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Sony Pictures Animation's "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" was one of the highest-grossing animated movies of '13, earning over $250 million worldwide. The makers of "Cloudy 2" didn't just put their heart and soul into the feature. They also created a unique closing credits sequence, which you can now watch over and over on the "Cloudy 2" DVD, along with a "Behind the Scenes" featurette. In this LCJ Interview, End Credits Production Manager Kevin Noel gives the inside scoop on the combination of hand-drawn animation, CGI and puppetry that, mixed together, make-up this monumental treat.





One thing you can say about the folks at Disney - they don't like to lose.

First, in an effort to get increased attention for "Frozen"'s Oscar nominated Best Original Song, "Let It Go", the studio has released a mashed-up version, with the song, sung by Idina Menzel, in 25 different languages. It's pretty amazing, though I'll still take the original. Do you think this could have anything to do with "Let It Go" losing at the Golden Globes (voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press)? No matter what, this version is now getting millions of hits online and will definitely attract the attention of Academy members as they start to fill-out their Oscar ballots this week.

And there's also a battle on to become the highest grossing animated film of 2013. Universal's "Despicable Me 2" built-up a huge lead on the rest of the field, but since its release in late November, "Frozen" has been steadily gaining on "DM2".

But it didn't look like the updated "Snow Queen" tale had a chance to catch the Minions - until the extraordinary news that Disney will be releasing a sing-along version of "Frozen" in over 1000 theaters nationwide - on Super Bowl Weekend. Fans will be able to join in on all the songs, as the lyrics will be displayed at the bottom of the screen, complete with a bouncing snowflake. Past Disney sing-along movies have done quite well and you can expect millions of young girls to flock to theaters to experience this one (especially on SB Sunday).

Will the bonus box office $$$ from these special screenings (combined with the money the film is still making in its regular version) allow "Frozen" to catch "Despicable Me 2" and capture the title "#1 Animated Film of 2013"? As of now "DM2" leads both domestically (by about $30M) and worldwide (by more than $150M), but "DM2"'s US total is literally frozen, opening the door for Disney, with an avalanche of sing-along fans, to steal the crown.





My Star-Studded Night at the CCMAs Movie Review

The 19th Annual Critics Choice Movie Awards featured a ratings spike, a record-setting 7 wins for the space saga "Gravity", and now Academy Award Best Picture frontrunner "12 Years a Slave" taking home the top honor. Not all of the nominees I voted for ended-up winning, but I am proud of the results in all the categories. And it was great, once again, to be in attendance for what was an incredible, celeb. fest:

The evening got off to a great start at the pre-show party. Best Actor nominee Bruce Dern and Supporting Actress nominee June Squibb ("Nebraska") posed for a photo together (Dern insisted). He loved working with director Alexander Payne, telling me, "He can make a movie". Best Actress contender Judi Dench ("Philomena") didn't attend the ceremony, the real Philomena Lee was on hand. The very sweet 80-year-old was pleased with how the film turned out, and gave one of the best lines all night, "Oh to be young again".

Inside the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, the stars were taking their seats, schmoozing with friends and critics. As I approached Amy Adams (who later won Best Actress in a Comedy for "American Hustle"), she immediately said "Have you grown a foot since the last time I saw you?" Tom Hanks, who was snubbed by the Academy earlier that day, nonetheless was in good spirits, and also remembered me from our backstage chat after his play "Lucky Guy" in NYC last June.

Two local connections: Bradley Cooper, who shot this year's "The Place Beyond the Pines" in Schenectady, NY, (not far from where I live) said it meant a lot to him to film there. And "12 Years a Slave" star Chiwetel Ejiofor shared with me his excitement that Solomon Northup's story (which begins with his capture in Saratoga, NY) is now getting out there to the world and is currently a NY Times Bestseller.

Lupita Nyong'o crossed her fingers on both at the end of our conversation, which happened to be right before we all heard her name called as Best Supporting Actress winner for "Slave". Seth Rogen, on the other hand, was less optimistic about the film he co-directed and starred in that was nominated for Best Comedy - "This Is The End". "I don't think our chances are very good", and then he gave the famous Seth Rogen laugh, which is why my smile is so wide in my photo with him.

Both Best Actress winner Cate Blanchett (who had her young son with her at her table performing  tricks) and "Gravity" director Alfonso Cuaron told me they get anxious and nervous during Awards Season, with Cuaron admitting, "I have never-ending low self-esteem". Best Actor recipient Matthew McConaughey just wants to make sure everyone pronounces his name correctly. Why did Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa call him Matthew McConaugh Hey! Hey! Hey! during each of his appearance on their show: "They said "He" once. It took some people 10 years to get my name right".

Melissa McCarthy has been incredibly fortunate for her success over these past whirlwind years. She told me she's eagerly looking forward to her next film (directed by husband Ben Falcone), "Tammy", out July 2nd. Dermot Mulroney ("August: Osage County") is also excited for his next project, the NBC TV series "Crisis" (premiering in March), which he says is going to "completely revolutionize television".

Now to some of my own Awards from the night:

Best Story Told by a Celebrity: Will Forte, who revealed that he dated one of Regis' friends' daughters about 20 years ago.

Best Unexpected Celebrity Combo: I was asked by a fellow critic to take a photo of him and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Seconds later Kevin Spacey comes-up to me and says, "I photo-bombed the picture you just took". And he did! So I then got a shot with both Oscar winning actors.

Quote of the Night: After I introduced myself to a hurried Harvey Weinstein, telling him I'm a member of the BFCA, he said, "You look to young" and dashed away. Runner-Up: "You're Kickin-A, Man!", from "The Way, Way Back" star Sam Rockwell.

Quote of the Show: When Host Aisha Tyler referred to the "8 people" who probably care about new episodes of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" coming in March of The CW, I cheered, since I do watch and enjoy the show. She spotted me from the stage, calling me the "12 year-old guy". At the post-party we laughed about it, and she said, "Thanks for playing along".

But my Favorite Celebrity Encounter of the night, without a doubt, was with Emma Thompson ("Saving Mr. Banks"). She, unfortunately, had been denied an Oscar nomination that morning for her Oscar-worthy work as Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers. But if there was any disappointment, she certainly didn't show it. She was exactly what I hoped she be like and more. She truly appreciated how much I loved the movie and her performance and introduced me to her daughter (the two look almost identical).

Thompson was very interested in how I became a film critic and where I want to go with my career, citing "So you're the next Leonard Maltin or Roger Ebert - you cover everything!". We posed for this wonderful photo, and as I was walking away, she turned and said something I simply will never forget - "I'll see you on the road".

And the Oscar Nominees Are and Aren't... Movie Review

The 86th Annual Academy Awards nominations are full of snubs and surprises:

"Gravity" and "American Hustle" lead with 10 nominations each, followed by "12 Years a Slave" with 9.

The Best Picture category features nine nominees for the third year in a row - one of them is NOT my favorite film of the year: "Saving Mr. Banks". In fact the making-of "Mary Poppins" drama from Disney got almost completely snubbed, as Emma Thompson did not receive a Best Actress nod. She was overtaken by an 18th nomination from Meryl Streep, and a 5th from Amy Adams (her first in the lead actress category). At least "Banks" received an Original Score nomination for Thomas Newman. I hope it wins that.

Not only did Tom Hanks not receive Supporting Actor recognition for "Banks", but he also didn't get one for his incredible work in "Captain Phillips". I can see this as "The Ben Affleck backlash" of 2014. Christian Bale ("American Hustle") and Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Wolf of Wall Street") also in, pushing-out Robert Redford ("All Is Lost").

In the acting categories, Jonah Hill ("Wolf") knocked-out Daniel Bruhl ("Rush") and the late James Gandolfini ("Enough Said"). Sally Hawkins' work in "Blue Jasmine" forced Oprah off the Supporting Actress ballot. And Jennifer Lawrence becomes the youngest 3-time nominee in history.

For Best Director, Alexander Payne got a nod for "Nebraska" over Paul Greengrass ("Captain Phillips") - who was one of the frontrunners going into this race. Animated Feature has some pleasant surprises, including "Despicable Me 2" (the original didn't get a nomination - this usually doesn't happen), along with the little-seen "Ernest & Celestine". And in Animated Short: the Mickey Mouse CGI/hand-drawn "Get a Horse!" is likely the frontrunner.

The Best Documentary Feature category was missing the unforgettable "Blackfish" (my favorite doc of the year), but at least the very impressive "20 Feet from Stardom" will be competing for the prize. And how about "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" up for Best Makeup & Hairstyling! If it wins, Johnny Knoxville should definitely go onstage.


The Glitz, Glam and Glory of the Globes Movie Review

The Golden Globes are always unpredictable, and this year's show was no excpetion:

"12 Years a Slave" only won one category - Best Picture/Drama, but out of the five nominees in the category it was certainly the best.

"American Hustle" started-off hot and kept going strong. Jennifer Lawrence's big Supporting Actress win makes another Oscar victory more likely. And Amy Adams pulled a major upset by beating veteran winner Meryl Streep in the Actress Comedy/Musical category. Adams has been nominated for four Oscars in the past. Could she finally win one this year and even knock Streep off the ballot? And then a Best Comedy win capped the night.

Something different: last year's Supporting Actor, Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained"), presented this year's recipient in the category, Jared Leto for his incredible work in "Dallas Buyers Club". "The Wolf of Wall Street" winner Leonardo DiCaprio never thought he'd receive a Globe for a Comedy.

And Alfonso Cuaron (Best Director - "Gravity") gave one of the best speech of the night. Actress in a Drama went to Cate Blanchett and Matthew McConaughey took Actor in a Drama. They are now the frontrunners for Critics Choice, the SAGs and the Academy Awards.

The Cecil B. DeMille Award to Woody Allen was nicely done. Diane Keaton had some very nice things to say about the visionary director - closing with a song about their lasting friendship.

On the TV side, "Breaking Bad" was appropriately honored, but the shockers of the night were victories by "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and star Andy Samberg.

As for the show itself: Amy Poehler (who finally won for "Parks & Rec") and Tina Fey's opening monologue was sharper, funnier, edgier, and much more interactive with the crowd. How about Matt Damon - "The garbage man who forgot his glasses!" Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie ("The Wolf of Wall Street") had the wrong teleprompter copy but handled it like pros. And Jacqueline Bisset's speech is now iconic.

As presenters go: Jim Carrey had one of the best lines: "Dying is Easy. Comedy is hard. I believe it was Shia LaBeouf who said that." Who knew Sean Diddy Combs was once on a boat with "All Is Lost" composer Alex Ebert? But the funniest presenter had to be Emma Thompson, who walked out with a drink in one hand and her heels in the other. After a few great one-liners, she asked where the envelope was and tossed the shoes away.

So, will any of this carry-over to Thursday's Oscar nominations and the Oscars themselves? History says "no" - but we'll see.


The Biggest Week of Awards Season Movie Review

With the Critics Choice Movie Awards, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and the Oscar nominations all coming-up next week, it's safe to say Awards Season fever is officially here. The following are some of the performances and films that should have a pretty good next 7 days:

Cate Blanchett has been the early favorite in the Best Actress category, already winning many city-based Association awards. But momentum has been building for Judi Dench, and the "based on a true story" drama that she stars in. "Philomena" is up for the Best Picture (Drama) Globe and just received a surprise BAFTA Best Film nod (and there are only 5 nominees). While the British version of the Oscars aren't until Feb. 16, watch-out for Dench and some "Philomena" love in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, where Jeff Pope and co-star Steve Coogan could take the well-deserved take the prize at the GGs and CCMAs.

My favorite film of 2013, "Saving Mr. Banks", hasn't been getting as many accolades as it should. Tom Hanks has yet to receive a Supporting Actor nomination from anyone (though this could be one of the major Oscar surprises Thurs. morning). This previously untold story of how "Mary Poppins" was brought to the screen is up for the Critics Choice Best Picture. And star Emma Thompson is a leading contender for all the Best Actress honors. Already a two-time Oscar winner, she's close to a lock for another nomination, and could win a Globe, SAG and CCMA.

Daniel Bruhl is the sole shining light from Ron Howard's "Rush", which was released in September to mixed reviews. Bruhl's performance as racercar driver Niki Lauda has a shot at beating everyone to the Best Supporting Actor finish line - though Jared Leto ("Dallas Buyers Club"), Barkhad Abdi ("Captain Phillips"), and Bradley Cooper ("American Hustle") make this the toughest competition of the year. "Rush" is also up for the Best Drama Globe, but it doesn't have a shot.

Best Picture and Best Director will likely go one of three ways: "Gravity"/Alfonso Cuaron, "12 Years a Slave"/Steve McQueen, or the film/director that seem to be getting more and more positive buzz every day: David O. Russell and "American Hustle". The film is stylish, fun, and has a phenomenal cast, which is why I'm pulling for it to win the SAG Ensemble award, along with several CCMA and Globe honors.

But as they say, "Anything can happen", and I'm convinced that this Awards Season is going to be one of the most unpredictable and surprising of all time.

The Fantastic 14 Movie Review

Best Supporting Actor is the most packed and wide-open category of this Awards Season. Using the nomination results so far, there appear to be a few locks for the BAFTAs and the Oscars - but there's always the possibility of a surprise or two. Even though there are only five available spots, each of these 14 actors (listed in alphabetical order) deserves strong consideration:

Barkhad Abdi "Captain Phillips" - The first time actor goes toe-to-toe with Best Actor nominee lock Tom Hanks as the Somali Pirate captain, and steals the show in several scenes. He even came-up with the line: "I'm the Captain now" himself! (BFCA, GG, SAG Nominee)

Daniel Bruhl "Rush" - While I didn't stand and cheer for Ron Howard's racing drama, Bruhl is excellent in a physically demanding role. (BFCA, GG, SAG Nominee)

Steve Coogan "Philomena" - The British comedian shines along side Best Actress contender Judi Dench in a role that was out of his wheelhouse. He also co-wrote the powerful screenplay.

Bradley Cooper "American Hustle" - For me, the most impressive performance from David O. Russell's ensemble crime dramedy. Cooper even tops his own great work in last year's "Silver Linings Playbook". (BFCA, GG Nominee)

Colin Farrell "Saving Mr. Banks" - While Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are attracting the most attention for Disney's "Mary Poppins" drama, Farrell is riveting as the alcoholic father of the young P.L. Travers' - the true inspiration for the story of the flying nanny.

Michael Fassbender "12 Years a Slave" - Fassbender dominates the second half of Steve McQueen's historical piece with his hold-nothing-back performance as a ruthless plantation owner. (BFCA, GG, SAG Nominee)

Harrison Ford "42" - As Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, Ford plays a man who puts his career on the line for all the right reasons by making Jackie Robinson Major League Baseball's first African-American player.

Will Forte "Nebraska" - Best known for his years on "Saturday Night Live", Forte's subtle, breakthrough dramatic performance as Bruce Dern's son is difficult to ignore.

James Gandolfini "Enough Said" - The late actor demonstrates his tremendous range with this down-to-Earth performance as a middle-aged divorcee looking for love. (BFCA, SAG Nominee)

Jake Gyllenhaal "Prisoners" - As a detective desperately trying to solve a disappearance case, Gyllenhaal is the emotional center of the film. The car scene with Hugh Jackman in the final act is one of the best of the year.

Tom Hanks "Saving Mr. Banks" - Even though he doesn't exactly look or sound like him, the two-time Oscar winner is outstanding as the legendary Walt Disney, highlighted by remarkable seven-minute monologue in the film's pivital scene.

Jared Leto "Dallas Buyers Club" - The singer and "My So Called Life" star is transcendent as a transvestite battle AIDS. He and star Matthew McConaughey have been nomination locks since the film's release in November, and deservedly so. (BFCA, GG, SAG Nominee)

Sam Rockwell "The Way, Way Back" - The coming-of-age Summertime comedy features a stellar Steve Carell and an equally impressive Rockwell as a theme park owner and true best friend of a shy 14-year-old (Liam James).

Geoffrey Rush "The Book Thief" - Nominated in 2011 for "The King's Speech", Rush is excellent once again as the caring "Papa" to young Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) in this WWII melodrama.

2014 Preview: Part 2 Movie Review


2 - "Tammy", "Deliver Us From Evil" (That's It...For Now)
11 - "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"
18 - "Jupiter Ascending", "Planes: Fire and Rescue"
25 - "Hercules", "Sex Tape", "Step Up All In"


1 - "Guardians of the Galaxy", "Get On Up"
8 - "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", "The Hundred-Foot Journey", "Into the Storm", "Lucy"
15 - "The Expendables 3", "The Giver"
22 - "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" (after a year delay), "When the Game Stands Tall"
29 - "Jane Got a Gun", "Jessabelle", "The Loft"


5 - "Addicted", "The Green Inferno"
12 - "This Is Where I Leave You", "No Good Deed", "Search Party" (In That Order)
19 - "Dolphin Tale 2", "The Maze Runner"
26 - "The Boxtrolls", "The Equalizer" (My man Denzel!)


3 - "Gone Girl" (Dir. David Fincher w/Ben Affleck)
10 - "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" (like that will fit on marquees), "The Interview", "The Judge"
17 - "Dracula Untold", "Book of Life", "The Best of Me"
24 - "Paranormal Activity 5" (Why bother?), "Untitled Vince Vaughn Movie"
31 - Happy Halloween! - No New Movies


7 - "Interstellar" (Dir. Christopher Nolan), "Big Hero 6" (Disney animated Marvel movie) (HUGE Weekend)
14 - "Dumb and Dumber To", "Brad Pitt/David Ayer Untitled", "Blackbird"
21 - "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1", "McFarland" (which will likely move)
26 - "Home", "Horrible Bosses 2"


12 - "Exodus", "Paddington"
17 - "The Hobbit: There and Back Again"
19 - "Annie" (Only a year away)
25 - "Night at the Museum 3" (Why?), "Into the Woods", "Unbroken" (Dir. Angelina Jolie)

(Dates courtesy of

2014 Preview: Part 1 Movie Review


3 - "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones"
10 - "The Legend of Hercules", "Her" (Wide Expansion), "Lone Survivor" (Wide Expansion)
17 - "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit", "The Nut Job", "Ride Along", "Devil's Due"
24 - "I, Frankenstein" (I, Angry)
31 - "Labor Day" (Wide Expansion), "That Awkward Moment"


7 - "The LEGO Movie", "The Monuments Men" (Finally!)
12 - "Robocop"
14 - "About Last Night", "Endless Love", "Vampire Academy", "Winter's Tale" (4 Valentine's Day romances)
21 - "3 Days to Kill", "Pompeii", "The Wind Rises" (English Version - Limited)
28 - "Non-Stop", "Son of God", "Welcome to Yesterday"


7 - "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", "300: Rise of an Empire" (after a seven-month delay)
14 - "Grace of Monaco", "Need for Speed", "Tyler Perry's Single Moms Club"
21 - "Muppets Most Wanted", "Divergent", "Stretch"
28 - "Noah", "A Haunted House 2", "Bad Words" (Wide Expansion)


4 - "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", "Island of Lemurs: Madagascar" (IMAX Exclusive)
11 - "Rio 2", "Draft Day", "Sabotage", "St. Vincent"
16 - "Heaven Is For Real"
18 - "Bears", "Transcendence", "Oculus"
25 - "Earth to Echo" (ET-knock-off), "The Other Woman", "The Quiet Ones", "Walk of Shame"


2 - "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"
9 - "Neighbors", "Chef", "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" (Limited)
16 - "Godzilla", "Million Dollar Arm"
23 - "X-Men: Days of Future Past", "Blended" (Sandler/Barrymore reunion)
30 - "Maleficent", "A Million Ways to Die in the West"


6 - "Edge of Tomorrow" (Live...Die...Repeat), "The Fault in Our Stars"
13 - "How to Train Your Dragon 2", "22 Jump Street" (BIG Weekend)
20 - "Jersey Boys" (Dir. Clint Eastwood), "The Purge 2", "Think Like a Man Too"
27 - "Transformers: Age of Extinction" (Fingers Crossed)

(Dates courtesy of

The 10 Worst Movies of 2013 Movie Review

There were some true masterpiece films in 2013, and even more epic failures. So many, in fact, that a few major disappointments ("After Earth", "The Heat", "The Fifth Estate", and "Man of Steel") couldn't even make it onto my Honorable Mentions list. Here are the Worst of the Worst:

1. "PAIN & GAIN"
Michael Bay decided to take a break from robots and direct Mark Wahlberg and a completely miscast Dwayne Johnson as bodybuilder criminals. And this was supposed to be a comedy! From the over-narration, to the slow motion, to the ridiculously goofy plot elements, all-over-the-place tone, pounding soundtrack and even a dog carrying a severed toe, this is one of the most disjointed films I've ever seen.

2. "GROWN UPS 2"
Adam Sandler's painfully unfunny sequel to the 2010 hit could easily have been #1. There are tons of cameos (including Shaq and a urinating deer), loads of bathroom jokes and offensive one-liners, and some of the most embarrassing performances of the year - particularly from Steve Buscemi and "Twilight"'s Taylor Lautner. Sandler and his buddies probably had a ball making it, but I cringed watching it.

3. "R.I.P.D."
Jeff Bridges combined Rooster Cogburn ("True Grit") and Bad Blake ("Crazy Heart") for his role as giant, hideously-disgusting "deado" hunter Roy, and he adds an unintentionally ridiculous accent. Kevin Bacon simply goes through the motions, and Ryan Reynolds is his usual bland self (he was more effective in two animated movies this year - "The Croods" and "Turbo"). This was an awful and misguided "Men in Black" rip-off.

The first of several tween/teen book series adaptations to make the list stars Lily Collins ("Mirror Mirror") in a very cheesy "Twilight" knock-off complete with a love triangle, boring special effects, and the return of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (where's he been?)

Two hours of my life I'll never get back. Vin Diesel, some dark, blood-bath fighting sequences, way too much dialogue, and a CGI K-9. Let me make that point again: The dog wasn't even real!

The dinos' mouths didn't move and yet they wouldn't shut up!

The best scene in this Stephanie Meyer "Twilight" wannabe was when two guys committed suicide by crashing their truck into a wall. They were the only characters the audience could relate to.

This Stock Market "Goodfellas" went absolutely NOWHERE. Hopefully director Martin Scorsese learned a lesson: Never try to copy one of the all-time masters - even when it's yourself.

Ultimately, it's ruined by the weirdest final scene of the year, but it was pretty bad even before that.

Meryl Streep is top-notch, but who wants to go to the movies and watch unlikeable characters fighting, yelling, screaming, and cursing at each other for two hours. That's what reality TV is for.


"HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS" - When a film's best feature is the makeup, you've got a problem.
"THE LONE RANGER" - Johnny Depp as Tonto? No wonder Jerry Bruckheimer and the Mouse House parted ways.
"PACIFIC RIM" - The action scenes are quite dark. Seriously, I couldn't see a thing.
"PARANOIA" - Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman got paid to be in it. I had to pay to see it. Doesn't seem fair.
"PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS" - Still haven't figured out why this was made.

The 10 Best Movies of 2013 Movie Review

The first nine months of 2013 were fairly solid. But the final quarter of the year has been so good that this has become the strongest Awards Season race of the 21st Century. Out of all the films released, these 10 stand out above the rest:

Like Mary Poppins herself, "Saving Mr. Banks" is "practically perfect in every way". Emma Thompson as Poppins author P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as the legendary Walt Disney lead an outstanding cast in director John Lee Hancock’s cinematic masterpiece, that’s more than just a "Making of" film. “Banks” captures the sadness and love, the joy and the pain it took to turn a popular children's book series into one of the most beloved movie musicals of all-time. There is so much love and care poured, by the spoonful, into every scene. It’s a sweet, heart-tugging movie that's destined, like the film it inspires, to become a classic.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite examines the use of incredible killer whales in theme park shows, and the history of negative results, using amazing, unseen footage of actual, life-and-death events, along with TV news accounts and raw, compelling interviews with former SeaWorld trainers and others forever effected by this practice of capturing these creatures and turning them into entertainers. "Blackfish" is an intense, shocking, important, emotional and completely mesmerizing documentary.

Disney's best animated musical since "Beauty and the Beast" is inspired by the fairy tale, The Snow Queen. Not only are the musical numbers fantastic, but the animation is phenomenal and the script isn't as simple as you might think. Josh Gad’s Olaf the snowman is a modern animation classic character. "Frozen" is a sweeping epic adventure, packed with romance, suspense, comedy and drama. In short: A crowning achievement.

Beautifully shot in black in white by Alexander Payne, this is one of the most intricate and engaging narratives of the year. Bruce Dern gives a rich performance as a man of few words, but unforgettable emotional control. He and Will Forte provide some of the most heartfelt on-screen moments of the year. "Nebraska" is not only a 'father-son' story, but a commentary about life, dreams, and missed opportunities.

This is a moving, heartbreaking, and inspiring historical drama masterfully directed by Steve McQueen. "12 Years a Slave" captures your emotions from the start and never waivers for the entire 2+ hours. I was thoroughly invested in free man turned slave Solomon Northup’s struggle to survive. The ensemble cast is a powerhouse, led by the fantastic Chiwetel Ejiofor. Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender are equally strong.

Directed by David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”), this is a smart, chic, sophisticated con-caper that's hugely entertaining. Amy Adams gives the best performance of her career, and Jennifer Lawrence is a shoe-in for another Academy Award nomination and could actually win again. Even THE Robert De Niro makes an uncredited cameo. O. Russell has once again made a fun, challenging movie from the first to the final frame.

The late James Gandolfini shines in this delightful romantic comedy. His chemistry with Julia Louis-Dreyfus is completely natural and magical. The final ten minutes include some of the best scenes of the year.

J.J. Abrams’ Starship Enterprise sequel is just over two hours of non-stop action, drama, suspense and laughs, drawing pure emotion out of every character and situation. There's nothing more you could possibly want out of a popcorn movie.

Judi Dench gives a golden performance in this true story of a woman who wants to find the son who she gave up for adoption 50 years ago. Steve Coogan plays a journalist who goes on this quest with Philomena. Coogan also co-wrote the sharp, deep, believable screenplay that doesn’t pull any punches.

10. "42"
Chadwick Boseman is excellent as legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson, and Harrison Ford gives one of his best performances as Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey. Writer-Director Brian Helgehand doesn't hold back in showing the abuse that Robinson was forced to endure in this effective, authentic sports drama with a simplistic yet celebratory treatment.


"DALLAS BUYERS CLUB" - Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto shine in an inspiring, emotionally powerful drama.
"DESPICABLE ME 2" - Two words: More Minions!
"GRAVITY" - Sandra Bullock and George Clooney soar in space under visionary director Alfonso Cuaron.
"THE SAPPHIRES" - Pure entertainment from start to finish.
"WORLD WAR Z" - A serious action film that's one heck of a good time.

It's a Wonderful LIE? Movie Review

During this time of year, you're likely gathering around with loved ones watching some great holiday-themed films - "A Christmas Story", "It's a Wonderful Life", "Miracle on 34th Street", "Christmas Vacation" - and modern classics such as "Elf", "The Santa Clause", "The Polar Express", "Scrooged" and "Arthur Christmas".

But what about those OTHER Christmas movies?

Box Office calls them "Christmas - Setting Only" films. They aren't about the Birth of Christ or Santa. The fact that they take place on/around Dec. 25 is either secondary or completely irrelevant to the story. Included in this group: the first two installments of the "Home Alone" (which may surprise many) and "Die Hard" series', "Gremlins", "Lethal Weapon", and even "Love Actually" (which I disagree with). The most successful film of all-time in this genre: this past May's "Iron Man 3". However, the fact that director Shane Black set the superhero showdown during Santa's sleigh ride added absolutely nothing to the story.

"Getaway", one of the worst reviewed films of 2013 (though not by me) also takes place on Christmas Eve. Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez speed their way through the streets of Bulgaria, destroying tons of holiday decorations in the process. If this was set at a different time of the year what would they have spent the entire film running over?

Should these "Setting Only" films really be called "Christmas Movies" and put in the same category as year-enders such as "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", "The Nightmare Before Christmas", "A Christmas Carol", or even "Bad Santa"?

Yes and No. Yes, because they do take place during the holiday season, at that setting often plays a role in the storyline. No, because they lack that special, emotional impact that comes with the season.

So, my advice to you this week: Stick to the classics, unless you consider Bruce Willis shooting bad guys Christmas Magic.

Hollywood has Plenty of Hart Movie Review

Comedian Kevin Hart has had great success as a stand-up comedian, taking his act to the big screen in 2011's "Laugh at My Pain" and this year's "Let Me Explain", a 4th of July weekend hit that grossed over $32 million.

But now Hart has transformed into a bonified movie star. Sure, he's had memorable roles in African-American ensemble comedies "Death at a Funeral" and "Think Like a Man", and even played himself in "This Is The End" (before falling to into the pit of death). But over the next few months Hart will truly be showcasing his potential as a bonafide film powerhouse.

Receiving third billing under legends Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone, Hart co-stars as promoter Dante Slate, Jr. in the Christmas Day boxing comedy "Grudge Match". He's got some of the funniest lines in the trailer (including an exchange with Alan Arkin: "What was Jesus like? I'm curious.") If Hart can hold himself with that cast, he's ready for anything.

A few weeks later, on January 17th, Hart stars alongside Ice Cube in the buddy-cop action comedy "Ride Along". And the laughs will likely keep coming with the Valentine's Day release of the rom-com, "About Last Night". Plus, "Think Like a Man Too" is scheduled for June 20th.

Also in the works: "The Wedding Ringer" (co-starring "Frozen"'s Josh Gad), and a basketball flick with none other than NBA superstar Lebron James.

The great thing about Hart is that, unlike many current comics, he can be hysterically funny without relying on "dirty" jokes and adult language. That's why he's solid gold as a talk show guest (his recent "Tonight Show" and "GMA" appearances were fantastic). Mark my words: 2014 will be remembered as the "break-out year" for Kevin Hart, who's already big, but destined to be HUGE.


While the trailers and clips of "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" look surprisingly unfunny, every other marketing idea for promoting Will Ferrell/Ron Burgundy and the rest of the Channel 4 News Team's return has been genius.

It began back in May 2012 when the first teaser trailer for "Anchorman 2" was released, with several follow-ups (each complete with corny one-liners) over the next year.

The campaign really kicked into gear last month with one of the biggest TV success stories of the year - Ron Burgundy's hilarious Dodge Durango commercials, which have included horses, saxophones, cue cards, and ballroom dancers. Sales have gone up a staggering 59% since the ads began airing.

Burgundy has become Ferrell's true alter ego, as the 70's newsman has also provided commentary for a Canadian curling match, interviewed Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning on ESPN, appeared on Dan Patrick's radio show and even co-anchored a half-hour newscast in North Dakota.

When a co-star of a film hosts "Saturday Night Live" that can certainly boost ticket sales. When he decides to bring the main cast on during the monologue, that helps - a lot. Earlier this month "SNL" host Paul Rudd surprised everyone with live appearances from Ferrell, Steve Carell, and David Koechner. Together they, and boyband phenomenon One Direction, sung "Afternoon Delight" - the song that played a major role in helping the 2004 original achieve its cult status.

So, will this unique marketing strategy and hard work from Ferrell and the others pay off at the box office? "Anchorman 2" opens on Wednesday and could do as much as $50 million over the 5-day weekend, most of that coming from fans of the original. If reviews and word of mouth are good, the film could stay strong throughout the holiday season. If that's the case, look for other studios to try to copy elements of this ad campaign for their future films. Only problem: they won't have Will Ferrell to help pull it off.

How High for

This weekend's "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" is expected to be one of the biggest films of the year. But, considering we're in the early stages of the most crowded holiday season ever, will it be able to surpass the original's $303M take at the box office?

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" opened to $85 million on the very same weekend last year. Keep in mind, "Lord of the Rings" fans didn't know what to expect from Peter Jackson. The result was a very lengthy journey indeed (almost three hours). Plus, the HFR (high-frame-rate), with even higher ticket prices than 3D, made it a must-see.

"Smaug" is ten minutes shorter than "Journey" and is again in HFR, but I don't think the attraction will be quite as strong. Yes, "Smaug" will absolutely win the weekend with at least $75 million. Obviously diehards are going to go, and even those who didn't love the first installment but think this second chapter looks better (I'm in that group) will be giving it a shot this weekend.

The interesting other new option at box office is "Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas". Perry movies, particularly those starring the crazy old lady, traditionally open quite well and then die very quickly. "Madea" may steal some of "The Hobbit"'s thunder (grabbing some patrons who get sold-out of "Smaug"), as well as bring in Perry's strong African American audience ($30M target open).

"The Desolation of Smaug" should have some legs before the bombardment of Christmas Day releases, and end up with an estimated $260-$270 million total, landing right in between WB's other two 2013 blockbusters, "Man of Steel" and "Gravity".

What a Way to End Movie Review

Attention: This is a Spoiler-Free Blog

Final scenes can make or break a movie. These are the standout conclusions (the extraordinary and the epic failures) of 2013:

The Best 

"12 YEARS A SLAVE" - The culmination of Chiwetel Ejiofor's fine performance.

"CAPTAIN PHILLIPS" - Tom Hanks at his best (and most emotional).

"DESPICABLE ME 2" - Two hysterical Minion musical numbers!

"FROZEN" - An untraditional, perfect ending to an animated masterpiece.

"NEBRASKA" - Underdogs always come out on top.

"SAVING MR. BANKS" - A powerful finale set at a movie theater that needs to be experienced in one.

"THE WOLVERINE" - The best "Easter Egg" (or post-credits scene) of the year features a glimpse of May 2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past".

Honorable Mention: "PAIN & GAIN" - After wasting two hours of my life watching Mark Wahlberg and co.'s awful shenanigans, they got what they deserved.

The Worst

"AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY" - I don't know what Julia Roberts' character or director John Wells were thinking.

"THE BOOK THIEF" - What's up with Death?

"ENDER'S GAME" - Five minutes I am still trying to forget.

"GROWN UPS 2" - If you count the entire pool party fight sequence as one scene, it was a disaster.

"PRISONERS" - Jake Ghyllenhaal looks around for a minute and then hears something. In my mind: "That's a stretch."

Honorable Mention: "THE SPECTACULAR NOW" - Confusing and just plain goofy.

The Weirdest

"ALL IS LOST" - Can be interpreted in multiple ways. At least it was the liveliest minute in the film.

"THE FIFTH ESTATE" - A contradiction of the entire movie from a main character: UNHEARD OF!

"FREE BIRDS" - Move over turkey, there's a new Thanksgiving entree.

"GRAVITY" - A stretched-out scene from an obscure angle and location.

Honorable Mention: "THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE" - It is rather abrupt.

There Are No Locks Movie Review

Last year, I walked out of "Lincoln" having a pretty good feeling that Daniel Day-Lewis was going to walk away with every Best Actor award. Check! After watching "Silver Linings Playbook", I predicted Jennifer Lawrence would be the year's Oscars darling. Check! And practically everyone could see that Anne Hathaway's Best Supporting Actress dream would come true after witnessing her gut-wrenching performance in "Les Miserables".

But the remaining acting category: Best Supporting Actor, was clearly up for grabs, and resulted in multiple winners over the course of Awards Season. Phillip Seymour Hoffman won the Critics Choice for "The Master", Tommy Lee Jones took the SAG for "Lincoln", and Christoph Waltz won the BAFTA and Golden Globe for "Django Unchained". So, come Oscar night, the statue could've easily gone to any of the five nominees, and it was Waltz starting off the show with the somewhat surprise victory.

As we get deeper into this Awards Season it's appearing that every major category will be up for grabs. I've already seen several amazing films and performances (with, hopefully, a few more to come), but in my mind there are no clear-cut favorites (no Daniel Day-Lewis' this year). There's strong Best Picture buzz surrounding "12 Years a Slave", "Gravity", "Saving Mr. Banks", and New York Film Critics Circle selection "American Hustle".

Could Tom Hanks take home two Oscars (one for "Banks" and one for "Captain Phillips")? The Best Actress category is packed , with A-listers Amy Adams ("Hustle"), Sandra Bullock ("Gravity"), Cate Blanchett ("Blue Jasmine"), Judi Dench ("Philomena"), Meryl Streep ("August: Osage County"), and Emma Thompson ("Banks").

What about Supporting Actor? Will the late James Gandolfini be honored for his performance in "Enough Said"? How about Jared Leto ("Dallas Buyers Club") or newcomer Barkhad Abdi ("Captain Phillips")? And Supporting Actress is wide-open too: Will Jennifer Lawrence be the Golden Girl again - or do veteran heavyweights Julia Roberts and Oprah Winfrey have a shot?

As often happens, one contender could get hot and on a roll, with the Globes, Critics Choice, and SAG Awards all in the same week this year (Jan 12, 16, and 18). Or there's a good chance the honors could be spread out. And with such a large gap this season between all the other Awards shows and the March 2 Oscars, anything could change.

Here's a prediction I'm confident in: this will be the most unpredictable Awards Season ever.

Banner Year for Black Cinema Movie Review

It's been a tremendous year for African American films and performers. "12 Years a Slave" is the current frontrunner for Best Picture of the Year and star Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o are top acting contenders. "Lee Daniels' The Butler" has grossed $116 million and could see stars Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey walk the Oscars red carpet in March. Whitaker's year has also included roles in "Black Nativity" and "Out of the Furnace".

The baseball biopic "42", starring Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson, was a surprise hit this spring and led to Boseman picking-up starring roles in the upcoming sports drama "Draft Day" and the James Brown biography "Get On Up".

Barkhad Abdi's stunning performance as the pirate captain alongside Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips" will likely earn him numerous Supporting Actor nominations throughout Awards Season. "Fruitvale Station" and "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" feature notable work from Octavia Spencer and Idris Elba, respectively.

Morgan Freeman's career has hit a new high this year thanks to hits "Olympus Has Fallen" and CBS Films' highest-grossing release to date, the ensemble comedy, "Last Vegas". Halle Berry's "The Call" exceeded box office expectations in March. The romantic comedy "The Best Man Holiday" nearly took down "Thor: The Dark World" when it opened in theaters a few weeks ago. Star Terrence Howard also gave a great performance (with co-star Viola Davis) in the drama, "Prisoners".

Still to come, Tyler Perry's second 2013 release, "A Madea Christmas", which could give "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" a run for its money. Comedian Kevin Hart's documentary "Let Me Explain" performed nicely over 4th of July weekend. His upcoming comedy, "Grudge Match", with Stallone and De Niro, should be a knockout over Christmas.

In all there have been nearly 40 2013 films written, directed and/or produced by black filmmakers and so many standout acting performances that they're too numerous to list. And audiences everywhere have enjoyed and embraced these movies.

The Broadcast Film Critics Association, of which I am a proud member, will be hosting a "Celebration of Black Cinema" on January 7th in Hollywood. BFCA President Joey Berlin said, "Our membership...believes that this special level of accomplishment deserves to be acknowledged and saluted."

Many of Hollywood's biggest stars, including Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington, Beyonce, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldana, along with several of the actors listed above (Elba, Freeman, Perry, Spencer, Whitaker, Winfrey) are expected to attend this landmark event, which will take place at The House of Blue in West Hollywood on Jan. 9, just nine days before the 19th Annual Critics Choice Movie Awards. No doubt many of those celebrated that night will also be hearing their name called at the CCMAs on Jan. 16. I know they'll be on my ballot.

Happy Thanksgiving 2013! Movie Review


Jump into the

ABC's hit show "Shark Tank" is one of the biggest success stories in modern TV history. After being on the air and practically unnoticed for three seasons, the quintisential "American Dream" reality series finally caught-on last year and is now a national phenomenon and must-see TV every Friday - or, for those of us who are at the movies on Fridays - must DVR TV. The show has sunk its teeth into the role as Friday's #1 program (in the key demo) and refuses to let go.

Friday night has always been a tough night for networks to get ratings, because people are out of the house and not watching TV. ABC was very successful with it's "TGIF" family sitcom programming in the 90's, but since then Friday's had been a dead zone until CBS' "Blue Bloods" starring Tom Selleck became a surprise hit, with over 10 million viewers, in the 10pm Friday night slot beginning in 2010. And that show has remained consistently popular.

While the "Tank" attracts only 6-7 million viewers a week (still a huge number), it's been able to do what TV execs thought was impossible: getting 18-49 year-old viewers to stay home instead of going to the mall or movies. And not for a pure entertainment program or reality competition singing show. "Shark Tank" is regular people pitching their unique, products or services to business moguls in hopes of getting an investment and a partner. Thanks to the success of the show, the Sharks, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, have become some of the most recognizable faces on television.

And the Sharks are one of the main reasons why "ST" works so well. Not only are they experts in running their business empires and not afraid to say what's on their (or our) minds, but they have a lot of fun on the show while playing-off each other. There are no rules. It's one of the most unpredictable shows on TV because you never know what's going to happen next. What will their initial reactions be? What are the entrepreneurs hiding? How's Kevin (aka Mr. Wonderful) going to want to get his money back this time? Does QVC queen Lori think the product is a Hero or a Zero? Will anyone go in, out, and then back in on a deal? Plus, the teases for the following week's episode make for some of the funniest moments of the entire hour.

ABC had an equally hot TV product in "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?" Ten years ago, the network went overboard with it - airing new episodes practically every night of the week. It was the classic case of "too much of a good thing" (caused by greed) and it killed "Millionaire" (in primetime). I'm sure ABC is tempted to take advantage of "Shark Tank"'s popularity and expand it to to another night or two, but so far that hasn't happened. But I'm guessing the network sharks are circling, sensing blood (and money) in the water. So, if you haven't done so yet, now's the time to dive into one of the best shows on TV, before it "jumps the sharks".

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