Monthly Archives: February 2015

Lyle’s Totally Subjective Top Ten Films Of 2014

 

This past year in film was filled with high expectations.  There were some disappointments, a few good biographical films from England, exceptional ensemble casts, and a film twelve years in the making. The word, “subjective” is proudly displayed in the title because, by nature, I am a very impressionable person, guided by who I am with, what I had to eat or drink and whatever mood that results.  Sitting in a dark theater watching credits, trying to embrace what I just watched, Karen’s interpretation of the film, Calvary confirmed what I was feeling.  Released in August, no other stood up to the power of this film.

#1 – Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)

Maybe it was the modern, intimate Volant Theater in Austin, Texas, maybe the spring rolls and beer that I carried into the

"Calvary"

“Calvary”

small house, but the little heralded Irish film, Calvary moved me like no other film in 2014.  From the startling opening line to the last scene, this is a bold film delivered by Brendan Gleeson’s brilliant portrayal of a priest in remote northern Ireland,  A creatively aberrant screenplay and a topical issue of these times, the plot is unveiled in the opening scene with a threat that is consuming throughout as the story reveals a wave of eccentric characters that could all be the ultimate antagonist.  The priest’s connection with his confused daughter reveals much depth and integrity to Gleeson’s innocent character as he confronts peril connected to the issue of child abuse within the Catholic church.  It may not be for the timid, but Calvary delivers realism through good writing, exceptional film-making and deserves to be called one of the best films of 2014.

#2 – Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (Alejandro Inarritu)

My expectations for Birdman were high.  A dark comedy and Michael Keaton always seems to be a good marriage.  The

"Birdman"

“Birdman”

cast, with names like Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Zack Galifianakis begs the question, “Why did so many fine actors choose this film?”  because it clearly could not be for the money.  Lastly, director Alejandro Inarritu usually rides the fence between mysticism and reality.  In a biographical twist, Keaton portrays yesterday’s celebrity superhero who puts his heart, soul and legend into producing his own play, based on an obscure novel.  The future of his career, his relationships, his self-worth is on the line while he fights off the pressures of a scattered past.  Norton delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the obnoxious, narcissistic co-star and Emma Stone’s character balances compassion and confusion.  So, just throw caution in the wind and enjoy the film that would get my vote.

#3-A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn)

From a John Carre’ novel on international espionage, A Most Wanted Man features Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his

"A Most Wanted Man"

“A Most Wanted Man”

last role, as a crusty, veteran German spy obsessed with the capture of an illegal with ties to a terrorist organization.  A reluctant collaboration with an American CIA agent, played by Robin Wright leads to much intrigue and suspense with an unexpected twist at the end.  Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance was so seamless that I fully foresaw an Oscar nomination.  Unfortunately, an early release date may have resulted in the film and performance being overlooked.

#4-Boyhood (Richard Linklater) 

There has never been another film like Boyhood.  Taking 12 years to make a film with two

"Boyhood"

“Boyhood”

important child characters is always a risk.  However, I was most intrigued with the physical, emotional and maturational changes in the adult characters, namely Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, both deserving of their nominations.  Overall, this is a story of survival and, in my two-hour snapshot, I felt like a 12-year friend of the family.  Director Richard Linklater created the groundbreaking experiment and it worked.  It would be unfortunate to make him wait another 12 years for an Oscar.

#5-The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

What’s not to like about Wes Anderson films, quirky stories developed around quirky characters that seem to attract the best actors in the world.  Although The Grand Budapest Hotel boasts a

brilliant screenplay and great performances, led by Ralph Fiennes, what sets it apart, for me, was the extraordinary

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

cinematography.  This was a beautiful film to watch and, not since the French film, Amelie, have colors played such a significant role in the enjoyment of a movie. Let’s all root for cinematographer Robert Yeoman to win Oscar.

#6 – The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum)

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“The Theory of Everything”

The idea of a mathematician developing a machine that breaks the German “enigma” code, literally ending WWII, later to be persecuted by the same government he served for being homosexual would make a compelling screenplay.  Actually, it is a true story that needed to be told.   Benedict Cumberbatch does indeed deliver a gifted performance as Alan Turing, the man who actually did break the code and was later prosecuted for his sexuality.  Kiera Knightly’s character as a young female mathematician living with the glass ceiling for woman in the 40’s, added good chemistry.

#7 – The Theory of Everything (James Marsh)

The second big British biopic featured Eddie Redmayne’s staggering portrayal of acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking during his famous research and struggles with the onset of ALS disease.  While

"The Theory of Everything"

“The Theory of Everything”

Redmayne’s performance makes him an Oscar frontrunner, I found Felicity Jone’s role of Jane Wilde Hawking to be a major force in the film and she deserves her nomination.  The Theory of Everything had everything from beautiful cinematography to compelling drama.

#8 – American Sniper (Clint Eastwood)

The focus of this film was the man, the human being that was Chris Kyle and what led to his role

"American Sniper"

“American Sniper”

and legend as a famous sniper.  That being said, Bradley Cooper does an admiral job delineating the man who saw himself as a protector.  The film contains realism that is, at times, hard to watch, but any judgements on the controversial subject were left to the viewer, as it should be. Clint Eastwood’s low-key, efficient style makes this film work.

#9 – Gone Girl (David Fincher)

I liked Gone Girl, I even liked the ending.  Having not read the book, I found it to be a classic thriller, unique in its own way, with a rememberable performance by Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne, the lovely young wife who becomes something else.  Who would have thought.

"Gone Girl"

“Gone Girl”

#10 – Rosewater (John Stewart)

I give the nod to Rosewater, John Stewart’s first venture into film, due to the timely topic and Gael Garcia Bernal’s riveting performance as Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who

"Rosewater"

“Rosewater”

was detained for over 100 days in an Iranian prison because of a satirical  interview on Stewart’s, “The Daily Show.”  The film has some flaws, but the interchange between the Bahari character and the interrogator was worth the price of admission.

If you can find them, “Me And My Moulton” and “Boogaloo and Graham” are highly recommended in the Animated Short and Live Short categories.  Enjoy the movies!

 

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The Auteur of Sonoma

 

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Winemaker Kenneth Juhasz

The French word for author, “auteur” is used in the film industry to describe when a film fully reflects the creative and imaginative perceptions of one person.  Auteur Winery, home to some of the truly fine wines available for tasting on the Sonoma Square, reflects the passion and meticulous energy of Kenneth Juhasz, whose efforts in creating high quality cool-climate chardonnay and pinot noir has earned him recognition as a “winemaker who has made a difference” from Wine Spectator magazine.  Kenneth owns Auteur with his wife, Laura, sourcing grapes from some of Sonoma and Napa County’s outstanding vineyards to create his exceptional wines.

Juhasz has a hands-on approach at all stages of winemaking resulting in a prodigious collection of low production, high quality wines that are becoming more recognized.  I was introduced to Auteur a few years ago and enjoyed the wines tasted, but with the expanding market and choices, lost contact.  Eager to re-visit the experience, we made arrangements for a tasting of 2012 releases.

Among many options near the Sonoma Square, Auteur Winery and Sojourn Cellars offer the best environment for an informative and personalized tasting, all for $25.00 per person.  Located in a quaint cottage on First Street, a few doors from Sondra Bernstein’s “The Girl and the Fig” restaurant, the Auteur tasting room provides a very comfortable setting for a comprehensive tasting that leaves one with the impression of a more refined wine acumen.  Today, we are joined by my son, his fiancee and our host, Bobbi Cohen, to discover the different nuances of each vineyard producing the fruit for their chardonnay and pinot noir.

We began tasting the coastal influenced chardonnay, some from Napa County’s Carneros region and the others from the Sonoma Coast.  Like many modern auteur_greenacres_chard_12winemakers, Juhasz does not own a vineyard, so selection of those from which to source grapes is an essential part of the production process.  The 2012 Auteur Carneros Green Acres Chardonnay ($42), receiving a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator, lived up to its reviews with expressive fruit and a crisp acidity. Stone fruit and green apple flavors with an extended finish will definitely get your attention.

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Auteur cottage tasting room

Once again from the Carneros region, the 2012 Auteur Carneros Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay ($45)closely resembled a Burgundian wine with crisp, complex flavors and a nice, rich minerality. Robert Parker labeled it a “California grand cru,” reviewing the wine at 94-points.

I have, in my cellar, at least three different wines from the Durell Vineyard at the Sonoma coast, all of them standing out, all with a similar opulence. The 2012 Auteur Durell Vineyard Chardonnay ($45) is no exception. A rich, creamy mouthfeel with ripe flavors of peach, pear, melon and spice has led to ratings in the mid-nineties.  For me, this was the one to take home.

Actually originating from vineyards in Green Valley, Carneros and Sonoma Coastauteur_durell_chard_12 appellations, the 2012 Auteur Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($32) is a terrific wine and outstanding value. The Durell, Dutton and Green Acre Vineyards all contribute to fresh fruit-forward flavors, a rich minerality, a lingering finish and a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator.

The warm, relaxed setting of the cottage made the perfect environs to discover the nuances of this varietal from different micro-climates.  There is truly a chardonnay here for all palates.  With ideal climate conditions for the 2012 vintage, many experts feel these white wines can age several years in the bottle.

We anticipate that repetition of this process with Auteur’s pinot noir releases will be equally rewarding. Having previously tasted a past vintage of the Manchester Ridge, we were prepared to compare the subtleties  of four diverse pinot noir vineyards. Autuer’s pinot vineyards are a bit more eclectic in that they are represented by Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley as well as the Sonoma Coast.

A popular wine, the 2012 Auteur Manchester Ridge Pinot Noir ($45) comes auteur_manchesterridgepn_12from a coastal vineyard 2,000 feet above sea level.  Described as a “discontinuous AVA,” it is composed of varying ridges and pinnacles overlooking the Sonoma coast.  This wine can be simply summed up as a flavorful combination of berries, herbs and spice.  Consisting of two Dijon clones, it is co-fermented in 50% new French oak for added richness.  After receiving a 91-point rating, demand increased and the 2012 vintage is sold out. I suggest you put a reminder of future vintages in your “tickler file.”

Organically farmed and clearly the most savory of the current releases, the 2012 Auteur Savoy Pinot Noir ($45) comes from an Anderson Valley vineyard, acclaimed for the past two decades.  An exceptional bouquet and concentrated, layered flavors result in a special wine, limited only by small production and high demand.  Another 90-point rating, another sell-out leads to anticipation of the spring release.

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Host Bobbi Cohen led the tasting

There has been much written about the 2012 vintage of Oregon pinot noir, describing it as the best in years.  Add the Yamhill Carlton AVA Shea Vineyard that has produced many luscious pinot’s over the years and the 2012 Auteur Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60) is a wine that deserves attention.  Wonderfully aromatic and balancing a multitude of flavors, it warrants the accolades it has garnered and can be cellared for a few years to fully blossom.

Our last wine, the only multi-vineyard pinot noir of the tasting, was blessed with inviting aromas and a surprisingly complex array of savory and concentrated fruit flavors.  The 2012 Auteur Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($42) offers an eloquent bouquet and complex fruit and spice on the palate. An excellent wine for the price and boasting mid-nineties ratings, it became the one for me.

With no shortage of high quality chardonnay and pinot noir in Sonoma County, Auteur Winery is a pleasant find and their wines can stand up to any, deserving the attention of those who are serious.  The winery establishes a mailing list to inform interested consumers of new releases that are all available on-line.  With growing popularity, four of the fall wines that we tasted are now sold out, emphasizing the need to network.

1613859_697451380316478_6471096889845669972_nWith an abundance of vineyards and wineries in Sonoma County, some care must be taken when selecting wines.  Auteur wines has the accolades and will soon to be discovered by fine palates everywhere.