Paul’s Top 5 films of 2016

 

 

In my look at the best of 2016, I mentioned there were about four films that stood out to me as truly great movies. These are movies that I will happily come back to years from now and look back on them with fond memories. But, to round this out, I will be doing my top five best films of 2016.

Keep in mind that I have not seen every movie of 2016 that I wanted to see, including “La La Land,” “Moonlight,” and “Manchester by the Sea” so this list might have some other films added to it later on. But for the time being, these are the five best movies that 2016 had to offer.

At the end, I’ll also be including an honorable mentions list with films there were good, even great in some ways, but did not make the list for one reason or another. I will also be linking each pick to my original reviews, to offer a more expansive opinion on each pick.

 

Number Five: *Tie* “Deadpool” and “Captain America: Civil War”

Okay, I’m cheating with this one by making it two movies, but I honestly could not pick which was the best superhero movie of 2016. Two vastly different movies with entirely different agendas, yet weirdly enough they are equally entertaining.

“Deadpool” takes what Marvel has been making superhero movies for the last eight years and turns it on its head and gives it a good kick in the nuts. While not deep or complex on any sort of level, the raunchy humor, over the top gore and action and a quirky Ryan Reynolds that never lets up make “Deadpool” one of the most unforgettable experiences of 2016.

 

 

“Captain America: Civil War” on the other hand is the most complex and character-driven Marvel film yet, where we see these heroes at their most vulnerable. We see the guilt and regret everyone goes through, in a world that demands this type of power be put on a leash. This is a story driven by revenge, while also giving us some down-to-earth performances from the entire cast. Not to mention, when this movie wants to be entertaining it pulls out all the stops and gives us some of the greatest sequences Marvel has filmed yet.

I honestly cannot choose between the two, so I’m just giving the number five spot to both movies. Both films are a sign that the superhero genre is evolving and still capable of thrilling us in whole new ways.

 

Number Four: “Don’t Breathe”

While this is the most simplistic movie of 2016, it was also a rewarding one. Set in a small yet high-tech house where nearly every appliance or object comes into the plot, we witness a home invasion tale involving two equally guilty parties, while sympathizing with both sides. Each side takes violent actions, mostly out of fear and confusion, but all they want is a fulfilling life that they are not getting and this is the only way they know how to live. Always smart and atmospheric, constantly building up the tension with great camerawork and music, “Don’t Breathe” is one of the more underrated classics of 2016.

 

Number Three: “Hell or High Water”

The more I thought about this modern western, the more it grew on me. This is one of the more subtle films of the last few years, where little is explained and more is shown through the acting of Chris Pine and Ben Foster. The environment is also key to “Hell or High Water,” as we see a starving Texas that is slowly being killed by the bank. Some of the more beautiful shots in this film are of the lives either being destroyed or what little remains of life, like the cattle farmers running from the flames or the vast empty planes with rusting trucks and tractors. This makes Pine and Foster’s journey less about revenge and more of redemption. Certainly worth checking out.

 

Number Two: “Shin Godzilla”

I adored “Shin Godzilla” from start to finish. A new take on Godzilla, both in terms of character and concept of the monster that makes this one fresh and intelligent. This Godzilla is a terrifying creature that is always evolving, and we see a world that is unprepared for such a creature become paralyzed with fear and indecision, caught up in the bureaucracy of minutiae. Every scene with Godzilla utilizes his size and mass to great effect and leads to the best cinematography of any Godzilla movie. The film is also unbelievably nostalgic without ever drawing too much attention to it, with its use of music, sound effects and Godzilla’s evolution. What “Shin Godzilla” lacks in characters, it easily makes up for it in style, atmosphere, and tone. Even if you’re not a fan of Godzilla, this is a smart, well-shot monster movie that anyone can appreciate.

 

Number One: “Arrival”

For my number one pick, I went with the most important and relevant movie of 2016. A movie that is akin to others like “Contact” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” while showing us the strength in kindness, understanding, and communication. But the timing on “Arrival” was everything, coming at a time when the future looked bleak and in pieces, this film reminded us of hope and faith in all of mankind.

If there is a common theme among my top five films of 2016, it would be smart, well-thought-out movies that consider every scene, action, and line of dialogue important to the story and how the movie is effected by the world around us. Whether that is two brothers looking to redeem themselves in a forgotten land, a democracy responding to a living monstrosity, or how the entire world would react to aliens and their message.

If 2016’s year of cinema was anything, it was smart.

Honorable Mentions:

“Kubo and the Two Strings”

“10 Cloverfield Lane”

“Hail, Caesar!”

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

“The Accountant”

 

Editorial – “Shin Godzilla” and the Beginning of a New Age

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It has come to my attention that, while the overwhelming majority thought “Shin Godzilla” was a solid film that blended the terrors of giant monsters with the triumph of overcoming them, while also paying loving tribute to the films that came before it, there are some who were thrown off by the film in many ways. Some hated the cast of thousands that had no development and no reason to care for their struggle against Godzilla, while others thought it was filled with too much political discussions and not enough monster action.

But the most common complaint I’ve heard is that “Shin Godzilla” does away with the traditional style of daikaiju filmmaking, in other words suitmation. In this film, Godzilla is not some guy in a rubber suit, like he was in the previous 28 Godzilla movies, and is instead mostly a computer generated image. In fact, almost all the effects in this film were generated by computers.

Did you know that almost every tank used in the first military confrontation with Godzilla was a CGI creation? I didn’t know that until I watched a behind-the-scene clip on YouTube that showed how some of the effects were created, and it went into detail on how the tanks and helicopters were made.

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Some people hate that a film style drenched in tradition and style would forgo all of that and use a modern creation. A style that goes back to the 1950s and was used all the way through the mid-2000s, and it is missing from the latest entry in the Godzilla series.

And while I see where these people are coming from and the importance of sticking to tradition, I don’t think “Shin Godzilla” would have been nearly as effective if this Godzilla was a guy in a rubber suit. If anything, “Shin Godzilla” showed the potential of CGI in Japanese monster movies and how you can do things that were never possible before.

Let me ask you a question – Before “Shin Godzilla,” what was the most recent big daikaiju movie that came out? In Japan, Godzilla hadn’t been seen since 2004 in a film that nearly killed the franchise, “Godzilla: Final Wars,” Gamera has been missing since 2006 with “Gamera: The Brave,” and Ultraman has been mostly limited to television. I bring this up because it shows that daikaiju movies died out around the mid-2000s.

There are plenty of explanations for this, including an overabundance of monster movies at the time, a lack of original stories and far too many retreads, but it was clear that around 2004, box office numbers were declining with daikaiju films and reviews were not great either. Part of this could have been that the CGI seen in other big budget films, like “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “King Kong,” were blowing away anything Japanese studios could make and they didn’t have the money to compete with the American studios were creating.

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With so many films using CGI, we became accustom to that, and got use to filmmakers using that imagery to create things that we could have never seen otherwise. Because of that, audience didn’t want to see guys in rubber suits anymore.

Honestly, I don’t blame the filmmakers of “Shin Godzilla” for using mostly CGI to create Godzilla. Toho had been using small amounts of CG in the Godzilla films since “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah,” as well as every movie in the 2000s. Sometimes it is easier to get Godzilla’s size and scale across when you’re not bound by a guy in a rubber monster suit.

If you have the technology to do so, why not use it? If you want to get people interested in daikaiju movies again, you’ve got to find new ways to captivate them.

What I found the most impressive with “Shin Godzilla”‘s CGI is how well it complimented the cinematography. There were dozens of shots in this film where you see large-scale camera movement or shots with miles of city-wide destruction. There’s one shot entirely out of the side of a car, as it starts pretty far away from Godzilla, but drives closer to him, until its right next to his massive leg and caught in his trail of destruction. Or another shot where all you can only see Godzilla up to his knees, but the camera focuses on the cars and chunks of building that his feet are kicking up as he moves across the landscape.

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These shots would have been impossible to achieve if Godzilla was a suit.

I cannot recall much dynamic camera movement in previous Godzilla films. There were a few times where the camera would pan left or right a bit, but the camera was mostly static, especially in the early Godzilla movies. I understand why – they can’t move the camera too much because the set isn’t that big. But with “Shin Godzilla,” all of Toyko is this movies’ set.

I was blown away when I got to see Godzilla from so far away and then up-close and personal in the same shot, especially since Godzilla hardly moved in that shot. The camera is so dynamic in “Shin Godzilla” that you could have told an entire story with just the monster clips, and it would have worked out spectacularly. It was breathtaking to see a monster film where the camera movement had no limits.

On top of that, the filmmakers of “Shin Godzilla” set out to give us a Godzilla that benefited from CGI. This Godzilla has tiny skeleton-like hands that couldn’t have worked for a suit actor’s arms, and a tail that moves more than the rest of the body. He has an insanely long neck, leading to a head that has teeth everywhere, an absurdly large mouth and smallest eyes you can imagine. Not to mention, this is a constantly mutating creäture.

Is this Godzilla possible through suitmation? Sure, anything is possible, in fact a few shots in “Shin Godzilla” where they used a large puppet. They even made a full-body suit for the newest Godzilla. But they mostly stuck with CGI, to keep this Godzilla’s bodily exaggerations going.

I don’t think a little Godzilla mutating into a bigger Godzilla in the middle of a bustling city would look convincing if done using suitmation.

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Which brings us to my biggest point – There are so many things you can do with CGI that would be ridiculous otherwise. I don’t doubt the power of suitmation and how clever it can be, fifty years of daikaiju filmmaking prove that, but “Shin Godzilla” proves that using CGI can be as clever. It can be used to give us impossible creatures in realistic settings, and to be combined with cinematography to give us something we’ve never seen before.

Computer generated imagery has come a long way since its conception. While there were dark days of CG, where it was everywhere and everyone thought they were an expert on it leading us to some crappy action/adventure and fantasy movies, we are now at the point where we can have entirely CG characters interact with real actors and be just as emotionally invested in them as any other character.

Any film that uses CG to make a talking racoon and a tree who are best friends, and make them the most interesting characters in the film is using CGI to its greatest potential.

Because computer generated imagery isn’t just a cheap way out of actually creating something. It is a filmmaking tool, just like a camera, lighting and an editing device. It can be used well or poorly, depending on the filmmaker. If you use it badly, it’ll stick out the like a sore thumb and break the illusion of cinema. But if used properly, then you expand your landscape and allows you to show the audience more before.

There’s no denying the appeal of the classic Godzilla movies, especially for someone like me, seeing those rubber suits and hand-crafted sets, where you can see all the hard work in the construction of the shot alone. The charm of those films may not be present in “Shin Godzilla,” but it is replaced by a new charm. One that speaks to the digital age and takes full advantage of using mostly CGI, through cinematography, monster design and atmosphere.

So, with the success of “Shin Godzilla” and its use of CGI, what does all this mean for the future of daikaiju filmmaking? I think that filmmakers are going to become far more clever and find new ways to blend computer imagery with suitmation. Just because one film found success in a new way doesn’t mean they’ll abandon the old ways. I do think this means we’ve entered a new era for daikaijus, one of exploration and possibly experimenting with combining styles. And with Toho planning on more Godzilla movies in the future, I am certainly looking forward to what is in store for us.

 

Rotten Tomatoes and its Influence

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Recently, I’ve noticed a pattern developing in movie blockbusters. In the past couple years, movies like “The Brothers Grimsby,” “Hardcore Henry,” “Rachet & Clank,” “Demolition,” “Aloha,” “In The Heart Of The Sea” and “The Last Witch Hunter” all under-performed at the box office, while films like “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens,” “Zootopia,” “Inside Out,” “Deadpool” and “Captain America: Civil War” have made far more at the box office than anyone expected, especially films like “Zootopia” which has made over $336 million in the United States, $993 million worldwide.

Normally, films like “Hardcore Henry” or “The Brothers Grismby” would have been number one at the box office on their opening weekends, due to gimmicky filmmaking concepts and lots of ultra violence, or well established actors in leading roles like Sasha Barha Cohen. Sometimes it can be associated with poor timing, like in the case of “In The Heart Of The Sea” coming out so close to “Star Wars,” but even then the numbers were still poor, grossing less than $35 million on its opening weekend.

There could be a number reasons why this is happening, but I have noticed a correlation between the failure of smaller blockbusters and the success of others – Rotten Tomatoes.

To give you an idea, here are some of the scores of these recent box office flops – “Hardcore Henry” now holds a 48%, “In The Heart Of The Sea” has 42%, “Aloha” maintains a 20% and “Demoliton” comes in at 50%. All considered flops and failures by Rotten Tomatoes standards.

Now here is some of the scores for recent successes – “Star Wars” still has 92%, “Inside Out” and “Zootopia” both bolsters a 98%, and even “Deadpool” holds strong at 83%.

Based off of this information, if a blockbuster scores better on Rotten Tomatoes, then it is more likely to succeed at the box office, no matter what time of year it comes out. And the opposite also seems to be true as well – the lower a film scores on Rotten Tomatoes, the less likely it will do well at the box office.

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Take one of the most recent weekends for example, which saw the release of two blockbusters – “X-Men: Apocalypse” and “Alice Through The Looking Glass.” Both come from franchises that have previously proven to be financially successful and have some pretty big name stars, including Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and Johnny Depp. Yet it was the mutant based action film that far exceeded the numbers of the adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s work, with “X-Men: Apocalypse” bringing in $65.8 million and “Alice” only managing $26.9 million. It should also be noted the recent “X-Men” movie holds a 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, while “Alice” has a 29%.

Not very great scores for either film, but both are new and everyone has seemingly already seen “Captain America: Civil War” and those who were interested in “The Angry Birds Movie” has went to it already, those two were the best options for Memorial Day weekend.

But once again, the higher rated film on Rotten Tomatoes outgrossed the lower rated one.

Of course, this isn’t always the case. There have been times where a lower rated film on Rotten Tomatoes outgrosses the higher one, with the biggest recent example being “Pitch Perfect 2” out-performing “Mad Max: Fury Road” on its opening weekend, even though the film many critics said was the best film of 2015 was nearly 20% ahead of the Anna Kendrick/Rebel Wilson sequel. This is by no means a perfect system, but then again there have been plenty of terribly rated films in the past that were box office juggernauts (I’m looking at you, any film directed by Michael Bay).

So, how is this happening? In the past, people have researched which film they will see over the weekend from home, but are unsure of how they’ll like the film and are taking a risk by possibly going to see a movie they won’t enjoy. But now we have smart phones that we have with us all the time. We can go to the movie theaters without deciding what to see in advanced, and pick which movie sounds the best while driving over using our phones.

For people who are undecided on which movie to see, they might turn to Rotten Tomatoes, where they can not only read what other people have said about the movie, from both critics and normal people sharing their thoughts, but they can also see those thoughts summarized into a nice little percentage that can be compared with other movies. And it seems we are now at the point where audiences are more likely to go to the highest rated new blockbuster.

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Let’s say that you wanted to go to the movies this last weekend, and you weren’t a die-hard fan of the X-Men or the works of Lewis Carroll, but you had already seen “Captain America: Civil War” and “The Jungle Book.” Would you wing it and randomly pick one of the two new films and hope that you picked the better one, or would you look up how both films are scoring online and go with the movie that is doing better?

I say this because it is similar to my routine of checking out the newest films, although I will do it more often than most other people because I’m obsessed with cinema. Usually every Friday, I will see how each of the newest blockbusters are scoring on Rotten Tomatoes to see if there are any films worth going to see. Because sometimes I won’t be interested in seeing a blockbuster based on the trailer and info I’ve been given about the film, but it will score well on Rotten Tomatoes, like “Zootopia,” and I’ll be convinced to go see it in theaters.

I can guarantee you that I’m not the only movie-goer that does this. It is safe to say that Rotten Tomatoes has not only changed how we critique films, but also how well a film does at the box office.

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Do you think the reason “Terminator: Genisys” never got number one at the box office during its time in theaters was because of competition? Possibly, but another big contributing factor was its low 26% on Rotten Tomatoes. By that point, films like “Jurassic World” and “Inside Out” had been in theaters for a while, so “Genisys” shouldn’t have had much in the way of competition. Yet it got fifth on its opening weekend, losing to “Inside Out,” “Jurassic World,” “Ted 2” and “Max.” Not “Mad Max: Fury Road,” just “Max,” about a dog that was in the army.

We live in a world now where the newest Arnold Schwarzenegger film can be outgrossed by the “American Sniper” of dog movies.

So, with Rotten Tomatoes seemingly having a big influence on how well movies do at the box office, the question is whether this is a good thing or a bad thing? I believe it is a little bit of both.

The bad thing Rotten Tomatoes influence is that it can over-hype some of the newest films. Take “Zootopia” for example, with its 98% and overglowing reviews. It is amazing that an animated film can be enjoyable to watch for so many people. But then step back a bit and think what that 98% means. Rotten Tomatoes is saying that “Zootopia” is a better film to watch than any film with a lower score than it.

And here is a list of movies that have a lower score than “Zootopia” – “Pulp Fiction,” “Forrest Gump,” “Fargo,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “Jurassic Park,” “The Exorcist,” “Die Hard,” “The Hunt For Red October” and every single Indiana Jones movie.

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Now I’m not saying “Zootopia” was a bad experience, but a better film than “Fargo” and “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”? Not even close. It seems like people got so excited about the unique animation and setting that they forgot its just a simple buddy-cop movie.

Part of this could be due to when these films came out. All the films I just mentioned were released long before Rotten Tomatoes was ever around (with the exception of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” but we don’t talk about that one), so people have had a longer time to think about these movies, as well as offer up contrary opinions. But with movies like “Zootopia” and “Inside Out,” we haven’t had nearly as much time to think of the negatives. We were so blown away by their creativity and imagination that we don’t realize if the film will hold up years from now.

In other words, Rotten Tomatoes is focusing on the present and what people want now. If a movie was released a long time ago, it will naturally score a much lower rating. They’re less concerned whether a film will be classic.

Personally, I don’t listen to Rotten Tomatoes when it comes to classic films that is from 1995 or older, around the time the internet came into power. Reviews for those types of films tend to be either biased or far fewer. For example, one of my favorite guilty pleasures, “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” only has a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, with only 12 overall reviews. Whereas a current film like “Captain America: Civil War” has 310 reviews, giving it an overall score of 90%. Unless it’s an undisputed classic, like “Citizen Kane” or “Casablanca” the further you go back in film history, the less you’ll see of it on Rotten Tomatoes.

As for the benefits of Rotten Tomatoes influence, we now live in a world where film critics have a big say about which movies we go see. Critics have always had somewhat of an influence on what we watch, but only to those who search for critical analysis. To people who care about what the critics have to say about any particular movie. But with Rotten Tomatoes, the general film-going audience can get the idea of what critics are saying, whether they know it or not. Some people might only be interested in a movies’ percentage, but they’re also listening to what critics and others have said.

We can now finally listen to “The Critic” thanks to Rotten Tomatoes. “If the movie stinks, just don’t go.”

Overall, I’m more than happy to say that Rotten Tomatoes has changed the way people use film criticism. The whole point of critiquing a movie is not just to share your thoughts and opinions with others, but also to offer others with a better idea what films to watch and what to avoid. To give filmmakers, both current ones and aspiring ones, a better understanding of what it takes to make a film that resonates with audiences and will last beyond our lifetime. It is nice to see film criticism being taken as more than just angry typing and obsessed fans, but as a community full of passionate people who love what they do.

To see that community having an influence on what films people end up seeing is wonderful to witness.

 

Toshiro Mifune Vs. Takashi Shimura

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When you think of a classic Japanese actor, who is the first that comes to mind?

Some might go for a modern pick, like Ken Watanabe from movies like “The Last Samurai,” “Inception” and Gareth Edward’s “Godzilla,” but most film buffs out there probably have a different actor in mind – Toshiro Mifune.

Mifune starred in sixteen of Akira Kurosawa’s films, where he played lead roles in “Yojimbo,” “The Hidden Fortress,” “Throne Of Blood,” “Sanjuro” and “Red Beard,” while also playing pivotal roles in “Rashomon,” “Stray Dog,” “Drunken Angel,” “High and Low” and most notably as Kikuchiyo in “Seven Samurai.”

Outside of Kurosawa films, Mifune played the lead role of Musashi Miyamoto in the Samurai trilogy, had a short career in American films, including a WW2 survival tale with Lee Marvin called “Hell in the Pacific,” and had been offered the roles of both Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original “Star Wars.”

For me, Mifune is the most intense yet passionate actor I can think of, both in and out of Japanese films. He often said so much without hardly saying anything, through body movement. Characters like Kikuchiyo and the bandit from “Rashomon” jumped around like they were always on caffeine, ready for the next piece of action. But then these characters could turn on a dime, taking that intensity and turning into a quiet calm that you think he’ll never break out of.

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Within a single swift movement, Toshiro Mifune could show compassion, anger, regret and sadness, like his speech in “Seven Samurai” about the craftiness of villagers and their need to pillage and steal when no one is looking, yet it was the supposed-protectors, samurais, that made the villagers that way.

This shining example of acting proved that Mifune was one of the greatest actors of all time.

However, Toshiro Mifune is not my answer to the question at the beginning of this post. As captivating and enthralling as he was, there is one other Japanese actor that I would say is greater – Takashi Shimura.

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In many ways, Shimura is the Yin to Mifune’s Yang. Two immortal Japanese actors, with entirely different styles of acting. While Mifune was intense and loved to get in people’s faces, Takashi Shimura was often laid-back and spoke with his eyes and smile.

Shimura starred in 21 Kurosawa films, including “The Quiet Duel,” “I Live In Fear,” “Drunken Angel,” “Rashomon,” the lead samurai Kambei in “Seven Samurai,” while also played roles in many Toho films, including Dr. Yamane in “Godzilla” and “The Mysterians.”

While Mifune’s speech in “Seven Samurai” is a standout example of his acting ability, Shimura’s introduction in the same film stands out just as much. We watch as this old man, without even speaking, as an entire village surrounding him, as he cuts off his ponytail, shaves his head and simply asks for some food. We find out that a sacred thief has kidnapped a little girl and is held up in the town’s church, with a knife to the girl’s throat.

Shimura’s plan is to pose as a priest, offering the man and girl some food, while trying to talk him down peacefully. Unfortunately, the thief resorts to violence and he quickly finds out that he is dealing with a deadly samurai. We see a man who has seen far too much violence for one lifetime, but realizes that it is often necessary to protect the innocent.

Rather than using his body movements to express himself like Mifune, Shimura uses the pauses between his sentences, as if he is contemplating how the situation will work out. This makes Shimura excel at quiet and often reserved characters, one’s who have a lot to say but know when and when not to speak.

I would compare Toshiro Mifune’s acting to Robert De Niro, a man known for his hidden anger yet never loosing sight of his compassion for others. Both of these men could fly off the handle one moment and be sobbing a minute later. While Takashi Shimura’s comparison would be James Stewart, as they both had a tendency to play the every-man, a character that faces problems and conflicts that we all face in life. He shares our thoughts, our feelings, our anguish and our turmoil.

The problem with comparing Mifune and Shimura is, as I said previously, they are two entirely different actors. While the two played opposite one another multiple times in films like “Stray Dog,” “Seven Samurai” and “Drunken Angel” (where oddly enough, the roles that Shimura and Mifune often play are reversed), trying to say which is better is like asking if Robert De Niro is a better actor than James Stewart.

Part of this is because these two come from different time periods of Japanese filmmaking. Shimura’s career began in the silent era in 1934, getting his big break in 1936 with “Osaka Elegy,” heavily dependent on the lack of audio and facial expressions. Mifune’s began in the late 1940s, after World War II, with his first major role coming in 1948’s “Drunken Angel.” By the end of the war, the Japanese film studio was in shambles, much like the country itself, and the Japanese people needed someone tougher and experienced to look up to, which Mifune exemplified.

So with two different backgrounds of acting, distinct acting styles, and contrasting types of film genres they excel in, this makes comparing the two difficult.

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I give the edge to Takashi Shimura for one reason – His role in Kurosawa’s “Ikiru.”

In a tale of identity, regret and longing for a purpose in life, Shimura gives one of the most moving performances I’ve seen. The strange thing about this role is that Shimura hardly says anything for the first third of the film, and can’t seem to find the right words for the rest. Instead, we rely on the utter shock on his face as he learns that he has six months to live, his pools of sadness when he realizes that he hasn’t done anything with his life, and the sparks in his eyes when he understands that it is not too late to make a difference in the world.

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Takashi Shimura’s role paints a picture of a man who has wandered for thirty years, and only recently found the beauty of life, wanting to share that beauty with the world before it is too late. If it were any other actor in “Ikiru,” the film would not have been half as good. Shimura’s touch of sincerity and compassion makes “Ikiru” one of the greatest films I have seen.

For me, that same compassion and kindness is what puts Takashi Shimura just above Toshiro Mifune. They’re both actors I don’t mind putting in the Hall of Greats, and as the two most notable Japanese actors, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the man who could reduced me to tears with a nothing more than a smile and glimmer of hope.

 

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.

 

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!

 

Top Ten New Episodes Of “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic”

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One of the biggest surprises I have experienced since I started this blog and catalog of thoughts on film, television, etc., is not one you would expect.

Of all the reviews, countdowns, editorials and ramblings I’ve posted in the last few years, the one that has had the most longevity and some of the most views is not my revelation on Godzilla, or my favorite films countdown or even some of my early reviews. It is the countdown of my 10 favorite episodes of “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.”

I post my reviews and editorials on multiple sites, and on one of them (World Of Entertainment) that particular countdown is in the top ten in terms of viewing in 2014 (though the highest viewed article from that year was my fan reaction to Gareth Edward’s “Godzilla”). But more surprising is that it is the most viewed article on the entire site for 2015.

I am beyond words. I knew there were bronies and pegasisters all over the internet, but damn.

Well, if that’s case, why not do another one? There has been a whole new season of “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” since the last article I published on the topic, and well over 30 new episodes.

As such, I will be counting down my top ten favorite episodes of “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” since my last countdown. Like the previous one, these are the episodes that have stuck with me the longest after watching them. The ones that I felt best personified this creative, funny and thought-provoking show made for both children and adults.

For those MLP fans out there, this will include every episode between “For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils” and the end of season five, “The Cutie Re-Mark.”

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Number Ten: “Tanks for the Memories” (Season Five, Episode Five)

Quick back story for this episode – Every one of the main characters has their own pet. Twilight has an owl (named Owillicious), Pinkie Pie has a baby alligator who has no teeth (named Gummy), and Fluttershy has a bunny rabbit that seems set against ruining her life (named Angel). But the best pony-pet dynamic is Rainbow Dash, the speedster who is always up for a race, and her pet turtle, equipped with a magic propeller, named Tank.

Tanks for the Memories” is as close as MLP will ever get to the death of a pet. Since this is a show aimed for little kids, they would never be allowed to kill off any character, so they come up with the next best solution – Have Tank enter hibernation during Rainbow Dash’s favorite time of the year.

And of course, Rainbow Dash has an over-the-top reaction that would make even the Grinch feel jealous, by stopping winter from coming. Rainbow Dash would rather stop the time of year that makes her feel the most alive than lose her pet turtle for six months.

The first half of the episode is Rainbow Dash being unwilling and stubborn about losing her pet and that she can stop it. The second half starts with Rainbow Dash taking drastic measures to stop winter, including a “Mission: Impossible” style break-in to a weather factory. But what propels this episode further is the ending, with Rainbow Dash realizing that Tank will be gone and there is nothing she can do about it. A hard truth that any kid with a pet has to learn eventually.

This one was a touching episode with lots of funny bits scattered throughout. Plus Equestria looks beautiful in the winter, especially when it all plops down at once. Thanks for that Rainbow Dash.

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Number Nine: “Inspiration Manifestation” (Season Four, Episode Twenty-Three)

Imagine a magic spell that could bring everything you ever wished to life. Everything you ever want to create, your hopes and dreams met with just a thought. Would you be consumed by this spell? Would all your generosity to help others turn into a lust to perfect everything in your own image?

This is what makes “Inspiration Manifestation” so great, as Spike finds a spell book to help out a stressed, overworked and under-appreciated Rarity. It is something so very rarely seen on this show, in a world full of magic, both good and bad, there is a spell that can be taken as a good thing, but can corrupt the user. But the strange thing is that, even as Rarity descends into madness, she still feels like she’s doing the right thing. Being the element of generosity, Rarity puts others and their well beings above herself, so the interest of others is in her mind. So if that means replacing all of their chariots with “Rar-iots” because these ones are better, then so be it.

Of course, this is an episode that focuses primarily on the relationship between Rarity and Spike, who has always had a crush on Rarity but has never reciprocated those feelings. Spike, in a desperate attempt to keep Rarity happy, agrees with everything she says even if the spell is beginning to take her over. But once he puts his foot down and steps up for himself, telling her that what she is doing her is wrong, the real Rarity comes back. A good lesson for anyone who has ever had a crush on someone else – they’re not perfect, so don’t treat them like they’re royalty.

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Number Eight: “Do Princesses Dream Of Magic Sheep?” (Season Five, Episode Thirteen)

MLP seems to follow the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” style of comedy – These jokes are made, not for everyone, but for the right people. And this title, for those that get it, will find it hilarious.

One of the more mysterious and tragic characters in MLP is Princess Luna, the magical pony that controls the moon and the night. Her sister, Princess Celestia, controls the sun and day, and is often beloved by all of Equestria for providing life and happiness, while Luna’s work is overlooked. After years of being treated badly, Luna fought back and became the terrible Nightmare Moon, threatening to plunge Equestria into eternal night. But Celestia used her powers and the Elements of Harmony to trap Luna in the moon for a thousand years. After that time expired and the new Elements of Harmony forced the evil out of Luna, she returned to her princess duties and a protector of the night.

But not without punishing herself.

We find out in this episode that Luna put a spell on herself and created a nightmare creature that feeds off of her bad dreams. Now she has the same dream every night, of our main characters destroying Nightmare Moon, so that Luna would never forgive herself for what she did as Nightmare Moon.

And now that creature, called the Tantabus, has escaped from her dreams and is finding new ponies to unleash their worst nightmares on.

This the episode that best explores the character of Princess Luna, as a tortured soul who is filled with nothing but regrets and wants nothing more than to forget past, but is unable to.

Combine that with an imaginative story of exploring every main characters dreams, including Rainbow Dash fighting off Changelings, Twilight being in a never-ending library and Applejack with an apple that is ten times her size, and one of the biggest nods to previous episodes in the entire show in the final confrontation with the Tantabus, and you have a wonderfully beautiful and entrancing episode.

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Number Seven: “The Lost Treasure Of Griffonstone” (Season Five, Episode Eight)

If there’s a theme throughout season five of MLP, it is redemption.

One thing that MLP has always done in the past is to convert old enemies into new friends, like the malevolent Discord and the phony “Great and Powerful” Trixie. Because locking up the bad and evil characters isn’t going to solve anything, and often times they’re misunderstood rather than evil. Especially in the case of our returning “villain” in this episode – Gilda the griffon.

Early in season one, Gilda was cast out of Ponyville by her former friend, Rainbow Dash, after she was an ungrateful and unpleasant bully to Pinkie Pie. Someone who was once seen as a one-dimensional villain is now shown to be a complex character that has been shunned her whole life for looking different, except by Rainbow Dash, her only true friend. Rather than despising her for what happened, Pinkie Pie welcomes Gilda with open hooves (or claws in Gilda’s case). And as Rainbow Dash reopens to her friend, so do we.

We are also given a history lesson about Griffons in the world of Equestria – a once proud race who lived together in harmony, until they were split apart by greed and selfishness. Which is what we see now – a once-mighty city on the verge of collapse, full of creatures that are too full of themselves to notice that everything they’ve stood for is falling apart.

This whole episode is one great reason why I love this show – Detailed world-building, heart-felt moments of kindness, and giving old characters new opportunities to become better characters due to quality writing. Throw in two of the best characters, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash, going on an adventure through this city, and you get some of the best comedy and character moments of the season.

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Number Six: “The Cutie Re-Mark” (Season Five, Episodes Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six)

The redemption train keeps on rolling.

Certainly the most complex new character to come out of season five was Starlight Glimmer. She was introduced in the first two-parter to open up the season, “The Cutie Map.” Our cast of characters travel to a small town that she ran, where every pony had the same cutie mark. In Starlight’s words, this is her version of a utopia, where no pony is judged for being different and everyone is treated equally.

After her plans are thwarted and the town returns to normal, Starlight escapes into the mountains. Only to make her return here in the two-parter to end season five. Now she seeks revenge on Twilight for ruining her dream of a perfect world where other ponies would never be hurt by a cutie mark. Her plan of vengeance? To go back in time and prevent Rainbow Dash’s Sonic Rainboom that caused all of the main characters to get their cutie marks, thus separating their special bond.

What Starlight could never have predicted was what this event meant to the safety of Equestria. Twilight and Spike attempt to stop Starlight Glimmer, and fail every time, always returning to the “present,” with each one getting progressively worst, as a former villain throughout the show succeeded in their plans to conquer Equestria. From Nightmare Moon unleashing eternal night, to King Sombra using the forces of the Crystal Empire to unleash a never-ending war, to the Changelings draining all the happiness out of ponies and forcing the survivors into the forest and always judging every newcomer that might be a Changeling.

This is, without a doubt, the darkest and most disturbing episode of MLP. We watch as Equestria falls apart, the lives we’ve witnessed over the past five seasons be destroyed by war, chaos and cruelty. In one timeline, Rainbow Dash has lost one wing and has it replaced with a metal one. While in another, Fluttershy, the element of kindness is ready to viciously kill Twilight because she might be a Changeling.

And all because Starlight wanted revenge on Twilight. Revenge, the most worthless of causes.

The second half of the second episode is dedicated to why Starlight would do all this and how she got to where she was. Twilight then realizes that she can’t beat Starlight. There’s no way she can stop Starlight from her plans and that the two could be at this for all eternity if they wanted to. But it would never solve Starlight’s problem – her inability to trust others and see that a cutie mark should be cherished, not mocked.

I won’t spoil how this one ends, since it could mean big things for the future of MLP. But let’s just say that, like when Twilight became a princess, this could have big implications for the next season.

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Number Five: “Amending Fences” (Season Five, Episode Twelve)

But the theme of redemption is not limited to minor characters. In this case, Twilight is the one seeking to redeem herself in her first full episode about the newly crowned princess since “Magic Duel.”

Twilight, now dubbed the “Princess of Friendship,” has a realization one day – Before the events of this show started, she was a terrible friend. She was always reading a book or studying, never paying attention to her friends from Canterlot. And when the show started, she ditched everything there to move to Ponyville, never saying goodbye to anyone. Now she wishes to make up for this by returning to her roots and making amends to her old friends. What she finds out is that most of her old friends never thought badly of her, that this was who she was and just enjoyed her company. That is except for one friend, Moondancer.

In a call-back to the first episode of MLP, which was more of a throwaway line at the time, we find out that Moondancer was having a party, something she never did since she was an even bigger bookworm than Twilight. But Twilight, her best friend, couldn’t make it because she had “lots of studying to do.”

And now Moodancer does nothing but studying for the sake of studying. Her journeys take to the library and back to her rundown cottage in the woods, far away from every pony. She has given up on socializing, because she knows that it will only end in misery when they have to leave or become too important for you.

This is a great example of how the writing on MLP is improving, giving us glances at these characters that make us question if they’re doing the right thing, while still being accessible for children. An episode like this would have been impossible in season two or three, but we see Twilight has a character who has made mistakes and wants nothing more than to make up for it.

sweetie belle toils

Number Four: “For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils” (Season Four, Episode Nineteen)

I mentioned in “Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?” that Princess Luna is in control of the night, but she also has the ability to enter other ponies dreams and talk to them through their visions. We saw Luna do this with each of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, first with Scootaloo in “Sleepless in Ponyville” back in season three, and early on in season five with Apple Bloom in “Bloom and Gloom.” This is Sweetie Belle’s turn and it is the best of the trilogy.

With “Sleepless in Ponyville” and “Bloom and Gloom,” those were dealing more with Scootaloo and Apple Bloom’s fears of being rejected by Rainbow Dash and what it would mean to get a cutie mark, respectively. This one delves, not into Sweetie Belle’s fears, but the fact that she always feels overshadowed by her sister, Rarity. When she makes an entire play, including the set and dialogue, all any pony could talk about afterwards was the customs, designed by Rarity. Even when she tries to do what she loves, it is always about Rarity.

What follows is a “Christmas Carol”-like story, as we see the past, present and future of the relationship between Sweetie Belle and Rarity through dreams, while Luna puts a new perspective on what Sweetie Belle sees of her older sister. That when she made a fool of herself at her fifth-birthday party, Rarity was the one to turn the party around by making every kid happy, or that Rarity spent endless nights getting the costumes for the play ready, pushing aside all her other projects to do so.

This takes the amazingly creative dreamscape of the previous episodes and gives it a touching character piece about two sisters who now see more than just themselves in each other.

Cutie_Mark_Crusaders_ecstatic_S5E18

Number Three: “Crusaders of the Lost Mark” (Season Five, Episode Eighteen)

Yeah, yeah, stupid pun title. I know, but the importance and execution of this episode cannot be denied.

There’s no other way around it. This episode makes the list for a good reason – The Cutie Mark Crusaders finally get their cutie marks. And it was done so well.

For five seasons, this moment has been building up. Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo’s adventure began in early season one, when they found each other and decided to try to find something they were all good at and find their cutie marks together. Since then, they’ve strayed far from getting into dangerous situations to get their marks and instead found out more about themselves, like the previously mentioned “For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils.” They also learned what it means to have a cutie mark that it is not just a sign of maturity but that you have found your place in the world.

Now it all comes together perfectly, as we have one last tale of redemption with the one character every fan thought was unredeemable – the bully of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, Diamond Tiara.

For as long as the Crusaders have gone on their escapades, Diamond Tiara has been there to scoff at them, always calling them “blank flanks” and getting every kid in the school to laugh at them. As it turns out, her cutie mark allows her to persuade others into doing her bidding, which she has always used for her selfish and greedy purposes. She is, in every sense of the word, a bully. Until this episode, and we learn about how her parents don’t see her as their daughter, but as a way to climb the social latter faster.

Diamond Tiara has been misled and confused her entire life that she needs to block out anyone less than her and treat them as filth. When she learns what the Crusaders do outside of school, she says they are very lucky to be able to explore and learn about themselves. Diamond Tiara had this lifestyle thrust upon her and didn’t know any other way to take out her anger and confusion on the world.

The moment the Crusaders realize that Diamond Tiara has potential to help others, rather than hurt them, they help her realize her potential and what her mark truly means. They not only earn a new friend, but get their marks as well. They have found their calling – To help other ponies earn their cutie marks and help them realize what their marks mean.

The crusade comes to an end, but begins all over again.

brotherhooves

Number Two: “Brotherhooves Social” (Season Five, Episode Seventeen)

And now we reach a new type of story for the final two episodes: Minor character theater.

If there’s one thing I loved above all else in season five, it was the world and character building. Not just what was done with the main characters, especially the Cutie Mark Crusaders, but the characters that normally don’t get the spotlight. It comes across like the show’s creators are aware of how popular this show as become, and that many fans’ favorite characters are not the main ones. Sometimes they’re background characters, ones who have never said a word or have less than a few seconds of screen time per episode, yet they pack so much character into those few seconds.

“Brotherhooves Social” is one of best examples of that, as the only main character in this episode is Applejack, for about two minutes. The focus of this episode is Applejack and Apple Bloom’s big brother – Big Macintosh, or Big Mac for short. A character that is known for his unbelievable strength, and his limited vocabulary of “E’yup!” and “Nope!” He is shown to have an impressive vocabulary and has even joined a barbershop quartet in one episode, but he chooses to stay with those two words most of the time.

In this episode, Applejack and Apple Bloom are excited for the upcoming Sisterhooves Social event, which they dominate every year. But when Applejack is called away due to a problem in Manehattan, Apple Bloom is crushed. So, Big Mac, in an attempt to please his baby sister, dresses up in drag, going by the name Orchard Blossom, so that he and Apple Bloom can compete in the event.

This is one of the funniest episodes of MLP, because of how different Big Mac and Orchard Blossom are. Orchard has a massive southern vocabulary, taking every opportunity to use the most fancy words imaginable. Orchard is extremely social and wants to get to know every pony, while Big Mac is content to himself and only talks to others if it is absolutely necessary.

And of course, no pony buys the disguise, they all know it is Big Mac dressed as a woman.

The final event of the social really highlights the comedy, as Big Mac desperately tries to win one event for Apple Bloom, and his strength breaks the entire course. The sight of an angry Big Mac in drag running right at Rainbow Dash is a sight that needs to be seen.

But what makes this episode stick with me is the ending, where Big Mac opens up to Apple Bloom. We learn that, even though he may not say much, doesn’t mean he isn’t feeling anything. That he feels like he’s being left behind, Applejack has a big role in Equestria and he stays on the farm doing his job. And yet, all Apple Bloom ever seems to talk about is Applejack. He can live with being on the farm all day, but it upsets him that his sister thinks so little of him.

“Brotherhooves Social” is a wonderful character building episode, with a touching ending, great comedy throughout and character building on someone that deserves more attention.

And the Number One best new episode of “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” is (Say it with me, pony fans)…

slice of life

“Slice Of Life” (Season Five, Episode Nine)

This was the episode that fans have been waiting years to witness – a celebration of everything that is wonderful about MLP.

“Slice Of Life” is the 100th episode of MLP, a massively impressive achievement no matter what your show is about, and the creators of MLP have dedicated this one to the bronies and pegasisters, because they know this show would never have lasted five seasons and over 100 episodes without their support. So the creators give us a love letter to everything that fans have been asking for, to the background characters.

Outside of the final line of the episode, none of the main characters say anything or are featured here. This is an episode entirely about the characters who never have had an opportunity to shine and their “normal” lives in Ponyville. From the fan-favorite cross-eyed and clumsy Derpy, to the completely self-aware and hilarious Doctor Whooves (yes, they make every possible joke they can about that), to the “Lebowski” ponies that look and behave exactly like their counterparts in “The Big Lebowski,” to the odd-yet-captivating relationship between DJ-PON3 and Octavia, one pony that is obsessed with modern techno beats and another that masters in classical cello music and share a house together.

Every major character that fans have speculated for years is given an opportunity to shine in this episode, as the town prepares for a wedding while our normal cast of characters are off fighting a monster. Derpy is as dim-witted as she is kind, the Doctor is obssessed with science and technology (what little there is in this world) while making as many “Doctor Who” references as possible, and the two musical ponies compliment each other nicely as they support each other in their endeavors to make better art.

But my favorite in this episode, by the slimmest of margins, is Lyra and Bon Bon. These two do everything together (In “Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?,” there is one scene where we see their dreams, and they have joined into one creature, similar to Nickelodeon’s “Cat-Dog”). But when Bon Bon finds out about this monster the main characters are fighting, called a Bug-Bear, her cover is blown and her secrets have been revealed.

I won’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say there is often confusion about Bon Bon, especially in marketing and toys for MLP. Sometimes she’s Bon Bon, other times she’s Sweetie Drop, and every time she’s spoken on the show she has had a different voice actress. The way it is handled in this episode is unforgettable.

And that’s how I would describe “Slice Of Life” – unforgettable. Every scene is packed with references and jokes, each character is wholely unique and it wonderful to see a new perspective on MLP that has never been explored before. This episode gives us exactly what the fans wanted out of a tribute episode and I loved every second of it.