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Best Movies of 2015 (so far)

6 months into 2015 and it’s time to start looking ahead to awards season where the best films of the year will be recognized. This year has been record-breaking for the box office but we’ve also had a fair share of smaller films that have taken the art house scene by storm. With half of the year under our belt, I thought I’d share what I think are the best films of the year so far. This is in no particular order, as I’m not sure of where these will place come year-end, or if they will even make my final list.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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This one I know for sure is my #1 this year. Kingsman is hands down the best kind of fun you can have at the movies. It’s sharp, tightly paced, well-acted, and features outstanding action sequences (including the best I’ve ever seen in a church). The great cast adds plenty of charm to the film and the plot will keep you engaged the entire time. No other film this year is as risqué, action-packed and hilarious as Kingsman.

Love & Mercy

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A spin on the traditional biopic, Bill Pohlad’s affecting drama about Beach Boys’ lead singer Brian Wilson is an outstanding portrait of a tragic man. The decision to feature two different actors at two different periods in Wilson’s life is a bold one, and it pays off handsomely. Paul Dano and John Cusack are excellent, and Elizabeth Banks shines in an unexpectedly well-developed supporting role. The unorthodox storytelling techniques, mirrored with unique cinematography and storytelling mechanics makes Love & Mercy a joy to watch.

Inside Out

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I try to avoid superlatives, but Inside Out is Pixar’s best film since Finding Nemo. Inside Riley’s head, a psychological plot unfolds like none other this year. Kids will adore the bright colors and funny slapstick, while adults will stick around for the affecting drama and sharp wit. But Inside Out goes the extra mile and delivers a commentary about the hardships of growing up and how being emotional is an important part of that.

Jurassic World

Jurassic World

Is there a better blockbuster this year than Jurassic World? Hell no. Jurassic World takes us back to before superhero movies ruled the summer, when all it took was good old dinosaurs. At the wheel are Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, who are a great pair, and while the plot might not always sing, seeing dinosaurs never grows old.

Clouds of Sils Maria

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A very unconventional choice for me, as Clouds of Sils Maria is very experimental, but no less engaging than the other films on this list. Kristin Stewart gives my favorite performance of the year thus far, as Clouds examines one woman’s pursuit of career excellence in a Hollywood that would consider her past her prime. Olivier Assayas’s excellent script and wonderful dialogue make this trip to Switzerland one worth taking.

 

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Posted by on July 2, 2015 in Other

 

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Kingsman: The Secret Service

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From the moment a man gets sliced into two pieces, we know Kingsman is not your typical action film. Directed by Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass), Kingsman is one of the most playful, just straight up fun movies I’ve ever seen. With whip smart humor and hilarity at every turn, Kingsman is less focused on telling an intricate story than it is making its audience die of laughter, and for the most part, this pays off.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (kind of a mess of a title) is based on the comic book of the same name, and it definitely shows. The film has such a playful sense of violence, and it knows exactly what it wants to be. While the first 30 minutes are nothing groundbreaking, we get some good exposition as we are introduced to Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a Kingsman agent who is looking to recruit a new agent. He finds this in Eggsy, played by newcomer Taron Egerton, whom he takes under his wing and mentors him through a set of training exercises. Their goal is to stop Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a man hellbent on controlling the population through a violent chip embedded in cell phones. It’s a silly plot, but this is the kind of the film that lends itself well to something like this.

The plot is completely engrossing from start to finish. Despite a few narrative twists that feel a bit strange towards the end of the film, Kingsman is a ride from start to finish. The film never takes itself seriously to warrant important life lessons or social messages, because it’s too focused on being a blast throughout. And it is. With stylistic editing and ridiculous over-the-top violence, Kingsman isn’t your typical James Bond spy movie. Think Tarantino mixed with Kick-Ass and The Hunger Games with a little bit of Jason Bourne thrown in. It’s fun as hell.

With Colin Firth on top of his game, the rest of the cast is kind of overshadowed, but that’s a minor complaint. Firth is always great at playing the smarmy British mentor, with his quick lines (Manners maketh man) and his spry youthfulness. Jackson, too, is great here. For once he isn’t yelling over everyone else, and he’s actually playing a different character. His hilarious lisp will have you laughing hard, and there’s some legitimately good chemistry between Jackson and Firth.

And I haven’t even talked about the church scene yet. There is so much in Kingsman that blows you away, from a great exposition scene in a pub to a beautiful skydiving sequence, but the scene in the church where Harry takes out hundreds of citizens while under the influence of Valentine’s drug is simply astonishing. In what looks like completely one take, Harry flips over pews, fires from his umbrella, and delivers lethal punches right and left. It’s a joy to watch. It’s an action sequence with a great sense of place and an equally great sense of humor, and it’s one of my favorite action scenes in a long time.

Kingsman is a delight. With twists and turns in its engrossing plot and actors on top of their game, Kingsman is the rare film in the genre that doesn’t let the plot overtake its hilarity. There’s no shoehorned romance, and it’s structure is unlike any other. Director Vaughn has made a smart spy thriller, one that turns conventions upside down, and makes you expect the unexpected. Let the inner high schooler in you shine and take in Kingsman, because you won’t regret it.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

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Magic in the Moonlight

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Colin Firth’s expression on the poster was exactly how I had felt upon seeing the trailer for the latest Woody Allen film. Upon viewing, it looked very Woody Allen-esque, with not a lot to stand out from the crowd. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Allen hits another home run with Magic in the Moonlight. Sure, it’s no Blue Jasmine, but Magic has plenty of charm and wonder to keep you invested, with great characters and many memorable moments.

Magic in the Moonlight stars Colin Firth as Stanley/Wei Ling Soo, a British performance artist. Stanley is sent by an acquaintance to the Catledges, a rich American family, who have fallen under the spell of a mystic named Sophie (Emma Stone). The setup is all very quick, and doesn’t provide much reasoning given our limited knowledge of the characters at this point in the film. Stanley’s job is to unmask Sophie and expose her as a fraud, but professional complications get in the way as he has trouble exposing Sophie’s secrets.

You’ll just want to roll with the premise, as the conflict starts very quickly, but going along for the ride is half the fun. Firth is excellent as Stanley, the dark cynic in the magical trance of the Catledges. His chemistry with the much younger Stone is surprisingly pleasant, and the two shine whenever they are on screen together. Stone however, steals the show. The séance scene is absolutely hysterical, and Stone flexes her comedic witticisms in full force. The rest of the cast is, unfortunately, forgettable and underdeveloped, save for a feverish Jackie Weaver as grandmother Grace.

All of this breezes along at a brisk pace, typical of a Woody Allen film. The film loses some steam towards the end, and I thought the film would end multiple times before it did. But despite these few too many scenes at the resolution, Magic in the Moonlight never overstays its welcome, and the ending is quite memorable. Definitely not the worst Woody Allen film, but far from the best, Magic in the Moonlight is worth your time, due in part to Firth and Stone but also in part to its witty sense of wonder and enchantment.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 

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