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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hype Starts Here's Top 40 Movies of 2015 (40-26)

40. Joy
        While far from the best film he's ever given us, it's still hard to pass up on an opportunity to hang out with David O. Russell and his merry band of thespians. Jennifer Lawrence, the main muse of Russell's late-career resurgence, occupies the title role, playing the woman responsible for the invention of the Miracle Mop, and several household innovations thereafter. An almost impossibly modest tale that doubles as a parable about the American Dream, Joy takes off a small bite and chews well, and it probably goes without saying that the likes of Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, Virginia Madsen, and Isabella Rossellini are all fantastic.

39. Shaun the Sheep Movie
        The latest from Aardman Animations, the studio that graced us with Chicken Run and the Wallace and Gromit films, Shaun the Sheep Movie is a delightful little gem stuffed with more sight gags than you can count with a calculator. The story of a herd of sheep who learn to appreciate their owner is about as simple as it gets, and made even more so by its complete omission of dialogue, but warmth and kindness practically radiate off the screen, and the cleverness behind both the humor and animation are impossible to deny.

38. It Follows
        A tribute to the work of John Carpenter, especially Halloween, It Follows marks yet another entry into the growing canon of recent horror films with thesis statements. Maika Monroe stars as Jay, a small town heartthrob who, after enjoying a risque romantic evening, finds herself haunted by zombie-like figures who remain invisible to everyone else. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell, making good on the promise of his debut feature The Myth of the American Sleepover, is a remarkable craftsman, everything from the film's score to its camera work proving effective and accomplished.

37. Steve Jobs
        For better or worse, no one writes dialogue quite like Aaron Sorkin, and Steve Jobs is about as Sorkin-y as they come. Rapid-fire verbal exchanges power this tale of the late Apple founder, a three-act examination of what it was that made this surly fellow tick. The talk opera is elevated by director Danny Boyle's steady-handed craft and a full sling of strong performances, headlined by yet another riveting, remarkable performance from Michael Fassbender, the modern patron saint of acting.

36. Straight Outta Compton
        Nearly three-decades after their debut album changed the music scene forever, N.W.A. finally gets the Johnny Cash/Ray Charles treatment in this sprawling musical biopic. Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, and O'Shea Jackson Jr. star as Dr. Dre, Eazy E, and Ice Cube respectively, and you could give yourself a migraine trying to decide who fares best, as all three newcomers perform with a freshness and honesty rarely scene in mainstream flicks. Propulsive, informative, and even heartbreaking, Compton is a worthy tribute to the hip hop icons, and when it presses play on some of the group's greatest hits, it's nearly impossible to sit still.

35. Kingsman: The Secret Service
        Matthew Vaughn's follow-up to 2011's X:Men-First Class is essentially the same film all over again, only meaner, more violent, and extremely British. Breakout star Taron Egerton plays Gary 'Eggsy' Unwin, a troubled youth who is recruited into a top-secret espionage troop, enduring one life-threatening training session after another on his way to becoming a super spy. Wily, broad, and featuring a dynamite performance from Colin Firth, Kingsman represents escapist action entertainment at its finest.

34. Youth
        Imbued with a rich, ravishing sense of melancholy, Youth proves that writer/director Paolo Sorrentino's 2013 wonder The Great Beauty was more than a fluke. Michael Caine stars as Fred Ballinger, a retired classical composer on his annual vacation to a celebrity-stuffed resort in the Alps who is summoned by Queen Elizabeth II to perform for Prince Philip's birthday. Luca Bigazzi's cinematography is constantly gorgeous and occasionally jaw-dropping, descriptions that also befit Sorrentino's ever-ruminating script, and Ludovica Ferrario's magical production design.

33. The Night Before
        Seth Rogen movies are thought of primarily as excuses to make bawdy jokes about sex and drugs, but The Night Before proves, once again, that the true through-line between all his films is big heartedness. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Ethan, a dissatisfied 30-something enjoying one last night of Christmas Eve revelry with his best friends Isaac and Chris (Rogen and Anthony Mackie, respectively). It's basic One Crazy Night stuff, but the film possesses a welcome generosity of spirit, as well as one of the weirder and more brilliant performances of Michael Shannon's weird, brilliant career.

32. Ex Machina
        Prolific author and screenwriter Alex Garland, a frequent collaborator with Danny Boyle, finally decided to take the reigns and direct his first feature last year, and the new job fits him like a glove. A modern retelling of H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor MoreauEx Machina stars Domhnall Gleeson as a programmer randomly selected to participate in an artificial intelligence experiment taking place on a remote island. Cleverly written and immaculately designed, the film also makes use of subtle, stellar special effects, and boasts terrific turns from both Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac.

31. The Assassin
        The Chinese spiritual sibling of Best Picture front-runner The Revenant, Hsiao-Hsien Hou's The Assassin might literally not have much to say, but that's only because it would so much rather show than tell. Qi Shu stars as the titular killer who is tasked with the murder of a political leader back in seventh-century China, but her mostly stoic performance is often pushed to the side by the film's dazzling technical aspects. A gorgeous, stirring accomplishment in the fields of cinematography, costume, production, and sound design, The Assassin plays like a two hour massage to your senses.

30. Creed
        The Rocky franchise is dead; long live the Rocky franchise. In a sequel that's equal parts spin-off and remake, Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed (son of the in-universe legendary boxer Apollo Creed), an aspiring fighter who enlists the help of his old man's sparing buddy Rocky Balboa to help take him to the big time. The two have an immediate, easy-going chemistry, but it's director Ryan Coogler who truly elevates the proceedings, capturing the grit and energy of the Philadelphia streets, and paring with cinematographer Maryse Alberti to create some of the most striking boxing sequences ever captured on film.

29. While We're Young
        A welcome entry into writer/director Noah Baumbach's seemingly endless film essay on the pains of growing up, While We're Young stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as middle-aged New York couple who are jolted out of their comfortable malaise when a younger couple, played by Amanda Seyfried and a pre-Kylo Ren Adam Driver, enters their lives. Witty, contemplative, and sneakily fun, Baumbach's Woody Allen impression has hardly ever been so canny, his film musing on the likes of art, authenticity, and generational divides without ever forgetting to make us laugh.

28. Jurassic World
        The premiere check-your-brain-at-the-door entertainment of 2015, Jurassic World might not come out aces on an I.Q. test, but when you're this entertaining, who needs intelligence? Slickly directed by Colin Trevorrow, the fourth entry in the Jurassic franchise both indulges and pokes fun at our collective nostalgia for the first film, and allows star Chris Pratt to fully embrace his inner Harrison Ford. Being chased down and viciously devoured by enormous monsters has hardly ever been so fun.

27. The Overnight
        Writer/director Patrick Brice's The Overnight is one odd duck, a spiritual sibling to While We're Young that goes to weirder, darker places without a hint of reservation. Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling star as a young married couple who've just moved to Los Angeles when they are invited to dinner at the home of an overly-friendly stranger (Jason Schwartzman), resulting in an evening they won't soon forget. The movie is best experienced knowing as little as possible going in, its crazed paradigm perfectly suited for a oblivious viewing, and coaxing a career-best performance out of Scott.

26. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
        Arriving in theaters nearly two whole decades after the original, Rogue Nation marks the fifth entry in the Mission: Impossible series, and proves yet again that this franchise still has gas. There's no point in relaying details of the plot because the narrative at hand hardly ever matters in these films; if you paid admission to see Tom Cruise almost kill himself in increasingly preposterous ways, then your dollars could hardly be better spent. Director Christopher McQuarrie imbues the film with a grittiness missing from most modern action flicks, slamming on the gas from first frame to last, getting your blood pumping, and your heart racing.

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