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Matt's Top & Bottom 10 Films Of 2014


For the 19th time, I’ve put together my annual top 10 and bottom 10 films of the year!  You can check out all my previous lists by clicking here.  I went through the list on 612ABC Brisbane a week or so ago and we took a few calls from listeners.  You can listen to the podcast here.

I saw a total of 202 movies in 2014 (excluding unreleased stuff from film festivals) so let's quickly get the junk out of the way…


Worst 10 Films Of 2014

They tried to be truly awful but films that were just outside my worst 10 list included Need For Speed, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Tammy, I Frankenstein, A Castle In Italy, The Face Of Love, That Awkward Moment, Endless Love, Noah and Transcendence.


10. Step Up All In (Sep 11) brings together characters from the previous Step Up flicks for more elaborate dance sequences. Fans will probably enjoy but there's no appeal for anyone else. It's the same old stuff.

9. A Million Ways To Die In The West (May 29) is a spoof western that uses the same jokes again and again and again. Did we need 4 fart jokes in the opening 30 minutes? Seth MacFarlane can't carry this film. I quickly grew tired of his politically incorrect humour (which is not witty).

8.
Blended (Jun 12) is not very good (to put it politely). It's the story of two single parents (Adam Sandler & Drew Barrymore) who meet on a blind date and end up taking their respective children on an African adventure. There's no wit, no charm to any of the jokes. It's not even risqué.

7.
Fat Pizza Vs. Housos (Nov 27) is a one-note, morally bankrupt comedy that highlights all the people that make Australia so great - prison rapists, corrupt officials, slutty women, dole bludgers, drug dealers, arsonists, thieves and "retards". Just don't see the point of this.

6.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Jan 16) is the first big failure of 2014. It's stunningly awful. The plot of Austin Powers had more credibility than this US-Russia terrorist thriller. The story is rushed, the dialogue is cringe-worthy, and the villains are pathetic.

5. Annie (Dec 18) is a mess. The songs have been overproduced and the writers have failed miserably in their attempts to take this classic tale, which was originally set in the Great Depression, and adapt it to a current day setting. You'll need thick rose-coloured glasses if you're to like any of these characters.

4. Mrs Brown's Boys D'movie (Jul 24) is a film spin-off from the popular TV series and follows a cigarette-loving, foul-mouthed grandmother trying to save her small business from a money hungry property developer. Making some odd style choices (the film is bizarrely self aware of itself), this is a comedy absent of laughs.

3.
The Volcano (Jun 26) is a torturous French comedy about a divorced couple forced to go on a 2,000km road trip to get to their daughter's wedding in Greece. You couldn't find two more irritating, insensitive characters. Their actions are moronic. Really found it hard to laugh.

2.
The Captive (Dec 4) is a pathetic thriller about a father trying to track down his abducted daughter. The film's fragmented timeline appears to only serve one purpose - to try to hide the many plot holes. Why are the abductor's plans so elaborate? Why are the police so incompetent? Why are the issues of rape and torture skirted around?

1. Winter's Tale (Feb 13) is an incoherent mess set in a fantasy world that is never explained. The music is overdone, the casting is wrong and the narration only adds to the confusion.


Top 10 Films Of 2014

It’s always tricky coming up with a final top 10 list year.  Honourable mentions go to Force Majeure, Chef, Saving Mr Banks, Inside Llewyn Davis, Wadjda, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Lego Movie and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite squeeze them into my list.

But here are my top 10 in reverse order…

The Wolf Of Wall Street

10. The Wolf Of Wall Street (out Jan 23) is the true story of Jordan Belfort - a man who epitomised greed and created one of the world's largest stockbroking firms. Some might argue about the perverse content, the excessive coarse language, the frequent drug use, the workplace sex, the orgies, the nudity, the misogyny, the discrimination… but it’s hard to fault the performance of Leonardo DiCaprio. Plenty to think about.


The Maze Runner

9. The Maze Runner (out Sep 18) can be enjoyed for two reasons. Firstly, it's a cool, intriguing mystery about some teenagers trapped in a giant maze. Who built it? Why are they there? Secondly, there's an interesting dynamic between the characters. Not all get along and it's very Lord Of The Flies-esque. Shot for just $30m, this film held my attention all the way through.


Whiplash

8. Whiplash (out Oct 23) is a terrific character study about a jazz drummer trying to succeed and his sadistic teacher who keeps pushing him beyond his physical and emotional limits. Winner of the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, this is a powerful film headlined by two passionate performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons.


The Raid 2

7. The Raid 2 (out Mar 27) is incredible. A 150 minute bloodbath that creatively uses visuals, sound and music. The story isn't bad either - a police officer goes undercover to expose the massive corruption within the force. The action genre doesn't get much better. We warned though - it's VIOLENT.


A Most Wanted Man

6. A Most Wanted Man (out Jul 31) is a cracking spy thriller that stars an overweight, chain-smoking Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final leading role. It doesn't succumb to silly Hollywood twists. Like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it's a sharp, intelligent, insightful film that shows how difficult life can be as top spy.


Edge Of Tomorrow

5. Edge Of Tomorrow (out Jun 5) is the duck's nuts. It's a sensational action flick from director Doug Liman (Go) that follows a not-so-flash soldier stuck in a Groundhog Day like scenario who is trying to save the world from an alien invasion. It's a creative premise, there's plenty of humour, the aliens are freaky, and the editing over the overlapping timelines is perfect. This is as good as the action genre gets.


Nebraska

4. Nebraska (out Feb 20) is the story of an old man, suffering from the early stages of dementia, who incorrectly believes he won a $1 million sweepstakes prize. This is another wonderful feature film from director Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways, The Descendants) where dialogue has been used sparingly. Bruce Dern heads the superb cast.


12 Years A Slave

3. 12 Years A Slave (out Jan 30) is based on the autobiographical novel from Solomon Northup - an African-American who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery. Dialogue is kept to minimum (a feature of other Steve McQueen films) and the performances are exemplary. It’s a heavy, depressing film but it’s also one that’s hard to discredit.


Still Life

2. Still Life (out Jul 24) follows a middle-aged council employee charged with the responsibility of organising funerals when a person has died with no friends or family. This is an immensely warm-hearted drama that is dripping with poignant moments. Eddie Marsan is fantastic is the leading role. There aren’t many films that have reduced me to tears but Still Life can now be added to that short list.


Boyhood

1. Boyhood (out Sep 4) is masterpiece that chronicles the process of “growing up” through the eyes of an introverted kid named Mason. Director Richard Linklater shot this fictional tale over 12 years using the same actors! It seamlessly jumps between time frames and the character interaction feels amazingly natural. Sure to release the valve on your own childhood memories, this is about as good as cinema can get.
 

Interview - Aussie Ed Oxenbould Breaks Out With 'Alexander'

Ed Oxenbould

13-year-old Ed Oxenbould is the star of Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and I was fortunate to speak with him recently about what is his breakout role in Hollywood. You can listen to the full interview by clicking here.

Matt:  You’re the star of this big Hollywood movie but many might be surprised to know you grew up here in Australia.  Can you tell us a little about your background?

Ed:  I’m a Sydney boy, I grew up in Bondi and it was pretty incredible to be part of an American film.  I thought I might be visiting America as a tourist one day but to be working there never crossed my mind.

Matt:  How old were you when you made Alexander?

Ed:  12 years old.

Matt:  Can you tell us a little about the audition process?  I’m guessing there were a lot of kids up for the role.

Ed:  Yeah, around 500 American kids so when I got the call, it was mind blowing.  All that was going through my head was “what am I going to do, what am I going to do?”  I hadn’t even learned an American accent at that time.  It was crazy.

Matt:  How long was the process?  How many auditions did you have to go through?

Ed:  A lot.  I started out by doing an audition tape in my living room with a video camera.  My parents are both actors so they read some of the lines.  We sent it away and got some good feedback.  They then flew us over to Los Angeles to meet the director which was amazing.  Me and my mum were treated really nicely and we flew over business class.  It was like a dream.

Matt:  Did you know some of the other kids that you were up against?

Ed:  Not really.  I think if I had of been in America it would have been different because I would have been going physically to the office but in the end it was kind of good because I didn’t really know my competition.

Matt:  Did director Miguel Arteta ever give you feedback about what it was that got you over the line and made you stand out from all the others who were auditioning?

Ed:  He only really told me after I got the role and that he thought I was natural and not too over-the-top and fake.  He just thought I was like a real kid.

Matt:  We know that scenes are shot over a few weeks and the finished product is heavily edited.  How many lines do you normally have to learn at once to shoot a particular sequence?

Ed:  It really depends on the project that you’re working on.  I’ve done three feature films now and they’ve all been completely different.  We had a lot of time to film Alexander and so we only did between 2 and 4 scenes a day.  You didn’t need to learn that much.  Then, I did an Australian film in Western Australia where you had to learn a lot because there wasn’t a lot of time.  We were doing up to 10 scenes a day. 

Matt:  For someone who is so young, how easy is it?  Do you have your own tricks to remember certain pieces of dialogue?

Ed:  I’m lucky enough to have a photographic memory.  I picture it in my mind and go through it over and over again with my parents.  I’m really lucky that they’re both actors because they motivate me a lot.

Matt:  You’ve already mentioned the American accent that you have to use in this film.  Do you use a dialect coach?  How do you get that down pat?

Ed:  When I was doing my auditions, I based my accent on things I’d seen like The Simpsons and American films.  It was pretty rough at that time.  When I got the role, I was given this amazing dialect coach, Susan, who taught me everything to make it sound really authentic… like a lazy Californian.

Matt:  There are scenes here where you’re tripping over and setting stuff on fire.  Is there any stunt and safety work involved in a movie like this?

Ed:  Yeah, definitely.  There were quite a lot of stunts and it was kind of funny because we had the stunt coordinator from Avatar.  There were scenes where we were tripping over skateboards and he was acting like we were falling out of buildings.  He was great and really funny.  There’s a lot of safety as well.  Like in that scene where I’m lighting stuff on fire, there were fireman and policemen to make sure nothing went wrong.

Matt:  Do you have someone who does your stunts for you?  Or do you get asked to do that sort of stuff yourself?

Ed:  They ask you and they ask your parents if you’re comfortable.  I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity so I said yes to most things.

Matt:  Do you have a parent who is with you on the set at all times?

Ed:  Yep, by law you have to have one.

Matt:  Is there a certain number of hours you can work each day?

Ed:  It’s about 9 and a half hours if they have to go over that and do overtime then they can get special contracts or maybe even do it illegally (laughs).

Matt:  You’re hanging out with an experienced cast that includes Steve Carrell and Jennifer Garner.  What sort of things do you get to learn working alongside them?

Ed:  You learn a lot from just watching them.  You lean comedic timing and you learn how to behave on set.  I also learned from Miguel and then Dylan and Kerris – my other co-stars.

Matt:  Do you get to spend any time with them off the set?

Ed:  Yeah.  We obviously spent a lot of time together on-set but me, Dylan and Kerris had such a special bond that we hung out together a lot off set.  Even though we were working together for 9 and a half hours each day, we didn’t get enough of each other so we’d go out, hang out, have dinner together and just sit down and talk.  I loved those two. 

Matt:  This is a film that will surely open a lot of doors for you.  Have you been getting more scripts and going along to more auditions?

Ed:  Yeah, things have been coming through since I did Alexander.  I was lucky enough to get an M. Night Shyamalan film called The Visit.  That probably wouldn’t have happened if not for this.  It’s a horror film coming out next September.  More scripts have been coming through too so it really has changed my life.

Matt:  Are you still based in Australia now or are you now living in Hollywood?

Ed:  I’m still technically living here but we spend a lot of time now in America.  The plan is to eventually move over to Los Angeles whether it be in 2 years or 10 years. 

Matt:  What have you got in the works?  When will we see you next on screen?

Ed:  The Visit is out in September but before that there’s Paper Planes which is coming out in January.  It’s an Aussie film with Sam Worthington that was directed by Robert Connolly which was great.

 

Interview - Writer-Director Dan Gilroy On 'Nightcrawler'

Dan Gilroy

Nightcrawler marks the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy and the film has already made quite an impact – both with the public and with critics.  On the eve of the film’s release here in Australia, I spoke with Dan about his background and the film itself. You can listen to the full interview by clicking here.

Matt:  Your older brother is an Academy Award nominated director and your twin brother is an editor who worked on this film.  How is it that all of you decided to pursue a career in the film industry?

Dan:  Our father is a playwright and we all wanted to make independent films when we were growing up.  After college, my brothers became bartenders and I was a waiter.  We eventually decided that if we wanted to find a professional career, the movie business seemed as good a place as any given what we knew.

Matt:  This is a film that has something to say about the public’s fascination with certain types of news stories and the way networks use fear to boost ratings.  Was there a particular event that inspired the screenplay?

Dan:  There wasn’t a specific event.  What inspired the screenplay was hearing about people who did this job.  When I researched the world of nightcrawlers, it led me into this other world of local television news which then becomes a more detailed analysis of the idea of selling fear.  I became fascinated by the entire system.

Matt:  Can you tell us about the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal.  He’s a fantastic actor but was there something about him that made you think he was suited to the role of Lou Bloom?

Dan:  I, like many people, have been a fan of Jake going back to Brokeback Mountain.  Five years ago, he came out publicly and said that he was turning his back on Hollywood mainstream films to do things that were more personal and had more meaning to him.  I had written this script as a very personal film and not only do I love Jake as an actor, I’d become very intrigued with him as an artist and someone who wanted to push himself into places where you don’t normally see such a high profile actor.

He was right at the top of my list.  His agent read the script and sent it to him.  I flew to Atlanta while he was filming Prisoners and we had a very productive 5 hour dinner where it became apparent that we were creatively in tune and wanted to work together.

Matt:  Where did you come up with some of this dialogue?  Lou speaks in such a robotic like manner and he’s continually using phrases that feel like they’re straight out of a self-help book.

Dan:  You’re right.  He’s a character who I don’t give you too much information about.  I knew that he had an implied story of abandonment and abuse.  He was probably raised alone, unschooled and with a computer nearby.  I just imagined that he had gone online and with a photographic memory, he started learning a corporate / human resources way of speaking.  It became his bible, his mantra.

Matt:  I saw a comment on Twitter just yesterday (Myke Bartlett) from someone who said that “Nightcrawler is a film that implicates the viewer, not just for our taste in news but by making us cheer on its hero.”  I’m curious about your thoughts on that?  Is Lou a bad guy?  Or just a slave to the corporate news system like so many others?

Dan:  Lou is a dangerously maladjusted individual who is dangerous to society.  Jake and I approached him with love because we wanted to find a more human landscape rather than make him a simple psychopath.   We also approached it as a success story and that’s what makes it so unnerving for the viewer.

We’re not celebrating what he did but we want people at the end of the film to say to themselves “hey, wait a minute, maybe the problem isn’t Lou… maybe the problem is the world that creates and rewards Lou, and hey, I’m of that world.”  The audience needs to ask themselves if they do watch these images and they do drive these ratings up.  Are the part of this entire system and this problem?  It’s an indictment on society.

Matt:  The relationship between Lou and Nina is the film is interesting.  There’s an implication that the pair have been romantic but we don’t see any of that on screen.  Was there a deliberate reason for that?

Dan:  Yeah, it came from the idea that the Lou had no backstory.  I always felt that anything I showed you that was of a personal nature was going to have tremendous resonance.  I didn’t want to specifically define what is sexual desires were and I couldn’t imagine writing any scene that would compete with whatever the audience imagined was going on.  I think each person would imagine something different in some horrible way.

Matt:  I thought the use of music in the film was interesting.  It felt quite light, upbeat in places given the heavy nature of the material.  Is it a contrast you were asking for from composer James Newton Howard?

Dan:  Yeah, that’s a great comment and a lot of people don’t pick up on it.  The score is utterly counterpoint from a moral standpoint to what’s going on in the film.  Every cue is a celebration.  What James and I talked about is that it’s really the music in Lou’s deranged head that you’re hearing.  If it was an objective score, it would have had much darker undertones.  We don’t do that.  It’s a subversive score in the sense that we’re trying to connect the audience to Jake’s character and follow this journey and become involved with it.

We have NOT allowed the audience to say “oh, this is like American Psycho where he’s just a psychopath. “  Once you say it’s just a character study about a deranged person who “came out the factory defective”, you lose a lot of thematic relevance.  I like taking the audience to the very end of the film and leaving them asking questions like “who was he?” and “why was I still involved in it?” and “what does this say about the world?”  That was very much the design.

Matt:  So much of the film is shot at night in Los Angeles.  How easy was it to find great locations and capture the action so clearly?

Dan:  I think Los Angeles is a great place to find locations because it’s so big and so spread out.  Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t shooting here right now.  The other advance of shooting in Los Angeles at night is that there’s no traffic!  Everyone in Los Angeles goes to bed very early and the streets are almost empty by 10pm in most places.  It allows you to move around with a freedom that is very unusual.  You can’t do it in New York, Philadelphia or Chicago – these are cities that are open 24 hours a day.

Matt:  The awards season is about to kick off in Hollywood and Nightcrawler just earned 5 nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards including best first feature.  What do you make of the whole awards season race?  Is it something you take a lot of satisfaction from to see the film recognised in that way?

Dan:  It’s tremendously satisfying and gratifying to see people nominating us for awards.  I think there’s a danger if you get too caught up in it at this early stage because it’s a legitimate horse race and you don’t know what the twists and turns are going to be.  I think some people are more invested in it than I am.

For me, as a first time filmmaker who made a film for $8.5m and has gotten a very positive response, I feel that I’ve won already.  It sounds like a bit of a cliché but if nothing else positive happens for this film, I’ll still feel gratified.

Matt:  This is your first feature so I’ll finish up by asking what have you got in the works as a follow up?

Dan:  I’m currently writing another script for me to direct.  It’s set in Los Angeles and it’s got another strong character in the middle of it.  It’s another world and I’d like to make it for an even lower budget.  I’m at the early stages of research so I’ve got 4-5 months of research ahead of me and then another couple of months of writing after that.  It’ll be a while before it’s done but I’d like to do that next.

Matt's First Predictions In The 2015 Oscars Race

Each year in mid-November, I like to throw to weigh in with a few early Oscar predictions.  The “awards season” officially kicks off on December 1 when the New York Film Critics Circle announce their prize winners.  They will be followed by a plethora of critics’ awards and then big televised awards (Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild).  The three month race will come to a close on 22 February 2015 when the Oscar winners are revealed.

The early analysis seems to suggest a small group of contenders this year.  There aren’t too many films likely to surprise on Oscar night (at least according to most bloggers).

Films already released in Australia which will contend for best picture are Boyhood, Gone Girl, Interstellar, Whiplash, Fury and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Here’s a look at the films (in order of release date) that also have a big shot at securing a best picture nomination.  I’ve included a quick blurb from the IMDB to tell you what each is about…

Mr Turner
Release Date:  26 December 2014
Director:  Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy)
Starring:  Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage
Plot:  An exploration of the last quarter century of the great, if eccentric, British painter J.M.W. Turner's life.

The Imitation Game
Release Date:  1 January 2015
Director:  Morten Tyldum (Headhunters)
Starring:  Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance
Plot:  English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, helps crack the Enigma code during World War II.

Into The Woods
Release Date:  8 January 2015
Director:  Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha)
Starring:  Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt
Plot:  A witch conspires to teach important lessons to various characters of popular children's stories including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel.

Birdman
Release Date:  15 January 2015
Director:  Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams)
Starring:  Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan
Plot:  A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

Unbroken
Release Date:  15 January 2015
Director:  Angelina Jolie
Starring:  Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Jai Courtney, Garrett Hedlund
Plot:  A chronicle of the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II.

American Sniper
Release Date:  22 January 2015
Director:  Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby)
Starring:  Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Luke Grimes
Plot:  A Navy S.E.A.L. recounts his military career, which includes more than 150 confirmed kills.

Wild
Release Date:  22 January 2015
Director:  Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club)
Starring:  Reese Witherspoon, Gaby Hoffmann, Laura Dern, Michiel Huisman
Plot:  A chronicle of one woman's 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe.

The Theory Of Everything
Release Date:  29 January 2015
Director:  James Marsh (Man On Wire)
Starring:  Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney
Plot:  A look at the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.

Foxcatcher
Release Date:  29 January 2015
Director:  Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball)
Starring:  Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave
Plot:  Wrestler Mark Schultz forms a relationship with his new sponsor, millionaire John du Pont, as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul - a union that leads to unlikely circumstances as both men feel inferior to Mark's revered brother, Dave.

Selma
Release Date:  TBA
Director:  Ava Marie DuVernay
Starring:  David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey
Plot:  Martin Luther King, Lyndon Baines Johnson and the civil rights marches that changed America.

 

I’ve been able to see a few of the abovementioned unreleased films and so my predictions for best picture (in order of most likely to win) are 1. Unbroken, 2. Boyhood, 3. The Imitation Game, 4. Birdman, 5. The Theory Of Everything, 6. Gone Girl, 7. Foxcatcher, 8. Selma, 9. Whiplash, 10. American Sniper.  I’ve already slipped $100 on Unbroken (at $8 odds) so will be cheering it home.

Of the acting categories, best actor seems to be the most wide open with 4 serious contenders – Michael Keaton (Birdman), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) and David Oyelowo (Selma).  A really tricky race and I could make a strong argument for all of them to win.  I’ve slipped an early $100 on Eddie Redmayne (at $3.50) so I guess he’s my pick at this point.

Julianne Moore has been nominated 4 times previously but is yet to win the coveted Academy Award.  Could this finally be her year?  She’s the current favourite in the best actress race for the small independent film Still Alice.  The biggest danger appears to be Rosamund Pike in the incredibly popular Gone Girl.  I’ve long been a fan of Julianne Moore and I’ll stick with her as my pick.

In terms of best supporting actor, I’m a huge fan already of J.K. Simmons in Whiplash (I’ve seen the film twice now) and think he’s a hugely underrated actor.  He’ll face competition from the likes of Edward Norton (Birdman), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) and Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher).  No way that I’m tipping against J.K. Simmons here.  Hope he wins it!

Boyhood is my favourite film of 2014 thus far and so I’m also a supporter of the frontrunner in the best supporting actress race – Patricia Arquette.  She’s still looking for her first Academy Award nomination.  Her competition will come from Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman) and Laura Dern (Wild).  I’ll play it safe here and stick with Patricia Arquette.

Bring on the Oscars!