DUNKIRK (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense War Experience and some Language

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Written by: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance & Tom Hardy

Christopher Nolan is easily one of the best filmmakers working today and he seems to be constantly moving through different genres. Besides knocking viewers’ socks off with non-linear thrillers (MEMENTO, THE PRESTIGE), Nolan also crafted arguably the best superhero trilogy ever (THE DARK KNIGHT) and made an effort to play with heady science fiction (INCEPTION, INTERSTELLAR). Nolan’s latest film is a World War II drama that’s crafted in an experimental way, but throws the viewer on an intense ride. DUNKIRK hardly wastes a moment of its fast-paced running time or its three interwoven narratives (land, sea, and air). In my usual format of anthology reviews, I’ll be covering each of these three narratives on their own merits and then grading the film as a whole…

THE MOLE (One Week): The first narrative takes place over the course of a week and follows young British soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he attempts to escape from the beaches of Dunkirk. As the situation grows grimmer with each passing second, Tommy finds himself trying to escape through desperate measures that threaten to strip him and his fellow soldiers of their humanity. This narrative is easily DUNKIRK’s most powerful storyline. The dialogue is kept to a surprising minimum as Nolan lets the sheer intensity of hopeless situations combined with believable visuals, powerful non-spoken acting, and Hans Zimmer’s score speak for itself. This storyline also has something to say about the disconnect that comes from two differing perspectives (e.g. one soldier’s reaction to a blind guy handing out blankets at a pier). A+

THE SEA (One Day): The second narrative follows elderly citizen Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his teenage son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and their young hand George (Barry Keoghan) as they take their recreational sail boat to the beaches of Dunkirk to rescue stranded soldiers. This storyline really showcased how everyday heroism and good deeds can make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things. Rylance’s performance is especially powerful as he faces severe emotional stress from escalating situations and difficulties onboard his boat, while Cillian Murphy shows up as a shell-shocked soldier. This narrative also intersects with the Land and Air plotlines in cool ways, ala a more serious WWII version of PULP FICTION. A

THE AIR (One Hour): While I truly admire what Nolan did with his land and sea storylines, DUNKIRK seems somewhat lacking in its third plotline. Taking place over the course of a single hour, we follow three Spitfire pilots (mainly Tom Hardy) as they attempt to thwart enemy planes from bombarding rescue boats and ships. This plotline starts off intense as we get high-altitude combat and (literal) high stakes. Tom Hardy does a phenomenal job in his role, especially because he’s acting purely through his eyes when he wears the flight mask and goggles. However, this storyline seems a bit too simple and nothing too remarkable occurs by its climax. Especially when compared to the DUNKIRK’s other two narratives, this third storyline is a slight step down in quality. B

DUNKIRK weaves its three narratives across each other in a similar fashion to the Wachowski siblings’ CLOUD ATLAS. This makes for a piece of interesting experimental filmmaking combined with a very intense WWII drama. Don’t expect deep character development or set-up as Nolan immediately thrusts you into the action of the three plotlines, but somehow makes it gripping from the first frame of each narrative. Though one of the narratives is considerably weaker and less impactful than its two counterparts, DUNKIRK is a war epic that’s well worth watching and serves as a nice return to stellar quality for Nolan after his good-but-not-great INTERSTELLAR.

Grade: A-

The Top 15 Movies I Reviewed in 2016

List by Derrick Carter

2016 has been a crazy year both on film and in real life. I’ve reviewed just under 200 movies in the course of the last twelve months and for the most part, have fared pretty well in catching cool new flicks as well as crossing many revered classics off my cinephile “shame list.” As a result, my focus in 2016 wasn’t necessarily on catching every new film that graced the big screen and I instead went off whatever the hell I felt like watching/reviewing. Though I didn’t get as many reviews up during 2016 as I have in previous years (for a myriad of reasons), I do feel that For the Love of Celluloid sort of matured over the past twelve months and deeply appreciate the support of anyone who bothers to read my little movie blog.

Apologies if I briefly bore you with a technicality, but my year-end lists will now focus on first time watches in the course of the year and not specifically releases from the year. Without further ado, here are my fifteen favorite first time watches from 2016…

Honorable Mentions: If I hadn’t previously seen RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE SHINING, and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE before 2016, then they all would have easily made this list. ANTHROPOID, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, ZOOTOPIA, SAUSAGE PARTY, THE NICE GUYS, THE HANDMAIDEN and TRAIN TO BUSAN were all stand-out movies in this rather mixed bag cinematic year. SPIRITED AWAY, UNITED 93, and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY also barely scraped by in missing this list. So, what did make the list?…

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15. LADY SNOWBLOOD: Before getting into how much I love this movie, this film deserves some context. A local cinema pub runs monthly Kung Fu Movie Nights here and a buddy of mine occasionally drags me to them. I’m not a big martial arts aficionado and most of the movies I’ve seen at this pub have been entertaining and undeniably stupid. However, LADY SNOWBLOOD blew me out of the water. This was more than just a martial arts flick being shown in a cinema pub, but rather a beautiful, bloody revenge tale that carefully unwound its plot and sold its bad-ass heroine as someone to root for as she sliced and diced her way to vengeance. Featuring geysers of blood, gorgeous visuals, and a calculated delivery of fun, LADY SNOWBLOOD may likely go down as my favorite martial arts flick of all-time!

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14. THE INVITATION: Easily the best horror film that I saw this year, THE INVITATION is brilliant in planting the viewer on the edge of their seat for 100 minutes. The premise is simple. A man goes to a suspiciously casual dinner party held by his ex-wife. Through the course of seemingly mundane actions and a possibly paranoid protagonist, we are taken on a tense ride of two terrifying possibilities. This film does a fantastic job of keeping the viewer flip-flopping on their stance and trying to figure out the dark mystery behind the plot, which fully unleashes itself in a truly frightening third act. Don’t watch the trailer. Don’t read any long plot synopsis. If you want to be scared and appreciate a classy Hitchcockian sense of unease, then definitely go into this film as blind as possible!

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13. DREDD: When DREDD came out in 2012, I quickly wrote it off as a RAID rip-off in spite of the comic book source material. Having finally watched the film four years later, I realize just how wrong I was. Though it may resemble THE RAID on the surface, DREDD could not be any more different. This ultraviolent, highly entertaining and fully loaded sci-fi action extravaganza had me laughing and cheering from start to finish. The film doesn’t present its action in a gritty, heavily edited, shaky-cam style as attention to detail and beautiful lenses have been used to portray the gory chaos. I really hope that DREDD 2 eventually becomes a reality, because this needs to be a franchise!

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12. DOCTOR STRANGE: The Marvel Cinematic Universe has now been running for nine years and fourteen films. Though none of its installments have failed to entertain me (some far more than others), I wouldn’t call any of them perfect entertainment…until now. Telling the most inventive origin story thus far in the Marvel universe and simultaneously functioning as a mystical adventure, DOCTOR STRANGE is easily the best MCU movie yet! The acting is stellar, making the main character’s transformation from selfish jerk to courageous hero all the better as a result. The effects are mindblowing (not to sound cliché) and deliver some of the most memorable sequences to hit the big screen in quite some time. It’s like a magical acid trip had a baby with a superhero movie and I loved every second of it!

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11. THE BREAKFAST CLUB: Yes, I know. I hadn’t seen this movie before and was only pressured into watching it by a co-worker who kept bugging me about it. After finally caving in, I discovered why this John Hughes classic has so many fans and is widely considered to be one of the best films to come out of the 80’s. Revolving around five fleshed-out characters and skewing teenage clique stereotypes (that still exist to this day), THE BREAKFAST CLUB is equally funny as it is insightful. The film is a perfect balance of comedy and drama, resulting in an emotionally involving and beautiful story about how people are alike in spite of their differences. Maybe, in a world that’s so divided by differences and labels, we should all just kick back, watch this movie and remember that we can get along. I’ll never forget about this movie. Get it? That’s a reference to the song that plays during the end credits. Whatever, let’s move on…

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10. THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY: Yes, I know this is technically a miniseries, but you know what? This is my list and I don’t care. THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON is better than damn near every true-crime film I’ve seen in my lifetime. Featuring a bevy of great acting talent and more than guaranteed to push a few buttons on every viewer, this 10-part miniseries stays true to the facts and relives the “trial of the century” in painstaking detail. I was addicted to this show when it aired earlier this year and have since binge-watched it as a complete cinematic experience. When paired with ESPN’s excellent five-part documentary O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA, there isn’t much left to be examined about the O.J. Simpson case. If you are the least bit intrigued by true crime, then PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON is a must-see!

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9. DEADPOOL: Though this year had more than its fair share of disappointing superhero flicks, 2016 still managed to deliver two spectacular comic book movies. I loved DOCTOR STRANGE, but DEADPOOL might just be one of my favorite superhero movies of all-time (next to the DARK KNIGHT trilogy). This rowdy X-MEN spinoff did everything in its power to be entertaining as hell and milked the R rating for everything it was worth. Because of DEADPOOL’s massive success as an R-rated money-maker, I truly hope that more studios will realize older audiences will pay to see great R-rated movies on the big screen too. Not everything needs to be accessible to younger viewers and every demographic, DEADPOOL was refreshingly bonkers and the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD!

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8. ON THE WATERFRONT: Another title that I crossed off my shame list this year, ON THE WATERFRONT never seemed that appealing to me. Sure, I had seen Marlon Brando’s contender speech out of context and heard the basic premise, but none of it sounded particularly special. This movie isn’t about a corrupt union and poorly-treated dock workers though, instead it’s a story about broken souls and a long walk to redemption. Marlon Brando’s performance is breathtaking as he disappears into the role of a tough guy with a soft heart. This film progresses naturally and doesn’t cheat out on its dangerous stakes, resulting in some very tense moments. The final minutes are unbelievably emotional as a simple dockside walk becomes a test of willpower and ultimately sums up the entire film. ON THE WATERFRONT is an emotional, brilliantly acted, and spectacularly written piece of art that deeply moved me!

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7. ANIMAL HOUSE: Here’s another movie I crossed off my shame list during 2016. I had never seen ANIMAL HOUSE before, though I was well aware of its reputation. No hyperbole, this film changed the face of movie comedies and opened the door for crass humor to hit the big screen in gross-out fashion. This movie has plenty of hilarious scenes and quotes, but taken within the film’s context, they become ten times funnier. The dark sense of humor in areas had me cackling while the many sex jokes easily contributed to the likes of AMERICAN PIE and SUPERBAD further down the line. Also, John Belushi was a comedic tour-de-force to be reckoned with. With jokes about sex, death, horses, chainsaws, beer, racial differences, impressions of zits, and much more, ANIMAL HOUSE truly is one of the greatest and wildest comedies of all-time!

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6. TRAINING DAY: Though it was released fifteen years ago, TRAINING DAY still seems frighteningly relevant in today’s world. Showcasing a dark underbelly of corrupt cops and street gangs, this film takes place in the space of 24 hours and sunk its hooks into me from start to finish. Ethan Hawke is a naïve protagonist (that’s kind of the point of the story) and we are forced to follow in his footsteps as he stands alongside one of my new favorite cinematic villains. Denzel Washington’s character is a beast and delivers one of the greatest movie monologues (for my money) of all-time in Detective Alonzo Harris’s street-side closing speech. Grim, gritty, and suspenseful the whole way through, TRAINING DAY is one of my new favorite movies!

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5. ARRIVAL: A beautifully crafted and mature piece of science fiction, ARRIVAL’s true brilliance didn’t fully hit me until the closing credits began to roll. This film takes the alien invaders trope and spins in a mature, realistic direction. Though this has already been done in films like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and CONTACT, I guarantee that it hasn’t been executed in the complex and thought-provoking manner that ARRIVAL delivers. Seemingly innocuous scenes take on whole new meanings when you realize the story’s true nature. The ending also guarantees that you won’t be able to watch this film in the same way upon a second viewing, much like Christopher Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE becomes a completely different movie once you’ve been wowed the first time around. ARRIVAL is a science fiction masterpiece and continues director Denis Villeneuve’s winning streak.

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4. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: Despite stemming from a book that’s required in many classrooms and existing for decades as a beloved classic that’s cherished by countless film fans, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD somehow never made its way across my eyeballs before 2016. However, I now count it among the most emotional dramas that I’ve ever seen. This film tackles hard-hitting issues through the innocent eyes of a child in a coming-of-age tale crossed with a courtroom drama. Gregory Peck’s performance as Atticus Finch is outstanding and the rest of the cast put in stellar work as well. This profoundly powerful film deeply moved me and left me on the verge of tears with its beautiful conclusion. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a masterpiece!

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3. THE REVENANT: The film that finally won Leo an Academy Award, THE REVENANT is an amazing cinematic feat that was created by both madness and brilliance. Did Leo look like he just puked when biting into a buffalo liver? That’s because he did. Do these cast members look like they’re freezing their asses off? That’s because they are. Does it seem like these are real locations? That’s because the director shot in natural light and proceeded to put his cast and crew through a hellish outdoor shooting experience. Production accomplishments aside, THE REVENANT remains a riveting tale of revenge and survival in harsher than harsh circumstances. This film is a gritty, unforgiving, and awe-inspiring piece of cinematic art that has blown me away twice at this point and will continue to do so many times in the future. Also, this movie may have given me a fear of bears too.

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2. THE LOBSTER: The best love story I’ve seen all year belongs to a twisted dystopian dark comedy about a guy who’s forced to choose between finding a romantic partner or being turned into an animal. Sound weird? Oh boy, it is! Besides being strange all the way around, THE LOBSTER is also a wonderfully unique flick that’s equal parts charming and disturbing. This cinematic world felt like Terry Gilliam made a movie with David Lynch. The feelings this film gave me are almost impossible to properly describe as there really hasn’t been anything like it before. It’s a romance like no other and if you have a penchant for weird arthouse cinema, then I highly suggest that you watch THE LOBSTER at your earliest convenience…preferably with a significant other who’s also into awesome cinematic oddities.

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1. HIGH-RISE: So if you thought THE LOBSTER was an odd choice for this list, then brace yourself because I can see people flat-out hating my number-one pick. HIGH-RISE is one of the few movies to be adapted from the work of British science fiction author J.G. Ballard. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because David Cronenberg adapted his work into twisted romantic thriller CRASH. That’s the level we’re at here, folks. HIGH-RISE is a grim, darkly hilarious and disturbing tale about a high society that devolves into a bloody class war in the space of a forty-floor apartment building…and I absolutely friggin’ adored this film! I’ve watched it four times within the space of the year and plan on revisiting it many more times in the future. The stylish visuals, colorful characters, twisted story arcs, oddball humor mixed with darkly disturbing content, a suffocating atmosphere, and shocking social commentary blew me out of the water. I love this movie so much that I actually listened to the DVD commentary. It’s the first film to make me do that in years! Though it’s definitely not for everyone (see THE LOBSTER’s divisiveness and crank it up to 11), HIGH-RISE is my favorite movie of 2016 and makes me hope for more big screen adaptations of Ballard’s work.

2016 was a pretty insane year in a lot of different ways. Many movies disappointed me in the theater, but I still saw plenty of good and great films. I also crossed many titles of my cinephile “shame list,” though I still have many more to eventually get through. Here’s hoping for an even better 2017!

THE REVENANT (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Frontier Combat and Violence including Gory Images, a Sexual Assault, Language and brief Nudity

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Directed by: Alejandro G. Inarritu

Written by: Mark L. Smith & Alejandro G. Inarritu

(based on the novel THE REVENANT by Michael Punke)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter & Forrest Goodluck

Just give Leo the Academy Award already! After so many nominations and disappearing into various characters for the past decade (some of them based on real people), the once-pretty-boy-turned-serious-performer has shown on numerous occasions that he’s one of the most talented actors of our time. Case in the point, THE REVENANT. Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu (the guy who won some awards for BIRDMAN), REVENANT is the based on the true story of fur-trapper Hugh Glass. Though details have obviously been added and excised from Glass’s life to make for a more exciting and poetic story, THE REVENANT is a brutal work of beauty and vengeance. There’s so much to praise about this film that I’ll briefly jump into the plot and then tell you why I feel this movie is amazing.

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In 1823 Louisiana territory, Hugh Glass and his fellow fur trappers have been ambushed by a violent tribe of Ree Indians. In an effort to stay alive as long as possible, the group trek out on foot through dangerous mountain terrain. Among the group, tensions rise between Glass and fellow trapper Fitzgerald over Glass’s son (who’s of Native American descent). After Glass is ferociously attacked by a bear, Fitzgerald leaves him for dead and kills Glass’s son to cover up his deed. This was bad move for Fitzgerald because Glass is not dead and becomes driven by revenge to stay alive. Braving the harsh elements, wild life, sinister fellow travelers and more, Hugh Glass slowly but surely makes his way across a long perilous journey to find Fitzgerald.

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Utilizing the same cinematographer from BIRDMAN, REVENANT does not have the appearance of being one long continuous take. This being said, there are lots of lengthy tracking shots throughout the film. I simply could not tell where any editing had been made in spots (or how the hell they pulled some of these scenes off). The camera is constantly moving, but never to a degree that resembles shaky cam. In a ballsy move, blood, snow, and breath occasionally make their way onto the lens to give us a more intimate feeling of realism in what we’re watching. Inarritu is a stylistic genius, but there was a streak of astounding madness that also made its way into the film.

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In an effort to keep things as real as possible, the film was mostly (if not entirely) shot in real light and it looks absolutely stunning. The wild, thickly wooded, and snow-laden locations are beautiful to behold in an otherwise bleaker-than-bleak tale of revenge. Apparently, shooting this film was a hellish experience for the cast and crew. I’d believe it because they all look like they’re halfway ready to freeze to death or faint from exhaustion in numerous shots. Leo especially goes above and beyond the call of duty in performing a lot of real feats on camera (eating raw bison liver, nearly getting hypothermia in a freezing river, etc.) to bring a convincing performance to the screen. It all works, because he disappears into the role of Glass. Not once, during this entire film, did I ever believe I was merely watching another performance from Leo. Instead, it felt like I was watching a real person braving harrowing conditions and a horrible streak of bad luck in order to survive. DiCaprio is that convincing.

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Leo isn’t the only stellar performance as Tom Hardy is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we get this rough, vicious, and thoroughly hateable Fitzgerald in his stead. Using a thick accent and intimidating body language, Hardy is unrecognizable. His scenes contrasted with DiCaprio’s survival sequences make for an exciting journey as we know that both men will eventually meet again and the results will be far from pleasant. Domhnall Gleeson (continuing a stellar track record for 2015) also pops up as the well-to-do hunting captain of the party, while young Will Poulter delivers the best performance of his career thus far as Jim Bridger (the naïve trapper left to guard Glass with Fitzgerald).

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It should be no surprise at all to say that THE REVENANT is a brutal and bleak story. The bear attack is incredibly tense and had everyone in the audience squirming in their seats. The long sequences in which Glass narrowly escapes from Ree arrows as well as bullets from French trappers are insanely suspenseful and masterfully executed. A fight scene in the final third is among one of the roughest (in a good way) and most cringe-inducing that I’ve seen on film. I was actively wincing when an axe or knife got plunged into one the men going at it. For all of its brutality, the film is incredibly beautiful as well. These moments come through artsy dream sequences showing Glass reconciling with his lost son and dead wife, but the quiet stretches of the film are profound as well. THE REVENANT is a movie that says more through its dialogue-free scenes than most films say with all the words in the world. A fierce, unforgiving, and masterfully crafted triumph, THE REVENANT is one of the best modern Westerns in existence.

Grade: A+

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!

LEGEND (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 11 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence, Language throughout, some Sexual and Drug Material

Legend poster

Directed by: Brian Helgeland

Written by: Brian Helgeland

(based on the book THE PROFESSION OF VIOLENCE by John Pearson)

Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, Paul Bettany, Colin Morgan, David Thewlis & Chazz Palminteri

I like gangster movies. If you’ve read the site for a while, I think that becomes quickly apparent. So when I discovered that Tom Hardy (one of the best modern actors) was playing the Kray twins in a new big-budget crime flick, I was excited beyond words to say the least. The promotional material looked stellar and the real-life story behind the Krays is an interesting one. Seeing as LEGEND expanded its release this Thanksgiving weekend, I drove out to the only theater in my state that was playing the film. While I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad or mediocre effort, LEGEND is definitely a disappointment. This film should have been amazing, compelling and had potential to be a new gangster classic. Instead, it’s a pretty standard, slightly tedious affair with many problems and two great performances (courtesy of Tom Hardy).

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Reggie and Ronnie Kray are twin gangsters living in the East End of London. Reggie is a calm, collected, suave guy who just happens to run illegal operations out of his night club. Ron is a psychopathic, bloodthirsty lunatic who thrives on chaos and disorder. While Ron’s insane tendencies threaten to upend the Krays’ hold on London, Reggie makes deals with the American mafia and falls in love with Frances Shea, his friend’s sister. We watch as their relationship gets complicated as Reggie tries to keep the rabid Ron on a very short leash.

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Out of all the reviews (even negative ones) and commercials for LEGEND, the one thing that’s being praised over and over is Tom Hardy’s dual performance as Reggie and Ronnie Kray. Without a doubt, Hardy is the best thing about this otherwise by-the-numbers flick. As Ronnie, Hardy evokes a somewhat sympathetic gangster with a mean streak that comes out when he loses his cool. As Reggie, Hardy is a tour-de-force of lunacy and mixes dark humor with a vicious no-holds-barred lunacy. The way in which he acts off of other performers and, especially, himself warrants a viewing. His performances are phenomenal, but they are the best thing in an otherwise all too familiar and disappointing film.

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One big issue that comes into play is that the screenplay kicks off with the Krays already near their peak. Little is given about their past and how they reached their powerful status. While other crime flicks might seem stereotypical in showing the rise and fall of a fictionalized mafia, LEGEND has the benefit of being based on a real life case of twin gangsters. You don’t often see that and it’s a shame that the producers didn’t take advantage of the early events in the Krays’ crime career. As a result, it takes us a little while to get fully invested in this film. Even when we do, LEGEND doesn’t know what it wants to focus on. Sometimes, it’s about how Ronnie and Reggie are at odds with each other. During other moments, we see Ronnie’s crumbling relationship with Frances. Finally, the film begins to show us a complex investigation by Scotland Yard and then ignores all of that until the underwhelming climax.

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Emily Browning is a strong actress to take the screen with Hardy in both roles, but the movie exploits unneeded exposition-filled narration from her to move itself forward. To make things slightly more annoying, Browning’s narration gives way to some hyperbolic statements like “What Ronnie would do next would make him a legend in gangster history.” when what actually follows is relatively tame (especially considering that Whitey Bulger gunned down an informant in a parking lot full of witnesses earlier this year). David Thewlis (a corrupt associate), Paul Bettany (a rival gang leader), and Chazz Palminteri (the American mafia contact) all show up for a couple of scenes each. Their roles are rather thankless and should have been expanded upon. Instead, we’re treated to more useless scenes of Reggie wooing Frances in this supposed gangster story.

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LEGEND has its moments. A darkly comical pub fight being one of them. A brutal execution being another. The quarreling amongst the brothers is fun, especially when Reggie confronts the agitated Ronnie in a near deserted night club. The film has strong visuals and the effects bringing two Tom Hardys to the screen at once are flawless. This is the best use of two performances from one actor since 2011’s THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE. I just feel that so much potential was lost in LEGEND being unfocused, messy and by-the-numbers on a lot of accounts. Though Tom Hardy’s performances make the film worth a rental, I’d say to keep your expectations relatively low. LEGEND isn’t nearly as legendary, let alone good, as it probably should have been.

Grade: B-

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