Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 3 – Arrival

Arrival is a science-fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve, with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer, which is adapted from Ted Chiang’s award-winning short story and novella “Story of Your Life.” The film follows a team that is put together to investigate when multiple mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe. As the world scrambles for answers, mankind comes ever closer to global war. In order to find those answers, language expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams), physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) take a chance that could threaten their lives, and, quite possibly, humanity.

arrival6Back in August, I ranked Arrival as the No. 1 film I was anticipating for the fall film season, and that hype was well worth it—Arrival is one of my favorite science-fiction movies of all time. The reason I was looking forward to the film so much a few months ago was the director, Denis Villeneuve. After making a series of critically acclaimed foreign language films (such as Maelström and Incendies), Villeneuve broke into mainstream Hollywood with Prisoners, an emotionally disturbing and suspenseful film starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. I was a big fan of Prisoners, but Villeneuve impressed me even more in 2015 with Sicario, a gripping thriller about the viciousness of drug cartels starring Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro. However, in Arrival, Villeneuve is at his very best.

arrival5Aside from exhilarating visuals and riveting drama, Arrival succeeds because Villeneuve and screenwriter Heisserer have mastered the art of science fiction.  If Ridley Scott and Christopher Nolan were to birth a cinematic love child, Arrival would be that progeny. The film taps into the best parts of the legendary Scott’s Alien, Blade Runner, and The Martian, while also channeling Nolan’s renowned mind-fuck films like Memento, Inception, and Interstellar. arrival3Needless to say, Arrival is an epic adventure about space and time, life, communication, and love, and it finds itself in my Top 3 films of the year because it just may be the single best out-and-out sci-fi film of the past decade! If you are skeptical of science-fiction movies (like me) and need a film to help restore your faith in the genre, Arrival is absolutely a must-watch.

In supporting roles, former Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner and former Oscar winner Forest Whitaker are serviceable—the two illustrious stars always bring an immense amount of talent to their projects, and nothing changes in Arrival. arrival1The leading performance by Amy Adams, though, is noteworthy and exquisite—in fact, I think the single biggest Oscar snub this year was Adams missing out on a Best Actress nod. The 42-year-old star is one of my favorite actresses in film, and she is at her finest in Arrival. As the linguist Dr. Louise Banks, Adams portrays her character as quiet, but confident, and above all, indomitable. Adams’s performance is both emotionally moving and dignified, and it is a shame the Academy chose not to recognize her brilliant abilities this year. Arrival is rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

Arrival trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFMo3UJ4B4g&t=2s

Academy Award nominations for Arrival:

Best Picture (Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder, and David Linde)

Best Director (Denis Villeneuve)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Eric Heisserer)

Best Sound Editing (Sylvain Bellemare)

Best Sound Mixing (Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye)

Best Production Design (Patrice Vermette and Paul Hotte)

Best Cinematography (Bradford Young)

Best Film Editing (Joe Walker)

Previous movies on the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2016:

  1. Moonlight
  2. Lion
  3. O.J.: Made in America
  4. La La Land
  5. Fences
  6. Zootopia
  7. Nocturnal Animals
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Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 13 – Interstellar

Interstellar7

Interstellar is a film directed by Christopher Nolan with a screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan. The film is set sometime in the future when Earth’s agricultural society is rapidly descending towards its ultimate demise due to crop blight. In order to save mankind from the destructive fate it faces, a group of astronaut explorers seek to travel through a wormhole to find new planets with the capabilities of sustaining human life.

Interstellar3There is no way around it—Interstellar is a complex film. If you are not into movies that make you think throughout their entire duration, then this one is not for you. But, if you are well accustomed to Christopher Nolan’s movies, then the intricacy of Interstellar should come as no surprise. I was anxiously awaiting the release of Nolan’s newest feature for quite some time, as I am a longtime admirer of his work. Not only does Nolan’s filmography boast the single greatest series of comic-book films of all time (The Dark Knight Trilogy), but he also has a range of movies, like Interstellar, that qualify as epic “thinkers” (Memento, The Prestige, and Inception). Although I personally think that his newest effort ranks near the bottom of Nolan’s résumé, it is still an amazing cinematic achievement (this is simply a testament to Christopher Nolan’s incredible career as a filmmaker). Despite the density of the film’s plot, Nolan still carefully crafts the story in a way that never bores and never holds back. He directs his cast superbly (as if we would expect anything less), and this lends to the success of a film that could have easily resulted in a failed endeavor in the vein of “biting off more than one can chew.” Nolan’s cinematic fingerprints are all over this movie, and in his quest to construct a sweeping science-fiction epic, he has succeeded.

Interstellar2Even if you watch this movie and decide that you do not like the story, it will be an impossible task to simultaneously contend that the film is not a visual work of genius. The worlds in which Nolan constructs on Earth and in the galaxies beyond are so vividly detailed and realistic. Even though the new planets the astronauts journey to are never-before-seen landscapes to the viewers, I still use the word “realistic” to describe their visual depiction because the level of detail used in their construction is still something fathomable. Interstellar5By far the greatest visual and technical achievement is the delineation of the wormhole, black hole, and the “tesseract” towards the end. For those who are not well versed in the cerebral scientific know-how of convoluted space features (like myself), the illustration of these incommunicable concepts is still, pardon the pun, out of this world. For a movie that immerses itself in complicated space jargon, it definitely backs it up by packing a severe punch of, wait for it, interstellar special effects (thank you…I will be here all month). It is no wonder that four of the five Oscars that Interstellar is up for are technical awards of merit. I had the pleasure of watching this film in IMAX (a theater experience that Nolan has been pioneering for quite some time), and I have never had such a mind-blowing experience in a theater in my life.

Interstellar4Along with the stunning visuals, the film still features an important maxim of good filmmaking: marvelous acting. Matthew McConaughey does a spectacular job of bringing the film to life in his role as Cooper, a former NASA pilot turned rural farmer, and if you have seen McConaughey’s ad for Lincoln, it will be blatantly obvious that this cinematic Rubik’s Cube provided the perfect platform for his out-there way of thinking. Although I joke about his philosophical views, it is still undeniable that McConaughey delivers an emotionally riveting performance. Interstellar6Jessica Chastain, as Cooper’s daughter Murph, also conveys a star performance, and it is of no surprise considering she is by far the most talented actress in Hollywood. Additionally, Anne Hathaway also gives a solid performance in her role as one of Cooper’s co-astronauts Amelia. My favorite performances, were those of TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart). These characters are the coolest depiction of futuristic robots that I have ever seen, and they added an extra “umph” to the science-fiction nature of the film. Interstellar is rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language.

Interstellar trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vxOhd4qlnA

Academy Award nominations for Interstellar:

Best Original Score: (Hans Zimmer)

Best Production Design: (Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis)

Best Sound Editing: (Richard King)

Best Sound Mixing (Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker, and Mark Weingarten)

Best Visual Effects (Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter, and Scott Fisher)

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

  1. Gone Girl
  2. The Lego Movie

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 12 – The Dark Knight Rises

Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is a film directed by Christopher Nolan, with a screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan. The movie takes place about eight years after the conclusion of The Dark Knight (2008), as Bruce Wayne hangs up his Batman mask and goes into a self-imposed banishment from crime fighting after he assumes blame for the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent. Batman and Commissioner Gordon believed making the caped crusader disappear might be the only way to restore sanity to Gotham City for good. However, with the emergence of the disastrous terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), Wayne realizes he must end his exile in an attempt to save Gotham from the dangerous attacks that await at the hands of this masked killer.

Ever since The Dark Knight was released in 2008, fans of this superhero franchise have been anxiously awaiting the epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. In my opinion, Nolan’s productions have been much more groundbreaking than any other set of Batman movies ever created. The older Batman films seemed over-the-top and cheesy with horrible special effects and beyond terrible acting; conversely, Nolan’s movies are much darker and made more in the mold of a full-fledged drama rather than an action film, not to mention the stellar casts he employs. He has made world-class movies like The Prestige and Inception, and his Batman series has never disappointed to impress both theatergoers and critics.

The biggest surprise to me about this movie is the fact that it is not nominated for any Academy Awards. The Dark Knight was up for eight Oscars and won two, and even though the newest film did not have an acting performance like Heath Ledger’s role as the Joker in 2008, I felt that The Dark Knight Rises was almost just as good of a movie as its predecessor. It features unbelievable visual effects and other aesthetics, but for some reason, the Academy chose not to recognize any of these features of The Dark Knight Rises this year. I think people went into the movie expecting way too much considering how great of a film The Dark Knight was, and in my opinion, this hype is what led to many people not enjoying the movie.

Christian Bale turned in another solid performance as Bruce Wayne, and once again, the supporting performances lent to an overall illustrious ensemble of acting skill. Anne Hathaway plays the physically demanding role of Selina Kyle, or Catwoman, and Tom Hardy joins forces with Nolan again (Inception, 2010) to play the cataclysmic terrorist Bane. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Gary Oldman reprise their roles as Lucius Fox, Alfred Pennyworth, and Commissioner James Gordan, respectively. If that list of actors is not enough to prove the major-league level Christopher Nolan is at as a filmmaker, he also enlists Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake) and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard (Miranda Tate) to round out the long list of performers.

I believe Nolan ended his Batman trilogy on a firm, conclusive note, and I believe this film ranks second among the three. It provides much more drama and astounding visual effects than Batman Begins (2006), but without a performance similar to that of Ledger, it simply cannot meet the astonishing standards that The Dark Knight has set for the trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality, and language.

Academy Award nominations for The Dark Knight Rises:

NONE