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Hot Shots Deux Saddam Hussein

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

This Thursday, The Interview, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as a couple of guys assigned with assassinating North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, was supposed to open in theaters nationwide. But as you’ve surely heard, Sony canceled the release last week when a 9/11-like attack was threatened against the movie’s premiere and any other cinemas that played it, and that led most major US theater chains to drop the comedy. Whether you think this was a case of better safe than sorry or a studio cowardly negotiating with and bowing to terrorists, it does set a horrible precedent that may be detrimental to the future of provocative art and entertainment.

It’s not the first movie for which a company gave in to pressures from protests, though, yet it’s also comparable to some big movies that spawned similar controversy without winding up censored. I invite you to check out one of the following titles, representing both circumstances, to fill that void where you would have watched The Interview this week. These are movies where sitting heads of state are targeted and/or killed, movies that were offensive enough to a people to be met with threats or actual violence, including death to the filmmakers, and movies that distributors washed their hands of because of such dangerous objection.

Maybe The Interview will be put out one day (Sony is now claiming it hopes to), and maybe it won’t (I hope it is, because I didn’t get the chance to see it before it was canceled). The longer the delay or the more certain the cancelation, the more time and reason you’ll have to make your way through these 25 movies.

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Serial

NBC

If you’re planning on spending any portion of the holiday season with the older generation of your family (or your significant other’s family, or a friend’s family, or whoever, you get it), you’ve probably already considered some of the current goings-on in pop culture you may have to explain and/or contextualize to a less plugged-in legion of relatives that are eager to be in the know. “What is this Sony business?” they might ask. “Is Seth Rogen really in league with the government?” someone might inquire. “What is a Nicki Minaj?” a person might pipe in. “Did you like that Angelina Jolie movie?” might come up, too.

“And what is a podcast?”

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Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

It has been fifty years since the release of Stanley Kubrick’s dark look at the Cold War, 1964’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In that time, we have inched no closer to world peace, but at the very least we emerged from the Cold War relatively unscathed.

Still, even with the Cold War a thing of the past, cinematically destined to remain the topic of 80s nostalgia, the world is not threat-free. In fact, some may say with the world getting smaller and smaller thanks to technology (primarily via the internet and social media), global threats are as real as ever. Kubrick’s film examines the theoretical use of a doomsday device, which threatens to wipe out all life on the planet.

Today, with ongoing overseas military conflicts, brutal terror attacks, and increasing patriotic paranoia, this got me wondering: Is the world in danger of annihilation from a doomsday device?

This got me thinking: Has the planet ever been in danger of a doomsday device?

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Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

Clint Eastwood pumps out movies like he works on an assembly line. He moves so fast that he had two films hit theaters in 2014, but while there’s nothing wrong with a workmanlike approach to film making — especially if there’s some obvious passion in the final product — the working man is going to have some off days from time to time. Unfortunately, American Sniper was made on one of those days. The clunky bio pic has a strong performance from Bradley Cooper, but even he can’t make up for this misguided and underwhelming effort.

Based on the late Chris Kyle‘s life and autobiography, American Sniper shows Kyle’s (Cooper) life as a son, husband, father, and, most famously, America’s deadliest sniper. Screenwriter Jason Hall (Paranoia) has written less of a film about Kyle than a series of CliffsNotes. The film opens with Kyle questioning whether he should shoot a suspicious mother and child in Afghanistan, and the way this predicament plays out is shown over the course of the film. Then the film cuts to his childhood, where we see Kyle’s religious father teaching him how to shoot and telling him about the evils of the world. We see how this sticks with Kyle, but it’s not terribly vital to the film or the character.

That trend repeats throughout as we wonder why Eastwood and Hall have made certain choices at the detriment of the film’s potential drama. We see why Kyle enlisted, how he met his wife Taya (Sienna Miller), and spend time on his days as a rodeo rider, but little of it is in service of a story. Why they thought these minor character elements were more important than Kyle’s death is beyond baffling and, arguably, disrespectful. The end of his life actually would’ve fit into the body and theme of the film. It would have been tough to watch, which is probably why it’s not in the film, and instead we’re left with a sugarcoated choice and a poor structural decision.

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Warner Archive

Warner Archive

The Warner Archive Collection is WB’s label for “manufactured on demand” aka MOD discs — DVDs that are essentially printed to order, burned instead of stamped from a mold like the ones you’re used to buying in stores. The discs are manufactured using the best source materials available and they’re strictly no-frills affairs, so the quality varies between releases, but they’re never less than perfectly acceptable. And remember, in many cases this may be the only opportunity to own these titles on DVD.

We took a look at six of their new releases, and they run the gamut across the years and the genres. Three of the films — Joe’s Apartment, The Man With Two Brains and Running on Empty — are presented for the first time on DVD in the widescreen format. The remaining three are lesser known titles — Bad Moon, Wicked Wicked and The Yakuza — but each feature at least an element or two to make them worth a watch.

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animation_duets

Covering animated short film in 2014 has been an exciting, often bizarre and always fulfilling experience. Doing it almost entirely from home, aside from an occasional festival, has been as fascinating as it is sometimes frustrating. Many of the best new animated shorts I caught this year were technically from 2012 or 2013, only recently making it off of the festival circuit and onto YouTube or Vimeo. This means that no definitive Top Ten Animated Shorts of 2014 is possible, at least not one that involves embedded video of entire films.

However, the next-best thing is a sampling of some of the absolute best stuff that is available to watch, right here and now. Here are three of my favorites, standing in for some of the best ways to find brilliant, creative work as the year goes by.

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Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

…and the giant, flying death-dealer known as Smaug circles above the lakeside town of Laketown, spewing fire and destruction upon its buildings and populace who scramble for safety below. As people struggle to escape, a man named Bard (Luke Evans) strikes back against the dragon. His efforts are ineffectual at first, but the beast’s singular weakness comes into view and Bard fells the monster.

Threat removed, Bard and his fellow humans head up Lonely Mountain to claim their share of the horded gold, but the dwarves — led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) — make a stand saying it all belongs to them. The Elf king, Thranduil (Lee Pace), also arrives with his army in tow, and they’re all soon joined by a legion of dwarves arriving to support Thorin. It’s already a stand-off of Tarantino-esque proportions, but by the time the goblin hordes show up the fight card is filled to the cinematic brim and ready to paint the mountain red.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the final installment of Peter Jackson‘s (arguably unnecessary) trilogy adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, and while it’s neither the best nor the worst of the three films it brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. Mostly because it is a conclusion, but still.

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2014review_credits

Picture, if you will, the end credits for our 2014 Year in Review. Credits rolling. Perhaps a little incidental orchestra music from the soundtrack (or if this was a romantic comedy, “One Headlight” by the Wallflowers). We’re past the soundtrack credits, and the special thanks. Here’s the MPAA logo — clearly, we’re at the end here.

Then, blackness.

Then, a flash of color! We’ve snuck one more end-of-the-year thinkpiece in after the credits. And to think, if you had walked out during them, you might have missed it.

The post-credits stinger is changing. As of 2014, they remain ubiquitous (though there’s always a sizable section of the audience in the opening weekend of any Marvel movie that leaves as soon as the lights come up; surely you’ve danced this dance before, people). Studios are keen to throw all kinds of crap in after the movie’s over — gags, teases, bloopers — anything to give you one last bite to end your moviegoing experience on. But they’re not as keen as they used to be.

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Staff Pick: Selma

Paramount Pictures

The end of the year is upon us. So to is the end of our annual Year in Review, which ends today. Just as 2014 has zipped by, so too has our review of the best, worst and everything in between. We’ve analyzed everything from the biggest disappointments to the best horror movies to the older movies we discovered for the first time. If you’ve been reading all week, you’re probably a little exhausted.

Don’t worry though, we’ve got a little more to share. As we’ve done every year since 2009, we’ve asked all of our regular contributors (“the staff”) to each provide a list of the 5 best films they saw during the year. They’ve all written little explanations for their choices and we’ve even put together a staff Top Ten. You know, because we can’t resist the urge to turn one list into another list.

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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

This week’s edition of Movies to See is shorter than usual. I figure it’s the holiday season, we’re all busy with shopping and spending time with family. Also, if you’ve just watched The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, you’ve already used up a good amount of your precious December hours staring at the hobbits, dwarves, trolls, elves, orcs, wizards and a dragon all fighting each other over a mountain full of riches.

And that’s it. There’s not much more to the third part of Peter Jackson‘s overlong “The Hobbit” adaptation besides the titular battle of five armies over a ginormous treasure. There’s not a lot I can do with that here. So, I’ve limited the recommendations to as many movies as there are armies in the film at hand. And they’re all pretty much various on the same theme.

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Muppet Christmas Carol

Walt Disney Pictures

The holidays! They are stressful! Even moments that should be relaxing, like lounging in front of the television while the rest of your merry band of relatives putter around you, demanding ham or presents or whatever it is that your family likes best (I like ham and presents best, personally), can be fraught with issues, especially when someone asks that a family-friendly offering hit the tube. “Family-friendly”? What does that even mean? The last film that made a big splash when it hit Netflix was Wolf of Wall Street and, surely, that can’t be good for the lil cousins! Right?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered, with a massive list of truly family-friendly titles that are currently available to stream on Netflix right now. This is your bible, people. Love it. And happy holidays!

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2014review_old

Like every December, FSR is devoting numerous posts to the very best and worst (but mostly best) that 2014 had to offer at the movies. But as movie fans, we don’t only see movies that were released in the year we see them – we might dig into classics and curiosities via online streaming, repertory showings, or simple chance encounters.

Year-end lists may summarize the breadth of movies released in theaters throughout the calendar year, but they don’t necessarily reflect the yearly consumption of a dedicated movie fan. To many movie lovers, going to a movie theater can be surprisingly rare, and watching movies follows less of a calendar schedule and works a bit more like time travel: one day you’re in 2014, and the next you’re in 1940s war-torn Rome, followed by a brief stint in the 1970s Australian outback, and then back to the present again.

For some of you, 2014 may have had little to do with your movie experience in 2014. So I’ve again concocted an alternative year-end list: the 14 most memorable movies I saw in 2014 that weren’t actually released this year. Not necessarily the best, but the movies that most surprised me – the movies that reminded me that no matter how many you’ve seen, there’s still another worthwhile surprise out there, and even an older film that speaks profoundly to our present.

But rather than simply navel-gaze at my own movie habits and tastes, I want to hear from you: what are the most memorable non-2014 movie discoveries you made this year?

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Song of the Sea seals

GKIDS

Song of the Sea is a film as light as the wind, and as swift. As airy as the Gaelic song which rides above its plot like a mystical zephyr visiting from another world, it’s a unique fairy tale even among the many supernaturally inclined animated features that have entranced us this year. The Boxtrolls is more aggressively outrageous, The Tale of Princess Kaguya more overtly theosophical. Tomm Moore’s Irish rhapsody of shape-shifting and age-old lore is special because of both its narrative restraint and its visual ambition, an occasionally overwhelming object of color and light with a deceptively modest plot.

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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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published: 12.18.2014
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