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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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Love & Mercy

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Love & Mercy reminds me of why I love the biopic genre so much. While audiences might be aware of Beach Boys’s singer Brian Wilson’s life, Bill Pohlad’s film adds such a creative spin on his persona, and the result is a film that doesn’t conform to traditional biopic standards. It breathes on its own, with two parallel narratives creating one cohesive whole. The result is one of the best films of the year thus far.

Love & Mercy is a beautifully structured film. Set in two distinct periods of Wilson’s life, one in the 1960s, the other the 1980s, the film chronicles his career with the Beach Boys before his loosening of his grip on reality in the 80s as a result of his psychotherapist. It’s a bold move, to lay out the film this way, as it often juggles between time periods without notice, but it works wonderfully. Scenes play right into each other, as the two time periods bleed together to create a tightly-knit account of Wilson’s life.

Wilson is portrayed both by Paul Dano and John Cusack as his younger and older self, respectively. Both perform adeptly, with Dano capturing Wilson’s boyish spirit and creative energy in his songwriting days, and the melancholy Cusack chronicling his lows and his struggle to maintain sanity amidst abuse by his therapist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). There’s some serious talent on-screen here, and Beach Boys fans will enjoy seeing how both men capture Wilson’s quirks and cadences.

Sometimes it feels like ’60s Wilson and ’80s Wilson are different individuals, and other times they feel exactly the same. It’s a testament to the excellent performances and the filmmaking that cuts and blends scenes at the precise time, making what could feel disjointed an actual thing of beauty, a parallel storyline that works. Rounding out the cast is Elizabeth Banks as Wilson’s second wife Melinda, who is at the film’s heart. One of Banks’s best performances to date, her scenes with Cusack are remarkable, full of tenderness and passion as she helps Wilson out of his psychosis.

Director Bill Pohlad and cinematographer Robert Yeoman take advantage of the audience in Love & Mercy, and their filmmaking separates Love & Mercy from traditional biopics like Walk the Line or Get on Up. The style echoes Wes Anderson and even David Lynch at times. There’s plenty of trickery and outstanding framing on display, especially in the 1960s scenes, that truly encapsulate the soul present in Los Angeles at the time. Excellent recording scenes (that are quite accurate, I’ve heard) are balanced with drug-fueled psychedelic trips to make filmmaking harmony.

Love & Mercy is truly an authentic film, one that does Wilson’s difficult life justice, all while feeling distinct in a crowded genre of music biopics. There’s a respectfulness and compassion for the source material, as it covers some tough subject matter, but also celebrates one of the finest songwriters of our time. An outstanding dual performance from Dano and Cusack should put them in awards consideration, but even if it doesn’t, we still have one of the best music biopics ever made, and one of my favorite films of 2015.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

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12 Years a Slave Review

Adobe Photoshop PDF12 Years a Slave is a beautiful portrait of slavery that should not be missed. Directed by Steve McQueen (Shame), 12 Years a Slave is a brutal yet honest look at one influential man’s life, and it’s one of the best films you’ll see this fall.

The movie is about a free black man named Solomon Northup, who lives with his family in New York. One day he is kidnapped and sold into slavery, jumping from plantation to plantation and working for 12 years until his release. Like any good biopic, 12 Years a Slave focuses the attention on Solomon, and really makes you feel for him. The film is based on a true story, and, given the context of his capture, it’s a harrowing look at a dark time in our nation’s history.

The film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon, in what should be his breakout role. Ejiofor is fantastic as Northup. He really commands the film with a certain boldness required to play such a character. He should be one to watch out for come award season. The film is full of other outstanding performances, most notably Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps, a cruel plantation owner. He is chilling and brutal, like any villain should be, yet he holds a particular relationship with Solomon that is unlike anything you’ll see this year. McQueen really nails the relationship between master and slave. This is also evident through the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch as Solomon’s first owner. He really shines as he harbors a certain sympathy for Solomon. Other fantastic performances come from Lupita Nyong’o, as Patsy, a slave who sparks up a connection with Solomon. And great supporting roles come from Brad Pitt as a Canadian worker for hire, and Paul Dano as a plantation overseer.

The film is perfect in its depiction of an important man at an important time. The film carries a real passion to it, a humanity of sorts, that allows you to relate to almost any character on screen, thanks to the brilliant performances. This also plays into McQueen’s excellent cinematography, granting some beautiful shots. The shots are powerful, capturing the raw emotion behind the film’s personality. It’s from here that the main emotion is felt, leading into what my main criticism of the film is.

All of this outstanding acting leads up to what would be a perfect film, but 12 Years a Slave left me feeling different than I thought it would. McQueen’s direction keeps the film from ever straying into over-emotional territory, something that a film like this should. He keeps you just far away from the action to make you feel nothing less than a passive observer, rather than a participator in the film. There’s a certain disconnect he creates that keeps you from every feeling anything. Even in the more brutal scenes where he shows the darker side of slavery, he still keeps a distance from any raw emotion that the scene might conjure. Others have called the movie “powerful” and “breathtaking,” yet I never felt emotionally drained.

12 Years a Slave is a beautiful and compelling look into one man’s life, and how it was all taken away from him. Excellent performances and beautiful cinematography are what will be remembered from this outstanding film. Besides a few scenes that lack emotion, 12 Years a Slave is an impressive and harrowing tale, one that will definitely be remembered in the years to come.

Overall: 3 stars out of 4

Buy 12 Years a Slave Today!

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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