10 Mini-Reviews for the Price of One!
Nowadays, Top 10 Lists are a dime a dozen and range from the opinions of top critics to average Joes on YouTube who found their mom’s camera in the basement. So I guess it’s time to throw my hat into the ring. I’m not saying this is the “be all, end all” list of the BEST movies made this year (especially since I didn’t see everything released), but they’re my 10 personal favorites. Before the main list, however, there are a few honorable mentions.
Goosebumps, Tomorrowland, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Voices, and Spy.
The sensational Room and Steve Jobs are also honorable mentions, but only because while they were released in 2015, I unfortunately was unable to see them until 2016 after my list had already been made. (But they probably would have ended up somewhere in the Top Five.)
- Straight Outta Compton
Straight Outta Compton was a film I never thought I would end up seeing when it was first announced. As someone who only knew a few N.W.A. songs (namely “Express Yourself” and “Do Unprintable Things to the Police”), I figured it would just be another music-related movie that I would forget about a week after its release, like Jersey Boys back in 2014. However, after good reviews made me curious, I ended up seeing an intense, interesting, funny and at moments heartbreaking story of racism in the mid-90’s, the perils of the music industry, and a reminder of how great an actor Paul Giamatti is. My biggest issue with the movie, and the reason why it is in the number ten slot, is the fact that two of the executive producers that appear in the movie, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, never really do anything wrong and are mainly painted as the victims of the story.
- The Peanuts Movie
Naturally, the film to follow an R rated hip-hop movie is a squeaky-clean adaptation of a family property. While The Peanuts Movie is light on plot, it more than makes up for any lacking story in charm, visual style, and humor. It’s a movie that you would turn on for a younger sibling or cousin, or if you just want to be teleported back to a simpler time where the most modern technology consists of rotary phones and wind-up model airplanes. (A film that could be subbed out for this spot for almost the same reasons is the criminally overlooked Paddington, which I stand by as 2015’s best bear-related movie. Sorry, The Revenant!)
As an enormous fan of Joss Whedon and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general, Avengers: Age of Ultron surprisingly didn’t make this list, while the weirder and riskier Ant-Man did. That’s because Ant-Man felt genuine, like the creators were having fun with their source material, hiring out-of-left-field actors like Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas, and making jokes that sometimes felt like they were winking at the camera saying, “Oh, you thought this was going to be bad? That giant grin on your face suggests otherwise.” The only issue with it, however, is that the film basically follows the plot of the original Iron Man, except with more con artists and 1000% less Jeff Bridges.
- What We Do in the Shadows
It’s a fake vampire documentary comedy set in modern-day New Zealand featuring timid werewolves, vampire nightclub parties, and “The Shame March.” It’s hard to describe, and even harder to catch all of the jokes when your own laughter is drowning out some of the dialogue. Just remember: “We’re werewolves, not swear wolves.”
Part of this ranking comes from the fact that I grew up visiting Philadelphia constantly, so recognizing a lot of the landmarks made me really happy. However, Creed is a solid sports movie with great performances from Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan, and sensational directing/cinematography. Around the second act of the film there is a boxing match that looks incredibly real, because it was all filmed in one shot. The camera never cuts away from a rough punch, it stays focused on the fighters for the entire match. It’s such an exhilarating scene, I’m getting goose bumps in the middle of the Jay’s Nest as I type this. The film is exactly what you want from a spin-off of the Rocky franchise, and I can’t wait to see it win Best Actor and Director at the Oscars this…oh wait, never mind.
- Mad Max: Fury Road
I think the Facebook messages that I sent my best friend after my initial viewing summarize it best:
“PRACTICAL EFFECTS! CARS GO BOOM! A GUY HAS A FLAMETHROWER GUITAR WHILE RIDING IN FRONT OF A WALL OF SPEAKERS! WELL-WRITTEN FEMALE CHARACTERS! I’M EXHAUSTED BUT IT’S SO WORTH IT!”
(This would be much higher on the list if I saw it in theatres, probably.)
- Kingsman: The Secret Service
If you’ve ever wanted to see a James Bond film as described by a hyperactive, slightly disturbed seven-year-old, then Kingsman: The Secret Service is a dream come true. Taran Edgerton plays a great punk-turned-suave secret agent, Samuel L. Jackson is weirdly unsettling as the eccentric Richmond Valentine, and Colin Firth proves himself to be quite the action star in a series of surprisingly brutal (and simultaneously fun) fight scenes. Still not sold? There’s also an appearance by Mark Hamill (aka Luke Skywalker), one of the villains is a woman who has literal swords for legs, heads explode in time to “Pomp and Circumstance”, and one of the supporting players is a pug puppy named “JB”. (Not after James Bond, but rather Jack Bauer of 24 fame).
- Ex Machina
Ex Machina is a sci-fi thriller that stars Oscar Issac, Domhnall Gleeson, and Alicia Verkander. (Heads up: two of those actors appear on this list again very soon). It’s a tense, compelling story about humanity, artificial intelligence, and trying to figure out if Oscar Isaac is charming or terrifying. Domhnall Gleeson is a well-done window to the audience, and Alicia Verkander plays a weirdly convincing robot, but in a way that is intriguing rather than flat and uninspired. Everything blends together in a way that creates a movie experience that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Welcome back to the list, Oscar and Domhnall! J.J. Abrams crafted a near-perfect Star Wars experience with The Force Awakens, with a classic combination of adventure, humor, emotion, and heart. The mix of the new and old cast is a ton of fun, and I can’t wait until December 2017 to find out what happens next to Finn, Rey, BB-8, and especially Poe Dameron. While the ending isn’t exactly the most satisfying, it’s still a gorgeous shot and leaves a ton of room for theorizing. It’s the best Star Wars since The Empire Strikes Back, in my opinion, and I’ve already purchased tickets for Episode VIII.
- Inside Out
If you read my review of Inside Out in a previous Etownian issue, then you probably already saw this coming. It’s funny, touching, clever, and while it’s not a wholly original concept, the execution feels unique. I already went on about how much I loved this movie for over 1000 words, so I’ll just leave it at this: some of these movies made me laugh, some made me cry, but only Inside Out did both while also connecting with me personally, deep inside.