About 10 steps above the quality of my second part, this section of 10 features about a half dozen year-end contenders, should I choose to make another top 50 next year (doubtful on that, but we'll see).
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Directed by Peter Atencio
A screwy little comedy that never once doubts itself or the absurdity of its scenarios. Key and Peele are a good comedic duo, that much is certain, as they play off each other like the absolute best of friends, and their chemistry here is, not surprisingly, one of the best things about the movie as a whole. Also, there's a really cute kitten in the movie, so duh, that's got to be one of the big upsides here. All-in-all, this isn't the kind of movie that is going to blow anyone away, but it provides fun escapism and gives you a few laughs along the way.
Directed by Mike Stoklasa & Jay Bauman
A whole lot of stupidity that makes for reasonably entertaining entertainment, this sci-fi buddy cop spoof is nothing exhilarating or particularly unique, but the laughs are there, and it's obvious they had a good time making it. Some of the line delivery is a bit odd, but this is a movie making fun of lousy action movies chock full of idiotic one-liners and bad acting, so it basically has immunity from any criticism in that regard. What it all comes down to, is how funny is it? Well, it is pretty funny.
Directed by Michael Showalter
A thoroughly embarrassing little film intended for old women who have read too many Harlequin romance novels and fantasize about dating younger men. A very specific demographic, for sure, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have its appeals outside of this range of audience members. Sally Field gives her best performance in many years, showing off her comedic talents as the tragic and desperate Doris. This is essentially a showcase for Field, as well as a bit of fetish material for the aforementioned little old ladies out there. At worst it's embarrassing, at best, even more embarrassing - but also quite funny.
Directed by Jon Favreau
It might seem like a stupid opening statement, but the best things about this movie are pretty obvious. The visual design for this live action reimagination of the Kipling books, is absolutely terrific. This will definitely be in the running for the best looking movie of the year. Bill Murray as Baloo and Idris Elba as Shere Khan are also amazing. But there are some weaker aspects to it, like Walken as King Louie, who plays the role more like a mafia don with an awkward and unnecessary bit of singing thrown in there out of the blue. All in all, the positives do outweigh the negatives, but it is still an uneven experience. A breathtaking one, at that.
Directed by Gavin Hood
The line between right and wrong is blurred in this well-paced thriller of morality, duty, the nature of responsibility, fear of blame, and the justification of our actions. There are many elements at work here, and thanks to a group of fantastic performances and a script that doesn't feel the need to over-dramatize nor sentimentalize, they all come through neatly and efficiently. There isn't a poor performance in the bunch, the drama is palpable, and the movie never ceases to surprise and thrill. A fitting end to Rickman's illustrious career.
Directed by Don Cheadle
As vibrantly alive and loud as the most upbeat jazz music can be, this movie stands out as being one of the most refreshing music bios in years, not necessarily because it is one of the very best (which it is, mind you), but because it is totally unapologetic in the fact that it is willing to just make crap up for the sake of a better story. Don Cheadle obviously nails it in the lead role (it's Don Cheadle, after all, what else would you expect?) never making Miles Davis seem like a good guy, but you still manage to like him. I don't care for mindless hero worship, and this movie, though passionately-made, is definitely not guilty of that. A strong directorial debut for Cheadle, as well.
Directed by Karyn Kusama
A slow-burn very much in the style of Ti West's strongest work, this horror thriller is a tad predictable (even to people like me who seldom find themselves trying to guess what will happen next - because that's fun for some people, apparently), very slow, but totally worthy of your patience and attention. Strong performances, interesting characters, and a tense and terrifying atmosphere that leaves you feeling truly helpless and paranoid help make this one of the best horror movies of the past few years. Oh, and if this is the first time you're hearing about this, do yourself a favor and DON'T watch the trailers. You'll thank me.
Directed by Jeff Nichols
A strong sci-fi film with a slight tendency to veer into Spielbergian territory, Jeff Nichols' 4th film is by no means a knock off, and feels very much like it's own creation. Intense and exciting all the way through, you can't help but to get the sense that the movie knew exactly how it wanted to set itself up, but didn't really have a clue what to do once it got there. Still, the acting is great (even the kid does an awesome job), the effects stand out as being really unique and cool, and though it may feel slightly anti-climactic by the very end, the story and set-up is absolutely terrific. Definitely one of the strongest sci-fi movies to come down the pike in the past several years.
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Gory? Yes. Suspenseful? Yes. Unpredictable? Yes...sort of. But hey, that's 2 and a half checks, so I would say it deserves plenty of praise. Patrick Stewart, despite not being heavily featured, totally steals every scene he's in, with Imogen Poots essentially nabbing up the remainder of the screen-time with some very fine acting. This is a gritty, disturbing thriller that doesn't actively reject genre stereotypes as much as it just plain ignores them. There are some very clever moves the film makes throughout that I feel may help shape the genre in a good way, but only time will tell is that theory comes to fruition. For the sake of horror fans everywhere, I can only hope I'm right, because we need more movies like this. It's pretty awesome.
Directed by Richard Linklater
The best Linklater film in years, and one of the most infectiously likable movies of the year so far. A coming-of-age ensemble much like his previous film Dazed And Confused, this is a relatively simple little film with a lot of charm, laughs, and heart. Never once was I anything less than entertained during this movie, drawn in to every moment and feeling a strangely strong sense of nostalgia, despite myself never even being alive during the '70s or '80s. It's weird to see a movie take so many potentially annoying and unlikable characters and make them so endearing, but Linklater does it. Has the potential to wind up on my year-end top 10, though only time will tell.