2014's Entertainers of the Year

4. Matthew McConaughey

McConaughey didn’t have that many projects out this year, but he and the McConaughsance were certainly ubiquitous.  McConaughey helped to deliver one of television’s most iconic characters in Rust Cohle and delivered his best cinematic performance to date in Interstellarfor quite the memorable 2014.  That’s not even including his Oscar win and his set of highly parodied Lincoln commercials.

3. Carrie Coon

Carrie Coon is easily the breakthrough entertainer of the year as she had a stunning debut as the wounded but highly complex Nora Durst in The Leftovers and followed that up with a very good performance as Margo Dunne in Gone Girl.  I want to see Carrie Coon succeed because in 2014 she proved that she is one of the new great talents of film and television.

2. Tom Hardy

I’ve always liked Tom Hardy (he made my Entertainers of 2012 list), but 2014 was the year in which he proved that he is one of the best actors of his generation.  His performance in Locke is one of the year’s best performances, while he just made it look easy in the underrated The Drop.  It was also encouraging to see that Hardy was willing to explore the craft in multiple avenues as he had a fun guest stint in Peaky Blinders that he left open for more in the future.

1. Martin Freeman

It was hard to pick my Entertainer of the Year this year with so much great work being done by so many.  However, it was hard to deny the spot to Martin Freeman.  Freeman can currently be seen in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armieswhere he is unexpectedly asked to carry the emotional weight of the entire film.  He makes it look easy.  Additionally, Freeman delivered a career redefining performance in Fargo as he played the much darker and more demanding (at least in terms of range) role of Lester Nygaard.  Freeman also continued his great performance as Watson in Sherlockfor which he received his first Emmy this year.

Wild Review

            Something about carrying a film set in the wilderness seems to allow actors to reach a level of ability that they have never been capable of before.  Whether it was Tom Hanks in Cast Away, Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild, Willem Dafoe in The Hunter or many other examples we have seen a lot of phenomenal performances from films set in the wilderness.  Wild is no different as we get career best work from Reese Witherspoon.  Wild ultimately comes across as a lesser Into the Wild, a film that follows a person coming to terms with the faults within mankind through the wilderness, but it does have a lot to offer besides Witherspoon’s performance.  This is one of the most realistic interpretations of loneliness in the wilderness that we have ever seen on the big screen and director Jean-Marc Vallee assembles a team of artists that actually bring some interesting technical achievements to fruition that similar films such as Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours have tried and failed to do.

            Wild tells the true story of Cherly Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), a woman who turns to sex and drugs to cope with the loss of her mother.  Determined to get back control over her life, she decides to trek the entire Pacific Crest trail by herself. 

            The story itself really isn’t the selling point for the film.  It’s something that we have seen numerous times before even if it is portrayed in a slightly different fashion.  Instead it is Reese Witherspoon’s performance that makes this film worth seeing.  It is easy to say that this performance is great because it is so demanding (even if that is true).  However, what really makes this performance great is that the little intricacies that Jean-Marc Vallee inserts into the film to make it stand out from similar efforts are put into the film though Reese Witherspoon.  Whether it’s the gritty nature of the film (which Witherspoon takes on without fear) or the focus on just how loneliness can affect someone (Witherpoon’s voiceover work is truly haunting even if the sound team deserves just as much credit), Witherspoon finds ways to make this performance and film unique.

            Ultimately, the film’s biggest problem also prevents its downfall.  So many films of this nature have directors that try too hard and ultimately ruin the film.  Jean-Marc Valley does not do that as it’s in his nature to have the performances carry his films.  That is what ruined Dallas Buyers Club for me as it seemed like an exercise in acting rather than a film.  While he doesn’t insert much style at all into this film (the technical aspects of the film are impressive though), standing out of the way of the narrative and performances does more good than harm in the end.

            Wild is a solid if derivative tale of survival in the wild.


The Theory of Everything Review

            Despite being labeled as an Oscar-bait biopic, The Theory of Everything has much more in common with Interstellar than any of the biopics that have been or will be released this year.  Like Interstellar, The Theory of Everything is about how everything dealing with the human condition can be traced back to love.  Both films try to build enthusiasm within the audience for science and both, to some degree, deal with the findings of astrophysicist Kip Thorne.  However, where The Theory of Everything differs with Interstellar is that it offers nothing that we haven’t seen before.  Whereas Interstellar offers a unique experience, The Theory of Everything offers a well-made film under familiar circumstances.

            The Theory of Everything follows the triumphs and struggles in the relationship between Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane Wilde Hawking (Felicity Jones).  These two actors get the vast majority of the screen time, and both do great work.  Due to Stephen Hawking’s real life motor neuron disease, Eddie Redmayne is given the difficult task of portraying that onscreen without making it feel like an over-the-top gimmick.  Redmayne does that exceptionally well, and he really makes the audience feel the pain that Hawking had to endure to move or communicate.  It’s an authentic pain that feels very much similar to what Colin Firth was doing in The King’s Speech.  Meanwhile, Felicity Jones has the difficult task of not being overshadowed by Redmayne.  While the writing for the character doesn’t help her much, Jones is so charming that she comes across well.

            It’s really the acting and the behind the scenes work (such as Johann Johannsson’s memorable score and some impressive costume work) that makes this film standout because other than that it’s just a typical romantic drama.  Too often this film finds itself going from cliché to cliché or trying desperately to come up with a memorable line.  Director James Marsh clearly recognizes the faults in the script, and he tries to cover them up with a constantly moving camera that tries to come up with as many interesting visuals as possible.  Nothing really stands out, but his work does actually mask the problems of the script to some degree.

            There’s a lot of noble work done in this film.  It seems like they try to make Jane into a character worthy of leading a film rather than just going for the easy Stephen Hawking biopic.  The problem is that Stephen Hawking is just the much more fascinating cinematic character, and a poor script really gets this film into trouble.  In the end it’s the acting and the film’s behind the scenes talent that make The Theory of Everything worthwhile.


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