Fall Preview 2015: No. 5 – No. 1

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 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!

Other 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.)

No. 4 – The Revenant

According 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!

Notwithstanding 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)

No. 3 – Sicario

Sicario, 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.

Earning 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.

The 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)

No. 2 – Spectre

Spectre 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!

What 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)

No. 1 – The Hateful Eight

The 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).

Where 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!

One 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)

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey 2

This year, the Best Actress category features a group of fantastic performers with a combined 33 previous Oscar nominations.  On the contrary, this group of Best Actor nominees features five well-known actors that have not been so abundantly recognized by the Academy.  Between the five, there is only one Oscar win on a combined five nominations.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor:

WINNER: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

In Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey plays the real-life Ron Woodruff, an overtly homophobic man from Texas that begins smuggling life-saving drugs into the United States after he is shockingly diagnosed with AIDS.  Matthew McConaugheyAs many of you already know, McConaughey is receiving a wide range of attention for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, partly because of the physical transformation that took place—the 44-year-old actor dropped a staggering 47 pounds.  Even though this weight loss makes McConaughey closely resemble an AIDS patient from the late 1980s, it is his impeccable acting in this film that warrants his place at the top of my list.  Given his Texas roots, he always plays the Texan role with ease, but in this film, he takes on a part that is not your typical Southern gentleman.  The performance he gives is bold, empowering, and utterly heart-wrenching, and in a year where he had critically-recognized performances in Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street, he stands alone at the top of the acting world thanks to an amazing portrayal of a man on the brink of death.  Matthew McConaughey has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

2. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave)

Chiwetel EjioforIn 12 Years A Slave, Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the real-life Solomon Northup, a renowned Northern-born violinist that is abducted and sold into slavery during the pre-Civil War era.  The story of Solomon Northup is incredibly heartbreaking, but Ejiofor gives the tragic story the justice it most definitely deserves.  With every passing moment throughout the film, the tale seems to get worse and worse for the distinguished Solomon Northup, and in every single scene, Ejiofor gives his heart and soul to the character, evoking a wealth of emotions in the minds of each viewer.  If it were not for a career-defining performance from McConaughey, Ejiofor would be far and away above the rest of the acting performances this year, and 12 Years A Slave is forever indebted to this awe-inspiring portrayal by Ejiofor of the resilient Solomon Northup.  Chiwetel Ejiofor has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

3. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)

In The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonard DiCaprio portrays the real-life Jordan Belfort, a greedy stockbroker who took Wall Street by storm in the late 1980s through sex, drugs, and securities fraud.  Film Fall PreviewThis film was definitely one of the most wild and crazy movie experiences of 2013, and the way in which DiCaprio engrossed himself so deeply into this despicable role is absolutely incredible.  A year after staring in Django Unchained, Leo has again taken on a character with a serious lacking for any moral integrity, and once again, the results were certainly extraordinary.  Even though I think this is one of his most thorough and well-crafted acting performances of his dignified career, I do not believe it is enough to outshine both McConaughey and Ejiofor.  DiCaprio has previously been nominated for three acting Oscars, the most recent nomination being for Best Actor for his role in Blood Diamond (2007).

4. Christian Bale (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, an intelligent con artist who is forced into working alongside the FBI to take down a group of corrupt politicians.  Christian Bale has a long history of outstanding performances, and this role can be added to his long list of acclaimed portrayals.  Christian BaleIt would be easy to talk about the incredible acting abilities Bale elicits on the screen in American Hustle, but one thing not receiving as much attention is his very own physical transformation for the part.  Similar to McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, Bale has lost a significant amount of weight for a role twice in the past: he lost over 60 pounds for his role in The Machinist (2004) and lost a substantial amount of weight for The Fighter (2010).  However, in American Hustle, Bale went backwards, gaining 50 pounds for his role as Irving.  This transformation was unbelievable, leaving Bale nearly unrecognizable for the duration of the film.  Christian Bale was previously nominated and won Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Fighter (2010).

5. Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

In Nebraska, Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, an old man who, after receiving a certificate in the mail saying he has won $1 million, embarks on a trip with his son from Montana to Nebraska to claim the prize.  NEBRASKABruce Dern’s portrayal of Woody is one of the highlights from Alexander Payne’s most recent film, and I could not imagine any other old actor playing this role.  Dern utilizes his sprawling acting talents, made up from over fifty years of film experience, to take this character on in a manner that is more than award-worthy.  Woody is a simple man, and Dern plays those characteristics to a tee, adding in some hilarious, witty dialogue along the way.  In most years, a performance like this would garner a much higher ranking on my list, but this year, Dern is at a disadvantage because of four other unimpeachable performances.  Bruce Dern was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Coming Home (1978).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Bradley Cooper (The Place Beyond the Pines), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Hugh Jackman (Prisoners), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt), and Joaquin Phoenix (Her)

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 9 – Nebraska

Nebraska - BP

Nebraska is a film directed by Alexander Payne, with a screenplay by Bob Nelson.  The film tells the story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an old man from Montana who believes he has won $1 million in a sweepstakes.  Even though he does not believe his father has won any money at all, David Grant (Will Forte), Woody’s son, agrees to drive him to Nebraska to collect his winnings.  Along the way, the two Grant men encounter a wide range of characters, from greedy family members to a ruthless old friend of Woody’s.

US-ENTERTAINMENT-PREMIERE-NEBRASKAI have only seen two of Alexander Payne’s films, Election (1999) and The Descendents (2011), and I love them both; in Nebraska, Payne has created another film that I can now add to the list of his works that I greatly enjoy.  The entire film is shot in black and white, and honestly, I could not see this film working in color.  The characters are either tremendously brash or exceptionally bland; thus, the “black and white” style works utterly well.  The film is hilariously comedic but only in the subtlest ways, and Payne brings an established reputation to this tempestuous project.

NEBRASKAAs in many of the films that I rank highly each year, Nebraska thrives on a well-assembled, tremendous-performing cast.  The film is led by a wonderfully refreshing performance from one of Hollywood’s greats, Bruce Dern.  His character is plainly committed to traveling to Nebraska to collect his winnings, no matter how much his family tries to convince him of it being a hoax, and the innocent, blatantly ordinary man is highlighted on the screen thanks to a triumphant portrayal by Dern.  Equally as terrific is Will Forte in his portrayal of Woody’s son David.  An actor only known for his long stint on Saturday Night Live and his below-average film career, Forte significantly impacted this film for the better.  He uses his comedic background to illuminate his character’s witty dialogue, but it was the dramatic scenes that will stick in my head the most about Forte’s performance.

June Squibb cemetaryOne of the best performances in the film, though, comes from June Squibb as Kate Grant, Woody’s loud-mouthed, opinionated wife.  The veteran Squibb gives an absolutely hilarious performance as Kate, hysterically elucidated in many scenes, including one where she flashes her downstairs mix-up (Old Gregg reference) to the tombstone of one of Woody’s relatives.  When, at times, the film seems dry or bland, Squibb’s character quickly comes to the rescue in a blaze of straight-shooting glory.

Aside from Payne’s distinct filmmaking style and each actor’s skilled performances, the film’s hidden gem is the score—if ever a film’s musical composition matched the tone and color of the movie in such a brutally perfect way, it is this one.  Nebraska is rated R for some language.

Nebraska trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UT5tqPojMtg

Academy Award nominations for Nebraska:

Best Picture (Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Producers)

Best Actor (Bruce Dern)

Best Supporting Actress (June Squibb)

Best Cinematography (Phedon Papamichael)

Best Director (Alexander Payne)

Best Original Screenplay (Bob Nelson)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

10. Captain Phillips

11. Her

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club