Friday, January 29, 2016

Movie Review: "The Finest Hours"

On February 18, 1952, the SS Pendleton oil tanker broke in two just off the coast of Cape Cod during a violent Nor'easter.  The Finest Hours is the heroic tale of the four Coast Guard crewmen who defied all odds and pulled off one of the greatest rescue missions of all-time.  Starring Chris Pine as soft-spoken Bernie Webber, the Coast Guard Captain who piloted the tiny rescue boat into the storm and came back with 32 Pendleton survivors aboard, The Finest Hours is a beautifully realized history lesson that is full of emotion.

While some might call this movie old-fashioned, that is the reason I like it.  This is a movie that represents everyday men and women full of courage in the face of insurmountable fear.  In short, if I had to sum up this movie in one word, it would be bravery.  From the bravery displayed by Bernie Webber and his fellow Coast Guardsmen, to the crew of the SS Pendleton led by Casey Affleck's Ray Sybert, all the way to Holliday Grainger as Miriam Pentinen, Bernie's fiance who is doing everything on land to make sure Bernie comes home safely, it was the bravery of all of the individuals involved that created such a fascinating story.  Of course, what makes The Finest Hours stick with you is the relationship between Bernie and Miriam.  Pine and Grainger have a magnetic chemistry that has you rooting for them to be together, with Grainger exuding a screen presence not too dissimilar from many starlets of the Golden Age of Hollywood.  It is this ability to emotionally connect that makes The Finest Hours more than an interesting true life adventure story.

I give The Finest Hours a 9 out of 10!

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Movies of 1990!

I am starting a new series here on the Fanboy Review.  I have long wanted to do this and finally I'm just gonna sit down and get to it.

Like I do at the end of every single year, I am going to take a look back at every year since the year of my birth, and I am going to say what I thought were my favorite aspects of moviemaking from each and every year.  From favorite director of 1990, to my favorite screnplay of 2005, I am going to do this for every year from 1990 till 2008.  I first started doing this all in 2009, so you can find those lists in the archives and hopefully you will enjoy this nostalgic trip down memory lane with me.

Alright, so I'm kicking things off with 1990, the year of my birth.  As a whole, looking back upon it, 1990 was a fairly lackluster year for moviemaking.  While there were some genuinely good movies from this year, there weren't as many as there are in the rest of the Nineties.  Even still, there are some genuine classics from this year.  So without further ado, let's take a look back at the year of 1990!


Best Song - "Somewhere in My Memory" from Home Alone
Funny enough, "Somewhere in My Memory" has become a routinely played Christmas song over the past two and a half decades since Home Alone's release.  With music by John Williams and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, this is just an enjoyable song that manages to evoke sentimental feelings about the holidays as well as any other.
2.) "This Is What We Do" from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
3.) "Doubleback" from Back to the Future Part III

Best Score - Home Alone
John Williams is the master of movie music and he further reaffirms that with his score for Home Alone.  The main theme is mysterious and playful, while the softer theme usually denoting Kevin's longing for his family, is as beautiful and elegant as any theme ever written by the great Mr. Williams.
2.) Back to the Future Part III
3.) Dances with Wolves

Best Make-up and Hair - Dick Tracy
In bringing a comic strip to life, the make-up and hair department of Dick Tracy did not have it easy.  While a lot of the work seems dated to our modern eyes accustomed to seeing a lot of the rough edges of extensive make-up work now smoothed out with CGI, the work on Dick Tracy is nothing short of breathtaking.
2.) Dances with Wolves
3.) The Godfather Part III

Best Costumes - Dick Tracy
Milena Canonero's costumes for Dick Tracy were one of the many crucial elements that helped sell, not just the comic strip reality that director Warren Beatty was trying to create, but also the heightened 1940s universe where gangsters could thrive.
2.) Dances with Wolves
3.) Pretty Woman

Best Sound - Back to the Future Part III
The Back to the Future franchise is well-known, not just for its story, but for the great strides the movies helped make on the technical side of moviemaking.  The sound work for all three Back to the Future movies was phenomenal, full of uniquely built sound effects to sell time travel, and Part III adds in all of the sound elements of the Old West on top of all that!
2.) The Hunt for Red October
3.) Die Hard 2: Die Harder

Best Special Effects - Back to the Future Part III
Industrial Light and Magic has done more for the movie industry than most average moviegoers even realize.  From Star Wars to the latest blockbusters coming out nowadays, they have continued to innovate and create some of the most jaw-dropping special effects over the years, and their work on Back to the Future Part III still holds up after all these years.  The whole final sequence with Marty and Doc trying to go back to the future on the train is so expertly handled by ILM, with them perfectly integrating the real train footage with that of the model train that they constructed.
2.) The Hunt for Red October
3.) Total Recall

Best Production Design - Edward Scissorhands
I have never been the biggest Tim Burton fan, but one of the most consistent aspects all of his movies is the production design.  The work by production designer, Bo Welch, on Edward Scissorhands, may be some of the most inspired in Burton's entire filmography.
2.) Dick Tracy
3.) Dances with Wolves

Best Editing - The Hunt for Red October
Dennis Virkler and John Wright's editing for The Hunt for Red October is a large part of what makes it a great movie.  Overseen by action movie master, director John McTiernan, The Hunt for Red October is another in a line of action/thrillers from the late '80s and early '90s to completely revolutionize the game of editing.
2.) Dances with Wolves
3.) Die Hard 2: Die Harder

Best Cinematography - Dances with Wolves
Sometimes all I want from cinematography is something beautiful, and that is the case with Dean Semler's work on Dances with Wolves.  The way Semler captured the sweeping prairies of South Dakota is just a marvel to behold and really transports me back to the time when buffalo roamed.
2.) Dick Tracy
3.) The Godfather Part III

Best Supporting Actress - Catherine O'Hara from Home Alone
One thing I've realized in doing this is that good roles for women were pretty tough to come by even in the early '90s.  With that said, I've always liked Catherine O'Hara's work in Home Alone as Kevin's Mom, primarily because she gives so much of the heart to the movie in her fierce determination to get back to her son for Christmas.
2.) Mary Steenburgen, Back to the Future Part III
3.) Bonnie Bedelia, Die Hard 2: Die Harder

Best Supporting Actor - Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future Part III
Can anyone really sum up in words the awesomeness that is Christopher Lloyd as Doctor Emmett Brown in the Back to the Future movies?  With Part III, while it is often the least popular of the trilogy, Lloyd delivered his best performance as Doc, primarily because he had the most to play with.  This whole movie is all about Doc and him discovering what he truly wants in life, and what he wants is the simplicity of the Old West and to live happily ever after with Clara (his 1800s love interest).  Who knew Christopher Lloyd could be such a romantic leading man.
2.) Robin Williams, Awakenings
3.) Josh Pais, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Best Actress - Judith Hoag, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Yeah, make fun of me for giving this to April O'Neil, I don't care, I love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I think Judith Hoag is just brilliant in it.  In a great many ways, she is the key to the whole movie working.  Had she not been able to work with the guys in latex suits and sell them as human-sized turtles, the whole movie would not work.  Thankfully the movie does work and will continue to do so for generations of kids to come.
2.) Mary McDonnell, Dances with Wolves
3.) Eva Gabor, The Rescuers Down Under

Best Actor - Macaulay Culkin, Home Alone
The entirety of Home Alone would not work without Macaulay Culkin.  While he hasn't done a whole bunch since the Nineties, Culkin was the whole reason that Home Alone was as funny and charming as it still is.
2.) Robert De Niro, Awakenings
3.) Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves

Best Ensemble - Home Alone
Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O'Hara, John Heard, Macaulay Culkin, and of course, John Candy.  With a cast like that, how can you not say that Home Alone had the best acting ensemble from 1990?
2.) Awakenings
3.) Dances with Wolves

Best Movie Moment - Mom Comes Home, Home Alone
When it comes to movie moments, the ones that impact me the most are the ones that are the most touching.  When Kevin's Mom comes home in Home Alone is one of the most touching moments in the whole movie and is a moment, that as a kid, always got to me and still does.
2.) Using the Train to Get Back to the Future, Back to the Future Part III
3.) Communing with Splinter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Best Screenplay - Home Alone
Writer John Hughes is often considered one of the greatest screenwriters in movie history and Home Alone is just another movie in his portfolio that further reasserts that claim.  It is Die Hard with a kid.  It's funny to the point where you're laughing almost nonstop at certain moments, and yet there is a heart to the whole movie that is very warm and fuzzy.
2.) Dances with Wolves
3.) Awakenings

Best Director - Chris Columbus, Home Alone
Columbus is one of the most influential and forgotten moviemakers from the '90s and early 2000s.  His work on a great many movies, from The Adventures in Babysitting to the first two Harry Potter movies, has impacted many from that era, and Home Alone is one of the cornerstones of his whole career.  Without Columbus, I do not think anyone else could have gotten the performances from the children in the movie, in particular Macaulay Culkin.  Chris Columbus is still a master when it comes to directing child actors and he first proved that with Home Alone.
2.) Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves
3.) John McTiernan, The Hunt for Red October

Best Movie -  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I will grant you that this is an unusual choice for Best Movie, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is simply my favorite movie from 1990.  While Home Alone is a close second, and Best Picture Oscar winner Dances with Wolves is a an utter masterpiece that recreates a lost era in American history, Ninja Turtles just takes the cake because it's so much fun.  This movie is just a picture perfect representation of the comic book, and more accurately, the cartoon TV series.  The movie is funny, action packed, and still brings a smile to my face each time I watch it.  That is why it's number one.
2.) Home Alone
3.) Dances with Wolves
4.) Back to the Future Part III
5.) The Hunt for Red October

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Unicellular Review is Changing Call Signs!

For a long time I have felt that the Unicellular Review had kind of transformed into something different than what I initially thought it would be.  Way back when I first started with it, I thought the blog would be my forum to become the next Roger Ebert, but as things happen between the ages of 18 and 25, your world view changes a bit.  I've realized I no longer want to be considered the next Roger Ebert, I am perfectly fine with letting my fanboy obsessions fly above any attempts at pretentiousness or artistry.  So with that said, I have decided to change the name and aim of the Unicellular Review.  The Review will now be known as the Fanboy Review, with an eye towards the worlds of blockbusters, in particular fantasy, science fiction, and adventure movies.

In short, the reason for this is because blockbusters are the kinds of movies I most enjoy, and I often tend to give them a fairer shake than other kinds of reviewers.  In a great many ways, while there are a lot of websites and blogs devoted to geeks and fanboys, there really aren't a lot that strive to keep pretentiousness out of the equation.  Even great sites like Ign occasionally get a little too picky for my liking in their reviews.  In truth, I think all most people wanna know is if the movie that they wanna see is a good movie worth their ten dollars per ticket or not.  Majority of people could care less if the cinematography was good or the writing clever, all they want is to be entertained and know whether the movie in question actually entertains or is boring.  So that is why I have changed the name and main goals of this blog, and truthfully this is not a sudden u-turn for me, this has been something that has been coming for a long time.

For pretty much most of the Unicellular Review's existence, 95% of what I posted was all about fanboy movies, and now I'm just making it clear that covering and reviewing fanboy movies is the primary aim of the blog.  With that said, as I say in the new "About Us" section, I am still going to do everything just as I always have, just under a new name that I feel is more appropriate for what the blog actually is.  So welcome to the Fanboy Review!!!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

My Predictions for the 2016 Golden Globes!

It's awards season again.  It seems to have really snuck up on me this year, in particular because a lot of the movies up for the awards just haven't appealed to me personally as a moviegoer.  With that said, I always love covering this season which is meant to celebrate the best that the movie industry has to offer (even if the best movie of last year -- cough -- Star Wars -- cough -- isn't nominated for much of anything).  As is usual, the Golden Globes are the official kick-off, typically being the first awards show to get under way.  The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (who vote on the Globes) has long been known to favor star power over anything else, so we'll see what happens tonight.  I don't expect any major surprises, and with the always questionable distinctions made between which movies are a Comedy and which are a Drama, like The Martian being considered a comedy this year, really means a wide swath of Hollywood stars will be honored.  While I honestly don't like host Ricky Gervais, the host isn't the reason I watch these things, let's just hope that the acceptance speeches don't get too political, even though some undoubtedly will.

As I do every year I only predict the film categories and not the television ones, mainly because that is a whole different ball game and I am not well versed enough to try and cover that.  So here we go, here are my first set of predictions for this awards season with my predictions for the 2016 Golden Globes!  I always feel the Globes are the hardest to predict and as such am making some bold predictions, and for a full list of nominees click this link.

Best Foreign Language Film - Son of Saul
Best Animated Film - Inside Out
Best Original Score - The Hateful Eight
Best Original Song - "Writing's on the Wall" from Spectre
Best Screenplay - The Hateful Eight
Best Director - George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy - Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy - Matt Damon, The Martian
Best Actress in a Drama - Cate Blanchett, Carol
Best Actor in a Drama - Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) - The Martian
Best Motion Picture (Drama) - Spotlight

Thursday, January 7, 2016

My Favorite Movies of 2015!

2015 was the year that every movie fan had long been looking forward to (and that every box office analyst was especially giddy for), so many high profile movies were coming out in 2015 that it seemed like a dream come true for movie fans.  Thankfully, 2015 met most expectations and even exceeded some.  For myself personally, 2015 was a slow year for work (though I did get to take my first feature length movie to a film festival), but that is why it is awesome to have great movies to fall back on.  With that all said, there were so many great movies that I really loved this year that I found it really, really hard to narrow my list of favorites down to just 10, so I have made a list of my 11 favorite movies of 2015!  I guess you can say these are the movies that I thought were the best of the year, but I make no qualms in saying that I am a fanboy.  There are certain types of movies I am naturally drawn to (typically fantasy and science fiction), therefore this list is entirely subjective, but hopefully you will have fun in reading my thoughts on my favorite movies from 2015!

11.  Tomorrowland
Technically six Disney movies have made my list this year, primarily thanks to Disney owned studios like Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm, even still, Tomorrowland is one of two movies made in-house at Disney to make it.  The thing I loved so much about Tomorrowland, and the reason that I felt I needed an extra slot on my top 10 list, is because of the message of hope for the future that Tomorrowland preaches.  I honestly get turned off most of the time when I feel like a movie is trying to drive home a point, but the point being driven home here is one that we honestly need to hear.  Our world really is messed up and the only way to fix it is by trying to do something about it, which is the whole idea of Tomorrowland.  However, beyond that, this movie is just one fun ride from start to finish.  There is a lot of  adventure throughout, with the movie telling a story about a teen girl played very humorously by Britt Robertson.  She sees a vision of a futuristic city and sets out to actually find it, battling robots, blasting off in rocket ships, and teaming up with a cantankerous George Clooney all in the process.  If you don't smile even just a little bit while watching Tomorrowland, I think you've got issues.

10.  Ant-Man
You could almost argue that Ant-Man is Marvel's most purely fun movie to date.  While many didn't think much going into it, especially since original director Edgar Wright departed the project just months before filming began, Ant-Man wound up pleasantly surprising just about every geek I know.  One of the great things that Ant-Man does is it bucks a lot of the traditions of superhero movies, while also embracing them.  Our hero is an ex-con named Scott Lang, who thankfully (via actor Paul Rudd's innate likability) is a character we sympathize with.  We know he did wrong and we want him to now do right, which he gets the chance when Michael Douglas's reclusive billionaire inventor, Hank Pym, offers Scott the chance to become the heroic Ant-Man by stealing from an evil businessman whose invention spells doom for the world.  As you can see, it's different and yet familiar all at the same time, which is what helps separate Ant-Man from all of the other Marvel movies.  Plus, the movie is just a blast!  I mean, you have a character who can literally shrink to the size of an ant and communicate with them via a telepathic helmet!  On top of that you have the hilarity of Michael Pena as Scott's ex-con pal, the very humorous feud between Falcon and Ant-Man, and a trippy climax that adds another layer to the Marvel universe.  Honestly, if you say you love superhero movies, Ant-Man is one you wont want to skip.

9.  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2
The finale of any long-running story is difficult, but thankfully, The Hunger Games stuck the landing with Mockingjay - Part 2.  Sure, I know a lot of people hate that there are so many post-apocalyptic dystopias being saved by teenage girls trapped in the midst of a love triangle, but The Hunger Games has always done it better than any of its competitors, primarily because of the thought-filled source material and the amazing talent both in front of and behind the camera.  By having director Francis Lawrence finish out the last three movies in the series, it gave a level of consistency that many other franchise movies often lack when they start coming down the home stretch, allowing all four of the movies to actually play better when you watch them back-to-back.  Then there is the not-so-secret weapon that is Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, whose natural acting abilities almost always astonish and give heart and soul to this series.  Beyond that, Mockingjay - Part 2 arguably has the most action and the most emotional moments of all four movies.  This is a movie that has a little of everything, it's got action, suspense, heart, and thought, and it's why I think The Hunger Games movies are special as a whole, and why Mockingjay - Part 2 is a very fitting conclusion.

8.  Spectre
If Daniel Craig's fourth outing as James Bond also happens to have been his last, then it is a very awesome way for him to go out.  Spectre is everything a Bond fan could want out of a Bond movie.  The story is relatively simple, once again Bond goes rogue to track down an evil organization vying for world power called Spectre, but what makes this Bond movie special is it's the first Bond movie to feature Spectre (and with it, Bond's archnemesis Blofeld) in over three decades!  Full of some of the of most pulse pounding action set pieces in any Bond movie (the opening fight in the helicopter, the plane chase through the alps, etc.), and a very sultry, yet likable Bond girl in Lea Seydoux, Spectre pulls out all the stops to tie up every loose end from the other Daniel Craig Bond movies in style.  That is why I say that if this is Craig's last Bond movie it's a good way to go out, because Spectre is effectively the conclusion of every storyline that began with Casino Royale in 2006, and yet it teases a potential future if Daniel Craig wishes to continue with the character, which I hope he does.

7.  Avengers:  Age of Ultron
While not as good as the first Avengers from 2012, Age of Ultron was a highly ambitious successor that did more right than anything else.  The movie is fun, packed to the gills with iconic action scenes, and the story really sets the stage for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  I've said it before and I'll say it again, at this point you're either a fan of everything that Marvel is doing or you just shouldn't watch these movies, because you will not like them if you don't like all the others.  In a great many ways, a lot of the Marvel movies actually get better in hindsight after seeing how this tiny little seed that was planted in this movie pays off in another movie, so in that way it's not always about the individual movie, but all of the movies that have come before and all that will come after.  Age of Ultron pays off on a few promises made in earlier movies and even throws in a few new wrinkles to the whole MCU, like the surprisingly emotional romance between Bruce Banner and Black Widow, and the super surprising revelation that Hawkeye is a devoted family man, giving much more depth to his character.  I am real excited to see how these elements come into play in future Marvel movies.

6.  Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
It's real funny to think that with the fifth movie in the franchise, the Mission: Impossible series delivers its best to date.  Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt, who surprise, is on the run once again when the IMF is disbanded by the US government.  As far as the bad guys and their evil plot, it's all standard spy movie stuff, with the real reason that this movie works being because of the two newcomers to the franchise:  writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, and actress Rebecca Ferguson.  McQuarrie injects the whole enterprise with a much needed dose of adrenaline and clever plot machinations, while Ferguson just kicks butt without ever being annoying or unsympathetic (a problem I have with a lot of action heroines).  Add on top of that some of the finest meat-and-potatoes action scenes I've seen in a while, including a real showstopper of a fight at an opera house, and Rogue Nation simply excels in every area.

5.  The Martian
The premise is simple, Matt Damon's an astronaut stranded on Mars and NASA has to figure out how to get him home, what follows for the next two hours is a harrowing adventure that is suspenseful, funny, and surprisingly uplifting.  I think The Martian legitimately surprised a lot of people that were fearing it would be another relatively dour space survival tale like Gravity or Interstellar, thankfully it never was, all because of Matt Damon's optimistic presence, the exceptionally clever script by Drew Goddard, and Ridley Scott's best directing work in over a decade.  Of course, the movie is billed as a one man show but is actually an ensemble movie.  While Damon does occupy half of the movie's screen time, the other half is given to the folks back on Earth trying to figure out a way to bring him home.  By this jumping back-and-forth, we are able to get more layers to the story and have more emotional payoffs because we get to know other characters and who they are.  When you couple that with the humor in the face of danger that Damon infuses the role of Mark Watney, you get a movie that goes above and beyond expectations and is a great movie.

4.  Cinderella
This movie was the most pleasant surprise of 2015 for me.  I saw the trailers and thought it looked interesting, primarily because of the exceptional production values on display, but I was not expecting much from the story.  In truth, the story of Cinderella doesn't throw any curveballs and change anything that we already know about one of the most classic of fairy tales, all it does is it takes what has already been there and explores the how and why these characters do the things that they do in the context of the story's framework.  We get motivations for Cinderella, the Prince, and the Stepmother, that actually makes their characters feel three-dimensional and rich, and when you have the exceptional cast that this movie has, it's easy to deliver.  Lily James is super likable as Cinderella and Richard Madden is charming and sensitive as the Prince, while Cate Blanchett is never scenery chewing as the Stepmother but is genuinely malicious in the role.  Director Kenneth Branagh deserves genuine kudos for making an old fairy tale matter again.

3.  Inside Out
There must be something in the water up at Pixar Studios in San Francisco for them to continually deliver some of the greatest movies ever made, which they have done once more with Inside Out.  Director Pete Docter constructed a whole movie around the notion of the core emotions inside your head going on an epic adventure that never leaves the confines of it's setting, the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley.  There has never been another movie quite like this one and that is a rarity to say in this day and age where we feel like we have already seen it all, with it being very inspiring to think that originality is still possible in this medium of storytelling.  However, what makes the story resonate is not the fact that it's imaginative and fun, but that it has a huge heart that really gets to the core of how best to process life.  In all things we can't just be one emotion all the time, it's impossible and to try is detrimental.  We need sadness as much as we need joy, fear, anger, and disgust, and it's the thing that makes this movie a home run.

2.  Paddington
I have run into few people who actually saw this movie, with a lot thinking it looked just like Garfield or Alvin and the Chipmunks, and those people do not know what they are missing out on.  Being an adaptation of Michael Bond's Paddington the Bear book series, the story tells the tale of everyone's favorite Peruvian immigrant coming to London, and hijinks of course ensue.  The greatest thing I loved about this movie was that it was flat-out hilarious, with some of the jokes being the funniest I have seen and heard in a long time.  I especially loved how no one in the movie ever really questioned how or why a bear is talking, selling this cartoonish world even better.  When you couple that with the exceptional creative choices that writer/director Paul King made, and the genuine heart beating in every scene of the movie, you find a movie that is very much a standard family movie, and yet unlike any other family movie at the same time.  Personally, I'm a little biased though.  I have always had an affinity for Paddington going back to my childhood, and the thing I've realized is, you never stop loving the things of your childhood because twenty years later a movie will be made that will bring back all of the reasons as to why you loved that character in the first place.  Great characters live with us forever, whether we realize it or not, and Paddington has lived with me since I was a kid and this movie helped me remember, so I will always be thankful to the moviemakers for that.

1.  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
I can honestly say this was the most anticipated movie in my lifetime, and the fact that it actually delivered on all of its promise and then some, is just icing on the cake.  There is no other fantasy or sci-fi series, whether it be books, movies, TV, video games, etc., that I love more than Star Wars, and The Force Awakens is another sensational chapter in the ongoing saga of good versus evil.  However, what really makes The Force Awakens special, is that it recaptures the magic of the original Star Wars trilogy while being a new beginning at the same time.  Sure, we are caught back up with some old friends like Han, Leia, and Luke, but the movie is really about a new batch of heroes and villains like desert scavenger Rey,  stormtrooper deserter Finn, and Darth Vader acolyte Kylo Ren.  In particular, both Rey and Kylo Ren are two of the most emotionally complex characters in all of Star Wars lore and one needs to look no further than writers J.J. Abrams (who also directed the movie), Michael Arndt, and The Empire Strikes Back scribe, Lawrence Kasdan, for why that is the case.  On top of that, the movie has introduced the world to a whole new cast of sure to be movie stars like Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega (sorry BB-8, but your non-Star Wars acting jobs are limited).  I really can't say enough about The Force Awakens only that if you haven't seen it, go do so, because I think it's the perfect kind of entertainment that we all need right now in our world, and if you've already seen it, you might as well see it again and help it break some more box office records!


And that's it for 2015!  May the Force be with us all in 2016!

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015, Best in Movies

2015 was a phenomenal year for movies, especially on the technical side of things.  There were countless well-made movies with such delicious behind-the-scenes production values that it almost feels like an embarrassment of riches to try and see which movies did which aspect of the moviemaking process best from the past year.  Even still, that doesn't stop me from trying to say what the best in movies was last year.  From best cinematography and costumes, to best actor and director, here is what I think was the best in movies from 2015!


Best Song - "Gerrard Street" from Paddington
While I must admit that The Martian very nearly stole this with it's use of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," I have to give it to "Gerrard Street," simply because this particular song really helped bring Paddington to such a joyous conclusion.  Like all of the other calypso songs in the movie, it was performed by D Lime featuring Tobago Crusoe, with all four of the songs being old calypso classics rerecorded for this movie.  What made each one of these songs so effective is that the group is actually singing them on camera, showing up often as a band on the sidewalks of London, it's a fun idea that reminds me of Louis Armstrong's work in High Society.  Personally, "Gerrard Street" is my favorite of all the songs just because it's the most fun to listen to, plus, seeing the Brown family and Paddington have a snowball fight while listening to this song just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
2.)  "I Will Survive" from The Martian
3.)  "Writing's On The Wall" from Spectre
4.)  "London Is The Place For Me" from Paddington
5.)  "Deep In The Meadow (Lullaby)" from The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2

Best Make-Up and Hair - Mr. Holmes
It is almost always easier for fantasy and sci-fi movies to really impress with their make-up and hair work, usually because they are having to create looks that are not of our actual world, but sometimes it is the movies of our world that are the most difficult to do make-up and hair work for.  A perfect case and point was Mr. Holmes with the make-up staff having to turn Ian McKellen into a ninety-year-old Sherlock Holmes for most of the movie, while making him look even a little younger than he is in flashbacks to Sherlock's last case before retirement.  Aging make-up can often be the death nail of so many movies, but Mr. Holmes did it so delicately that I actually believed that I was seeing the future Ian McKellen, twenty years from now, onscreen.
2.)  Cinderella
3.)  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
4.)  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2
5.)  Steve Jobs

Best Costumes - Cinderella
Only with a fairy tale such as this can you go so extravagantly extreme with the looks on display.  Everything in this movie is beautiful and yet quite impractical, with none of these looks being at all fashionable if they weren't worn in such a colorful world.  From the sleek styles of the Evil Stepmother, to the Evil Stepsisters' gaudy dresses, all the way to the wondrously designed ball gown that Cinderella has made by her Fairy Godmother, the costumes in this movie are breathtaking and help inform us about who these characters are by what they wear and how they wear it.  In short, that is what a good costume designer is supposed to do, and Sandy Powell did it better than any other in 2015.
2.)  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
3.)  Kingsman:  The Secret Service
4.)  The Martian
5.)  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2

Best Sound - Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
The two things on the technical side of moviemaking that the original Star Wars helped revolutionize were special effects and sound, so it is only fitting that I believe the sound work in The Force Awakens to be the best sound work of 2015.  Big movies like this are often full of many sounds that do not exist in our world and the sound designers have to create them.  From the adorable beeps of BB-8, to the pulsating sound of Kylo Ren's unstable crossguard lightsaber, many of the sounds utilized in The Force Awakens felt both familiar and new at the same time.  It's really great to hear innovation, and I believe I heard that at times in this particular movie.
2.)  Inside Out
3.)  The Martian
4.)  Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
5.)  Avengers:  Age of Ultron

Best Special Effects - Paddington
While there were a great many movies this year that had way more special effects shots, the reason I believe the special effects in Paddington were the best of the whole year is because this movie was entirely dependent on its titular character working.  Paddington the bear was made entirely via CGI, with his whole performance being animated.  With those circumstances, it would have been very easy for this movie to fall flat on its face if Paddington looked at all fake or unbelievable.  He was never too cartoony, nor was he ever too photorealistic, he just was Paddington.
2.)  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
3.)  Ex Machina
4.)  The Martian
5.)  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2

Best Production Design - Cinderella
For me, the true mark of great production design is when I see a set and wish I could either live there, visit there, or better yet, film on it as a director myself.  Dante Ferretti's design work on Cinderella was nothing short of breathtaking.  He created the kind of lavish environments that can only exist in movies, with his ballroom being a particular stand out.  The size and scale of the things that were designed for this movie sold it as reality, and it was the kind of size and scale so many movies nowadays skimp on to save money, doing it with CGI rather than building it or finding a good location.  Here, because so much of it was physically built, you really could feel as if you could visit these places in real life, and that is when the transportive power of movies work best.
2.)  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
3.)  Paddington
4.)  Inside Out
5.)  The Martian

Best Editing - Steve Jobs
I have never seen a poorly edited movie from director Danny Boyle, and Steve Jobs is no exception.  For this movie, Boyle hired editor Elliot Graham to piece together a movie that is essentially a stage play with wall-to-wall dialogue and make it engaging as a movie.  Graham's editing really managed to give the movie a sense of energy when the movie could have really started to bog down and get boring.  The editing always kept the movie feeling fresh and never dull, and yet Graham was not editing like a highly caffeinated toddler, he knew when to hold the right shots and when to utilize a faster pace, which is when you know you've got a good editor.
2.)  The Martian
3.)  Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
4.)  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
5.)  Mr. Holmes

Best Cinematography - Cinderella
The cinematography for Steve Jobs is a very close runner-up with the way it utilized the three different types of cameras (16mm, 35mm, and digital), but it was the beautiful lensing of Cinderella that really impressed me the most.  There honestly is nothing new being done here with the cinematography of Cinderella, but Haris Zambarloukos's work is so beautiful, it really makes you feel as if you're looking through a window into a real fairy tale world.  The colors are vivid and the compositions are near perfect, all adding up to make this just an exquisitely shot movie, one that I enjoy seeing every single frame of.
2.)  Steve Jobs
3.)  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
4.)  Paddington
5.)  Bridge of Spies

Best Supporting Actress - Cate Blanchett, Cinderella
It is said that the villain is the most fun part to play, and I think that is because the villains often have more to play with.  To make a good villain believable, an actor really has to figure out, at least for themselves, why that person is the way that they are and how they justify the things that they do.  It is obvious that Cate Blanchett did that in Cinderella as Lady Tremaine, aka the Evil Stepmother.  She is so deliciously evil in the part that you are happy when she gets her comeuppance, and yet you can't help but wonder what made her this way.  The way that Blanchett plays her is with a slight undercurrent of not just bitterness, but genuine sadness that has turned her into an icy survivalist just looking to stay afloat in the world that she is accustomed to living in.  I think, to her, she sees Cinderella as everything that she once thought she was and she mourns the fact that she is no longer, and that she probably never actually was, like her.  Maybe I am reading too much into it, but that is what a good performance will often have you do when you see it.
2.)  Julianne Moore, The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2
3.)  Lupita Nyong'o, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
4.)  Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
5.)  Carrie Fisher, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens

Best Supporting Actor - Adam Driver, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
How do you create a Star Wars villain in the shadow of Darth Vader?  By (SPOILER ALERT) making his grandson the new baddie.  Kylo Ren (aka Ben Solo) is perhaps one of the most intriguing characters ever introduced to the Star Wars saga.  While there are a lot of similarities between him and Jacen Solo from the now non-canon Expanded Universe of novels, Kylo Ren is his own character.  First off, from the very first frame, Kylo is a terrifying presence.  He seems more unhinged than Darth Vader ever was, which actually makes him more unpredictable as to what he's going to do.  The fact that he is so conflicted about everything he does makes him all that more fascinating from a character perspective.  The greatest challenge of course with this character on paper, was finding an actor who can pull it all off and not fall flat on their face.  Luckily, Adam Driver brought Kylo Ren to life with so much energy.  For half of the movie he is wearing a bucket on his head and yet he is still emoting through his body language and his vocal inflections.  It's doubly hard to act when no one can see your face, but it seems like there are no boundaries or limitations for Driver's performance.  I am super excited to see where this character goes in the upcoming sequels, and Adam Driver is a large part of the reason for that.
2.)  Harrison Ford, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
3.)  Michael Pena, Ant-Man
4.)  Hugh Bonneville, Paddington
5.)  Jeff Daniels, Steve Jobs

Best Actress - Daisy Ridley, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
One of the most exciting things in the world is when you see a fresh face in a movie and feel like you have discovered a great talent along with the rest of the world.  Right now, everyone is feeling that exact same way about Daisy Ridley in The Force Awakens.  She is just such an amazing actress that it's hard to believe that this was her very first movie ever!  As Rey, she has to be emotionally sensitive as well as emotionally tough, a tall order for even the greatest actors and she makes it look so easy.  She sells just about every moment of this movie through her eyes to where you actually feel something throughout, and when (SPOILER ALERT) she reaches out at the end of the movie and calls Anakin/Luke's lightsaber to her instead of Kylo Ren, most other actresses might have overplayed this moment, but she doesn't, she seems legitimately surprised at having called the lightsaber to her.  I really can't wait to see what she does in the future, because Daisy Ridley is the kind of soul-filled actress that comes along maybe once in a generation, but it will be really hard for her to find a role that is a better showcase of her talents than Rey.
2.)  Lily James, Cinderella
3.)  Britt Robertson, Tomorrowland
4.)  Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
5.)  Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2

Best Actor - Matt Damon, The Martian
The role of Mark Watney would be a tall order for any actor, luckily for director Ridley Scott, he managed to nab Matt Damon for the role and Damon just made it all look so easy.  While the part is not the showiest or deepest of roles from this past year, the fact that for almost all of his screentime, Damon is interacting completely with himself, is all the more remarkable that his performance is as warm and soulful as it is.  In every moment, Damon manages to find humor where there might have been none, and that is the mark of a great actor, making the best of their situation, much like Watney is having to do as he's stranded on Mars.  I really don't think The Martian would have been as good of a movie with any other actor.  When you are asking an audience to spend so much time with an actor in such dire circumstances, you'd better like them or else the whole experience would just be too exhausting to watch, but thankfully, Damon's inherent likability is the x-factor that makes The Martian a special experience.
2.)  Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes
3.)  Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
4.)  John Boyega, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
5.)  Ben Whishaw, Paddington

Best Ensemble - Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
It's hard to argue against The Force Awakens cast when it comes to the question of whether or not they were the best ensemble in any movie in 2015.  J.J. Abrams already had aces up his sleeve with the returns of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Anthony Daniels, but it was the inspired casting of the new characters that made the movie work.  Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Oscar Isaac as Poe, and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, all excelled in their roles.  Not only was their chemistry palpable between one another, but it was also evident in all of the scenes with the old cast.  Then when you see all of the talent that makes up the supporting players in the movie (Lupita Nyong'o, Max von Sydow, Andy Serkis, and Simon Pegg, to name a few), you really begin to realize that there was not a single weak link in the movie's cast.
2.)  The Martian
3.)  Ant-Man
4.)  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2
5.)  Avengers:  Age of Ultron

Best Movie Moment - Rey Calls the Lightsaber, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
For me, no movie is great unless it has at least one of those defining movie moments, you know the ones that when you think of that movie those are the images you conjure up in your mind.  There were actually a lot of powerful movie moments from 2015, but none that gave me chills quite like when Kylo Ren reaches out with the Force to grab Anakin/Luke's lightsaber out of the snow and the lightsaber soars past him into the hands of Rey.  This was the moment that the whole movie was building towards, Rey finally accepting the Force and starting on the path of a Jedi.  Each time I have seen the movie I have gotten a shiver down my spine at this moment.  It is so beautifully realized in the reactions of Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley, accompanied by some stunning imagery captured by cinematographer Daniel Mindel, and topped off with the same music cue that John Williams used when Luke returned to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru's farm to find them dead.  This whole moment was just a perfect storm from top-to-bottom and it is one that will live on as one of the great defining moments in Star Wars history forever!
2.)  Riley Comes Home, Inside Out
3.)  Paddington Ventures Into the Film, Paddington
4.)  Blasting Off of the Eiffel Tower, Tomorrowland
5.)  Flying Like Iron Man, The Martian

Best Screenplay - Inside Out
Originality is always the big thing I am hoping for from Hollywood.  While I love sequels and adaptations as much as the next person, I also like new intellectual properties created just for movie screens, and thankfully Pixar is one of the few studios that still tries to do something original every few years or so.  Inside Out is perhaps one of Pixar's finest accomplishments and it is because of the imaginative script.  The characters are all lively, the dialogue clever, and the story structure is almost picture perfect.  Writers Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley (working from a story by Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen), managed to tap into the mind of an 11-year-old girl with great truth and clarity, and in doing so crafted a story that is a reflection of what I believe all of our minds are like, by getting to the emotional truths behind every thought and action.
2.)  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
3.)  Paddington
4.)  Steve Jobs
5.)  Ex Machina

Best Director - J.J. Abrams, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
I have long loved J.J., but even I was not expecting him to nail The Force Awakens as well as he did.  On paper he seemed to be the right person to succeed George Lucas, but I have seen time and again that what looks good on paper doesn't always translate.  Thankfully, J.J. threw all of himself into The Force Awakens and made a movie that is his best work to date.  He managed to successfully harken back to the style of the old Star Wars movies while infusing some of his more modern sensibilities to the material, taking Star Wars stylistically into the 21st century.  As for J.J. himself, I think he grew a lot as a moviemaker here.  By having to try and mimic the look of the old Star Wars movies, he really had to kind of strengthen his cinematic storytelling abilities.  In a lot of his previous movies there were still moments where you could tell he was a TV director making movies, but this is the first movie he has directed where I felt that all of his directorial choices were 100% cinematic.  I cannot wait to see what J.J. does next and how he uses the lessons he clearly learned here to make even greater movies in the future!
2.)  Paul King, Paddington
3.)  Christopher McQuarrie, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
4.)  Pete Docter, Inside Out
5.)  Ridley Scott, The Martian