The 8th Annual EMOs

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34 films. 17 different theaters, from New York to Bucksport, Maine, and Culpeper, Virginia. 3976 minutes (that’s over 67 hours). And way, way too much $$$$.

That, in a nutshell, was my year in film, 2014. But this is more than a nutshell. This is Ethan’s Makeshift Oscars. So let’s get into it. As always, to get nominated for an EMO, a film must have been released in 2014 and I had to see it in 2014. No limits on the number of nominations per category, though I try to keep it to 10; in the competitive categories, nominees are listed in ranked order from the cut-off line to the winner. And of course, be sure to stay tuned for the second half of the EMOs, where every film is a winner in its own way.

Check back in a while for a more detailed (and, once I’ve caught up with a few more late-year limited releases, accurate) top 10 of the year. Enjoy!

Best Action Film:

  • X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Godzilla

Funniest Film:

  • Chef
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Land Ho!
  • Obvious Child
  • Frank
  • Dear White People
  • Inherent Vice
  • Birdman
  • The LEGO Movie

Most Fucked-Up Protagonist:

  • Curtis, “Snowpiercer”
  • Andrew Neyman, “Whiplash”
  • Riggan Thomson, “Birdman”
  • Eric Lomax, “The Railway Man”
  • Mark Schultz, “Foxcatcher”
  • Amelia, “The Babadook”
  • Amy and Nick Dunne, “Gone Girl”
  • Lou Bloom, “Nightcrawler”

Most Deserving to Have Everyone Involved in Production Die a Horribly Painful Death Just For Making Me Watch the Trailer:

  • Tammy
  • A Long Way Down
  • Left Behind
  • The Other Woman
  • The Legend of Hercules
  • I, Frankenstein

Worst Science:

  • Interstellar
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Godzilla
  • Transcendence

Rising Above It Award (for acting performance significantly above the overall quality of the film it’s in):

  • Brendan Gleeson, “The Grand Seduction”
  • James McAvoy, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”
  • Jeremy Irvine, “The Railway Man”
  • Emily Blunt, “Edge of Tomorrow”

Scene-Stealer Award:

  • Emily Watson, “The Theory of Everything”
  • Ed Harris, “Snowpiercer”
  • Robert Downey, Jr., “Chef”
  • Domhnall Gleeson, “Calvary”
  • Toby Jones, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

Breakthrough Actor/Actress of the Year:

  • Evan Peters, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”
  • Chris Pratt, “The LEGO Movie” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”
  • Dave Bautista, “Guardians of the Galaxy”
  • Jenny Slate, “Obvious Child”
  • Carrie Coon, “Gone Girl”
  • the collective cast of “Dear White People”

Best Poster:

  • Under the Skin

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  • Whiplash

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  • Inherent Vice

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  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

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  • Foxcatcher

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  • Nightcrawler

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  • Rosewater

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  • Men, Women and Children

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  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

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  • Birdman

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Best Trailer:

  • Mommy
  • Godzilla
  • Boyhood
  • Knight of Cups
  • Gone Girl
  • Force Majeure
  • Selma
  • Nightcrawler
  • Birdman
  • Inherent Vice

Best Scene:

  • Eating a piece of cake, “Under the Skin”
  • Skydiving into San Francisco, “Godzilla”
  • Business over dinner, “Nightcrawler”
  • Brothers warming up, “Foxcatcher”
  • Docking, “Interstellar”
  • On the beach, “Calvary”
  • A syndicate of dentists, “Inherent Vice”
  • Despair, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”
  • “Not quite my tempo”, “Whiplash”

Best Use of An Existing Song:

  • “The Obvious Child,” Paul Simon, “Obvious Child”
  • “In a Big Country,” Big Country, “Land Ho!”
  • “Come and Get Your Love,” Redbone, “Guardians of the Galaxy”
  • “Hero,” Family of the Year, “Boyhood”
  • “Vitamin C,” Can, “Inherent Vice”

Best Original Song:

  • “Where No One Goes,” by Jónsi, “How to Train Your Dragon 2”
  • “For the Dancing and the Dreaming,” by Jónsi and John Powell, “How to Train Your Dragon 2”
  • “Song of the Heavenly Maiden,” by Joe Hisaishi, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”
  • “I Love You All,” by the Soronprfbs, “Frank”
  • “Everything is AWESOME!!!” by Tegan and Sara with The Lonely Island, “The LEGO Movie”

Best Original Score:

  • Alexandre Desplat, “Godzilla”
  • Herbert Grönemeyer, “A Most Wanted Man”
  • James Newton Howard, “Nightcrawler”
  • Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, “Gone Girl”
  • Jóhann Jóhannson, “The Theory of Everything”
  • Hans Zimmer, “Interstellar”
  • Alexandre Desplat, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • Antonio Sanchez, “Birdman”
  • Jonny Greenwood, “Inherent Vice”
  • Mica Levi, “Under the Skin”
  • Joe Hisaishi, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”

Prettiest Pictures:

  • Benoît Delhomme, “A Most Wanted Man”
  • Hoyte van Hoytema, “Interstellar”
  • Benoît Delhomme, “The Theory of Everything”
  • Jeff Cronenweth, “Gone Girl”
  • Larry Smith, “Calvary”
  • Robert Elswit, “Inherent Vice”
  • Robert Elswit, “Nightcrawler”
  • Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski, “Ida”
  • Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman”
  • Daniel Landin, “Under the Skin”

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • Andrew Bovell, “A Most Wanted Man”
  • Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl”
  • Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan, “Frank”
  • Gillian Robespierre, “Obvious Child”
  • Isao Takahata, Riko Sakaguchi, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”
  • Paul Thomas Anderson, “Inherent Vice”

Best Original Screenplay:

  • Chris Miller, Phil Lord, “The LEGO Movie”
  • Jennifer Kent, “The Babadook”
  • Justin Simien, “Dear White People”
  • E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman, “Foxcatcher”
  • Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
  • Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash”
  • Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, “Ida”
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Armando Bo, Alexander Dinelaris, “Birdman”
  • John Michael McDonagh, “Calvary”

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Robin Wright, “A Most Wanted Man”
  • Andrea Riseborough, “Birdman”
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal, “Frank”
  • Carrie Coon, “Gone Girl”
  • Joanna Newsom, “Inherent Vice”
  • Rene Russo, “Nightcrawler”
  • Kelly Reilly, “Calvary”
  • Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
  • Emma Stone, “Birdman”
  • Tilda Swinton, “Snowpiercer”

Best Supporting Actor:

  • Will Arnett, “The LEGO Movie”
  • Tyler Perry, “Gone Girl”
  • Dave Bautista, “Guardians of the Galaxy”
  • Josh Brolin, “Inherent Vice”
  • Riz Ahmed, “Nightcrawler”
  • Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
  • Chris O’Dowd, “Calvary”
  • Edward Norton, “Birdman”
  • J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”
  • Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”

Best Actress:

  • Aki Asakura, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”
  • Tessa Thompson, “Dear White People”
  • Jenny Slate, “Obvious Child”
  • Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
  • Agata Trzebuchowska, “Ida”
  • Agata Kulesza, “Ida”
  • Essie Davis, “The Babadook”
  • Scarlett Johannson, “Under the Skin”

Best Actor:

  • Domhnall Gleeson, “Frank”
  • Tyler James Williams, “Dear White People”
  • Earl Lynn Nelson, “Land Ho!”
  • Paul Eenhorn, “Land Ho!”
  • Michael Fassbender, “Frank”
  • Channing Tatum, “Foxcatcher”
  • Miles Teller, “Whiplash”
  • Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”
  • Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, “A Most Wanted Man”
  • Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
  • Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”
  • Joaquin Phoenix, “Inherent Vice”
  • Brendan Gleeson, “Calvary”

Best Acting Ensemble:

  • Frank
  • The LEGO Movie
  • Snowpiercer
  • Dear White People
  • Boyhood
  • Calvary
  • Inherent Vice
  • Birdman

Best Director:

  • Jennifer Kent, “The Babadook”
  • Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
  • Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash”
  • Paul Thomas Anderson, “Inherent Vice”
  • John Michael McDonagh, “Calvary”
  • Pawel Pawlikowski, “Ida”
  • Jonathan Glazer, “Under the Skin”
  • Isao Takahata, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “Birdman”
  • Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

Best Film:

  • Frank
  • Nightcrawler
  • Dear White People
  • Foxcatcher
  • Whiplash
  • Boyhood
  • Inherent Vice
  • Ida
  • Under the Skin
  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya
  • Birdman
  • Calvary

Best “Drunk History” Impression: “The Legend of Hercules”

I mean I guess I might get Hercules, the Bible and “300” confused after ten shots of tequila too.

Most Ineffectual World-Conquering AI

also

Least Sexy PG-13 Robot/Human Sexytimes

Biggest Waste of Morgan Freeman’s Talent…the Week of April 18

Most Tech-Savvy Neo-Luddite Terrorist Group

Least Invested Johnny Depp

and

Most Misguidedly Aspirational Title: “Transcendence”

I just couldn’t stop.

Most Plot Twists Telegraphed Through Casting: “Non-Stop”

Liam Neeson is stuck on a plane with a murderer who could be ANYONE…of the five name actors involved with this film. And gee, I wonder if Julianne Moore is going to be important maybe.

Most Fraught Ethical Issues Raised and Then Immediately Dismissed By a Feel-Good Comedy: “The Grand Seduction”

I mean I guess we’re all OK with blackmailing a doctor in order to bring an environmental-unfriendly petrochemical factory to a tiny picturesque island with a population that couldn’t possibly sustain responsible business models…because…Brendan Gleeson said so?

Most Inexplicable Absence of a Piece of Pop Culture Inside Another Piece of Pop Culture:  “Groundhog Day” and “Edge of Tomorrow”

Time-manipulating alien invaders, exoskeleton-equipped super-soldiers, Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt romance; I’ll buy it all, but fuck off if you ask me to believe the future forgets about Bill Murray.

The Closest Thing We’ll Ever Get to Colin Firth in “Taken”: “The Railway Man”

I’m just saying, Hollywood is leaving a considerable amount of money on the table here.

Most Depressing Captain America Movie: “Snowpiercer”

Maybe that whole time when he was trapped under the ice Steve Rogers was eating babies to survive.

Best Archival Villain: Nazi videotape, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

I don’t think my NYU graduate education in moving image preservation has properly prepared me for the eventuality of discovering Toby Jones’ consciousness downloaded onto 1000 quad machines. I want my money back.

Most Concerned I’ve Ever Been That an Actor’s Veins Might Literally Explode on Screen: Hugh Jackman, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

Can someone please tell Mr. Jackman that he can stop being so polite and everyone will be OK if he stops taking steroids now please?

Biggest Genetic Gamble: the child of Sofia Vergara and Jon Favreau, “Chef”

May the odds be ever in your favor, kid.

Most Blatant and Ill-Conceived Attempt to Be Disney But Not Disney: “How To Train Your Dragon 2”

“Everyone knows that the mom always dies in Disney movies…so…what can we do differently….”

Most Actors Acting in Completely Different Movies: “Gone Girl”

I’m not even entirely convinced Tyler Perry knew he was in a movie at all, or if they just filmed him laughing at David Fincher.

Most Han Solos: “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Everyone loves s cocky space pirate. Or fifteen.

Most Anatomical Questions Raised: “The Theory of Everything”

Look, Stephen, I know you’re British and don’t discuss these things. But a throwaway joke is not enough detail here. Forget the black hole stuff. I need charts.

Dumbest Film-Related Complaint of the Year: not enough Godzilla in “Godzilla”

^ Honestly, I don’t know what fucking “more Godzilla” you need.

Cheekiest Punctuation: “Land Ho!”

This could’ve gone to “I, Frankenstein,” but the one thing I would like to reward about THAT film is that they got their grammar right.

Most Likely To Drive You Insane Trying to Figure Out Who’s Voicing That Robot: “Interstellar”

For the record, I love Bill Irwin – he’s freaking phenomenal in “Rachel Getting Married” and does a great job with TARS. But goddamn if he doesn’t sound like every single other famous male actor in Hollywood. Ever. Seriously, I considered that he was the recycled voice of Marlon Brando for a little while.

Most Fucking Instances of Fucking Ralph Fiennes Saying “Fuck” A Fucking Lot: “The Grand Budapest Hotel

Clearly this is so stunning that we must give Wes Anderson all the screenplay awards.

Best Evidence That Everything About the Abortion Sequence in “Juno” Can Go Fuck Itself: “Obvious Child”

To be clear, “Juno” is still a solid-to-good movie overall. But just everything about those scenes. Every. Thing.

Best Cinematic Birth Control Since “Eraserhead”: “The Babadook”

Nope nope nope no children nope nope never nope.

Greatest Disparity Between the Quality of a Movie and the Quality It Has Any Business Being: “The LEGO Movie”

I don’t remember the last time an hour-and-a-half long toy commercial made me cry. Don Draper would be so proud.

Saddest. : “A Most Wanted Man”

RIP, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The Chiara Mastroianni Award: “Nightcrawler”

So this one requires a bit of explanation. Maybe you know Chiara Mastroianni, European actress and model:

A perfectly attractive and striking woman; but, and with no insult meant here, just not the stunning ethereal being that you would expect from the union of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve, two of the most beautiful humans ever to walk this planet:

                          

So how is this relevant to “Nightcrawler?” Well, imagine Marcello Mastroianni is “Taxi Driver” and Catherine Deneuve is “Network.” Now combine the two, if you get my drift. Stunning on paper, very good in practice – and yet…

God Damn It He Sings Too: Michael Fassbender, “Frank”

Life just isn’t fair.

Yo, Is This Racist? : “Dear White People”

Nope!

Most Fascinating Beard/Hair Combo Ever Known to Man: Dave Schultz/Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”

I just can’t….stop….staring at it….

Bloodiest Depiction of Music Since the Lost Director’s Cut of “Mr. Holland’s Opus”: “Whiplash”

I never even considered it before, but I feel really bad for the janitors at Juilliard now.

Best Candidates for the Next-Next Season of “True Detective”: Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin, “Inherent Vice”

With Doc Sportello in the mix we could easily fill Matthew McConaughey’s stoned rants.

Best CGI: “Boyhood”

It’s really amazing what they can do with computers today, man.

Most Ridiculously Art-House Movie of the Year: “Ida”

I mean, it’s a Polish film about a nun discovering the emotionally devastating truth of her family’s death in the Holocaust, filmed in black-and-white Academy ratio. Are we sure this is an actual movie that exists or just a super dedicated Funny or Die sketch?

Highest Combined Total of Physical, Emotional and Social Distress: “Under the Skin”

Ugggggghhhhhhh I’m so uncomfortable but I kind of like it? It’s really weird to be a film snob sometimes.

Most Unexpected Anti-Buddhist Propaganda: “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”

FUCK YOU, MOON BUDDHA.

Most Likely to Confuse Insecure Film Critics: “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

“But…but…they make fun of critics…….must…activate…humorless douchebag mode….”

Most Terrifying Evidence That Littlefinger from “Game of Thrones” Is Attempting to Cross Into Our World Through the Vessel of Aidan Gillen: “Calvary”

It would appeeeeeaaaaarrrr soooooooo…

Reviews: Snowpiercer and Guardians of the Galaxy

I have been severely lax this summer in keeping up with my reviews – a paucity due, in my mind at least, to a combination of increased effort put into my running diary of my summer in Maine (expect one more entry wrapping up my experience with the wonderful folks at Northeast Historic Film) and a general desire these past few months to completely turn off my brain whenever possible. It hasn’t helped that, frankly, I found most of this summer’s big-ticket offerings uninspired: solid and entertaining perhaps, but generally unworthy of extended discussion. There were exceptions of course (more on that in a minute), but getting back within striking distance of New York’s fabulous film scene is really what’s got the gears grinding again.

To limit this already overlong introduction, the point is that I’ve got a severe backlog of films to write about and no better time than now, before the semester starts, in which to do so. My thoughts might be slightly curtailed here just to keep things moving along, but feel free to chime in with some comments and we’ll see if we can get a discussion going! First up, a sci-fi double-header.

Snowpiercer

There’s a certain trend running through contemporary cinema that I like to call the New Nihilism. It’s not a movement bound by national or aesthetic loyalties – the primary examples I can think of come from filmmakers from Denmark to New Mexico, from art-house bonanzas to Netflix favorites – the unifying factor is a suggestion, whether overt or insinuated, that humanity might be better off at this point if we just hit the self-destruct button. Global annihilation is nothing new (Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay have been merrily blowing up international landmarks for 20 years now), but it’s strangely troubling to me to see the particular good-riddance attitude of Lars Von Trier seeping into even mainstream blockbusters.

Not that Bong Joon-ho’s bizarro sci-fi/action mash-up “Snowpiercer” is a mainstream blockbuster – even though he’s working for the first time in the English language and has gathered a host of recognizable Hollywood actors for the occasion, the idiosyncratic sense of genre that Bong brought to his works in Korea (“The Host,” “Memories of Murder,” “Mother”) is still firmly in place. Playing at times like a live-action adaptation of a lost attempt by Frank Miller at anime, “Snowpiercer” bounds between dark comedy and dark… just, dark. The class warfare allegory is neither subtle nor especially insightful, and the film’s screenplay (co-written by Bong and Kelly Masterson, from the graphic novel by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette) puts undue weight on a monologue-heavy third act, but the ornaments hung on this tree are so shiny that one’s attention, and delight, is quite easily directed elsewhere.

The first and foremost thing in the film’s favor is its design: though it bears significant influence from the similar dystopian future societies of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” and “12 Monkeys,” the train-bound, global-ice-age setting gives “Snowpiercer” a fascinating set of limitations. As Chris Evans and his motley crew of tail-end rabble make their way forward to seize control of the engine from the front-end high-rollers, each new car becomes a new challenge: not just for the upstart rebellion, but the director’s imagination. Aquarium, classroom, spa, prison – the function and form of every room becomes its own wonder.

The claustrophobic atmosphere of the train also gives the actors considerably more to do than they might in your typical action flick, as characters from both sides of the struggle bump and rattle against each other, often violently. The performances range from the earnest (Evans, unable, ultimately to the film’s detriment, to shed the all-American decency that makes him a great Steve Rogers) to the downright silly (Tilda Swinton and Allison Pill, both marvelous), but the fierce commitment of all involved to the bit somehow makes this ungainly assortment work. Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung, the leading father and daughter from Bong’s “The Host,” return in similar roles here, directly walking and bolstering the fine tonal balance between irreverence and sincerity that makes Bong’s films stand out.

With a film this sly and unpredictable, it’s nearly impossible to provide an ending that’s “satisfying” in any traditional sense, and so “Snowpiercer” clatters and stutters to its less-than-inevitable conclusion. If that doesn’t sound like a compliment, I’m not sure whether it is either; your ultimate opinion on the film may lie in your general feelings toward the New Nihilism. As a genre DJ, Bong remains an elite talent; as social commentator I find his results more mixed.

Verdict: 3 out of 4 stars

Guardians of the Galaxy

I don’t know if it’s the polarization of acceptable responses brought on by the Age of Hype, or some deep-seeded personal drive toward perversity and contrarianism, but Marvel is turning me into a killjoy. I don’t like being the crotchety old man berating children from the porch, especially since the children in this metaphor are generally mild-mannered and well-intentioned: Marvel Studios has raised the action blockbuster to a level of consistent entertainment for which Hollywood has been searching for a couple decades, and they should be complimented for that. At the same time, I don’t order a Coke and come back saying it tastes like a fine Scottish malt, if you see what I’m saying.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is a slick, smooth ride, a propulsive sci-fi adventure with a good ear for a one-liner. It’s notable among Marvel’s Phase 2 offerings to date for bearing the actual, personal stamp of its director; while “Thor: The Dark World” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” plodded under the restrained visual sense of former TV directors like Alan Taylor and the Russo brothers, James Gunn treats “Guardians” as more than just an expanded budget, and his fondness for bright colors and angles beyond the standard shot-reverse shot makes this film stand out among the brown-on-black Nolan copycats.

It also confirms, now that we’ve moved to a completely new sector of the Marvel universe, the studio’s savvy casting ability. Not many people would’ve seen Chris Pratt on “Parks & Recreation” and seen a leading man in the making, but Pratt has an inherent likability that keeps the audience on his side, even when his characterization errs on the side of asshole. The trend of outperforming thin material is true for more or less the whole cast, from Zoe Saldana’s Gamora (a hard-ass space assassin prone to bits of helplessness and romantic swooning at moments convenient for Pratt’s Star-Lord), Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon (the quippy bounty hunter, trying too hard to be Han Solo in a movie that already has two or three Han Solos), and Lee Pace’s villainous Ronan (who somehow manages to emote under five layers of mascara and a complete lack of character motivation). Vin Diesel, voicing the walking arboretum Groot, gets more laughs out of repetition than I would’ve thought possible, but the standout, shockingly, might be WWE wrestler-turned-actor Dave Batista as the hulking, brooding Drax: Batista’s comic timing is unexpectedly excellent, and he might be the only member of the cast actively resisting the instinct to wink at the audience every five minutes.

This latter trend is indicative of my biggest problem with “Guardians:” Gunn and company want to have their cake and eat it too, enlivening a touching story of friendship with wit and sarcasm. That is the Joss Whedon formula, and the Marvel template since “The Avengers.” But Gunn is not Whedon (few people are) and what ends up happening in “Guardians” is that any moment of emotional development is almost immediately undercut with irony, fan-service, and hilariously impermanent death, lest we be troubled for even a minute that we might lose a beloved character.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” desperately wants to be a “Star Wars” for a new generation, but it’s missing the sincere story-telling that was always at the heart of George Lucas’ series. It’s a well-constructed film – even the typical VFX-riddled third act does a better job than, say, “The Winter Soldier” of keeping sight of its characters among the explosions – but it’s cloy. The two best Marvel films – for my money, “Iron Man” and “The Avengers” – succeed because they don’t feel like they’re holding back for something EVEN BIGGER on the horizon. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a solid introduction to an intriguing world, but I’d rather see it treated as self-contained than teased as just a piece of a puzzle.

Verdict: 2 1/2 out of 4 stars

For Your Consideration: Aug. 1, 2014

It’s been about six months, which must mean it’s time for Marvel to crash the box-office party again. The powerhouse studio is taking its biggest quote unquote “risk” with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a property that was barely known in the mainstream until they cast Vin Diesel as a talking tree. But curiosity over brand loyalty and the new Hollywood business model aside, I’ve found myself more excited and eager for “Guardians” than “Captain America 2: The Released-in-Early-Spring-Because-The-Money-Was-Just-Sitting-There Soldier” or “Thor 2: Still Thor.” Why? Was it the tongue-in-cheek advertising campaign, which promises that mayyyybe this Marvel entry will have a little more self-aware silliness? Was it the actually quite savvy choice of James Gunn, cult genre favorite, as director for a massive blockbuster?

I have realized that no, this goes back deeper: to my personal love for Ethan Edwards and Wyatt Earp and Harmonica. Yes, it always comes back to Westerns, and I’m getting an unmistakable Space Western vibe from Chris Pratt’s cosmic gunslinger and his band of alien outlaws. They don’t call it “the final frontier” for nothing – the Space Western is a proud, under-appreciated tradition that “Guardians” might just help revive (“Cowboys and Aliens” certainly did us no favors). Sometimes sci-fi and Westerns go so well together you don’t even notice – so this week, to put “Guardians” in the proper context, we’re considering three films that laid the cinematic space railroad for this runaway box office train.

I know that was a labored metaphor, just shut up and move on.

– Ethan

“Aliens” (1986)

Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henrikson, Bill Paxton

Available to rent or buy on Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Confused? “Aliens” is a sci-fi/action hybrid you say? Well what do you call it when a homesteader settlement on the edge of civilization is massacred by an unknown Other, leaving an outmatched troop of rescuers to navigate unfamiliar and dangerous territory? Because I call that a Western. Just replace those problematic Native American portrayals with uncontroversial, terrifying aliens, the cavalry with space marines, and John Wayne with Sigourney Weaver, and we’re set. We really shouldn’t have been so surprised when the narrative of “Avatar” boiled down to “Dances With Wolves” with blue people – it’s obvious that James Cameron has had at least one eye on the frontier since the start.

– Ethan

“Space Jam” (1996)

Cast: Bugs Bunny, Michael Jordan, Wayne Knight, Bill Murray, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Danny DeVito

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

I’ve often wondered what inspired Warner Brothers to send Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny to space together, or why NBA stars like Charles Barkley and Larry Bird agreed to it, but whatever the stroke of inspiration, it was one of genius. Almost 20 years later, “Space Jam” has become a cult classic, especially beloved of ‘90s kids and accessible to all ages and generations. The Looney Tunes find themselves besieged by a group of criminal aliens, the Nerdlucks (whose mafioso boss is delightfully voiced by Danny DeVito). To win their freedom from these outlanders, Bugs and friends challenge the short, not-so-bright aliens to a game of basketball. Unfortunately for them—and for the NBA—the Nerdlucks steal the talent (and the physique) of the game’s top stars, so that the Looney Tunes, in desperation, turn to lone hero Michael Jordan, then plying his trade in baseball. Jordan is funny and charismatic, at ease with his cartoon co-stars, while the Looney Tunes bring a star-studded cast featuring all the classic favorites. If all that’s not enough, even Bill Murray shows up. It’s a sports movie and cartoon in one (Editor’s note: with just a splash of “Magnificent Seven!”), the theme song will forever echo in your head, and a trip to outer space never looked so appealing.

– Elaine

“Serenity” (2005)

Cast: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Summer Glau, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher

Available streaming on Netflix, or to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant or iTunes

It’s fairly impossible to discuss this genre anymore without bringing up Joss Whedon’s ill-fated TV show “Firefly.” Thanks to its second life on Netflix, “Firefly” and its cinematic follow-up/wrap-up “Serenity” probably has the biggest Space Western-fanboy following this side of “Star Wars” – but don’t let the rabid Comic-Con-goers cloud what actually makes the series great. It’s not Summer Glau beating up everyone, nor even Whedon’s trademark quippy dialogue: it’s the delicate mash-up of genre and tone, with the outer reaches of the galaxy, like the Old West before it, portrayed in equal measure as a place of swashbuckling adventure and brutal violence, of morality tested in a world where morality might mean nothing at all.

– Ethan