The Best Films of 2017

Get Out

The Oscars are on tonight and with that the academy will be handing out their hardware for the best films of 2017. But before they do that I hope you will enjoy my personal list of the best films from this great year in cinema. This year it was hard to pick out ten films to represent the best of the year, so I cheated. See below my top 15 films of the year as well as some honorable mentions that did not make the list. So no matter what types of movies you like, I am sure you will find something to enjoy in this absolutely stacked year.

Honorable Mentions

Even though I am listing out 15 films instead of 10, there are still a bunch more films I think are worth your time. John Wick Chapter 2 is a great action movie and has one of the most brutal fight scenes around. A worthy sequel to a B action film cult classic. Mother! Is a very strange two hours but once you peel back some of its layers, it becomes a creative look at the artistic process. This year had some great superhero films and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is one of those films that continues to infuse quality into the comic book film genre. The Shape of Water is a sweet and fantastical adult fairy tale about finding your voice and another reason why GDT is one of the most unique talents in the film industry today. Spotlight was a great movie a couple of years back and Spielberg captures some of that magic with The Post. One of his more minor works but an entertaining journalism film nevertheless. Bigelow’s follow up to Zero Dark Thirty is a harrowing look at racial injustice in the dark and moody Detroit. She is a great director and has now made three great films straight touching on subjects of war, terrorism, and racial tensions. Robert Pattinson is so much more than the twilight movies and he gives a powerhouse performance in Good Time. He is almost unrecognizable as he moves away from his vampire past with an intense and emotional thrill ride.

15. Logan Lucky

Steven Soderbergh is back to his heist movie roots only this time in the mountains of West Virginia. This is a country Oceans 11 with a great supporting cast and one hell of a great GOT gag.

14. Get Out

Jordan Peele is so much more than Kay and Peele as he directs his first feature length film that is both hilarious and horrifying. A great first feature and the best horror film of the year with its smart social commentary and witty satire.

13. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

I hate that this didn’t make the top ten because this is my favorite of the new Star Wars films. Taking risks and supplying the series with a much needed creative spark, Rian Johnson is rightfully taking the franchise forward in a new and exciting direction. Fanboys can enjoy the old, as a new generation of fans are experiencing a new type of Star Wars film.

12. The Lost City of Z

This biopic is not for those that aren’t easily engaged by a story. This slow burn of a film is a powerful look at the sacrifices made in the search for greatness and meaning. It also does a great job of giving the world of Amazonia a feel and makes it a character in its own right.

11. Call Me By Your Name

Set in the scenic country side of Italy, Call Me By Your Name is a great love story in the midst of both history and art. First love and the pain it leaves is a recycled story thread here but Call Me By Your Name does it so well.

 

Now on to the Top Ten Films of the Year

10. Logan

Logan

The first of two comic book movies in the top ten, Logan is a rated R version of one of the most bankable superheroes around. This time the story goes in some interesting directions with the film feeling more like an independent film than it does a superhero film. Hugh Jackman goes out on top with this deep and gritty take on Wolverine that also brings some much needed closure to the character. This is one of the best superhero films around and another example that the genre can be so much more than just guys in tights.

9. Baby Driver

Baby Driver

Edger Wright’s best film is a thrilling heist movie with a musical twist. Following our main character who uses headphones to drown out an internal humming, Baby Driver mixes both a love of music and car chases for one of the best crime movies to come out in a while. The ensemble here is great with Spacey, Hamm, and Fox giving great supporting turns. Wright has always been a talented filmmaker and I am glad everyone else is starting to figure that out.

8. Mudbound

hero_Mudbound-2017

This Netflix exclusive is a great meditation on race and social class set in the years after WW2. Netflix has had some exclusive bombs but Mudbound is up there with Beasts of No Nation as one of their best original content. Des Rees direction here is beautiful as Mudbound is a fantastic period piece. Rees is able to capture the culture of a post WW2 south that is both reeling from PTSD and racial tensions which results in both tragedy and surprising progress. This is one you should catch if you have the streaming service.

7. Spider-Man Homecoming

spider-man-homecoming

Marvel has hit three homeruns in the year of 2017 with three fantastic superhero films but their best was the welcome comeback of our favorite neighborhood Spider-Man. The biggest reason for this has to be Tom Holland, who is the definitive Peter Parker. Nothing against Toby McGuire but Holland actually looks like a high schooler and he plays Parker with the right mix of humor and smarts. Homecoming doesn’t try to make Spidey save the world or the city of New York but crafts a smaller scaled film that explores Peter and his role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is a great coming of age story set in the world of heroes.

6. The Disaster Artist

The diaster artist

I have never made a film nor finished a whole film script but there is part of me that feels that I need to do it before I pass from this earth. What holds me back is the fear of creating something horrible. The Disaster Artist is a touching film about just that, someone achieving a life long dream that is also one of the worst films ever made. James Franco and Dave Franco give touching performances as the friends determined to make it on the big screen. This friendship is the heart of the movie as the film chronicles the disaster of a film called The Room. The Disaster Artist isn’t all about lampooning the film and its creator but also about celebrating the achievement of a dream realized. Sometimes creating something uniquely you is a victory in itself… no matter how bad it is.

5. A Ghost Story

Casey Affleck plays the ghost in David Lowery's "A Ghost Story." (A24)

A Ghost Story is a wonderful and deep film which is anchored by the story of a Ghost and his journey through time and space. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are in the film but it is the visuals of the film that carries the weight of the picture. The Ghost rarely communicates and spends his time watching events alone with little to no purpose. This gives smaller moments more significance and gives the picture a type of meditative quality. This is a slow burn of a film and isn’t for everyone but if you can enjoy this meditation on life, death, and grief then you will have discovered one of 2017’s hidden gems.

4. Phantom Thread

phantom thread

I love PTA films (There Will Be Blood is one of my favorites films from the past decade….or any decade for that matter) but even I struggled to make myself see this film. The premise just seemed way too art house, even for me. When I did finally see the film I was engrossed by what a strong and strange story of love this is. A love story dominated by control, precision, and the chaos of loving another human being. Not only does the love story entertain but the use of the fashion world as a back drop is well done. Daniel Day Lewis is excellent as well as his female counter part, Vickey Krieps. This is one of PTA’s best films and one of the great character study films of the past few years.

3. Dunkirk

dunkirk

I love me some Chris Nolan and Dunkirk is one of his best films to date. Put it along side The Dark Knight, Memento, and Inception as one of his crowing achievements and a great change of pace for the master director. This is a great WW2 film that adds the Nolan flair with non linear story telling (to great effect) and a tidy epilogue to wrap things up. The tension builds throughout the story and reaches a fever pitch at the end when all the storylines converge. Dunkirk is a showcase for editing as it weaves three different storylines gracefully. The films structure along with its reverence for one of England’s pinnacle moments in WW2 make this a great new addition to the War Film genre.

2. The Florida Project

the florida project

There really is no plot in The Florida Project. It is really just a day in the life (or a summer in the life) of a young mother and her daughter. This family stays in a hotel by the magical Disney Land where the hotel isn’t just a place to stay but a much needed home with electricity and hot water. The story is told from a child’s perspective which gives the film a sort of innocence in the midst of harsh poverty. The story unfolds and we bounce from day to day but the reality remains the same, life is not full of Mickey Mouses and princesses. Dafoe is excellent as the manager of the hotel that houses these guests (residents). He feels he is above these people but he is also dealing with his own struggles that mirror those that he serves. The Florida Project is about housing and whether it is a human right to have it but what I loved most about the film is that its also about a child trying to be a child in the only environment she finds herself in.

1. Blade Runner 2049

blade runner 2049

I like the original Blade Runner. I don’t love it but I respect it for what it is, a sci fi classic. So I wasn’t too pumped to see, what I thought was, the sequel to a film that really didn’t need one. I was wrong because Blade Runner 2049 isn’t about rehashing the old, but infusing an old story with new and fresh ideas. Denis Villeneuve crafts an art house film with a blockbuster budget and even though the film bombed at the box office (which will result in no more Blade Runner films), the final product makes it worth it. The film has beautiful cinematography, contains an excellent score, and has some solid performances but it is the story that has kept me coming back to the Blade Runner universe. The story of what constitutes a life and can a machine contain a conscious that we humans possess.  The twist at the end is one of beauty as it takes the audience unaware and creates a very touching conclusion to the film and the journey started back in 1982. Shows like Black Mirror and Electric Dreams have had the same themes and so has films like Ex Machina and A.I. but here it is done so gracefully and with added purpose. The film moved me in a way no other film this year has and had me reading the source material and looking deeper into the works of Phillip K. Dick (the original author the book Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 is based). Blade Runner 2049 is a depressing look at our future but it ends on a hopeful note with a scene that represents the best of humanity. A scene of a sacrifice for others so that they may go on, side by side.

 

Just for fun here is how I would rank the Best Picture nominees tonight

 

  1. Dunkirk
  2. Phantom Thread
  3. Call Me By Your Name
  4. Get Out
  5. The Shape of Water
  6. The Post
  7. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri
  8. Lady Bird
  9. Darkest Hour
Advertisements

The Best Films of 2016

This year has been sort of a dull year for the cinema but there was still much to love about film in 2016. With the Oscars on tonight, I give you my top ten of 2016, as the Academy and I agree way more than we have in the past. Before we get into the list, here are some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

sing-street-still-1

As I said before, 2016 was a dull year but there were some movies that did not make the cut that I believe are worthy of your time. Two blockbusters stuck out for me this year with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Captain America: Civil War. Both are satisfying popcorn flicks while adding some more quality to their respective series. Sing Street may have a terrible ending but for most of its running time it is a lovely musical comedy with a great original soundtrack that will have you stuck in the 80s pop rock scene. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping was the funniest film of the year which makes it disappointing that the film has struggled to find a wide audience. If you love slap stick comedy, Popstar is about as good as it gets. The Jungle Book was one of the year’s biggest surprises with some revolutionary special effects and just barely did not make the list (maybe with a better 3rd act the film would have made it). The last honorable mention is Mike Nichols’s Loving which will be slow for some, but is a welcome independent spin on the historical drama genre (oppose to the decent Hidden Figures).

The Top Ten of 2016

10. The Witch/Don’t Breathe

witch

I am cheating to make a list with 11 films but I want to honor two great horror films. One (The Witch) is low on the scares but has a creepy and affective story as the other (Don’t Breathe) is a great suspense thriller with some great jump scares. Along with The Conjuring 2, 2016 was a great year for horror films.

9. Arrival

review-arrival-696x464

Science Fiction films are experiencing a renaissance as of late. Arrival can go alongside Ex Machina, Moon, District 9, Inception, Looper, Gravity, Under the Skin and many others as being a shining example of the genre. Look for this film to grow a bigger audience as time goes on.

8. Everybody Wants Some

neprxaskt0p3tt_1_a

A spiritual follow up to Dazed and Confused, Linklater is the king of making movies with relatively no plot. This movie literally just follows around an incoming freshman baseball player on his first weekend at college. Just like the Sunset series and Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some works because of its strong ensemble (especially Glen Powell) and the way it captures life without the need to add a Hollywood premise to it. Sometimes people, places, and things are interesting enough.

7. Fences

fences

I actually just got done watching Fences today as I write this and there is a reason for that. I honestly just wasn’t interested in seeing a two hour acting showcase with Washington trying to act his way to an Oscar. Obviously with it appearing on this list, Washington and company surprised me with a great rendition of a Pulitzer Prize winning play. The acting carries the film as Fences is one of the best play to screen adaptions I have seen in a long time.

6. The Lobster

hero_the-lobster-2016-2

This strange black comedy sort of came out of no where this year. The Lobster is a satire of societies obsession with marriage and plays sort of like an Animal Farm type of story. Once you can kind of make out what it is trying to say, you can see that this is one of the most refreshing takes on modern love and mans search to find the right partner.

5. Kubo and the Two Strings

kubo-and-the-two-strings-2

Laika studio hadn’t really followed up the masterful Caroline with anything exceptional until this year with the best adventure film of the year. Kubo and Two Strings is also the best animated film of the year with some great performances and Laika’s signature animation being used in just the right ways.

4. Hell or High Water

hohw_exf_og

This is a great extension of the The No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood type of new modern western. Taylor Sheridan writes a great script that rivals his brilliant Sicario as he is helped with great performances from Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, and Ben Foster. Hell or High Water is the type of film that needs to be discovered by the masses.

Also on a side note, how about that closing scene……

3. Manchester by the Sea

manchester

If you thought Manchester would be a bit of a downer, man are you in for a surprise. This film follows a man who loses his older and more stable brother, who had decided to leave him his only son in the case of his death. That is the most basic description of the film as Manchester gets even sadder as our character’s histories are revealed. There is a deep level of depression, regret, and self loathing all throughout the film but it is the black comedy and the fleeting connections that makes Manchester by the Sea a slightly hopeful affair. This isn’t a Hollywood picture with a nice Hollywood ending, this feels like real people dealing with real regret and sadness hoping to just feel okay some of the time.

2. La La Land

La La Land (2016) Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Nostalgia can sometimes reign supreme and that is the very case with the wonderful La La Land. The film hits the nostalgia high notes with some great callbacks and a soundtrack that seems like it could have come from a musical of old. But just like The Artist, nostalgia can’t be your only trick as La La Land compliments its old classic feel with a great story that is beautifully simple with just the right amount of fantasy and realism.  Damien Chazelle showed in Whiplash that he can direct a film and even though La La Land is not quite as good as that film, this shows (again) a film maker that has passion for music and what it can convey on screen. The best compliment I can give La La Land is that after the film was over, I was exhausted. I had felt like I had been through it all with these characters and just like every great musical, La La Land’s music was playing in my head as I left, to remind me how great the journey was.

1. Moonlight 

moonlightmovie

It has been a crazy 2016. Just when things seem pretty grim and the future looks like more turmoil, a small and quiet film about life comes out. Moonlight is a film that looks at a human and his struggle to find himself. Countless films have done this before but Moonlight is a very personal journey. This doesn’t feel like cinema with its many clichés, it feels like we are seeing a boy, a child, and a man grow, struggle, and ultimately find some relief. I saw myself and other people in Moonlight which is extraordinary because it takes place in environments and cultures I am very unfamiliar with. This is due partially to the unbelievable acting from the main cast as Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali shine and all three actors portraying Chiron are excellent (especially Ashton Sanders). Like I said earlier, the film deals with many things I am unfamiliar with, but Jenkins makes this film much more than just a story of an African American child growing up. Deciding who you are and the struggle to be accepted or accepting yourself is relatable for every sex, race, and age. Moonlight is the best film of 2016 and I hope the Academy can go out of their comfort zone tonight and reward this beautiful film.

~

If I had a vote for Oscars tonight, below is who I would of nominated and who I would have voted (bold) to win:

Best Picture

Hell or High Water

Kubo and the Two Strings

La La Land

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

 

Best Director

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

David Machenzie, Hell or High Water

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

 

Best Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Colin Farrell, The Lobster

John Goodman, 10 Colverfield Lane

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Denzel Washington, Fences

 

Best Actress

Amy Adams, Arrival

Kate Beckinsale, Love & Friendship

Ruth Negga, Loving

Hailee Steinfield, The Edge of Seventeen

Emma Stone, La La Land

 

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Ben Foster, Hell or High Water

Stephen Lang, Don’t Breathe

Glenn Powell, Everybody Wants Some

 

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomi Harris, Moonlight

Kelly Thornton, Sing Street

Rachel Weisz, The Lobster

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

 

 

 

 

 


The Best Films of 2015

With the Oscars announcing their best films of the year, I give you my take on this year in film. 2015 was the best year in film for this young decade with some truly great films and a few awesome surprises. Acknowledging Ten (and 6 honorable mentions) films is truly not enough but I hope you enjoy my take on the best films of the year.

kingsman-the-secret-service-KSS-012_rgb1

Honorable Mentions:

Carol

The latest from Todd Haynes is just about what you would expect from the Far From Heaven director. The film is well acted all the way around and the 1950 art direction is the perfect back drop for this love story.

Kingsmen: The Secret Service

Matthew Vaughan’s ode to the spy movies of old (mostly James Bond) as he mixes the visuals of a superhero film and the tone of a Connery/Moore Bond film. With the disappointment of Spectre, it was nice to see a great Bond film this year (even if it was in spirit alone).

Love and Mercy

Chronicling Brian Wilsons tragic tale of stardom and dependency, Love and Mercy is a great biopic about one of the great musical talents of the past 50 years. Both Cusack and Dano give solid performances as Brian Wilson in a love letter to Wilson’s genius and personal triumphs with mental illness.

The Revenant

Inarritu follows up the skillful Birdman with The Revenant, a historical epic set in the harsh wilderness of the Dakotas. Leo is great as always but the wilderness, the cold is the real star as The Revenant stands with The Grey as one the best man vs. nature movies of the past couple of years.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is much less a biopic than it is a dramatization of all that is a person, event, or thing. I don’t think you will walk out of the film knowing the man more but you will see a film that is crafted to show the brilliance of innovation and the human aspect that is often lost in it. This is an actor’s movie with the film continually going from conversation to conversation. Danny Boyle, Sorkin, and Fassbender is a pretty good combo and Steve Jobs doesn’t disappoint even if it isn’t the most factual biopic.

What We Do In The Shadows

The best pure comedy of the year, this New Zealand Mockumentary details the trials and tribulations of living in the vampire community. This is a fresh type of comedy for anyone who is looking for their Flight of the Concords fix.

 

The Top Ten

10. Creed

635712538022292039-XXX-CREED-SNEAKPEEK-MOV01-DCB-74168494

This movie is exactly where the Rocky films needed to go with the aging Sylvester Stallion’s Rocky Balboa coming full circle as a mentor for the next generation. The last Rocky film was actually decent even if its plot was very unrealistic but here, we are back to a storyline that won’t divide audiences. Ryan Coggler directs the next tale in the Rocky series as Rocky Balboa isn’t our main fighter anymore, Micheal B. Jordan plays the illegitimate child of Apollo Creed and the film follows his struggles and triumphs with living with that family name. Stallion is brilliant, Coggler is a high profile director in the waiting, and Jordan is ready to carry this franchise forward.

 

9. Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens

star-wars-the-force-awakens-photos-f70b4f7908c99c52

The biggest film of 2015 is an inspired welcome back to one of cinemas most enduring sagas. Star Wars is back and back in spectacular fashion with a mix of old and new with a fresh new direction for the series. J.J. Abrams was the right man for the job as the film improves on almost every negative quality that plagued the prequel trilogy. Even in a time where sequels and prequels can become very tiresome, Star Wars never drags and does justice to the story we all fell in love with.

 

8. Brooklyn

2015, BROOKLYN

This 1950s drama is the perfect blend of a historical piece and a romantic/coming of age story. This isn’t the first film from 2015 that fits that bill (Carol) and Brooklyn compliments that film very well but it is the slightly better of the two. Ronan gives a subtle yet powerful performance as her character grows in awareness and self confidence throughout the movie. Good thing the role fits her well because Brooklyn hinges on the audience connecting with the lead character. The art direction and cinematography are masterful but it is a simple, slow, and character driven study that makes Brooklyn one of the best romantic films to come out in awhile.

 

7. The Big Short

1401x788-BGS-02959R__

One of the funniest films of the year actually deals with the financial meltdown of 2008 and the collapse of the housing market. Adam McKay is best known for his slap stick comedies but here he brings his humor to some very serious and troubling events in our recent past. The cast is great with three of the four heavy weight actors turning in fantastic performances: Bale, Carrel, and Gosling. The humor and a screenplay, that is able to explain terminology and wall street dealings in simple terms, will keep the audience’s attention even when things get really complex. The Big Short shines a light on the crash of the housing market with some quick wit and the perfect amount of sentimentality for a generation that has felt its affects dearly.

 

6. Beasts of No Nation

beasts of no nation

The Netflix film was the hot topic of the film industry when it was released on Netflix in mid October but it has simmered as of late with very little attention during award season. Even if it might be more important in regards to its method of release, Beasts is one of the most emotionally draining and powerful films to come out this year. Telling the tale of a young boy, named Agu, whose family is killed and who is forced to become a child soldier, the movie is brutal in its depiction of war and the emotionally toll it takes on Agu. Give credit to Idris Elba who is chilling as the Commandant but the best performance of the film is that of Agu, played by Abraham Attah. Watching Agu go through hell and back is one of the most harrowing and rewarding cinematic experiences of this solid year in film. Beasts of No Nation is a great fictional representation of child soldiers and one of the best war films in recent memory.

 

5. Sicario

f019813d-7a9d-4fbd-8704-debba6495048-2060x1236

If you watched the previews for Sicario, you would have been expecting Sicario to be a high octane drug war thriller. Sicario is defiantly a drug war thriller and has its high octane moments but it is a slow burn of a film that results in one of the best twists in recent memory. After Prisoners, it was not hard to see that Denis Villeneuve is a talent but this is his first truly great film. The real focus of Sicario is the cartels and the very human response to them. Sicario explores one of the most tragic and straight up evil events that is happening in our modern day and it does it better than those that have come before with a smart script and actors that give weight and detail to their roles. Don’t make no mistake even at number 5, Sicario is a perfect example of why 2015 is such a strong year in film.

 

4. Inside Out

INSIDE-OUT-13

It took Pixar awhile but it seems that they might have found their touch again with the brilliant Inside Out. Chronicling a 11 year girl as she moves from all she knows to a new life in San Francisco, the emotions joy, sadness, disgust, anger, and fear all get tested to limit when Riley starts to shut down emotionally to the drastic life changes. Pete Doctor directs his third Pixar film and Inside Out plays much like his previous two other films with a fun storyline that tugs on the heartstrings. Inside Out is a fast and fun 95 mins but it is its intuitiveness, its awareness of its subject that make it, like almost all Pixar films, more than just a kids movie. Films like Inside Out are what make Pixar great.

 

3. Spotlight

spotlight-xlarge

The best ensemble piece of the year with Keaton and Ruffalo shinning, Spotlight will go down as one of the best examples of journalism in film. Detailing the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal of the early 2000s, Spotlight keeps the main focus on those that broke the story to the mainstream media. Tom McCarthy writes (along with Josh Singer) and directs this powerhouse of a drama that hits hard when the film shows the impacts of this great injustice. Spotlight though wouldn’t work without the brilliant ensemble who carries each twist and turn with equal measures. Ruffalo is especially great here as he is able to embody a quirky personality with the restrain to not overshadow what his character’s purpose is. The sharp screenplay and exceptional acting fits perfectly to the weight of the story the film is trying to tell. Spotlight is a great tale about those who spoke for the silent, it is a great tale of the power journalism.

 

2. Ex Machina

Ex-Machina-Download-Wallpapers

Continuing the trend of strong science fiction films, Ex Machina stands with Moon, District 9, Gravity, and Looper as modern day sci fi classics. Alex Garland weaves a sci fi psychological thriller as a tech genius creates what he believes to be the first AI life form and recruits a man to verify. What proceeds is a series of tests, mind games, and a tour de force climax. Ex Machina is the farthest from turn off your brain entertainment as relationships continue to become muddled and people get drawn closer and then torn apart. Films like this one are why the genre of science fiction has grown to what it is. It is this type of smart filmmaking that continues to explore the questions we have not had answers for yet. Another classic sci fi film and a dark look into the possibility of AI.

1. Mad Max Fury Road

maxresdefault

The biggest surprise of the year has to be that Mad Max Fury Road is a masterpiece that can stand with any film of this century. Yea I’m way over hyping this film but the big idea is that Fury Road is the most fun I have had the movies and is the type of big epic filmmaking I have, as so many others have, fallen in love with over the years. George Miller has made a great Mad Max film before (The Road Warrior) but he has more toys to play with this time around as the cinematography, visual effects, and the action are turned up to 10. The action is ridiculous as the movie continues to top itself over and over again until the movie ends with the craziest and best action scene of the year (all time?). Miller is able to go over the top with almost everything except for a fairly simple and gratifying plot. The plot actually has Mad Max play second fiddle to Furiosa who is leading a group of females from their ruthless dictator captor and that story gives the emotion and the weight to all the madness. Most films will get just the action right or others will get just the story right but Mad Max Fury Road gets both right. The spectacle on screen is so much of what makes Fury Road an action masterpiece but it is the story, the human elements that will keep Fury Road relevant for decades to come.

 

Thanks for getting this far and hopefully you may have found some future movies to check out. In closing, below is what I would have nominated at the Oscars if I had a choice. Hope you enjoy.

 

My Nominations for The 2016 Academy Awards (Winners in Bold)

 

Best Picture

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Mad Max Fury Road

Sicario

Spotlight

 

Best Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Michael B. Jordan, Creed

Michael Keaton, Spotlight

Jacob Tremblay, Room

 

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett, Carol

Nina Hoss, Pheonix

Rooney Mara, Carol

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Charlize Theron, Mad Max Fury Road

 

Best Supporting Actor

Adam Driver, Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens

Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation

Oscar Issac, Ex Machina

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Benicio Del Toro, Sicario

 

Best Supporting Actress

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Sarah Paulson, Carol

Mya Taylor, Tangerine

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina


Ranking the Films of the Star Wars Series

Updated 12-16-17

 

9. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom MenaceStar_Wars_Phantom_Menace_poster

It took me about 30 minutes into Phantom to ask myself, “Why didn’t I remember how bad this was?” Phantom Menace is a terrible movie with some very over the top characters and a copy and paste plot from George Lucas. Lucas is lazy here as he tries to force the feel of the original without trying to create a fresh new spin for the franchise. Add on some of the worst characters in the whole saga along with a tone more fit for selling toys and you have a mess of a film. The brunt of the blame has to go to George Lucas who writes and directs for the first time since A New Hope. He clearly doesn’t feel comfortable with the pen or behind the camera as the story beats never hit the mark and the acting is dreadful. Even with a great light saber battle towards the end of the film, Phantom is the worst of the Star Wars films and earns its place among some of the most disappointing sequels/prequels of all time.

8. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the JediMPW-55925

After watching the prequels, it was a great relief to get to the original trilogy. A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back is what has made this series great and make up for the prequels being such a “meh” affair. So I was hopeful to watch Jedi again. Unfortunately, Return of the Jedi contains many of the flaws of the prequels and never comes close to the excitement of IV and V. The beginning takes way to long to get going as the slow burn of Solo’s escape holds the film from kicking into gear. After we leave the beloved desert planet, we get to the Ewoks and the uninspired return of the Death Star. I put the Ewoks with Jar Jar Binks as one of the worst creations in the Star Wars universe. They dumb down the plot and take away from what should be the most drama filled film yet. The performances are weak as Ford and Fisher fail at being love birds and Hamill not really hitting the mark as a full fledge Jedi. Then there is Yodi , a great character, who doesn’t offer Luke anymore training (which negates all that he said in Empire about not being ready) and is trashed to tie up lose ends. I am so glad that I didn’t watch the series from original to prequels because Jedi to Phantom may have been too much to handle.

7. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the SithEPIII_RotS_poster

Revenge of the Sith hinges on the mythology of the series to get past the same flaws that burdened the first two prequel films. The prequels are known for their huge leaps in logic but Sith was responsible for showing the downfall of Anakin Skywalker and what events led him to that. It was responsible for the biggest payoff from the past two films. That is where the movie fails, it fails to convince me that Anakin would have turned to the Dark Side. It fails to convince me that someone who has been surrounded with good would turn in an instant to become a child killer because he is trusting some dude who he knows is evil. His turn doesn’t make sense and it is the most disappointing aspect of the prequels (that is saying a lot). Sith doesn’t earn its drama but even with unconvincing logic, this is the only film in prequel series that had me genuinely caring about the fate of the characters. There is some good in this one even if you have to forget about some lazy logic. Other than that, the visual effects have aged very well with the opening battle being one of the best scenes in all of Star Wars. The climax is also very well done as Anakin and Obi Wan Kenobi’s fight doesn’t disappoint. Sith is an exhilarating disappointment of a film that sends out the prequel trilogy with most of the same flaws that it began with.

6. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the ClonesStar_Wars_-_Episode_II_Attack_of_the_Clones_(movie_poster)

Don’t take Clones being number four as any indication that I am standing up for the second (fifth) installment. The ranking is more indicative of how the series is surprisingly filled with a lot of mediocre quality. After the mess that is The Phantom Menace, there was really nowhere to go but up and Attack of the Clones takes advantage of that. Taking away so much of what made Phantom an obnoxious piece of cinema, Clones recreates some of the thrills from the previous Star Wars movies. The action is a huge step up with great action set pieces (opening chase, asteroid field, and closing battle) and exhilarating CGI work. This is all great because it has to make up for Lucas’s trademark sins such as horrible dialogue, wooden acting, and one-dimensional characters. Those three trademarks are very present in Anakin and Padme’s uninteresting and unconvincing romance that nearly drags the picture down but an improved story and some thrilling sequences just about make up for it. After one misstep, Clones feels like a step (however small) in the right direction for the prequel trilogy.

5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Storyrogueone_onesheetA

The first live action Star Wars film not associated with the main series is a great war film that solves one of the biggest plot holes in Star Wars lore. Not that plot holes are Rogue One’s main priority, but this a great telling of the events that lead to the destruction of the death star. The first half of the film has some issues with finding the right pace but it contains some great locales and some quality acting from the ensemble The second half is where the film really kicks into high gear with a great battle sequence set in a beachy Imperial base. This is where the dynamics of the main characters pay off with a dramatic action sequence filled with earned high stakes. Rogue One is what all the one off Star Wars films should be with the feeling of a Star Wars film while not being tied down to the main Skywalker series. Here is to hoping that we get many more Rogue Ones to compliment each new Episode of the Star Wars saga.

 

4. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakensstar-wars-force-awakens-official-poster

Even with how popular and prestigious the Star Wars franchise is, there was no way the series was going to get a much better director than JJ Abrams. He kicked started the Star Trek series and he does it again here with the series gaining some much needed creative momentum. The biggest question was where the series could go as Jedi felt like the climax of all that we have seen before. Abrams is able to mix in the old with the new as he brings in elements from the past while setting up a new and exciting story for the future. The new cast is excellent with Kylo Ren emerging as a great new villain for the saga and Ridley and Boyega becoming our new heroes. Harrison Ford gives an excellent performance as a older Han Solo and is the perfect older cast member to carry much of the weight of the picture. The drama feels intense, the screenplay is solid, and the tone of the film is a perfect mix of dark and lighter moments: it improves upon almost all the flaws of the prequels. Nit picking aside (really another giant death ball and very little exposition) this is the Star Wars we all wanted and the film the franchise needed. JJ Abrams does it right with a satisfying sequel and a promising future.

3. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last JediSTAR-WARS-8-POSTER-1090884

Rian Johnson was a great choice to follow up Abrams thrilling The Force Awakens. Where Abrams uses the familiar to kick start the saga, Johnson uses the unexpected to continue it. Even if you are not on board with all the new changes and subverted expectations, The Last Jedi is still a thrilling ride with great characters and some thrilling Star Wars action. If you are onboard with the new changes and subverted expectations then you are in for the best Star Wars film to come out in quite a while. I loved the way Johnson has crafted a unique Star Wars film that embraces and pushes away the clichés of the series. This is exactly the type of film that was needed after The Force Awakens recycled so much of the old. Big shout out to Johnson for having the bravery to make the changes he did to create a fresh new Star Wars experience for fans that aren’t ok with with a rehash of the old. The Last Jedi still has its issues (some corny dialogue and to much humor) but its message of “you make your own destiny” is a welcome change for the series.

 

2. Star Wars Episode IV: A New HopeStarWarsMoviePoster1977

The original Star Wars film is just a straight up classic. It was one of the pivotal movies in starting what is known as the modern day blockbuster and is the blueprint for every world building film. It is crazy now that the series takes it’s self so seriously when in fact Lucas was really making a homage to the serial “B” movies of the past and in that respect, A New Hope also succeeds. It is a homage to the past while, maybe unintentionally, starting the biggest franchise in movie history. The cast is perfect with Alec Guinness bringing a classiness to the picture, Ford being the definition of cool, and Mark Hamill solidifying the chosen one role (even if he comes off a bit whinny). It is hard to appreciate A New Hope on its own after where the series has gone, but it is the building blocks of so much of what we have come to know in popular entertainment. Like The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, and Gone With the Wind, A New Hope is just simply classic popular entertainment.

1. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Backempire-movie-poster-star-wars-empire-strikes-back-20604952-1369-2125

When you see most “Greatest Films of All Time Lists” it is A New Hope that represents the Star Wars universe but any true Star Wars nerd knows that The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the series. If A New Hope is how you start a franchise then Empire is how you continue it. Gone is the serial “B” movie feel and enter a darker, more enhanced space saga. It ranks with The Godfather Part 2, The Dark Knight, and Aliens as one of the greatest sequels of all time. The acting, script, and action is all turned up as emotion, not wonder, rule the day. The hopeless battle of Hoth, Han and Leia’s separation, and Luke/Vader light saber duel brings emotional weight to the saga which leads to the biggest plot twist of all time. The second (fifth) installment in the series uses what has come before and builds on it to create the mythology we have come to know today. That mythology has carried the series ever since and is the reason why we continue to watch and care about our heroes and villains.

I was kind of disappointed watching the Star Wars films again in preparation for The Force Awakens. The films weren’t resonating as I thought they would but Empire made it all worth it. As classic as A New Hope is and how exhilarating the prequels can be, The Empire Strikes Back is Star Wars to me. It is the film that made me fall in love with the saga and the film that makes all the frustrations of the series worth it. The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the Star Wars films and one of the greatest films of all time.


Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Updated 8-14-18

With the Avengers: Age of Ultron tearing up the box office, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has never been in a better spot. No superhero fatigue to be found here as the MCU keeps rolling along with superhero after superhero film. With that said, now would be a great time to look back at both Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the MCU and where each film fits in the universe. So here is the best and the worst that Marvel has had to offer us over the past 7 years.

 20. Thor: The Dark World

the dark world

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, in my opinion, has had no bad film to its name but the one that comes the closest to crossing that line is Thor’s entertaining yet lazy second installment. The Dark World is at its best when Asgard is the locale but when the action is brought back to earth, the film falters with silly comic relief and a sloppy finale. Tom Hiddleston is still fantastic in his third turn as Loki and Chris Hemsworth still resonates as the God of Thunder.

 19. The Incredible Hulk

the incrediable hulk

This is the red headed stepchild of the MCU. Mostly forgotten about now as Age of Ultron rolls out, the second film in the MCU is an entertaining thriller even if it doesn’t amount to much in the MCU bigger picture. Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner isn’t as well rounded as Ruffalo’s but he is serviceable nonetheless with the actor giving an emotional turn with virtually no help from the supporting cast. The Incredible Hulk has enough thrilling action and global jet setting to barely keep it above superhero mediocrity and the bottom of the MCU barrel.

18. Ant-Man 

Ant Man

Edger Wright’s departure and the final product that is Ant-Man is Marvel at its worst. Not to say that Ant-Man isn’t a “good” movie but the creative voice that could of made the character’s awkwardness its strength was thrown out for a more cliche superhero approach. Instead of forcing the MCU to allow such a unique character to fit into to the larger universe, Ant-Man is more concerned with making a character that can fit into the MCU. A generic plot, villain, and supporting characters (excluding Pena who is the highlight of the movie) doesn’t help a dude who controls Ants stick out in the MCU but Paul Rudd is fantastic and there is enough charisma and humor to make for an entertaining two hours. On a side note: Michael Douglas should usually add value to a production, not here though.

17. Dr. Stange 

doctor-strange-movie-benedict-cumberbatch1

Dr. Strange works a lot like Ant Man. It is Marvel taking a really unique character and unleashing some those unique traits in a feature length film while still serving up the same old origin story tale. All is not bad though as Dr. Strange’s visuals, world, and unbelievable cast help to make the film a success and keeps the movie watchable even when it starts to lose momentum. This and the fact that Benedict is perfect as Steven Strange (Marvel really does nail their castings) but it is disappointing to watch such a crazy superhero be brought to screen in a such a generic way. It is almost as if the screenplay writers were checking off all boxes on the origin story check list. Hopefully since we have met Dr. Strange, the next film will be able to bring something new and exciting to the table.

16. Ant-Man and The Wasp

ant man and the wasp

Just like the first film in the Ant-Man series, Ant-Man and The Wasp makes a really unique character fit into a very normal superhero film. That is unfortunate because Paul Rudd is great in the film and The Wasp is a welcomed female addition to the MCU but the story never goes anywhere unexpected or interesting. Ultimately this is very much a competent sequel to the first film and a little bit of a let down after the great Black Panther and Infinity War. There are some highlights though with some great action (especially The Wasp) and a cast that is way to talented to be apart of a just good enough sequel.

15. Iron Man 3 

Iron Man 3

Shane Black was really an inspired choice to take the rains of the Iron Man franchise. Black’s final product doesn’t live up to expectations but Iron Man 3 is a solid addition to the franchise. Robert Downey Jr. gives one of his best performances as Iron Man in a film that scales down the action and sees our hero using his wits more than his high-powered suit. Some weak villains and the occasional misstep (plot wise) are what keep Iron Man 3 from becoming something more but it is an entertaining part of the MCU nevertheless.

 14. Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2

Just like Iron Man 3, the second installment in the series doesn’t live up to the Iron Man film that came before it but this is one of the more underrated films in the MCU. Iron Man 2 may not be as influential as its predecessor but it is a satisfying follow up to the original with some great action and the patented Iron Man comic relief. Even with a clunky story that doesn’t make much sense and some underdeveloped villains, IM2 works better than it aught to and occasionally reaches the heights of the original.

 13. The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron is a flawed sequel to the excellent The Avengers. Learning nothing from The Dark Knight Rises, Age of Ultron is filled with plot holes and shotty logic but once you get past all that you will find Joss Whedon delivering a fairly good second installment into The Avengers series. Filled to the brim with action and tons of characters, surprisingly the film is able to balance this all along with one of the better villains in the MCU. James Spader plays Ultron brilliantly as the villain’s ultimate plan this time is pretty dumb but his personality makes up for it. Whedon had the task of following up one of the most beloved and successful films of all-time and he does pretty well here even if he played things way on the safe side. There are a ton of things to nit pick or hate in Age of Ultron but there is also so much to enjoy as the world’s greatest heroes assemble again.

 12. Thor 

Thor

Thor may not stand as one of the best films in the MCU but it maybe one of the MCU’s greatest achievements. A Norse God with a huge hammer that can summon giant thunderstorms didn’t look to translate well on screen but Kenneth Branagh was a creative choice to direct the God of Thunder. He is able to pull off the fantasy/science fiction tone with a surprisingly well casted ensemble. Thor has just enough humor, heart, and highflying fantasy action to make it one of the MCU’s biggest surprises.

 11. Captain America: The First Avenger

CA first

Joe Johnston, much like Kenneth Branagh, was just the choice to bring one of Marvel’s most famous heroes to the silver screen. Johnston styles CA as a period piece with Cap facing off against Nazi Germany. This is a great origin story for the first Avenger as it follows Steve Rogers’s humble beginnings to becoming one of the world’s most legendary heroes. Chris Evans is the perfect fit as Steve Rogers as he puts quite a bit of personality into a borderline “dull” character. The Cap begins in what is one of the most unique superhero films around and the perfect lead in to The Avengers.

10. Thor Ragnarok 

thor_ragnarok_main

I don’t think Marvel has made a more inspired directing choice (that actually worked out) than they did here by giving Taika Waititi the rains of the Thor series. Even if Ragnarok can feel like it indulges in the comedy a bit too much, this is one of the most enjoyable Marvel films around and it is because Waititi puts together the best GOTG film that doesn’t contain the GOTG members. The fun and adventure is there and it breathes new life for the character as we move forward to the MCUs endgame for Phase 4. Thor is given more personality and isn’t hindered by his Shakespeare type character tropes as Chris Hemsworth plays the character with a new sort of confidence. I loved how the hammer is gone in the beginning and we are left with a character searching for a new sort of identity. That identity is found at the right moment as we remember that Thor is the “God of Thunder”. The cast is awesome and I loved how Thor is given his own type of Avengers team to lead. The jokes come at you fast and that will upset some but for someone who isn’t a loyal Thor fan, this is a welcome change for a character that was starting to feel like the lesser of the heroes in the MCU.

9. Avengers Infinity War

infinity war

Infinity War was exactly what it needed to be. That doesn’t make it a great film or one of the best films in the MCU but it does make it one of the most entertaining films to come out of this franchise. Almost all our heroes are here (beside an Ant-Man and a Hawkeye) as this film doesn’t waste time throwing them in the crosshairs of one of Marvels best villains. Thanos is truly the star here (with Iron Man, Thor, and Dr. Strange getting the most screen time behind him) with him having one of the few character arcs in the film. This was a wise choice as he is less of a cruel villain than he is a man with convictions that can’t be broken or reasoned with. His scenes are great with Brolin giving the best performance of the cast. With most great villains, Thanos makes you feel for him even if we can’t agree with his moral compass. The rest of the characters are thrown into great dynamics (I loved the scenes between Dr. Strange and Iron Man) and interesting situations (Gamora’s scenes are both heartbreaking and vital to the plot). Even if it the film relies on so much from other MCU movies, it doesn’t bog down the film with needless exposition. Yes, the film maybe has too many characters and the balancing act doesn’t favor some characters but overall the Russo brothers deliver one (mostly) great balancing act that wouldn’t’ be possible without the 18 films before it. This film is a payoff for all us loyal MCU fans who don’t need to be reintroduced to the ensemble. And then there is the ending which was an interesting choice to say the least. Even though it will be reversed it does give the next film a chance to fix one of this films issues, too many characters. I have never seen a franchise film end in such a downer and its impact can be heard from the audience with both a sense of confusion and shock.

Infinity War doesn’t represent the best of the MCU but it doesn’t need too. It isn’t as good as Winter Solider, GOTG, or even the original Iron Man but it just might be the MCU film I revisit the most over time. As I said before, this film is exactly what it needed to be and that is an epic and entertaining story of all the characters we have come to love battling a threat way out of their league.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 

vol 2

This is a great sequel to one of Marvel’s biggest homeruns to date, Vol. 2 serves up a fun adventure with characters we know and love as well as new members to the famous galactic team. Surprisingly this sequel doesn’t try to jam to much into its story as it focuses on Peter’s father and his plan for the galaxy and his son. This father and son story becomes surprisingly touching towards the end as the film explores what it means to be real father. What is so great about the first film is that it builds an interesting world apart from the rest of the MCU and the second builds upon that world while still being a self contain story. These are all characters we love and care about and the success of this series is that we don’t need an inevitable team up with the rest of the MCU. If Gunn keeps making films like this, I don’t care if the Guardians ever make it to earth and meet up with the Avengers. Nothing earth shattering or new from this sequel just a great continuation of the charisma and confidence of its predecessor.

7. The Avengers

the avengers

The pinnacle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe still has to be Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. The main reason why The Avengers works is two fold: first Marvel did things right by introducing their four stars in separate movies and second Joss Whedon was able to harness all the different tones and characters into 140 minutes of nerd nirvana. Whedon delivers a script that gives just about everyone his or her due while keeping the film from feeling overcrowded. Loki takes his seat as the best of Marvel’s villains as Tom Hiddleston continues to give a complicated and intense performance. Loki and the Avengers square off in multiple battles and each one out does the other with the battle for New York becoming one of the best action scenes in any superhero film. Seeing The Avengers assemble at the end is what everyone came for and it doesn’t disappoint as the worlds greatest juggling act does the team justice. The Avengers is Marvel’s pride and Joy because it shows off how quality, over time, can lead you to something unprecedented and quite extraordinary.

6. Captain America: Civil War 

captain-america-civil-war-key-art

Captain America Civil War takes such a gimmicky premise (superhero vs. superhero) and makes it into one of most entertaining and deepest films in the MCU. Working better as an Avenger film rather than a Cap story (although Cap is defiantly the main character), Civil War is jammed packed with story that, after the pieces are set, takes off with a glorious airport battle and an emotional Captain America/Winter Solider vs. Iron Man showdown. Like I said before, the film has a lot going on and it has its fair share of characters but it is the movies that have lead up to it that gives so much of the drama weight. The viewer’s relationship with the characters makes this less about punches being thrown and more about exploring thoughts on relationships, vengeance, and oversight. The plot is also strong and does a great job of building conflict that reasonable feels like it would lead to our heroes resorting to violence. Civil War is such a great VS. movie because it wants to be so much more than just a VS. movie. Batman v. Superman showed us how bad this type of film can be while Civil War shows us the opposite when you look to be more than just a flashy premise.

5. Black Panther 

blackpanther-carroof-brigde-hd

Let me get this out of the way, I hate the CGi in the Black Panther. When the King puts on the suit he looks like he is in a video game cut scene. It took me out of the film especially in the climax. Other than that I cannot say enough about how great this film is. Black Panther has some great world building and some themes that are challenging and controversial. Those themes are not only timely but beautifully realized on screen with one of the best screenplays of any Marvel film. Then there is Michael B. Jordan who is right up there with Loki as the class of the Marvel villains. So many great villains aren’t pure evil but misguided or twisted by wrongs that have been done to them. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is not only relatable but also demands a certain amount of empathy while still being ruthless. This is a wonderful ensemble piece with a story and world worth returning too even if the film could have benefited from more practical effects.

 4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

winter soldier

Captain America has been seen by many as a sort of hooky character through out the years. Over patriotic and just a plain goody two shoes, Captain America is a pretty dull character on the surface. The MCU has done a lot to change that perception with the solid First Avenger and The Avengers but The Winter Soldier not only validates Steve Rodgers as a fully realized character, it makes him one of the most interesting heroes in the MCU. This is the equivalent to DC’s The Dark Knight with a smart and gritty script, an incredible cast, and a status quo ending plot twist, this is what every MCU film should be like. Chris Evans is still perfectly cast as Steve Rodgers as he has to lose some of the naivety that has pledged him by being frozen for 60+ years. After we saw New York invaded by Aliens, it was nice to see a more grounded film for the Cap. Winter Soldier uses that more grounded reality to focuses on the characters and their respected arcs. This is a more versatile marvel film without losing the characteristics that has made the MCUs films what they are; the Cap fits in just right in the 21st Century.

3. Iron Man

Iron Man

The first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is also one of the best. Iron Man was never a household name and for Marvel to build their church upon the B character was a risky move to say the least. Jon Favreau was the first right choice but it was the brilliant casting of Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark that helped cement Iron Man as one of the world’s biggest heroes. I hate to say it (cause I love Bale as Bruce Wayne) but Downey gives the best performance of anyone playing a superhero. Downey is known for his humor when playing Stark but he is able to turn off the antics when the film needs him to for some more dramatic moments. The film not only builds up a new character from scratch but also a new world, a world that follows some of the superhero mainstays while abandoning others. As much as I love The Dark Knight trilogy and its ultra realism, Iron Man is one of the few films to capture the pacing and overall excitement of reading a comic book. Marvel had a vision of becoming more than the superhero status quo and an alternative to dark and gritty affairs, they set out to make marvel comic films. Films that had new ideas, extraordinary heroes and villains, and adventures that would reach all corners of the universe, Iron Man is everything Marvel is on their best day.

2. Spider-Man: Homecoming 

Homecoming

The MCU was just what your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man needed. With some inspiring casting (Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man by far) and a solid reboot script, Homecoming has everything you want from a Spider-Man film while also setting it apart with a more grounded story that lets you get to know the characters instead of being caught up in the spectacle. I can’t say enough about the casting which is perfect as Michael Keaton is a solid main villain and all of the supporting cast shines in their own right. But all of this pails in comparison to Tom Holland who is brilliant here as Peter Parker. He is both witty, immature, and heroic here as Peter has to deal with the desire to be so much more than your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

Homecoming is just a solid Spider-Man and superhero film. It doesn’t break new ground nor does it thrill as much as some of the great superhero films of old but it sustains a fun and energetic pace throughout. Not only that but it is a very emotionally gratifying story that benefits, instead of relying on, connections to the bigger MCU universe. This is what Marvel should do with all their film properties, fit the MCU into film instead of fitting the film into the MCU.

 1. Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of Galaxy

This film shouldn’t have worked. It is filled with no name characters and doesn’t have any strong connections to the other films in the MCU. Yep, Guardians was Marvel’s biggest risk and if not in the right hands it wouldn’t have paid off but James Gunn directs a film oozing with charisma. The first film unconnected to The Avenger series, Guardians is a breath of fresh air for the MCU as it explores some new territory. The cast is perfect with some nice voiceover work from Bradley Cooper and Chris Pratt feeling pretty comfortable in the lead role as Star Lord. The main thing is that Guardians is all about the adventure as the film is a mix between Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and The Avengers. It sets up multiple worlds and introduces the audience to the galaxy’s biggest group of misfits with a style and flare that will make this film a cult (or just a down right) classic in the years to come.

 


The Best Films of 2014

It has been a really busy year and I have rarely been able to post anything on the blog, but if there is one thing I like to keep up with it is my personal take on what were the best films of each year. With the Oscars on tonight it is the perfect time to go through what were the very best films from a solid year at the movies. So before the Academy gives out their awards, enjoy my take on 2014.

Honorable Mentions

interstellar

Captain America: The Winter Soldier/Guardians of the Galaxy 

After a down year in 2013, Marvel knocked it out of the park with their two fantastic 2014 releases. The Cap came first with a satisfying, exhilarating, and game changing second installment. Chris Evans shines as Marvels most effective leader and is Marvels best equivalent to Nolan’s Batman with sharp storytelling and a somewhat finer sense of realism. Guardians is exactly the film it should have been with over the top visuals/action and a heart as big as the universe it occupies. Marvel took a gamble introducing a B Team property to the silver screen but it pays off as Guardians has the perfect cast of misfits to carry this sci fi epic. It’s been a great year for Marvel as the MCU added two of its best features in 2014.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Along with Marvel’s two strong films, Dawn is a fine example of a big budget affair offering quality along with entertainment value. The movie itself isn’t very interested in the human characters, who are mostly there just to move the plot along, as the apes take center stage. With various heroes, villains, and a rich story of betrayal and vengeance, the Apes franchise is chugging along with the best prequel/sequel of the year.

Gone Girl

Another satisfying thriller from Fincher and two outstanding performances from Pike and Affleck, Gone Girl is a faithful adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s addictive novel. One of the better mystery films to come out in years where the plot twists feel fresh instead of the usual cheap gimmick and some of the best ensemble work around. I do wonder though after The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and now Gone Girl, when will Fincher find his way back to making films not limited by a popular source material.

Interstellar

Chris Nolan isn’t perfect and neither is Interstellar, which is actually far from it. Containing some confusing dialogue and questionable character motivations, Interstellar is about the bigger picture. That bigger picture is one of the most ambitious films to ever grace the silver screen. At its finest, it is a fantastic journey into the farthest reaches of space that thrives on intense action, visuals, and the emotional weight of a dad trying to make it back home to his family.

The Top Ten

10. Force Majeure

force majeure

There is one really exciting shot in the very beginning of this Swedish film where a family deals with a sudden perceived catastrophe event. That shot is the best shot of the year and truly the only time Force gets the blood pumping. The rest of the film is all about the shockwaves of that moment and if you love something that will keep you on the edge of your seat, skip this one. Force Majeure is a thinking mans game with a story and plot built on that one moment, that one shot, and if the main family can ever come back from it. An excellent ensemble and a witty yet heartbreaking script make Force Majeure a thought provoking look into what it is to be human when the world is (seemly) falling apart.

9. Ida

ida

Ida is many things (coming of age drama, road trip movie, historical drama, etc…) but the central mystery carries the emotional punch of the film. Set in 1960s Poland, Ida sees two very different women searching the polish countryside for a shared family history. If you are a patient viewer, who is able to endure a very slowly paced film, most likely you will be moved by this simple little tale. Anchored by two wonderful performances (Agata Kulesza and Agata Tzebuchowska), this is a wonderful example of the Polish cinema as it explores a Poland still dealing with fresh wounds.

8. Snowpiercer

snowpierce

One of the weirdest action films in years with so many tonal shifts all throughout its running time; Snowpiercer is 2hrs of sheer madness. Snowpiercer focuses on a train that is carrying the last of mankind as the world has found itself in another ice age. This train separates the rich from the poor (rich in the front, poor in the back) and the real fun is when the poor decide to take their fight to the front. This leads to our characters going from train car to train car which seem to get more and more ridiculous as they go along. To pigeon hole Snowpiercer into one genre would be a disservice as it shifts all over the place with outlandish characters and set pieces. That’s the fun of Snowpiercer with its unpredictability matched with its high-octane action. This as exhilarating as they come and the type of film that you’d one-day hope the modern blockbuster would turn into.

7. The Babadook

babadook

Every once in awhile a horror film will make my year-end list, which isn’t surprising because every once in awhile the genre comes out with something truly special. The Babadook is that film this year and frankly one of the best horror films to come out this decade. Essie Davis plays Amelia, a single mother dealing with a behavioral child who is convinced that a boogieman creature named the Babadook exists. Davis is haunting in the role and her madness takes the film down some very dark and twisted paths. The Babadook doesn’t rely on jump scares (although I wish the film had more of these) as much as it does on an overall sense of dread which is actually quite refreshing. Even if it is a horror film the heart and soul of The Babadook is a story of a mother and son. Moving on is at the center of this haunted house affair and even if The Babadook maybe one of the best movie monsters in recent memory, the film succeeds with its touching story of running from the past with all the scars that come with it.

6. Foxcatcher

foxcatcher

Bennett Miller’s third feature is very different from his last sports film, Moneyball. Where as Moneyball was a lot lighter in tone and focused a lot on the sport on screen, Foxcatcher is drenched in tragedy. Wrestling is well represented but the dysfunctional relationship between three very different men is the real meat of the plot. Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo give top-notch performances as the movie hinges on the chemistry between the three of them. Foxcatcher is a very dark film, but I found the performances of Ruffalo and Tatum, as well as their characters relationships, provide the most moving moments of the picture. The big brother/little brother moments give a little bit of light in a film made up of mostly darkness.

5. Nightcrawler

nightcrawler

The biggest Oscar snub this year is Jake Gyllenhaul not being nominated for Best Actor. The dude should be bringing home the statue, let alone being nominated, for his role as Louis, a very ambitious low life looking for any way to exploit his way to the top. Louis isn’t a very ethical guy to begin with but as his ambitions grow, he slowly loses hold of the morals he had (if he had any to begin with). Louis ambitions are understandable for anyone trying to make something of themselves but it his type of unchecked, unethical ambition that creates chaos for all those around him. What is even more disturbing is that it is rewarded throughout the film as Louis continues to rise in the nightly news industry. The American dream has been analyzed and analyzed by numerous films but Nightcrawler is another fresh look at how destructive it can become in the wrong hands.

4. Birdman

birdman

Michael Keaton will hopefully bring home the Oscar for Best Actor, in the absence of Gyllenhaul, as his portrayal of an actor haunted by his superhero past is among the best performances of the year. Birdman is a wild two hours as it is presented as one continuous shot (tricky editing is able to accomplish this). Inarritu is a strong filmmaker but many of his films have been about plots with various characters spread across different locales. Birdman is focused on a theater in New York and a more centralized location is a nice change of pace for the director. Keaton anchors the strong cast as his character deals with finally making a type of art he can be proud of. Recognition for your efforts and the very nature of what constitutes art is compared with the short-term mainstream entertainment our culture is obsessed with in Keatons and Inarritus best films to date.

3. Whiplash

whiplash

This is a true gem and one of the best-kept secrets, until very recently, of this strong cinematic year. JK Simmons finally gets a role to showcase his amazing talents and Miles Teller is a true rising star. Whiplash is a very relevant film as it addresses a very aggressive and borderline (borderline being used as a forgiving term) abusive type of leadership. Simmons is a man looking for the next great Jazz musician and in his mind the means justify the end but at what cost? This isn’t a black and white film, there is no right or wrong answer presented which has made it hard for some to embrace the picture. For me it is a thrilling trip into the madness of pursuing greatness and that ending brings the picture to a thrilling and poignant end.

2. Under the Skin

under the sking

Until recently, this was my favorite film of the year. It is a mysterious movie because it doesn’t spoon fed the audience information even if the plot is surprisingly quite simple. Jonathon Glazer isn’t into the conventional and his science fiction film follows its own formula. The real power is in the visuals as it brings out the emotions missing from our main character. Scarlet Johansson plays an alien looking for humans for a mysterious purpose. Her progression from becoming detached from humanity to seeing the full spectrum of our existence is the only thing you really need to understand about Under the Skin. It’s the moments of doubt, the moments of compassion that makes Under the Skin more than just an art house affair. Under all the mystery and concealed plot points is one of the more emotionally gratifying films of the year.

1. Boyhood

boyhood

Obviously the films main gimmick, being filmed over 12 years while using the same actors, has been discussed ad nauseam. You can get wrapped up in that fact but take that away and you still have one of the best coming of age stories….. ever. I’ve never been a huge fan of Linklater’s style of filmmaking but Boyhood works because of it. It doesn’t indulge in the milestones of life with our main characters shown during the quieter moments. Boyhood doesn’t entirely shy away from some hard hitting drama either but it is at its best when we see the relationship of the characters change and grow over the years. The cast is brilliant and the story is captivating, with relatable moments for almost anyone who sees it. Boyhood lingers with you, its nostalgic look into the past hit home for me as I’m sure it did for many other viewers. Boyhood doesnt just examine life, it is life in all its ugliness and sentiment. I talked to someone recently who discussed a scene late in the film where Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette’s characters discuss the raising of their son. She told me that that scene had happened in her life, that exact moment. Relating to something on the silver screen maybe the greatest gift the cinema has given to the world. Boyhood is the best film of 2014.


Ranking all of James Bond Films

I can’t claim to be the biggest James Bond fan but I do love 007 and recently sat down to watch all of the films from the very beginning. Starting from Dr. No right up to the brilliant Skyfall, watching all the Bond films has been a great way to be reintroduced to MI6’s best 00 and watching Bond grow from the espionage films of the sixties to the great films we have today has been like watching film history through the eyes of one the cinema’s most enduring characters. So enjoy my take on all the Bond films during its 50 year run.

Note: This only contains the EON Bond films. If you’re favorites are the original Casino Royal or Never Say Never Again then your out of luck and really need to find better taste when it comes to movies.

images

24. Octopussy

octopussey

I think this has to be Roger Moore’s lowest moment as Bond (as I write this I have A View to a Kill left to watch) as the camp and the boring 007 clichés make this one of the worst Bond pictures of all time. Nothing new and exciting here unless you want to watch Bond dress up as a gorilla or a clown and follow a story that doesn’t make much sense, 007 has never looked worse. Moore looks old and tired in the role and the action suffers for it. Octopussy is just about everything wrong with the Moore Bond era rolled up into one dreadful movie.

Note: After watching all the Bond films not only can I confirm its Moore’s lowest point during his stint as Bond but it is also the worst Bond film of them all (but not by much).

23. Die Another Day

die another day

After three fairly solid Bronson Bond films, Die Another Day wasn’t the film we deserved but the one we needed at the time*. It was so bad and so over the top that it ushered in the Bond films of the future. This is where the ridiculous Bond film hopefully went to die, as the film is just one big lesson on over indulgence. The technology, the action, and the overall story are so far from reality that the movie feels almost like a science fiction/fantasy film instead of a spy/espionage movie. Over the years Bond had been to space, jumped through the jungle like tarzan, and climbed the golden gate bridge, it was time for that sort of Bond to die and be resurrected with a more deadly, more faithful 007. Credit goes to Bronson who does what he can with what he is given and an opening that should have been used for a better film but Die Another Day is the film that needed to happen for the franchise to finally move in the right direction.

*Sorry, wrong franchise

22. Moonraker

moonraker

I give a lot of slack to some of the other Roger Moore Bond films for having a lot of camp but even I cannot over look Moonraker. One of the campiest Bond films ever made saw the franchise try to take advantage of the Star Wars craze. The first hour is actually not that bad with a fairly interesting story and Venice being a lively locale. The second hour is where the film truly falls apart as the camp and the story just get more and more ridiculous. It’s still a Bond picture and even in space, Moore is still entertaining as 007.

21. A View to a Kill

a view to a kill

The final Moore James Bond film is one that saw grandpa Bond go out with a whimper. Not particularly good or bad, A View to a Kill is a bland, repetitive, and confusing chapter in the 007 franchise. Moore is about two movies too old for the part and the overall plot doesn’t even attempt to stray away from the worn and tired Bond status quo. There are some thrilling scenes (the fire truck chase) and a villain (played by Christopher Walken) who is a breath of fresh air but at the end of the day the familiar just wasn’t good enough anymore.

20. The Man With The Golden Gun

the man with the golden gun

Third nipple aside, Christopher Lee’s Mr. Scaramanga has to be one of the best Bond villains out there. He is an assassin like Bond, without the charm or moral standing. He is the other side of the coin for Bond in a movie that is plagued with all the bad that came with the Moore era. Humor and a lighter tone don’t do much to make this a worthy entry into the series but for some reason I don’t hate it. You can still see a lot of the Bond we love in this sloppy 007 adventure.

 

19. Diamonds are Forever

Diamonds are forever

Sean Connery is back in his worst Bond film to date (of the EON cannon) with a fun, yet redundant Bond adventure. In sheer panic to bring back the old Bond, Diamonds are Forever almost overkills everything we love about 007. This is the first time I started to grow tired of Mr. Blofeld and SPECTRE, but Connery is back which is always a welcome sight and his presence keeps the film from collapsing on itself. It is a fun Bond picture for the most part but the gadgets and the overall story just become way too ridiculous and ultimately tiresome. But alas Connery, Las Vegas, and some patented Bond action makes Diamonds are Forever a semi worthy entry into the series.

18. Spectre 

Spectre

Spectre is one half of a really good James Bond film and one half of an awful James Bond film. The first hour and a half is a solid follow up to the excellent Skyfall with an intriguing story shrouded in just the right amount of mystery. The action scenes disappoint but other than that, it is exactly what I wanted from a Craig Bond film. The first half contains some of the better comical moments in the franchise as well and one of the best openings to a Bond film yet but then we get to the 2nd half which falls apart when the story becomes clear. The revelations feel forced and uninteresting and the film contains one of the, for lack of a better word, stupid endings in the franchises history. Spectre is a mixed bag of a Bond film and a huge let down from the promise of Skyfall.

17. Live and Let Die

Live and let die

Roger Moore’s first Bond film is a silly little picture. Taking on the blaxploitation genre and everything you hate about the 1970s, Live and Let Die doesn’t feel like a good start to a new Bond. The film takes clichés and stereotypes to a whole new level and falls victim to the same flaws of the previous Bond movie (Diamonds are Forever). Yes, a lot of things to hate here but Roger Moore proves to be a charming and capable Bond and the movie possesses all the key story elements for a Bond picture. There are some great moments in Live and Let Die (the boat chase minus JW) and the voodoo and magical elements actually makes the film stick out in the Bond cannon. It might not be the best direction but it works with Roger Moore in the suit. Live and Let Die is a decent Bond flick with enough interesting moments and plot elements to keep it afloat.

16. The World is Not Enough

the world is not enought

I really thought that this would be more towards the bottom of the list and sure, it isn’t one of the series best but Bronson’s third outing is a serviceable Bond film. The action is the real star this time around as the film is bursting at the seams with fast getaways and explosions of all sorts. Those sequences sort of wear on you during the course of the film as I laughed out loud at the water boat chase opening but in turn found myself actually enjoying the action set pieces towards the end of the film. Bronson can be unlikeable at times in The World is Not Enough as he sort of comes off as a arrogant Bond but he is still an inspired choice for the character. You can tell he is more comfortable in the role even if he doesn’t match his performances from his previous two Bond pictures. With a supporting cast that is hit or miss and some lazy plot devices, The World is Not Enough is still an entertaining/capable Bond picture.

15. For Your Eyes Only

for your eyes only

Some would consider this to be a bland Bond outing, but to me it is a surprisingly mature Bond (even though there literally is a scene where Bond scores hockey goals with henchmen as the puck). With all Moore films the camp is ever present and it takes a lot out of For Your Eyes Only, but the more serious tone resembles a lot of what was missing from Moore’s stint as Bond. It is a smaller sort of story, which is good after the joke that is Moonraker, that is both clever and smarter than Moore’s usual showing. Also seeing Bond kick a car off a ledge with a henchman in it is one of the coolest things the character has ever done.

14. Tomorrow Never Dies

tomorrow never dies

It is very well known that Tomorrow Never Dies had a very tumultuous path to the screen but essentially it is an excellent follow up to the great Goldeneye. The series was defiantly moving into a more action heavy future (which still rings true with the Craig Bond films) but that isn’t such a bad thing. Bronson is still a great new Bond for a new generation as his Bond is just as cool coming up with witty comebacks as he is dodging bullets and he dodges lots of bullets here. Sure the story isn’t strong and the main villain’s plot (to start WW3 for the broadcasting rights to China) isn’t very inspired but Tomorrow Never Dies is the continuation of a more dangerous/deadly MI6 agent.

 

13. Quantum of Solace

quamtum of solace

Quantum of Solace is a very good film with some great action sequences and an excellent cast of characters, but it doesn’t feel much like a Bond film. I sort of harp on how the Moore films had too much comic relief (sometimes the whole film would feel like it was comic relief) but this is what happens on the other end of the spectrum. The tone is too dark for a Bond film and where as Casino Royale mixed in all the right elements, Quantum is too saturated with intense drama and overall darkness. Craig is still excellent in the role and the film is very interesting as this young/revengeful Bond gets into many moral dilemmas trying to avenge a loss. I guess I am more accepting of the film because I like my Bond dark and gritty, but even I felt like that gun barrel sequence is out of place at the end of the film. There isn’t enough patented Bond for the sequence to carry much weight.

 

12. The Spy Who Loved Me

the spy who loved me

Considered by many to be Moore’s best Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me feels like Bond getting back to his roots. The story is a lot tighter than the first two Moore films and many elements of the film remind me of what Connery did many years before. The film doesn’t overkill the comedic relief as we are given a story we can sink are teeth into too (yea I did it) and many great Bond moments (underwater car, parachute with the union jack). The problem is Moore, amongst other things, who doesn’t quite hit the mark with the one-liners and frankly just isn’t as good in the role as he had been in the past. I’m not as in love with this film as many other Bond fanatics are but it is a nice reprieve from the normal Moore era Bond. This and For Your Eyes Only remain the high points of the Moore era.

 

11. Goldfinger

Goldfinger

Blasphemy! Although Goldfinger is usually considered one of, if not the, best Bond films of all time, I never saw anything in the picture that truly lifts it above the “Great” Bond movies for me. It contains so many plot holes, lazy story elements, and a character whose main weapon is his hat. Goldfinger just isn’t my all time favorite but it is an excellent Bond film and one that help set up the template for a Bond picture. From Russia With Love also did that but it was a quieter picture where as Goldfinger has a lot more action and charisma. Along with the action the story moves at a brisk pace as it jumps from locale to locale, which makes for a more entertaining film. Goldfinger also contains some of the most iconic moments in franchise history from the gold woman to “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to Die!”, it is an essential Bond film for all those who truly love the character. Goldfinger may not be my personal favorite, but I respect what it meant for Bond and how it impacted the character probably more than any film on this list.

 

10. You Only Live Twice

you only live twice

There is not a bad Connery Bond (EON) film in the bunch and You Only Live Twice is another solid Bond picture. SPECTRE was still a semi-interesting villain at this point as the story follows Bond trying to stop the organization from starting WW3. Connery is excellent as always and the Eastern locales are a welcome sight for the series. You Only Live Twice is very similar to the great early Bond films (Goldfinger, Thunderball, From Russia With Love) with extravagant locales and unique action sequences but the film delves very much into the more silly character elements. Connery disguising himself as an Asian is laughable and the plot to kill Bond via board over arms in a crashing plane is uncreative. But with a big battle to close out the picture and Connery still at his best with the character, You Only Live Twice is a worthy addition to the franchise.

 

9. The Living Daylights

the living daylights

Timothy Dalton’s first of two films as Bond is a satisfying transition to a new age for the character. The style and substance of a Bond film is still there but a more intense tone helps to kick start Bond into a more action heavy future. Dalton doesn’t have the personality that other Bond’s had/has but he is serviceable if not refreshing in the role. Dalton’s Bond works mostly because the film around him is so good and so much more than the last few Moore Bond films. This was the type of film Bond needed at the moment with the espionage characteristics being more present and a story that is both complex and smart when it needs to be. Dalton may not be as iconic as the others who have played the role before but his Bond is just as heroic as Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Bronson, and Craig.

 

8. Goldeneye

goldeneye

After Dalton left the role of Bond and a six-year gap between films, it was easy to see that the character needed some remodeling again. Dalton helped to bring Bond back to his younger more reckless roots but Pierce brings back the charisma that was missing over the previous two entries. Martin Campbell directs his first of two Bond pictures and just like Casino Royale, Goldeneye is a new and improved 007. The action is turned up a notch and the whole post cold war tone is both well done and unique from other Bond films. There are some plot holes and clichés from the action movies of that time but Goldeneye is at his best when Bronson is dodging bullets and taking out numerous henchmen. Also the tank chase scene is both overdone and awesome at the same time (sort of like Michael Bay at his best). Like all the great Bond films, Goldeneye has just enough creative flair to put it apart from the rest of the cannon while still being at its core, a James Bond picture.

 

7. Licence to Kill

license to kill

After what is a rather silly opening that has Bond being the best man for American DEA agent Felix Leiter, the film turns quite dark with the brutal murder of the bride on her wedding night. Revenge is what Bond is after here even if MI6 isn’t the one giving him the orders. This is a Bond film that is far from perfect, but it is the story and the villain who really gives the film its edge, a sort of nobody’s safe mentality. Dalton is back again and he is the perfect man for this type of Bond film. This is a darker, more brutal 007 and Dalton throws away the charms for the type of Bond that is unstoppable. Unstoppable is what Bond has to be as he goes up against, in my opinion, the most heinous and evil villain in the franchise (Franz Sanchez played by Robert Davi). Sanchez keeps the audience on their toes and really gives a sense of dread to the picture that no other villain has been able to match. This may not be the most glamorous or your typical Bond film, but it is the one I cheered for Bond the most. The stakes are higher and the drama on screen hits harder as Licence to Kill is a thrilling break from the traditional 007 mold.

 

6. Dr. No

Dr. NO

Dr. No is quite simply the first Bond film ever made and the foundation for all the Bond films that came after it. Even with that said Dr. No was just a starting point for the series, which would grow into something much bigger than Dr. No. So it is hard to really judge it, but either way it is an interesting espionage film right in the middle of the cold war. Bond suddenly became the man everyone wanted to be with the charm and skills to prevent all the worlds’ fears and anxieties. The world had not seen anything like Bond before and Dr. No helped to take the spy genre into a whole new level. Bond wasn’t just another deadly assassin; he was what every man wanted to be which still holds true today. Dr. No has the curse of being both an overrated and an underrated Bond film mostly because it was the first, but sometimes you have to pay homage to what came before. It is the reason Bond is here today and introduced one of the most iconic heroes of the cinema. There is nothing like Connery uttering those iconic first lines “The name’s Bond, James Bond”.

 

5. Thunderball

thunderball

Connery wears the suit for the 4th time around, as Thunderball is exactly what a Bond film should be. Fun, smart, and unique from the other entries in the series, Thunderball was and still is (adjusted for inflation) the biggest Bond ever. The plot here is actually very clever (and would be reused frustratingly so in numerous future Bond films) as an airplane carrying nuclear missiles goes missing. Bond has to travel to the Bahamas for the case, which leads to some spectacular underwater sequences. A consent complaint about Thunderball is that the cameras stay underwater for far too long, but I found those sequences to be some of the highlights of the film. The biggest thing that Thunderball gets right is the mix between the humor and the drama. So many Bond films fall victim to too much camp (I’m looking at you Roger Moore) where as Thunderball has enough of it to be light hearted when it wants to be while not destroying the weight of the action on screen. Not a lot of risk taking involved here but Thunderball is your atypical Bond film with everything you need to get your 007 fix.

 

4. From Russia With Love

From Russia

Heavier on the story, characters, and thrills, From Russia With Love took Bond to the next level. I think the biggest reason why From Russia With Love is still held in such high regard is because it is just simply a good movie. From the plot to the overall production value, From Russia With Love never falls victim to comic relief or relying on too much action. It is a film that was able to grow the character and set up the global trotting status quo of the series. Connery, like the film itself, gives a more polished performance than he did in his previous go around. This might not be his best performance as Bond, but it is the best Bond film of his and one of the truly “great” Bond films of all time. This is a darker more gritty Bond film that is focused on the secret agent parts of the character that made Ian Fleming’s character leap off the page. Goldfinger would set up the blueprint for the franchise but From Russia With Love was the type of quality that the later Bond films would pursue after the camp and one liners started to fade.

 

3. Skyfall 

skyfall

Skyfall is the type of film that should have really came before Casino Royale. It is a very aware Bond film as it analyzes Bond’s place in this modern age of cinema. He is an old character who at times has been carried more by tradition than actual quality. Skyfall doesn’t run from this fact but embraces it and ushers in hopefully a new type of Bond film. If Casino Royale was the start of a new Bond then Skyfall is that same Bond using his tools from the past to move forward. Sam Mendes makes a beautiful picture that is visually eye catching and has a sort of craftsmanship that no other Bond film has ever had. It is both vintage and modern at the same time, which is the best thing about the picture. Craig is great again and the casting of Javier Bardem shows that the series is becoming so much more, quality wise, than it has ever been. And then there is Judi Dench who is the Bond girl here and her relationship with Bond is brought to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. Skyfall has left the franchise in the best place it could be with the franchise embracing what is new and what has made the series so unique and popular over the years. Casino Royale and Skyfall show that the future doesn’t have to be repetitive for 007 and that sometimes the old ways are the best.

2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

OHMSS

Yea I’m one of those people. OHMSS is the best of the early Bond films with a more grounded feel and story while still containing the Bond we know and love. George Lazenby is unfairly the most despised Bond, which is most likely due to the fact that he had to follow Connery, but I found him to be a great Bond. He is a quieter and a less witty Bond, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t the clever 007 we expect. He is honestly a tamer version of Connery, which makes for a more relatable portrayal of Bond. This works for the character as the story becomes much more personal for 007 as he falls in love with Diana Rigg’s Tracy, one of the most fleshed out and just flat out best Bond girls. Their connection grows throughout the film to provide a high stakes climax (Bond saves the girl that he actual loves instead of one he just wants to take to bed) and a shocking ending that brought the character to a place he had never been before. OHMSS is exactly where the Bond films should of gone after Connery. Less ridiculous story elements and more character, more plot. Bond was a great one-note character but he works as a much more layered character here and the film is better for it. With a riveting story, better character development, and some of the best action of the series so far, OHMSS is an intelligent and exhilarating Bond picture that has aged very well over the years.

 

1. Casino Royale

casino royale

In 2006 I could really care less about Bond. He was a relic from my past, films that I remember watching as a kid, a fad that I had since out grown. Then came Casino Royale, which had gotten a good critical response and some good word of mouth from my friends. After I saw it I really had no desire to watch the old Bonds because this was it, this was the Bond for me going forward. Don’t get me wrong I am defiantly a Bronson Bond kid and obviously still enjoy old 007 films but this struck a cord during the middle of my teenage years. Spanning many locations with a plot that is complex and very much intriguing, Casino Royale is the closest we have come to a perfect James Bond film. The praise can start anywhere, but I choose to begin it with Daniel Craig who, in my opinion, is either the best Bond or tied with Connery for the title. He has all the characteristics of the Bonds that have come before: the wit of Moore and Connery, the deadliness of Dalton and Bronson, and the emotion of Lazenby. Even with that said Craig isn’t trying to imitate the past, he plays Bond the way he wants to with a confidence that bleeds on screen. He is the type of Bond that should never go away and one that doesn’t stick with the familiar. Bond is more complicated and edgier than he has been before and is the perfect mesh of what Bond was on page and what he is on screen. Craig is and will probably always be my favorite actor to dawn the suit.

I quickly read the source material before I watched the movie and the film does a good job of adapting it while infusing it with the cinematic Bond formula. I think if the producers had adapted it faithfully it would have not meshed well with the mainstream audience (given the much duller Bond in the books) so what we get is something the die hard Fleming and film Bond fans should appreciate. Martin Campbell directs his second Bond film and even though Im sure it was hard to top his previous Bond reboot (Goldeneye) he does it here in almost every way. The screenplay is the strongest of the series and the cast is the best ensemble of series. Just like with Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, the producers finally put all the right pieces together to create a dense and thrilling Bond outing. One of the things I love most about it is the pacing which has numerous action scenes while giving the quieter moments time to breathe. Emotions and the drama are highlighted well and give the picture something not many of the Bond films can match, actual storytelling depth. I love how the filmmakers bring so many great action scenes to the table while making the vocal point of the film, a high stakes poker game, just as exciting. This is a new era with a smarter audience who crave quality more than anything else and Casino Royale delivers as not only a great James Bond film but just a great film in general.

I could write about Casino Royale forever, but what I really want to mention is how after watching all the Bond films in order, Casino Royale just rises above them all. It is the first steps in elevating the name brand back to being one of the cinemas strongest and most beloved franchises.

~

Ranking the Bonds:

  1. Daniel Craig
  2. Sean Connery
  3. Pierce Bronson
  4. George Lazenby
  5. Timothy Dalton
  6. Roger Moore

Note: I love all the actors who have played Bond and ranking them in order was harder than ranking the actual films. They were all great Bonds in their own right.

~

And for fun here is my Top Ten combined with Travis White’s list. So if you want a more comprehensive and a more collective James Bond list, then here it is.

  1. Casino Royale
  2. From Russia With Love
  3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  4. Skyfall
  5. Dr. No
  6. Goldeneye
  7. Licence to Kill
  8. Thunderball
  9. The Spy Who loved Me
  10. You Only Live Twice