece?" REALLY? I assure you, I didn't accidentally walk into a classics screening of "Schindler's List." "The Lego Movie" has accomplished an impactful and resonant statement on social conformity and fascism that political drama films have been attempting for decades, and it did so with the adorable toy blocks we've all known and loved since our childhood.

Rest assured, "The Lego Movie" isn't filled with governmental jargon and consumerist theories. Above all, it is a family film jam-packed with non-stop hilarity that will have your ribs aching from laughter long before the film is over. Viewers of all ages will marvel at the film's uniquely creative construction, no pun intended, which is complimented effortlessly with comedic wit that children and adults can both delight in, even with referential points aimed at older audiences.

"The Lego Movie" follows the adventures of Emmet, a normal citizen of a building-block world who lives his life according to an instruction manual, quite literally. The manual covers everything he needs to know about exceptional living, such as eating, working, watching television, and buying a $37 cup of coffee without question. Emmet's world is filled with gleeful pop songs claiming "EVERYTHING IS AWESOME," billboards stating "WE'RE WATCHING YOU," and surveillance cameras, strangely reminiscent of George Orwell's "1984." After a normal day at his construction job, Emmet accidentally stumbles upon a mysterious cloaked woman, and upon following her, he discovers a large political scheme that leads him on a thrilling journey of amusement and anarchy.

Emmet learns that the world he knows is run entirely by Octan, a major corporation responsible for the regulation of government policies, television, music, surveillance, history books, voting machines, and basically, the entire world. Lord Business, the head of Octan, plans to permanently freeze the entire Lego World and its citizens, using a secret weapon known as The Kragle, to do away with the need for regulation. It is up to Emmet and a creative group of non-conformists to stop Lord Business once and for all, with Emmet's resistance team composed of iconic characters such as Batman, Superman, Gandalf, Dumbledore, Shaquille O'Neal, Han Solo, Dracula, and hundreds of other pop culture personalities that will leave film and television aficionados in a constant state of euphoria.

Despite its name, "The Lego Movie" is far from a self-glorified commercial. It is filled with reflective social depth and immeasurable wit while successfully inching its way into the hearts of its viewers. "The Lego Movie" is as much an exhilarating experience as it is a vitally relevant film for our culture.

Knights of Badassdom

Everything about this movie is the definition of "badass."

Son Of God
Son Of God(2014)
½

It is no surprise that "Son of God" has become one of the most highly anticipated films in recent weeks, particularly for Christian audiences, and with good reason. It is a compilation of the narrative of Jesus Christ as depicted on last year's critically acclaimed television series "The Bible," which aired on The History Channel-a controversy unto itself. The film, by extension, is a shortened version of the television series, detailing the life of Christ as told in the New Testament. The film portrays the supernatural miracles He performed, the love and wisdom He shared with the world, and ultimately, the blood-curdling hardship He endured during the crucifixion.

"Son of God" opens in a serene and dreamlike fashion, with the Apostle John as our narrator, proclaiming, "God has always been there." Some of the most prolific scenes of the Old Testament are depicted during this narration, ranging from Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden to Noah's Ark in the turmoil of the flood. We see the Virgin Mary as she wraps her arms around her newborn, proclaiming His name is Jesus. Soon thereafter, we encounter Jesus as an adult, following Him as he meets His twelve disciples and performs the most well-known miracles of the Bible, such as multiplying fish and bread to feed a multitude, raising Lazarus from the dead, and saving a prostitute from being stoned to death. The film is immersed in biblical scripture, with Jesus quoting His most familiar yet profound passages unto those surrounding Him, and ultimately, unto the audience.

For a film that will undoubtedly be compared to "The Passion of the Christ," "Son of God" excels in portraying the actual life of Christ and the spirituality that flowed from Him. However, perhaps by comparison, "Son of God" feels surprisingly tame as a whole. That is not to say it needed the torturous intensity of "Passion of the Christ" to create a successful film. However, there is a certain depth lacking in "Son of God" that makes it seemingly unmemorable as a cinematic experience. The film is, without a doubt, high in spirit, but low in artistic value.

Due to its television series beginnings, "Son of God" plays out much like a TV movie, though not a particularly bad one. It is deep in its spirituality and true to scripture, although one should not expect the best acting, script, or CGI scenery. For all intents and purposes, "Son of God" delivers the message it promises to the audience it is created for. It is a beautifully told and well-intentioned film made by Christians for Christians. However, it all feels a bit too tame for the most influential man who ever walked the earth. There is profoundness within grasp in "Son of God" that goes unattained. What could have been the portrayal of an impactful man with a resounding message comes off too calmly when told in such an easygoing manner. Those looking for a genuine, biblical film true to Christian roots will find "Son of God" to be a sincere and moving experience. Clips will undoubtedly be played during sermons and Sunday school classes throughout the years. Conversely, those uninterested in a sermon will shrug off the film and wonder what all the fuss is about.

RoboCop
RoboCop(2014)

It is impossible for the new "RoboCop" film to avoid comparison to the 1987 original version, particularly for die-hard fans prepared to analyze the reboot with scrutiny and a sense of disillusionment for recreating a sci-fi classic. It has been years since I've watched the original "RoboCop," and while some of its most iconic quotes and satirical themes still resonate with me, I made it a point to avoid re-watching the original film as I do when preparing for any remake or book adaptation. By experience, a re-watch or re-read will result in angry outbursts at the theater for minor dialog or plot changes, creating an insufferable experience for myself and anyone sitting near me. Of course, if you've never seen the original "RoboCop," you have nothing to worry about.

Surprisingly enough, "RoboCop" launches with the promise that it is, in fact, more in-tune with our present day political issues, or rather, the political issues we will be facing in the year 2028. We are immediately greeted by the strongly opinionated television news anchor Pat Novak, played with feverous entitlement by Samuel L. Jackson as he channels his inner Fox News reporter. Novak discusses the "robo-phobic" mentality of American robotic forces being used for military purposes, primarily in Tehran, where suicide-bombers sacrifice their lives to destroy the massive, war-prevention machines. Unfortunately, this irony goes largely unnoticed, along with the numerous chances "RoboCop" has to pose any effective political statements. The film becomes all too concerned with OmniCorp, a multinational corporation striving for the distribution of robotic soldiers for war, and ultimately, as law enforcement agents. The problem, however, is that Americans do not trust artificially intelligent forces due to their lack of human cognition and emotional responsiveness.

Right on cue, we are introduced to Alex Murphy, a police detective who is violently killed in a car bomb explosion. Alex suffers severe burns on over 80% of his body and loses practically all of his limbs, making him OmniCorp's best suitor for the half-human, half-machine they dreamed of creating for public support. Alex's heart, lungs, and damaged brain are all that remain, displayed with gory yet beautiful detail in glass encasings. He is kept alive artificially within his black steel armor, and his brain chemistry is altered to react more like a machine than an emotional human. He is merely an illusion of depth, much like the remainder of the film, which relies entirely on explosive mayhem and an overly complex plot to hold the attention of its viewers.

Eventually, "RoboCop" manages to find the man inside the machine, attempting to convince us that there were affirmations of heart and humanity all along the way. This attempt is ultimately futile, because "RoboCop" is more concerned with guns and explosions than it is with human cognition, corporate greed, or political satire-something the original film did with imaginative perfection. By all accounts, the "Robocop" reboot is a largely entertaining film filled with action-packed sequences and spectacular CGI. It simply plays out too generically to leave a lasting impression.

Bad Milo!
Bad Milo!(2013)

Fantastic throwback to 80s slapstick horror. Bad Milo! runs with an outlandishly original storyline and just the right amount of gross-out insanity that feels unprecedented with recent indie horror-comedies.

Escape From Tomorrow
½

As soon as I heard of Disney potentially suing this film for illegal filming on their property, I was hooked, regardless of the plot. Then comes along the genre "avant-garde art-horror" and I basically lose it. It's uncommon for me to get so hyped over a film with a sketchy director and no cast standouts, but my hype was brutally and gregariously fed in dashingly classic black-and-white.

Because I've chosen to view Escape from Tomorrow as devoid of a meaningful plot, or rather an unimportant one, I'll discuss most of the film through its symbolism and underlying ideologies. These analogies are what create such a uniquely horrifying experience. Sure, Escape from Tomorrow is about a guy who goes on a really bad trip at Disney World. You know, like on bad acid the entire time, except without the bad acid. But that's not why Escape from Tomorrow is unique or important. It's unique in that it subtlety flows through social concepts such as corporate propaganda, subliminal messaging, even science fiction, and later interwoven with philosophical concepts such as the theories of memory, human apathy, and consumerism. Its aesthetically haunting and it is uncomfortably relevant.

Escape from Tomorrow exists as a social commentary of theme parks and Disney World and the entire Disney Corporation. Escape from Tomorrow is equally as much a directorially artistic film with such a style that has been unseen since Eraserhead. It's the post-Lynchian era of cinema and someone has succeeded in creating the next best thing. Lynch and Cronenberg fans will rejoice, along with cult-classic junkies. When it all comes down to it, Escape from Tomorrow is a nightmarish and though-provoking piece of art.

Machete Kills

Sometimes, films contain some of the worst screenwriting and directorial decisions possible. Machete Kills is one of those films. However, it may be best not to judge this film too harshly. After all, it exists solely as a sequel to a film that was made as a joke-the first Machete was directed only after its fake trailer was released in the Grindhouse film duo by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. However, the first Machete was satirical and gorily fantastic, earning cult classic status. It is highly unfortunate that following such an excellent predecessor, the only way to truly enjoy Machete Kills is with the lowest possible expectations.
Machete Kills starts making wrong decisions less than one minute in. The film begins and we automatically realize the grimy, old grindhouse effect is nonexistent, as it will disappointingly stay for the remainder of the film. This is one original effect expected by Rodriguez fans-after 3 similar films-and it is entirely dismissed.
Once we look past the lack of grindhouse effect, we experience some of the most atrociously cheesy dialog to ever enter our eardrums. This is not an exaggeration. Sure, the dialog was pretty terrible in the first film, but we forgave it due to its satire, originality, and total lack of seriousness. Machete Kills, on the contrary, takes itself much too seriously. It involves our main, bloodthirsty protagonist attempting to take down a psychopath who has a missile aimed straight at the U.S. There is an overflow of gore and celebrity cameos to glance at during the process. Overall, the film's cringe-worthy dialog and ridiculous plot slaughter the film as much as our protagonist does with his machetes.
These aspects may be dismissed to Machete or Rodriguez first-timers, who can gleam at the star-studded silver screen that is focal on pop culture icons like Lady Gaga, Mel Gibson, and Charlie Sheen, who plays "the motherf**ing President of the United States!" First-timers can also laugh (or scream in horror) at the psychotically overdramatized gore, filled with bodily dismemberment, human decapitations, and the non-stop spilling of human innards, post-Machete attack.
Yes, this film is ridiculous. It is exploitative, racist, vulgar, and utterly brainless. However, for Robert Rodriguez fans with low expectations such as myself, it is gore galore. Fanboys (or fangirls) will squeal with emphatic excitement at the film's brash vulgarity, filled to the brim with constant bloodshed and sexual innuendos. It would be a blatant lie if I said I didn't laugh or clap during certain segments. However, as mildly enjoyable as Machete Kills can be, the film is simply too huge of a disappointment following its far-better predecessor.

Gravity
Gravity(2013)

"Either way, it'll be one hell of a ride," Sandra Bullock shudders before taking a deep breath, one she knows could be her last, as she braces herself for one of the most intense and iconic scenes in Gravity. Indeed, Gravity is one hell of a ride, and yet it so much more than simply a ride. Gravity is a transcendental experience in cinema that is unlike anything we have seen before or are likely to see again anytime soon. It is breathtaking in every sense of the word, from its stunning portrayal of zero gravity in space to brutally heart-pounding sequences. As the film becomes layered with deeply existential questions concerning life, loss, and survival, Gravity becomes as consuming as its most thrilling scenes.

Gravity opens with a silently breathtaking shot of Earth from space, as if we are slowly orbiting it from afar. The scene subtly gravitates toward the Hubble telescope, where we meet astronauts Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski, played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. They are on a repair mission on the telescope before being notified by NASA that the Russians have launched a missile at one of their own satellites. This anti-satellite test, however, has resulted in a massive amount of space debris that causes catastrophic damage to numerous satellites in the surrounding area. It is not long before Stone and Kowalski are told to abort the mission-the debris is rapidly heading straight toward them. Due to the velocity of the debris, they are unable to return to their shuttle before the maelstrom begins. In a scene that is equally beautiful and terrifying, the two astronauts fight for their lives in a shower of catastrophic destruction and silent explosions. After all, there is no sound in space.

The artistry of Gravity lies not only in large-scale shots of the vast universe and shattered space stations but in its detail as well, such as the subtle reflection of Earth's oceans on an astronaut's helmet or a small screw as it slowly gravitates off-screen. Director Alfonso Cuarón provides a wholly unprecedented experience in Gravity, staying true to the scientific principles of space such as lack of sound and the surreal effects of zero gravity. Real astronauts, such as Buzz Aldrin and Michael J. Massimino, have acclaimed the film's realism, comparing it to their own experiences in space. Gravity is a film where the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts, because when every detailed piece of the plot comes together, it creates a flawlessly phenomenal cinematic experience unlike any other. Gravity gleams in a year full of brainless, eye-candy films lacking substance, and it is too extraordinary to be missed.

Short Term 12

Wow. Wow. Wow. The credits begin to roll after Short Term 12 ends, and these are the primary thoughts racing through my head after experiencing such an emotionally dense film. Despite its simplistic storyline, Short Term 12 is nothing short of extraordinary, because it forces us to experience the full spectrum of human emotions as the film progresses-quick-witted humor, sorrow, apathy, and ultimately, the existential significance of the decisions we make as we grow as emotional human beings. Short Term 12, without a doubt, stands out as one of the greatest and most impactful indie films of 2013, and it deserves much acclamation for its gorgeous cinematography, deeply moving plot, and realistically humane style.

Short Term 12 follows Grace, our kind-hearted yet troubled protagonist working at a foster-care home for underprivileged and troubled children, named-you guessed it-Short Term 12. Grace is the best at what she does-connecting with children living in the home and helping them through their social and emotional issues. She lives with her boyfriend Mason, and early into the film, Grace receives the news that she is pregnant. This unplanned pregnancy-along with various anxiety and familial issues-are all demons Grace must battle internally to remain strong and effective as a caretaker at the facility. Shortly thereafter, Short Term 12 receives a new intake named Jayden, a darkly dressed and bad-mannered teenage girl. Grace learns to connect quite well with Jayden, along with other members of the home, due to her similarly painful past.

The beauty of Short Term 12 lies in its striking realism, immersive character development, and engagingly symbolic cinematography. Every character has their moment to shine as we notice their individualistic mannerisms and the seemingly unimportant objects they pay attention to, each with its own emotionally dense backstory per respective character. Not a single scene is wasted in Short Term 12, relying on single-shot frames of scenery, events, and facial expressions as symbolic representations of the story being told. The film is both light-hearted and powerfully somber, injected with quick-witted humor the entire way through while slowly inching its way into your heart.

Throughout its entertaining playfulness, Short Term 12 also forces you to face the dark realities of life, such as the children that suffer in neglected or abusive homes and its psychological consequences. This film is truly an accomplishment for indie cinema, because few films can be so amusingly clever and boldly genuine. At one point in the film, Mason is retelling one of his favorite stories and states, "It was so f**king cute, I almost pissed my pants." The same can be said about Short Term 12, because it is a film that is simply impossible not to adore.

Prisoners
Prisoners(2013)

Thanksgiving is a time of love and gratitude, cherishing jubilant moments over a warm, oven-roasted turkey around a table with family and friends. This is precisely what the Birch and Dover families, whom are neighbors and close friends, are expecting when attending a Thanksgiving dinner at the Birch residence. There is a deep sense of comfort and connectedness between the two families as they prepare for their quiet, pleasant evening. With a title like Prisoners, it comes as no surprise that the events in this film do not unfold peacefully for these charming families.

The grizzly events of Prisoners begin when Anna Dover and Joy Birch, the two six-years-olds from each respective family, decide to play outdoors. They are accompanied by their older siblings and soon come across what appears to be an abandoned RV, which the two young girls begin to climb before their older siblings force them off as they return for dinner. It is only shortly before dinner that both families realize their two six-year-old daughters are nowhere to be found, and upon searching their homes and the surrounding area, panic begins to set in.

The authorities are contacted immediately, and Detective Loki, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, leads the case. He takes a detailed account of the events that took place before the girls went missing, and shortly thereafter, he finds the RV by which the girls had played. A young man residing inside the RV is then arrested for the accused kidnapping, but further investigation proves it is highly improbable for this man to be the skilled kidnapper-he has the IQ of an average 10-year-old and is awkwardly simple-minded. The plot thickens as Keller Dover, played by Hugh Jackman, decides to take matters into his own hands and find the two missing girls himself, using unskillful detective-work and sadistically violent measures as he sees fit. Keller and Detective Loki progressively discover that there are a multitude of complex clues they must piece together in this intense enigma if they hope to find the two young girls alive.

While slow-paced at times, Prisoners never fails to keep you gripped, scanning every shot for clues and questioning the trustworthiness of each character. Like the title of the film, we too become prisoners of the crime and the agitation the young girls and their distraught families are experiencing. Prisoners is by no means a blissful or straightforward film. However, it reaches deeply into the heart of humanity and the darkness that we are capable of as human beings, whether for love or for malice.

C.O.G.
C.O.G.(2013)
½

It's hard to approach a film like C.O.G. in an unbiased manner when you're a David Sedaris fan. Actually, scratch that, it's entirely impossible. When the film uses dialog straight out of the short story repeatedly--especially the wittiest and most moving sections--it honestly feels like reliving the story. This creates both positive and negative aspects for C.O.G. It's absolutely brilliant being able to put a face to the names, the dialog, the series of events, and experience the story as a film. Fans will adore it, because it's fairly impossible not to if you've read Naked. However, therein lies the downfall of C.O.G. It feels like a film that exists solely for fans who have read the story. You know exactly what's going through David's mind in certain sections of the film and it becomes clear that a lot of it will go over the heads of movie-goers expecting a witty, indie comedy. C.O.G. travels more into the black dramedy genre more than anything, and even at that, it's hard to give it much recognition as a success as a film or an adaption. Yes, it's beautifully cinematic, fantastically entertaining, and Jonathan Groff is a wholly believe and incredibly likable David Sedaris. However, when adapting anything by a profoundly intellectual writer such as Sedaris, a film is always going to pale in comparison.

The Spectacular Now

In a year full of exploitative films depicting the cynical narcissism of today's youth (I'm looking at you, Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring), it is almost euphoric watching a film as emotionally profound as James Ponsoldt's indie romance-drama The Spectacular Now. This film has no need for action-packed sequences, crippling suspense, or deafening explosions to make it spectacular. It is a simple coming-of-age tale that is abundantly heartfelt and existentially moving. The film's charm and beauty counterbalances its panging realism so effectively that audiences will find themselves contemplating its poignant themes long after the credits role.

The Spectacular Now tells the story of Sutter Keely, a charming yet self-obsessed 18-year-old high school senior whose life philosophy is, quite simply, to "live in the now!" He consumes alcohol daily, seduces girls, and is apathetic about his future and most of the individuals in his life. After a night of heavy drinking, common for him, Sutter passes out on a lawn and is groggily awoken by a girl he does not recognize. She introduces herself as Aimee Finecky, a classmate who knows him by name although he does not recall ever having met her-or rather, never gave her a second thought. Sutter begins taking a liking to Aimee, and we learn that she is a sweet and timid girl who keeps mostly to herself and whose priority is providing for her family. In an attempt to befriend her, Sutter asks Aimee to tutor him, although it is obvious Sutter has ulterior motives. Aimee, who is wholeheartedly trusting and innocent, agrees, and therein begins their friendship.

As Sutter and Aimee become closer, Sutter begins to appreciate the purity Aimee exudes. They are the two opposing sides of the human spectrum-the nihilist and the optimist. Their relationship progresses as a truly genuine portrayal of teenage love, full of humor, sincerity, and heartbreak. The Spectacular Now depicts the challenges of entering adulthood with a pragmatically meaningful tone, tackling life issues such as alcoholism, apathy, individuality, and ultimately, what it truly means to love.

The Spectacular Now is beautiful and effortlessly told, and therein lies its success. It flows with ease due to its believability, because at one point, we have all felt the emotions and had the contemplations that Sutter and Aimee experience throughout their relationship. The film, at its core, teaches us about the human experience through a simple story of two teenagers in love, and that in itself makes The Spectacular Now a spectacular accomplishment.

Insidious: Chapter 2

If you have yet to watch the first installment of Insidious-in all its bloodcurdling glory-stop reading this, run to your Netflix account or nearest Redbox, and watch it as soon as possible. Then, and only then, should you proceed, because a sequel as cleverly orchestrated as Insidious: Chapter 2 will only be fully appreciated with the first film as a frequent reference.

As a quick refresher, Insidious tells the dark tale of Dalton, the son of Josh and Renai Lambert. Dalton has the ability to astral project, a supernatural power that allows his soul to travel through spiritual planes while he sleeps. A demonic force kidnaps Dalton during one of his projections, and his father is forced to astral project into a spiritual plane, named The Further, to save his son. Although Dalton is rescued, the film ends with the shocking realization that a demon has possessed his father, who proceeds to murder a psychic that aided them throughout the film.

Insidious: Chapter 2 starts off hours after Insidious ends, with Renai Lambert discussing the death of the psychic with a detective, and specifically, the possibility of her husband being the murderer. She remains unconvinced that her husband is capable of such a brutal act, and the family moves on happily unscathed. Only they don't. Supernatural occurrences and ghastly apparitions begin haunting the Lambert family once again. Dalton suspects something is wrong with his father, and as audience members, we are particularly well informed about his father's possession and why the acts of terror do not cease.

As the film progresses, the plot brilliantly thickens with narratives that occur in different time periods, yet also seem to happen simultaneously. As we try making sense of this conundrum, the hauntings and time-travel elements become increasingly mind-boggling. This deeply layered mythology in Insidious: Chapter 2 is what makes it such a fantastically unprecedented experience. The film is also deeply integrated with specific events from the first film, creating an expansive storyline that will leave fans in awe.

Unfortunately, the suspense in Insidious: Chapter 2 is scarce, relying on poorly executed jump-scares as a pathetic excuse for horror. It frequently channels cult classics such as The Shining and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and although it integrates its own supernatural twist, it lacks the deep sense of intense terror from the first film entirely. Ultimately, Insidious: Chapter 2 has many opportunities to terrify audiences, and it unwittingly sacrifices far too many of them.

Kick-Ass 2
Kick-Ass 2(2013)

"Try to enjoy yourself. Otherwise, what's the point?" claims Jim Carrey, playing the pensive yet strong-willed Colonel Stars and Stripes in this year's Kick-Ass sequel. The ingenuity of this quote is how well it suits Kick-Ass 2 as a moviegoer, because focusing on its cringe-worthy dialog and witless humor is likely to result in far too many scoffs and eye-rolls to enjoy the film.

Kick-Ass 2 leads with Dave, AKA Kick-Ass, having given up a life of vigilante justice for the normality of high school. It is not long before he learns that his heroic acts as the iconic Kick-Ass have inspired numerous citizens to take on superhero lifestyles, fighting for the sake of personal vengeance and retaliation, causing him to rejoin the vigilante cause. Mindy, famously known as Hit-Girl, has given up crime-fighting as well, and her storyline temporarily proceeds like a mediocre retelling of Mean Girls as she tries to lead a normal high school life. It comes as no surprise that Mindy's negative experiences inspire her heroic alter ego to emerge once again. Throughout these melodramatic plots, we revisit Chris, previously known as Red Mist (and whose new alter ego is hilarious but much too vulgar for me to type). Chris has taken on the role of a super-villain to avenge his father's death, caused by Kick-Ass in the first film. He recruits an army of powerful super-villains to battle the army of superheroes in hopes of murdering Kick-Ass once and for all.

Despite its seemingly non-conventional plot, Kick-Ass 2 fails extensively in respect to its predecessor. Few can deny that the first Kick-Ass is shocking and wholly prolific R-rated entertainment due to its use of gratuitous violence and an 11-year-old girl spewing practically every vulgar word in the English language. In Kick-Ass 2, it is simply no longer effective. Fight scene cinematography mimics that of the first film, and when this is combined with cheesy plot points and unintelligent dialog, it creates a stale and uncreative mess. There is no denying that Kick-Ass 2 is strikingly entertaining and quick-witted at times, and Chloë Grace Moretz shining in her reprisal as Hit-Girl makes it worth the watch. Unfortunately, the film follows the formula of its predecessor much too closely to leave a lasting impression.

Side note: Stay after the credits for a fantastic spoiler.

The East
The East(2013)

As if I didn't adore Brit Marling enough before this film, The East has earned her a spot as one of the greatest writers, directors, and actresses of our generation. The East is a strongly built political and socio-economical statement that makes you question how much power our government truly has over us. It is much more than an intelligently written thriller. The East is a beautifully artistic and darkly vengeful story of truth, empathy, and sacrifice. This film will make you question everything you've ever believed about governmental and corporative power in a way that few, if any, films have ever done before. A perfect cast and an intellectually spellbinding plot have made The East, by far, one of the best films of 2013.

It's a Disaster

In a year full of large-budget apocalyptic films, it is amazing to watch a consistently hilarious film like It's a Disaster succeed at the same concept with only a fraction of the budget. This black comedy is brilliantly written, depending on its wit and fantastic cast to create awkwardly enjoyable storyline about a group of friends coming to terms with their untimely fate. Despite a plot that's becoming somewhat generic, It's a Disaster is always clever and satirical. Every single actor has a moment to shine, with ingenious dialogue and character development that only becomes more entertaining throughout the film. Todd Berger officially has my attention, and I cannot wait to see where his work goes from here.

The Bling Ring

Any fan of Sofia Coppola knows her work is hit-or-miss. And yet, The Bling Ring left me with a puzzling sense of mixed thoughts. The cast was gorgeous and the directing was artistically modern and stylish--unsurprising for Coppola. Still, the film lacked any real character development or depth. It was an hour and a half of cocaine, Chanel, vanity, and not much else. Emma Watson excels in her role as the vain "victim" of our self-obsessed culture, courtesy of Hollywood and drug-addled celebrities. And in reality, the film is quite witty and enjoyable to watch. However, it ends so abruptly that you can't help but think, "THAT'S IT?" The Bling Ring exists purely for lovers of pop culture or any "fans" of the real robberies. That aside, the film feels devoid of any real meaning. It lacks the nihilistic depth that Spring Breakers carried, despite its jarring similarities. Ultimately, it's enjoyable but entirely forgettable.

World War Z
World War Z(2013)

WWZ was not at all what I expected. It was wonderfully paced, starting off with a bang and keeping you gripped the entire way through. The intensity builds and builds, sacrificing horror for suspense--a very good move for a PG-13 film. With Hollywood's current obsession with zombies and gratuitous gore, I expected another brush-off popcorn film. Sure, WWZ meets all the criteria for a summer blockbuster, but by no means is it a badly written one. The fact that WWZ relied on edge-of-your-seat suspense more than flat-out scares and bloodshed was exactly what set it apart from everything else we've seen in recent years. Sure, the film is heavily inspired by 28 Days Later and Contagion, progressing as an infection film more than a zombie film. However, WWZ remains a cleverly written and exciting twist for zombie enthusiasts. A fantastic script and a fantastic cast for this summer blockbuster, explosions and all, made it a truly enjoyable film. Word of warning: DO NOT WATCH IT IN 3D. Horrible, post-filming conversion. 2D excels.

Man of Steel
Man of Steel(2013)
½

Man of Steel has, by far, been the biggest blockbuster letdown of the summer. The worst part is that it really could have been a success. The film's pathetic attempt at depth, like we've seen in Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, were not up to par with the standards we've set for DC. The dialog was atrocious, complete with horrible one-liners and outdates quotes. The storyline was loosely held together by action scene after action scene, leaving you with a sense of discontinuity. Sacrificing action for plot and character development is what ruined Man of Steel. HOWEVER, I will say, I adore Zack Snyder. Watchmen, 300, and Dawn of the Dead are all spectacular films, and Snyder's use of gorgeous cinematography and artistic techniques do not go unnoticed in Man of Steel. Neither does Henry Cavill's true supremeness as Superman, despite the film's lost-in-itself plot. (But really, Henry Cavill is supreme just for existing.)

This Is the End

This is the End could easily have flopped, but the bottom line is: IT WORKED. Cult-classic status: acquired! It's a successfully layered comedy that encompasses everything from Hollywood-vanity satire, existentialism, pseudo-Christianity, to brilliantly constructed odes of recent comedy and horror classics. This is the End never misses a beat, with its side-splitting, fast-paced humor and hilarious cameo usage. Sure, some humor was forced, but with such a densely-layered comedy film, that's to be expected. It's comedic gold for our generation and pure blasphemy for Christianity. I love it for that.

The Purge
The Purge(2013)
½

It's frustrating seeing a film with so much potential for depth and originality, only to watch it plumet into anticlimactic drivel. The Purge was built around a brilliant political philosophy that could have been executed in an intellectually stirring manner as a socio-political commentary. Instead, we're left with racist and misogynistic undertones, a pathetic attempt at suspense, and cringe-worthy cinematography. There's a good film out there for James DeMonaco. The Purge is not it.

Stoker
Stoker(2013)

I finally had a chance to watch Stoker for the second time today, and it comes as no surprise that it is even more cinematically hypnotic and grippingly dark than it was the first time around. Between the gorgeously macabre cast and superb pacing, Stoker keeps you on the edge of your seat until the brilliantly executed final act. Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode are a dream team, enveloped in mysteriousness, blood, and sexuality. Come the end of 2013, and I wouldn't be surprised if Stoker remains the most beautifully directed film I've seen all year. Park Chan-Wook and his transcendental cinematography never disappoint. Stoker, in all its twisted glory, is no exception.

Star Trek Into Darkness

J. J. Abrams is a sci-fi god in our generation, whether we like it or not. The man rarely disappoints, and Into Darkness is no exception. Sure, the witty banter and deus ex machina reliance lost some of its charm in comparison to the first film, but the gripping plot and beautifully executed CGI is a fantastic experience for Trekkies and new fans alike. That goes without saying, Benedict Cumberbatch was an absolutely perfect Khan.

Bellflower
Bellflower(2011)

This film was absolutely fantastic. Dirty camera lenses, blurry and over-saturated scenes, a non-linear plot with text-named segments held together by a loose grip on reality--it's an indie art-house enthusiast's wet dream. Netflix subscribers, get on this while it's up.

Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3(2013)
½

Iron Man 3 was by no means Marvel's best addition to the franchise, but it was enjoyably witty and entertainingly action-packed, much like its predecessors (not so much part 2, of course). Still, its mediocre and predictable plot made it almost unbearable to watch, despite its charm. The villian's plot was stolen right out of other exceedingly better superhero or sci-fi films such as Watchmen or 12 Monkeys. Nevertheless, RDJ is as perfectly charismatic as ever, and a round of applause for Gwyneth Paltrow's ass-kicking scene towards the finale. The woman is a goddess.

Harold and Maude

I just watched Harold and Maude for the first time and I loved it more than I could ever imagine. It was the epitome of beauty, while being artistically met with macarbe characters, bearing questions of the identity, life, and death. It was uneasy, quirky avante-garde in the 70s and it's a spectacular classic now.

Maniac
Maniac(2013)

Maniac is a sweetly gruesome slasher flick mixed in with hallucinatory psychopathy and a side of nihilism. These qualities all contribute to its grueling tension and surrealness, to the point of feeling like you're suffering from schizophrenia. It's also a very stylishly directed film, as seen through the eyes of the narrator via the optical perception of the camera. Bottom line: Maniac is a mind-boggling gorefest, and any horror fan would be a fool to miss it.

The Lords of Salem

If Lords of Salem proved anything, it's that Rob Zombie is a horror film aficionado. However, that by no means makes him a masterful filmmaker. Yes, he's had a good share of horror films--there are few contemporary horror films as disturbing as House of 1000 Corpses and Devil's Rejects. And yet, Lords of Salem is far beyond that, and not in a very good way. It feels like a pseudo-edgy remake of Rosemary's Baby with the directing style of The Shining and the musical score of both. Sheri Moon Zombie, who's fantastic in his previous films, lacks her crazed psychopathy in Lords. Her attempt at taking on a serious role as the victim is almost painfully terrible. Despite the film's blatant unoriginality, it's still an enjoyably dark and Satanic B-horror film for all Rob Zombie fanatics.

The Place Beyond The Pines
½

As philosophically and humanistically dense as Place Beyond the Pines was, I can't shake the feeling that the plot became weaker and weaker as the film progressed. Sure, it bore various conceptual meanings such as the cycle-of-life, familial reliance, and vengeance. But by the end of Pines, I kind of just felt empty. Obviously, hands down, Ryan Gosling was the greatest part of the film. His storyline and dialog were spectacular, and this is by far one of his greatest roles. Unfortunately, he wasn't as--let's say--crucial to the film as I would have hoped. Pines is by no means an inconsequential film. It's just not as impactful as it could have been.

Antiviral
Antiviral(2013)
½

Brandon Cronenberg has made a fittingly dark and superb directoral debut with Antiviral. This film was fantastically disturbing. It worked as both an under-your-skin psychological thriller and a bitingly original social commentary, while delving smoothly into art house territory. Sure, it's loaded with dark inspiration from his father's work-the great David Cronenberg-But Brandon C. is undoubtedly bringing something new to the table, and I can't wait to see what he has in store for us.

Jurassic Park
½

Jurassic Park in 3D and was a total blast. Sure, it's a feed-into-a-modern-classic gimmick, but that's not to say this was a cheap one. The digital reconstruction and 3D effects made the film an entirely new experience (those velociraptor and their fucking beaky heads, my god) all throughout the nostalgia-inducing wit, suspense, and 101 weird dinosaur sounds. (Personal estimate.) This film is a fantastic revisit to the Park, and it's just as spectacular as it was two decades ago.

Pieta
Pieta(2013)

Pieta, at first watch, is both malicious and discomforting both in plot and in aesthetics. The mood is a constant state of depravity and joylessness, encompassed in a dark and impoverished setting. However, immediately upon completion, you can feel the dark humanistic reality of the film begin to settle within you. As the final scene fades, the screen remains black for quite a while as the music escalates, and an uneasiness crawls over you as you come to realize that this film is much more than a one-dimensional dark and twisted film. It has existential meaning and passion that resonates with the things we define our lives by: "Love, honor, violence, fury, hatred, jealousy, revenge, death." Labeling the film as either morally depraved or morally passionate is a matter one's experience of the film, which is astounding despite its resonating misery. This is one film in which you won't smile a single time, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Evil Dead
Evil Dead(2013)

Evil Dead was more of an experience than a film, and an absolutely fantastic one. Fede Alvarez made it clear from the start that this was not going to be a slapstick horror film like the classic, but rather a gruesomely dark and uneasy one. Alvarez met and exceeded my expectations for this film, with every grueling second of tension, bloodcurdling goriness, and more gallons of blood than I've seen in my entire life. This film is the pure epitome of horror, even in respect to that of the original.

Spring Breakers
½

Spring Breakers isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it's easily the most artistic and gritty film I've seen this year. It brutally captures the idiotic and cynical mentality of our post-moral party culture, and in a uniquely disturbing way. It was beyond fantastic, and we can only attribute that to its brilliantly outlandish plot and Korine's phenomenal directing. That goes without saying--you will NEVER see Selena Gomez or Vanessa Hudgens the same way again, and that's a good thing.

Les Misérables

The longer I sat through this film, the more I wanted to gouge my eyes out. I really do love musicals, but Les Mis was so bland and riddled with terrible actors-gone-singers-doing-a-terrible-job that it was unbearable. Where Anne Hathaway shone, Russell Crowe and half the rest of the cast ruined.

Seven Psychopaths

I just really, really enjoyed this film. It was incredibly fun to watch and almost every part of it was rampantly brilliant and unexpected. Aside from having a spectacular cast, the artsy directing and vaguely philosophical undertones only added to the sheer uniqueness of the film. Sure, it can't be taken too seriously, but that doesn't take away from the originality of Seven Psychopaths.

Room 237
Room 237(2013)

Room 237 is comprised of several analyses of The Shining, in addition to other Kubrick films, related to sociology, psychology, philosophy, and conspiracy theories. Most of what is stated in the documentary can be considered insignificant, due to its heavy reliance on everything being a matter of interpretation. In this sense, everything in The Shining has meaning, if and only if you look hard enough. Some of the scholarly views expressed are brilliantly delineated and others are nothing more than crazed conspiracy theories. In this sense, Room 237 is inconsequential as a whole. However, it remains to be an intellectually stirring and entirely welcome revisit to the Overlook Hotel.

Silver Linings Playbook

I went into this film knowing nothing of the plot and am entirely glad I did so. Its portrayal of various mental disorders was raw and disorienting in the best possible way. Bradley Cooper's performance as a troubled yet incredibly enthusiastic man struggling with bipolar disorder was both heartbreaking and hysterical. That goes without saying Jennifer Lawrence gave one of the greatest performances of her career. You could feel her emotion emanating from the screen and it was phenomenal. This movie deserves every Best Picture nom it receives.

Excision
Excision(2012)
½

Teen angst and psychosexual gore? Sign me up. Excision worked in all the right ways. It took proto-typical artsy gore to an entirely new level that seemed almost ethereal. The way it fit into a stereotypically dark goth girl was both entertaining and psychologically distressing, up to the last 5 minutes that still have me in a fit of rage. This film is the Carrie/Donnie Darko of a desensitized generation, and it's great.

Safety Not Guaranteed
½

While not always original, Safety Not Guaranteed was a clever and quick-witted addition to recent comedic sci-fi films. The entire cast was absolutely fantastic, with Aubrey Praza for all Parks & Rec fans, Mark Duplass for all The League fans, and Jake Johnson for all New Girl fans. Let's hope for more indie greatness from Colin Trevorrow.

Brave
Brave(2012)
½

Brave proved Pixar is going in an entirely new direction, and I'm loving the direction it's heading. Brave was beautifully edited, and because I went into the film blindly unaware of the plot, the unexpectedness and mythological wit kept me both laughing to tears and visually entranced. Here's to hoping Pixar only gets better from here. Side note: Game of Thrones fans, you'll love it.

ParaNorman
ParaNorman(2012)
½

Chris Butler and Sam Fell make Tim Burton's "darkly witty" films from the past 10 years look like garbage. ParaNorman had a mind all it's own and embraced open, liberal concepts instead of clinging to a child-conscious idea like, "The world is great! Yeah!" That's not to say, for entertainment value, ParaNorman isn't a children's film. Foremost, it IS a children's film, and appeals to the humor and visually stunning animation children will love. However, the rude and radical behavior underlying the plotline is a snarky parody of the state of our culture. That's what sells the film, along with it's brilliantly ironic homages to early 70's horror.

The Amazing Spider-Man

While I will always have an undying love for Sam Raimi's work, Mark Webb's Spidey reboot is nothing short of spectacular. With its intuitive attention to detail and astounding CGI effects, Amazing Spider-Man is visually gripping entertainment at its finest. Sure, it has a faulty script at times, but Andrew Garfield is the perfect Peter Parker, and he did remarkably with his cheesy one-liners and awkward glances.

Moonrise Kingdom

It's no surprise that Wes Anderson incorporates a unique, artistically versatile atmosphere with every film he directs, and Moonrise is no exception. Between its beautifully shot scenery, unorthodox storytelling, and clever attention to detail, you can't help but become entranced by the inventiveness of his work. While he seemingly recycles certain directing styles (and actors) in his films, Moonrise is a satisfying addition to his collection.

Perfect Sense
½

I went into this film blindly, so the fact that it's narrated in an apocalyptic world (where people slowly begin losing their 5 senses) caught me entirely by surprise. That said, it had an incredibly poignant and original plot, with astounding performances by Ewan McGregor and Eva Green. It was as romantically charming as it was existentially dark and tormenting. While the the film's finale may initially feel unsatisfying, it leaves one pondering over our perception of daily life and everything we often take for granted.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Keira and Steve are by no means a conventional match, which fits in perfectly with this non-conventional dramedy. It was witty and engaging while always retaining a painfully nihilistic undertone. This is one of the most original films you'll see all year. (And if anyone ever wanted of a comedic version of Melancholia, you've got it.)

Prometheus
Prometheus(2012)
½

It's official: Ridley Scott can do no wrong. Calling this film a visually stunning masterpiece is putting it mildly. It's as dark and philosophical as science fiction can get, and while much of the film's premise is left open-ended, it embraces its distortion with creativity, class, and of course, the possibility for a much anticipated sequel.

Marvel's The Avengers

Joss Whedon has put Michael Bay and every other action-bandwagon director to shame. Between its stylistic directing, witty banter, and supremely cinematic one-hour climax, everything about this film worked in a spectacular fashion. It's going to be near impossible for any other superhero film this year to top this blockbuster masterpiece.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

It almost hurts seeing a film so close to greatness missing it by just that much. While creatively driven and heart-breaking at times, Extremely Loud feels too invested itself and lacked the emotional depth it demanded. Although it manages to tug at your emotions a few times, it loses itself in childishness equally as much.

Into The Abyss
½

This is one of the most emotionally tormenting documentaries I have ever watched, and with good reason. It provides and new and dense perspective of capital punishment, following those convicted and the families affected. The documentary's greatest success is its portrayal of both sides of the story, almost free of bias. While Herzog might not be the best interviewer, his film is unremittingly dark, melancholic, and above all, important.

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

Exhilarating fun and intelligently avante-garde, the fourth installation of the Mission Impossible franchise fails to disappoint. It's brilliant direction and action-packed plot grip your attention the entire way through, although not entirely successful as far as avoiding cliches. But hey, Simon Pegg helps.

Shame
Shame(2011)
½

A perversely dark and beautifully haunting film about coping with sexual addiction. Michael Fassbender is spectacular in what is easily his most controversial role, considering the "demands" on an NC-17 rating. Aside from its petulance and difficulty to watch, Shame is a nonyielding and important film.

The Cabin in the Woods

I don't know where to even start with this film, but one thing's for certain: it is mindblowingly original. Nothing is ever as it seems, predicability is thrown out the window, and it gets as much darker as it does brilliantly hilarious. The perfect blend of horror, satire, and science-fiction--Cabin in the Woods is one of the most creatively entertaining films you'll see all year.

Eraserhead
Eraserhead(1977)
½

This is definitely not a film for Lynch novices. It's unrelentingly dark, unsettling, has no concern for explaining itself. It is all these aspects, however, that make the film so superbly iconic. It clearly sets the foundation for all of Lynch's latter films, while maintaining its own surreal and nightmarish originality to this day. There is no director quite like David Lynch.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
½

Although Tinker Tailor is a low-key and mostly slow-paced thriller, its dense plotline and incredible cast are gripping the entire way through. At times, however, the film feels overly-convoluted and detached. One must patiently submerse themselves in the film during its entirety to grasp most of its key turning points.

Wrath of the Titans
½

I was thoroughly disappointed with how same-old, same old this film was when compared to Clash. For something so visually stunning (and yes, it was incredibly visually stunning), you would think they'd have a solid script. Greek mythology films always have the potential to be epic tales, but lately, Hollywood has been all show and no substance. This is a perfect example.

Lost Highway
Lost Highway(1997)

For die-hard Lynch fans, this isn't anything new. However, that's not to say it's without its own dark creativity. This is quite easily one of Lynch's darker if not darkest film. It's violent, sadistic, sexual, and supremely mind-bending in all the right ways. Sure, Lynch's "alternate identity" plot may seem a bit same-old, but c'mon. The man in a genius, and all his films are gold.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
½

A dark and beautifully haunting film outlining the dynamics of living in a Charles-Manson-like cult, and the psychological effects it instills. Elizabeth Olsen is mesmerizing and heartbreaking and I'm officially madly in love with her.

A Dangerous Method

This is a perfect film for all psychology majors. Seeing the progression of the dynamics in Jung and Freud's relationship is superb. The film is gripping, intelligent, brilliantly directed, and remains incredibly loyal to both Jung and Freud's theories of psychoanalysis at its early stages.

Silent House
Silent House(2012)
½

This film does not deserve half of the negative reception it's gotten. Although not a perfect horror film, it's stylistic directing and mind-bending sequences put it a step above the rest. While the ending lacks depth, Elizabeth Olsen does a brilliant job adding tension to her character all the way through.

The Hunger Games

As supremely cinematic and ridiculously faithful The Hunger Games was to the novel, I can't help but feel a bit disappointed. The characters were so two-dimensional that I wouldn't have cared much for them if I hadn't of grown so attached to them in the novels. Still, the film did an incredible job of explaining key factors of the Games via The Capitol, and their portrayal of the reactions occurring in the District were spectacularly creative. The only thing missing: Peeta's heartbreaking reaction to Katniss's lies at the ending. Would that have been SO difficult to add?

21 Jump Street

I didn't think it was possible, but Channing Tatum has made a film in which he is hilariously awesome. Him and Johan Hill are comedic geniuses.

Friends With Kids
½

A some-what cliche plot is overcome with an A+ cast and mostly hilarious script.

The Descendants

George Clooney, you brilliant bastard, you.

The Skin I Live In

A dementedly abstract, sexually dysmorphic tale that gets more and more disturbing as all the missing pieces of the storyline come together.

Hugo
Hugo(2011)
½

Another masterpiece by Scorsese. Although a bit slow at times, it's overwhelming charm and creativity it bound to win anyone and everyone over.

The Science of Sleep

The perfect combination of creativity, surrealism, and quirky lapses in the language barrier.

Amélie
Amélie(2001)

Always one of my favorite French films.

Inland Empire

This entire film felt like a schizophrenic nightmare, and I loved it.

Mulholland Drive
½

Lynch needs to make more films like this.

Blue Velvet
Blue Velvet(1986)

What I would give to go back in time and see this in a theater in the 80s.

Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver(1976)

Always, always Scorsese's best.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
½

This is not an enjoyable film to watch. It is dark, sadistic, and brutally painful. That said, its disturbing qualities are also its glorifying qualities. It is original in its manner of directing and plot organization, shadowed by a phenomenal performance by Swinton.

Take Shelter
Take Shelter(2011)

While at times slow-paced, Take Shelter still manages to be a gripping psychological thriller that explores the deepest of human emotions, fear and anxiety included. The storms alone make this film cinematic gold.

Melancholia
Melancholia(2011)

If I didn't love Lars von Trier before, the visual brilliance and emotive storytelling in this film won me over by a long shot.

The Artist
The Artist(2011)

Spectacular film. Imaginative, witty, and visually breathtaking--all done in black and white and with no audible dialog. I can't praise it enough.

The Grey
The Grey(2012)
½

Two intense hours of fear and anguish in negative-50 degree weather. Not an easy film to watch, but definitely not one to be missed.

The Woman in Black
½

The creative directing and convincing 1900's feel gave this film a lot of potential, but completely fell apart with it's mundane plot and gimmicky scare scenes.

Chronicle
Chronicle(2012)

You'd have to be an idiot or science-fiction retarded to hate this film. Actually, those are one in the same.