As we head into Oscar season, we anticipate films such as The Revanent or The Hateful Eight which are sure to receive plenty of attention at the Oscars. In light of this I believe it is necessary for us to look back in appreciation towards the great films which have been released thus far which are less likely to receive any credit this award season. These are my top ten films of the year so far…
10. The Gift
My rating: 8/10
Written and Directed by Joel Edgerton
Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall and Joel Edgerton
Rated R for language
In Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut we receive a worthy preview of the greatness to come from this actor-turned-director. This grounded thriller conveys a heartfelt message to its audience to be mindful of our actions. It plays out quite differently than one would expect and commands respect as a very original suspense-driven film which pulls great performances out of its cast.
9. Kingsman: The Secret Service
My Rating: 8/10
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, based on the comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons
Starring Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong and Michael Caine
Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content
I must admit I had very little expectations going into this film. Vaughn continues to impress audiences with his bold vision and outstanding execution. Kingsman is a breathe of fresh air in the comic book movie industry. Violent, irreverent, sexy and yet still maintaining relevancy, this action packed-spy thriller is easily one of the most original comic book movies of all time. It acts as a commentary on both our social structure and on cinema realism. In an age where everything must become more grounded in reality, Kingsman reminds us that we can still have fun blowing up people’s heads in the most grandiose way imaginable.
8. Love & Mercy
My Rating: 8/10
Directed by Bill Pohlad
Written by Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner
Starring John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, drug content and language
Based on the true story of Brian Wilson, the brilliant mind behind the Beach Boys, Love & Mercy tells an outstanding tale of loyalty. John Cusack reignites the spark within himself we have all sorely missed. Alongside Paul Dano, a beautiful image is painted of the brilliance, fragility and love Brian Wilson maintained while being abused and over-medicated by his controlling doctor, Eugene Landy (played by the great Paul Giamatti) until he met his eventual love, Melinda Ledbetter. Elizabeth Banks delivers an Osar-worthy performance as Ledbetter, who brought Wilson back to life- as it were, and fanned the flame of artistry within the former Beach Boy. It is a beautiful movie which reminds us why we love the Beach Boys so much.
My Rating: 8/10
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Written by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington, based on characters created by Sylvester Stallone
Starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone
Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality
This spinoff from the beloved Rocky franchise demands respect as it manages to stand on its own two legs while paying due homage to its predecessors. While this film is very reminiscent of the first Academy Award Winning Rocky, its biggest difference can be found in its leading character. Adonis Johnson is a very different man than Rocky Balboa, with different motives which are both grounded and relatable. Coogler directs the hell out of this movie. The cinematography is beautiful, the score is inspired and the chemistry between Jordan and Stallone is eccentric. Overall, Creed pushes the Rocky franchise to new limits and will surely inspire future sequels.
6. The End of the Tour
My Rating: 9/10
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Written by Donald Margulies, based on the book “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself” by David Lipsky
Starring Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Based on the true story of journalist David Lipsky’s interview of renown author David Foster Wallace, The End of the Tour basically plays out like a two hour long conversation. That being said, it is perhaps one of the most compelling conversations I have ever heard. The film is heavily critical of American consumerism and exposes the weight of unnoticed addictions like junk food or television. Jason Segel stands out as he delivers the performance of his career in Wallace. The tension between the two leads is fully realized and audiences are forced to the edge of their seats as they are both inspired and convicted by Wallace’s insight. The film is very emotional without being cliche. It is one of the most impactful films of the year.
5. Mr. Holmes
My Rating: 9/10
Directed by Bill Condon
Written by Jeffrey Hatcher, based on the novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin, based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Starring Sir Ian McKellen and Laura Linney
Rated PG for thematic elements, some disturbing images and incidental smoking
Mr. Holmes is an incredibly fascinating and original take on the beloved character, Sherlock Holmes. Set in the 1940’s, an aged and retired Sherlock Holmes (played by the majestic Ian McKellen) struggles to recall his most significant case which sent him into retirement. This is a beautiful film. Set in the vast countryside, the cinematography takes advantage of the set’s breathtaking landscape. McKellen plays the role with a remarkable charm and wit, creating my personal favorite rendition of the character to date. Carter Burwell’s soothing score compliments the film’s antique and magical tone. Mr. Holmes is as inspiring as it is intriguing and if Ian McKellen does not receive a nomination for his work in this film, I will personally start a riot in the streets.
4. Ex Machina
My Rating: 9/10
Written and Directed by Alex Garland
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac
Rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence
Alex Garland’s directorial debut is an astounding psychological thriller with amazing performances by its three leads. I don’t want to reveal too much of the film’s plot, so I will simply say; GO SEE THIS MOVIE. Alicia Vikander is breathtaking as the robot, Ava against her seemingly abusive and controlling creator, Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac). Domhnall Gleeson continues on his path to stardom as he portrays the leading role of Caleb, caught between Ava and Nathan, filtering through the truth and the lies. The film is profound and beautiful and deserves all due recognition.
3. It Follows
My Rating: 9/10
Written and Directed by David Robert Mitchell
Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Lili Sepe and Jake Weary
Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language
This film really took me by surprise. It Follows is a very unique and profound horror film which pays homage to the classics of its genre. After having sex with her boyfriend, Jay (Maika Monroe) is followed by a strange supernatural being who can take the form of anyone and will not stop hunting her until she ‘passes it along’ to someone else. The film acts as a metaphor for sexual abuse and the baggage which comes with it. It is an aesthetically pleasing masterpiece and is one of my favorite horror films of all time.
2. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
My Rating: 9/10
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by Jesse Andrews, based on his novel
Starring Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, with Jon Bernthal and Connie Britton
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug material, language and some thematic elements
I was exceptionally amazed by this movie. Its characters are fully human and so vulnerable in such a realistic, yet grandiose way. It forms an authentic relationship between the audience and its characters through the use of both comedy and despair. It is everything The Fault in Our Stars wishes it would have been. It is a deeply moving and profound tale of friendship. There is not a single misstep in this film, be it acting, editing, etc. It is almost perfect in its ability to make even the most apathetic individual reach for their tissues. I walked out of the theater feeling inspired and challenged. If you haven’t seen this movie, go and see it. It is a romantic and gripping tale of two friends facing the overwhelming battle against falling to despair. It provokes the reality of the fear which accompanies cancer and bypasses all cliches.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
My Rating: 10/10
Directed by George Miller
Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris
Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult
Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images
This is the only film released this year which received a perfect score from me, because it is the only perfect movie. George Miller emerges from retirement to deliver his passion project which has become the greatest action movie of all time. In the day of mindless CGI induced monster romps and superhero flicks, Miller reignites his classic Mad Max franchise for its most profound cinematic experience yet. Tom Hardy stars as Max Rockatansky alongside Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa as they together attempt to rescue a group of sex slaves from the overlord Immortan Joe. This film is a breathtaking spectacle which demands multiple viewings and further solidifies Hardy as the greatest action hero of our generation. It gives me hope that Blockbusters can also be great films once again.