The Best Films of 2015 – Honorable Mentions (16-20)

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Although I love writing about all of the major Academy Awards categories, my favorite part of this blog is revealing my favorite films from the past year. Over the next few weeks, I will announce each of the movies on my “Top 15 Films of 2015” list; however, today I start by announcing my “Honorable Mentions.” Therefore, I present you with the five films that just missed out on making my list of the Top 15 Films of 2015:

No. 16 – Legend

Legend 1Legend is a British crime thriller written and directed by Brian Helgeland. The film tells the true-life story of Reggie and Ronald Kray, identical twin brothers who headed the preeminent organized-crime gang in London’s East End in the 1950s and 60s. Full disclosure: the story and direction as a whole lose focus two-thirds through the film, which is what prevents this movie from being much higher on my list of 2015’s best films. However, Legend still stands tall as a worthy leader of my Honorable Mentions because of Tom Hardy and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Dick Pope. Tom Hardy plays Reggie Kray. Legend 2Tom Hardy plays Ronald Kray. That’s right—the most talented actor in world cinema leads the film in both main roles. His acting alone is reason to see this movie. Reggie can be violent and dangerous, but he has a softer, more romantic side. Ronald, on the other hand, is the walking example of mental instability, and his violent side is worn much more openly on his sleeves. Hardy’s performance is one of the more amazing things I have ever witnessed in film. You truly forget early on that Hardy is playing both roles—you connect with these characters on a completely individualized basis, as if two actors pulled this off. This visceral exposition was inherently complex, and Dick Pope deserves mounds of credit for making it happen from a cinematography perspective. I highly recommend this movie because of Tom Hardy alone, and it is additionally worth your time to read this article about how, technically, the double-performance by Hardy was created.

No. 17 – Southpaw

Southpaw 1Southpaw is a boxing drama directed by Antoine Fuqua, with a screenplay by Kurt Sutter. The film follows world champion boxer Billy Hope as he attempts to get his career back on track after seemingly losing everything in life: his wife is killed in a tragic shooting, and his daughter is stripped from Billy’s care by Child Protective Services. I only saw Southpaw recently, and since I saw Creed beforehand, my expectations for Gyllenhaal’s boxing movie were not high—I mean, how could there be TWO great boxing movies in one year? Boy, was I wrong. Creed (which will come up much later on my blog…wink, wink) and Southpaw are vastly different films, each with its own identity.

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Gyllenhaal nailed his leading role, even if the character appeared a bit too dark for me at times. Sutter’s story was fantastic and hard-hitting, which comes as no surprise after I found out that he created FX’s critically acclaimed Sons of Anarchy. I have been incredibly disappointed with Antoine Fuqua’s directorial efforts since Training Day (a top-20 film for me of all time), so I am thrilled to see him back to making remarkable movies. Although I wish I could have seen Eminem in the lead role (the story was based on his life and the rapper was attached to the film for years), I was glad he still crept into the finished product: one of the best scenes features Gyllenhaal training while Eminem’s “Phenomenal” blasts through the speakers—it was glorious!

No. 18 – The Gift

The Gift 2The Gift is a psychological thriller written, directed, and produced by Joel Edgerton. The film follows a married couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), as their lives are turned upside down with the introduction of Gordo (Joel Edgerton), a mysterious acquaintance from Simon’s past. This movie went decently under the radar throughout its limited release towards the end of summer, and I was lucky to have come across it—it was one of the more surprising film experiences of 2015 for me. I have always enjoyed Edgerton as an actor, but my respect for his acting abilities has wildly intensified after seeing this movie. The Gift 1The character evokes the epitome of creepy-crawly emotions, and Edgerton nailed every nuanced look and gesture. What really surprised me was how impressive Edgerton is as a filmmaker—plus, this is his directorial debut. Wow, what a way to start off with a bang! I have seen The Gift twice at this point (once in theaters, once at home), and with a second view, the thrills and chills were still aplenty. Need a good Redbox suggestion? Here you go. You’re welcome!

No. 19 – Black Mass

Black Mass 1Black Mass is a crime drama directed by Scott Cooper, with a screenplay by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk. The film follows the true-life events surrounding one of the most notorious American mobsters: Boston-native James “Whitey” Bulger. If you like gangster movies, then this is a must-see; Cooper has created a worthy entry into one of film’s best genres. The direction is great, the story is well crafted, and the movie is thrilling, but the standout feature of Black Mass is the ensemble cast (and the performances that flow therefrom). As I pointed out in my Fall Preview in August, Johnny Depp is (despite his many flaws) at his core an incredibly talented performer—all of that talent is on full display in this movie. Black Mass 2There are also wonderful supporting performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Scott, Dakota Johnson, and Corey Stoll. However, my favorite part of the film was Joel Edgerton as FBI agent John Connolly. Edgerton’s character had by far the biggest character arc, and Edgerton knocked every aspect of that journey out of the park. For that performance alone, Black Mass is one you need to check out.

No. 20 – Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies 1Bridge of Spies is a Cold War drama directed by Steven Spielberg, with a screenplay written by Matt Charman and the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan). The film follows the true-life story of James Donavon (Tom Hanks), an American attorney tasked with defending Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Additionally, Donavon helps the CIA negotiate for and assist in the exchange of Rudolf Abel for Francis Gary Powers, an American spy-plane pilot captured by the Soviets. No one is happier than I am to see a Spielberg movie among the ranks of my favorite films from the past year. Bridge of Spies 2Movies like Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Catch Me If You Can are incredible, absolutely incredible. However, recent films like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, War Horse, and Lincoln forced me into a state of lost hope for Spiely as a filmmaker. I included Bridge of Spies on my Fall Preview because I had high hopes for the movie, considering Spielberg employed the Coen brothers to write the script. The Coen brothers are some of the most masterful screenwriters in the industry, and they brought their A-game to this movie. With a superb script, vintage directing, and skilled acting by Hanks and Rylance, Bridge of Spies turned out to be one of the year’s best—obviously the Academy agreed, as it nominated the film for six Oscars, including Best Picture.

Fall Preview 2015: No. 5 – No. 1

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Happy Monday, film fans! The conclusion to my “Fall Preview 2015” is finally here. Over the past few days, I have shared with you my five Honorable Mentions and No. 10 – No. 6 on the list of my most anticipated fall film releases. But now it is on to the big reveal. So, without further ado, I give you films No. 5 – No. 1 on my Fall Preview 2015 list. Enjoy!

No. 5 – Black Mass

Black Mass 3Black Mass tells the true story of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), a notorious mobster and infamous leader of the Winter Hill Gang, an Irish-American mob in South Boston. If you have not seen this trailer, quit reading this now and click the link to it below (no, seriously…it’s worth it). Johnny Depp stars as the villainous Bulger, and by the looks of the aforementioned trailer, he knocks this performance out of the park! I will be the first to admit that Depp is by far one of the weirdest tools in the Hollywood shed. In today’s world, his filmography is marred by oddball performances in films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, The Lone Ranger, and Mortdecai. But most forget how truly talented Depp is as an artist, providing iconic performances in Donnie Brasco, Blow, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Public Enemies. I am hopeful that his portrayal of Bulger falls perfectly in line with his more acclaimed displays of acting dexterity—the trailer truly does give me hope!

Black Mass 2Other than seeing Johnny Depp own the role of a crazed, harebrained mobster, I am looking forward to Black Mass because I am hopeful that it redeems the deeply complex story of Whitey Bulger’s life that the 2014 documentary Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger so drastically mucked up. I was expecting big things from that documentary, but it merely provided a bore-fest that too blatantly revealed the filmmakers’ lack of access. Beneath the surface, an incredibly captivating story bubbles with deceit, violence, lunacy, and corruption, and I am confident that director Scott Cooper and Depp will bring that to fruition. Black Mass is set for a theatrical release on September 18, 2015.

Director: Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace, Crazy Heart)

Starring: Johnny Depp (Mortdecai, Into the Woods), Joel Edgerton (The Gift, Life), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Imitation Game), Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey, Need for Speed), and Kevin Bacon (Cop Car, R.I.P.D.)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CE3e3hGF2jc

No. 4 – The Revenant

The Revenant 2According to Entertainment Weekly, The Revenant “is inspired by the trust story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a 19th-century hunter and fur trapper who was attacked by a bear and left for dead by his comrades (Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson), only to will himself across hundreds of miles of winter terrain to safety—and redemption.” This movie has SO much going for it in my eyes: the cast, the crew, and the director. For starters, it stars Leo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domhnall Gleeson. Leo is my all-time favorite actor. Hardy is the greatest currently in the business. And with films like About Time and Ex Machina in his relatively small filmography, D-Glee is becoming one of my faves in the industry. Combine the talents of all three of these practiced artists and, in my humble opinion, you have a concoction of star power with unfathomable potential—this alone makes The Revenant a massive draw for me!

The Revenant 3Notwithstanding a wealth of talent within its cast, The Revenant piques my interest because of its director and cinematographer: Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki. Iñárritu is an absolute genius filmmaker, as evidenced by his critically acclaimed 2014 film Birdman, winner of four Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director for Iñárritu). He is obviously coming off an amazing year in film, and the fact that he is following up Birdman with an epic adventure that took over seven months to shoot in one of the most frigid locations in the world, Iñárritu is sure not letting off the gas pedal. Additionally, his Birdman cinematographer (Lubezki) is back for The Revenant, and that is reason alone to be excited—Lubezki has won the Oscar for Best Cinematography at each of the last two Academy Awards (Gravity and Birdman). The Revenant is set for a theatrical release on December 25, 2015.

Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, Babel)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Great Gatsby, Django Unchained) and Tom Hardy (Legend, Mad Max: Fury Road)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRfj1VCg16Y

No. 3 – Sicario

Sicario 3Sicario, Spanish for “hitman,” follows Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), an FBI agent who is recruited onto a joint task force assigned to hunting down a drug-cartel overlord. Blunt is joined by Benicio del Toro (who plays a Mexican national) and Josh Brolin (who plays a government official). To put it simply: I absolutely cannot wait for Sicario.

Sicario 2Earning rave reviews from critics at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Sicario is most fascinating due to Emily Blunt being cast as the lead protagonist. I have always somewhat enjoyed her work, but ever since her badass performance in last year’s Edge of Tomorrow, I am officially on Team Blunt for life. She has just as much charisma as any other leading lady, but it is her penchant for action that now truly sets her apart. Speaking to EW, director Denis Villeneuve said, “I didn’t want a woman who would act like a man. I wanted a woman who would find her strength in a masculine world.” I believe Blunt is up to the task, and that is one of the biggest reasons I am so stoked for this movie’s release.

S_D037_09788.NEFThe supporting cast is also a major draw. Benicio del Toro is a veteran in the game, and with performances in films like Traffic and 21 Grams, he knows how to most effectively evoke mystery, thrill, and suspense. Josh Brolin is another experienced actor that is sure to bring his trademark demeanor to the picture in order to add to the film’s drama. Lastly, I greatly enjoyed 2013’s Prisoners, directed by Villeneuve. He provided an unprecedented level of tension for that film’s entire duration, and I look for him to do the exact same thing in Sicario, hopefully expanding the scope of this apprehensive style of filmmaking. Sicario is set for a limited theatrical release on September 18, 2015 and a wide theatrical release on September 25, 2015.

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy)

Starring: Emily Blunt (Into the Woods, Edge of Tomorrow), Benicio del Toro (Inherent Vice, Guardians of the Galaxy), and Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XLQ1bkSLDo

No. 2 – Spectre

Spectre 2Spectre is the 24th Eon-produced 007 film, and it picks up where its predecessor, Skyfall, ended: following the fatal attack by Raoul Silva that claimed the life of M (Judy Dench), James Bond (Daniel Craig) must move on to thwart impending threats (by the criminal organization SPECTRE) at the direction of the new M, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). I am an avid fan of the James Bond series, and although my loyalties were always to Sean Connery as the preeminent Bond, Daniel Craig has definitely won me over; I now hold Craig out to be the best 007 of all time! Skyfall set a new bar for Bond films, surpassing (almost) every single one that came before it—Goldfinger is still the, pardon the pun, “gold” standard for 007 flicks! With Bond and his cohorts back in action for a fourth installment in the Daniel Craig era, I am hard-pressed to find any reason why this film should not be regarded as one of the biggest, baddest, and most anticipated films of the fall film season!

Spectre 3What is the one thing that could possibly propel Spectre past Skyfall for the second greatest 007 movie of all time? Two words: Christoph Waltz! The two-time Oscar winner is set to play Oberhauser, the apparent mastermind of SPECTRE, who claims some sort of personal connection to Bond. Bringing into the Bond fold one of the premier actors in the film industry is simply the best news for the franchise, and with Waltz in the mix, director Sam Mendes may find a cinematic classic at his fingertips. Spectre is set for a wide theatrical release on November 6, 2015.

Director: Sam Mendes (Skyfall, Away We Go)

Starring: Daniel Craig (Skyfall, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes, Horrible Bosses 2), Léa Seydoux (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Blue Is the Warmest Colour), Monica Bellucci (The Wonders, Love & War), and Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Skyfall)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ashLaclKCik

No. 1 – The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight 2The Hateful Eight follows John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) as he escorts Daisy “The Prisoner” Domergue to Red Rock to face justice for murder. Along the way, the two come across six very unique characters: The Bounty Hunter (Samuel L. Jackson), The Sherriff (Walter Goggins), The Mexican (Demián Bichir), The Little Man (Tim Roth), The Cow Puncher (Michael Madsen), and The Confederate (Bruce Dern).

The Hateful Eight 3Where do I start? I have been looking forward to The Hateful Eight since late 2013 when writer/director Quentin Tarantino said that he was working on his next movie. I have long been a fan of Tarantino, and considering (1) Inglourious Basterds is my all-time favorite movie, and (2) I own every single film Tarantino has ever made, it is no surprise that The Hateful Eight finds itself at the No. 1 spot of my Fall Preview. I am stunned this movie ever got made to be honest. In 2014, after his initial script was illegally leaked, Tarantino said that he was abandoning the project. However, he later changed his mind, rewrote the script, and voilà—we get a Christmas-day release in 70 mm of The Hateful Eight!

The Hateful Eight 1One thing Tarantino has always been known for is his recurring collaborations with actors—The Hateful Eight is no exception. Other than Jennifer Jason Leigh and Demián Bichir, Tarantino has previously worked with each of his stars. The Hateful Eight will be his second collaboration with Kurt Russell, Walter Goggins, and Bruce Dern, his third with Michael Madsen, his fourth with Tim Roth, and an astounding sixth with the legendary F-bomb king Samuel L. Jackson. Tarantino’s professional rapport with these actors can only benefit the movie, and I am so eager to see what this mad scientist has cooked up next! The Hateful Eight is set for a 70 mm film release on December 25, 2015 and a digital film release on January 8, 2016.

Director: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds)

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kingsman: The Secret Service), Kurt Russell (Furious 7, The Art of the Steal), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Welcome to Me, The Spectacular Now), Walter Goggins (American Ultra, Mojave), Demián Bichir (Dom Hemingway, Machete Kills), Tim Roth (Selma, United Passions), Michael Madsen (Ashley, I’m in Love with a Church Girl), and Bruce Dern (Cut Bank, Nebraska)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnRbXn4-Yis