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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ej3ioOneTy8

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)

Fall Preview 2015: No. 10 – No. 6

In this post, I reveal films No. 10 through No. 6 on the list of my Top 10 most anticipated movies coming out during the fall season.  This batch includes some potential heavy hitters, and if you are looking for a great movie to go see in theaters in the next few months, this post will give you some top-notch options among the films that look most poised for success.

No. 10 – Steve Jobs

According to Entertainment Weekly, Steve Jobs follows its titular character, one of the most revolutionary tech giants of all time, behind the scenes of three iconic product launches: “The Macintosh, Jobs’ failed NeXT computer, and the first iMac.” In 2013, Ashton Kutcher played the Apple founder in the blatantly average Jobs. That boring biographical piece is by far the cause for my unconditional anticipation of Steve Jobs. This is due to the fact that the 2013 film proved that there is an amazing story waiting to be unearthed about the visionary behind the iPod, but it simply needs the film industry’s best and brightest to do the tale justice. In 2015, that is exactly what we get!

Sitting in the director’s chair is Danny Boyle, the genius behind Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, and 127 Hours. Leading the cast in the role of Jobs is the rapidly up-and-coming cinematic great Michael Fassbender. And penning the screenplay is one of my favorite writers in the game, Aaron Sorkin (the writer behind A Few Good Men, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, and Moneyball). With this incredible team pulling the strings in the newest incarnation of Steve Jobs’s life story, it is destined for Oscar nominations. Steve Jobs is set for a theatrical release on October 9, 2015.

Director: Danny Boyle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire)

Starring: Michael Fassbender (Slow West, Frank), Kate Winslet (The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Divergent), Seth Rogen (The Interview, Neighbors), and Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber To, Looper)

No. 9 – Beasts of No Nation

Beasts of No Nation tells the vexing story of Agu (Abraham Attah), a young boy in West Africa who watches as his family is ripped apart from him by terrorizing militants. After, Agu himself is recruited by the leader (Idris Elba) of an army of rebels, comprised of mostly child soldiers. This movie appears to tell a gripping story of a tense and controversial subject matter, and it seemingly has all of the parts to make it a masterpiece: Cary Joji Fukunaga wrote and directed, and Golden Globe-winning actor Idris Elba plays the devilish commander. For all of you True Detective fans out there (I have only seen a few episodes of season 1, but from what I gathered, it was amazing), Fukunaga directed season 1. Take his direction and mix it with Elba, one of my favorite actors in the business, and I think Beasts has what it takes to succeed.

One of the most interesting facts about this movie is that it is Netflix’s very first original feature film. With Netflix already becoming known for its critically claimed original programming (House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), I am incredibly pumped for its journey into original film production—Beasts debuts on Netflix’s streaming service on the same day as its theatrical release. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Fukunaga stated: “It’s really hard to deny the power of 66 million subscribers. If the audience can have an emotional experience with my movie, then that’s everything I want.” Beasts of No Nation is set for a theatrical and Netflix Instant Stream release on October 16, 2015.

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga (Jane Eyre, Sin Nombre)

Starring: Idris Elba (Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Gunman) and Ama K. Abebrese (Double-Cross, Ties That Bind)

No. 8 – Joy

To keep it simple, Joy is about the inventor of the Miracle Mop, Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence). Treating cinematic visionary David O. Russell’s story to a more in-depth and honest description, it is an epic story about a 30-year span in a woman’s life, charting her ups and downs, successes and struggles. Russell again collaborates in Joy with the trio of superstars (Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Bradley Cooper) he has featured in each of his last two films (American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook). Take these established relationships and throw in the fact that Russell’s last three films have all been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and movie fans worldwide surely have a cocktail for genius.

Speaking of David O. Russell’s professional relationships with his recurring stars, my interest in this film is most evidenced by Jennifer Lawrence in the leading role. Silver Linings Playbook did feature her as one of the two main co-stars, but the film was mostly about Cooper’s character. Subsequently, American Hustle featured a hilarious supporting performance by J-Law, but it was Amy Adams, Christian Bale, and Cooper taking up the film’s bulk. Therefore, I am beyond stoked to see one of my favorite actresses own the screen time. Lawrence knows her relationship with Russell is special, telling Entertainment Weekly, “Working on his sets is like the Olympics of acting. Everything moves so fast. It’s like watching someone do a giant abstract painting or sculpture and you go, ‘Where is this going?’ And then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a Pegasus. It’s beautiful!” Joy is set for a theatrical release on December 25, 2015.

Director: David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook)

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Parts 1&2, Serena), Robert De Niro (The Intern, Grudge Match), and Bradley Cooper (Aloha, American Sniper)

No. 7 – The Martian

The Martian follows astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), as his crew mistakenly takes him for dead during a storm on Mars. Stranded on the red planet alone without enough resources to last him more than a few weeks, Watney must defy the odds to ever make it back to Earth alive. Ridley Scott directs this sci-fi thriller, and that is all I need to know to get on board. Scott is the creative innovator behind Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Prometheus, and with an interstellar (pun intended) cast at his disposal, his every cinematic desire will surely play out masterfully on the screen. Although I really did like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar last year, it was a bit too Inception-esque with its utterly complex structure. From the looks of Scott’s The Martian in its trailer, this film looks to still provide the stunning visual prowess akin to that in Interstellar, while connecting more with the audience.

Scott’s ensemble cast in The Martian is most definitely one of its most impressive features. Matt Damon is obviously an award-winning star, but I am most looking forward to seeing Jessica Chastain. Those familiar with my blog and opinions on film in general know that I have long contended that Chastain is the most skilled actress in the industry. Just like her role in the aforementioned Interstellar, I expect big things from such a Hollywood heavyweight. I am also intrigued by the star power of this film’s supporting cast: the forever fearful of trains Kate Mara (House of Cards anyone?), the always hilarious, but I imagine soon-to-be dramatic Kristen Wiig, and the Oscar-nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor. A cast this strong is likely to command every last second of the film. The Martian is set for a wide theatrical release on October 2, 2015.

Director: Ridley Scott (Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Counselor)

Starring: Matt Damon (Interstellar, The Monuments Men), Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year, Interstellar), Kristen Wiig (The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Welcome to Me), Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber To, Looper), Michael Peña (Ant-Man, Fury), Kate Mara (Fantastic Four, Transcedence), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Z for Zachariah, 12 Years a Slave)

No. 6 – Legend

In the true-life biopic Legend, set in London during the 1960s, Tom Hardy plays both twin brothers Reggie and Ron Kray, two of the most renowned gangsters in the world. Tom Hardy + Tom Hardy = double the Tom Hardy. Boom! I am in! Just like my devoted contention that Jessica Chastain is the most talented actress in the game, I likewise believe Hardy is the single greatest actor in all of world cinema. He has proven his worth as the titular character in the brutally violent Bronson, the demented supervillain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, the emotionally torn Ivan in last year’s Locke, and the legendary master of madness in this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road. He is the ultimate craftsman, and Legend director Brian Helgeland immediately took notice of Hardy’s seriousness behind the scenes, telling Entertainment Weekly, “he takes it to a point I’ve never seen—just the commitment and the focus. There’s no gag reel.”

Aside from the actual casting of Hardy in Legend, I am fascinated by the fact that he plays both of the Kray twins. Yes, Armie Hammer did a wonderful job as both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss in 2010’s The Social Network, but Legend is pitched as a badass action adventure, which implicates a completely unprecedented challenge for an actor to take on two roles. While Helgeland initially wanted Hardy to portray only Reggie, the character with the emotional love story at his core, Hardy was smitten with the challenge of playing Ron, the gay and much more outgoing of the twins. Helgeland told EW that “from the time Tom sat down, all he was talking about was Ron. At the end, Tom said, ‘I’ll give you Reggie if you give me Ron.’” The rest was history, and I cannot wait to see the result. Legend is set for a theatrical release on October 2, 2015.

Director: Brian Helgeland (42, The Order)

Starring: Tom Hardy (The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road), Emily Browning (Pompeii, God Help the Girl), David Thewlis (The Theory of Everything, The Fifth Estate), and Chazz Palminteri (Henry & Me, Yonkers Joe)

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 1 – 12 Years A Slave

12 1

12 Years A Slave is a film directed by Steve McQueen, with a screenplay by John Ridley.  The film is adapted from Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name.  It tells the true story of when Northup was abducted and sold into slavery during the pre-Civil War era, despite the fact that he was a free man.

12 Years A Slave is an epic tale about the bitter reality of American slavery and the resilience one man had to withstand such brutal obstacles in order to one day reach his family again.  I have heard many great things about Steve McQueen’s filmmaking abilities, but prior to 12 Years A Slave, I had never personally seen any of his work.  But based purely on his effort here, the British director has made me a dedicated believer in his talented artistry.  McQueenThe subject of slavery in America has never been displayed on the silver screen before in such a straightforward, viciously honest nature, and when asked in an interview with Entertainment Weekly why there have not been more films in America about slavery, McQueen responded, “it’s a question it took a Brit to ask.”  McQueen gives Solomon Northup’s story justice on the screen and not by sugarcoating any part of this heroic story—he is candid at all times, no matter how atrocious the circumstances are.  McQueen has created one of the greatest films of all time, and this is the first time since The King’s Speech won for Best Picture that I have so deeply believed that a film deserves the Academy’s most coveted award.

This epic tale is packed with astoundingly crafted acting performances, and this is just another reason why 12 Years A Slave stands tall among the rest of 2013’s cinematic exports.  Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, and his take on the real-life man is viscerally remarkable.  Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a SlaveThere are some horrifying scenes involving Ejiofor’s character, but he handles them with an experienced level of dignity.  Ejiofor admitted in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that he found the most brutal scenes the easiest to perform because “it allows for another level of legitimacy in the pursuit of someone’s story, somebody’s life.”  Ejiofor devoted the time and effort in preparing for this role with commitment and resolve, and for that, the story of Solomon Northup receives the respected amount of attention that it deserves.

Lupita Nyong’o also gave one of the most incredible performances of the entire year in her portrayal of Patsey, an iron-willed slave woman.  Her character is one of the more innocent figures in the film, but she has some of the harshest realities of pre-Civil War slavery, namely the sexual sadism she is subjected to from her slave owner.  lupitaNyong’o is a newcomer in Hollywood, but the performance she gives is more analogous to a veteran performer on the verge of a Lifetime Achievement award.  Her wisdom in terms of acting is beyond her years, and in this film, she gives a performance that will long be remembered as one of the best 2013 had to offer.  With every crack of the whip during her gruesome beating scene, Lupita Nyong’o becomes immersed even deeper into her character, and even though the scene is one of the hardest to watch, her realism knocks it out of the park.

The film’s other actors also give outstanding supporting performances, especially Paul Dano and Sarah Paulson.  fassbenderBut aside from Ejiofor and Nyong’o, no performance is more memorable than Michael Fassbender as the vicious slave-owner, Edwin Epps.  At first glance, the character seems blandly one-dimensional, but Fassbender’s exhaustive construction of the character brings out so many other previously unearthed qualities.  Ever since I first saw Fassbender in Inglourious Basterds, I knew he had a unique gift in regards to acting, but never before has he been so instinctive and appalling as he is in 12 Years A Slave.  If any other skilled actor were to take on the role of Epps, the film would probably still be a solid “A.”  But Fassbender’s terrific performance takes this movie to another level, and McQueen is most assuredly thankful for this collaboration.

All in all, this film is by far the best of the entire year.  It touches every single emotion a viewer could possibly have, and the acting is something to behold.  McQueen has beautifully created one of the most important films of modern cinema, and for that, it deserves every single honor available in this industry.  12 Years A Slave is rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity, and brief sexuality.

12 Years A Slave trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z02Ie8wKKRg

Academy Award nominations for 12 Years A Slave:

Best Picture (Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, and Anthony Katagas, Producers)

Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor)

Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender)

Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o)

Best Costume Design (Patricia Norris)

Best Director (Steve McQueen)

Best Film Editing (Joe Walker)

Best Production Design (Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker)

Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley)

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

2. Short Term 12

3. The Hunt

4. Frances Ha

5. The Wolf of Wall Street

6. The World’s End

7. American Hustle

8. The Spectacular Now

9. Nebraska

10. Captain Phillips

11. Her

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club

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)