Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 15 – The Martian

The Martian is a science-fiction film directed by Ridley Scott, with a screenplay by Drew Goddard, which is adapted from Andy Weir’s award-winning novel of the same name. The film follows Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) and his crew during a manned mission to Mars. In the midst of a ferocious storm, the crew presumes Watney dead, and they are forced to abandon the mission and leave Watney behind. However, it turns out Watney survived. Stranded on Mars with only limited supplies, Watney must utilize his cleverness and resourcefulness in order to signal to his counterparts on Earth that he is still alive.

The Martian 3Back in August, I ranked The Martian #7 on my list of most-anticipated films for the fall movie season. Rightfully so—this movie did not disappoint. Director Ridley Scott is one of Hollywood’s kings of science fiction (having directed Alien, Blade Runner, and Prometheus), and The Martian could be his best yet. Last year’s Interstellar was a science-fiction film that I greatly enjoyed, mainly because filmmaking genius Christopher Nolan was behind it. However, my only beef with it was that it was a bit too convoluted and highbrow—understanding the science was unfathomable. That complexity is what makes The Martian work. Ridley Scott did not reinvent the wheel (I mean, this movie is basically Interstellar on Mars), and yet it works on a level that most science-fiction films can never reach. That is due to the brilliant filmmaking combination of the legendary Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard. Goddard’s script is at times thrilling, but all the while humorous; it delves into scientific intricacies but keeps the tone light with constant wit. The Martian is a tasty concoction of comedy and drama, and Scott and Goddard hit this one out of the park.

The Martian 2Matt Damon received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his performance in The Martian, and the Academy could not have gotten this one more correct. Despite an ensemble cast, Damon rarely spends any time on screen with any of those actors and actresses; his performance is as “solo” as Harrison Ford in Star Wars (bad joke, I know). In order for a movie to work where its main character spends 90% of the film alone in solitude, it has to have a remarkable performance from its lead—Matt Damon, a seasoned veteran, supplied just that. Over the course of the film, we watch him display a wide variety of emotions: he moves from scared, to humored, to terrified, to hopeful, to exhausted, to thrilled, and Damon does so with skill and radiance. He is obviously one of the better actors of his generation, and I am hard-pressed to find any performance in his film arsenal that rivals his acting in The Martian—he gave us the perfect blend of comedic and dramatic acting.

The Martian 4In the previous paragraph, I mentioned the film’s ensemble cast; this stellar group of actors aided in the movie’s success. When we are not with Watney on Mars, we are in one of two places: (1) with Watney’s crew as it travels back towards Earth, or (2) with NASA staff back on Earth as they plot a way to rescue Watney. Those respective segments of the film work flawlessly because of the performers assembled. Watney’s crew includes Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara, and both of these stunning actresses shined in their limited screen time. Back on Earth, we see some outstanding performances from Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Kristen Wiig. The Martian 5However, my favorite supporting performance was from Donald Glover (also known as “Childish Gambino,” one of my favorite rappers in the game). Glover portrays an astrodynamicist that masterminds the plan to bring Watney home, and he hilariously and charmingly portrays his character as a socially awkward savant—a genius with some fumbling eccentricities. Glover definitely stole the show in each of his scenes. The Martian is rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

The Martian trailer:

Academy Award nominations for The Martian:

Best Picture (Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer, and Mark Huffam, producers)

Best Actor in a Leading Role (Matt Damon)

Best Production Design (Celia Bobak and Arthur Max)

Best Sound Editing (Oliver Tarney)

Best Sound Mixing (Paul Massey, Mark Taylor, and Mac Ruth)

Best Visual Effects (Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence, Richard Stammers, and Steven Warner)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Drew Goddard)

The Best Films of 2014 – Honorable Mentions (16-20)

Edge of Tomorrow 2

Oscars season is back, and that means it is time to break down the best movies from the past year. Over the next few weeks, I will be revealing each of the movies on my “Top 15 Films of 2014” list, but today I am announcing my five “Honorable Mention” films. Now, I present you with the five films that just missed cracking my Top 15 list:

No. 16 – Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow 1Edge of Tomorrow is a science-fiction film directed by Doug Limon with a screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth. The film takes place in the not-so-distant future and follows Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a public relations officer in the military, who is forced into battle against a deadly alien race. His mission is essentially suicide, but Cage is thrown into a time-loop and is sent back to the day before the battle each time he dies. With help from Special Forces Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), Cage is able to improve his warrior skills to take down the enemy in the repeated days. After Cruise’s science-fiction failure last year (Oblivion), I was not expecting much from this movie, and truthfully, I had no interest in seeing it. But when I finally did sit down and watch it, I was more than impressed. The storyline is somewhat similar to that of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day (1993), but it blows its “predecessor” away with its incredible action-packed plot. The visual effects are as top-notch as you will see, and the acting is spot-on. The on-screen relationship between Cruise and Blunt is vitally important for this story to work, and their chemistry was vastly evident—these two take an incredibly unique storyline and knock it out of the park. If you are looking for a solid Redbox movie on a Friday night, this one is well worth a watch.

No. 17 – Into the Woods 

Into2Into the Woods is a film directed by Rob Marshall, an adaptation of the critically acclaimed Broadway musical of the same name. I am a huge fan of musicals, but for some reason, I not once had any interest in seeing this movie. However, when the Oscar nominations were released, I was forced into seeing it because Meryl Streep was nominated for her role as The Witch (which was well-deserved)—I am sure glad I saw it. The storyline is such a unique conglomeration of a number of classic fairytales, and the music is as catchy as you can imagine—I literally kept singing some of the songs long after I watched it. I was also impressed with the acting and singing from the film’s starring cast. Even though the film was full of superstar talent (Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Christine Baranski, Anna Kendrick, and Tracey Ullman), I was most impressed by James Corden (the Baker) and Emily Blunt (the Baker’s wife)—they did not look like your typical on-screen couple, but the chemistry was apparent and the singing/acting performances by this duo were enchanting. If you are a fan of musicals, this is one of the best I have seen in quite some time.

No. 18 – A Most Violent Year

AMVY3A Most Violent Year is a film written and directed by J.C. Chandor. This movie follows Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), the owner of an oil company in 1981 whose business is being tainted by a severe outbreak of violent corruption during the most crime-ridden year in New York City’s history. This is only Chandor’s third film, but he has built up an expertise in multiple storytelling techniques. He can build a film that centers on plot and dialogue (Margin Call), and he can also create a tried-and-true character study (All Is Lost)—with A Most Violent Year, Chandor does an amazing job of combining these two methods. The film is shot spectacularly, and it includes a foot-chase scene for the ages. Although Oscar Isaac does a solid job in the starring role, the best performance in the movie is from his co-star, Jessica Chastain. Chastain plays Abel’s wife Anna, and the critically acclaimed actress (the most talented in Hollywood, in my opinion) stole every single scene she was in. The film is tense, dark, and thrilling, and it is definitely one of the standout movies from a great year in cinema.

No. 19 – Two Days, One Night 

Two days, one nightTwo Days, One Night is a Belgian-French-Italian drama written and directed by acclaimed Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. The movie is about Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a laborer at a solar-panel manufacturer in Liege. After taking some time off from work due to a nervous breakdown, Sandra returns to find out that management has offered her sixteen co-workers a €1,000 bonus if they vote to let Sandra go from her position. After Sandra pleas with management, her boss agrees to take a new vote on Monday about her fate; thus, Sandra has only one weekend to visit each of her sixteen co-workers to plead her case. There is not much I like more than a well-written, well-acted, well-shot foreign-language film, and Two Days, One Night definitely meets that criteria. The story is a dilemma that any one of us could imagine being in, and Cotillard’s incredible dramatic performance evokes a heightened level of empathy with this tough situation. This film is as simplistic as it gets, but at the same time, it is a tremendously depicted human-nature drama.

No. 20 – The Drop

The DropThe Drop is a mob drama directed by Michaël R. Roskam and written by Dennis Lehane. This movie was No. 6 on my “Fall Preview 2014” post, and although it did not make my list of the Top 15 films of the year, it still stands out as one of the year’s most noteworthy movies. I am a huge fan of several film adaptations of Dennis Lehane’s novels (Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River), and given that this was his first screenplay attempt, I was greatly anticipating the film’s release. As a mob-related drama, the film’s potential success hinged upon a dark, thrilling storyline and believable acting performances—The Drop certainly satisfies these requirements. This was the final appearance in a feature film by James Gandolfini, and given his experience as Tony Soprano on the HBO show The Sopranos, it was not difficult for the late actor to excel in his role as Cousin Marv—it was a spectacular swan song for a talented artist like Gandolfini. Naturally, though, the movie hit its highest points because of the star performance by Tom Hardy. Over the past couple of years, Hardy has become one of my favorite actors, and if you want the chance to see him excel in a role, make sure to check out The Drop.