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)

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Fall Preview 2015: No. 10 – No. 6

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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!

Steve Jobs 2Sitting 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)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEr6K1bwIVs

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.

Beasts of No Nation 2One 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)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRsaclO0VbU

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.

Joy 2Speaking 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)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SN4MLMHET7w

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.

The Martian 2Scott’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)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ue4PCI0NamI

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.”

Legend 2Aside 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)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yI3v6KfR9Mw

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 13 – Interstellar

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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

Best Actress

Lawrence

One of the most talked about categories at this year’s Oscars, and one of my personal favorites, is the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.  This year features one of the most unique fields the category has ever known.  Not only does Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) become the oldest Best Actress nominee of all time (85 years, 321 days), but Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) also becomes the youngest Best Actress nominee of all time (9 years, 135 days).  An even more impressive fact about Wallis’ nomination—she was actually only six years old when the movie was made!  The rest of this year’s group features actresses that have previously been nominated for Academy Awards.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

In Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence plays Tiffany Maxwell, an eccentric widow with emotional issues due to her husband’s death.  In every way possible, Lawrence gives a performance that everyone will remember for a long time.  She plays a character that is oddly twisted and severely bizarre, but the emotion and dexterity she brings to this portrayal is something I watched in absolute awe.  In a year with some startlingly remarkable female performances, Lawrence stands out and deserves this great honor.  Lawrence was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her breakout role in Winter’s Bone (2010).

2. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)

In Zero Dark Thirty, Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a CIA agent that devotes a decade to hunting down the world’s most dangerous man—Osama bin Laden.  Even though this film has been met with great criticism over the content, one thing that has not received anything but sheer admiration is the performance Chastain gives as the determined agent.  I went back and forth about who I thought truly gave the better performance this year, but even though Chastain would probably win this Oscar in any other year, I concluded that it was not as dominate as Lawrence’s performance.  Chastain was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Help (2011).

3. Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

In Amour, Emmanuelle Riva plays Anna, a retired music teacher that suffers a stroke.  After her incident, she is never quite the same, and the enduring, loving relationship with her husband is tested in every way.  As the oldest nominee of all time for Best Actress, Riva takes on one of the most complex roles of the year.  The role is not just multifarious for the emotional requirements of the performance but also for the physical characteristics that it mandates.  I was more than impressed with her portrayal, and as a fan of film, I am lucky to have seen Riva’s astounding performance this year.  Riva has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

4. Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

In Beasts of the Southern Wild, Quvenzhané Wallis plays Hushpuppy, a 6-year-old girl living with her father Wink in an area known as “The Bathtub” below the levee in southern Louisiana.  A deadly storm is on its way to the region, and Hushpuppy and her father must fight to survive.  Wallis gives one of the brightest performances of any actor or actress this year, and it is amazing to think someone so young could provide us with a gem like this.  Some absolutely stellar performances will more than likely beat out Wallis for this Oscar, but if her future portrayals are anything like this one, she is sure to be back at the Academy Awards many times in the future.  Wallis has not been previously nominated for any Academy Awards.

5. Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

In The Impossible, Naomi Watts plays Maria Bennett, a woman on vacation in Thailand with her family when a devastating tsunami comes ashore and demolishes everything in its sight.  The film is based on the true experiences of the Belón family during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.  While Watts does give an emotional performance, and arguably one of the better portrayals of her career, I was more than surprised when she received a nomination.  She did a good job, but it was nothing spectacular by any means.  There were a handful of non-nominated performances this year that justifiably should have received a nomination in her place.  Watts was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in 21 Grams (2003).