This film may look and seem simple, but don’t let that fool you. This is outstanding filmmaking on all scales, not just small. Based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue (who also adapted this film version) and directed by Lenny Abrahamson, “Room” follows the mesmerizing, heartbreaking story of Joy “Ma” Newsome (Brie Larson) and Jack Newsome (Jacob Tremblay) as they spend five years imprisoned in a single room. The performances from Larson and Tremblay are the best of the year so far, and contribute to how stunningly well-done this film is. The suspense and horror of the first half tied with the drama of the second half make for a spellbinding concoction of brilliant filmmaking. Not only a fine drama, but a moving film on all levels, “Room” is the best film of the year, and this is just from the performances alone. This is the movie to see and to watch come awards season.
2. “Mad Max: Fury Road”
From mastermind George Miller comes a breathtaking and beautifully gritty look at a post-apocalyptic landscape. Following the story of “Mad” Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) as he becomes the reluctant co-guardian of a group of beautiful women being used as slaves, he aids the efforts of their current guardian, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). This film is the action genre turned to 11, a rip-roaring exercise in action mania done spectacularly well. A simple story perhaps, but the film is aided in this by being told visually and sometimes almost wordlessly.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, “Sicario” follows a clandestine operation headed by two government agents (Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro) and overseen by a tense FBI agent out of her element (Emily Blunt) as they hunt for a cartel lord in Mexico. From the start, tension and stress will be the primary feelings for any filmgoer, and the ominous, well-made score is one key element of this. Other keys include absorbing performances from the main three actors and strong direction and cinematography from Villeneuve and Roger Deakins, respectively. A dark, brooding tale with a lot to say, “Sicario” is visceral, methodical and effective.
4. “Inside Out”
One of this year’s Pixar releases, “Inside Out” is a journey to behold indeed. This film is gorgeously animated, and the concept itself is marvelous. The film is not only humorous, but has significant dramatic and emotional heft. An emotional tear-jerker, this film is spellbinding in more ways than one. Definitely must see for all ages.
5. “The Visit”
The rousing comeback for director M. Night Shyamalan, who was in a career slump after a few major missteps, follows a pair of siblings as they visit their grandparents. Things take a turn for the strange and bewildering as the week goes on. Periodically funny, this film also has quite an emotional edge running behind the scenes on top of good performances from its two young leads, as well as fine over-the-top performances from the odd grandparents. A well-written and directed film (especially for the found footage genre) that gets fantastic mileage out of its deceptively simple premise.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by the Boston Globe on the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, the film follows the titular Spotlight Team of reporters (Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James). The reporters are investigating a web of corruption and cover-ups by the Catholic Church regarding their priests sexually abusing children in the Boston area and beyond. The film relies on its realistic performances and its assured direction from Thomas McCarthy to showcase a haunting, real look at what occurred in Boston in 2002. Entertaining and the finest look at journalism in film in decades.
7. “The Martian”
Poor Matt Damon, the universe is not in his favor. From his more sinister role last year in “Interstellar” to his leading role in“The Martian,” Damon’s characters seem to have a habit of getting lost in space. Damon portrays botanist and astronaut Mark Watney as he becomes stranded on Mars. He does his best to survive using his many skills and abilities as NASA does its best to get him home as safely and effectively as possible. Ultimately, this film is brimming with humor, fun and engaging performances from all actors, amazing scientific accuracy on all counts, a great screenplay from Drew Goddard and assured and light direction from Ridley Scott. A must see for all science fiction fanatics.
The seventh installment in the long-running and well-received “Rocky” franchise, one may be skeptical of this film and the idea that there’s any fuel left in the 40-year franchise. Set nearly a decade after the last “Rocky” outing, this installment follows the illegitimate son of boxing champion Apollo Creed, Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan), as he decides to escape his father’s shadow by going for the top title with the help of legendary boxing champion, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), former rival and best friend of Apollo Creed. This film truly astonishes, from its homey yet gritty depiction of Philadelphia to the striking performances of both Jordan and Stallone. The movie is a joy to behold, and a worthy successor to the “Rocky” franchise.
9. “Steve Jobs”
Very loosely based on Walter Isaacson’s’ biography of the same name, “Steve Jobs” is a different breed of biographical film. In terms of historical accuracy, this might be as far from the truth as you can get, but the movie is all the better for any creative liberties taken. Led by a powerhouse performance from Michael Fassbender in the title role, his co-stars Seth Rogen and Kate Winslet also deliver standout performances. With breezy direction from Danny Boyle and outstanding writing to drive the film forward, this is one you won’t want to miss.
10. “Straight Outta Compton”
Music biopics, like comedies and horror films, are hard to pull off. But when done well, as in the case of “Straight Outta Compton,” they shine. This hyperkinetic music biopic focuses on the rise and fall of the gangsta rap group N.W.A. during the late 80s to the mid-1990s. Led by astonishing performances from all the actors portraying members of the group and the energetic direction of F. Gary Gray, “Straight Outta Compton” is a music biopic done right, being both emotionally and thematically exhilarating.