Tag Archives: Christian Bale


Battle for the Oscars: 2014

Awards season is here, dummies! The 86th Academy Awards are on Sunday, and your office pool prediction sheets are due freakin’ tomorrow! Since you don’t want to lose your $2 entry fee like you do every freaking year, you might as well try to go into the weekend with a decided schematic advantage. Luckily, our resident experts and prognosticators have glanced into the future to bring you all the answers. Check out some commentary from Joseph, Patrick and James M. and impress your friends and colleagues with fascinating talking points!

You can check out our livetweet of the broadcast Sunday night on Twitter at @Starsandpopcorn, or follow Joseph and Patrick at @joesoldout and @PPPopcornPlayer. James doesn’t tweet. It’s beneath him.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

[Nominees: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street]


12 Years a Slave@joesoldout: It looks like somehow The Smurfs 2 and After Earth got left off the nominees list, so I guess I’ll go with my third choice. 12 Years a Slave takes it.

@PPPopcornPlayer: 12 Years a Slave wasn’t my favorite movie of the year, but it’s got everything the Academy loves to honor in a film. Director Steve McQueen has been snubbed in the past, and he’s an incredible director who really proves his mettle this time around. Plus, you know, white guilt.

James M.: Seriously, guys, I saw about four and a half movies in all of 2013, and one of them was Free Birds. What am I even doing here?

PICK: Unanimous: 12 Years a Slave

Achievement in Directing

[Nominees: David O. Russell, Alfonso Cuarón, Alexander Payne, Steve McQueen and Martin Scorsese]


@joesoldout: “I pay attention to the cinematic landscape and write about movies online, and I think someone other than Alfonso Cuarón will win this award,” said literally nobody on this planet or in its orbit. But then, we all thought Speilberg would win last year…

James M.: Uhm, Alfonso Cuarón, of course.

@PPPopcornPlayer: Team Alfonso Cuarón!

PICKS: Unanimous: Alfonso Cuarón.

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

[Nominees: Christian Bale, Bruce Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey]


Wolf of Wall Street poster@PPPopcornPlayer: I’m pretty sure the internet will literally explode if Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t win it.

@joesoldout: If history has taught us one thing and only one thing, it’s that Leonardo DiCaprio will never win anything. In fact, here’s a portrait of Leo crying, made entirely of images of other people winning Academy Awards. It would be a gambler’s fallacy to assume this year must be his year. But I’m feeling lucky. Leo wins it.

James M: Let this evening be a benchmark in the unfolding McConaughey Renaissance, I say!

PICKS: Split: Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey.

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

[Nominees: Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench and Meryl Streep]


James M: Everyone else picked Cate Blanchett too, right?… Guys?

@joesoldout: Are those really the only choices? I guess Cate Blanchett will win, assuming anyone saw whatever movie it was she was in.

@PPPopcornPlayer: …Go Team Blanchett!

PICKS: Unanimous: Cate Blanchett.

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

[Nominees: Barkhad Abdi, Bradley Cooper, Michael Fassbender, Jonah Hill and Jared Leto]


dallas-buyers-club-poster-570x844@joesoldout: Hill and Abdi both could feasibly win this award in a world in which Jared Leto was never born. Alas, he was, so it’s “better luck next time” for the others. Leto wins, easy.

@PPPopcornPlayer: Leto is a solid choice, but I gotta go with Jonah Hill, which is weird, because I never thought I would ever take him seriously as an actor… Or as a person.

James M.: It’s a shame this category isn’t “Most Likely to Tap Out of a Spontaneous Bar Fight.” At least then I’d have a solid guess.

PICKS: Split: Jared Leto and Jonah Hill.

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

[Nominees: Sally Hawkins, Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong'o, Julia Roberts and June Squibb]


@joesoldout: I don’t want to be the only jackass on the internet who says Lupita Nyong’o won’t win this one. Do you?

@PPPopcornPlayer: From what I hear through the grape vine, Lupita Nyong’o has got this one in the bag, and don’t worry Joe, you’ll always be a jackass to me.

James M.: According to the official scorekeeper at the Academy, Jennifer Lawrence has nearly as many “social mentions” (an AMPAS euphemism for “tweets”) as the next two actors combined… So, definitely Lupita Nyong’o.

PICKS: Unanimous: Lupita Nyong’o.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

[Nominees: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celestine, Frozen and The Wind Rises]


FrozenJames M.: If I am to gauge this category by a metric other than repetitive screenings of an animated feature by my several nieces, I should think The Wind Rises. However, I consider my nieces more reliable on the matter, and vote Frozen.

@joesoldout: As long as the majority of the voting happened before the first polar vortex, Frozen is the only choice.

@PPPopcornPlayer: As much as I’d like to give this one to Miyazaki, I’m going to have to agree with Jimbo and Joe and go with Frozen. After all, the Oscars aren’t about your favorite movie. They’re just about pissing everyone (except the winners) off.

PICKS: Unanimous: Frozen.

Best Foreign Language Film

[Nominees: The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Great Beauty, The Hunt, The Missing Picture and Omar]


@PPPopcornPlayer: Well, since I only speak American, I haven’t watched any touchy-feely Frenchy movies in years. That being said, The Great Beauty was a touching film and deserves to be recognized.

@joesoldout: Can I just assume Amour will win again? No? Damn. I guess I’ll go with The Great Beauty, because one of them has to win and it might as well be that one.

James M.: As a compelling narrative, stylishly executed, Omar wins the day, but I will gamble on this one and give my official nod to the mixed-media ingenuity of The Missing Picture.

PICKS: Split: The Great Beauty and The Missing Piece.

Best Documentary Feature

[Nominees: The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, The Square, 20 Feet from Stardom]


The SquareJames M.: Clearly it’s The Act of Killing. When the entirety of critical reaction consists of single-word adjectival utterances, you know something’s up.

@joesoldout: 20 Feet from Stardom. This is a banner year for movies with numbers in their titles.

@PPPopcornPlayer: Great, mom and dad are fighting again. I guess I’m going to with The Square, just so I can be a unique snowflake.

PICKS: Split: The Act of Killing, 20 Feet from Stardom and The Square.

Adapted Screenplay

[Nominees: Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street]


@PPPopcornPlayer: I’m not sure I’m overly enthusiastic about any of the choices this year, so I’m just going to go with 12 Years a Slave and hope for the best.

@joesoldout: The bros of America are rooting for The Wolf of Wall Street, and the hopeless romantics are sure the winner will be Before Midnight. But since the Academy is full of old men with dead souls, let’s just give this one to 12 Years a Slave and call it a day.

James M.: You know, I haven’t yet decided what kind of a year this one’ll be for the Academy. The way I see it, we’re either looking at a [12 Years a Slave + American Hustle] big-movie blow-out, or a [Captain Phillips + Her] moment’s pause and hey-wait-what-now?

PICKS: Unanimous: 12 Years a Slave.

Original Screenplay

[Nominees: American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Her and Nebraska]


HerPoster@PPPopcornPlayer: I hugged my iPhone and whispered that I loved it after seeing Her.

@joesoldout: Patrick may have told his phone he loved it, but he didn’t have raunchy cybersex with it. American Hustle will win, because David O. Russell presumably included the stage direction “Enter Amy Adams with some bomb-ass cleavage,” and I think the Academy really responded well to that.

PICKS: Split: Her and American Hustle.

Achievement In Music Written for a Motion Picture (Original Score)

[Nominees: The Book Thief, Gravity, Her, Philomena and Saving Mr. Banks]


@joesoldout: Interestingly, not a single movie this year actually had an original soundtrack. So the Academy nominated these films in hopes that maybe we wouldn’t catch on. Gravity will win, because it’s the default winner in every category that doesn’t have a clear frontrunner.

@PPPopcornPlayer: The Academy has a habit of giving this award either to movies I can’t remember the music from or movies with minimalist soundtracks, so I’m going with Gravity. For them it’s either less is more or John Williams.

PICKS: Unanimous: Gravity.

Achievement In Music Written for a Motion Picture (Original Song)

[Nominees: "Happy" (Despicable Me 2), "Let it Go" (Frozen), "The Moon Song" (Her) and "Ordinary Love" (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)]


FrozenJames M.: Certainly, we’re turning a complete 180 from last year’s densely orchestrated Adele, but to me “The Moon Song” by Karen O. best compliments the movie with which it is paired. I will venture the guess.

@PPPopcornPlayer: Since everyone keeps shouting “Let It Go” at me, I have a feeling that Frozen is going to take this one, too.

@joesoldout: I honestly picked “Let It Go” before the others. I’m not just following the crowd. I’m an individual, damn it!

PICKS: Split: “Let It Go” and “The Moon Song”

Achievement in Production Design

[Nominees: American Hustle, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, Her and 12 Years a Slave]


@PPPopcornPlayer: Because nothing would make me more upset than hearing the words “Academy Award-winning film” associated with The Great Gatsby, I have a feeling it’s going to win.

@joesoldout: The Great Gatsby was better than people gave it credit for. Plus, Jay-Z has all the right Illuminati connections to make this happen.

James M.: A combination of art direction, set dressing and design, this category’s really all about world-building, and the winner tends to be the film that most thoroughly created a distinctive place for itself to unfold. Like it or not, I think that might be The Great Gatsby.

PICKS: Unanimous: The Great Gatsby.

Achievement in Makeup and Hair

[Nominees: Dallas Buyers Club, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa and The Lone Ranger]


Bad GrandpaJames M.: Knowing next to nothing about a lot of things—among them makeup and hairstyling—I can say little else but note that the award seems to go not to the film with the best makeup, per se, but to the most. If this holds true, this year’s a tricky one: it’s a shoot-out between the gent who grandpa’ed Johnny Knoxville (favored) and the duo that decorated Jared Leto. Sorry, Tonto!

@PPPopcornPlayer: Bad Grandpa, good makeup.

@joesoldout: I don’t know if I want to live in a world where a Jackass spinoff can be an Academy Award winner. It’s bad enough whenever things like this even get nominated (let’s take a moment to remember Norbit). If I am to believe that cinema can still be art, I have to go with Dallas Buyers Club.

PICKS: Split: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa and Dallas Buyers Club.

Achievement in Costume Design

[Nominees: American Hustle, The Grandmaster, The Great Gatsby, The Invisible Woman and 12 Years a Slave]


The Great Gatsby poster@joesoldout: The Great Gatsby is going to win this. I would maybe like the Academy to show a little love to American Hustle here, since it’s going to have a tough time finding it elsewhere, but let’s be real: Gatsby had the most costuming, which translates to best in the eyes of the Academy.

@PPPopcornPlayer: [Sigh.] What I said earlier about The Great Gatsby.

PICKS: Unanimous: The Great Gatsby.

Achievement in Cinematography

[Nominees: The Grandmaster, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska and Prisoners]


@PPPopcornPlayer: If Gravity doesn’t win, then I’m going to eat my hat as a film critic, and I really like my hat.

@joesoldout: Come on, now. Gravity can’t win all the awards, can it? Let’s at least let Inside Llewyn Davis have just one moment of glory.

James M: Delbonnel framed Llewyn Davis superbly, but I strongly suspect that Lubezki has a lock on the Oscar for Gravity.

PICKS: Split: Gravity and Inside Llewyn Davis.

Achievement in Visual Effects

[Nominees: Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger and Star Trek into Darkness]


Gravity@joesoldout: Two of the nominees are sequels not as good as the originals, one is a sequel that went largely ignored despite somehow making heaps of money, and one is perhaps the year’s biggest flop. Through simple process of elimination, Gravity will take this one.

@PPPopcornPlayer: As awesome as dragons and superheroes are (and they are awesome), this one is pretty much in the bag for Gravity. Mostly because half the American public got upset because they thought NASA actually let Alfonso Cuarón film in space, and, you know, Obamacare.

James M.: Despite strong contenders in the Visual Effects category, including that one with the animated Benedict Cumberbatch and that other one with the partially-animated Benedict Cumberbatch, I must cast my vote for Gravity this year.

PICKS: Unanimous: Gravity.

Achievement in Film Editing

[Nominees: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave]


@PPPopcornPlayer: Look, I’m not saying Gravity was the the most impressive technical achievement of the year, or that it will have a lasting impact on cinema for decades to come… Oh wait, I’m saying just that. Just give it all the tiny statues already.

@joesoldout: My heart and my brain are both screaming for me to go with Gravity here, but my rebellious nature compels me to go with Captain Phillips. Some of the scenes were put together pretty masterfully.

PICKS: Split: Captain Phillips and Gravity.

Achievement in Sound Editing

[Nominees: All is Lost, Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Lone Survivor]


Gravity@PPPopcornPlayer: What the hell is sound editing again? Crap, uh… Gravity!

@joesoldout: Incidentally, in space, no one can hear your sound editing. Still, Gravity.

James M.: Every year I get the Sound Mixing wrong. Don’t bother with me!

PICKS: Unanimous: Gravity.

Achievement in Sound Mixing

[Nominees: Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Inside Llewyn Davis and Lone Survivor]


@joesoldout: In a fair and just world, Inside Llewyn Davis would win this award, if only because of this scene. But the world is a cold and callous place forever falling through an infinite void. Gravity wins.

@PPPopcornPlayer: Wait, that’s what mixing is? I thought that was editing. Uh… Gravity!

James M.: Yeah. No clue about the Sound Editing either.

PICKS: Unanimous: Gravity.

Best Animated Short Film

[Nominees: Feral, Get a Horse!, Mr. Hublot, Possessions and Room on the Broom]


Get a Horse@PPPopcornPlayer: Disney proved that it could actually still make animated movies without the help of Pixar recently. Since there is no Pixar nomination in this category, this one is all Disney. It’s going to be Get a Horse!.

@joesoldout: The smart money is on the horse movie, because it will remind most of the voters of their favorite moving pictures from the nickelodeons in 1907 and because it played before Frozen, which everyone saw. But I won’t be lured by cheesy century-old animation styles. The best of the bunch is Feral, but I’m rooting for the existential cynicism of Mr. Hublot.

PICKS: Split: Get a Horse! and Mr. Hublot.

Best Live Action Short Film

[Nominees: Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me), Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything), Helium, Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?) and The Voorman Problem]


@joesoldout: The Voorman Problem. More like The Boreman Problem. Next.

@PPPopcornPlayer: The Academy seems to hate reading subtitles, so I’m going to pick the only short on the list in English. It’s The Voorman Problem.

PICKS: Unanimous: The Voorman Problem.

Best Documentary Short Subject

Nominees: CaveDigger, Facing Fear, Karma Has No Walls, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life and Prison Terminal: the Last Days of Private Jack Hall


The Lady in Number 6 Music Saved My Life@PPPopcornPlayer: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life is about the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor, and she passed away right in the middle of voting. Odds say that will have a big impact on how the Academy voted this year.

@joesoldout: The Lady in Number 6. Like I said: It’s a banner year for movies with numbers in their titles.

James M.: I like that CaveDigger is one word.

PICKS: Split The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life and CaveDigger.

Who do you think will win the Stars & Popcorn Oscar pool?

  • @joesoldout (Joseph Hunter) (67%)
  • @Pppopcornplayer (Patrick Sessoms) (33%)
  • James M. (0%)

Thank you for voting!

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12 Years a Slave

The Best Films of 2013

True to January’s mythological namesake, we find ourselves each year looking forward to all that’s to come, and also lingering on all that has passed: the good and the bad.

If ever there was a hodgepodge of a year, 2013 was it. Take a moment to think back. This year was absolutely all over the place.

Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp teamed up to produce a forgettable western, which flopped pretty hard considering that they more or less held the global box office ransom for the past decade. Biopics of Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Steve Jobs and Julian Assange all came and went with nary a whisper.

The year brought us not one but two Scary Movie spin-offs; two movies about the end of the world; and another two movies about the world after the end of the world. The White House was also attacked twice, and we were treated to two late-summer concert films by One Direction and Metallica. The Wizard of Oz was re-released in 3D, as was Oz the Great and Powerful. Matt Damon destroyed a low-earth-orbiting country club, Brad Pitt infected himself with Ebola for the good of mankind, and everything Matthew McConnaughey touched turned to gold.

Regarding the box office, six of the 10 highest grossing films of 2013 were sequels, and another two were reboots of familiar franchises. The highest grossing film globally (also the fifth highest grossing film ever) wasn’t even a movie that a lot of people particularly liked. The other two were an animated musical and a tense drama set in outer space…

I simply cannot process the sheer awesomeness and awfulness that was 2013.

So please, while I try to make sense of the world, read on for Stars & Popcorn‘s two-cents on the very best films of what 2013 had to offer.

James M.


10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Patrick Sessoms

To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the first Hunger Games movie. In fact, I was pretty sure that it was going to be a series about teenage angst and love and junk, which just isn’t my thing. Well, I wasn’t totally wrong, but I also wasn’t prepared for Catching Fire to be as good as it was. Most of the credit for the dramatic shift has to go to Francis Lawrence, who took over as director from Gary Ross and immediately cut out most of the shaky-cam that made the first film such a pain to watch.

Of course, a lot of the film’s appeal is still a result of Jennifer Lawrence doing her thing and being amazing at it. Behind her great performance, Catching Fire created a lot more emotional attachment for the characters than its predecessor and really kept us at the edge of our seats. (Well, at least those of us who haven’t read the books.)

Hey, what happened to the Cowardly Lion?

Wait, what happened to the Cowardly Lion?

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with the two-part sequel Mockingjay, and if they can live up to this last effort.


9. The Spectacular Now

Patrick Sessoms

I was surprised that I liked The Spectacular Now as much as I did. After all, it really does seem like a melodramatic coming-of-age story about the first time you fall in love. Well, beneath all that, it’s the only movie of the year (aside from Her). It gave me a severe case of the feels (which is what men call it when we get something gets in our eyes during a movie).

Ain't that sweet.

Ain’t that sweet.

The movie is as good as it is mainly because of the chemistry between Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, both of whom have proven that they are promising young actors that deserve to be watched carefully as they pick new projects. But what really got to me with The Spectacular Now was how real this movie felt. It spoke to me, and each word carried a great deal of weight. This was easily one of the most heartfelt films of the year, and absolutely heartbreaking as well.


8. Pacific Rim

Patrick Sessoms


How could Pacific Rim not make Stars & Popcorn’s top 10 movies of 2013? Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of pissing and moaning from people who said that they’ve seen better anime with giant robots. Well, this was a live-f*&#ing-action movie! This was a game-changer! This is a film that’s probably going to shape what kind of the summer blockbusters we see for a long time to come (just look at the new Godzilla movie coming out this year). Not only that, but it was a huge hit in Asia — you know, that place where anime comes from.

This thing 's like two Gundams and an Autobot on the Awesome scale.

This thing ‘s like two Gundams and an Autobot on the Awesome scale.

So, stop trying to be a hipster nerd wimp dweeb, and love this movie for what it is: a huge 3D popcorn flick with great art direction and a compelling story line driving us from giant monster throwdown to giant monster throwdown!

Not only that, but Pacific Rim is the only movie this year I’ve sat through multiple times, which means that it’s one of the best popcorn movies of 2013. Long live Guillermo del Toro!


7. Man of Steel

James M.

With its grittier and more explosive take on the Superman mythos, Man of Steel really caught our attention this year. Previous entries, many well-loved in their time, held a little too close to the hero’s Golden Age perfection, and were not so wont to delve into the internal conflicts that arise with being a superhuman among ordinary men.

Rather than watch some immortal occasionally save a plane in free fall or play mind games with an imp in a derby hat, we tune in here to a Clark Kent uncertain of his purpose, scaling burning oil rigs and tying tractor trailers into knots. This poses a marked contrast to the undisturbed youth of Kent in Superman (1970), who raced with locomotives on a lark.

Oh, excuse me, I didn't realize this room was taken.

Oh, excuse me, I didn’t realize this room was taken.

Not all will celebrate Zach Snyder‘s revision of this beloved character, but moviegoers now have a Superman flick meaty enough to go toe-to-toe with just about any comic book movie out there. Beneath its roar were warnings against materialism, fundamentalism and extremism, woven into an action extravaganza comprised of classic movie Western tropes.

Man of Steel was just so raucous and grand in scale, it leaves us wondering—Batman or not—just how the next film can possibly up the ante?


6. Her

James M.

Though a common first response to watching Her may be to rave about how honest a film it is, let me set a few things straight. By “honest,” be sure, we mean “painfully awkward.” Also, this is no simple romance, but the illusion of simplicity.

She told me we just grew apart, that's all… I wonder if this is covered by my warranty?

She told me we just grew apart, that’s all… I wonder if this is covered by my warranty?

Her presents a rare case of myopic science fiction, a near-future tale only maybe 10 years away. Aside from an inexplicable high-pants fad, it’s pretty much the world as you and I might recognize it today. Viewers engage just in time for the release of a break-through in artificial intelligence—a truly organic intellect—which the manufacturer sells as a smartphone app…

Everything about this film feels so mundane and inconsequential, but that’s the artistry of it. The dialogue is so simple, so nauseatingly conventional, that viewers cannot help but find “honesty” in it—again, by this we mean it approximates the inarticulateness of our unscripted lives. Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams are both absolutely absorbed into this humdrum heartache.

As the operating systems slowly outstrip their owners, we are prodded to note how the humans themselves are all broken. It kind of just makes you feel sort of, I don’t know… limited.


5. The Wolf of Wall Street

Joseph Hunter

A few things are true in most Martin Scorsese movies: Being a bad guy is glamorous, being a good guy is tedious, and justice always arrives late to the party, if it ever comes at all. In The Wolf of Wall Street, based on a true story, all those things are present as we watch Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill get rich by selling bad investments to poor people dumb enough to trust them. (Here’s a bit of free financial advice from your friends at Stars & Popcorn: Never trust a stockbroker.) Along the way, they bro it up with cocaine and Quaaludes, bed expensive hookers, hold lavish and depraved parties, throw midgets, crash expensive cars, and drop the F-bomb more times than any movie ever made (except for a documentary specifically about the word).

He's... king of the world...

He’s… king of the world…

On the heels of the global financial crisis of 2008 – which, as you might recall, was caused by Wall Street banks – this film received a fair amount of criticism from those who saw it as a celebration, rather than a satire, of excess, greed and predatory investment practices. But, as DiCaprio learns early on, negative publicity is still publicity.

This movie garnered five Academy Award nominations, and it was the key factor in earning Leo the Stars & Popcorn Actor of the Year award, the most prestigious honor he’s received in years.


4. 12 Years a Slave

Joseph Hunter

Come on. Look at the title. Even without knowing anything about 12 Years a Slave, you’d guess it was an Important Movie, the type of Important Movie serving the dual purposes of shaming the audience and getting lots of love from the Academy. In all of these facets, it’s a success.

[Gulp.] I don't like where this is going... Can we bring the giant robots back?

Guys, I don’t like where this is going… Can we bring the giant robots back?

12 Years a Slave tells the true story, based on his memoir, of Solomon Northup, a free northern black man kidnapped and sold into slavery, where he remained for something like 10 or 11 years. Played expertly by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Northup’s story is heartbreaking and painful to watch, sometimes gratuitously so, but – as with most Important Movies – there’s something compelling and emotionally rewarding about the experience.

With its heavy subject matter and a supporting cast that includes all-stars Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt, as well as an outstanding performance by newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years was destined for greatness. Its nine Oscar nominations back that up. And, while it’s not the type of movie likely to come on TBS while you’re hanging with some friends, it fully deserves all the accolades it has earned.


3. Inside Llewyn Davis

James M.

Older music critics spill much ink historicizing the 1960s, recreating it as a gilded era of popular music, when raw emotion and technical ingenuity made the perfect storm for an artistic explosion. Younger critics weaned on tales of that promised land of yore will click away as many pixels of reverence for the mysterious ancients, a few of whom still walk amongst us, I hear, as ambassadors of that age of giants.

Inside Llewyn Davis plunks viewers down into the middle of the early 60s folk scene in Greenwich village. The titular Davis spends his evenings strumming a guitar in small, smoky clubs and thumbing through his address book in search of a place to crash for the night. With Llewyn Davis, the Coen Bros. as much pay homage to the music itself as they work to debunk the artists’ mythologized exceptionalism.

We've all been there before.

We’ve all been there before, friend.

Llewyn Davis has many false starts, and no resolution. It tells of hope amid directionlessness, of cruel randomness, and the decent (and indecent) people that it thwarts.


2. Gravity

Patrick Sessoms

I’ve joked a lot about the amount of anxiety Gravity induced in me, but it’s still one of the greatest movies of the year no matter how you look at it. Not only was it one of the most unique science fiction films we’ve gotten in a long time, but it’s also simply breathtaking to watch. I would go so far as to say that Gravity is this generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, not in tone but in spirit.

It was rightfully getting a lot of early Oscar buzz, and its popularity led to 10 nominations from the Academy. My only fear for this movie is that there is a lot of stiff competition. However, I think Gravity will wind up being one of the most memorable films of 2013 whether it takes home the Oscar or not.

Another day at the office, am I right?

Another day at the office, am I right?

Personally, I think that director Alfonso Cuarón made a huge contribution to cinema with this film and the new techniques he developed for it. Gravity was without a doubt one of the most important movies of 2013.


1. American Hustle

Joseph Hunter

American Hustle is exactly the type of broadly appealing film we seek out at Stars & Popcorn, one that is equal parts great cinematic storytelling and fun moviegoing experience. And after just a cursory glance, why would we expect anything less? Director David O. Russell, who last year brought us the surprisingly sweet and critically acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook, got the old band back together – Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper – to recapture some of that old magic for this project. And the Academy Award winner and nominee (respectively) just serve in support to a cast that looks like Russell threw darts at a list of recent Oscar nominees: Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner round out the main cast, with Robert De Niro popping in a few times for good measure.

With a cast and crew like that, everything else is secondary. But in American Hustle‘s case, everything else is oh-so-delicious: a stylish, fun and heavily fictionalized telling of the 1970s ABSCAM sting operation in which the FBI employed a known con artist to help ferret out political corruption.

...And to provide some modest hair-care advice.

…And to provide some modest hair-care advice.

American Hustle was the main impetus behind Russell being named our Director of the Year and Adams earning Actress of the Year, and in spite of those great honors, its best days might still be ahead. The film is masterfully told, tense and enthralling but also funny enough that comedian Louis C.K.‘s character somehow plays the straight man in many of his scenes. There was not a more well-rounded film in 2013.



Honorable Mentions

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Anchorman 2This year marked the return of Ron Burgundy and his action news team to the big screen, and it felt like they hadn’t lost a step during their nine-year absence. The sequel was just as funny and quotable as its predecessor, and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to run into a few college kids dressed up as the iconic quartet this coming Halloween. It seems as though the long wait was worth it, and The Legend Continues gave us everything we loved about the first Anchorman. It’s definitely one of the funniest movies this year and one I’ll be sure to revisit often in the future. (After I’ve had enough to drink, of course.)

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing2013, like most years, wasn’t short on re-imaginings of works by William Shakespeare, including one pleasant surprise starring zombies and a predictably soulless one starring obnoxious teenagers. But it was the lightly modernized adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing put on by Joss Whedon & Co. that caught my attention as one of the year’s best films. They filmed it quickly as a fun side project, and it shows: Amy Acker and Alexis Denisoff give two charismatic performances in the lead roles as they annoy and outwit each other until they trick themselves into falling in love, and Nathan Fillion‘s portrayal as the bumbling constable ranks among the best casting choices of the year. The script is the same old – why change what has worked so well for 400 years? – but Whedon’s stylish take gives it new life.

The definitive Bruce Wayne.

Top 10 Characters Played by Multiple Actors

Hollywood tells a lot of stories each year, and let’s face it: There are some great characters out there. However, sometimes the face we all associate with a character has to change, and sometimes a lot more than once. Whether it’s because an actor got too old, wants to branch out into new roles or just wants to break our hearts, some characters have had a lot of different people step into their skin. That’s why this week I decided to take a look at some of the characters over the years that have had a few different faces. To be fair, a lot of this list is made up of superheroes, but who didn’t see that coming?

Just to take it a step further, though, I’m also going to declare who did each role the best so far. I’m trying to stick to big-screen performances for this article, but I’ll give honorable mentions to TV performances. I’m sure a lot of people will probably agree with some of my choices, while others will cause mass rioting in small European countries. But either way, this is my article, and there’s nothing the internet can do to stop me!

(Please don’t hack us, Anonymous. We’re the people’s movie review site.)

10. Frank Castle, aka The Punisher (Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson)

The definitive Punisher!

The definitive Punisher!

The Punisher has been a fan favorite comic book antihero for years and years, mostly because he’s not afraid to torture his enemies before shooting them in the face. He’s a hard character who has had a lot of manly men play him on the big screen, including a very forgettable performance by Dolph Lundgren in the late 80s. For my money, though, the best person to wear the Skull proudly on his chest was Thomas Jane. There was just something about his cold, hard stare that made me truly believe he was consumed by anger. Sure, Ray Stevenson had the look, but for me, Jane is still The Punisher (at least until we see who is going to play him in the Netflix series).

9. Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Montgomery, George Montgomery, James Garner, Elliott Gould and Robert Mitchum)

The definitive Philip Marlow.

The definitive Philip Marlowe.

There have been a lot of silver screen gumshoes, but one of the great classics is Phillip Marlowe, who has been around for decades. Honestly, it was tough to narrow down who played the part best, especially because The Long Goodbye starring Elliot Gould was just so damn good. However, for this list, I have to go with the man who is famous for wearing a trench coat and fedora. That’s right: The legendary Humphrey Bogart takes the cake for his performance in The Big Sleep. There’s just something about a fast-talking flat foot that really seems to make the character leap off the screen at you. Besides, sometimes they really did do it best in the good old days. Here’s looking at you, Bogie.

8. Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk (Eric Bana, Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo)


The definitive Bruce Banner.

The definitive Bruce Banner.

Apparently there are a lot of people we wouldn’t like when they’re angry. The big green giant has seen a lot of success over the years as he smashed his way through the big screen with three actors playing him in a decade. However, since Hulk was an abomination unto cinema, there’s no way Eric Bana could be the best Bruce Banner. Edward Norton was pretty good, but since he’s abandoned the few fans who loved him in the role (including me… That bastard), he’s not No. 1, either. That leaves Mark Ruffalo, who did a damn good job in The Avengers and seems to be on board to do the most he can with the role. We’re happy to have you, Mark, and were excited to see if you get your own solo film like the others.

Honorable Mention: Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno

7. Marshall “Rooster” Cogburn (John Wayne and Jeff Bridges)


The definitive Rooster Cogburn.

The definitive Rooster Cogburn.

Well, I know that John Wayne is the king and all, but when it comes to Rooster Cogburn, I have to give to Jeff Bridges. I mean, I even tried to re-visit the original True Grit after watching the Coen Brothers rendition, and it was almost completely unwatchable. Despite being The Duke, John Wayne was not what we would call one of the greatest thespians of the big screen. Look, before your grandfather starts shouting at me about how John Wayne is a man’s man (which is a really weird expression), let’s remember that I’m saying Jeff Bridges did it better, and he is an incredible actor. So when it comes down to it, this was really just a fight between The Dude and The Duke, and this time The Dude won.

6. Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield)

The definitive Peter Parker.

The definitive Peter Parker.

This one is probably going to lead to a fist fight between me and another writer on our site. Sure, Tobey Maguire was the guy who brought Spider-Man and Marvel swinging onto the big screen (following in the footsteps of X-Men), but he’s just so damn whiny. My thing is that Peter Parker had a crappy life, but he wasn’t the kind of guy who looked like he was about to start crying all the time. Enter Andrew Garfield, who plays a character suffering through one of the worst hands fate has ever dealt a comic book character, and he’s still trying to keep his head up. You’ve got to respect that attitude, so I’ve got to honor the guy who doesn’t look like someone just kicked his dog, Andrew Garfield.

5. Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine)

The definitive Jack Ryan.

The definitive Jack Ryan.

Jack Ryan has been played by almost as many actors as he has movies. With his new film hitting theaters, too, it looks like Chris Pine is throwing his hat into the ring. Now don’t get me wrong; I like Captain Kirk as much as the next guy, but my nominee for the best Jack Ryan is one of the greatest actors of all time. No, not Ben Affleck. I’m going with Harrison Ford. Why, you may ask? Because Jack Ryan was meant to be an analyst who found himself thrown into the field and did what he needed to do to survive. He was brains that had to fall back on brawn when things got rough, and well, that’s pretty much Indiana Jones, but with CIA clearance. Sorry, guys, but Harrison Ford always wins.

4. Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins and Gaspard Ullis)

The definitive Dr. Hannibal Lector.

The definitive Dr. Hannibal Lector.

This one is pretty much a no-brainer, but I’ll include it here just for the sake of argument. Of course, Hannibal Lecter is one of the greatest horror icons of all time. He’s terrifyingly brilliant and disturbingly lethal, and he’s a physical force that no one wants to reckon with. He’s truly the most dangerous person in the room, no matter what room it is. So, with that being said, without a doubt the greatest to have an old friend for dinner was Sir Anthony Hopkins. However, this is one time when TV might actually rival the movies, because Mads Mikkelsen is doing one hell of a job in the series Hannibal. Since we’re sticking to film, though, I’m giving it to Hopkins. He might want to watch his back, though, because there’s a new Hannibal the Cannibal in town.

Honorable Mention: Mads Mikkelsen

3. Clark Kent, aka Superman (Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh and Henry Cavill)

The definitive Clark Kent.

The definitive Clark Kent.

Superman is one of the first heroes to get the big screen and small screen treatment, and there’s little wonder why. He is the quintessential image of the clean-cut hero upon which comics were built, a benevolent force swooping in to save the day. To be fair, all of his big screen adventures have had pretty impressive actors cast in as the leading man (hey, Superman Returns was kinda messed up, but Brandon Routh was a pretty good Clark Kent), which is why this is a hard one to call. Recently, Henry Cavill proved he was pretty super in Man of Steel, which was one of my favorite movies of 2013. While I think he’s a perfect fit for Superman, right now I have to go with a classic. That’s why Christopher Reeve reigns supreme… For now.

Honorable Mention: Bud Collyer, George Reeves, Gerard Christopher, Dean Cain and Tom Welling

2. Bruce Wayne, aka Batman (Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale and Ben Affleck)


The definitive Bruce Wayne.

The definitive Bruce Wayne.

Superman is great and all, but I’ve always been more of a Team Batman fanboy. Over the years, the Caped Crusader has had a lot of incarnations, and all of them included respected actors (at least respected at the time). However, while some really did capture the spirit of the Dark Knight, others had bat nipples. So, let’s just cross Val Kilmer and George Clooney off the list (No objections? Good). Adam West was fun and all, but he’s not really a hero I would take seriously if I was robbing a bank. Michael Keaton was dark and brooding and had some sweet moves, but no one says “I’m going to force-feed you your knee caps” like Christian Bale. Bat voice aside, he had the look, the physique and the acting chops to create a compelling character. Way to clean up Gotham, Christian.

1. James Bond (Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, Roger Moore, Pierce Bronsan and Daniel Craig)

The definitive James Bond.

The definitive James Bond.

For years and years I would always say Sean Connery was the only true James Bond. Roger Moore felt like a cheap substitute, and Pierce Bronson was a little too campy. George Lazenby is a trivia answer when it comes to James Bond, and Timothy Dalton never really had enough time to shine. However, Daniel Craig has brought a stark new vision to the character. He keeps getting better and better, and Skyfall proved that he was very much James Bond. So, it is with a torn heart that I have to give this one to the new guy. With a new movie getting ready to start production, it’s going to have to be absolutely terrible for him to get tossed off the throne. He’s a thug in a suit with enough charm to keep himself alive. Craig is the biggest badass in Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

american_hustle poster

News: American Hustle, Gravity lead Oscar nominations with 10 each

The nominees for the 86th Academy Awards have been announced, and boy, do we at Stars & Popcorn have some extremely hot takes on the action!

By which I mean we are mostly unsurprised by most of what the Academy has wrought.

Are you going to tune in?

Are you going to tune in?

As expected, American Hustle and Gravity lead the way, with 10 nominations apiece, and 12 Years a Slave follows closely behind with nine. The three movies are considered the frontrunners for Best Picture, and in some combination, they should all but sweep the big six categories.

Here's to another potential Oscar snub, old sport.

Here’s to another potential Oscar snub, old sport.

In addition to Best Picture, all three were nominated for Directing (David O. Russell, Alfonso Cuaron and Steve McQueen). American Hustle, this year’s Silver Linings Playbook in spirit and critical support if not tone, also earned nods for Best Actor and Actress (Christian Bale and Amy Adams), Best Supporting Actor and Actress (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence). Gravity got a Best Actress nod for Sandra Bullock, and 12 Years a Slave earned nominations for Best Actor and Actress (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o) and Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender).

Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club and Nebraska garnered six nominations apiece, and both Her and The Wolf of Wall Street earned five.

There seem to be no slam-dunk obvious choices in the Oscar pool this year – nothing so obvious as Anne Hathaway’s Best Supporting Actress win, or Steven Spielberg’s Best Director nod for Lincoln (whoops, everyone in America got that one wrong). The most competitive major awards this year look to be for Best Director (with the three above, plus Martin Scorsese, all viable options), Best Actor (also with four great possibilities – any of the nominees has a shot except Bruce Dern and, let’s be honest, Leonardo DiCaprio) and Best Supporting Actor (with strong bases of support for all five nominees).

It's so cold out here without an Oscar nomination.

It’s so cold out here without an Oscar nomination.

As always, there were a few surprises, mainly in the form of snubs. In what is probably this year’s biggest shocker, Tom Hanks earned no love for either Captain Phillips or Saving Mr. Banks, which both seemed tailor-made for Academy glory. Also, Inside Llewyn Davis was shut out of the big six categories, earning nominations only for cinematography and sound mixing. I wanted to make a joke along the lines of “more like Outside Looking Inside Llewyn Davis,” but I couldn’t make it work in any meaningful way, so feel free to workshop it a bit and claim it as your own.

Aside from the (relatively few) snubs, the only other real surprise is Nebraska’s popularity, which seems incongruent. Sure, it was well-received, but its Oscar campaign seemed to fizzle out by November. Dern could have been left off the Best Actor list in favor of either of Hanks’ two major roles, and director Alexander Payne might easily have been replaced with Spike Jonze (Her), Joel and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis) or Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips).

All told, the Academy did little to show any sort of daring with its nominees. 2013 had a pretty good selection of acclaimed films followed by a sizeable drop-off in prestige, so there is great parity in this year’s nominations. In other words, good luck breaking 30 percent in your office’s Oscar pool this year. You have to look down at the technical awards before you find any Hollywood narrative feature without multiple nominations, and even so, most of those lists were filled out with Best Picture nominees.

Two of the exceptions? The Lone Ranger and Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. They join the likes of Mirror Mirror and Transformers: Dark of the Moon on the list of awful, awful movies nominated for some of the most prestigious awards in cinema. God damn it, Academy. You did a bad thing.

american_hustle poster

American Hustle – Review

[Editor's note: This article features the thoughts of Daniel Watkins, a graduate of the UCF Film School, on the film American Hustle. Dan currently lives and works in Los Angeles.]

American Hustle is about the small time wheelers and dealers that typically exist in the background of these types of genre exercises. In the cinema of Francis Coppola or Scorsese they would be introduced in a slow-motion montage and have been disposed of in a similar aesthetic. David O. Russell instead provides these characters the room the breathe, and as such creates a film that is as much about the through-line as it is about the moments in between.

And the race is on for who's hair is the bigger train wreck.

And the race is on for who’s hair is the bigger train wreck.

In the opening sequence of American Hustle we watch a pudgy, balding Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) going through the meticulous process of disguising his receding hairline through a mixture of fake hair, glue, and a (not-so) well-placed comb over. In a sense we begin as many actors do before greeting the camera, in the makeup chair. We watch as Irving constructs fiction out of reality and then exits the room to project that fiction on to the world. In a sense this is the core of American Hustle; it is a film centered on the ways in which we frame, construct, and manipulate our own realities to suit a more palpable projection of our own identity. The film centers on three main protagonists all of whom are attempting to frame themselves as the hero of their own story, and as such proceed to regard others around them as a sort of supporting cast. True conflict in the film arises when the narratives of all these “protagonists” intersect and clash with one another – specifically in the (perceived) love triangle between Irving, Sydney (Amy Adams) and Richie (Bradley Cooper).

Throughout the film, we receive glimpses into the ways in which these characters actually exist – within the comfort of there own home (see Richie’s curlers and Sydney’s actual accent) which is then juxtaposed with the identity they project on to the world, forming in the end a grand analogy of the cinema itself. What we see through the lens is only half the truth and in America Hustle, its three central characters are often viewing the world through literal lenses (dark tinted sunglasses).

Everyone hustles.

Everyone hustles.

In one notable scene Richie is setting the stage for a large-scale sting and in doing so begins directing the characters and framing his surveillance shots in the same manner one would imagine a film director. This is perhaps the most literal instance of a character in the film attempting to construct his own world around him, and it’s fascinating when you take into account the many instances in which he pleads for something “real.” Here American Hustle pulls off its most impressive “high-wire” act by slowly revealing that the realities the characters seek are not only far less desirable than the fictions, but ultimately the factor that determines their longevity within the realm of the cinematic landscape. The film suggests that those capable of existing in the “real” are those that are able to survive, while the others – specifically in the case of Richie – find their narratives ending with the credits. Unlike, Irving, Sydney and Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) – all of whom receive their own denouement, complete with the implication of a life beyond the scope of the film – Richie finds himself fading from the protagonist’s role and ultimately ceasing to exist altogether in terms of narrative relevancy. Here it is cinema that brings him into being, and cinema that ultimately returns him to nothingness.

Quite a trio of disfunctional con men.

Quite a trio of disfunctional con men.

Despite David O. Russell’s many Scorsese-isms, American Hustle could in many ways be viewed as the anti-Goodfellas. Scorsese’s protagonists are more often than not ruled by there own hubris, and it is this desire to fulfill their self-defined excess that typically drives his narratives. Russell’s characters on the other hand are slaves to their own empathy often to the detriment of the job at hand. As such much of the film’s action is driven by the natural impulsiveness of humanity much more so than a plan set into motion (see Bradley Cooper, Louie CK and a telephone). The other, and indeed more startling contrast, however is the set of ethics on which the film operates. Scorsese’s anti-heroes – his most recent, Jordan Belfort, standing as no exception, ultimately find themselves undone by their own excess, greed, paranoia etc., whereas Irving faces almost no consequences for his actions. This speaks to an empathy on the part of the filmmaker for his characters, as well as to the greatest weakness in David O. Russell’s work. I am often remiss when discussing films in terms of narrative logic, but Russell’s apparent need to force a “silver lining” (pun intended) is often to the detriment of all the events that precede it. It is evident through this that for good or for ill, Russell feels love for his characters, whereas Scorsese places them more in the role of a cypher or a talking point.When comparing Jordan Belfort to Irving Rosenfeld I am inclined to recall Vladimir Nabokov’s forward to his novel Depair in which he compares the books’s protagonist to the character Humbert Humbert from his later novel Lolita (Irving taking the place of Humbert and Jordan Hermann): “Both are neurotic scoundrels, yet there is a green lane in Paradise where Humbert is permitted to wander at dusk once a year; but Hell shall never parole Hermann.”


Four StarsThree & a Half Popcorn


out of the furnace poster

Out of the Furnace – Review

Brotherly love.

Out of the Furnace was one of the worst-marketed films in recent memory. It’s barely able to find distinction in most people’s minds from Christian Bale’s upcoming American Hustle. But even more so, the marketing just got the entire movie wrong: I went into the theater expecting a gritty revenge thriller in the tone of Kill Bill (but obviously not so Tarantino-ish), but what I got was a tenacious look at the state of America. Despite feeling a bit tricked, I was pleasantly surprised.

Out of the Furnace is a bit of an odd movie. I’m not quite sure what to compare it to. It’s a bit of a revenge flick, part crime thriller, and it has a heavy dash of critical analysis of society mixed in for good measure. I’m just not quite sure what to call this.



At its core, Out of the Furnace is about Russell Baze (Bale) and his constant struggles in life, be they financial, familial, amorous, or so on. This is a story about how life just keeps beating down on the good guy. If anything, Russell is an interesting look at the state of America’s blue-collar workers. Despite always having his heart in the right place, something always stands in his way, even if it’s himself.

Bale puts on an excellent performance, but with a career as prolific as his, it’s not quite noteworthy. Bale’s character is joined by his brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck), who’s in a similar boat. An Iraq war veteran, Rodney struggles with returning to real life after four tours of duty, and eventually gets involved in underground boxing. If Russell represents America’s forgotten working class, Rodney is a representation of America’s forgotten veterans. While this idea isn’t necessarily a new one, there haven’t been many movies focused on these demographics in recent years. Think a modern day The Deer Hunter.

But the real standout here is Harian DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). DeGroat is an inbred Appalachian meth-head who runs the bare-knuckle boxing rings that Affleck gets wrapped up in. The writing for this character is unmatched. He’s just a one-dimensional villain, but he’s just so damn effective, and Harrelson nails the role. Absolutely nails it. This is by far the best Harrelson performance I’ve seen in a long time. He’s there to serve only one purpose, and he does. The word “disgusting” generally comes to mind when his character is on screen.

Meth heads like candy just as much as normal people.

Meth-heads like candy just as much as normal people.

But despite this film being an analysis of American society, this movie’s really about family. I wasn’t quite sure Bale and Affleck would work as brothers, but they really do. Despite all of their problems, they just love each other. I definitely saw similarities to David O Russel’s The Fighter, starring Bale as Mark Wahlberg’s older brother. If you have siblings that you love/hate, this movie might hit a bit hard to watch.

I really enjoyed Out of the Furnace. The characters are written and performed amazingly, and the story really hit close to home in a few ways. I have a sneaking suspicion that this movie will be buried under the Oscar season rush this year, but if you get a chance to see Out of the Furnace, it’s a good movie to catch.

Four Stars


Three Popcorn

He's got such a nice smile too.

Top 10 Movie Serial Killers

Old vintage paper from 1977.There’s just something about an ax-wielding psychopath that really seems to speak to moviegoers these days, and that’s terrifying. Still, we’re not the types of lemmings to question what the public wants, and so we’ve decided that it’s time to honor the best of the big screen serial killers. The only rules for the top 10 this week are that the entries can’t have any sort of supernatural abilities (sorry, Freddy and Jason) and they have to be legitimately insane (sorry, every action hero ever). The result is a hodgepodge of the good, the bad and the ugly (mostly bad and ugly) that Hollywood has given us over the years. So, make sure you lock your doors and check on the children, because we’re coming at you with the top 10 movie serial killers. These guys are so great at what they do it’s crazy.

10. Sweeney Todd (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)- Let’s start this list off with an E-flat. Johnny Depp recently starred in a big-screen adaptation of a musical about a British barber that loved to give extra-close shaves. First off all, this means there’s a musical about a serial killer, which is pretty creepy (then again, there’s a musical about a transvestite from transsexual Transylvania, so…). Secondly, they made a movie about the musical, which is also maybe even creepier. However, it was Tim Burton who really put the finishing creepy touches on this story with his signature style.

And people wonder why I distrust barbers.

And people wonder why I distrust barbers.

9. George Harvey (The Lovely Bones)- Nothing is quite as heartwarming as a story about a murdered child. In between filming hairy-footed New Zealanders, director Peter Jackson tackled this story about a girl who watches over her family and her killer from limbo. Her killer, being played by the brilliant Stanley Tucci, who was supposedly so uncomfortable playing the part of a child molester that he changed his appearance as much as possible. Nice try, Stan, but we’d recognize those acting talents anywhere. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that this is a really upsetting film, which means it’s pretty good.

He's got such a nice smile too.

He’s got such a nice smile too.

8. Earl Brooks (Mr. Brooks)- I don’t know why more people weren’t talking about Mr. Brooks when it came out. Sure, it features Dayne Cook in a supporting role, but you get to see him wet himself, which is always a fun time. The real star, though, is Kevin Costner, who plays a nearly perfect serial killer. He’s meticulous, patient and absolutely brilliant, which makes for a terrifying combination. Mr. Brooks is actually a pillar of the community, so no one would ever believe that every so often he likes to let of a little steam with a bit of home invasion and murder. The thing is, though, that he’s a ghost when it comes to the art of killing, and it’s actually pretty cool watching the character work.

Bow ties are evil!

Bow ties are evil!

7. Henry (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer)- Poor Michael Rooker. He’s always stuck playing some sort of bad guy (especially in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film). Before he was beating the crap out of zombies with one hand tied behind his back (or left on a roof somewhere) in The Walking Dead, he was starring in a low-budget film about the notorious killer Henry Lee Lucas. It was actually one of his first roles, and it lead to him getting a lot of other gigs due to his brilliant portrayal of the psychopath. While it might not have had much of a budget, it makes up for it with some truly stomach-churning murder sequences. Then again, Rooker has always been pretty good at big-screen murders.

I think something might be wrong with Henry.

I think something might be wrong with Henry.

6. Mickey and Mallory Knox (Natural Born Killers)- This one is a bit of a cheat, because I just couldn’t decide between the two “protagonists” of Oliver Stone’s cult classic, Natural Born Killers. However, I had to include them or this list would be completely invalid. Hey, it’s my list and I’ll do what I damn well want with it. So, coming in at No.6 is the murderous duo that gripped a nation in terror with their cross-country rampage. We’ve all done crazy things in the name of love, but these two take it to a whole other level. There are some people out there who are truly fanatical about this film, and that’s almost as scary as the two character leads it sports.

Aw, what a cute couple.

Aw, what a cute couple.

5. Jigsaw (the Saw franchise)- You have to hand it to Jigsaw: He’s one hell of an engineer. However, unlike those other noble men and women who build bridges and design better office chairs, he decided to use his powers for evil. For the three of you who have no idea what Saw is, the series follows to work of fictional serial killer Jigsaw, who forces his victims to decide between a brutal death and a painful means of escape. The series is actually pretty creative with some of its deathtraps, which is terrifying when you consider that there are people who are paid Hollywood dollars to come up with them. Jigsaw comes in so high on our list, though, because of his legacy, which lived on through many terrible films even after the character’s death.

Instead of making a better space shuttle or something, he decided to murder people.

Instead of making a better Space Shuttle or something, he decided to murder people.

4. John Doe (Se7en)- In case you haven’t seen the movie Se7en (and if you haven’t, go watch it now. I’ll wait. O.K., welcome back.) I’m not going to reveal who John Doe is. Instead, I’ll talk about his murders, which are all based on the seven deadly sins. The film was actually one of David Fincher’s first feature-length movies (or at least the first good one), and it’s still one of his best. Like Saw, the film follows a killer who forces his victims to kill themselves. However, John’s twist is that he does so in a matter reflecting the sin his victims are most guilty of. Se7en is still one of my favorite horror movies because it has such a dark an ominous tone, and that‘s mostly because of how out of left field the actual killer is. You never see him coming.

Who is John Doe?

Who is John Doe?

3. Patrick Bateman (American Psycho)- One of the most memorable movie killers is actually someone relatively new. Before Christian Bale was running around dressed as a giant bat, he was 80s yuppie Patrick Bateman. The thing about Patrick is he is absolutely batshit insane, and we don’t mean in funny way. No, he is a true psychopath, and Bale’s brilliant performance is really what drives this film. He’s vain, narcissistic, obsessive and sadistic, which are pretty much all the right ingredients for a perfect serial killer. And on top of it all, Patrick does a very good job wearing a mask to hide what he really is. It’s hard to imagine why he never got an Oscar nod for this performance.

Can't tell if this is a psychotic killer or Batman.

Can’t tell if this is a psychotic killer or Batman.

2. Norman Bates (the Psycho series)- Let’s go old-school for a minute here. Alfred Hitchcock gave us one of the first truly great big-screen killers in Norman Bates, a man who was a true mama’s boy. Recently, a young Norman managed to make his way to the small screen with the series Bates Motel on A&E. For our purposes, I’ll stick with the version made famous by Anthony Perkins (definitely not the Vince Vaughn one), which featured him as a motel owner who had a nasty habit of killing young women who checked in. Of course, the original was by far the best (the sequels just kept getting worse and worse), and to this day, Psycho is probably Hitchcock’s most well-known film.

A face only a mother could love.

A face only a mother could love.

1. Hannibal Lecter (Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Man Hunter, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising)- Coming in at No. 1 is another big-screen killer who has recently made the transition to television. However, Anthony Hopkins is still the king when it comes to this role. His performance was so subtle and brilliant because he played the killer as this cultured doctor who was always the smartest man in the room, but also the most dangerous. Unlike other serial killers on this list, there was something truly likable about Lector, a sort of sensitivity to him that made it almost seem like he was in the right for the things he’d done. Of course, those things include eating a census taker’s liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. But you have to hand it to him: The man was a true foodie.

I hear he has plans to open a food truck.

I hear he has plans to open a food truck.

12 Years a Slave

10 Movies You Can Still Look Forward to in 2013

We know what it’s like. You spend the whole fall, winter and spring hotly anticipating Smurfs 2, consuming every trailer and screen cap you can find, poring over the theatrical poster for clues about important plot twists, spending scores of sleepless nights discussing theories and predictions on message boards with your well-adjusted adult friends. You quit your job to camp out for tickets (you can’t afford the online service fee because you keep quitting your jobs), and finally, the big day arrives. Your family has stopped speaking to you and inviting you to functions, but it doesn’t matter, because the Smurfs are your family now, and maybe you can’t legally marry into their clan because of bullshit blue laws, but marriage is an outdated institution anyway, and besides, you’re pretty sure the Smurfs are about free love.

Two hours later, the movie is over, and there’s a Smurf-shaped hole in your heart.

We’ve all been there. Summer blockbusters are great! They’re fun, they’re exciting, they offer us the chance to see life through the eyes of people and characters more interesting and beautiful than we will ever be. But just as man must inch evermore toward the winter of his life, so movie season grows and matures. Around September, it hits puberty. In October, it starts eating its vegetables. And by November, it is worldly, sophisticated and wise.

In the business, we call this last quarter of the year awards season, and it exists mainly because we assume the senile old men and women who serve as Academy voters don’t have the mental wherewithal required to remember anything past last Tuesday, much less movies released back in March. As a side effect, the end of the year is loaded with dozens of movies that fancy themselves good enough to take home the Oscar hardware. As a public service, we at Stars & Popcorn have listed many of those movies below to whet your appetite for the next three months in cinema. Machete Kills is also listed below, because to hell with the Academy. (One of the posters has Sofia Vergara shooting bra guns against a backdrop of fiery explosions. So.)

Let’s hope Machete Kills in Space will happen too.

10. Machete Kills

The first Machete was pretty mind-blowing, and the sequel looks like it’s going to take things even further. This time, everyone wants to be on the big screen with Danny Trejo. You have to admit that Robert Rodriguez doesn’t always make good movies, but he makes whatever he wants to, and we respect the hell out of that.

In Machete Kills, Machete goes against a madman who wants to launch a weapon into space, which pretty much means that this is going to be a Mexploitation parody of every Bond movie ever made. It probably won’t win any awards, but you can guarantee that this one is going to be the most unique film of the year. We see a midnight screening in our future.

In theaters Oct. 11

A magical tale of manipulation.

9. Saving Mr. Banks

Road to Perdition or not, I just am not convinced that Tom Hanks has the mustache it takes to portray a convincing Walt Disney. But Emma Thompson played Nanny McPhee, and Nanny McPhee is more or less a Mary Poppins, so it’ll probably all work out in the end.

Disney and P.L. Travers were anything but rosy after the adaptation of her beloved children’s book. Unfortunately it’s unlikely we’ll see an even-handed account of these events from the production company that bears Disney’s namesake. Word on the street, however, has it that Richard M. Sherman (who was there when all of this went down, mind you) not only served as a consultant on this film, but also did not openly object to being interpreted for the screen by Jason Schwartzman.

In theaters Dec. 20

Great, just when my white guilt was starting to fade a little.

8. 12 Years a Slave

There are awards-season movies on the one hand, and then there are awards-bait movies on the other, and then on someone else’s hand somewhere in the next county over there is 12 Years a Slave, the uber-dramatic adaptation of the 1853 book written by Solomon Northup. Northup was born free but kidnapped and sold into slavery, where he spent the next (spoiler alert) 12 years. With such a compelling story, it’s a wonder this book hasn’t been adapted for awards contention literally every year since the Academy Awards were founded.

The movie stars future Academy Award winner Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northup, and bubbly young Academy Award nominee Quvenzhané Wallis as his daughter, in addition to the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti and Scoot McNairy. Will the Academy expand the Best Supporting Actor category to allow room for all six actors to get nominations?

In theaters Oct. 17

There’s nothing quite as American as a good, old-fashioned hustle.

7. American Hustle

Last year David O. Russell blew us away with Silver Linings Playbook, and the year before that he gave us The Fighter. So, it’s no wonder that we’re excited to see anything that has the honor of putting him in the director’s chair. Not only that, be he’s re-teaming with Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale, with whom he’s had tremendous success in the past, and the movie features a plethora of other big-name actors who are probably chomping at the bit to work with the temperamental director. It’s hard to believe how unrecognizable Bale and Cooper are from the recent pictures that have surfaced, what, with their in 70s garb and funny haircuts. (Oh, and Jennifer Lawrence is in this movie, too, which is a plus.)

In theaters Dec. 25


News Roundup: Sept. 11, 2013

Your daily digest of selected news from around the entertainment world.

Today, we have some comic news, some Pirates news, some good news, some TV news, some horror news and some dino news. Read on.

Jimmy Palmiotti Talks about the Harley Quinn Freak Out

The writer of the new Harley Quinn series, Jimmy Palmiotti, had this to say about the reaction that’s been ripping across the internet about the audition page for new artists:

For everyone:
That the tryout Harley Quinn page went out without an overall description of tone and dialogue is all my fault. I should have put it clearly in the description that it was supposed to be a dream sequence with Amanda and I talking to Harley and giving her a hard time. I should have also mentioned we were thinking a Mad magazine /Looney Tunes approach was what we were looking for. We thought it was obvious with the whale and chicken suit, and so on, but learned it was not. I am sorry for those who took offense, our intentions were always to make this a fun and silly book that broke the 4th wall, and head into issue 1 with a ongoing story/adventure that is a lot like the past Powergirl series we did. I hope all the people thinking the worst of us can now understand that insulting or making fun of any kind was never our intention. I also hope that they can all stop blaming DC Comics for this since It was my screw up. The idea for the page to find new talent is an amazing one and we hope that can be the positive that comes forward from today on…that we get some new talent working in our field because of this unique opportunity.

Please feel free to share this, post it on your web sites and so on.”

Personally, I didn’t see what the big fuss was about in the first place.

Captain Jack Gets A Rest… For A While (source)

Looks like pirate fanatics are going to be moping around a bit, since it was announced that the next Pirates movie won’t be released until 2016. Directing duo Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg announced that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (what a mouthful) is being put off for another year because the script wasn’t quite ready yet. This isn’t the worst news I’ve heard all week, since the last installment in the franchise left a lot to be desired. (In fact, almost all of them kinda did.) So, you mad, bro?

The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes Is… (source)

On indefinite hold! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!.

Seriously though, the first Mortal Instruments was our pick for the worst movie of the summer, so you can imagine that we’re not exactly upset by this news.

Movies Are Coming To The Small Screen (source)

It would seem that the television serial killer trend is alive and well as a TV adaptation of American Psycho is set to premier on FX. The series will bring take place in the modern day (the original took place in the late 80s) and set the psychotic Patrick Bateman up as an older “gentleman” who has taken a protégé under his wing. While we don’t think Christian Bale will be making a return, it will be interesting to see how the station pulls it off, especially with Fox’s habit of canceling series before they can live up to their potential.

James Wan Says To Hell With Horror (sources)

In a recent interview, the director of such films as Saw and The Conjuring admitted that, after Insidious: Chapter 2, he is set to retire from making horror movies. That isn’t to say he’s done making movies completely, since his next project is Fast and Furious 7. But there won’t be any more horror movies (allegedly). This might be sad news for horror fans, but since he’s come so far as a director, we’re interested to see what he’s capable of doing with some other genres. That isn’t to say we think he should jump on a romantic comedy any time soon.

Man on Fire Is Pulling An American Psycho. (source)

Remember when we said American Psycho was coming to the small screen? (Seriously? Just scroll up a little.) Well, it looks like Fox has also gotten its hooks into a small-screen adaptation of Man on Fire. This is big news for me, since I loved Man on Fire. It’s still one of my favorite movies. Unfortunately, this adaptation cheapens the film by having John Creasy reconnect with Pita 18 years later to take apart the criminal organization that kidnapped her originally. I’m pretty torn over how I feel about this whole ordeal, but since it’s still in the early stages of development, I’ll keep my protest to a minimum. For now.

Jurassic Park 5 Gets A Release Date and A Title (source)

Well, dino fans, the day has finally come. Jurassic Park 5 is being called Jurassic World, which… is kind of lame. It’s also set to be released in June of 2015. The film has recruited director Colin Trevorrow, and while details are sketchy, it looks as though it’s meant to take place in the current day with the Jurassic Park island being returned to its original theme park form. Of course, nothing else is really known at this time, including who (if anyone) from the original cast might be returning. So, we’re just going to see where this one takes us.


The Pitch: Five Actors Who Should Not Be The Next Batman

Perhaps the biggest news to come out of Comic Con is that the next Man of Steel movie is going to feature Superman and Batman going toe-to-toe, which has risen the biggest question of the year: Who is going to play the next Batman? Christian Bale has announced that there’s no way he’ll be returning to the role, and even Joseph Gordon-Levitt has said he’s not interested in being the new Bruce Wayne. So, we’re left to let our minds wonder as we search the internet for possible replacements.

Many bloggers and websites have pitched their picks in the past, and while we at Stars & Popcorn agree with a lot of the choices out there, there have been a few names that have popped up over and over again with which we simply cannot agree. That’s why we’ve decided to do a very special edition of The Pitch in which we talk about the five actors who should not be the next Batman. We certainly don’t mean any offense to the actors on this list, since they’re all clearly capable and even beloved, but there’s a certain something that’s needed to play the Dark Knight, and these fine folks just don’t have it.

The Batman with a curfew.

5. Kit Harington- Why shouldn’t one of the stars of Game of Thrones be the next Batman? Well, because he’s BatMAN. Kit Harington is coming into his own as a young actor, but he’s too babyfaced to play the Caped Crusader. At the very least, Batman should be in his 30s, and Harington looks like he would still get ID’ed to buy a pint in England (the drinking age there is 18). If the next Batman movie was 10 years off, I could see him screen testing for the part, but as it is, I think the only black cape he should be wearing is that of the Nights Watch. After all, he’s doing such a damn good job on the show, I don’t think anyone should take him away from it… Except for George R.R. Martin.

The Batman who is more of a White Knight.

4. Matt Bomer- I’ve enjoyed the series White Collar the few times I’ve caught it on USA. However, I can’t see star Matt Bomer taking up the cape and cowl as the next Batman. Sure, he looks just like we’ve always imagined Bruce Wayne, but more like the Bruce Wayne that could have been if his parents were never killed. There’s just something a little too clean-cut and positive about his image. I can’t see him as the “shattering a thug’s knee cap” kind of guy. It’s his eyes; there’s something a little too kind about them, and I don’t think they could ever have the sadness and anger that it would take to play Batman.


The Pitch: 10 Actors Who Could Be the Next Batman

The internet is exploding with speculation over who is joining Henry Cavill in the Man of Steel sequel that’s supposed to start filming in early 2014. I’m not talking about Lex Luthor or Brainiac or anything like that. The sequel is supposed to feature Superman taking on the only man who has ever defeated him, Batman (Frank Miller is actually meeting with director Zach Snyder).

We all loved Christian Bale as the previous Dark Knight, but he’s told us all time and time again that he’s not interested in returning to the role, which means there’s going to be a new Caped Crudsader in town. That’s why we put on our thinking caps, did a little research and came up with our own list of 10 actors we’d love to see with a bat on their chest. Of course, Batman is an tad bit older than Superman, so we tried to stay away from the actors who are too young to pull off a late 30s or early 40s. We also made sure to pick actors who have the chops to play the brooding hero who spends his nights breaking common street thugs and striking fear into the hearts of villains that go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Green Lantern and Superman on a daily basis. He’s a hero we mere mortals can look up to, because despite the fact that he stands among gods, he’s still the most dangerous man on the planet, even to them.

The Batman with the brains.

10. Benedict Cumberbatch- Let’s start things off right by pitching a man who will probably never wear the cape and cowl. So, why is he on our list? The next time we see Batman, he’s going to be throwing punches with Superman, a fight he obviously wont be able to win with brute strength. No, he’ll have to use his intellect. Batman is the world’s greatest detective, and right now, Cumberbatch is playing the greatest detective on television. It’s too bad that baggage would get in the way of him getting a chance to punch Cavill in the face.

The Batman who would pick a fight with Superman.

9. Jensen Ackles- Why would Batman enter a fight with the cards stacked against him? Pure arrogance, that’s why. Who better show off that arrogance than a Winchester? Let’s say Batman has been doing a damn fine job cleaning up Gotham… so much so that he’s pretty sure he’s the big dog until this flying alien comes muscling in on the hero game. It seems like a battle bound to happen at some point. Plus, Jensen Ackles was actually in the running to play Captain America, a character that squared off at one point in Marvel vs. DC. Sure, he might seem a little on the young side, but Jensen already plays a character that puts the weight of the world on his shoulders, and that’s exactly what the Dark Knight does.

The Batman who is already screen testing.

8. Tyler Hoechlin- This actor never crossed my mind until the rumor started spreading that he was already going to screen test with Henry Cavill. After doing a little research on the guy, I can see why Zach Snyder is eyeing him. Right now, you probably know him from the MTV series Teen Wolf, in which he plays an alpha male type. Well, that’s pretty much Batman in a nutshell. Not only that, but Hoechlin is an actor who obviously doesn’t have a lot of baggage (considering, I had to go to IMDb to figure out who the hell he is). He might not be my first pick, but he’s definitely someone I wouldn’t get upset about being cast as one of the greatest comic characters of all time. Of all the guys on this list, Tyler is already the closest to being cast, and it would follow casting precedents set in the previous Man of Steel film. So, let’s keep an eye on this guy and wait to see what happens.

The Batman with angel wings.

7. Misha Collins- Wait, another Supernatural actor? Well, year. Mischa plays everyone’s favorite socially awkward angel on television, but if you take a step back, you’ll realize that Castiel and Batman all have a lot in common. Both have a hard time smiling, or even grasping the aspect of a sense of humor. Both are the go-to badasses of their respective universes. And both speak in scary deep voices. Not only that, but Misha has the build to play Batman to Cavill’s Superman. Plus, he’s a fan favorite among nerds, and that’s mostly because he is so loving and gracious toward them. While he’s gained a lot of popularity for playing Castiel, he’s relatively unknown outside of that fan base and won’t bring a lot of baggage with him, which is why we’re campaigning for Castiel for Batman.


Happily Ever After: Analyzing the Effect of the Happy Ending

There are very few movies nowadays in which the conclusion comes close to unpredictable. The Dark Knight Rises had me wondering months before its release. Christopher Nolan had the power to kill Batman in his hands. It would be his final movie, as no sequel was confirmed, and rumors had been circulating like wildfire. This was an instance where something could actually happen. It didn’t.

“No autopilot” my ass.

Obviously, I don’t know how you felt when you saw the Bat fly off into the bay. I felt respect. Not upset in the least, I understood why it seemingly needed to happen and accepted it. It was the best way this character could have ever died. He saved his Gotham. Still, I more fondly recall the tears of joy and the ecstatic grin that came from seeing Bruce (Christian Bale) in that purple button-down sitting across from Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) in those iconic pearls. Alfred’s smile…

I love happy endings.

In fact, I’d be willing to throw all of cinematic culture aside if it meant every film ended with a smile, a kiss, and a fist bump. Likely not the most artistic vision, sure, but you can’t argue with the resulting moods. Sometimes I just need a win. Don’t you?

You’ve had a rough day at work; the boss is riding your ass. Traffic mirrored this misery. Finally walking into the house, you’re relieved: The agony is surely over! That’s until you realize that your pet is a pain in the everything and there are bills to be paid.

Now take a break, maybe channel a method actor and immerse yourself in this role: Doesn’t a happy ending just solve it all… at least for a short while?

  • Good triumphs over evil: “O.K., that’s good enough rationale for me to continue trying to be a good person.”
  • The guy gets the girl: “Maybe there is someone out there for me after all.”
  • The goal is achieved: “Dreams can come true.”

Happy endings inspire like nothing else. They’re a rare panacea in a world perpetually affected by difficult situations. They lift us up. So forget about artistic integrity every once in a while. Just see the movie for the messages it conveys. Accept them, and if they’re good, apply them as well. If not, you’re just plunging yourself further into the inescapable abyss that is disappointment.

Now remember your younger self, the one before work, college and high school. Wouldn’t that upset your younger self? This is what you most enjoyed, being transported into another world in which anything could happen. In this sanctuary, bullies were nowhere to be found, school grades didn’t matter, life’s larger-than-life problems did not exist. Here, in this sanctuary, happiness and excitement dwelled. You owe it to yourself to maintain this temple. Doing so will afford you priceless happiness in the years to come. It’s infectious, too. Your family, friends, present or future children can experience this as well. But as Captain Planet would say (and he was a guy who knew a thing or two about happy endings): “The power is yours!”

Who could say no to this guy?