some quotes....

I just want to tell you, I'm the one who was supposed to take care of everything. I'm the one who was supposed to make everything okay for everybody. It just didn't work out like that. And I left. I left you... And now, I'm an old broken down piece of meat... and I'm alone. And I deserve to be all alone. I just don't want you to hate me.

-Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, The Wrestler

lundi 28 novembre 2016

One sentence reviews (7)

Phần 5
Phần 6

01. A Most Wanted Man (2014): 3/5

The ending is really, really good, not in term of twist-and-turn but in term of emotional climax, which was enhanced by the depressive yet effective performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose appearance and expression in this film remind me of his memorable role in "Magnolia" - an "innocent" character in a mist of human cruelty and tragedy. The only difference is that in "Magnolia", Hoffman's character was only an innocent "observer" of numerous human tragedies around him, but in this film, he is an "innocent" victim (yes, his character should be considered innocent despite being entitled a counterspy-master) of the human tragedies around him. As the film goes on, we can feel the increasing hopelessness in Hoffman's eyes - it seems that he understands about the risks of being betrayed by his own kinds but still tries to thrive for his ultimate destination ("a safer world", he said). Yes, as a counterspy-master, he is in no way innocent by breaking up families, destroying others' life and future, mentally and physically abusing people, but he has tried to stick to his "for a safer world" principle. But his eyes tell us that such principle is simply unfeasible in the devious world of spying and counter-spying, thus the farther he goes into the spying game, only the more delusional and hopeless he can become. It is really really sad to watch such excellently depressive performance from Hoffman knowing that this is his last serious role (no need to count his blockbuster-ish roles in "The Hunger Games") before committing suicide/overdosing (who knows, and who cares!), probably due to depression, since this is one of his finest roles about a man doomed to self-destruction. Too bad that his surrounding fellow cast was sub-part and disappointing, including the ever-reliable Willem Dafoe - all of them seem to be always on the verge of panicking and breaking down without any good backing story or plot. As suspending as "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" (another John le Carré adaptation, but a terrific adaptation it is) was, "A Most Wanted Man" is simply a boring piece of cinema, which does not work nor as a psychological drama neither as a spy-theme thriller. Instead of being built up throughout the film up to the climax, the suspense in this film is just lazily and randomly put at different parts of the film without any clear intention about what it is up to. The disorienting performance by the cast (minus Mr. Hoffman) is a part of the problem, but the script and direction are actually the main "culprit" of such boredom - except for the terrific ending, the audience cannot really feel the film, and making the audience to endure 1h30+ of pointless and emotionless scenes for a 15-min ending is not really a good way of film-making. Of course the tepid setting of this film ("anti-terrorism war") is much more difficult to bring out a good suspense than the thrilling Cold War setting of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy", but with Hoffman still at his prime, the director should have been able to, at least, bring out a decent drama about the human tragedies of the "hunters" and the "preys" in this spying game, in which everyone is victim of its immorality.

02. Ip Man: The Final Fight (2013): 3.5/5

This is NOT an Ip Man film that casual fans of "kung fu films" will enjoy, but this is the kind of film that I enjoy the most. The film defers from any kind of dramatic build-up through climax or twist-and-turn, and instead fully focuses on depicting Ip Man as, "shockingly enough", a man, an ordinary man. This Ip Man loves and excels at martial art, but unlike the normal image of a cinematic and heroic Ip Man like in the other films (except Wong Kar-wai's "The Grandmaster", which has its position in a totally different category), this Ip Man hardly shows off his skills, he even sometimes succumbs to loneliness, retreat and, as "unheroic" as it is, collapses under utter sorrow. This film is much less entertaining than any other Ip Man film, but much more thought-provoking through not only the strangely quite life of Ip Man himself, but also the open-ended stories of the people around him - a police inspector who seems to be corrupted but still keeps in his heart the righteousness of wuxia, a beautiful singer who adores Ip Man with all her soul but suddenly disappears without explanation, a wife who seems to love Ip Man a lot but still leaves him to go back to their hometown and never sees him again until her death. The beauty of this film is that those stories are not, by any mean, exploited to heighten the drama or create the climax for the film. Herman Yau seems to not care at all about climax or dramatic factors, since he just deals with the "real climaxes" of the film in the most casual way possible by just nonchalantly laying them along the plot line and not even caring to conclude them in a more satisfactory way for the casual audience. Yau only cares about depicting the life of Ip Man as honest as possible, and luckily enough he has his job done with great support from sublime performance by Anthony Wong despite a quite weak supporting cast. This is not a film for pure fun, but a film to reflect about the philosophy of wuxia, and actually the philosophy of life, where people, no matter how "awesome" or heroic they are, can only choose one meaningful thing to follow to the end of their life to make their own life become meaningful.

03. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): 3/5

A film that is so ... ordinary that I have almost nothing to comment about. This film was lauded by many for familiarizing the audience with "weirder" comic concepts by Marvel of aliens, mythical powers, inter-galactic travels, and stuffs. But they forgot that "Thor" was in fact the first film of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" dealing with this task with a very decent result under the Shakespearean direction by Kenneth Branagh. I am actually more impressed with the achievement of "Thor" since the ridiculous theme of that film is way harder than this ordinary space action-comedy "Guardians of the Galaxy". This is admittedly a fun film to watch, with full of tongue-in-cheek jokes, some cinema homages (the "Pulp Fiction heart-stabbing" homage is a fine one), and a very light flavour of the 80s. But as unpretentiously entertaining as it is, "Guardians" is nothing more than a mediocre film with monotonous linear structure, one-dimensional characters, a fair share of plot holes and disruptive development of characters, cheesy and repetitive themes, and boring, boring story-lines. Never a fan of the universally monotonous "Marvel Cinematic Universe" or Marvel superheroes, I have never believed in the cinematic quality of Marvel films either. But the high Rotten Tomatoes score and numerous praises for this film did heighten my expectation a little bit. But, boys how disappointing I am, still an essential Marvel "film" that is entertaining just enough to "bait" the audience into its sequence (which will likely be equally mediocre, I suppose), that's it! Maybe I will still buy the ticket to watch the future Marvel films, but only in the way I sometimes buy McDonald to entertain my stomach with a different taste without the expectation of eating some delicacies.

04. Page Eight (2011): 4.5/5

Strangely enough, I watch this film right after "A Most Wanted Man" - another spy film about "the hunter becomes the prey", about patriotism vs. humanism, about the true value of life. Despite the common and somewhat depressive themes, "Page Eight" is, surprisingly enough, as light and heart-warming as "A Most Wanted Man" is heavy and pessimistic. Well, not exactly heart-warming it is, given the fact that this film is way more "John-le-Carre-ish" than the le-Carre adaptation "A Most Wanted Man" with all the blackish subjects of anti-terrorism, politics, counter-espionage, torture, lie, betrayal. But the director of this film used a much subtler approach, a British "stiff-upper-lip" one that is, to those themes and all the emotion and tension build-up, which made the film easy for the audience to follow but nonetheless effective and emotional for them to appreciate, to understand, and most importantly, to feel. As such, no matter how "loser" he is, Bill Nighy's Johnny Worricker always brings with him an aura of a Master Spy who knows only too well the ugly nature of human yet still keeping deep inside his soul the values of love, family, friendship, and even a light touch of romance. And the brilliant thing is that he did not even have to tell out loud those values to the audience so that they can understand him, it is not necessary since we can all feel the somehow nobleness reflected through his eyes, his gestures, and the way he deals with and tones down all crises. Even better, all the supporting cast around Nighy, as one may already tell from their "big names, actually support Nighy's character by their own subtle ways, which is deeply in contrast with the disoriented acting by the supporting cast of "A Most Wanted Man" - especially one of my favourite actreses Rachel Weisz, whose beauty and acting capability (especially her ever gentle glance) brings a thin veil of mist over the whole film, which makes it even more effective and mystic as a spy film should be. It is really pity that this is "only" a TV film and thus received far less exposure than big budget film like "A Most Wanted Man". Really, with all due respect to Philip Seymour Hoffman, these two films should switch place.

05. Turks & Caicos (2014): 2.5/5

As suspense the first part ("Page Eight") is, as boring this one is... The seemingly-grand theme of the first part was narrowed down to a petty subject with no opportunities for the supreme Johnny Worricker to show off his "spying superiority". The ever-marvelous Winona Ryder was not helpful either with her terrible drama acting despite the mature beauty that is comparable with the mystical Rachel Weisz in the first part. All in all, this is a forgettable part of the trilogy, and not even necessary story-wise since ten more minutes are all the third part needs to set up the whole back-ground for "the third act". Really, why not two incredible acts only instead of three acts that include one terribly boring.

06. Salting the Battlefield (2014): 4.5/5

The Worricker trilogy cannot be concluded in a better way. This film is far superior than the second part ("Turks and Caicos") in every way and is totally comparable with the first one in term of acting, story-telling - only the chemistry between Nighy and Bonham Carter seems to be not as intimate as the duo Nighy-Weisz in the first part ("Page Eight"). Otherwise, the film is thrillingly good with cat-and-mouse games all over the places, not only among the spies themselves, but also among the politicians, and even among the family members. This concluding part also made the Worricker trilogy similar (yes, strangely enough) to the Bourne trilogy more than ever - both have terrific first and third acts and a so-so second acts, both have their main characters entangled in a maze of conspiracies, emotions, betrayals, loyalty, love, hate, emotion... The only different is the way the main character in each trilogy gets out of such maze - Bourne with brute force, intelligence, and determination, whereas Worricker prefers experience, belief, and wisdom. But similar to the difference between Hollywood and British cinema, Worricker is way more human than Bourne since he - as a feeble old spy-master has his past, he has emotions, he has weaknesses, he even has lovers and daughter to care for, while Bourne is mostly a killing machine with a human soul. Therefore, the audience admires Bourne but can hardly understand him, whereas they can feel Worricker, can put themselves in Worricker's boots to feel what he felt exposing himself in the streets of London under heavy surveillance to receive bombardment of blames on him from his very dear daughter, on how he made her life miserable, how he could not make a single one close to him happy (this may be the best sequence of the whole trilogy!). Actually I can feel that a fourth Worricker film will come out in the future, since these simple yet elegant theme and characters still have plenty of potential for further cinematic exploration. Better yet, a TV-film format is good enough for such minimalistic setting if the story and the acting are as excellent as they were in the trilogy (not so much in the second part, though). Let us hope to see Mr. Worricker again with his everlasting conquest of woman's heart, and of buried conspiracies.

07. Interstellar (2014): 3.5/5

DiCaprio, now you can be confident that McConaughey is not (yet) at your level - he does not have your charisma, and his "Interstellar" is in no way as good as your "Inception". Actually the whole cast of this film has quite disappointing performance, not because of their lack of acting capabilities, rather it is due to the mediocre character building of "Interstellar" - not a single character stands out or makes the audience to remember afterwards. And such weakness is deeply detrimental to the film since it does not focus much on the "action" side. Maybe the film was made as a homage of "2001: A Space Odyssey" - a sci-fi film about human vs. universe in a very minimalistic and subtle way. But "Interstellar" does not have such depth, in fact I do not find many things to talk about after watching the film even though I really expected this film would follow the "sophisticated yet interesting" trait of "Inception". Still, an entertaining film to watch due to its very good soundtrack (kudos to Hans Zimmer, who again brings out a terrific soundtrack from a mediocre film this year, alongside with "The Amazing Spider-Man 2") and overwhelming visual (especially in IMAX format). Not a "Nolan-level" kind of film, though.

08. Ride With the Devil (1999): 4.5/5

It is really amazing to see how this film performed underwhelmingly in the box office and was received such lukewarm mainstream critics... For me, this is one of the best Civil War film that I have watched (much better than "Lincoln" for sure). As brutal and realistic as it is in depicting the horror of the war, the film is also wonderfully humanistic in a way that Ang Lee always excels in his films from the very first ones. Never before I have watched such heart-warming friendship in the war-time between such mismatch of friends - Roedel, Jack Bull, George Clyde, who all fight to keep the slavery for the South, and the marvelous former black slave Holt, who fights just because he does not want to leave his benefactor Clyde alone although he fights for all the wrong cause, for the wrong guys, who casually slit his fellow blacks' throat as nothing happens. "The Four Musketeers", if I may say, were depicted very, very well, one by one, with distinctive traits of characteristics as well as destinies, who are way different from each other but at the same time share the same fate of lonely people caught in the middle of a war between brothers. The character development of Jake Roedel might be the best example of such character building - the audience can clearly observe the difference between a dazed and innocent Jake watching people killing people in the beginning of the film, and a totally indifferent Jack in the middle of a brutal massacre - suddenly this reminds me of the famous tagline of "Platoon" - "The first casualty of war is innocence". Thankfully enough, the endearing ending may be one of the most satisfactory ending I have ever watched, when humans chose to be human instead of vengeful animals, chose to treat people around him as human instead of slave or enemy, simply terrific... Not only marveled with crafting his characters, Ang Lee is also a master of storytelling by bringing all the most terrible, inhuman, cruel aspects of the war right at the face of the audience without holding up, the massacre of Lawrence might be the best example with a realistic portrait of a massacre without any dramatization yet still showing off all the wrong causes of the war and of the people that fought for such causes. As any other Ang Lee's film, the cast was also amazing, from the young "Musketeers" to the cold blood Pitt Mackenson (Rhys Meyers) and even the one-time actress Jewel. All of them help bring out a wonderful film that is irritating to watch at first, but gradually catches the audience's attention and finally makes them care about the characters. The only problem of this film might be its straight forward way of storytelling at relatively slow pace, which can be considered boring and thrilling-less by some (who prefer an action-oriented war film) - but if they can keep in mind that such slow pace is desperately needed to craft the characters' shape and fates, they will understand why this is a marvelous film, a definite Ang Lee experience. And of course, kudos for Master Ang Lee for mastering yet another cinematic theme by the same sensible approach.

09. Life Itself (2014): 4/5

A deeply, deeply moving documentary about my beloved film critic Roger Ebert, on how he became who he was and how he ended his life in endless struggles with cancer yet always in uplifting spirit and life-grabbing will. The film does not focus on Roger's view on films and on film criticism, rather he is portrayed as a cynical human-being (especially before getting married to the ever courageous Chaz Ebert) but takes the love of cinema to the deep down of his heart and soul, thus is always kind to the (good) films and ones who make them - like Scorsese, who still keeps a recognition plaque given by Roger in the most private place of his house as a memory on how Roger himself had saved him from the suicidal period of early 1980s; or like Werner Herzog, who had never dedicated his films to anyone until the one that he paid tribute to Roger by going to the farthest place in Earth - the Antarctic and bowing down to the critic's direction. The film is particularly effective in depicting the last fight of Ebert against cancer - a fight that he knew he would lose by the end yet still bravely fought with all his heart - for his love of films and his love to his dearly wife Chaz. Roger looked frail and painful by the end, especially when he, who did not have a jaw anymore, had to "ingest" food through a tube piercing directly into his throat - a process that looks extremely painful to me - a viewer, let alone to Roger himself. Incredibly enough, Roger still found his humour and good spirit whenever he could - the spirit that even cheered up people around him. The only "complaint" about this film is the fact that his love for films was not brought to the audience (maybe it is not the purpose of this documentary, but still...), especially when the film itself provides plenty of views on film criticism by other famous films critics like NY Times' A.O. Scott or Time Magazine's Richard Corliss. Some of those comments seem to even undermine Roger's style in film criticism - though I do not think that Roger did care about such criticisms about his style. Maybe we have to wait for another documentary about the "Roger's style" - directed by Scorsese I hope...

10. Nightcrawler (2014): 3.5/5

This film should be categorized as a horror instead of suspense/drama... Lou Bloom is one of the most inhuman character, if not the most one, I have ever watched, partly due to the script, but mostly "thanks to" the scary performance by Jake Gyllenhaal (whose totally transformed figure and expressions, especially his extremely protruding eyes, really make me feel uneasy watching). This film reminds me of "American Psycho", which is also about another inhuman character (Christian Bale). I did enjoy the portrait of inhumanity in "American Psycho" due to its cinematic visual, tight script, and colourful character. But here in "Nightcrawler", I cannot find anything remotely interesting to appreciate - the environment is monotonous, the character development is next to none (even Lou Bloom, no matter how bizarre he is, stays unchaged for the whole film), the original soundtrack is exciting yet a little bit overused, the setting and cinematography (including the 80s-ish colouring) try to give an impression of a stylish "Drive"-esque film but end up looking like a low-budget/independent work. I do appreciate the film for its premise about an inhuman character living in an inhuman world, and for staying true with such theme until the very end. But such a level of inhumanity must tell us something, must make the audience feel and think, or at least must bring us some nice cinematic experiences. Aside from the uneasiness, which I often find watching horror films (I do not like that genre), I feel sorry for not finding any joy or excitement watching this film, despite the bunch of praises and hypes the film has got since its release. And please, please, do not give Jake Gyllenhall an Oscar for this role (this psychopathic type of characters is all-time favorite type for Best Actor in Oscars, kind of) - his performance is flawless, his transformation into the role is astounding, but this character is way too terrible and one-sided for him to get an Oscar...

11. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2014): 5/5

Okay, drama-wise, I would not give this film five stars, but I watch a film as a whole body of aesthetic look, emotional evocativeness, personal relatability, and above all, artistic honesty. And this film, as a typical Isao Takahata film, has all. This is cinematic magical realism at its best - realistic and existentialist thoughts and human interactions are wrapped in a traditional Japanese folklore with all the mythical elements that also well serve as plot-driving elements. The first one-third is a little bit confused, although very very fun to watch (and maybe the most cheerful to enjoy also), and would be boring to inattentive audience, but the second one-third and especially the last part are simply superb in term of story-telling and images. Watching the trailer, I had thought this film would have the same drawing style like "My Neighbour the Yamadas" but it turned out to be a much more complex visual experience with minimalistic yet utterly beautiful scenes of Japanese nature and Japanese people. As a longtime fan of Ghibli and Isao Takahata, this film really moved me (especially the last part), but for any "normal" audience, this film is still a "must" and a way better experience than the ordinary Hollywood blockbuster animations these days, IF you can get pass the first part, of course.

12. Gone Girl (2014): 4.5/5

Hey, I am wrong, happily wrong. In my review of "Jack Reacher", I made the following comment on Rosamund Pike: "Rosamund Pike might have one of the most beautiful and cinematic faces I have ever seen, what a pity that she only possesses a mediocre level of facial acting skill, which will never be able to elevate her to the rank of A-level stars." This was my observation after watching numerous roles of Rosamund Pike, always being amazed by her bright shining smile but at the same time disappointed by her "woodenness" (fun fact: Pike's application was rejected in all acting schools so she ultimately chose to study English Literature at ... Oxford instead). But finally, finally, a director can realize that "impossible task" - bringing the best out of her and elevating her to the spot light that she deserves - and that director is no less than the ever dependable David Fincher. Hey, and I am totally happy being wrong about Pike, because I always admire her beauty, and watching such beauty accompanied by impressive acting is a great pleasure. Not that I do not believe her talent or something (she is an Oxonian by all means!), but her wooden face really limits her emotional expressions. [SPOILER, MANY SPOILERS AHEAD] But with this role of the day-dreaming yet utterly cold-blooded Amy Dunne, Pike finally has a character suitable for her weakness. Amy has always been a day-dreaming woman, who wants to be the centre of the world with all the men orbiting around her, behaving the way she wants them to behave. And when they cannot, or do not want to behave like that, she would use her supreme imagination to punish them, to get rid of them. And the laid-back (lazy actually), simple, quite stupid (and even daring to be unfaithful to her!) husband of Amy, Mr. Nick Dunne (the ever awkwardness in front of the camera of Ben Affleck is somehow very, very appropriate for this role, kudos to Mr. Fincher and his casting director!), is no different. Throughout the film we observe Amy's superb ability of manipulating the men around him, from framing her husband to death row, to outright murdering her naive ex-boyfriend (the "womanizer" Mr. Barney seems to be the weakest link of the whole cast, he was colourless throughout the whole film and even appeared strained during the sex scenes - really, what kind of womanizer is that?) without being caught. As such, the whole film is a string of twist-and-turns that reminds me of Fincher's most entertaining film (in my opinion) to date - "The Game". Thanks to a very well-written script and masterful "Fincher-esque" direction, the twist-and-turns and climaxes are laid out evenly throughout the film and thus keep the high tempo and rushing adrenaline of the beginning continuing to the very end. Of course here and there there are plot-holes, disconnections between plot elements and unbelievable "coincidences", but Fincher kept the tempo of the film so well that the audience can hardly feel such "irregularities", except for, maybe, the camp-ground sequences. Again, Pike was the best choice for the role - she appears superbly gorgeous when she needs to (in front of the media or the men that she wants to seduce) and equally unrecognizable (despite her very apparent beauty!) when she wants to "lay low". The supporting cast (except for "Mr. Barney" Neil Patrick Harris) also did their job very well to serve the plot development while creating their own role and image in the big picture, painted by no other than Mrs. Amy Dunne, of course. This is a very, very entertaining film to watch, and moreover, an intelligently entertaining one. I love the way David Fincher quickly unfolding the first twist-and-turn just to slapping another one to the audience's face, until the very last minutes. I love the way he keeps his style by choosing filming frames that are equally tight like the plot and resemble a "cage" for his characters (and for Amy's men, of course) and by using his distinctive sepia tone throughout the film. Yes, maybe this is not a film full of philosophical thoughts and does not need after-watch contemplation (except for the feminists and unfaithful husbands, of course) but this is a joy to watch -, a film to admire the talent of Fincher in every aspects of the film production. Maybe asking Fincher back to "Seven" or "Fight Club" is a little bit too much. Maybe we should sit down and enjoy the magical touches of Fincher in making such beautiful films with amazing characters like Amy. I really hope Pike will get at least an Oscar nomination for this role.

13. Kung Fu Killer (2015): 3/5

Boring, confusing, inconsistent, poorly scripted, terrible acting, the list can go on and on and on about this film (even the action choreography is just so so, every one knows how good Donnie Yen is, why did the director/editor need so many jump cuts only to cheapen those awesome action sequences???). The only worthy feature of this film is the homages and the incredible ending credits, which is a must-see for any fan of Hong Kong cinema (and is worth 1 and a half stars of this review already). But suffering one hour and a half just for two minutes of ending credits is simply unfair to the audience.

14. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013): 4/5

A much better film than the first part, mainly due to the lengthy and very well-choreographed action-packed sequences (especially the "river battle" sequence is so well-choreographed that it felt like a Jackie Chan-ish Hong Kong film). The acting, though, is terrible, from the leading actors like Orlando Bloom (he is truly terrible!) or Evangeline Lily (equally terrible!) to the supporting "dwarves". In a whole, the film is very, very entertaining but the sense of epicness is nowhere to be found, maybe because of the numerous disruptions in story development and plot incoherence - this is funny here because it is told that Peter Jackson had to make this "third" one to cover the broad range of topics of "The Hobbit", but its story, although easy to understand to one who has never read the book - like me, is full of unanswered questions and unnecessary details (that I feel can be totally eliminated for the sake of storytelling coherence). Anyway, I have never been a fan of the "Lord of the Rings", so my disinterest with this film's subject may affect my view of the film in a whole. Still, a very interesting film to watch and a perfect bait for the third and last part of the trilogy, which I will surely watch, thanks to this excellent part. If only the acting had been a little bit better...

15. Boyhood (2014): 4/5

Maybe I will have to rewatch this film again to give it a higher score it deserves (given all the praises it has got since the release as a "landmark film" by Richard Linklater), but for now, 4 stars is all I can give. Admittedly, this is the most accessible Richard Linklater's I have watched (I really do not have a deep feeling about the "Before trilogy" like many others due to its incessant amount of complicated and confusing conversations) and this is the kind of drama film that I like the most - simple, unpretentious, intimate, focusing on the souls and hearts of the characters instead of nonchalantly describing the "grand picture", and of course great acting (the "child actors" in this film act quite true to their age and development, but the biggest applause should be dedicated to Patricia Arquette, who transformed herself as the character developed, and gave us a thrilling look at how a mother can deal with her failures while still preserving her ambitions and the infinite maternal love to her children). In my opinion, there are two kinds of great drama films - a truly dramatic piece that pierces through the audience's heart and stay there for a while, even forever in some cases, thanks to the distinctive human stories it tells, which is not really relatable to the audience but absolutely memorable, emotion-wise; or a simple piece that is similar to a mirror that the audience can look at that and see themselves, see their very own life, find their intimate moments in it. "Boyhood" belongs to the second type, for sure, but I am not sure it is all about the reflections about the coming-of-age (the "boyhood" indeed) that everyone once have, or the eternal cycle of parenthood and human life (I was very, very fascinated by the terrible concept about "our actual life" that essentially consists of 30 first years preparing for the next 30 years, which itself is a preparation for the last 30 years of our life - and endless cycle of worrying, depressing, concerning about other people without a single moment of living for ourselves). I know that most audience will see this film as a "boyhood" film, but I myself feel it more like a "parenthood" one, because I cannot really relate myself to the main character Mason, of which the life, the dreams, the coming-of-age struggles, the development are way less fascinating to me than the lives of his lousy father and incredible, incredible mother. As a matter of fact, the only true "dramatic" moment, and a very heart-warming one, of this simple film is also reserved for the "awesomeness" of Mason's mother, whose sensible and intuitive eyes changes a person's life to a better direction. Of course, the way this film was shot is unprecedented to me, and how the philosophy of "moments seize us, not the other way round" is reflected to the authentic development (the truest authenticity that a cinematic work can achieve, in fact) of the characters is deeply fascinating to me. Still, I suspects that the film will hardly stay in my mind for a long time without a second watch. Sorry Mr. Linklater, maybe we can never be "film buddies".

16. Calvary (2014): 4/5

Coming from the creative team of "The Guard", I thought this film would be an interesting watch for the Christmas Eve, and I was wrong... Filled with Catholic philosophy and existentialist stories, this film invokes too many unpleasant feelings due to its numerous over-the-top cynical characters and an absolutely uncompromising ending that really, really shocked me. As an art-house oeuvre, this film was beautifully shot and present an Irish landscape of unparalleled grandiosity yet covering an eternal history of sorrowfulness, including the shameful chapter of the Catholic child abuse. As a jigsaw of small pieces, this film is really admirable, but the whole picture is really too depressive and lacks a focused storyline. Still, a very impressive picture about humanity this film is.

17. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014): 3.5/5

Good materials but poor, even very poor editing almost destroyed the film for good. The film has a very odd pacing with should-have-been-climax battle sequences awkwardly placed in the middle of the film, in the middle of poorly-executed action scenes (which have same "Jackie Chan-ish" style like the second film, but are much less interesting) and utterly boring "emotional scenes" that are lackluster and tedious to watch. It turns out (one more time) that the trailer of this film is in fact way better than the film itself, since two and a half hours lack of focusing can actually be condensed into just two and a half minutes of a trailer. As the "emotional scenes" simply make no sense, ALL the characters in this third part were under-developed and their deaths (of some) appears to be meaningless and thus impossible to invoke feelings from the audience. The funny thing is, this film reminds me of Jin Yong's "The Return of the Condor Heroes", which features many similar characters, at least appearance-wise, and a "final battle" (Battle of Xiangyang) similar to the Battle of Lonely Mountain. But the genius of Jin Yong is the strong focus on individual depiction of his characters (and their internal struggle) instead of the grandiose landscape of the battle. Peter Jackson seems to lose his focus in this aspect (or he has an underwhelmed editor) and his films suffered badly from this, in comparison with the lengthy but always epic "Lord of the Rings". With such good materials (the battle is an excellent climax to focus on), Benicio Del Toro, who always strives for "terribilità" - "awe sense of greatness", might have been a better choice here.

18. Mr. Turner (2014): 4/5

I love it when a film contains no bad character at all, and "Mr. Turner" is such a film. This is a marvelous example how character depiction should be done - even the small, supporting roles in this film are portrayed with care and affection, which can be felt through their detailed and authentic looks and manners, and especially through the "space" Mike Leigh gave them to present themselves to the audience, to show to the audience who they are, how they feel, and what they dream about. Everyone talk about the stunning performance of Timothy Spall in the role of J.M.W. Turner, but the characters that have my deepest appreciation in this film are actually his supporting characters - Turner's father (played by Paul Jesson) and his housemaid (played by the incredible Dorothy Atkinson). Both of them loved Mr. Turner deeply, and they sacrificed their whole life for the painter so that he can devoted wholeheartedly for the depiction of the beautiful nature of the Great Britain. Talking about beautiful nature, this is maybe one of the best cinematographed films I have watched these recent years, each frame was chosen and shot carefully as a real painting with distinctive decorative patterns and stunning lighting, which made the film look like a series of portrait and landscape paintings masterfully drawn by Mike Leigh and his incredible cinematographer Dick Pope. True to his style, Mike Leigh gave us a raw and sincere illustration of Mr. Turner's life and the British society in his times with minimal dramatization. Although Mike Leigh has produced endearing (and successful) films from this style, including the likes of "Secrets & Lies", "All or Nothing", or "Another Year", this film is a little bit less satisfactory to me since the creative process of Mr. Turner did not stand out to give the audience a look at the inner thinking of the painter, thus this film is more a period drama than a biography film about Mr. Turner himself (Notice: The film is way less dramatic than how the "Hollywood-ish" trailer tried to misguide the audience about it). Still, a very beautifully-filmed cinematic piece with equally beautiful characters this is.

19. The Theory of Everything (2014): 3.5/5

This may be considered the British answer to Ron Howard's "A Beautiful Mind", to a lesser extent. Although effective and moving (the first part is incredibly executed in this aspect), the conventional approach to a biography film left it without much climax or emotional struggle, especially in the last part, which is simply terrible in comparison with the first part. Although the brilliant ideas of Stephen Hawking were not discussed in depth and even his character was not portrayed clearly, this film is still attractive enough for the audience due to the marvelous Felicity Jones, who not only excelled in her role as the devoted yet very human wife of Professor Hawking but also looked stunning from the beginning to the very end. She, more than any one else in this film, deserves an Oscar nomination for her role. Also, kudos to the writer and director for the sensitive touch on the awkward "trilateral" relation between the Hawkings and "the music teacher", it is a very sensible way to deal with such subject, considering Professor Hawking still lives live and well with his ever-growing celebrity status. Last note, although understanding the financial constraint of the film, I still hate its digital look and extremely artificial colorization (due to the digital cinematography), if only all films can be actually shot by real "film".

20. Pride (2014): 4/5

This film won the British Independent Film Award over "Calvary", "Mr. Turner", and "The Imitation Game", what a feat! And deservedly it did, although not by a big margin. If only the director had kept up with the dramatic tone, the film would have been much more dramatic and effective, in my opinion, since the subject and theme of this film consist the most fertile ground for a good drama - social struggles for equality mixed with internal quests of finding oneself. My sometimes he fell for lighthearted touches of "stage/musical" style, which made the film much more cheerful and up-lifting to watch, but at the same time cut off the emotional stream of feelings by the audience built up by the previous moving sequences (and I just realized that the director is indeed a more accomplished stage director and is planning for a musical adaptation of this film, which I believe will be even more successful due to its stage-suitability). But as a blade having two edges, the cheerful tone of "Pride" also brightened up its characters, whose everyday lives were often put in the dark due to the social and political prejudice against miners and LGBT. As such, almost every character in the film stands out and is easily recognizable for their liveliness and their will to fight for what they believe. The weaknesses of the film might be the shaky emotion build-up, as mentioned above, the lack of "true climax" (although I did actually enjoy this style - rather having some fun and care-free moments than watching heavy dramas all year long), and a very uneven "second act". However, the brief but extremely powerful ending did concluded this film on a high note. If only the film had been a true cinematic drama rather than a stage-alike piece, but not every one can be Sam Mendes (who jumped from his stage career to film career with instant success), so we should sit down and enjoy the film for all the optimistic thoughts it has, which shone through the film like a beam of sun light piercing through the cloudy sky in December.

21. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2014): 4.5/5

The dry tone of this documentary may not satisfy one looking for excitement and surprises in the production of an animation, a masterpiece actually, by the Grandmaster Hayao Miyazaki, which is predictably lengthy, tedious, stressful, and somehow cruel, as truthfully depicted in the film. This documentary may not satisfy either Ghibli fans expecting to see their "animation magician" Hayao Miyazaki who, according to them, looks like an old and dreamy master full of inspirations, affection, and extraordinary visual. Even me, although knowing about the notorious rigidity and demanding attitude of Miyazaki-sensei before, I was perplexed about the title of the film - how in the world "madness" can exist in the wonderful animation kingdom of Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki. And "madness" it is indeed, when we observe a stoic Miyazaki devoting all his physical and mental energy to finish the film and expecting his colleagues and staff (his "pawns") to have the same level of energy and attitude. Even the other half of Ghibli - Takahata-sensei, Miyazaki's own mentor, could not escape such scrutiny when he could not, or did not want to, finish his film "Tale of the Princess Kaguya" at the same time with Miyazaki's "The Wind Rises" (fortunately for us the audience, both films turned out to be "magnum opus" and deserved to be the "Swan song" of both sensei). But gradually, along this difficult process, we realize why Miyazaki's films have always satisfied our imagination and broadened our vision, simply because Miyazaki-sensei has poured his eternal stream of fantastic visual and deeply humanist stories into each frame of his film by his very own hands (he draws all the storyboards and key frames by himself!), with all his heart. The gem of this film is the genius of Ms. Mami Sunada, the director, in depicting not only Miyazaki-sensei, but also everyone and everything that form Ghibli and "The Wind Rises" as we know - some obscure (like Takahata-sensei), some radiant (like Suzuki-sensei) but have all contributed to the originality and success of Ghibli. "The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness" here is also the chaotic and depressive Japan after the 3-11 earthquake and nuclear accident - a country that has nurtured imaginative minds like Miyazaki-sensei and Takahata-sensei, but is still struggling with the recovery from the 2011 events and with the redefinition of its pacifist spirit. In my opinion, Ms. Mami Sunada has done a great job bringing the spirit of Ghibli to the audience, helping them understand the glorious ordeal of making an animation, a good one. I especially admire her ending, which clearly shows that she does love Miyazaki's works (to be able to match his casual words and his monumental works) and does want to show the beauty of Miyazaki's masterpieces (yes, masterpiece, in plural!) to the audience, but she refrained from doing such "simple" things to give people a better understanding, a truer view of Miyazaki's works and the sensei himself. If only Takahata-sensei can have an equal bio-documetary about his process of making "Pricess Kaguya"...

22. True Romance (1993): 4.5/5

Why have I, being a Tarantino fan for a longtime, waited until this year to watch this wonderful film, which should be included as a "must" in any Tarantino anthology? Watching this film made me feel like watching two films at the same time - a postmodern "Tarantino flick" at its purest form full of the dedicated love for cinema, seemingly-nonsense-but-utterly-abstract-with-full-implication dialogues ("The Sicilian talk" may be among the best Tarantino conversation ever!), idiosyncratic characters with brief presence yet huge influence to the plot and the audience (this film involved many big names, at their best of acting capabilities and appearance - including the magnificent Christopher Walken, Dennis Hooper, and the devilish Gary Oldman, for "cameo" roles but they were actually needed because those "small" roles were so epic that they needed real actors to deliver the roles), and of course ingenious plot with a web of complicated and wonderfully entertaining connections and coincidences; the other film is a pure Tony Scott action film with the melancholic flavour of a 80s-ish film full of catchy and unforgettable music (Hans Zimmer is the best! - he did indeed win an Oscar next year for the epic "The Lion King"), extravaganza and symbolic action sequences with ... flying feathers (reminded me a lot of John Woo at his helm!), unrestrained violence (why action films these days have to be PG-13 instead being a true action one like "True Romance"), and of course the lighthearted comedic tone, which was refined with Tarantino superb conversation. As such, this film can be watched as both a no-brainer choice for pure entertainment or an essential study on Tarantino style and on 80s culture and cinema. Opening a new year with this film is really a delightful experience, and boys, Boyhood's Patricia Arquette was at her very, very best, acting-wise and beauty-wise, in this film.

23. Lucy (2014): 3/5

Watching until the end, this film made me feel ... funny. The first half looks like a decent "Luc Besson-produced" action film packed with action sequences, minimal and no-nonsense plot, and impressive protagonist (the feminist movement should give Luc Besson a medal for creating some of the most memorable female action stars - Nikita, Mathilda, and now Lucy - and actually he prefers leading female than leading male in most of his films). If this style and tempo had been preserved until the end, we could have had a very good action film similar to the entertaining "Limitless", which has in fact the same concept of the "10% of the brain". However, all the decent achievement of the first half was dumped into the sea, instead we have a totally psychedelic second half, story-wise and visual-wise, with some funny philosophy and an utterly nonsense plot. The wild second half is actually very close to Luc Besson's earlier works like "The Fifth Element" or "The Big Blue", which have a more serious and philosophical tone. I have no problem with such existentialist philosophy "thing", although I wonder how in the world this film could earn so much money (ten times the cost, to be exact, and Luc Besson-directed films have not been that profitable for twenty bloody years since "Léon the Professional"!) given the incomprehensible and unattractive theme of the second part (to the audience). The biggest problem of this film is the huge gap between the first and the second half, which was actually not Luc Besson's fault since no director in the world can figure a way to bridge such gap given the total irreconcilability of the themes, stories, and visuals of the two halves. This film is really strange, not in a good way though... Kudos to Mr. Luc Besson, who could inject his favourite philosophy into a film while still earned a lot of money from that. I do not believe that he can "trick" the general audience for a second time, though.

24. Two Days, One Night (2014): 4/5

The film has a seemingly simple plot, simple to the point of procedural - a fragile woman trying to fight back her job by persuading her co-workers to sacrifice their huge bonus for her to stay in the factory. But such simplicity actually paved the way for a colourful illustration of the working class in modern Belgian society, of which good people, bad people, happy families, divorced and on-the-verge-of-divorcing couple, immigrants co-exist with different destinies, sorrows, and reactions to others' misery (in the case of this film, the doomed job of Sandra, the film's protagonist). Although having a minimal settings, which mostly consist of Sandra's trips to her colleagues, in a very short period of time (two days, one night - literally), the film still brought out a huge character development from Sandra - from a fragile and defeatist woman who blames everyone, herself and her husband include, for her failure, to a brave woman going to her "battle" (the vote for her job) with her head held high and an extraordinary courage that had been built up through her eventful trips. Of course the star of this wonderful character development is Marion Cotillard, who once more proves that Hollywood has indeed no idea on how to maximize her talent and instead has given her again and again insipid supporting roles, but due appreciation should be given to the Dardenne brothers, who have always been able to use simple cinematography and editing, coupled with subtle stories and settings, to draw the most humanist pictures of the modern society. Yes, simply put, we can call this film "a film to give us hope".

25. Winter Sleep (2014): 4.5/5

This film first caught my attention not because of its Palme d'Or glory but because of its haunting poster, which to me looks like an illustration of a winter night by Isaac Levitan (my favourite painter) from a gloomy Russian novel about existentialism by Dostoevsky. The poster turned out to be very true to the spirit of the film but also a huge "spoiler" to whom paid close attention to its details. The film has a very exotic setting, and an extremely beautiful one - a Turkish remote region with strangely-shaped houses, which look like primitive caves but in fact provide the best shelters for the people there during the lengthy white days of the winter. Such remoteness and exoticness may fit well for tourism but it has tremendous and negative influence over the gloomy and defeatist residents, including the odd couple Aydin-Nihal, who are the two sole black figures in front of the white background of the poster. This is a long film, very long one (3 hours and 16 minutes) with more than one hour opening that gives me no signal about how this film could win the Palme d'Or over such films like "Two Days, One Night", "Leviathan", or "Wild Tales" (the latter two actually made the shortlist of Oscars this year, while "Winter Sleep" did not). It was all about the colourless and tepid life of the reclusive landlord Aydin, who seemed to be very comfortable with an uneventful life of inspecting his assets, having nice little chats with his wife Nihal and recently-divorced sister Necla or his guests, and spending the end of the day writing witty pieces for newspapers. But as the film went pass the 1-hour milestone, things got loose, and the real depressing face of Aydin was gradually revealed as well as the strained relationship between him and Nihal, and to a lesser extent, Necla. True to its psychological cinema style, all those revelations were brought to the audience mostly through the conversations between Aydin and people around him, which were calm and peaceful in most parts but always contained a deep yet violent undercurrents. Those were the undercurrent of a young wife, who still wants to thrive, to really live, against a conformist old husband, who talks endlessly about "freedom" for her but in fact desperately wants to keep her close despite her obvious hostility towards him, undercurrent of the poor yet righteous tenants against their greedy and hypocritical landlord. The more we watch, the more we despite the hypocrisy and greed of Aydin, and strangely enough, at the same time feel pity for him since he himself, as an actor on stage as well as in real life, seems to forget already what is the joy of living, or try to conform him and people around him from the harsh (yet interesting) aspect of lives through his "acting" but deeply sad smiles and torrents of moral talks. When the snow fell to sink the whole region in a thick and gloomy white cover is also when the film, and its characters, turned into their finest moments. It seems that the wildness of the winter acted as a catalyst to the emotional explosions within the residents. The only difference is the way each character reacts with such disruption. Nothing too dramatic or philosophical happened, but the audience could still feel the itching desire for true existence of each character especially through the ever haunting eyes of Nihal and numerous forced smiles of her husband. The ending monologue thus is very touching, resoundingly relatable, and gives us some moments of solaces when Aydin finally showed his true face, his true feelings. Still, I would love if the film could focus on just one aspect of Aydin's character development or Aydin-Nihal relationship, not both, because 196 minutes, although long they are, are still not enough to cover such profound human nature and human relationship. Yes, I felt a little bit irritating because the film did so well in depicting both aspects, simply that such length was not enough for two complete pictures of a "winter sleep" in one single frame. Still, a film that can give the audience a haunting and unanswered question - "should we have a winter sleep to preserve our dying strength and desires for a spring that may never come - like a rabbit shot dead by the hunter in the snowy steppe before being able to experience the fresh grass of spring?" is one hell of a film.

26. Whiplash (2014): 4/5

This is the third time this year I have watched such classic character study, first "Locke", next "Nightcrawler", and now "Whiplash". True to their single-word title, these films focuse on developing an in-depth, and intense, look at their protagonists on a framework of simple plot structure (mostly linear, straightforward, almost no twist-and-turn, and short running time - no film among these three is longer than 2 hours, "Nightcrawler" being the longest - 116 min.), minimized and urban setting ("Locke" and "Whiplash" are for the most parts enclosed in the claustrophopic setting of a car/recording studio, while "Nightcrawler" is fixated in LA's urban area), and a small supporting cast of character actors. With such choice, those films, although perfectly executed and often interesting (and entertaining) to watch, have an inherent weakness, which is the unavoidable feeling of artificiality due to the unnaturally squeezed plot and character treatment, which lead to either a sense of over-dramatization (in "Locke"), frustration (in "Nightcrawler"), and unevenness (in "Whiplash"). "Whiplash" has an excellent premise of "how people would react in difficulties to achieve greatness?", which was carried out smoothly through the depiction of the "face-off" between the novice yet passionate Neyman (Miles Teller of "Spectacular Now") against the experienced, brutal and (seemingly) equally passionate Mr. Fletcher (J.K Simmons, who looks exactly like Alan Arkin of "Little Miss Sunshine", and also has a great chance to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor with this excellent role). The thing that I love most about this film is the ambiguity of several sequences, which leaves the audience with plenty of space to think, and speculate about what really happened in those sequences, and who the characters really are until the very end, such freedom can hardly happen in big budget Hollywood films, when the producers and directors often presume that the audience is stupid and they need to be stuffed with every details of the story and character. On the other hand, the thing that I was disappointed most about this film is the last part (except for the "final performance", which is astounding by any measure), when it seemed that the director tried (too hard) to "conclude" his story in a satisfactory way, which, in my opinion, actually damages the marvellous inconclusiveness and ambiguity of the fate of the characters, which were already pushed to the climax by the end of the electrifying "second act" (the "car accident" sequence is one of the best shots I have watched this year). Next time, maybe a longer running time or a less ambitious and more focus storyline will help the director to achieve a great film, because this film is already a treat to the audience, especially with the wonderful soundtrack.

27. Birdman (2014): 4/5

A very chaotic piece of art house cinema, which in fact reflects the state of mind of its main character. Despite its rave reviews, I honestly find this film less enjoyable among all Inarritu's films that I have watched so far, and I like his style a lot - raw setting but utterly humanistic and sensible; multilayered storyline yet very relatable; and excellent treatment of characters, even the minor ones. This film still possesses almost all of those qualities, but the chaotic plot distracted me a little bit, especially given the continuous-shot style (which is actually trademark of the film's cinematographer - Mr. Lubezki), which followed the intention of Inarritu and built an emotional bridge between the protagonist and the audience of being restrained and claustrophobic, but I did not enjoy that much (except for the final shot with the big blue eyes of Emma Stone scintillating under the sunlight, which is simply perfect shot!). Still, this film has absolutely excellent cast, which are all very very cinematically beautiful (even the male characters) and very very able in their roles. A strong film but major contender to the Oscar for Best Picture? I think not.

28. Tai Chi Hero (2013): 3.5/5

THIS IS REVIEW FOR "RISE OF THE LEGEND", which is not yet available for review in Rotten Tomatoes. The ever weakness of kung fu film - silly, idiotic and illogical plot, still exists, strongly indeed. But if we can suspend our logical mind (which is not difficult, in my opinion, because the film is really really fun), then the film is such a treat. Very good production value, quick and powerful action sequences (although I hate the pretentious multi-view cinematography and quick editing, which only make the film look rubbish, yes, rubbish), dedicating cast (Eddie Peng looks honest and acts decently, Angelababy looks stunning - and that is already more than enough for her to be here, Sammo Hung again took the role of a bad but ever awesome guy, and he delivered the role nicely also), and very good opening for a new Wong Fei Hong series (I hope the series will turn out better than the "Tai Chi" series). Oh my, watching this film reminded me of the Japanese (or Chinese, I could not tell) comics about a young and short-hair Wong Fei Hong, a deeply fascinating comics that I enjoyed a lot. One of the best Hong Kong kung fu films I have watched recently, if only the plot had been ... more logical, I could have given the film higher rate.

29. Selma (2015): 2.5/5

Really, really boring political/civil right film. Maybe the film is good (98% Rotten Tomatoes must be something), but to me this is nothing more than a tedious portrait of Martin Luther King, who was played by a passionate guy but without the necessary charisma of a born leader. Really, not my type of film, at all.

30. Foxcatcher (2014): 4/5

Marvellous character study with excellent casting. The film is wonderful in that it is very subtle yet raw and cruel, all thanks to an honest and authentic depiction of human characteristics and feelings.

31. Inherent Vice (2015): 4.5/5

Only PTA and PTA alone can make a film that watching it makes you feel like smoking weed.

32. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2007): 4.5/5

Reading the history, the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent events seem to be only a "minor" war with limited casualties, but the vicious cycle of brothers and comrades killing each other in the name of freedom and independence (and somehow righteously so, I admit) is really painful, disturbing, and thought-provoking. Although a fiction work of the War, with many dramatized details and fictitious characters, this film feels so real, so authentic for its depiction of cruelty of the British invaders and fraternity and courage of the Irish fighters. The best thing about this film is its subtle yet profound complexity, with layer upon layer of conflicts, not only between Irish and British, but also between Irish themselves, between social classes/ideologies, and between innocent spirit and the devastating truth of the war. As a Ken Loach film, this film is full of socialist and leftist ideas, but it still looks and feels surprisingly honest, sincere without any trace of pretentiousness. The all-Irish cast also excelled in their roles, under the superb direction of (ironically enough) a British director. This is a film seemingly about heroism, but it is actually a film about the death of innocence in the war - an illustration so well made that not many Hollywood films can compare with.

33. Once Upon a Time in America (1984): 5/5

There is a kind of films that no matter how short they are, they still infuriate the audience every single minute. And there is another kind of films that no matter how long they are, they still glue the audience to their seats without any desire to get up. Ironically enough, "Once upon a Time in America" encompasses both kinds - the heavily (and criminally) edited version by the ignorant and stupid Hollywood executives is the pinnacle of the first kind, whereas the original, 4-hour plus version by Sergio Leone himself is one of the most beautiful, heart-breaking, masterfully epic film I have ever seen in my life. Yes, in my life. What in the world did I think drifting around watching crappy films while hesitating to watch this film "due to its length"? Some people consider this film a Sergio Leone's "The Godfather", I myself also think that in the depiction of the criminal underworld and the broken "American dream", this film can be considered a sentimental and nostalgic "The Godfather". But in fact the two films are quite different. "The Godfather" is a bridge connecting the old, and classic, Hollywood, to the "New Hollywood" that is absolutely innovative and modern despite its classical storyline. On the other hand, "Once upon a Time in America" has a non-linear storylines and more progressive feeling but is in fact a profoundly classical treatment of characters and tells the eternal tale of friendship, love, hatred, loyalty, betrayal - the thematic subjects that have been told in Shakespearean plays and even before that. As such, watching the film was really an overwhelmed experience to me. The film is a complex web of storylines and characters, but they are all wonderfully depicted through a very, very well-told plot that makes the audience cherish every single minute passing by. Every detail of the film fascinates me profoundly, from the nostalgic setting of an ever-changing New York City, to the pure beauty of the characters in their young appearance (I have admired Jennifer Connelly for a long time, but I have never known that she was such an angel in young ages!), to the heart-breaking love story between Noodles and Deborah, the friendship of the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse", everything. [SPOILER ALERT!] And the final revelation that everything, everything, everything in the film is just opiated dream of Noodles (before he was killed by the henchmen, I suppose) - an "once upon a time in America" tale that he told himself to soothe the pains inflicted by a broken dream, a broken love story, a broken friendship. Maybe this interpretation is purely my speculation, but it will probably my view of this film forever. This film made me so overwhelmed, really. My oh my.

34. Predestination (2015): 3/5

A well-made film with solid plot, despite its ever complex theme of time travel, and consistent acting from the two leads, whose, however, weak screen presence maybe one of the few weaknesses of the film (Ethan Hawk's awkwardness may be suitable for Linklater's films, but not here). The low-budget-ish concise plot and setting of the film are equally well-made and effective in explaining the time travel paradox, but not nearly interesting to attract the audience (despite its relatively short length - only 90 min.). The gritty "Looper" is a better choice about this subject, and this style.

35. Neon Genesis Evangelion - Movie: The End of Evangelion (1997): 3/5

I did the legendary franchise "Neon Genesis Evangelion" a disservice by watching this film first. Due to my time constraint and the lengthy and complex nature of the franchise, I decided to take a shortcut and watch this film first to "get the spirit" of the whole series. It turned out horribly wrong when I did not get anything from this film, except for its exceptional visual and soundtrack (the predominant use of classical music in battle sequences, especially the "Battle Royale"'s "Air on G-String" is suffocatingly amazing). My only lesson learned from this film is that you should approach a high concept series full of existentialist, religious, and philosophical implications, from its base, not from its top. See you next time, "Neon Genesis Evangelion".

36. American Sniper (2015): 3/5

Speechlessly boring with a wildly unexpected ending that totally destroyed the whole character development process, that is what this film is. Bradley Cooper is good in his role, but the traditional Hollywood style of depicting American soldiers as invincible human beings in battles (with "the bad guys" being uncharacteristically bad) while "tiny fragile souls" in real life (which is simply impossible - only a strong, if not sadistic, soul can make a good soldier) really astounded me, given its director is no one else but the one-of-a-kind Clint Eastwood. This film is exactly the opposite of "Gran Torino", where the protagonist did not fire a single shot, yet captured the who audience. There are admittedly good sequences (the second "the boy with the arm" sequence is the best, in my opinion), but the film's confusing message is really not helpful. After "J Edgar" comes this, maybe I have to expect less from the legendary Eastwood.

37. The Imitation Game (2014): 4/5

Ok, first thing first, I really believe that all the fuss around the Enigma decryption (which, according to British sources, pushed the Allies two years closer to the victory than they should have been) is a part of the total effort by Western countries to undermine the Soviet contribution and sacrifice in the World War II. But, setting those historical perspectives aside, Alan Turing was indeed a pivotal figure in the history of computer science, mathematics and cryptology with a incomparably tragic and extraordinary life. As such, "The Imitation Game" deserves all the praises for creating an intense and exciting illustration of Turing and the historical period that he lived in. The materials are more than enough for a good film, but the brilliant cast, the authentic and claustrophobic setting, and the concise storyline of rapid tempo, did a fantastic job delivering the historical breath and the strangeness yet utter beauty of Turing's character to the audience. This is one hell of an "action" film that puts the audience on their feet from the first minutes to the very end, even though most of them already familiar with the deeds and the tragedies of Turing. From the trailer and the media, I had suspected that the film would disappointingly focus more on the "Enigma decryption" period of Turing's life instead of the tragic "gross indecency" period, and indeed it did but with the small sequences related to the latter period are already enough to bring Turing's sorrows, fears, and genius "inside out". Instead, the film saved most of its length to depict the thrilling fight of Turing and co. against the "devilish" Enigma code. Boring and colourless as it seems, the decryption process was explained in surprisingly detailed and entertaining method, which not only helps to cement the genius status of Turing but also brings the lives and faces of Turing's aid, including his "lovely wife" Joan Clarke, to the audience's attention. Director of the film, Morten Tyldum, should be praised for making Turing really standing out as a bizarre genius yet still sparing enough light for the supporting cast, who all shined in their roles as defiant "code fighters". The obvious trade-off for such excellent balance of character development is the over-dramatization of many sequences (most obvious maybe the moment when the team just broke the code and had to decide to utilize the decryption method right away to save several hundreds of innocent people or to keep it secret to win the whole war) to the point that many events seem to be apparently over-simplified whereas Cumberbatch had to over-act in several sequences (he is simply terrific in the role of Turing, by the way, and he deserves praises for this role despite the similarity between Turing and Sherlock - another "black sheep" of the society). Over-dramatization of the storyline is paired with another loop-hole of this film - over-dramatization of Turing's life itself and other related historical facts, as many critics already point out. Such dramatization is a pity since Turing's real life is already full of precious stories for a good biographical film. Still, this is one hell of a film that is both very enjoyable and appreciative about Turing's extraordinary life. And the brilliance of the being-everywhere Cumberbatch in this film needs recognition - this is a much better depiction of a genius then Redmayne's Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything", in the way that "The Imitation Game" is better, more emotional, and more exciting than "The Theory of Everything". One of the few bright spots in a very boring year of cinema.

38. Lust, Caution (2007): 4/5

Having watched enough Ang Lee's films to understand and get used to his genius touch on intimacy and humanism, I was really really surprised with "Lust, Caution". The film was so extreme and cruel that I thought I had watched an American espionage film directed by an American director. But towards the ending of the film, all the Ang Lee's trademarks had thankfully gathered to show off a highly unconventional treatment of characters yet very sensitive, very humanist. Of course the feelings, being heavily damaged in the previous parts of the film, could hardly recover by the end, but in overall this is a very well-made thriller with a nostalgic scent of a China of the past pervading from a very authentic setting with excellent production values. Once again, Ang Lee proved himself an adventurous director always desiring to explore new genres and new themes - this time a espionage thriller in the war time, and hell, he succeeded again in satisfying the audience with a first-class thriller despite a highly unsatisfactory ending. The gentle Ang Lee also surprised everyone by switch his treatment of human feelings from a very peaceful and sensitive style to the total extreme with graphical violence and saddistic sex, which had rarely appeared in his films before. Luckily enough for the audience, this is Ang Lee we are talking about, and even those controversial sex scenes were treated by him with utter care to show the character development with all tones of desire, desperation, love, and deception. As usual, Tony Leung was exceptional in his role - the way he excels in Wong Kar-wai's films, but it is Tang Wei who deserves the biggest applauds for her audacity, sensitiveness, and her radiant beauty that is incomparable in her generation of Chinese/Hong Kong/Taiwanese actresses. From Tang Wei's face, the audience can feel a sense of ambiguity between pure innocence and formidable desire, between love and hate, between the good and the bad - a sense of ambiguity so strong that it encompasses the environment of the film in a whole. It is a pity that the "NC-17" controversy had overshadowed Tang Wei's effort (under the brilliant direction by Ang Lee and with the expert cooperation from Tony Leung, of course) in depicting an extraordinary character that is exceptionally strong and deeply complex. As the film was intentionally (by the director, and by the original writer of the source materials - Eileen Chang, I suppose) devoid of political and historical implications (which mostly served as a neutral yet extreme environment for the development of characters), such ambiguity contributed a great deal in solidifying the film as a classic treatment of human feelings and desires in the middle of the war, instead of a simple Shakespearean "melo". The ending disappointed me a little bit for its strangely lax focus on the fates of the characters (the ambiguity prevailed again here!), but the film in a whole and the fantastic Tang Wei are more than enough for any one who like espionage, and/or humanist tragedy.

39. Brokeback Mountain (2005): 4.5/5

Only Ang Lee, and Ang Lee alone can have such wonderfully natural and sensitive treatment for such controversial and difficult subject like homosexuality love in a conservative land. Watching the love and the feeling that Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) had for each other is just like watching any good heterosexual romantic film out there, from "Love Story" to "The Constant Gardener" (which came out in the same year with "Brokeback Mountain"), from "Romeo and Juliet" to "Titanic". If we exclude the ambiguity of the "true" feeling of Jack towards Ennis (is that pure love or simply sexual desire?), all the leading characters can be switched gender to make "Brokeback Mountain" a perfect heterosexual tragic ("star-crossed") love story, and no one can possibly see the difference. That is how Ang Lee mastered in this film, which is the perfect combination of extraordinary landscape, utterly humanist plot-lines, and beautiful, beautiful characters. Not only Ennis and Jack are beautiful characters (which means they are well crafted, meticulously and sensitively developed, and perfectly acted), but also the supporting cast, from Michelle Williams, who unspeakably excelled in portraying a desperate wife trying to save her family and her husband, to Anne Hathaway, who appeared coolly throughout the film only to show her true sorrow when she could not keep it anymore, to Linda Cardellini, whose role so small one can hardly notice yet was still able to deliver her dearly love for the man that simply could not love her in return. I always love Ang Lee for his care for the characters, almost all the characters in his films are good in nature, and were depicted as such, thus they give the audience hope, hope for humanism, hope for their own destinies, which can be easily reflected through the very-well-made characters in Ang Lee's films. Thanks to such intimate touch on humanity by Ang Lee, "Brokeback Mountain", despite being ended in a low note with a faint flavour of tragedy, still satisfy the audience with all the beautiful stories and ambiguities, with the exceptional natural beauty, and with the calm feelings about an expected tragedy of love where the protagonists-the lovers loved and lived exactly the way the audience hope they did. Ang Lee, once again I have to bow down before your talent in everything you did, no matter how different the settings are, no matter how difficult the stories are, you can still deliver it with utmost care and delightful intimacy.

40. Big Hero 6 (2014): 3/5

A pinnacle of lazy film making. Disney even dared to premier this film at Tokyo Film Festival, maybe they want to slap in the face of the Japanese a film that tried to give impression about some flavours of the proud Japanese tradition of robot and mecha culture (which was tracked back to the best-of-them-all Osamu Tezuka's Astro Bboy), yet turned out to be no more than a Marvel-trademarked MacFilm. Yes, a McFilm indeed with the same kind of "superheroes" characters that disregards any kind of sensible character development, the same boring, monotonous, stupid and unrealistic twist-and-turn plot, and the same "realistic" 3D art style that already topped in Pixar's classics yet still tries to grap the audience with "Wreck-It-Ralph" (at least a better and more creative animation!), and now this pile of crap "Big Hero 6". Yes, this film is admittedly fun, just like you eat a McDonald's burger for the first time or after a long time. I know that I already use the allusion of Marvel as a McDonald before, but man oh man, this film is exactly like a Marvel's McFilm, different advertisement, different "set up", different "ingredients", yet, everything is still the same, crappy buns, crappy cheese, crappy processed beet, crappy all around. The funny thing is that the "Gorillaz-style" illustration of "Big Hero 6" in the post-credit (another terrible tradition of grabbing the audience by Marvel!) is way, way better than the film itself, and the ending song is also the best part of this utterly boring soundtrack. Yes, I will watch Diney's animation features in the coming years, but I can hardly keep my respect for a McDonald's burger, I am sorry. And for anyone who wants to watch "superhero" animation, "The Incredibles" is the best choice for you, not this piece of crap.

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