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From diabolical tech terrorism to brutal slave ownership, the actors that make up this year’s best traversed a wide canvas of creative and cinematic choices.


 

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The Cabin in the Woods

Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford

15


Richard Jenkins / Bradley Whitford
The Cabin in the Woods


Like a well seasoned comedy team, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford provide the provocative meta center of reference for this delightful deconstruction of hoary old horror movie tropes. As bureaucrats forced to find unwilling victims for their dark God overlord’s fright night enjoyment, this bland, button down duo delivers in both the standard laugh dynamics as well as grounding the otherwise outlandish premise in all manner of office space specificity. By the end, when Hell has been literally unleashed and they must fend for themselves, their true weasel-like nature comes forth. Until then, they are the jaded post-modern movie audience, cynically commenting on everything they see while enjoying the gory, blood and guts ride along the way. Bill Gibron


 

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Django Unchained

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo Dicaprio, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Dennis Christopher

14


Christoph Waltz
Django Unchained


Christoph Waltz suffers from something we critics like to call “Werner Herzog Syndrome”. Like the well-known German auteur, this amazing actor could read literally anything—a grocery list, a summons, 50 Shades of Gray—and make it sound inherently interesting and entertaining. Here, he plays an ex-dentist turned bounty hunter whose making a killing—both figuratively and financially—among the outlaw attributes of pre-Civil War America. Taking on Jamie Foxx’s sullen slave as an apprentice, he spends most of the time talking about his career choices, his sense of duty, and in one memorable moment, the art of negotiation. Again, like Herzog, one could list to Waltz blather on and on and never once grow bored. In this case, the character created by Quentin Tarantino benefits from such a superb vocal presence. Bill Gibron


 

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Rock of Ages

Director: Adam Shankman
Cast: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Åkerman, Mary J. Blige, Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise

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Tom Cruise
Rock of Ages


Granted, the movie is awful. Any junky jukebox compilation of ‘80s hair metal would definitely suffer from an overdose of vocally challenged Hollywood performers. But as the aging, out-of-touch rocker trying for yet another career comeback, Cruise gets it. He has the swagger and the savvy, but he also understands the notion of adulation lost and the deep seeded desperation to get it back. Watching his Stacey Jaxx struggle to get the recognition that fuels his engorged ego is like revisiting Cruise’s career circa the beginning of the new millennium. No other superstar carries as much personal baggage as the Saint of Scientology, and with this performance, the actor channels his challenges to create one of the most honest portrayals of past glories ever. Bill Gibron


 

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Life of Pi

Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Gerard Depardieu, Rafe Spall

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Suraj Sharma
Life of Pi


The bundled nerve center of Ang Lee’s masterful Life of Pi is Suraj Sharma, who plays the titular Indian teenage boy with a sense of bravery and commitment that belies his years and his lack of previous onscreen experience. Sharma convincingly embodies Pi’s mingled fear and wonder at his isolation on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with only a tiger as tense company. But Sharma is not merely a Spielbergian vessel for wide-eyed awe. He lets us into Pi’s lively mind as he adapts and formulates solutions to his hardships. Sharma’s Pi Patel is an active survivor who is in control of his own story, both in the living and in the telling. Ross Langager


 

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The Raid: Redemption

Director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Donny Alamsyah ,Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno, Tegar Setrya, Ray Sahetapy

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Yayan Ruhian
The Raid: Redemption


When people talk about this violent, brutal Indonesian action flick, they are always going on about star Iko Uwais and director Gareth Evans. In 2009, the duo introduced the martial art pencak silat to moviegoers with their excellent Merantau, and this fight filled fracas is no different. But the real find here is Ruhian, who plays the unstoppable fist force Mad Dog. Small in stature but long on knuckle to nose endurance, his fight scenes with star Uwais are marvels of human endurance. Like watching wire fu for the first time, or seeing Jet Li deliver a carefully choreographed beatdown, there is a joy in such savagery, an appreciation of the stunt work wonders that come with such precise pummeling. Uwais is already famous. Here’s hoping Ruhian gets the cult call out he deserves. Bill Gibron


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12 Years a Slave is every bit as intense as one might imagine, though not completely depressing, whereas Django Unchained aestheticizes its extreme violence.
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