#23: The Hateful Eight
Quentin could have saved us all a lot of time and money (and priceless museum artifacts) and jumped right to the recently announced stage adaption. Its not that Hateful Eight is bad by any stretch, its full of rich moments and an immensely strong ensemble, but it doubles down on some of the glaring frustrations of Tarantino films. The treatment of black and women characters is problematic, but mostly inept and purposeless; done more for shock and the illusion of relevance than actually relevance itself. And of course, it all culminates in a character carefully unwinding the mystery, as Tarantino just can’t help himself when given an opportunity to show how smart he is.
#22: Bridge of Spies
Spielberg’s Cold War thriller is perhaps his most understated work of his career. Bridge of Spies draws interesting parallels between the evil Soviet empire and the benevolent American democracy, all with the classic Spielberg sentimentality that has become his trademark. The treatment of Donovan (Tom Hanks) by US officials for defending a Soviet spy is deliberately compared to the dramatic, red-faced prosecution of a US pilot by Russian authorities; the intent the same, only separated by its delivery. Donovan and the KGB commander get along swimmingly and are aligned in their interests. The goal being to compare the numerous similarities between the Cold War countries and highlight the reflection of the United States when peering into the Steel Curtain. Bridge of Spies never reaches exceptionally thrilling heights (despite the script being doctored by the Coen Brothers), but its achievement lies in its subtlety. Mark Rylance as soviet spy Abel is particularly incredible, and if the film were a larger, more emotional set piece, would surely be a front runner for the Oscar.
#21: Steve Jobs
“A brilliant, troubled man with no likability whatsoever is harassed by the women in his life as he tries to reach his full potential.” — an Aaron Sorkin film. Critics are calling it well-researched and well-acted, and audiences are buzzing that Seth Rogen need not pursue dramatic roles further. 3 out of 5 stars.
The fiery buzz surrounding Carol has cooled off significantly since the Golden Globes, shivering into an Oscar reception that is more frozen than the hearts of its main characters. While technically stellar and brilliantly acted, Todd Haynes’ film does little to offer much of a reason to care about the protagonists and their plight. While partially deliberate I’m sure, the surrounding commentary and themes on loneliness aren’t enough to prop up an empty love story beyond its shock factor.
#19: The Gift
Who among you can point me to the Joel Edgerton fan club? Billed as a stalker horror a la Cape Fear, The Gift (written, directed, and starring Edgerton) was sparse in scares but rich in its unexpected substance. The film certainly nails its thrilling style, the camera moves ever-ominously through hallways and peers into transparent glass houses, and the neatly wrapped gifts at the doorsteps mark ever-escalating dread. Most impressively, The Gift is a thoughtful piece on the place of bullying in corporate culture. Holding its information close to the chest and unfurling it in controlled doses, The Gift slowly unfurls the horror in each act, starting as a sharp 90s stalker flick and ending as a terrifying view into the dark, hidden past that leaves the audience unsettled in their own comfortable relationships as they drive home from the theatre. Edgerton is phenomenal, and the climactic parking lot confrontation is one of the most exquisite scenes of this year. The Gift was one of the few films that left me guessing and dumbfounded at every turn.
#18: The Martian
What else can really be said about the greatest comedy of all time? The Martian is visually stunning (I love the futurism of Arthur Max’s production design, who also helmed Prometheus) and, all jokes aside (or all jokes included, I guess), its funny and deeply entertaining (this can be credited to writer Drew Goddard, who wrote/directed the incomparable The Cabin In The Woods). He won’t be winning any Oscar votes, but Matt Damon’s performance is underrated in its complexity and delicacy. It’s entirely one dimensional, but when that dimension is feel-good entertainment (or space, hardy har), its hard to complain.
#17: Mr. Holmes
Adding this to the list of airplane-movies-that-made-me-hide-my-face (Nebraska being #1 on said list), Mr. Holmes is likely the crowning (and probably one of the last) performance of Ian McKellen’s career. Following Sherlock Holmes in his retirement years, Holmes struggles to solve his final mystery while fighting a slowly unfolding battle with Alzheimer’s. Delicate and moving, you will not regret watching Mr. Holmes in whatever form your are able to catch it.
#16: What We Do In The Shadows
Easily topping my list of best comedies of the year, What We Do In The Shadows has held strong since our review back in April, which can be read here.
#15: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
After my obligatory viewings of The Force Awakens, I immediately popped in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes back for, you know, research purposes. I was completely floored to find just how well those original films hold their brilliance. The Force Awakens holds a very dim candle to those, but I suspect that Episode 8 will be the one that gives the original trilogy a run for it’s money (billions of dollars, I mean). Read our full review of The Force Awakens here.
Read our full review of Sicario here. As a quick Oscar update, I fear that Roger Deakins’ award for cinematography is in jeopardy. Incumbent Emmanuel Lubezki, back-to-back winner for Gravity and Birdman, is making a strong case for a hat trick with The Revenant. And with the buzz surrounding Inarritu and DiCaprio, Deakins’ chances are slowly dwindling.
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