Movie Review – “Sicario” (2015)

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I will remember “Sicario” for being filled to the brim with tension in all the best possible ways. In a film about the escalating drug wars along the Mexican border, this is a film that is more about the morbid details of paranoid and fear than the action. In fact, for a movie with such a big military presence, there is very little gun play, but the promise of violence hangs around every corner, especially in the opening 40 minutes of the movie.

After a drug raid on an abandoned house in Arizona ends with the discovery of dozens of dead bodies left in the dry wall and two dead police officers, FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is called into confront the man responsible for these deaths. But Kate is kept in the dark throughout the majority of the film, especially when she’s briefed that the mission will be happening in El Paso and the group is actually crossing over the Mexican border to Juarez, the drug smuggling hotspot.

Throughout this sequence of events, we are repeatedly shown that nothing good will be coming from this raid on Juarez and that brutality is inevitable. The tension continually mounts, as the convey has to divert when they hear gun fire, everyone becomes suspicious when a rogue state patrol car follows too closely, and we end up at the US-Mexican border, only to face gridlock and the convey is brought to a dead stop. The audience is told many times the most likely spot for confrontation would be at the border, and now everyone is stuck and unsure of where and who their enemy is.

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Most of “Sicario” is like a good, well-timed jump scare. It is not the act of the jump scare that terrifies us, but knowing that it could happen at any moment, expecting it to happen any time, and not delivering on that until the right moment. The tension comes less from the action, and more from the waiting.

The audience is put in the same position as Kate, looking and waiting for something to pop off, so even the simple action of waiting in an alleyway or rolling down a window becomes a life-or-death situation. We mostly see this whole sequence from Kate’s perspective, as she takes in and observes everything.

This sequence is wonderful because the tension is built up for the first act of “Sicario,” never letting up and ending in a satisfying conclusion of paranoia and violence. Each scene flows into the next one and builds more on the disorder of the last scene. With brilliant pacing, atmosphere and a haunting score, we get one of the most memorable sequences in recent memory.

The rest of “Sicario” continues that creepy and unexpecting atmosphere, but gets a little too wrapped up the characters and plot to keep up the tension. The film loosens its grip on us and pulls back to tell us more about Kate and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). This doesn’t diminish the film by any means, but the first act holds the scenes that are worth remembering.

Final Grade: B+

 

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Paul’s 2016 Academy Award Predictions

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With the Academy Awards approaching, it is about that time again to go over my predictions for this years winners.

As I’ve said previously, 2015 was a wonderful year for cinema, and a fair amount of the best films this year got a lot of nominations. Personally, I would have liked to see a bit more diversity in other categories, but most of the nominated films do deserve to be in their respective categories.

To me, it looks like this year of the Academy Awards appear that they will be continuations from last year, and giving long-time artists their respect. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and “The Revenant” seem to be in position to dominate just like “Birdman” did last year, while Sylvester Stallone practically has the Best Supporting Actor award already. I’m looking forward to Best Original Score this year, because it comes down to two masters of their craft – Ennio Morricone and John Williams.

With all of that said, let’s take a look at my predictions. As with the last few years, I’ll be skipping documentaries, shorts and foreign film categories, since I know nothing about them. Although, it does sound like “Son Of Saul” will win Best Foreign Film based off of what I’ve heard.

Best Cinematography:

Who should win: “The Revenant”

Who will win: “The Revenant”

Who I want to win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

While I adored the cinematography in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” there is no doubt that “The Revenant” was more impressive. The fight scene with the bear holds everything you need to know about why it has the best camera work of the year, as we watch this visceral and violent scene takes place, all without cutting away.

“The Revenant” is full of great examples like that, and like “Birdman” last year, this will help it achieve victory in this category.

Best Costume Design:

Who should win: “The Danish Girl”

Who will win: “Cinderella”

Who I want to win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Hard to say on this one, since I have not seen “The Danish Girl” or “Cinderella,” but the Academy tends to love big period piece dramas like “Cinderella,” especially when each character has their own unique dress in trying to show off the other. Plus, the level of extravagance is taken to a whole different level by adding director Kenneth Branagh, who takes the visual style of a Shakespeare play and amps it up to 11.

I predict that will be reflected in the Academy’s decision.

Best Editing:

Who should win: “The Big Short”

Who will win: “The Big Short”

Who I want to win: “Spotlight”

To me, the editing was the best part of “The Big Short,” and one of the standout examples of editing in 2015. “Spotlight” had some wonderful editing as well to keep everything contained so well, but “The Big Short” used editing to help advance the story. That gives it the win in my eyes.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

Who should win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Who will win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Who I want to win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

No one’s ever heard of “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared” so it won’t be winning this category. I can’t recall that much of impressive makeup in “The Revenant,” other than Leo being covered in blood and lots of hair. So, by default, “Mad Max: Fury Road” has this one sealed up.

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Best Original Score:

Who should win: “The Hateful Eight”

Who will win: “The Hateful Eight”

Who I want to win: “The Hateful Eight”

This is the one that I’m really looking forward to. It will come down to two composers this year, Ennio Morricone for “The Hateful Eight” and John Williams for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Let that sink in for a minute.

This year, we are witnessing the composer of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” “Cinema Paradiso” and “The Thing,” go up against the composer of “Jaws,” the Indiana Jones movies, “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” and every Star Wars films. Morricone is back in the genre that he excels at – Westerns. While Williams is back to composing arguably his greatest score. We are watching two legends of film scoring going at it here, and it could go to either one.

I think it will go to Morricone, because of the legacy that he has left. The Academy loves to give it to very old people who have never won the award, or haven’t won it in a long time. John Williams already has more Academy Awards than Meryl Streep, so to give it to an 87-year-old man whose career started in the early 1960s in Italy would be wonderful to see.

Best Original Song:

Who should win: “The Writing’s On The Wall” by Sam Smith

Who will win: “The Writing’s On The Wall” by Sam Smith

Who I want to win: “The Writing’s On The Wall” by Sam Smith

I’m going with the song that I enjoy listening to. I’ve never heard of the other ones, so that might be swaying my vote. But Sam Smith is well-known now and everyone loves the Bond songs.

Best Production Design:

Who should win: “The Martian”

Who will win: “The Revenant”

Who I want to win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

For me, the film that ends up feeling the biggest with the most impressive size, scope and feel to it wins this category. I felt that, of these five films, “Mad Max: Fury Road” had that in spades, but I doubt the Academy agrees with me on that.

“The Martian” should win because it felt like it was taking place on different planet, while still feeling down to Earth. The production design was simple, yet effective. But I think it’ll go to “The Revenant” for the vast distance that the film covered and making it feel like a vast untamed wilderness.

Best Sound Editing:

Who should win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Who will win: “The Revenant”

Who I want to win: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Before I go into my predictions, I feel like this needs to be addressed – What is the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing? Over the past few years, I’ve seen this question come up a lot and people asking why they don’t just combine the two awards together.

Here’s the difference between the two. Sound Editing is the creation of all the sound effects for a movie, outside of the music, including additional dialogue recording, or ADR for short. Sound Mixing is combining all the sounds of the film, sound effects, music, dialogue, etc., into one solid coherent piece. In other words, the editing is about the guys who make the sounds, while the mixing is for those that put it all together.

Anyway, I would love to see “Star Wars” win this one, for recreating all the classic sounds of Star Wars while updating it. But it will probably go to “The Revenant” because duplicating the noises of the wild tends to rather difficult, especially when you’re trying to recreate a wilderness that hasn’t existed for hundreds of years.

Best Sound Mixing:

Who should win: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Who will win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Who I want to win: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Again, with the distinction between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing in mind, I have to give this to the film that made its sound as amazing to listen to as the visuals were thrilling, “Mad Max: Fury Road.” As great as the sound was for “Star Wars,” the sound of “Mad Max” has grown on me and has stuck with me as long as the everything else about this masterpiece has.

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Best Visual Effects:

Who should win: “Ex Machina”

Who will win: “The Revenant”

Who I want to win: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

The bear will give “The Revenant” the win on this one.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Who should win: “Room”

Who will win: “Room”

Who I want to win: “The Martian”

And now we begin to come down to the final categories, starting with the screenplay awards.

“Room” will take this one due to Emma Donoghue, who wrote the novel, returning to write the screenplay. That is a big deal, since nothing would be lost in the adaptation. This one comes down to how faithful the screenplay is to the source material, and “Room” will get extra points by getting the same writer as the novel.

Best Original Screenplay:

Who should win: “Spotlight”

Who will win: “Spotlight”

Who I want to win: “Spotlight”

I know this may look like it comes easy for “Spotlight” but this one was tricky.

There are a lot of well-written original films this year, including “Inside Out’ and “Ex Machina”‘s dialogue. But “Spotlight” took years of material from the Boston Globe, took everything to heart, and did there best to stay accurate to reality without diluting the story and message. It is original, yet at the same time, it is an adaptation of reality.

Best Animated Feature:

Who should win: “Inside Out”

Who will win: “Inside Out”

Who I want to win: “Inside Out”

This is the no-brainer pick this year. While “Inside Out” will face competition from “Anomalisa,” this is Pixar doing what they do best. Pixar always has this category wrapped up, and this year will be no different.

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Best Directing:

Who should win: Tom McCarthy for “Spotlight”

Who will win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for “The Revenant”

Who I want to win: Tom McCarthy for “Spotlight”

And now the big ones. This year, most of the awards are pretty difficult (aside from one). There are many nominees that are worthy of winning, and it can be difficult if the Academy wants to give it to those that deserve it or those that they know about.

With that said, Tom McCarthy should be the favorite to win this award, by making a film that feels less like trying to recreate reality and more like actual reality. But Inarritu is the favorite to win this award, as I’m sure the Academy would like to give the award to someone two years in a row.

Best Supporting Actress:

Who should win: Kate Winslet from “Steve Jobs”

Who will win: Kate Winslet from “Steve Jobs”

Who I want to win: Jennifer Jason Leigh from “The Hateful Eight”

This one is hard, because of all the nominees, I’ve only seen three of them – Rachel McAdams, Kate Winslet and Jennifer Jason Leigh. McAdams was good, but nothing spectacular, I don’t see “Spotlight” winning any of the acting awards. Jason Leigh was amazing to watch as she seemed to love playing the bad guy and took delight in making someone’s life a living hell.

But Kate Winslet gave that movie the necessary heart that it needed, as she kept Steve Jobs in check. If it weren’t for her, Fassbender’s performance would have been too sharp and unforgiving. I’m giving it to Winslet.

Best Supporting Actor:

Who should win: Sylvester Stallone from “Creed”

Who will win: Sylvester Stallone from “Creed”

Who I want to win: Sylvester Stallone from “Creed”

When it was announced that Sylvester Stallone was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, at an event that is normally very quiet and very reserved, the crowd erupted in a standing ovation. If that isn’t a give away clue that Stallone will win this award, I don’t know what is.

Stallone easily has this one for giving the best performance out of anybody this year.

Best Actress:

Who should win: Brie Larson from “Room”

Who will win: Brie Larson from “Room”

Who I want to win: Brie Larson from “Room”

Like with Best Original Screenplay, this is not an easy pick, but Brie Larson will win this award.

This year, it comes down between Larson and Cate Blanchett. What gives Larson the advantage is that Blanchett won the award two years ago for “Blue Jasmine,” so that might sway some voters. Same with Jennifer Lawrence for her role in “Silver Linings Playbook,” and Charlotte Rampling and Saoirse Ronan are a little too low-profile to win this award. Larson has won several awards for her performance already, so I think that helps out as well.

Best Actor:

Who should win: Leonardo DiCaprio from “The Revenant”

Who will win: Leonardo DiCaprio from “The Revenant”

Who I want to win: Matt Damon from “The Martian”

Finally, Leo will win one!

At this point, the voters feel sorry for Leonardo DiCaprio. Six times he has been nominated for Best Actor, and he has never won. While “The Revenant” was not his best performance in recent memory, it was still a captivating performance that had little to no dialogue from him. He will get this one more out of sympathy and not earning it.

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Best Picture:

Who should win: “Spotlight”

Who will win: “The Revenant”

Who I want to win: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

And so we come to the biggest award of the night. With eight nominees, this year it comes down to two films – “Spotlight” and “The Revenant.”

As much as I would love “Mad Max: Fury Road” to win the award this year, the Academy is probably turned off by it being one extended car chase sequence through a post-apocalyptic future. It is the one of the most technologically impressive films this year, but it will not win Best Picture.

“The Martian” has some tough competition, having a similar plot to “The Revenant” but that western survival tale still being fresh in people’s memories. This one could be sneak up on other awards, but not here.

“Room” is certainly the indie darling this year, but I don’t think the Academy will look at it beyond its screenplay and Brie Larson’s performance. It is the underdog nominee in this case, but its chances are slim.

“The Big Short,” “Brooklyn” and “Bridge Of Spies” are just happy to be here.

That leaves us with the final two, and I’m still unsure about who is going to win. My gut reaction is to say that “Spotlight” should win Best Picture for being the most respected and well-put together film of 2015.

But, the Academy is still high on Inarritu winning everything for “Birdman” last year, and to be able to come out with another high-profile film so quickly. The Academy is going to eat up Leonardo DiCaprio and the cinematography is impressive, to say the least.

Therefore, I believe that “The Revenant” will win Best Picture for 2015. I will have my fingers crossed in the hopes that either “Spotlight” or “Mad Max: Fury Road” can win the award, but the Academy is too much in love with Inarritu for the film to fail.

But we will find out very soon if my predictions are accurate. Because on Sunday, the 88th Academy Awards will take place and the best that cinema has to offer will be crowned.

 

Movie Review – “Brooklyn” (2015) – The Irish Downton Abbey

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After watching “Brooklyn,” I’ve come to a sudden realization I do not care for romance films.

Perhaps it is because I’ve never truly been in a romance with someone, but I find that love is complicated to perform on-screen. Two people not only have to love each other more than they love themselves, but have to portray months to years of chemistry within a confined amount of time and make us believe that they’re compatible with one another. Usually, the best movies with romance often make it look easy, like in “WALL-E” and “City Lights,” or focus solely on that like in “Giant” or “Gone with the Wind.”

Most of the time though, romance is portrayed like it is something that happens every day and that it is no big deal, when it is just the opposite. There is a lack of conviction and sincerity in the approach, like the filmmakers don’t truly believe in what they’re talking about. By doing so, it stops being a true cinematic romance and borders a soap opera instead.

At times, “Brooklyn” feels like an episode of “Downton Abbey,” as the drama builds upon itself in this period piece to the point where it all must explode, ruining many more lives than it needed to if people were just a little more intelligent about their decisions.

Suffice to say, “Brooklyn” did not do much for me.

In the early 1950s, Eilis Lacey (Saorise Ronan) has been given an opportunity to move from her home in Ireland to Brooklyn, where she will be given a job and a home to live in. This forces Eilis to leave her family, friends and everything she has ever known to a foreign land where she has an opportunity to prosper.

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I left “Brooklyn” feeling the same way I did about “Bridge Of Spies,” it certainly wasn’t a bad experience, but I won’t be remembering much about that film either.

Nothing was bad about the film. It was a sufficient tale of a woman immigrating to America while still trying to be herself in the face of this new society. By the time Eilis is given the option of going back to Ireland with what she’s accomplished in America and still being near her family, that is when Saorise Ronan’s performance shines and we are given a struggle between choosing your roots or your chances at happiness.

But “Brooklyn” is also far too by-the-numbers. We’ve all heard this story so many times before about immigration, and “Brooklyn” does not do anything to stick out among the others. Aside from Saorise Ronan’s role and a few of her friends, especially Emory Cohen as Toni and Domhnall Gleeson as Jim Farrell, there isn’t much noteworthy about this one.

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Emory Cohen added a much-needed light-hearted touch to the film, as he plays an italian plumber who enjoys Eilis’ company. The two don’t really have any other reason to be together, other than they’re nice to each other, but Cohen certainly has fun being around her and his smile is infectious.

Domhnall Gleeson, coming off his role as General Hux in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” gives us a man who sees one last opportunity for a good life and takes every chance he can get at it. From the audience’s perspective, he plays a tragically-doomed character that will be let down by something out of his control.

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Overall, “Brooklyn” was sufficient, but did not provide me with anything substantial. If you enjoy romance or period pieces, then you’ll like this one just fine. But if you’re hoping for something more than just a pretty looking piece about immigrating to America, don’t expect to find it here.

Final Grade: C+

 

Movie Review – “Room” (2015) – Oh hai, Room!

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This is one of the greatest worst movies I have ever seen, starring Tommy Wiseau, who also wrote, produced, edited, directed and presumably gave birth to this film through his artificial womb, “The Room” is about a group of guys who, I assume, know nothing other than to toss a football around in tuxedos and…
Wait…Sorry, wrong room.
To be honest though, every time I’ve heard people discuss Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room,” the first thing that comes to mind is Tommy Wiseau’s strangely detached character screaming, “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!” This is unfortunate, since “Room” has one of the greatest mother-son relationships in cinema, and proves to lift itself above the depressing scenario into a truly hopeful and optimistic film.
Jack (Jacob Tremblay) wakes up on his fifth birthday to his universe – a tiny room with little more than a bed, a wardrobe, a rug and a toilet. His mother, Joy (Brie Larson), has decided to bake Jack a birthday cake with the few supplies they’ve been given by “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers). Every night, Old Nick pays Joy a visit, forcing Jack to sleep in the wardrobe.
But soon after, Joy puts her faith in Jack now that he’s five years old and tells him the truth. There is a whole world outside of Room, not just empty space like she had told him a long time ago. Joy was kidnapped by Old Nick seven years ago, forced into Room, a tiny tool shed converted into this makeshift home, and she has no way of getting out without knowing the code. Joy needs Jack’s help in getting out of this hole, but Jack is unsure about leaving the only world he has ever known.

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And I’m sure Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero are out there talking about how beautiful Lisa is somewhere in there.

 

When I heard about the story for “Room,” I was immediately turned off. It sounded like a depressing tale of an innocent young woman being forced away from her home to be little more than a slave, while making her son become a part of this world as well. But what I got instead was a film that nearly made me cry at how these two were able to take these shriveled husks of lemons life has given them and turned it into the sweetest lemonade you have ever tasted.

 

Jack lives a happy and most carefree life, as he tells these elaborate stories about every object in Room. From the vast ocean in the top of the toilet, to his hand-crafted egg-snake being the longest creäture in the universe. Jack is content with living the rest of his life inside Room, because his imagination is able to run wild in this place. In place of knowledge of the outside world is a bottomless pit of enthusiasm and excitement over what the day will bring next.

 

As for his mother, Joy is constantly haunted by this existence, but finds a way to be optimistic for the sake of Jack. We learn later in the film that she had no purpose in life until Jack came along, giving her a reason to fight and hope that tomorrow would be the day she would finally escape and allow her son to experience a worthwhile life. This is anchored by Brie Larson’s performance, who is haunting at times in her vacant stares, as though she’s been drained by the last seven years, but still finds the energy to play with Jack.

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Most of “Room” is shown from Jack’s perspective, as we hear his inner monologue explaining the situation as if he were a knight fighting a dragon, with extravagant details as though from classic literature. His childhood innocent not only elevates the story, but gives the film its added punch when Joy tells Jack the truth and we watch as reality shatters and is replaced by love for his mother.

 

What I’ll remember the most about “Room” (aside from the disappointing lack of Tommy Wiseau’s sweet love-making), is its constant need to look for the light inside of a dangerously dark situation. It is as if we’re watching a sequel to a much grittier tale, like “Gone Girl” or “The Gift,” only now our characters have clawed their way through tragedy and find a sliver of hope, and cling to that with a vice grip.

 

Overall, “Room” is one of the most uplifting films of the year, held together by performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, along with spectacular direction by Lenny Abrahamson. Credit must be given to the cinematography, for making the room feel tiny and claustrophobic at times, while others it is vast and almost endless. We are given a film about the acceptance of being trapped, yet never giving up on the fight for freedom.

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Final Grade: B+

 

Movie Review – “The Big Short” (2015) – The power of money

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Full disclosure: This movie was not aimed for me. As a result, I did not enjoy it at all.

This is the risk of making a movie like “The Big Short,” which spends most of its run time discussing Wall Street tactics to breaking into the system and making big money off of the collapse of the American economy. You are immediately alienating most of your audience, the ones who do not completely understand the financial structure of Wall Street.

For me, most of “The Big Short” was like listening to the techno-babble on “Star Trek,” where the show will create new forms of technology that the audience has never heard of to solve a particular situation. I got just as much out of hearing about C.D.O.’s and hedge funds as I do listening to multi-moldo reflection-sorting.

In other words, because I’m uninformed about these events, I’m also uninterested and uninvested.

Even after watching this film, I couldn’t even begin to tell you how these group of men capitalized on the collapse of the housing market.

I can tell you that each of these gentlemen has little respect for the system they work in and have more than their fair share of mental problems. From Christian Bale’s inability to interact with others, to Steve Carrell’s tendency to snap at anything that might be faulty, to Brad Pitt walking around as though the apocalypse is one day away.

Left to right: Steve Carell plays Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

When “The Big Short” chooses to focus on these characters attempting to rejoin society, that is where the genuine comedy comes from. These are the guys that will bring down massive corporations to their knees, yet one of them can’t go outside without wearing a mask over his mouth. It is too bad there are so few of these scenes.

Most of the time is spent on Bale, Carrell, Pitt and Ryan Gosling slowly realizing that the housing market is on the verge of collapsing, using this knowledge to their advantage and want to make millions from other people’s suffering. They face challenges along the way, like Bale’s superiors constantly asking where nearly $1.5 Billion has gone, or that Carrell and Gosling’s deal keeps changing.

All the while, the film hardly ever takes a moment to explain exactly what is going on.

I say hardly, because there are a few strange scenes in “The Big Short,” where the film will stop to have celebrities explain some aspects of Wall Street. These include Margot Robbie in a bathtub explaining default credit swaps, Anthony Bourdain to talk about the housing crash a bit better, and Selena Gomez playing blackjack.

These were the scenes that I enjoyed the most. Not because they explained more about this nonsensical business, but because they were so out-of-place and random that they always caught me off guard. Part of this might have been the conviction and sincerity in what Margot Robbie was saying, that she believed every word while taking a bath and drinking champagne. Any time one of these scenes happened, they stole the show.

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But the sad thing is that these scenes don’t do what they’re supposed to do – Inform the audience. By the time these cutaways were finished, I couldn’t remember what they talked about. None of the information stuck in my head, because I was so off-put by how random and unexpected those scenes were.

Yet, I can admit that I was not the target audience for “The Big Short.” I know little to nothing about investments, banking and Wall Street, so most of this is lost on me. I can appreciate its attempts to bring this subject to a larger audience, but I feel it was not done well enough or accomplished much better in films like “The Wolf Of Wall Street.”

If you have a basic understanding of how business and banks work, then you should understand “The Big Short” and enjoy it much more than I did. And even if you liked similar films, such as “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” then there are at least parts that are a joy to sit through.

Final Grade: D+

Best Of 2015

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And with another year in film coming to end, it seems appropriate to finish it up on my awards for the year. This will be different from my top ten films of the year, as these will be the films that stuck out in my mind for various reasons.

But first, let’s answer the question of “Was 2015 a good year for film?”

Since I’ve been writing reviews, it seems like every year of cinema has gotten better than the last. 2013 had three or four stand-movies to make it a good year, 2014 was a great year with five or six films that I still love to watch, and this year was even better. Most of the cons of 2013 and 2014, like the lack of good comedies and over abundance of effects-filled movies, were fixed in 2015. We got several laugh-out-loud comedies, like “Spy” and “Trainwreck,” films with more practical effects, like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Star Wars,” plus a nice mix of stand-out horror films and better effects in movies overall.

And while there were more than a few movies that grinned my gears, I can think of at least eight films that I would have no problem watching times in the future. I go into a bit more detail about that in my top ten films of 2015, so be sure to check that out. Any year where more than five rewatchable and respectful movies come out is a fantastic year for cinema, so I would call 2015 a massive success.

With that said, let’s take a look at the best (and worst) of 2015. Beginning with…

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Biggest Surprise “Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation”

Going in, I did not expect much out of this one. Tom Cruise is getting far too old for these types of roles, and the “Mission: Impossible” franchise seemed to be running out of ideas after the third film. But, much to my amazement, “Rogue Nation” dwelled less on stunts and more on complex character moments, giving Tom Cruise enough room to play both hero and villain. Each action piece was unique, and the pacing makes each one gripping and exciting to watch. This is not only the best film in this series, but the best spy film of the year.

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Most Technologically Impressive “Ant-Man”

In a year full of technologically impressive films, this one was tough.

Usually, I like to give this award to the film that transports us to a fascinating new world. But this year, while films like “The Martian” and “Inside Out” did just that, they always felt close to home. So I’m giving this one to “Ant-Man,” for making our world feel foreign. This film was at its best when making every-day objects feel like weapons of mass destruction, especially a toy train set.

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Most Fun In Theaters “Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens”

This one is a no-brainer. If you didn’t have fun with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” go see it again. It only gets better on the second and third viewing. Trust me, I learned that from experience.

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Sleep Inducer “Run All Night”

It certainly didn’t help that I saw this one at 11 o’clock at night, after a long day of walking miles through an anime convention. I’m pretty sure I tuned out half way through this “Taken” clone.

You know, I haven’t even seen “Taken.” But now that I’ve seen so many films like it, I feel it would ruin my first experience of the film that just about everyone seems to love.

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Film I Need To See Again “Spotlight”

I respect “Spotlight” far too much to only watch it once. This film deserves as much attention as it can get, for being so loyal and dedicated to the truth, much like the journalists covering the story.

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Funniest Film “Spy”

I rewatched “Spy” recently, and the comedy still holds up as much as it did when I saw it in theaters. The scene where Melissa McCarthy verbally destroys Rose Bryne’s character in the airplane is her crowning moment of comedy, combining her talent of insults, imagination and spunk. This film makes the best use out of McCarthy’s talent as both a comedian and an actress, while still giving plenty of great moments to Jason Statham and Jude Law.

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Biggest Disappointment “Joy”

A film that I had looked forward to since the first trailers came out, and what we got was the story of a bored housewife making a mop, while everyone around her either ruins her dreams or watches soap operas.

Weak.

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Most Forgettable “Southpaw”

After watching “Creed,” I had utterly forgotten about seeing “Southpaw.” That film was the most cliché, predictable and by-the-numbers film of the year, with no stand-out performances, even from the lead actors. At this point, “Southpaw” has become nothing more than the butt of a joke.

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Most Overrated “The Revenant”

If this is the most overrated film of the year, then you now it has been a good year for cinema. Because there was a lot to like about “The Revenant.” Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance, the breath-taking cinematography combine with so many long takes to show case the awe of nature, and the atmosphere of isolation.

However, the pacing is excruciating at times, making the experience almost sleep-inducing at times. Since “The Revenant” came out the same year as films like “The Martian” and “The Hateful Eight,” this one seems almost forgettable.

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Most Underrated “Kingsmen: The Secret Service”

Even I had forgotten about this one for a while, since it came out so long ago.

While I did say that “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” was the best spy film of 2015, “Kingsmen: The Secret Service” was the best spy film that did not take itself seriously in the slightest. This one takes the most ludicrous action sequences, villain schemes and long-winded speeches from “Spy” and “Spectre” and amps it up to 11. Yet, it never looses its sophistication, especially with Colin Firth’s character. Though there were sequences that didn’t make a lot of sense, like the all-out violent scene, and I still don’t know why Samuel L. Jackson’s character had a lisp, “Kingsmen: The Secret Service” was a blast and a hidden gem from this year.

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Best Performance Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in “Creed”

This might be the biggest surprise of 2015. In a year where we get stellar performances from Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron and any role from “Spotlight,” it is Sylvester Stallone that comes away with the greatest performance of the year.

Stallone gives us a tortured and beaten soul that has given up on life, until life gives him a second chance to prove that he is still useful in this world and can continue to fight. At times, Stallone seems low on energy, but there is always that hidden power laying underneath each line of dialogue.

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Most Anticipated Film of 2016 The Japanese Monster Films to be released, in particular “Godzilla: Resurgence”

At this point in time, there isn’t a lot I’m looking forward to in 2016. Right away, we have “Kung Fu Panda 3,” “Deadpool” and “Hail, Caesar!” Later on, we have “Captain America: Civil War” and “Batman Vs. Superman.” But if I had to pick a movie to be excited for, it would be every monster film being planned for 2016. And there’s a lot.

There’s a Ultraman movie being planned for later this year, a new Gamera film has been tentatively planned for a 2016 release, and most importantly, a new Japanese Godzilla film, titled “Godzilla: Resurgence.”

Not much is known at this time about the film, but given that Toho wants to make this Godzilla even bigger than the 2014 Godzilla, while still maintaining his roots to the 1954 film, is at least promising. While the new suit has already thrown a lot of people off, I think the suit is terrifying. This is a Godzilla that has been decimated by the atomic bomb, as shown by his massive amounts of teeth (in strange place no less) and the large burn marks all over his body, and yet is still alive. It’s almost tragic in a way, a creature that should have died a long time ago, but is somehow being kept alive to suffer, and share that suffering with millions of people.

Count me in.

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Worst Film of 2015 “Krampus”

This was the only film that truly hurt me this year. “Krampus” is anti-fun, as if it is taking something away from you as you slowly descend into a tedious rage. It wasn’t funny, nor scary, and was about as whimsical as an icicle through the eye. I really don’t care if it is faithful to the legend of Krampus, because that does not make the viewing experience any better.

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Best Film of 2015 “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Oh, what a film! What a lovely film!

 

Paul’s Top 10 Films of 2015

2015 best of

Another year in film has come and gone, and I would go as far to say that 2015 has been the best year for cinema of the 2010s thus far. Genres that had gotten worse over time, especially horror and comedy, got wonderful additions this year with movies like “Unfriended” and “Spy.” Summer blockbusters were some of the best they’ve been in years, with specific emphasis on “Ant-Man” and “Shaun The Sheep.” While there were films that I did not care for, like “Jurassic World” and “Ex Machina,” and other films that were downright terrible, like “Krampus” and “Jupiter Ascending,” I’ve come to expect a range of good and bad from cinema these days.

As such, I’ve decided to do away with my Top 5 films of the year to expand this into a Top 10, since there were so many wonderful films to come out this year. These will all be films that I’ve previously done reviews of, and I’ll be linking each of my picks to their corresponding reviews. So if you want my expanded thoughts on each film, be sure to check those out.

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Number Ten: “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

http://gotengoxgodzilla.blogspot.com/2015/08/movie-review-mission-impossible-rogue.html

I might have written this film off in my initial review as another spy film, but as I thought more about the most recent entry in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, the more I realized how solid it was. Each action piece was fascinating to watch, the pacing is perfect, the acting is some of the best in the series, and the story is both convoluted and personal, something we haven’t seen in this group of films before. That gives “Rogue Nation” its own personal touch that I felt was lacking in the previous films. Something that hits home for our characters and makes their journey all the more satisfying.

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Number Nine: “It Follows”

http://gotengoxgodzilla.blogspot.com/2015/04/movie-review-it-follows-2015-you-cant.html

This one makes the list for having one of the most unusual and terrifying monsters to hit the screen in years. A creature that is transferred through sex, and will stop at nothing until the person it is hunting has been killed. This is a monster that can be anyone or anything, but the scariest thing of all is that it walks towards you. Not running or sprinting, but a never-ending walk. As if this thing knows that it doesn’t need to go any faster than that. Eventually you will have to stop and rest, but this thing will not. This gives “It Follows” unbelievably tense pacing, where every scene leaves you tense and nervous about what might be around the corner.

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Number Eight: “Steve Jobs”

http://gotengoxgodzilla.blogspot.com/2015/11/movie-review-steve-jobs-2015-fallen-idol.html

“Steve Jobs” is a modern-day tragedy, about a man who fought the standard norms of life and was mocked for his innovative thoughts. About a man who wanted to make a name for himself in the world, at any costs, but is so self-absorbed in his own ego that it astounds him that others don’t agree with his methods. Michael Fassbender gives the role of Steve Jobs enough vulnerability while still keeping the intellect, to give us a man who wants to change the world so badly that he abandons his own. We watch as this man becomes an innovator, but also what it means to change the world.

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Number Seven: “The Hateful Eight”

http://gotengoxgodzilla.blogspot.com/2016/01/movie-review-hateful-eight-2015.html

This is the middle-ground between an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, a Sergio Leone western and everything that is cool about Quentin Tarantino. Certainly the most minimalistic film on this list, we are given a film that relies on its characters, writing and the pauses between their breaths. We hang on each of these dasterdly-no-gooders next actions, waiting for that classic Tarantino style violence to show up, only to savor every moment they make us wait. When “The Hateful Eight” wants to give us a violent show, it is one I’ll never forget. When it isn’t being violent, the film is even better.

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Number Six: “Spotlight”

http://gotengoxgodzilla.blogspot.com/2015/12/movie-review-spotlight-2015-separating.html

The movie that I respect more than any other this year. While not the most exciting or innovative film of the year, “Spotlight” is one of the few films I can think that stays honest with the “Based On A True Story” statement at the beginning of the film. As such, we watch as journalism wins over corrupt people and against the odds of a massive organization and the disbelief of an equally large city. We watch as these people give up everything, including their social lives and families, to fight for what they believe in and because they know this will help more people than it will hurt. Because they know that journalism gives the voiceless something to say and cheer about. And “Spotlight” gives power to those that need it the most.

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Number Five: “Creed”

http://gotengoxgodzilla.blogspot.com/2015/12/movie-review-creed-2015-legacy-of-boxer.html

I would go as far to say that the best performance of 2015, leading and supporting, goes to Sylvester Stallone reprising an aging Rocky Balboa, a man who has lost everything and has nothing left to fight for, only to find that there is more to life than fighting. Who knew? In a year where we get wonderful performances from Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lawrence, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, that Stallone would be the one to have the most heart and strength in his performance. This is not just about Rocky becoming a mentor, but Rocky seeking redemption in a world that he has given up on. The first “Rocky” was about second chances and that the American dream is still alive. In “Creed,” Rocky is given a second chance at life, and wants to share that knowledge with others. This is a heart-warming tale of with some of the best performances in a year full of outstanding roles.

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Number Four: “The Martian”

http://gotengoxgodzilla.blogspot.com/2015/10/movie-review-martian-2015-best-mars.html

Some love this film because of how scientifically accurate it is. Others love it because of the unique science fiction scenario that has lots of creativity and imagination in surviving on Mars. For me? I adore “The Martian” because of its always optimistic attitude and need to share that feeling with the audience through its sense of humor. In a world where we constantly keep getting gritty survival tales that are about as uplifting as a Holocaust film (I’m looking at you “The Revenant”), to see a film like “The Martian” where Matt Damon finds a reason to smile every morning even after listening to the same terrible disco music for hours means a lot to me. I honestly can’t find a reason why anyone would hate “The Martian.” Even if you don’t like science fiction or Matt Damon, this is a film that anyone can connect with on an emotional level and enjoy the ride as we’re taken to a far away place and shown that the human will is strongest thing we have.

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Number Three: “Inside Out”

http://gotengoxgodzilla.blogspot.com/2015/06/mini-review-inside-out-2015-emotions.html

Speaking of films that anyone can connect with, “Inside Out” is the most relatable yet creative Pixar film in their entire library of emotionally-strong films. Basically, this is a story about growing up and the hardships that come with it. But it is just as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids, to show us that we don’t need to hide or repress our emotions. That it is very healthy to experience emotions like sadness and fear, and at times it is very necessary to experience those emotions. This is not just a conflict within the head of one girl, but in all of us, as we try to understand our own emotions. Throw in imaginative landscape for the human brain, some wonderful voice acting and an emotionally-gripping script and you get the best Pixar film since “Up.”

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Number Two: “Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens”

http://gotengoxgodzilla.blogspot.com/2015/12/movie-review-star-wars-episode-vii.html

After seeing this epic a second time, I can’t remember one scene where I wasn’t smiling or giddy as a school girl. Keep in mind, I’m not that big of a Star Wars fan, this is just a fun film that takes every opportunity to fill the screen with colorful characters, expansive mythology, a lavish universe and wonderfully unique action sequences. It comes across like every single person that worked on this film had an absolute blast making it, and wanted to share that enthusiasm with the audience. They wanted us to know that Star Wars is not just another action movie franchise with pretty effects and lightsaber battles, but that it is a phenomenon that begs, no demands, your attention.

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Number One: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

http://gotengoxgodzilla.blogspot.com/2015/05/movie-review-mad-max-fury-road-2015.html

I’m not sure what to say about this experience that hasn’t already been said.

Part of the reason this gets my number one spot is because “Mad Max: Fury Road” bucks with traditional action movie clichés and becomes its own unique style. Little to no CGI, takes every opportunity to showcase beautiful cinematography in stark and unforgiving landscape, very little dialogue between the main cast of characters, women leading the charge in the bad-ass department and not needing to see the other films in the “Mad Max” franchise to understand what’s going on. Every shot of this film is gorgeous to look at, whether you’re entranced by the barren post-apocalyptic wastes, the heart-pounding chase sequences combine with the thrilling soundtrack, or the crazy contraptions the wastelands will come up with next.

This is the type of film that makes cinema so much fun to behold. Every aspect of “Mad Max: Fury Road” was superb, including the writing, production design, costumes, pacing and so much more. I could watch this one on repeat and never get bored with it. This is not just an action movie, but an action experience.

Honorable Mentions:

“Unfriended”

“Spy”

“Trainwreck”

“Kingsmen: The Secret Service”

“The Revenant”

“Crimson Peak”

“Shaun The Sheep”

“Mr. Holmes”