Monday, January 12, 2015

Top 10 Films of 2014

2014 was an uneven year. There were some great films out there, but they came at unusual times. Even though the summer movie season had its typical run of duds, there were some surprising gems in the hot months as well. 2014 also restored a little bit of faith in the power of creativity, as original films outshines remakes and sequels more prominently than in recent years. From big to small, fun to furious, here are the ten best of 2014, in my humble opinion...


10) Interstellar - Christopher Nolan's space epic has plenty of warts. But where it loses points in its faults, it gains just as many with ambition and awe. A film about the end of the earth and a search for a new one must be big, and Insterstellar carries breadth in spades. Matthew McConaughey continues to dedicate himself fully to his roles, and the moments of breathtaking action and suspense shine brightly.



9) Guardians of The Galaxy - This seemed like a risky proposition for Marvel, throwing a lot of money at a relatively unknown property like Guardians. But everything worked, from top to bottom, and the result was the biggest box-office hit of the year and a rousingly funny and exciting action flick. A perfect end to the summer.


8) Blue Ruin - The smallest and most intimate film on this list is simple at its core, a man seeking revenge. But Blue Ruin is executed with such minimalist focus and tension, it burns itself into your consciousness. Director Jeremy Saulnier and star Macon Blair take familiarity and tighten the screws on the suspense to create a seamless story, full of quiet rage.



7) Wild - Ever since her Oscar win in 2005, Reese Witherspoon has floundered through roles she has admittedly not been that enthused about. But with Wild, Witherspoon delivers her career best. As Cheryl Strayed, a woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail in order to regain control of her life, Witherspoon keeps the story grounded and emotional. Laura Dern also delivers a heartfelt performance as Cheryl's eternally optimistic mother, seen in flashbacks.


6) Gone Girl - The sensational story at the heart of David Fincher's film adaptation of Gillian Flynn's sensational novel feels ripped from the TV tabloids. I expected this story to pop up on 20/20 or 48 Hours. Rosamund Pike deserves an Oscar nomination for her role, and the film remains true to the source material while adding a whole new level of energy. Part media satire, part murder mystery, part gender role reconfiguring, Gone Girl is a salacious sensation.


5) Snowpiercer - Joon-ho Bong's visceral sci-fi action film takes the post-apocalypse and traps it on a speeding train where a caste system keeps the train society separated. The psychological unraveling of the people aboard this train is the most overlooked aspect of the film, an action film with plenty to say about society, and plenty to do in the realm of sensationalism. Action scenes are inventive and fresh, and Chris Evans gives the best performance of his career.


4) Whiplash - I didn't expect much from this film when I walked in, aside from a few memorable performances. What I got was a gut punch. Whiplash is a simple story about a talented young jazz drummer and the sadistic, borderline psychotic band leader at a prestigious New York music school (J.K. Simmons, Supporting Actor frontrunner) who pushed him to the brink. Whiplash is an intense experience, and Miles Teller, who plays the lead, is about to become a star.


3) Birdman - This is a film that grows on you as you watch it. the closeups and claustrophobia of the cinematography takes time, but a few minutes in you are used to it and the film blossoms. Michael Keaton delivers the performance of his career as Riggan Thomson, a washed up actor trying to revive his career and find credibility on broadway. Sharp, funny, and heartfelt, Birdman is an unforgettable experience, a wonderful bit of magic realism in the end.


2) Nightcrawler - Slinking about like a sick coyote, Jake Gyllenhaal channels Travis Bickle in this LA thriller. Nightcrawler is a hypnotizing and unsettling look at the state of media these days, and Gyllenhaal's performance is singular. But what mustn't go overlooked here is the job Rene Russo does, revitalizing her career as Gyllenhaal's has-been boss. This is a quiet masterpiece.


1) Boyhood - What is so magical about Richard Linklater's Boyhood is the way it is so unassuming. The story itself does not force anything upon the viewer, it is observant, it simply watches as Mason (Ellar Coltraine) grows up throughout the 12 years the film was shot. There are no swelling melodramatic moments, no hard moments, just life unfolding. I recently watched it again, and was blown away by its omniscient genius. Boyhood deserves all the awards.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Inherent Vice



INHERENT VICE: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (148 min.)

I knew this was going to be a tall task, even for a director as gifted and, up to this point, as flawless as Paul Thomas Anderson.

I read Thomas Pynchon's novel Inherent Vice in 2013. At least I think I did. The book was open, my eyes fixated on the page, reading the words in front of me, but to try and remember anything I read would require a feat of recollection of which I am incapable. The book is a muddled stoner masterpiece to some, but to me it was simply incoherent, impossible to follow, not nearly as funny as everyone said. And yet, when I heard Anderson was directing a film adaptation, I figured if anyone could iron out the kinks of the novel and make an entertaining picture it would be Anderson. Unfortunately, I was mistaken.

Inherent Vice is true to the roots of Pynchon's novel, which is its ultimate downfall. It captures the essence of the story, a pot-fueled post hippie California crime story that lives on the flip side of the film noir coin. The story's vessel, Larry "Doc" Sportello, a stoner private investigator played to perfection by Joaquin Phoenix, is put upon by an avalanche of shady and increasingly grating characters in this southern California, a land reeling from the Manson murders and adrift in the years after the hippie movement began to unravel. Doc's ex flame, Shasta (Katherine Waterston) shows up at his house one night, delivering an ominous tale of her lover, her lover's wife, the wife's lover, and murder. None of it is very clear, and that is merely a harbinger of things to come.

Doc gets into, or falls into, the investigation surrounding Shasta's lover, Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), a real-estate magnate who is nothing more than a human MacGuffin for the film. Wolfmann disappears, everyone wants to find him or one of his associates, a mysterious ship on the coast is brought in, women come and go... Along the way, Doc runs into characters on every corner of the hippie lunatic fringe. The oversexed, overmedicated, smoke filled crooks and miscreants drop their own little bits of information into Doc's clouded brain, thickening the investigation and confusing things even more.

There is Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen, the flat-topped detective played by Josh Brolin, who takes joy in harassing the dirty hippie Doc. Reese Witherspoon shows up as an FBI informant, I think, who also enjoys slumming it with Doc to get a little high and watch political coverage on TV. There is Owen Wilson, who plays a heroin-addicted musician drawn into this convoluted plot of missing persons and shady real estate deals. Benicio Del Toro plays Doc's counselor of sorts, a casting choice I feel was deliberately made to harken back to Del Toro's turn as a whacked out lawyer to Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Martin Short plays a shipping magnate who enjoys cocaine and women, and none of them really even matter in the end.

Inherent Vice is meant to be seen as an episodic tale, a series of little vignettes that don't even make an effort to pay off in the end. Segments work individually, sometimes, and sometimes they go on much too long and the dialogue drowns into noise. Meant to be comedic most of the time, the laughs become increasingly sparse as the film drones on and on, well past two hours. Everyone does their best job with the characters they are given, a testament to Anderson as a director. But the film becomes an endurance test, losing steam rather than gaining.

I never knew what was going on in Inherent Vice, but I don't think the intention of anything in the film was to be clear. Anderson takes an un-filmable work, films it, and the result is about what one would expect.

C-

Sunday, December 28, 2014

American Sniper



AMERICAN SNIPER: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, directed by Clint Eastwood (134 min.)

American Sniper tells the fascinating and unbelievable story of Chris Kyle in very conventional ways. There is some wonderful tension in a few scenes, moments that are hard to watch, and Bradley Cooper absolutely shines in the role of Kyle, a man conflicted about where he belongs. But Eastwood's direction feels uninspired at times, and tension is lacking where it should be palpable. I enjoyed certain elements of the film, no doubt, but it could have been better.

Cooper packed on some pounds to portray Kyle, the Navy SEAL who was credited with 160 kills by military officials (although the real number is probably north of 200). Eastwood, going off the book written by Kyle and Jason Hall, paints a picture of the solider as a man who yearns to help people in every avenue of his life. It is what drives him to the Navy, where he joins the SEALs and blossoms as a sniper. In the meantime, he meets Taya, a headstrong young woman played by Sienna Miller in a sturdy performance. Taya and Chris fall in love, marry, and start a family right about the time he is called into active duty.

The film then falls into the conventional back and forth between Kyle at home and his four tours in Iraq. In Iraq, Kyle becomes a legend as a deadly assassin. "Men feel invincible when you're up there," a solider tells him. But when he returns home, he feels lost, ordinary, not like a legend. Eastwood doesn't drive home the isolation he feels at home quite as much as he should, instead he has Taya chastise hime for not talking enough. Taya tells where the film should show. I would have liked a few more scenes to open up the domestic segments. Instead, we return too quickly to the battlefield where the tension is too sporadic.

There are true moments of exhilaration when Kyle is leading his men into battle. There is a sandstorm near the end that is as well executed as anything of its kind, and a brutal shootout near the middle involving a child that I would rather not see again. But, as a whole, the sequences in Iraq are unremarkable. There is a glaring need for a stronger supporting cast around Cooper. Kyle's friends are forgettable as actors where they should have stronger more memorable personalities. The stakes do not feel as high as they should feel given the situations. Outside Cooper's performance as Kyle, there is not enough emotion driving the film.

The final few moments are strong, as Kyle leaves the military and eventually finds a place in the real world helping returning soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As most know by know (spoiler for anyone who doesn't), Kyle was killed by one of those very soldiers he was trying to help in February 2013. The most heart wrenching moments of the entire film are the last moments with Cooper as Kyle, and the subsequent credit sequence where we see the real memorial for Kyle stretching down miles of highway, filled on every side by supporters waving American flags.

Psychologically, American Sniper doesn't do the conflict in Chris Kyle justice in my opinion. Atleast, not on an even basis. The most fascinating element of Kyle's personality comes in the battle scenes, where his ego drives him back for more in order to hunt down and kill a sniper working for the Iraqis, and the moments in the end when he is adrift in the real world. But then again, what is real? To Kyle, reality may have been on the other side of the world.

B-

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings



EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS – Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, directed by Ridley Scott (150 min.)

There is an ill wind blowing in Exodus: Gods and Kings very early on, when John Turturro appears as Seti, father of Ramses    (Joel Edgerton). Now, I am aware of the controversy surrounding the whitewashing of a film set in the Mediterranean and focusing on Egyptian and Hebrew characters who would most certainly not be Caucasian, but that wasn’t my issue with Turturro in this role. My issue was, well, it’s John Turturro! He has no business playing dress up in Egyptian garb, supposedly being the leader of one of the most powerful kingdoms in World history. Turturro is a great actor, but in the right roles, and here he stuck out like a sore thumb.

Maybe I am getting sidetracked with the casting of Turturro, whose role is small in Ridley Scott’s biblical epic. But it is just the tip of the iceberg the film crashes into early and often. Exodus is a complete mess of a film, despite the best efforts of Christian Bale who plays the hero, Moses. The casting might be the least of its problems, as the screenplay and the flow of the film and just the overall look and feel is all wrong.

Let’s start with the script and work our way through the wreckage. The story is familiar to just about everyone, focusing on Moses and Ramses and an Old Testament God who brings a plague upon the Egyptian people and picks Moses to lead the Hebrew slaves to freedom through the Red Sea. This is a story set, here anyway, in 1300 B.C. And yet, this screenplay, apparently written by four adult human beings, reads like it takes place a month ago in California, not in ancient Egypt. The dialogue is one-hundred percent contemporary, and a complete distraction as such. I cannot believe four people collaborated to do absolutely no research regarding the rhythm, the speech patterns, or the vocabulary of an ancient civilization. This is just one of many obvious cases of studio interference, as they feared any sort of real language from 1300 B.C. as a hindrance to audiences and box office numbers.

Did I mention the film is a carbon copy of Scott’s far superior Gladiator?

Now, as I take a deep breath, let’s look at this cast. Whitewashed, yes, but any Egyptian or Mediterranean actor who was passed over should consider it a blessing in disguise. While Christian Bale once again shines, as he always does, and tries to save the whole endeavor, he cannot carry the weight of the entire film. Edgerton is fine as Ramses, I suppose, but is non threatening as antagonist. He does a lot fo walking around lighting things with his torch. Oh, and Sigourney Weaver plays his mother in the film, but she is on camera less than five minutes and has maybe two lines. Why hire Weaver and have her do absolutely nothing?

Exodus looks and feels completely packaged by Hollywood. It is glossy and homogenized to a point of being embarrassing. Very little dirt and grime exudes from the screen, and all of these actors (except Bale) look like they are playing around in costumes. I never once believed anything in the film, and never felt any connection to the actors. The consequences of the characters mean nothing.


Ridley Scott needs to sit down, take a deep breath, and really think about his next film. I have heard it is going to be an adaptation of the novel The Martian. In my opinion, he needs to work hard at this to make it something special, or the great films of his past will become harder and harder to remember.

D

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Foxcatcher



FOXCATCHER: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, directed by Bennett Miller (130 min.)

The introduction of John du Pont might make him seem like an eccentric Bond villain. At least it did to me. He lives in a mansion near historic battlegrounds in Pennsylvania, on hundreds of acres with prize-winning horses, his aging mother, and a collection of military equipment he purchases because he is a self-proclaimed “patriot.” He travels primarily via helicopter, and is the only son of America’s wealthiest family. However, John du Pont was a real man, and his story in Foxcatcher is a true story, which rids the film of any satire or fun that might come along with a Bond villain. Instead, Foxcatcher is permeated with uneasiness and discomfort, which hums below the surface of the events like the buzz of a broken stereo speaker. I was uncomfortable from the very beginning, and grew even more so as the film unfolded. It was undoubtedly the desired effect.

It is a story so bizarre and disturbing it could only be true. While du Pont eventually becomes the focal point of the film, we begin with the story of Mark Schultz, an Olympic wrestler who won Gold in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. His brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo) also won gold, but the trajectories of these brothers could not be more opposing. Where Mark is alone, introverted, lost, Dave is an outgoing personality with a wife and children who has become a wonderful wrestling coach. Mark has very little in his life; Dave has everything he needs.

Mark gets a phone call from Jack, a spokesman for John du Pont played by Anthony Michael Hall. Jack invites Mark to du Pont’s estate, Foxcatcher Farms, where we finally meet this strange and ultimately pitiful man. Steve Carell disappears into the role of John du Pont with short graying hair, a hawkish nose, and poor teeth. Du Pont wants Mark to lead a team of wrestlers who will compete in the World championships and the ’88 Olympics. He pays Mark a considerable amount of money to move to the du Pont estate and train on site with a team. Mark, who sees this as an opportunity to get out of his brother’s shadow, jumps at the chance.

Things are clearly not what they seem early on at the du Pont estate. John du Pont has no athletic ability and no knowledge of wrestling whatsoever; he simply wants to be given credit for assembling a championship wrestling team. He lives in crippling, emasculating psychological fear of his elderly mother (Vanessa Redgrave), who sees no value in wrestling. Before long, du Pont seems to lose real interest in being a coach as he gets Mark hooked on drugs. The story takes a strange and disturbing turn once Mark becomes a sort of servant to John, dying his hair blond and cutting John’s hair. The late-night “practice sessions” are equally as unsettling. There is a hint of sexual attraction, even obsession, on John’s end, though that is not ever truly explored.

Eventually, John throws enough money at Dave to get him to move his family out to Foxcatcher Farms and train the team. Dave immediately notices something is amiss, but tries to make the best of it because he is a good person and he is worried about his less-intelligent brother. Pay attention to the way Mark and Dave carry their bodies, a great indicator of their personalities. Mark plods along heavily like a gorilla, and Dave floats and bounces, his ankles and wrists turned in slightly to give him a childlike, generous posture.

As the story progresses, Mark becomes more withdrawn and less concerned with wrestling. Du Pont is destroying him systematically, and Dave steps in. Director Bennett Miller never intensifies the tension, because the subtleties in the three brilliant performances make all the tension arrive easily, and at the right moments, without enhancement.


Much has been made of Carell’s performance, as it should be. Carell creates an aura of discomfort and unease with his performance, showing what John du Pont is thinking without saying a thing. But let’s not get away from the performances of Tatum and Ruffalo as Mark and Dave. This is Channing Tatum’s best work to date, and Ruffalo is equally as compelling as Dave. I fully expect Carell to grab an Oscar nomination for his work and be the favorite going in, but I also hope Tatum is noticed for his supporting work. And while there may not be room for Ruffalo, in a perfect world he would get a supporting nod as well.

There is a murder, and du Pont is arrested and sent to prison where he died in 2010. As far as acting is concerned, Foxcatcher hits all the right notes with a trio of brilliant performances. But as an overall film, I’m not sure Foxcatcher completely works. Certain scenes end before they should, and Miller’s direction sometimes suffocates. The final scene doesn’t work at all for me, it feels tacked on and unnecessary. I’m not sure we needed a follow up to the character as his exit from the film was fitting in an earlier moment.


Foxcatcher is a thriller so strange it can only be true. It is an exercise in disturbing drama that effectively made my palms sweat throughout, despite the fact that the structural suffocation might hold the film back from being something great. See this film to celebrate these three great performances, but don’t expect to be feeling good walking out of the theater.

B

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Birdman



BIRDMAN: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianikis, Emma Stone, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñàrritu (110 min.)

Birdman is Michael Keaton at his absolute best, but it is nothing unexpected. I am not alone in this Michael Keaton fan club, a group of cinephiles and movie folks who have always respected Keaton’s acting abilities in spite of his poor film choices. Keaton has been the BMW engine in the body of a Pinto too many times in his acting career, making poor film choices to the point of growing obscure when he should be one of the more celebrated actors of his generation. But that is neither here nor there, because now Keaton has gotten a film to sink his teeth into, a showcase of his manic energy and passionate acting. Birdman is a triumph for Keaton, and a fascinating film to boot.

Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a washed-up former superstar who made millions and spent millions playing Birdman, a Batman-esque superhero (life imitating art to an extent, though I don't believe Keaton is quite the mess Thompson is in his personal life). Now, working for ultimate respect as an actor, Thomson has taken on producing, directing, and starring in a Broadway stage production of a play called What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The production is a passion project for Thomson, but it has clearly transformed into an ego-driven albatross pushing him to the breaking point. All the while, Thomson is haunted by his superhero past, even fighting to block out the voice of Birdman who serves as the devil on his shoulder, constantly telling him this endeavor is a waste of time and Birdman 4 is the way to go.

The stage play feels doomed in every scene as the film uses some crafty camera tricks to make it feel like one continuous shot over a few days. Thomson’s lead actor is awful, his former drug-addicted daughter, Sam, played by Emma Stone, floats behind the stage as a source of constant angst for him, and the whole production is steadily running out of money and heading for disaster on opening night. Then, a freak accident – one of the many semi-supernatural occurrances in the film – sends his lead actor to the hospital.

Thomson’s attorney, Jake (a subdued Zach Galifianakis), brings in Mike, a notoriously difficult and eccentric stage actor played by Edward Norton, to take over the lead role. Mike is brilliant but impossible to handle, and immediately makes moves on Sam who isn’t quite as clean as she should be having just gotten out of rehab. The entire story focuses on the uphill battle Thomson must fight to get his dream project successfully to the stage.

Birdman is also written by Iñàrritu, among others, and the humor is razor sharp and crafted perfectly for Keaton’s strengths. The magic realism throughout is a charming addition to the film, and it fits the way the picture unravels into insanity. At times, Thomson flies into a rage in his room and seems to be using telepathic powers to throw things from one side to another. In an amusing later scene, we find out what is really happening. And as if the doomed production isn’t enough, Thomson seems to have no chance to win over the most important stage critic in Manhattan, who sees him as a joke and plans on destroying his play before seeing a single moment.

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñàrritu steps out of his comfort zone with Birdman. His career has consisted of heavy dramas like Amores Perros, Babel, and 21 Grams. He handles the humor and wit very well, and the gravity in his previous works feels effective in keeping the story serious enough to care about these characters. I felt myself rooting for Thompson and his production, even as it looks like a lost cause and Thompson finally reaches his breaking point and suffers a nervous breakdown hours before opening night.


Birdman is a wonderfully entertaining film, and it should earn Michael Keaton his first Oscar nomination. As Thomson, Keaton bounces maniacally from excitement to rage to desperation to resignation from scene to scene. Having seen the other frontrunners for the award this year, I would have to say Keaton deserves the win, which should make his cult following feel vindicated, and make Keaton gain the respect Riggan Thomson is so desperately searching for on Broadway.

A

Friday, November 21, 2014

Whiplash



WHIPLASH: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, directed by Damien Chazelle (106 min.)

My fourth grade music teacher told my mother I had a tin ear. And like that, m career as a musician went out the window. When it comes to the nuts and bolts of music in all its forms, I am a novice. I don't grasp the inner workings of tempo and bars, beats, etc. But I love listening to so many different types of music, and I understand the emotion behind the artwork. Jazz and blues are arguably the most emotional genres, created more through the feeling in the soul than the notes on the sheet.

Tell that to Terrence Fletcher, the maniacal perfectionist band leader in Whiplash, one of the most ferociously emotional and compelling films of 2014.

Miles Teller plays Andrew, a jazz drummer at Shaffer, the finest music college in the United States. Andrew lives and breathes his craft, practices endlessly, obsesses unhealthily. The fact that he even got into the school speaks to his dedication and his raw talent. His father, played modestly by Paul Reiser, is a successful high school teacher, but what does that matter? Andrew has dreams of being Buddy Rich or Charlie Parker. But Parker died alone of a heroin overdose in his early thirties. Andrew says he'd rather alone in his thirties and have everyone talk about him than live sober into his nineties and nobody know the talent he had.

The college has certain caste systems, and the most coveted position is to be in the competitive jazz band under the control of Terrence Fletcher, played with almost unbearable ferocity by J.K. Simmons. Fletcher sees something in Andrew and plucks him from the understudy position of a house band to join his core group. This is when the sadistic psychological warfare begins.

Fletcher is feared by everyone in his band. Nobody makes eye contact with him. He is a borderline psychotic perfectionists, dressed always in black, every stitch of clothing in perfect order. Fletcher preys upon his students, especially Andrew, whom he drives into masochistic practice sessions where his hands blister and bleed. There is a fine line between firm coaching and abuse; maybe that line isn't so fine, because Fletcher manages to cross the line with ease, hurling insults at his players like the jazz riffs they are trying to perfect. In one scene, Fletcher forces his three jazz drummers to try and perfect a tempo that I dare anyone to try and pick up on.

But Andrew is not to be denied his chance. He knows he is good, he knows he is the best, and he works to be the absolute best, even fleeing the scene of a shocking accident to try and make it to a competition on time. He tries to date a pretty young girl, but promptly ends that because he knows he will be insufferable to deal with.

The way Andrew is able to stand up to Fletcher's mental abuse becomes the focal point of the story. Miles Teller, who is steadily becoming one of the most powerful young actors in Hollywood, dominates his scenes, even when Simmons works at his very best to take said scenes over. The push and pull between these two actors working ferociously to destroy one another is some of the best acting of the year.

Director Damien Chazelle does impressive work here, focusing on the tiny details of the musical instruments that form a jazz band. The spit and the polish and the tuning and the beats are all impeccably on display here. I didn't know a thing about jazz drummers going into Whiplash, but it didn't matter. It's hard to believe a film with such a docile subject at the surface could be one of the more intense films I have ever seen, but that is certainly the case. Here is one of the best films of the year, one that will certainly be overlooked at awards time. Maybe that makes the most sense, because jazz drummers' fame is mostly all in their head.

A

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why I Love The Movies...



I've tried for years to pinpoint the time in my life where I fell in love with the movies, but I can't quite find that singular moment. Because I was too young when I fell headlong into film, too young to remember now, at 33. There are flashes in my memory about certain pictures from my youth, but no patient zero. I'm almost certain there was an earlier time in my life, but the earliest moment I can remember falling head over heels in love, and I do mean in love, with the movies, was watching Superman II in my grandmother's sunroom in Texas. I was five.

My grandmother had taught me to read at a very early age, in that very same sunroom. I don't think for a moment she realized sitting me down in front of a VHS tape of Superman II would resonate more than sounding out sentences in her lap. But it did, and it has, because it is where I always begin when I map out my love affair with cinema. I found myself amazed as I watched Christopher Reeve fly through the air, terrified as General Zod took over "the Planet Houston." I felt genuine emotion when Clark Kent was beaten to a pulp in that diner, and there was definitely exhilaration in my heart when he finally bested his enemies in his fortress of solitude. Of course I had no idea what I was watching, or the quality (or lack thereof) of Superman II. But I did, and I do, remember those feelings.

The rest of my single digit years is a bit of a blur, as it is for everyone, but I do know most of it was spent talking my way into seeing certain movies, and watching movies like Star Wars, Harry and The Hendersons, and The Neverending Story as many times as I could. Once I gained control of my own memory, and those images have since remained, I have collected the memories of film in the encyclopedia of my imagination. And I always waned to know who was responsible for what I was seeing. I knew these magical images didn't just appear, because I paid attention to the credits and wanted to figure out who made this film, and another film, and so on...

I have always earmarked points in time based on movies I have seen. I remember seeing Snow White in its theatrical re-release in the 80s, in a theater in Garland, Texas. And I remember going with my other grandmother. My mother, who arrived late, tried to get in but the screening was sold out. I remember seeing EdTV on my sixteenth birthday in Mesquite, Texas, with a group of friends who surprised me. I remember being 16 and trying to sneak in to see Scream 2. We were caught and asked to leave (and we had bought tickets to Home Alone 3, a dead giveaway). I remember going every Saturday in high school to see the latest movie with my mom, who was up for just about anything. She did make us leave in the middle of Natural Born Killers, and for that I don't blame her. I remember seeing The Departed twice in two different theaters while I lived in Oklahoma City, I remember staggering out of the theater in Fayetteville, Arkansas after seeing 12 Years A Slave.

And I remember, most of all, when I saw Carlito's Way.

My family knew from an early age that I was able to separate the reality of the world from the imagination of the movies. I watched movies that most kids my age would never be able to see. One of those films is Carlito's Way, which I saw with my grandmother (who also loved movies) at a mall theater in Dallas. But, as I have been able to pinpoint times in my life with movies I have seen, Carlito's Way will always stick with me for what happened that night, when I got home and my mother told me she had a brain tumor.

My grandmother, my mother's mother, the one who taught me to read and showed me Superman II, had died from a brain tumor two years earlier, and the news that my mother had this same affliction completely destroyed my world. I still remember my dad crying in the background, and the universe disappearing as I sobbed in my mother's arms. She would beat the cancer, and she is still living today and is staying busy with her three grandchildren. And Carlito's Way would forever be linked to my life. That is what people often overlook, the way films can add a signature to moments in their own personal history. There are important things that happen in our life, and if we all think hard, we can remember what movies were out at the time.

I went with the satus quo in high school, seeing movies like 10 things I Hate About You so I could keep up with the girls. But I would regularly go home with my Blockbuster rental of Dog Day Afternoon or Amadeus and absorb myself into the art. I became the movie nerd in high school, the movie buff in college, and the "movie guy" in life that all of my friends and acquaintances come to when they need a trivia question answered. "Who played that guy in that thing?" I got ya.

That is what is so crucial about film, the way it can take you back to an important part in your life like a song or a smell. But the power of film in my memory goes beyond most people. The movies pull emotions out of you, and some of the most important films can push you from one feeling to another. Some movies like Reservoir Dogs can throw you headlong into an anxiety-laden story. Rocky can swell your heart with pride. The fact that Cast Away was able to make me sob over the loss of a volleyball speaks volumes to the power of film. Sometimes, movies can take you from laughter, to fear, to anxiety, to sadness, and the range of emotion is what is so powerful. You can feel all of these things, and then walk out of the theater and leave those emotions behind, regardless of what they are.

I love the history of films, and I love what it takes to get a single film released. I love that there is something universal in moviemaking in every aspect, and I love the way movies have dogeared the story of my life. Without movies, I might be lost in this world.

I love when a movie makes me laugh and cry and hang on to my seat, all in the span of two hours. I love when a new movie star emerges. I love finding out about new directors. I love the biggest films (if they are made well) and the smallest films (for the fact that they were made at all). I love the perfect line in the best scene in the smallest movie, and the best scene in the right spot of the biggest movie. I love the explosion at the right time, the twist, the horror, and the comedy. I love when a film challenges me to the ends of my imagination, to the ends of my mind. And I love when a film realizes its there simply to make me laugh or make me shake my head at the absurdity of it all.

And I love that I will be able to show my son all of the movies I can think of, that he is an empty slate right now and I will be able to see his eyes when they widen at the sight of Darth Vader for the first time.

I love the movies.