As a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association, I was, once again, in Hollywood for The Critics' Choice Movie Awards. Now in its 20th year, the show was better than ever, thanks to a new host (Michael Strahan) a new, supportive network (A&E), a new venue (the historic Hollywood Palladium) and even more of Hollywood's biggest stars in attendance. I was able to meet and re-connect with a total of more than 30 nominees and presenters before, during (commercial breaks) and after the show. Let's get started with the stories:
The first on-screen nominee into the Palladium during the pre-show was the young star of "St. Vincent", Jaeden Lieberher. He wore a terrific tux and told me he had an incredible time working with Bill Murray. And he admitted that forever, or at least until another role changes things, he'll be known as "The St. Vincent Kid". Fellow Best Younger Actor/Actress nominee Tony Revolori ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") was very excited about being there and the evening to come.
I got to reunite with "Frozen"'s Josh Gad, who just got off of a plane from NYC, where he was on "The Tonight Show" the night before promoting "The Wedding Ringer" (which I happened to see the night before). Turns out we had basically matching outfits - dark gray suits, light grey shirts. "How to Train Your Dragon 2" director Dean DeBlois and producer Bonnie Arnold were thrilled to receive their Oscar nomination that morning.
And both new "Late Late Show" host James Corden ("Into the Woods") and "Theory of Everything" nominee Eddie Redmayne were rushed-in by their handlers, but still stopped for a brief chat and photos. Both couldn't have been nicer. But the best pre-show story goes to "Obvious Child" star Jenny Slate, who later won Best Actress in a Comedy. We'd never met before, but she told me that she and her friends were actually talking about me on New Year's Eve! Pretty wild.
Once the show began, the Paladium was packed with shining stars: At my table, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard. We took a photo that was posted on CCMA social media (using a provided iPad). Julianne Moore was pleased with her on-screen holiday season, with both "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" and "Still Alice", for which she won Best Actress. Robert Duvall could understand why I liked the California sunshine. "It's cold up there", he said, referring to Upstate NY. And all three stars of "Boyhood", Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Ellar Coltrane appreciated the film's many recognitions.
Lifetime Achievement Winner Kevin Costner surprised me by stating that he doesn't like attention and was actually nervous about giving speeches, including the one that he'd deliver later that evening, which was outstanding. "Nightcrawler" actress Rene Russo, who presented Costner with his award, was fighting laryngitis, but still was so friendly. Melissa McCarthy told me she's looking forward to the May release of her new action comedy "Spy". And, like me, she said she can't believe that Jason Statham is in the film. Funnymen Ben Falcone (McCarthy's husband), Jon Favreau and Tyler Perry were also on hand and great to meet. Perry thanked me for being a Madea fan.
Also representing "Gone Girl", Rosamund Pike glowed in her white dress, and at the After Party, writer Gillian Flynn was proud of receiving Best Adapted Screenplay (especially considering she was snubbed by The Academy that morning). The "Selma" ensemble was in full force: star David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay (who were also denied Oscar nods), were nonetheless gracious. They were joined by a couple of cool dudes: Andre Holland, and Common, who was rightfully proud of his trophy for Best Song ("Glory"), and a great acceptance speech.
"Bates Motel" star Vera Farmiga still remembers her incredible experience working with George Clooney on "Up in the Air". And when I told fellow star Freddie Highmore that "I grew up with you as Charlie" (in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"), he replied, "That was so long ago!" He still looks so young. "Interstellar"'s Mackenzie Foy loved working with Matthew McConaughey (aka "The Coolest Guy"). And Rosario Dawson was pleased with the success of "Top Five", saying that Chris Rock worked on the script for three years before she even read it.
"Birdman" composer Antonio Sanchez entertained the house on the drums throughout the night. He'd done my podcast a few months ago and updated my on what he's got coming-up, including three new albums and possibly another film. Patrick Stewart was pleased with his great year, including box office smash "X-Men: Days of Future Past". And Chaz Ebert, wife of late film critic Roger Ebert, and "Life Itself" director Steve James, were honored to receive the Best Documentary Feature award.
However, my favorite celeb encounter of the night was reuniting with Emily Blunt. We first met when we were guests on "The Tonight Show" back in 2011. Since that time she's gone from movie star to MOVIE STAR! And what a 2014 she had, with the fantastic "Edge of Tomorrow", for which she won Best Actress in an Action film, a Golden Globe nominated performance in the all-star musical "Into the Woods", and a new baby with husband John Krasinski. No doubt in my mind her career will continue to skyrocket.
And last, but certainly not least, I was only 10-feet away from where Michael Keaton fell off of the stage after accepting his Best Actor award. The event wasn't shown on the broadcast and apparently no one in the audience caught in on camera. Thankfully the 63 year old landed on his feet, bounced-up and was greeted with a huge hug from Ethan Hawke. Keaton then quickly exited the room. The room went from shocked to stunned to silent in the period of 10-seconds it took for all this to take place. And everyone watching at home had no idea any of this was going on, or why Strahan wrapped-up the show by mentioning that "Birdman really tried to fly." Just another reason why being at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards is always a memorable experience.
For the first time in Academy history, the nominees in all 24 categories were announced bright and early at 5:30am Pacific Time (8:30 on the East Coast). Directors J.J. Abrams ("Star Trek") and Alfonso Cuaron ("Gravity") began the two-part ceremony with some ugly snubs:
"The LEGO Movie" is up for Best Original Song with "Everything is Awesome", but the animated blockbuster is NOT up for Best Animated Feature. Little-seen "Song of the Sea" and "The Tale of Princess Kaguya" take-up two out of the five slots. "Life Itself" is NOT nominated for Best Documentary Feature. The look at the life and career of film critic Roger Ebert comes from the same studios as "Blackfish", which was also snubbed in this category last year. Both were shown on CNN prior to Oscar voting completion. Clearly that strategy is NOT working. And "Duet", the beautiful and groundbreaking animated short film from artist and former Disney animator Glen Keane, is not in the race for its category. Disney's own "Feast" is on the list.
And in the second group of nominees, announced by "Into the Woods" star Chris Pine and Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, there are even more surprises:
Laura Dern is on the Best Supporting Actress ballot for "Wild". "Whiplash" is a contender in the Best Adapted Screenplay category (it's based on a short film). "Maleficent" is up for Costume Design, but not Makeup & Hairstyling (no love for Angelina's cheekbones). Alexandre Desplat has Best Original Score nominations for both "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "The Imitation Game". Marion Cotillard ("Two Days, One Night") knocks Jennifer Aniston ("Cake") out of Best Actress contention. Bradley Cooper deservingly receives a Best Actor nomination for the war drama "American Sniper". "Foxcatcher" director Bennett Miller is a Best Director nominee, and Steve Carell is up for Best Actor, but the sports drama is not nominated for Best Picture.
The eight films that are Best Picture nominees (there were nine the past few years) are "American Sniper", "Birdman", "Boyhood", "The Grand Budapest Hotel", "The Imitation Game", "Selma" (though no David Oyelowo or Ava DuVernay), "The Theory of Everything", and "Whiplash".
The 87th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, are Sunday February 22nd at 8pmET on ABC.
And now - the movies to look forward to (and avoid) over the second half of 2015:
1 - "Magic Mike XXL", "Terminator: Genisys" (Dictionary addition?)
10 - "Minions", "Gallows"
17 - "Ant-Man", "Trainwreck" (the review probably writes itself)
24 - "Pan", "Pixels", "Poltergeist" (Scary, Scarier, and Scariest)
31 - "Grimsby", "Point Break", "Self/Less"
7 - "The Fantastic Four", "Ricki and the Flash" (and Meryl)
14 - "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", "Masterminds", "Straight Outta Compton"
21 - "Sinister 2", "Max", "Me Before You", "Criminal"
28 - "Regression", "Hitman: Agent 47" (because Agent 46 wasn't available)
4 - "Jane Got a Gun", "Kitchen Sink"
11 - "The Visit", "Triple Nine"
18 - "Everest", "Untitled Whitey Bulger Film", "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials" (previously titled "The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials")
25 - "Hotel Transylvania 2", "The Intern", "The Disappointments Room"
2 - "The Walk", "Victor Frankenstein", "London Has Fallen" (Olympus wasn't enough)
9 - "The Jungle Book", "Vacation", "Kidnap"
16 - "Crimson Peak", "Untitled Cold War Spy Thriller" (Hanks and Spielberg reunite)
23 - "Jem and the Holograms", "The Last Witch Hunter"
30 - "Scouts vs. Zombies"
6 - "Spectre", "The Peanuts Movie" (Best Box Office Battle of the Year?)
13 - "Rock the Kasbah", "Friday the 13th" (of course)
20 - "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2"
25 - "The Good Dinosaur", "The Martian", "Midnight Special", "Seth Rogen/Joseph Gordon-Levitt X-Mas Movie" (from Sony)
4 - "Krampus"
18 - "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", "The Nest" (it should open on the bare 11th)
23 - "Alvin and the Chipmunks 4" (Why?)
25 - "Mission: Impossible 5", "Joy", "The Revenant" (Limited)
Release dates courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo.com. All subject to change.
Here are the movies to look forward to (and avoid) over the first half of the new year:
9 - "Taken 3" (a third dose of those "special skills"), "Inherent Vice" (Wide), "Selma" (Wide)
16 - "American Sniper" (Wide), "Blackhat" (hacking movie NOT from Sony), "Paddington", "The Wedding Ringer", "Still Alice" (Limited)
23 - "Mortdecai", "The Boy Next Door", "Strange Magic", "Cake" (Limited)
30 - "Project Almanac", "Black or White", "The Loft"
6 - "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water"!!!, "Jupiter Ascending", "Seventh Son"
13 - "Fifty Shades of Grey" (No comment), "Kingsman: The Secret Service"
20 - "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" (Believe it or not), "McFarland, USA", "The DUFF"
27 - "Focus" (Will Smith needs a hit), "The Lazarus Effect"
6 - "Chappie" (Crappie?), "The Coup", "Unfinished Business", "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (Another 'Believe it or Not', Limited)
13 - "Cinderella" (Yet again), "In the Heart of the Sea", "Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension"
20 - "The Divergent Series: Insurgent", "The Gunman"
27 - "Home", "Get Hard" (Ferrell & Hart)
3 - "Furious 7"
10 - "The Longest Ride", "The Moon and the Sun", "Underdogs" (NOT a sequel to Disney's '07 cartoon reboot)
17 - "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2" (Kevin James in a Comedy), "Monkey Kingdom", "Child 44", "Run All Night", "Unfriended"
24 - "The Age of Adaline", "Little Boy" (Kevin James in a Drama)
1 - "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (Summer's Here!)
8 - "Untitled Reese Witherspoon/Sofia Vergara Comedy" (For now)
15 - "Pitch Perfect 2", "Mad Max: Fury Road"
22 - "Tomorrowland", "Spy" (Good Box Office Battle)
29 - "San Andreas", "Cameron Crowe Untitled", "Monster Trucks"
5 - "Entourage", "Paper Towns", "Insidious Chapter 3"
12 - "Jurassic World"
19 - "Inside Out" (The Return of Pixar!), "The Transporter Legacy"
26 - "Ted 2" (It better be funny)
Release dates courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo.com. All subject to change.
The fact that "The Monuments Men", "Need for Speed", "Obvious Child", "The Giver", and "The Maze Runner" couldn't even make my Honorable Mentions list shows that there were a lot of bad movies in 2014. So many to choose from, but these were the Worst of the Worst:
1. "EARTH TO ECHO"
This "ET" knock-off about a group of stereotypical pre-teens who find an owl-like robot who "just wants to go home" is an absolute mess. The performances were disastrous, the dialogue was corny and the story was ridiculous. But the worst of all was the "handheld camera" technique: so in-your-face that I had to forced myself to keep my eyes shut at times to keep my head from pounding more than it already was. At one point one of the characters says - "I need an Advil", perfectly summed-up my miserable experience.
2. "DUMB AND DUMBER TO"
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels did NOT need to reunite for this trainwreck of a "two decades later" sequel. Most of the story made absolutely no sense, the situations felt dated, and I don't think I laughed once.
3. "SEX TAPE"
I had a feeling going in this one was going to be a clunker. Cameron Diaz (who, whether you want to admit it or not, is a thousand times better in "Annie" than this) and Jason Segel had no chemistry together, or any funny lines.
And we thought "The Lone Ranger" was Johnny Depp's career low. There's some controversy surrounding the poor sound editing and mixing of "Interstellar", but the numerous, stray techno noises here were far worse. The only thing transcendent about this film was its ineptitude.
5. "THE HOMESMAN"
It's a western that also mixes-in elements of melodrama, comedy, horror, musicals, action, farce, road movies and more. And nothing works! This film features so many ridiculous scenes I was constantly shaking my head and agreeing with Tommy Lee Jones' best line: "What the Hell?".
6. "THE LEGEND OF HERCULES"
One of the first releases of '14. Kellan Lutz ("Twilight") starred as a far-less version of Mighty Hercules than Dwayne Johnson (though his "Hercules" was pretty bad, too). Clumsy and completely forgettable.
Should we feel bad that "24"'s Kiefer Sutherland starred in this disaster, about a disaster, for the paycheck? Only if you saw it, too.
8. "INHERENT VICE"
Two and a half hours of my life I will never get back.
9. "I, FRANKENSTEIN"
My Worst List couldn't be complete without an Adam Sandler appearance. While it wasn't as terrible as 2013's #2 selection, "Grown Ups 2", Drew Barrymore's rendition of "Over the Rainbow" sealed the deal to get this into the Top 10.
"AUTOMATA" - Antonio Banderas starred in this low-budget and deathly dull sci-fi/adventure whose battery dies long before the final scene.
"DIVERGENT" - It felt like six hours. It was only 2:20?!
"THE NOVEMBER MAN" - Pierce Brosnan in his own, poor "007" rip-off. More like "003".
"THE NUT JOB" - The year's worst animated film was so bad it's not even on The Academy's qualification list for the Animated Feature Oscar.
"RAGE" - Nicolas Cage flop in which his hairpiece gives the best performance. Will probably be writing that again next year at this time.
My 10 Best Films of 2014 include several Best Actor contenders, an animated blockbuster, an underrated action gem, a powerhouse music drama, and an inspirational look at a "Two Thumbs Up" life at the movies.
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu masterfully directs using, essentially, a handful of continuous shoits. A daring story about a former movie superhero attempting a comeback on the Broadway stage, is accompanied by an incredible score, and features top-notch performances by Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone. Had a smile on my face the entire time. It's a funny, unpredictable and soaring cinematic experience.
2. "AMERICAN SNIPER"
Bradley Cooper gives the performance of his career as Navy SEAL and war hero Chris Kyle, in Clint Eastwood's heart-pounding and heart-breaking telling of Kyle's life. Sienna Miller is also excellent as Kyle's wife. This is Eastwood's best film since "Million Dollar Baby".
Tom Hardy plays the title character, who drives and talks on his car phone for 90 minutes. It's unlike anything you've ever seen...and it's brilliant!
4. "LIFE ITSELF"
Iconic film critic Roger Ebert is beautifully and powerfully honored in 2014's best documentary, filled with touching stories and tributes.
Jake Gyllenhaal is outstanding as my favorite movie character of the year, unstable LA TV news stringer Lou Bloom. Rene Russo, as the news director, also delievers. This thriller blew me away.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., David Oyelowo shines in director Ava DuVernay's brave and important film about the 60's Civil Rights Movement.
7. "THE IMITATION GAME"
Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley star in this emotional true story about the attempt to break the Nazis' Enigma Code and end WWII.
8. "EDGE OF TOMORROW"
Smartest script of the year, based on the sci-fi novel All You Need Is Kill. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt are fantastic.
9. "THE LEGO MOVIE"
Everything is Awesome in the year's funniest and finest animated film. Deserves an Original Screenplay Oscar nod as well.
A spellbinding, often shocking look at the relationship between a ruthless music instructor (an incredible J.K. Simmons) and his new percussion student (showcase work from Miles Teller).
"THE FAULT IN OUR STARS" - Shailene Woodley deserves to be in the Best Actress conversation.
"GET ON UP" - Chadwick Boseman is excellent as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.
"GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY" - Hooked on it from minute one. B. Cooper as Rocket Raccoon - genius!
"THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY" - Simple and sweet, with a terrific Helen Mirren and strong love story.
"STILL ALICE" - Julianne Moore is riveting as a woman with early onset Alzheimer's Disease.
There was a surprisingly large number of cameo and uncredited appearances in 2014 movies. This list is a compilation of my favorites. WARNING - if you haven't seen some of these films yet, I'm sorry for spoiling some surprises. And if you have other suggestions that I should add to the list, please let me know on Twitter (@LCJReviews) and Facebook (Lights Camera Jackson):
DMX, Adam Sandler and Jerry Seinfeld - "Top Five"
Matt Damon - "Interstellar"
Celine Dion and Frank Langella - "Muppets Most Wanted"
Howard the Duck - "Guardians of the Galaxy"
Eminem - "The Interview"
Roger Goodell - "Draft Day"
Kelsey Grammer - "X-Men: Days of Future Past"
Michael J. Fox, Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher - "Annie"
Alice Eve and Hugh Jackman - "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb"
King Julien and Mort - "Penguins of Madagascar"
Stan Lee - "Big Hero 6"
Vivienne Jolie-Pitt - "Maleficent"
Seth Rogen - "22 Jump Street"
Shaq - "The LEGO Movie"
Some well-known characters are celebrating the Holidays with special ads promoting their upcoming movies. The "Despicable Me" Minions sing and form their own Christmas Tree in this delightful promo for AMC Theaters and next Summer's "Minions". The stars of "Hotel Transylvania 2" - Dracula, Mavis and Jonathan, attempt to decorate their own tree in this holiday greeting from Sony Pictures Animation. And the CGI versions of SpongeBob and Patrick also get into the spirit with a funny "Happy Holidays" ad to promote the February release of "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water".
Wishing you and yours a very animated Holiday Season!
These are the 10 strongest performances by actors and actresses in 2014 that could have been deserving of Best Supporting Actor/Actress consideration if only their roles had been a little bit bigger:
Carrie Coon is excellent as the emotional and honest Margo Dunne, sister to Nick Dunne (played by Ben Affleck) in "Gone Girl".
Viola Davis is prominent at the beginning of "Get On Up", as James Brown's mother, Susie. She doesn't reappear until the third act, in a scene in which she reunites with, her now famous son (played by Chadwick Boseman). Davis is at the top of her game whenever she's on screen.
Blink and you'll miss him, Johnny Depp only appears for five minutes as The Wolf in "Into the Woods". As you watch Depp sing "Hello, Little Girl" and interact with Red Riding Hood, you think that he'll be sticking around for awhile (maybe end-up as the main villain). But then he's gone, and his unique and sly take on the character is immediately missed.
In "Birdman", Zach Galifianakis plays the manager and best friend of actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton). Galifianakis has some bold one-liners and electric exchanges with Keaton, but is practically out of the picture entirely by the halfway point of the film.
He's really in only two scenes, but Stacy Keach is incredibly effective as the grandfather of Chloe Grace Moretz's Mia in the romantic drama "If I Stay". Keach is marvelous both, in a flashback, telling Mia how proud he is of her, and at the bedside of his dying granddaughter, delivering a heart-tugging speech.
You may think she was in enough of "X-Men: Days of Future Past", but I thought Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique deserved much more of the spotlight in the complex time-travel story. A confrontation between her and Michael Fassbender's Magneto is one of the film's best scenes.
Chloe Grace Moretz gives a standout performance in "The Equalizer". Her conversations with Denzel Washington's character in the diner are first-rate. But then Washington moves-on, and Moretz is gone for nearly most of the rest of the film.
Chris O'Dowd is terrific in his first, quite funny scene in the Bill Murray/Melissa McCarthy comedy "St. Vincent". Should he have been highlighted in several more? Absolutely.
Not playing Madea for a change, Tyler Perry does a nice job as defense lawyer Tanner Bolt (great name) in "Gone Girl". And he delivers the film's best line about representing "messed-up" people.
Finally, as the mother of millionaire wrestling coach John du Pont (Steve Carell) in "Foxcatcher", Vanessa Redgrave was part of Carell's two best scenes. One - a conversation between the two in which Mrs. du Pont re-iterates her disapproval of the sport to her son. The other - John attempting to prove to his mother (watching from her wheelchair) that he's a real coach and the team members respect him. Both scenes are riveting.
UPDATE #2: Sony will now release "The Interview" in 331 theaters on Christmas Day.
UPDATE: Sony has cancelled the Christmas Day, theatrical open of "The Interview".
It can be argued that the Sony Pictures comedy, "The Interview", is the most buzzed-about and controversial movie of 2014. However, while this will probably turn-out to be the biggest movie-related scandal stars James Franco and Seth Rogen have ever been a part of, it isn't the first time each of them has been in a little hot water:
When "Knocked Up" was released in 2007, it sparked a new debate over the concept of raunchy, R-rated, romantic comedies. They've since become rather commonplace. The following year, Rogen co-starred with Elizabeth Banks in "Zack and Miri Make a Porno", though most theaters and ads called it simply "Zack and Miri". And Rogen played a much more "adult" mall cop in "Observe and Report", released just three months after Sony's own "Paul Blart" in 2009.
For Franco, it's not just the movies ("Spring Breakers", "Oz: The Great and Powerful") that have put him into some tricky situations. He's had several very opinionated online and magazine articles. And who can forget his bizarre 2011 Academy Awards hosting gig with Anne Hathaway?
Rogen and Franco previously starred together in "Pineapple Express" and "This is the End", and currently in development, they're working on an R-rated animated movie called "Sausage Party", due out in 2016. There's already mixed reaction based-on the concept.
Rogen says he has "no regrets" in making "The Interview". But I'm guessing he hasn't let-out too many of his trademark laughs since the now notorious Sony hacking incident began.
If you didn't go to the movies a lot this year, you missed the on-screen domination of Kevin Hart. The combined grosses of "Ride Along" (co-starring Ice Cube), "About Last Night" and "Think Like a Man Too" totaled nearly $250 million domestically. And he also had time for numerous talk show and awards show appearances, and his very popular "Real Husbands of Hollywood" fake reality show.
"Alright, Alright, Alright, Already" was exactly what Emmys presenter Jimmy Kimmel said about the "Quote of the Year" from "Dallas Buyers Club" star Matthew McConaughey. The Best Actor winner across the board and Emmy nominee for his TV turn on HBO's critically-acclaimed "True Detective" also added an honest effort in "Intersteller" to his '14 resume.
Simply put, we "Let it Go" a lot. First, the breakout song from "Frozen" catapulted Idina Menzel to phenomenon status. But it was the now infamous "Adele Dazeem" flub by John Travolta on the Academy Awards that took Menzel's fame to new heights. And the "Wicked" star received another Tony nomination for new musical "If/Then". It'll be tough for her to let 2014 go.
The world was bright and "Happy" with the insanely catchy song by Pharrell Williams and his trademark brown hat. However, like most pop songs with a hook that get stuck in your head, it was just a matter of time before no one wanted to be "Happy" anymore.
Shailene Woodley revamped the 'page to screen' genre. Best-selling YA books "Divergent" and "The Fault in Our Stars" both became surprise box office smash hits, with Woodley the focus of the praise, particularly for her emotionally powerful performance in "Stars."
Many were skeptical that Jimmy Fallon could successfully take over "The Tonight Show" hosting duties from Jay Leno. But that's exactly what he's done. He's #1 in the ratings and on social media, as Fallon has figured out the secret to internet domination: Stage 2-3 wacky, celebrity-related events (songs, games, videos, skits) on his show every night and post them online.
The Comeback King: Michael Keaton made a noticeable return in the Summer of 2010 with "Toy Story 3" (as the voice of Ken) and the comedy "The Other Guys". But this year, with larger roles in "RoboCop", "Need for Speed", and a career-defining performance in "Birdman", Keaton is back on the A-list.
It'll be tough for Angelina Jolie to top her 2014. She starred as Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" villain with heart in "Maleficent", brought the late Louis Zamperini's life story to the big screen as director of "Unbroken", continued her important humanitarian work around the world, and finally got married to Brad Pitt.
J.K. Simmons is 2014's "Cinderella" story: going from comedic character actor, co-star of "The Closer" and Farmers' Insurance spokesman to Best Supporting Actor frontrunner for his stunning work as the brutal music teacher in the indie drama "Whiplash".
And finally: The title of Entertainment Weekly's profile on Chris Pratt was "From Zero to Hero". His popularity skyrocketed this year, transitioning from a sidekick role on NBC's "Parks and Recreation" to blockbuster movie star. As the voice of Emmett in "The LEGO Movie" and as Star-Lord/Peter Quill in the year's biggest film, "Guardians of the Galaxy", Pratt has become one of Hollywood's hottest commodities. Starring in "Jurassic World", out in next June, should help keep Pratt flying high.
"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" is one of the best films of 2014 and a frontrunner for Best Picture and Best Ensemble honors this Awards Season. The dramedy also has a defiant score dominated by a single drum set. In this LCJ INTERVIEW, Golden Globe nominated "Birdman" composer and drummer Antonio Sanchez talks about working on this, his first film, with visionary director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Sony Pictures has announced that the 24th installment in the 007 series will be titled "Spectre". Returning James Bond, Mr. Daniel Craig, will be joined by Ralph Fiennes and new villain Christoph Waltz (a perfect casting choice), along with returning director Sam Mendes (who helped earn 2012's "Skyfall" two Oscars and a total of 5 nominations). "Spectre" hasn't begun shooting, even though the release date is a mere 11 months away - November 6, 2015.
So, to mark this occasion, here's my ranking of all 24 James Bond movie titles (the titles only), from Best to Worst:
2. "You Only Live Twice"
3. "Tomorrow Never Dies"
4. "Dr. No"
5. "The Man with the Golden Gun"
6. "For Your Eyes Only"
7. "Casino Royale"
9. "The Spy Who Loved Me"
11. "The Living Daylights"
12. "From Russia with Love"
14. "License to Kill"
15. "The World Is Not Enough"
16. "Diamonds Are Forever"
17. "Die Another Day"
19. "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"
21. "Quantum of Solace"
22. "A View to a Kill"
24. "Live and Let Die"
Last December, NBC did something no TV network had done in nearly 50 years: televise a live musical. "The Sound of Music LIVE!", a three-hour, stage production starring country singer Carrie Underwood as Maria Von Trapp, drew nearly 19 million viewers. So The Peacock has decided to take a calculated risk and air another one.
"Peter Pan LIVE!" will fly into homes this Thursday night. Allison Williams, the daughter of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, and co-star of HBO's "Girls", plays Peter. It's an interesting choice, but if the show is a success, this role will likely propel Williams' career to new heights. In the one-hour "Making of" special that aired last week, Williams seems confident with her lines and working with the other actors, many of which, of course, are children. But it's the actual flying that's got her and likely everyone else most concerned. Any above-ground mistake could be serious and will make instant headlines.
Since every Peter needs a Hook, this is where Oscar-winner Christopher Walken comes-in. Yes, the sly, 71-year-old is going to sing and dance and over-act as the larger-than-life one-handed pirate. For me, this is the most interesting thing about the show, because you never know what Walken might do, especially if something goes wrong. Personally, I'd love to see Walken (as Hook) tell his crewman during one of the songs "Fellas, we need a little more cowbell". Hey, this is an NBC production!
I'm predicting "Peter Pan LIVE!" will not do as well ratings-wise as "The Sound of Music LIVE!" Many viewers will likely check in and out, like I did last year, listen to a song or two, watch some flying, and then move on with the evening. Of course, NBC is hoping for another smash hit. And they've already got "The Music Man LIVE!" (including 76 trombones) lined-up for next year.
If you predicted that the adventures of Woody and Buzz were over after 2010's Best Picture Oscar nominee "Toy Story 3", you are surely regretting it now. The announcement that John Lasseter will return to direct "Toy Story 4" (due out in June 2017) stunned many, and delighted even more. The screenplay, co-written by "Parks and Recreation"'s Rashida Jones, is reportedly a love story.
Fans seem to be split on the news. Many are thrilled they'll get to see more of Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Rex, Hamm, Bonnie and the rest of the gang. But others, including those who thought "Toy Story 3" ended perfectly, and those fed-up with Pixar's "obsession" with sequels and prequels, believe this decision is a complete mistake.
This week on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon", Tim Allen talked a little about "TS4". But his main focus was on the challenges in dealing with Tom Hanks voicing Woody. Allen stated that most of his lines as Buzz Lightyear are basically "Watch out, Woody!" He joked that, because of his two Academy Awards, Hawks gets all the great monologues. However, Allen takes pride in the fact that Buzz outsells Woody in the action figure world.
Good news: we don't have to wait 2 1/2 years for a new "Toy Story" story. Following the success of last year's Halloween treat, "Toy Story of Terror", a post-Christmas-themed "Toy Story That Time Forgot" premieres this Tuesday, December 2nd at 8pm on ABC. The plot sounds a little confusing, and the TV promos don't give away much. Let's hope this special lives-up to the very high standards of the franchise. Not one of the feature films, shorts or TV specials has disappointed us yet.
This Holiday Season is jam-packed with choices. From Awards Season contenders, to guaranteed blockbusters, there's something for everyone. I've made the list - and checked it twice:
"Penguins of Madagascar" (PG) The DreamWorks Animation spinoff to the highly-successful "Madagascar" trilogy is the final animated release of 2014. New voice cast members include Benedict Cumberbatch, John Malkovich and Ken Jeong. Nov. 26
"Annie" (PG) This updated version of the classic musical stars Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis ("Beasts of the Southern Wild"), Jamie Foxx, and Cameron Diaz as Ms. Hannigan - a controversial casting choice since announced last year. Dec. 19
"Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" (PG) 5 1/2 years since 2009's "Battle of the Smithsonian", we finally get the third installment in the Ben Stiller-starring franchise. Rebel Wilson and Sir Ben Kingsley join the cast, and the film features the final on-screen performances of both Robin Williams and Mickey Rooney. Dec. 19
"Into the Woods" (PG) Disney's holiday musical boasts an all-star cast of Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, James Corden, and Johnny Depp. Looking to become The Mouse House's first live-action Best Picture nominee since "Mary Poppins" 50 years ago. Dec. 25
"The Pyramid" (R) 'Tis the one horror movie option of the season. Dec. 5
"Exodus: Gods and Kings" (PG-13) Ridley Scott directs Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton as Moses and Ramses in this Biblical epic. Co-stars Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, and a busy Sir Ben Kingsley. Dec. 12
"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" (PG-13) The 3rd and final chapter in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" prequel trilogy, as Bilbo Baggins and Co. go on one, final "precious" quest. Dec. 17
HO! HO! HO!
"Horrible Bosses 2" (R) Follow-up to the 2011 hit with the all-star ensemble of Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudekis, and Jamie Foxx. New to the clan this time around are Chris Pine and Christoph Waltz. Nov. 26
"Top Five" (R) Chris Rock writes, directs, and stars in this romantic/inside Hollywood comedy. Supporting cast includes Kevin Hart, Rosario Dawson and Tracy Morgan. Early buzz is quite good. Dec. 12
"The Interview" (R) Seth Rogen and James Franco reunite and play a talk show producer and host who travel to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-Un. But the CIA has other ideas. Could be really funny or a huge, edgy flop. Dec. 25
"Inherent Vice" (R) Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and Reese Witherspoon (in a supporting role) star in this ensemble dramedy from director Paul Thomas Anderson ("The Master"). Dec. 12 (Limited)
"The Gambler" (R) Mark Wahlberg wants money and John Goodman wants his money back. Dec. 19 (Limited)
"A Most Violent Year" - Oscar Isaac ("Inside Llewyn Davis") and Jessica Chastain star. Dec. 31 (Limited)
THE CONTENDERS (aka Based on a True Story)
"The Imitation Game" (PG-13) Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley give nomination-worthy performances as British mathematicians Alan Turing and Joan Clarke looking to break the Nazi Enigma Code and end WWII. An inspiring drama. Nov. 28 (Limited)
"Wild" (R) Witherspoon seeking another Best Actress win as Cheryl Strayed, who's seeking purpose in her life while on a 1,100 mile hike. Dec. 5 (Limited)
"Mr. Turner" (R) From British director Mike Leigh. This is one of two painter biopics this season. Here, Timothy Spall plays J.M.W. Turner. Dec. 19 (Limited)
"Unbroken" (PG-13) Directed by Angelina Jolie, it's the true, incredible story of Olympian Louis Zamperini's fight for survival. Jack O'Connell is getting some Best Actor buzz. Dec. 25
"American Sniper" (R) Clint Eastwood directs Bradley Cooper in this true story of one of the most influential Navy SEALs in U.S. history. Dec. 25 (Limited)
"Big Eyes" (PG-13) Some are calling this Tim Burton's most "normal" movie in years. Amy Adams (going for her sixth Oscar nomination) plays successful painter Margaret Keane, with Christoph Waltz as her husband. Dec. 25 (Limited)
"Selma" (R) The Martin Luther King biography has David Oyelowo ("Lee Daniels' The Butler") in the lead role. Dec. 25 (Limited)
Plenty of big films to see, so getting your shopping done early.
We haven't heard much from Gregg Alexander, former lead singer of the band New Radicals, since he left the band in 1999. The music drama "Begin Again" marks Alexander's notable return to the music scene, as the co-writer of Awards Season Best Original Song frontrunner "Lost Stars" (performed by Adam Levine). In this LCJ Interview, Alexander talks about making the movie, putting this fantastic soundtrack together, and his future in the industry.
The first Drive-In movie theater opened in 1933 and, at one time, there were over 4,000 operating in the US. Today, sadly, there are fewer than 300 Drive-Ins still open. However, the Johnny Rockets restaurant chain wants to change that. Johnny Rockets has announced plans to build up to 200 new Drive-In theaters, each with a Rockets drive-thru restaurant, by the year 2018. Along with the old-fashioned, 50s theme of the restaurant chain, which fits perfectly with the Drive-In image, plans are for ticket prices to be low and for customers to have food delivered to their cars.
It all sounds too good to be true. Here are my concerns: First of all, will the head honchos at Johnny Rockets know how to efficiently run Drive-In Movie Theaters? Most of the theaters in operation today are family owned and run by people who have been doing it for 50 years! I happen to have some inside knowledge of the business and, trust me, there are unique challenges to pulling-off a successful Drive-In.
This is also going to be a very costly experiment. For Johnny Rockets, which right now only has about 300 restaurants in the world, to not only drastically expand it' food business, but add 200 outdoor movie theaters - which means buying 200 large plots of land, construct screens, purchase state-of-the-art digital projection systems, etc. - just seems like too much. And, according to the company, these will be all-new theaters, not renovations of old, abandoned Drive-Ins. Wow!
And there are always the obvious climate-related issues to consider. Where I live Drive-Ins are only open from April-Sept. Will Rockets attempt to battle the northeast weather and stay open year-round (and be prepared to shut-down on rainy summer nights) or will they only build these new theaters in the south and west (and just hope it never rains)? There are so many questions.
My prediction: This plan, as it's designed right now, isn't going to work. And I truly hope I'm wrong. I am one of the world's biggest supporters and fans of Drive-In movie theaters. But there are just too many things here that can go wrong. Hopefully they'll cut back and open, maybe, 10 over the next 5 years, and see how it goes. I believe the family audience is out there to support the concept - if the locations are right.
But if I was sitting in for Mark Cuban on "Shark Tank", and was pitched this as a business investment, I'd have to say: "For those reasons, I'm out."
"How to Train Your Dragon 2" is the highest-grossing animated film of 2014 worldwide and is out on DVD/Blu-Ray this Tuesday, November 11th. DreamWorks Animation is hoping for multiple Best Animated Feature nominations throughout Awards Season. In this LCJ Interview, producer Bonnie Arnold, who will join director Dean DeBlois on stage if "Dragon 2" wins, talks about the success of the film and the future of the franchise.
A three-hour space epic vs. an animated superhero adventure. The first weekend of November is going to be one of the biggest of 2014, with the first legitimate big budget box office battle since "22 Jump Street" defeated "How to Train Your Dragon 2" in June. Two GIANT releases are competiting for the top spot. So the question is, which film is going to be the champ: "Interstellar" or "Big Hero 6"?
- All-star cast including Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine, along with Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain
- Director Christopher Nolan has an excellent recent track-record ("Inception" which opened to $63M in 2010, and "The Dark Knight" Trilogy)
- Based on trailers, the film looks intense, exciting and promising
- It's 2 hours and 49 minutes, nearly twice the length of last year's "Gravity" (which grossed $274 million)
- Early reviews have been mixed
- In fewer theaters than "Big Hero 6" and will have fewer showings (because of length) per screen
"BIG HERO 6"
- Walt Disney Animation Studios' follow-up to $400M juggernaut "Frozen"
- Early buzz says it's a contender for a Best Animated Feature nomination
- Based on Marvel comic book, so likely will bring in that crowd as well
- It's a down year for animation, with WB's "The LEGO Movie" as the only true success story $257M domestic; nothing's come close since February
- With "Penguins of Madagascar" out on Nov. 26, will families familiar with that franchise hold off?
- Moviegoers may wait a week or two to see it (no other family options until "Penguins")
PREDICTIONS: "Interstellar" wins with $68 million (the total will be over $70M by Sunday since it opens in select theaters on Wed.) "Big Hero 6" will will finish a strong second with $54 million.
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