1. The Immigrant - Jeremy Renner, Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard - that's pretty much a perfect cast right there. The poster image for the movie is so off-putting, though, that I actually dreaded watching it - much too costumey (probably not a word, but you get what I'm trying to say). Anyway, luckily, the movie is nothing like I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a cheesy, romantic, period drama. It sort of is, but it goes beyond the normal, boring "love triangle" plot and has some surprising insight into the difficulties of not only immigration in the 1920's, but mostly the difficulties of being a single woman in a big city; with no money, no job, and no reliable family - there are very little options. It's a strong, well-told story with an emotional central performance from Cotillard. I appreciated the third act, because it is unexpected and bold. I think my only problem is Phoenix - he's a very specific actor, meaning that he's just not right for certain roles (like this one). He wasn't bad (I don't think he's ever been bad); it just doesn't work, for me.
2. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - I liked the first one. I didn't think it was spectacular or anything, but I found myself entertained and I enjoy Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. The villain was the biggest problem with the first one, so I thought if they fixed that it could be a solid spin for the franchise. With the sequel, they fixed the villain, but everything else sort of fell to shit. First, I was super bored by most of it. Second, a big part of the plot is spoiled in the trailer - so I was expecting it to happen (I did assume it happened at the beginning of the movie, as the catalyst to the plot - which would have been a million times better). Third, Peter Parker is a an asshole of a boyfriend. So unsupportive, so....stalkerish (he redeems himself with "we're not on different paths...you are my path", but still.). Fourth, while the (main?) villain is stronger - his motive is really dumb. They tried to fix this by introducing a second villain - which is actually a much more interesting story, but it is squished into the last act. The ending feels so rushed and the editing is so choppy and spastic. All of these things combined, really ruin the movie. However, there is some good stuff - the chemistry between the leads is still strong (and adorable), and, while I don't think Andrew pulls off a NYC accent (at all; it's really, really terrible), he's still a strong Spider-Man, and an even stronger Peter Parker. I like that they explained Harry Osborn's absence from the first movie, because that was really bothering me. I LOVE Dane Dehaan. I didn't really see the Leo comparisons until this movie. I see it now. Also, *HUGE SPOILER THAT YOU PROBABLY ALREADY KNOW ABOUT WARNING*, the scene when Gwen dies is absolutely stunning. It's so well done - the way her body snaps; it's breathtaking. I wish I could say that about the rest of the movie, but overall, I'm not a fan.
3. Nymphomaniac: Volume I - I was originally planning on writing about both volume 1 & 2 as one entry; treating it as one movie, but after thinking about them, I realized it's best to treat them as the separate entities that they are. I should start by saying I am not the biggest Lars von Trier fan. I find all of his movies to be deeply misogynistic, disguised by strong feminist characters. My biggest problem, though, is that his movies are just plain boring and pretentious. However, I loved Melancholia and I even have an appreciation for Anti-Christ. I guess my issue is that his exploration of female sexuality comes off as demeaning, and while I can't speak for all women, I don't find myself relating to any of his female characters. If you don't know me (and actually even if you do know me), then you could probably just assume that I haven't lived the lives of these particular characters, but unfortunately I have. I have suffered trauma as a child, and as an adult, that has effected me psychologically, emotionally and sexually - because of my trauma, I don't connect sex with love (and I don't need a therapist, and certainly not a male film director to tell me this). In theory, I should connect with his female characters. However, just because I've survived trauma (most of which is directly related to being female), I don't feel ashamed. I don't feel self-hatred. I don't feel responsible. I don't feel guilty. Again, I don't speak for all women who have suffered trauma (and to be clear *most* women have suffered trauma), but I do have a voice and it is in direct contrast to what von Trier conveys as female sexuality in his films. I appreciate that von Trier is attempting to understand and explore female sexuality, but his exploration sets a dangerous precedent. In Volume I, he explores a teenage girl's sexuality as a sin - and again, self-hating. He also seems to think it's a revelation that a young, attractive, female can literally go anywhere and have sex whenever she wants (the character describes it as "shockingly easy" - no female is shocked by this. We are trained at a very young age that sex is everywhere, all the time). Volume I ends with the other "shocking" revelation: "the secret ingredient to sex is love", which is an exact contradiction to everything that came before it. So, our female character falls in love and suddenly felt "everything at once", so she went numb (we don't really get why...because she is incapable of true love? because she feels guilty? because she is unable to be happy? because she is psychologically damaged? because she prefers sex without love? all of the above? none of the above?). Let's just face it: as a male, Lars will never understand the intricacies of female sexuality. His vision is a lost one. Aside from this fact, I did like the movie. It's an interesting study, and I like the way in which it is told. I love Charlotte Gainsbourgh. She is one of my favorite actresses; I just find everything about her incredibly fascinating. I don't think the girl playing her younger version is a strong actress at all; and I don't think they look anything alike. I also can't stick up for Shia Labeouf in this role (I usually stick up for his acting ability), his accent is horrendous in this movie. And just the thought of him having sex is gross, so having to actually watch it is stomach-turning.
4. Only Lover's Left Alive - I love "the look" of this movie, but I wish the story were a bit more interesting. Cool vampire stories are totally my thing; and I love how this movie is about vampires just struggling to survive but not in a violent, inhuman sort of way. The plot is just a little light and I am not impressed by Tom Hiddleston (yes, I realize that I am alone on this one - he's awesome as Loki, but that doesn't automatically make him a solid actor in my eyes. He bores me.). The saving grace is Tilda Swinton - always a memorable, interesting performance, and Mia Wasikowska - who literally stole the movie, in my opinion. I was glued to the screen every time she appeared, which sadly, is not enough. For the first 30 minutes, all I could think about was how beautiful every frame of the movie is, but I was bored out of my skull. There a few scenes that are absolutely mesmerizing, like the last scene with the young woman singing in Arabic (I think), but again, even the most beautiful scenes thrown together don't just create an interesting story. Also, cutting 30 minutes, would not have hurt the movie at all.
5. Blue Ruin - I didn't know anything about this movie; I'm not familiar with the main actor, nor am I familiar with the writer/director. In fact, I never even heard of the movie until it appeared on Netflix Instant, and suddenly my Twitter feed was filled with several people claiming it to be "one of the best movies of this year". I wouldn't go that far (and I wouldn't include it with 2014 releases anyway. It's very clearly a 2013 release for the United States). It's a really strong, smart thriller, with a fantastic central performance. I can connect with the main character; I know what it's like to have someone who has done awful things to my family released from prison (see above). It's an emotionally devastating experience. There is a feeling of helplessness, anger, revenge and many other emotions in between. The main actor, Macon Blair, did an amazing job at conveying these emotions, with subtlety and depth. I like that the story moved really quickly, and it is, for the most part, very intense. However, I also found it a little bit predictable and a little bit ridiculous. If you were surprised by the young boy's connection to the story, then you probably don't watch many movies (or understand what foreshadowing is). The plot can be boiled down to one sentence of dialogue from the movie "just because my dad loved your mom, we all end up dead". If the characters understand this, then why do they still insist on killing each other? I'm also unsure of the "Blue Ruin" title - I assume it is supposed to reference the car, but it looked like a rusted white color to me. Nothing else makes sense, though. Little things like that bother me to no end.