Fall Preview 2016: No. 5 – No. 1

Time to go up…cause it’s TUESDAY! More importantly, the conclusion to my “Fall Preview 2016” 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 2016 list. Enjoy!

No. 5 – La La Land

La La Land is a film set in Los Angeles where aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions, while dedicated jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) plays in dingy bars in order to scrape by. The two meet and fall in love, but, as success mounts, the dreams they worked so hard to maintain threaten to rip them apart.

la-la-land-2I have been awaiting the release of La La Land for quite some time because of the man sitting in the director’s chair: Damien Chazelle. In 2014, Chazelle broke out with his critically acclaimed debut Whiplash, one of the best movies I have seen in years (Whiplash ranked No. 1 on my list of Top 15 Films of 2014). Considering Chazelle’s masterful filmmaking in Whiplash, it was impossible for me not to be excited for his sophomore effort. La La Land finds itself in the No. 5 slot on my list on the strength of Chazelle’s previous film, so I truly hope that it does not fall flat due to failing to meet expectations. However, rumors are that La La Land is just as good as Whiplash, garnering an immense amount of Oscar support months in advance of its release. If this thing turns out to be as good as it is being hyped up to be, Damien Chazelle will cement himself as one of the very elite filmmakers in the business today.

Part of Whiplash’s success was due to wonderful performances from its cast: J.K. Simmons delivered an Oscar-winning performance that will forever be one of my all-time favorites, and Miles Teller portrayed a determined, yet wildly intense jazz student with absolute precision. I am optimistic about La La Land’s potential because Chazelle has again assembled a top-notch cast. The aforementioned Simmons is back in a supporting role, but the film’s leads have a history of on-screen chemistry, which gives the film an extra boost. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone previously starred together in a romantic capacity in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad, and their relationships in these films were incredibly real and believable—I cannot wait to watch them interact again here. La La Land is set for a theatrical release on December 2, 2016.

Director: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Starring: Ryan Gosling (The Nice Guys, The Big Short), Emma Stone (Aloha, Birdman), and J.K. Simmons (Zootopia, Whiplash)

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

No. 4 – Passengers

Passengers follows the spaceship, Starship Avalon, on its 120-year voyage to a distant colony planet known as “Homestead II.” The Starship Avalon, transporting 5,259 people, has a malfunction in two of its sleep chambers. As a result, two hibernation pods open prematurely and the two people (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) that awoke are stranded on the spaceship, still 90 years from their destination. The two soon discover that the malfunction that caused them to be awoken prematurely is not the only problem afflicting the huge spaceship.

passengers-2Passengers is one of those movies that has blockbuster hit written all over it. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are arguably two of the most “big time” actors currently in the business, and their collaboration here is sure to drive up ticket sales this Christmas. And rightfully so—Lawrence is a three-time Oscar-nominated actress and Pratt has ascended to mainstream stardom with performances in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. Notwithstanding the hype that this duo has and will to continue to garner in the lead up to the film’s release, I truly believe this pairing will make waves via pure acting ability, too. Lawrence is easily one of the top three or four actresses in Hollywood, and here I expect her to combine her proficient dramatic/comedic acting skills (see Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) with her knack for adventure (see The Hunger Games). And although he has not garnered any award-worthy praise yet, Chris Pratt is definitely one of the brightest stars in Hollywood. I expect the same sharp wit from Pratt that we have grown accustomed to seeing (see Guardians of the Galaxy), and that is never a bad thing.

As far as the filmmaking, Passengers has plenty going for it. Manning the director’s chair is Morten Tyldum, the filmmaker behind the Norwegian hit Headhunters and the Oscar-nominated The Imitation Game. Headhunters is absolutely incredible and, although I was not a massive fan of The Imitation Game, I simply cannot deny the stunning meticulousness with which Tyldum crafted the film; thus, I feel comfortable with him leading Passengers, a big-budget sci-fi thriller. The fact that Jon Spaihts penned the screenplay only adds to my excitement, as he wrote the screenplay for 2012’s Prometheus, one of my favorite science-fiction films in recent memory. Passengers is set for a theatrical release on December 21, 2016.

Director: Morten Tyldum (Midnight Special, Mud)

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men Apocalypse, Joy), Chris Pratt (The Magnificent Seven, Jurassic World), and Michael Sheen (Nocturnal Animals, Far from the Madding Crowd)

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

No. 3 – Silence

Set in the 17th century, Silence tells the story of two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor (Liam Neeson) and propagate Christianity.

Without a doubt, Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest directors of all time. From Taxi Driver to Goodfellas, Gangs of New York to The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese has been lighting up the silver screen for decades with remarkable, high-quality films. Clearly, it is not hard to see why Silence finds itself in the top three of my list of most anticipated films this fall. In Silence, we have what can only be described as Scorsese’s true “passion project”—he began developing the film in 1990! Very few people—let alone filmmakers—could retain an interest in something for over 20 years, but that is what sets Martin Scorsese apart. The man is a cinematic visionary, and he has never once let me down with a project—I do not expect him to start now.

silence-2Aside from his filmmaking skills in general, Scorsese’s movies work on so many levels because of his ability to always get the most out of his actors. From Robert De Niro to Leonardo DiCaprio, Scorsese has worked with the best actors in the business, and those stars always seem to shine their brightest while working at Scorsese’s direction. With that said, I cannot wait to see what this iconic filmmaker has done with the pieces that he has assembled (i.e., Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson). Garfield and Driver are two of the most polished up-and-comers in Hollywood, and both of their careers have produced a number of outstanding performances—I am hopeful that they both deliver their best ones to date in Silence. What I am most excited for from a casting standpoint, however, is Liam Neeson. The Oscar-nominated actor had a supporting role in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and knocked his limited time on the screen out of the park—I cannot wait to see the two reunite with Neeson in a starring role. It goes without saying: I expect big things! Silence is set for a theatrical release on December 23, 2016.

Director: Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street, Hugo)

Starring: Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge, 99 Homes), Liam Neeson (A Monster Calls, Non-Stop), and Adam Driver (Paterson, Midnight Special)

Trailer: n/a

No. 2 – The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train follows Rachel Watson (Emma Blunt), an alcoholic who divorced her husband Tom (Justin Theroux) after she caught him cheating on her. Rachel takes the train to work daily. She fantasizes about the relationship of her neighbors, Scott and Megan Hipwell (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett), during her commute. That all changes when she witnesses something from the train window and Megan is found to be missing, presumed dead.

Back in 2014, the number one movie on this very list was Gone Girl, the film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel. Two years later (albeit in the number two spot), here I am writing about The Girl on the Train. Now I know, they are two separate movies with two separate premises. But it is hard not to want to compare them in some form: They are both mystery thrillers with similar themes derived from books that took the world by storm. Gone Girl was one of the best movies I saw in 2014, and it definitely lived up to the hype for me—I sure hope The Girl on the Train does this year, too.

girl-train-2Aside from the attention the film is getting due to its source material’s acclaim, I have been awaiting the release of The Girl on the Train because of Emily Blunt. For those that have read my reviews in the past for Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, and Sicario, what I am about to say is old news: Emily Blunt is one of my top two favorite actresses currently in the movie business, and I have gotten to the point where I will watch anything she makes. This is not (just) because of some love affair with her on a purely shallow basis; rather, I believe she has developed into one of the premier female talents in Hollywood. On the strength of my fandom for Blunt, I am more than ready to plop down in a seat at my local theater this Friday to see what I hope turns out to be a thrilling ride (on a train, of course). The Girl on the Train is set for a theatrical release on October 7, 2016.

Director: Tate Taylor (Get On Up, The Help)

Starring: Emily Blunt (The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Sicario), Rebecca Ferguson (Florence Foster Jenkins, Missions: Impossible – Rogue Nation), Haley Bennett (The Magnificent Seven, Hardcore Henry), Justin Theroux (Zoolander 2, Wanderlust), and Luke Evans (High-Rise, Furious 7)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5yk-HGqKmM

No. 1 – Arrival

Arrival follows an elite team that is put together to investigate when multiple mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe. Mankind teeters on the verge of global war as everyone scrambles for answers—and to find them, team members Louise Banks (Amy Adams), Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) will take a chance that could threaten their lives, and, quite possibly, humanity.

arrival-2Science-fiction is nowhere near the top of my list of favorite film genres. Don’t get me wrong, I do like them—but if I had to pick a range of 4-5 types of movies to watch on a Friday night, science-fiction would not be one of them. But Arrival is peak alien sci-fi…so how can it rank so high on this list? The answer is simple: Denis Villeneuve. Although I still have not seen Villeneuve’s Maelstrom (the winner of the International Federation of Film Critics Award at the Berlin Film Festival) or Incendies (the Oscar-nominated foreign language film), I still view the French-Canadian filmmaker to be one of the best in the business—this is because of Prisoners and Sicario. While in Prisoners Villeneuve crafted a film that was emotionally complex and disturbing at times, yet all the while encapsulating, he truly blew me away with last year’s Sicario, a tightly wound drug cartel thriller that put Villeneuve’s brazen filmmaking on full display for the world to see. Needless to say, his involvement with Arrival makes it a no-brainer for me to be so interested!

In Prisoners, Villeneuve truly directed his balls off in getting the most from his actors (Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, and Terrence Howard absolutely killed it), and in Sicario, the very same was true (Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro delivered unbelievably outstanding performances). Here, I am anxious to see what Villeneuve does with another stellar cast. Amy Adams is one of my favorite actresses (and by far one of the best in the business), Jeremy Renner always does a great job, and Forest Whitaker is a veteran in the game who still treats every performance as if it is his last. The talent is there from both an acting and directorial standpoint—I am confident that the two will intersect beautifully and Arrival will meet all of its undeniably high expectations. Arrival is set for a theatrical release on November 11, 2016.

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners)

Starring: Amy Adams (Nocturnal Animals, Big Eyes), Jeremy Renner (Captain America: Civil War, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), and Forest Whitaker (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Southpaw)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFMo3UJ4B4g

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 9 – Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians2The Guardians of the Galaxy is a Marvel-superhero production directed by James Gunn and written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman. The film follows Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), an earthling that was “beamed up” by a spaceship some twenty years prior. Quill, who in outer space goes by the name “Star-Lord,” finds himself at the center of a dangerous bounty hunt after stealing an orb that the villainous Ronan (Lee Pace) wants to procure. In order to evade the stalk (and ultimately save the entire galaxy due to the orb’s true potential), Star-Lord must befriend a band of intergalactic misfits: the warrior princess Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the revenge-centric, “Hulk”-like Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), the derisive-tongued raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Rocket’s sidekick Groot (voiced and motion-captured by Vin Diesel), a tender walking tree

Guardians3Most superhero movies are the same. Obviously the plots differ somewhat and the characters are not the same, but generally speaking, they all follow the same mold: a dramatic story of how the superhero came to be, coupled with an action-packed/dramatic unraveling of the plot. There is always some sad music and some overwhelming thespian-like dramatics. Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy has some of those elements, too; but it is how this film breaks the traditional mold to carve out new ground in the superhero genre that makes its inclusion on this year-end list worthy.

Guardians4How does this Marvel production stand alone at the top in a genre that has seen box-office giants like Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Avengers produced by the very same production studio? Well, it is a culmination of multiple things. First, the film’s opening sequence (like that of most superhero movies), lays the foundation for the background of the story in a far superior manner to most films of this variety. The back-story for most of Marvel’s popular superheroes is only depicted because of its necessity—those films do not seem to take seriously the opportunity that they have to establish a character’s background story in a way that will evoke true, meaningful empathy from the viewers. I could not care less about how Thor’s story begins because its filmmakers did not beckon any emotion from me. This film changes that by giving viewers a more serious-toned set of circumstances that could be a quality scene in an Oscar-nominated drama.

Guardians7Second, despite the seriousness of the opening scene, it quickly turns comedic. And I do not mean “comedic” in the slap-sticky way that most superhero movies try to throw it around at random times to keep the tone on a more even keel. Instead, Guardians of the Galaxy is snappy with its humor—it is streamlined by the writers in a way that allows the movie to take on a positive, amusing tone throughout its duration like you might expect out of a critically acclaimed “comedy.” Needless to say, the dialogue is galactically represented by just the kind of wit that makes a film great.

Guardians9Third, the movie’s musical component is of much better quality than that of other superhero films (hell, even other movies in general). Not only did it contain a notable original score, it boasted an even better musical soundtrack. It features a wealth of great songs from the late-60s, 70s, and 80s (such as “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5 and “Moonage Daydream” by David Bowie), and director James Gunn was quoted by IGN as saying that the music plays a culturally significant role in the story’s progression: “It’s striking the balance throughout the whole movie, through something that is very unique, but also something that is easily accessible to people at the same time. The music and the Earth stuff is one of those touchstones that we have to remind us that, yeah, [Quill] is a real person from planet Earth who’s just like you and me. Except that he’s in this big outer space adventure.” The soundtrack went on to claim the number-one spot on four separate Billboard charts (200, Top Soundtracks, Top Rock Albums, Top Digital Albums), and it even garnered a Grammy nomination. This unique sound took the film to great heights.

Guardians1Finally, the casting choices were about as good as it gets. But not only were the casting decisions made superbly, but the actual actors backed up an action-filled, hilarity-packed movie with more dynamism than the likes of Chris Evans as Captain America or Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk. The band of Avengers were obviously picked out individually for their own solo films, but the Marvel producers intended to eventually combine forces for an adaptation of the Avengers series—I say this because they do not gel with one another well whatsoever in those films. And I refer not to the characters but instead to the actors. I enjoy those movies (somewhat), but after each of them, I always feel like Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Hemsworth are, by themselves, carrying the story because the rest of them do not make me care about their respective roles. In Guardians, I bought into every single character and his or her individual plight, and the actors’ chemistry on screen is what made the movie dazzle.

Guardians5The much-in-demand Chris Pratt is a riot in his starring role, and his past work in exceptional comedies (TV and silver screen) prepared him well for this memorable performance. Zoe Saldana fits into this out-of-this-world world much smoother than Scarlett Johansson does in the Avengers series. She is more believable as a superhero, and her marvelous role as the sole female of the gang is deserved of much acclaim. Dave Bautista, as Drax, does not have to rely on CGI to appear massive on the screen (like Ruffalo as the Hulk)—he services his character well by being physically stacked (thanks to plenty of time in the weight-room, I presume), and this key feature makes the menacing character of Drax the Destroyer so larger-than-life. Vin Diesel did a noteworthy job with the motion-capture of the walking tree Groot, and this non-human character is one of the film’s most remarkable—I still walk around saying, “I am Groot.” Guardians6The best performance of all, though, is that given by three-time Oscar-nominee Bradley Cooper. The CGI creation of Rocket is marvelous in its own right, but the voice-acting performance that Cooper delivers is incredible. Obviously he is a big star in other movies, and Cooper taps into his ever-growing acting chops as the loud-mouthed Rocket to portray the sarcastic, but vulnerable nature of the group’s shortest/smallest member. Guardians of the Galaxy is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

Guardians of the Galaxy trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d96cjJhvlMA

Academy Award nominations for Guardians of the Galaxy:

Best Visual Effects (Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2014:

  1. Birdman
  2. Fury
  3. Calvary
  4. Interstellar
  5. Gone Girl
  6. The Lego Movie

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 15 – The Lego Movie

Lego1

The Lego Movie is a film written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. The film follows an ordinary Lego minifigure named Emmet (Chris Pratt). Emmet is an average Lego—he always follows the rules and gives into the mindless lifestyle that is demanded of him. However, when he is mistaken for an extraordinarily special person that has been prophesied to save the world, he is thrust into a thrilling quest with a band of Lego strangers to take down the evil despot, Lord Business (Will Ferrell).

Lego5Traditionally, I am not a huge fan of animated features. My feeling is that most of the modern animated films, with only a few exceptions (e.g., most Pixar films), are senseless, poorly written stories that are meant to simply target children and achieve immense box office success through that exploitation. I have no issues with this business tactic by the animation studios, but my point is only that it does not make for good film. However, The Lego Movie breaks the mold for modern animation storytelling. It does an incredible job of appealing to young kids who play with Legos with its music, humor, and positive story, but I was most impressed, as a twentysomething, with the film’s ability to appeal to adults. The jokes, plot, and character arcs are obviously appropriate for children of all ages, but they seem hilariously crafted with those of my age group in mind. Additionally, the story ever so gradually tugs at the heartstrings of anyone that has ever played with the world-famous toys in their life. It not only allows children to see their favorite toys on the big screen, but it also brings back a wealth of memories from days gone by from adults’ (and specifically, my) creative adventures with Legos. The film has won a number of awards already for being the Best Animated Feature of 2014, which is why I am appalled that it was snubbed by the Oscars in that category. In recent memory, this is the worst snub the Academy has made.

Lego 4Everything discussed in the previous paragraph is directly attributable to the well-crafted script and the exceptional direction from the film’s creators, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. This duo has a unique filmography, writing and directing Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and directing both 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street. Their experiences with animated films (they also wrote the script for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2) is starkly different to that of their R-rated Jump Street comedies, but the Lord-Miller team gets the best out of both worlds for The Lego Movie. It is a remarkable achievement that has already garnered its creators a series of spin-off films that are in the works, not to mention a sequel to The Lego Movie. These guys are becoming a staple in the world of animated film, and we are all luckier for that.

Warner Bros. Pictures Los Angeles Premiere  'The Lego Movie'The script is as solid as it gets, but naturally, it still needs a group of talented actors to breathe life into its characters. Voice acting is always a unique challenge, but Lord and Miller put together an all-star cast for the task. The film has a wide range of standout performances from its actors, including Chris Pratt as Emmet, Will Ferrell as Lord Business, Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle, Will Arnett as Batman, Nick Offerman as Metal Beard, Alison Brie as Princess Unikitty, Charlie Day as Benny, Liam Neeson as Bad Cop, Good Cop, and Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius. Make sure to check this one out if you are looking to see a perfect comedy—it is by far the year’s best. At the very least, you will be left with one of the greatest songs in film history stuck in your head…”Everything is awesome!!!” The Lego Movie is rated PG for mild action and rude humor.

The Lego Movie trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yj4GeCk5SBk

Academy Award nominations for The Lego Movie:

Best Original Song: “Everything Is Awesome” (Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson)