My ‘Top 10 Movies of 2015’ (so far!)

Approaching the mid-point of the 2015 calendar, it’s time to look back at the films I found to be the most entertaining, educational and thought-provoking.  Of course this list of my Top 10 Movies of 2015 (so far!) doesn’t include the films re-shown pre- and post-Oscar Night because they were actually 2014 releases (“American Sniper”, for example was only shown in a handful of theaters between its Christmas Day release date and the movie’s nationwide debut on January 15th).

10.  Fifty Shades of Grey – This film offers an escapism for viewers wanting to look inside others’ bedrooms, toy boxes and sexual adventurism. It’s kinky without being raunchy or sordid. It’s seductive with tangibles that include hand & leg restraints, blindfolds, neckties…and ice cubes. The strong sexual content and language that created this film’s massive hype, only appear in appropriate scenes that are relevant to the overall storyline. No gratuitous sex, just dominant-submissive foreplay and intimacy.  50Shades2

What makes this film so interesting isn’t the power and influence imparted by Dornan’s Christian Grey character upon the physically weaker Ana Steele. This movie’s main catalyst is Miss Steele’s ability to go toe-to-toe with Mr. Grey, pushing back on his misguided mannerisms, re-negotiating his non-disclosure agreements, all the while attempting to come to terms with her own emotional and physical limits.  The banter between the costars throughout the film is abundant, easy and feels natural. Lastly, both Dornan and Johnson deserve credit for better-than-expected acting performances in this bondage story.

9.  Avengers: Age of Ultron – Writer-Director Joss Whedon (“Toy Story”, 1995) once again provides the steady hand behind the chaos known as The Avengers—all our favorite, eccentric personalities gathered to defeat evil and prevent the Earth’s destruction. Despite the heavy doses of computer generated imagery (CGI) typically found in these comic book movies, “Age of Ultron” settles down long enough to allow us to enjoy the best part of the Marvel collection—the odd assortment of Avengers: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Continuing that camaraderie will be key to a franchise expected to launch at least ten more Marvel movies within the next decade. To get a snippet into how that may be done, be sure to stay and watch the mid-credits scene at the end of this blockbuster hit.

Age of Ultron18.  Spy – Is “Spy” the funniest movie I’ve ever seen? No. Not by a longshot. But it does provide hysterical comparisons to the three stealthiest JB’s in the undercover biz: James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer. If you’ve enjoyed the Austin Powers’ trilogy of spy parodies and can handle F-bombs tossed in every direction throughout, you’ll find this film’s physical comedy and witty presentation also agreeable. No one in Hollywood has a better comedic game right now than Melissa McCarthy. Spy Shaken

“Spy” works because McCarthy can deliver laughs with a simple look, deadpan line or uncomfortable run/walk. The “Bridesmaids” alumnus has effortlessly transformed herself from Emmy winning television comedian into a bona fide motion picture headliner. While her cousin Jenny McCarthy may get the most double-takes from magazine photos, it’s this McCarthy that is sure-fire bet at the box office. Look for Melissa to continue her meteoric rise on the big screen well into 2016.

7.  The Longest Ride – This latest film, adapted from author Nicholas Sparks’ #1 bestselling page-turner, will be labeled a “Chick Flick” by most. However, that simple categorization would be short-changing this movie’s wider appeal, reaching even those carrying both the X and Y chromosomes. Sparks’ novels may be romantic catnip to female readers, but this film version of “The Longest Ride” packs enough compelling rodeo action from Clint Eastwood’s offspring, as well as interesting subplots, to hold the attention of all moviegoers—regardless of one’s gender.  Scott Eastwood stars as a professional bull rider, Luke Collins, a former PBR champion set on making a comeback on the rodeo circuit and reclaiming his #1 world ranking. Competing for Eastwood’s attention and some action are Sophia (Brittany Robertson), a Wake Forest senior beauty, and Rango, a 2,500-pound Brahma bull. The self-proclaimed “Toughest Sport on Dirt” is now even more difficult for Eastwood’s Collins character.

The Longest Ride

6.  Kingsman: The Secret Service – Academy Award winner Colin Firth (for 2010’s “The King’s Speech) impressively leads this light-hearted and quite enjoyable spy thriller as British agent Harry Hart, opposite world Internet antagonist Richmond Valentine—portrayed good-naturedly by Samuel L. Jackson. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a fun and entertaining action-packed spoof presented as an alternative to the more thought-provoking, stuffy spy genres such as the James Bond and Jason Bourne classics. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a highly satisfying, over-the-top explosion of fun as good defeats evil in the world.

Kingsman2Using excessive, mindless violence to the point of comic relief takes “Kingsman” to the edge of satire, stopping just short of ridicule towards the weightier spy films. This movie works because director Vaughn never takes the characters or the script too seriously or disparages the clandestine profession. Vaughn even offers several hat-tips to the Bond legacy, paying proper homage with references and ensuring the spy always gets the girl. After all, “Manners maketh man”.

5.  Pitch Perfect 2 – Delivers a chorus of nonstop laughs throughout the movie using gags, one-liners and expanded story lines on each of the singers. The always amusing Australian stand-up comic Rebel Wilson headlines most of this film’s funniest scenes. As Fat Amy, Wilson provides us with an impeccable, quick-witted physical comedy presence not seen since Leslie Mann’s magnificent, Jim Carrey-esque performance in last year’s “The Other Woman”.  Through expanded story lines of each of the characters and a high-water mark for laughter that surpasses even the original blockbuster hit, “Pitch Perfect 2” nails it. Viewers who enjoyed the 2012 Barden Bellas will once again find this one music centric and personality driven. First time director Elizabeth Banks deserves credit for knowing what audiences have enjoyed along the a cappella competition circuit and for masterfully catering to those viewer desires. Her successful debut is marked by charming characters, pleasing music entertainment and perfectly timed humor.

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4.  Woman in Gold – Academy Award winner Helen Mirren (2006’s “Queen”) follows up her stellar work in last year’s delightful “The Hundred-Foot Journey” with another charming and impeccable performance. As the now older Maria Altmann, Mirren’s flashbacks to her childhood in Vienna, Austria describe the gold leaf portrait of her Aunt Adele by artist Gustav Klimt. A family heirloom, the “Woman in Gold” is plundered by Nazi’s in 1938, as Austria was annexed by Hitler’s Germany.

Woman in Gold“Woman in Gold” is an impressive story beyond just redemption and restitution. It’s a history lesson through one woman’s eyes of the death and destruction her Jewish family faced in WWII and endured over the years. As Austria’s version of the Mona Lisa in popularity, the Adele Bloch-Bauer I portrait reflects the horrendous evil Germany inflicted upon Jews—taking prized possessions that included art, fine china and jewelry. The film nicely compares and contrasts prewar Austria with post-war memories using flashbacks, legal sparring and Mirren’s amusing relationship with her attorney, affably played by Ryan Reynolds.

3.  Ex Machina – “Ex Machina” is a phenomenal sci-fi thriller that shocks film goers with philosophical questions not only about the human psyche, but also our future existence. As a sharp, young computer programmer visits an underground laboratory at the invitation of the facility’s researcher, he finds a robot with human features that he must quiz to determine her actual intelligence level. The cerebral dog-fighting in “Ex Machina” makes this movie one to watch in 2015.  The human species hasn’t been this challenged by evolutionary creatures on film since Charlton Heston’s spacecraft landed back on Earth in 1968’s “Planet of the Apes”. Between all the generated algorithms, programming languages and source codes rests a fight to be the dominant species. “Ex Machina” provokes an unusual and unique look into the audience’s soul through search engine results and robotics. Only later and off-screen, upon further reflection, does the film download another afterthought for viewers to contemplate; our society’s over-reliance on high-tech instruments for communication, information and the ability to function in today’s world.

Ex Machina

2.  McFarland USA – This latest Disney film starring Academy Award winner Kevin Costner tells the uplifting and remarkable true story of a small California high school cross-country team in 1987. It’s an inspiring and motivational film tribute to a community and culture that raises children with a tireless work ethic while fostering a strong sense of family responsibility. “McFarland USA” is an eye-opening and heartwarming movie that challenges our assumptions about people, personal sacrifice and endurance. The film delivers an epic account on both cultural and physical conditioning–combining to superbly illustrate the tenacity of the human spirit. The film’s invigorating cast shines bright throughout this brilliant journey. Each of the jarring performances, particularly from the young runners, is exceptional and believable. In fact, while Costner’s work as Coach White was adequate enough, it pales in comparison to the authentic and endearing efforts by the other stars.

McFarland3

1. Noble – The true story of Christina Noble, a strong, spirited and determined woman who overcomes adversity and poverty on the streets of Ireland growing up. During her youth, she experiences dreams of Vietnam and understands that her life’s calling is in that country. However, in order to fulfill her desire, she must first survive impossible odds and struggles no person should ever endure–particularly a child. The young, determined Christina fights starvation, the early death of her Mother, and an absent and deadbeat father. Facing fears at nearly every turn, Noble goes to her good place—singing her favorite Doris Day songs to cope. Smartly, she also begins a conversation with God, asking Him why she’s been dealt so much, so early in her life. The answer to that question can only be found in Vietnam.  A smaller film distributed and released in only 17 U.S. cities last month, you may have to look hard for “Noble”.  But find this movie and be inspired.

noble

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