SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence, some Language and brief Suggestive Comments

Directed by: Jon Watts

Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers

(based on the SPIDER-MAN comics by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko)

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier & Tony Revolori

After years of battling for the rights and fans craving Spider-Man’s inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sony and Marvel finally teamed up to deliver (at least) two SPIDER-MAN movies set within the MCU. The web-slinging superhero’s introduction was a highlight in last year’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and I was hoping that Marvel might deliver a (second) SPIDER-MAN reboot that could actually work. While SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is a fun, light-hearted piece of superhero fluff and wisely doesn’t retread origin material that’s been done twice over, this sixteenth movie in the MCU isn’t quite up to the level of its competition.

After aiding Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in fighting Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is anxiously awaiting his next official mission with the Avengers. However, school comes first and Parker finds himself dealing with the angst that plagues most teenagers. Eager to prove himself to Iron Man, Spider-Man jumps at the chance to take down new high-tech supervillain Vulture. Things get complicated though as this adolescent Avenger seems to be out of his league against Vulture and is running on thin ice with Tony Stark…and there’s also the upcoming Homecoming dance. What’s a teenage superhero to do?

In its second phase and during its third phase, Marvel Studios seems more willing to take risks and mix different genres with the typical superhero formula. For example, WINTER SOLDIER was a fantastic conspiracy thriller with a superhero, both GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films were space operas with superheroes, DOCTOR STRANGE was a mind-bending fantasy with a superhero, and ANT-MAN was a heist-comedy with a superhero. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is very much a coming-of-age tale…with a superhero. Sometimes, this works, but other times it feels overly familiar and doesn’t nearly seem as exciting or fun as it should be.

This might be fatigue from seeing two other incarnations of SPIDER-MAN within the span of 10 years, but I blame most of this film’s problems on overused tropes (from both the superhero and coming-of-age genres). None of the fault falls on the shoulders of Tom Holland, who’s playing the youngest version of Peter Parker that we’ve seen yet and convincingly brings the ambitious do-gooder, smart-ass side of Spidey to the screen. Though I still hold a soft spot in my heart for Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and I thought that Andrew Garfield drastically improved his performance in his second outing as the crime-fighting wall-crawler, Holland just might give Maguire a run for his money in future films (as the character grows up and the stories evolve).

On the supporting side of things, Jacob Batalon earns a lot of laughs as Peter’s geeky best friend Ned. Zendaya is half-heartedly thrown aside as Peter’s bland love interest. Even worse than the unbelievably forced romantic angle is Tony Revolori being miscast as Flash. Instead of a jock bully who wants to beat Peter’s brains in, Flash has been made over into a pompous, rich kid, “king of the nerds” type of tormentor and it simply doesn’t work. Hannibal Buress and Martin Starr make appearances as Peter’s naïve teachers, while Marisa Tomei is fun as Aunt May. Also, it’s impossible not to enjoy watching Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, even though he only gets about fifteen minutes of screen time.

HOMECOMING’s best quality comes in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Instead of being your typical supervillain, Vulture’s motivation is sympathetic and his progression of evil has a moral compass. These character traits make Keaton’s baddie into one of the most interesting Marvel villains we’ve received thus far, even if his first action scene with Spider-Man is ruined by incoherent quick editing and shaky cam. The rest of the encounters are fun to watch, especially a conversation between the two of them in a car. Also, a mid-credits scene reveals yet another moment that make Keaton’s Vulture into a more complex villain…who deserved more than this by-the-numbers script. The same can be said of Shocker (played by Logan Marshall-Green and Bokeem Woodbine) who mostly stands around and only gets one solid fight scene that’s over far too quickly.

Every major problem with SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING comes from predictable writing and overused clichés. Coming-of-age stories have been done to death nearly as much as superhero movies, so combining those two genres doesn’t exactly give the filmmaker or (six!) writers a lot of originality to work with. This feels like a safe made-by-committee superhero movie, which could have been the direct result of Sony and Marvel working together. Still, there’s enough entertainment, good acting, and laughs to make SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING worth a tepid recommendation. HOMECOMING is your average fun superhero movie and your average fun teenage coming-of-age tale…and it’s the fourth best SPIDER-MAN film thus far (behind SPIDER-MAN 2, SPIDER-MAN, and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2).

Grade: B-

THE FOUNDER (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief Strong Language

Directed by: John Lee Hancock

Written by: Robert D. Siegel

Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Linda Cardellini, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern & Patrick Wilson

You might be saying: “Really? A biopic about the guy who made McDonald’s? That doesn’t sound too exciting. What’s next? A biopic about Burger King, Carl’s Jr., KFC, or Wendy’s? ” Oh, ye of little faith dear reader, because it turns out that THE FOUNDER is a deliberately ironic title. Before it was globally clogging arteries, McDonald’s was actually a small little restaurant in California. This fast food joint originally had nothing to do with the main character of this biopic. THE FOUNDER lays out the sleazy success story of Ray Kroc, a man who is often mistakenly credited as McDonald’s creator. It’s a wholly compelling ride through a “rat eat rat” world of business, a look at fast food’s revolutionary effect, and a character study of a total scumbag.

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a struggling, over-the-hill salesman. When a special sales order catches his interest, Ray finds himself in San Bernardino and eats at unconventional restaurant McDonald’s. This business’s revolutionary techniques capture Ray’s interest and he eagerly proposes to franchise the company with the McDonalds brothers (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch). As time goes on and the burger business is booming, Ray finds himself struggling with the terms of his contract. Soon enough, Ray employs some rather shady means of trying to screw the brothers out of their own business. We get to witness Ray’s back-stabbing moves, snide comments, and borderline illegal strategies. This is all very interesting, entertaining, and mostly (about 90%) true.

Michael Keaton has been a winning streak of performances lately. After portraying a desperate artist in BIRDMAN and a motivated journalist in SPOTLIGHT, Keaton plays Ray Kroc as an all-out asshole. What’s interesting is how Keaton slowly eases the viewer into Ray’s mental state and ambitious nature. We start this film feeling for him and sympathizing with his plight. As the money flows in and his greed grows, Ray’s morals are tossed by the wayside and he becomes a pretty much irredeemable character. Keaton makes this salesman-turned-“founder” so compelling that you likely won’t notice the shift in Ray’s attitude until you’re too far gone in the story. Kroc was a fascinating real-life character and Keaton plays him to perfection.

Though their importance and screen time range, the supporting cast does an excellent job with the material as well. Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are great as the McDonalds brothers. Lynch is able to portray a softer and more vulnerable side that I haven’t seen from him before, while Offerman is great as the more strict and defensive brother of the two. Their sibling chemistry is believable and the pair provide two sympathetic antagonists in Kroc’s high-rising path. Patrick Wilson and B.J. Novak are solid as two of Kroc’s business partners. Meanwhile, Laura Dern plays Kroc’s neglected wife and receives some of Keaton’s more emotionally abusive moments.

The look of THE FOUNDER is great because it nicely captures the 1950s time period. The script slightly glamorizes Kroc’s rise to power, even at the cost of trampling on plenty of people beneath him. What’s even more impressive is how this film really shows small details in the fast food revolution. The McDonalds brothers were geniuses with their intricate serving system and strived to maintain a strong code of ethics in their kitchens. In Ray Kroc’s hands, those ethics flew right out the door. It’s fascinating to think about how many fast food restaurants today wouldn’t exist without the brothers’ brilliance and Ray’s immoral sense of constant persistence.

THE FOUNDER is sure to linger the minds of those who watch it. This film works as three things: a drama about the fast food revolution, a dark look into the back-stabbing business world, and a character study of a rather unsavory scumbag. However, the script occasionally bites off more than it can chew. There are a few events that are mentioned in passing and then rushed by for the sake of time. While two hours is probably the ideal length of time for this biopic, there are a couple of spots that seem to move a tad too quickly. These hiccups in pacing don’t detract from the film’s many positives though. This is essentially the fast food version of THERE WILL BE BLOOD. THE FOUNDER might as well have been titled THERE WILL BE BURGERS. If that sounds up your alley, THE FOUNDER will probably satisfy your appetite for a compelling biopic!

Grade: A-

BATMAN (1989)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 6 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Directed by: Tim Burton

Written by: Sam Hamm & Warren Skaaren

Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance & Jerry Hall

In terms of summer blockbusters, BATMAN was a game-changer. Before this film, the only notable theatrical superhero movies were the SUPERMAN series and a campy BATMAN from the 60’s (along with serials from the 40’s). Burton’s BATMAN opened the door for bigger comic book adaptations down the line. This vision of Gotham City was grim. This Joker was vile, scary and did horrible things with a sick sense of humor. Batman was portrayed as a tragic figure with serious motivations behind his crime-fighting. Though it’s not without some flaws, 1989’s BATMAN is a superhero classic that has mostly held up well over time.

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Gotham City is a grimy hell hole, populated by down-on-their-luck citizens and plenty of criminals. Only a miracle could turn things around and that miracle comes in the form of a “giant bat.” This masked Batman is secretly Gotham’s wealthiest citizen Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) dishing out vigilante justice on a nightly basis. Crime seems to be slowly diminishing and Batman’s reputation is being spread, but a new threat is rising. A crazed clown, known as “The Joker” (Jack Nicholson), has taken control of the city’s gangs and is enacting a terrifying act of terrorism. Soon enough, Batman and Joker will face off and the battleground will be all of Gotham. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne attempts to stoke a relationship with photographer Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), which becomes dangerous when Joker makes her a prime target.

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BATMAN has a simple plot. It’s a basic good vs. evil tale, but the film goes into deeper places with Bruce Wayne’s tragic past. Though most modern moviegoers already know about Batman’s past, director Tim Burton slowly unveiled it to audiences in the 80’s who weren’t as familiar with the character’s origin story. From grim visuals to a gothic atmosphere, you can tell that Burton directed this movie…though he was allowed much more creative freedom on BATMAN RETURNS. The mood is further elevated by Danny Elfman’s unforgettable music and also slightly diminished by Prince’s songs that seem drastically out-of-place.

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Though the film’s title may suggest that the story mainly focuses on the titular hero, an equal amount of screen time is given to both the caped crusader and the clown prince of crime. We see Batman’s origin already in progress at the start of this movie (he’s merely an urban legend to Commissioner Gordon) as well as the Joker’s creation (Burton clearly took inspiration from acclaimed graphic novel THE KILLING JOKE). While Michael Keaton seems slightly stiff as Bruce Wayne, I took that to be part of his mysterious character. This isn’t the charismatic Wayne from Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy, but instead, a damaged man trying to clean up his city.

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Stealing almost every scene away from Keaton’s Batman is Jack Nicholson as the Joker. The character of Jack starts off as a strong-headed gangster with sadistic violent tendencies before he even becomes the iconic killer clown. All that’s changed when he’s dyed white is that his insanity is allowed to go further and more over-the-top than anyone could have anticipated. Joker’s storyline is almost like a rise-to-power gangster tale that happens to be about a psycho clown battling a masked superhero. The constant shifts between Batman and Joker’s storylines keep things mostly interesting, even if the pacing occasionally lags in a few spots.

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One character that feels totally unnecessary and useless is the annoying Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl). This goofy journalist only seems to exist as an excuse for Vicki Vale to enter Gotham and then to gather information for her. Speaking of which, Kim Basinger is a mixed bag as Bruce Wayne’s love-interest, Batman’s damsel-in-distress, and Joker’s obsession. She has a couple of decent moments, but is mostly bland and delivers the most forgettable performance in the entire film. Someone who’s not forgettable is Michael Gough as Wayne’s sarcastic butler Alfred. Though Michael Caine and Jeremy Irons would take up later incarnations of this character, Michael Gough was consistently entertaining, funny, and charming in the ’89-’97 series.

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1989’s BATMAN suffers from two bland side characters and uneven pacing, but remains a fun time capsule of what the dark knight used to be. Burton’s BATMAN is a major reason why we even have the sheer amount of superhero movies that we do today. This film showed studios that the superhero genre could be something more than pure camp and cheese. Tim Burton injected a combination of darkness, humor, and big screen excitement into a well-received, highly successful superhero film. 1989’s BATMAN is a great piece of summer entertainment that holds up remarkably well over two decades later.

Grade: A-

MULTIPLICITY (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sexual Situations

Multiplicity poster

Directed by: Harold Ramis

Written by: Chris Miller, Mary Hale, Harold Ramis, Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel

Starring: Michael Keaton, Andie MacDowell, Zack Duhame, Katie Schlossberg, Harris Yulin, Richard Masur & Eugene Levy

When most people hear the name Harold Ramis, they usually think of GHOSTBUSTERS or GROUNDHOG DAY. They might even think of ANALYZE THIS, but 1996’s MULTIPLICITY doesn’t seem to be brought up in enough conversations. This film was not a success upon its release, debuting at #7 in its opening weekend and making less than half of its budget back at the box office. This is a bummer, because MULTIPLICITY is a great sci-fi romantic comedy that’s been buried by the passage of time. Featuring effects that remain impressive today, a light-hearted atmosphere that just doesn’t quit and lots of laughs, MULTIPLCITY deserves to be rediscovered.

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Doug Kinney (Michael Keaton) is a stressed out construction worker who barely has time for his family. Being overwhelmed with his job and life itself, Doug happens to cross paths with mad scientist Dr. Leeds (Harris Yulin). This strange man specializes in making dreams come true through a state-of-the-art cloning process. Doug decides to sign up for the procedure and walks away with macho work-obsessed Two (also Michael Keaton). Eventually life begins to overwhelm the two Dougs, so feminine Three (still Michael Keaton) and dim-witted Four (were you expecting anyone else besides Michael Keaton?) enter the picture. Doug’s three clones begin to form their own distinct personalities as the days pass by and soon, Doug finds himself trying to keep his life together…in spite of the very clones that were created to save it.

Multiplicity 2

Decades before receiving two Academy Award nominations, Michael Keaton displayed serious versatility in his acting. Besides playing Batman and a couple of villains, Keaton was mainly known for goofy comedic characters. In MULTIPLICITY, he’s playing four very different types of comedy. As Doug, he’s a stressed out father/husband trying to keep his life together without going crazy. As Two, he’s a man’s man who becomes obsessed with work and isn’t afraid to get into other people’s faces. As Three, he’s an overly feminine and detail oriented person. As Four, he’s kind of annoying to an over-the-top degree, but still managed to get a few laughs out of me. It says something for Keaton’s performances when you can tell all of these characters apart simply from body language and speech patterns.

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As you might imagine, MULTIPLICITY’s comedy derives from misunderstandings, mix-ups and crazy scenarios. Though the premise constantly runs on suspense of the clones running into each other in the public places and in front of Doug’s family, the film doesn’t feel like it’s forcing any of these moments at all. One particularly funny bit comes from the three clones running into Doug’s wife on the same night…all to receive a similar response from her. Another scene in a restaurant balances suspense and goofiness as I was actually wondering “Okay, how are they going to get out of this one?” The film has lots of humor that works and steadily keeps momentum going through its main plot that connects all four Dougs.

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As Doug’s wife, Andie MacDowell is a woman on the edge and brings more serious aspects into the story. You might feel like Doug is a jerk for even going through this cloning process to begin with. That’s sort of the point though and it makes the ultimate story arc that much more satisfying. Though people who aren’t fans of awkward humor (think MEET THE PARENTS or NATHAN FOR YOU) may find themselves cringing at parts of this film through their fingers, most viewers will likely get a kick out of this underappreciated comedy.

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MULTIPLICITY also dazzles in its special effects that hold up perfectly today. Michael Keaton was essentially playing four different roles and acting off his own imagination for a majority of his scenes. The four Keatons sitting together on a couch or hanging out in the garage all come off as totally convincing to look at. I know that camera tricks are obviously used in films where an actor is playing twins, but MULTIPLICITY constantly has Michael Keaton coming face to face with himself. It’s hard to imagine the pain-staking level of work and attention to detail this must have taken to perfect, but the results look flawless. With these special effects, smart writing, and plenty of laughs to be had, MULTIPLICITY is worth a viewing…or two…or three…or even four!

Grade: B+

My Top 15 Films of 2015

List by Derrick Carter

2015 was a great year for cinema. So much so, that I’ve decided not to make a “Top 10 Films” of the year, but a “Top 15” instead. It should be noted that I haven’t seen every single movie that came out during the past twelve months. I’m one man after all and only pay money for and spend time on stuff that interests me. That being said, I reviewed 132 new releases during 2015. There are a few movies that I plan on covering and could have potentially made this list if I had seen them in 2015. These are: THE REVENANT, CAROL, ANOMALISA, and SON OF SAUL. The fifteen titles that did make the cut are flicks that I absolutely loved, plan on adding to my collection, and rewatching many times for years to come. I don’t expect everybody to agree with all of them, but hopefully I’ve recommended a couple of films that peak your interest.

Before getting into list itself, I feel a few honorable mentions are in order. BRIDGE OF SPIES showed that Steven Spielberg has not lost a shred of talent over the years. THE JINX proved to be a groundbreaking true-crime documentary that literally made history. Coming off a string of misfires, Melissa McCarthy delivered her funniest comedy yet in SPY. Finally, on the scary side of things, KRAMPUS is a great holiday horror-comedy that I plan on making an annual Christmas tradition and GOODNIGHT MOMMY is a freaky shudder-inducing little nightmare. Without further ado, I’ll move onto my favorite films of 2015…

15. Black Mass

15. BLACK MASS: Throughout the years, Johnny Depp has become a ghost of his former talented self, but delivered one of his best performances ever this year. He disappeared into the role Whitey Bulger and became a terrifying on-screen monster. The story is a complex one that couldn’t easily be told in the space of a two-hour film. Though I feel it would have been a modern crime masterpiece if 30 more minutes had been tacked onto the final third, director Scott Cooper did a phenomenal job portraying one of the most notorious gangster stories in American history. Depp isn’t necessarily the star of this movie as the rest of the cast is especially strong. Joel Edgerton, Kevin Bacon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane, Adam Scott, and many more round out a great ensemble picture. It might not be a modern GOODFELLAS, but I’d rank it as a modern CASINO. BLACK MASS is easily one of the best real-life gangster films to come out of the new millennium.

14. It Follows

14. IT FOLLOWS: In the vein of the original HALLOWEEN and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, IT FOLLOWS is one of the single scariest viewing experiences that I’ve had all year. I attended a midnight screening at Sundance and everyone was losing their minds in the theater over this film. While it only has a few big jolts, IT FOLLOWS manages to get under your skin and stay there. I found myself getting progressively more creeped out when I arrived home and couldn’t stop thinking about the film. What’s even better about this movie is how it took the more difficult and complicated route instead of merely becoming a supernatural slasher. Instead, the film lets a dread-soaked atmosphere float around the viewer…and like “it” does to the characters themselves, that feeling follows you around long after the end credits have rolled.

13. Going Clear

13. GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF: The best documentary that I watched all year, GOING CLEAR is a fascinating and disturbing look into the inner workings of Scientology. Covering the formation of this so-called “religion” (you won’t blame me for calling it a cult after you watch this doc) to the huge amount of controversy surrounding it to the systematic abuse of its followers and opponents, GOING CLEAR is a harrowing watch. The testimonies from former members of the church are both chilling and heartbreaking. Some masterful editing also allows for brief moments of humor, such as a cheesy Scientology music video and an improvised awards ceremony invented specifically for Tom Cruise. As I stated in my review back in March, GOING CLEAR would almost be ridiculous and amusing, if it weren’t so devastating and terrifying.

12. Hateful Eight

12. THE HATEFUL EIGHT: It might not be Tarantino’s best film, but I loved the hell out of the HATEFUL EIGHT! A far more contained story than Tarantino’s recent Oscar nominees, this is pretty much RESERVOIR DOGS set in the Old West with more suspense. Besides that familiar set up, Tarantino manages to milk a massive amount of tension from each scene leading up to many unexpected revelations, over-the-top gore, and sick humor. I was on the edge of my seat throughout, almost fell out of my chair laughing at one point, and left totally satisfied.

11. Kingsman

11. KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE: Nobody expected this movie to be nearly as good as it was. The two best descriptions I can give KINGSMAN are that it’s either the KICK-ASS of spy movies or a very R-rated take on SPY KIDS. The film is wild, crazy, fast-paced and never takes itself seriously. In a year that’s been populated by plenty of superheroes, KINGSMAN is my favorite comic book adaptation of 2015. The church scene alone was one of the most jaw-dropping sequences I’ve sat through all year. The rest of the film is hugely entertaining and has the balls to take risks. KINGSMAN was definitely one of the biggest cinematic surprises I had all year, but it was upended by…

10. Gift

10. THE GIFT: This is the biggest surprise that I had in 2015. The trailer made it look like a generic thriller that had already been done a million times before. However, this can all be chalked up to bad marketing because Joel Edgerton pulled triple duty and put his heart into this well-crafted shocker. The film intentionally misleads the audience through various points before unleashing big bombshells upon them. The ending also left me speechless and contemplating it for days afterwards. This is one of those films that is pretty much guaranteed to generate a discussion with other film-loving friends. THE GIFT is not a predictable black-and-white thriller, but something much deeper and far scarier.

9. MI5

9. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -ROGUE NATION: The MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series has had its ups and downs. The first was good. The second was crap. The third was great. The fourth was fun. However, I don’t think anybody could have predicted that the fifth installment of this high-octane spy series would be the best of the bunch thus far. That was definitely the case as ROGUE NATION unleashed compelling high stakes, brought back old characters as if no time had passed at all, introduced a cool new ones, and had some fantastic set-pieces. In many ways (Bond girl, villain, secret evil organization), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -ROGUE NATION was a far better Bond movie than the actual Bond movie we received this year.

8. Crimson Peak

8. CRIMSON PEAK: This gorgeously realized film feels like Edgar Allan Poe and Jane Austen penned a novel together and then Guillermo Del Toro adapted it to the screen. Those who go in expecting endless jump scares and a typical ghost story will find themselves either let down or elated by the film being a gothic romance that happens to contain some very frightening ghosts and thick horror elements in its story. Every frame of the film is beautiful to look at and atmospheric beyond belief. There are shots of this movie that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I originally saw it and I believe it’s among the very best of Guillermo Del Toro’s filmography. Jessica Chastain is also a fearsome force to behold!

7. Spotlight

7. SPOTLIGHT: A tastefully made movie about one of the most disturbing cover-ups in recent history. SPOTLIGHT could have easily gone for shock value and went all out to demonize religion as a whole. Actually, that’s sort of what I was expecting it to do when I walked into the theater. Imagine my surprise at how restrained and respectful this film is. Aided by one of the most realistic looks at journalism that you’re bound to see on film, the movie packs in so much emotion without ever crossing the line into anything that possibly resemble shock value or cheap shots. Instead, the film asks tough questions, brings powerful performances to the screen, and leaves the viewer with a lot to chew on. This is one of the most important movies of 2015.

6. Macbeth

6. MACBETH: Shakespeare has been brought to the big screen in many ways by many different filmmakers. This beautiful, bleak take on the Scottish Play might just be my favorite Shakespeare movie thus far. With dialogue being delivered in a naturalistic manner and some creative licensing thrown into the centuries-old material, this version of MACBETH somehow improves upon the already perfect tragedy by adding unexpected context into the mix. Michael Fassbender is stunning as the title character, but it’s Marion Cotillard who steals the show. Lady Macbeth is actually made into a sympathetic character which is something that I felt could never, ever be accomplished in any take on the play. It’s also worth noting that this is definitely not a Shakespeare adaptation that will be shown in many high school classrooms, which is a very good thing indeed!

5. Sicario

5. SICARIO: In 2013, Denis Villeneuve wowed me with PRISONERS. In 2015, he returned with the complex cartel thriller SICARIO. A movie that never allows you to get comfortable in your seat or breathe normally throughout its entire running time, SICARIO is a grim, bleak, and depressing movie…and all the better for it. This thriller had a number of stand-out sequences, an intense beyond words finale being one of them. Villeneuve knew precisely when to merely imply the dark deeds occurring just beyond a locked door and when to casually showcase disturbing sights in broad daylight. Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin are all fantastic in their parts. It’s likely that SICARIO will keep you thinking about it long after you’ve finished watching it, but just be prepared for that as there’s no glimmer of happiness or hope to be found within a single frame of this film.

4. Ex Machina

4. EX MACHINA: One of the best pieces of thought-provoking science-fiction to come out in a long, long time, EX MACHINA is a brilliantly crafted beast of a film. I loved everything about it when I first watched it back in April. The performances from the leads (likable Domnhall Gleeson, robotic Alicia Vikander, and scary Oscar Isaac) make for a film that’s pretty much a three character play. The uniquely designed house/research facility is almost a character as well, because the sense of claustrophobia and steadily rising tension become damn near nightmarish by the final third. The effects are excellently rendered and the film gets even better upon repeat viewings (little details stuck out more during the second and third times that I watched it). The hauntingly beautiful soundtrack is just the icing on the cake for my fourth best film of 2015.

3. Room

3. ROOM: Difficult and immensely rewarding, ROOM is a drama like no other. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name (which in turn was inspired by a real-life kidnapping case), this film is tense and remarkably uplifting. Throughout the whole running time, the story walks a tightrope between being heartwarming and heartbreaking. It ultimately winds up with the best of both worlds as various audience members (including myself) were crying at various points throughout the film. As sad as it can be, I left feeling immensely uplifted by this beautiful movie about love and courage. Brie Larson (the frontrunner for Best Actress of 2015) and 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay (giving one of the best child performances that I’ve ever seen in my entire life) are both wholly convincing and believable. I cannot praise this movie enough. It’s amazing!

2. Inside Out

2. INSIDE OUT: A family film that’s made more for adults than it is for children, INSIDE OUT wound up being one of the most emotional theater experiences of 2015 for me (pun fully intended). Though it may look sweet, innocent and cute on the outside, the movie packs a lot of emotional truths that will hit older viewers far more than kids who just want to watch a cartoon. It’s also the biggest tearjerker that I saw all year (right next to ROOM). The film is just beautiful and encapsulates everything that life itself in brilliantly creative ways. It also has one of the most mature messages that I’ve ever seen in a children’s film. It’s not only my second favorite movie of 2015, but my favorite Pixar movie thus far!

1. Mad Max Fury Road

1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD: Director/writer George Miller had over two decades to craft his fourth MAD MAX movie to perfection and that’s exactly what he did! MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was easily one of the most adrenaline-pumping, kick-ass movies that I’ve ever experienced in a theater. I loved it so much that I saw it twice within four days on the big screen and it has enjoyed many repeat viewings since its home video release. Though some fans have joked that it’s simply a two-hour chase scene, the story manages to encapsulate far more than that. There are issues of gender, slavery, religion, etc. that all come up in subtle (sometimes, obvious), smart ways throughout the film. The movie never stops to deliver heavy-handed exposition to the viewer and gives enough details so we can simply figure it all out for ourselves. The visuals look incredible as this apocalyptic wasteland was wholly convincing, in no small part due to practical effects, dangerous stunt work, and subtle green screen effects. FURY ROAD has joined the rare breed of perfect summer blockbusters that includes the likes of ALIENS and TERMINATOR 2. Bravo!

2015 was a year that was packed full of releases. Some were amazing, some were good, and others fell lower on the cinematic totem pole. It’s definitely been one of the most interesting years for cinema and I look forward to seeing what 2016 has in store for filmgoers!

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