I don’t get to see a lot of movies in theaters at the moment. It used to be that when a movie came out that I really wanted to see, I was in there, day one, washing it down, walking out and waiting for a new movie the next week. But with the handful of a puppy and the fact that my girlfriend (and the puppy) live fairly far from any theater, she’s in school, we’re both working, this thing and that thing–it’s hard to get out there to go see one. Which means that my movie review section of this site is very sparse at the moment (with nothing in it) and I would like to fill it up. Maybe in the future I’ll do throwbacks to great movies that have come out over the past couple of years? And maybe I’ll actually get out to the theater to see a few more? But for now–here is a top 5 list of the best movies that I’ve seen so far this year.
Caveat: This is pre-Star Wars so that movie isn’t included, and while movies like The Martian are, from what I’ve heard, inarguably great, I have not seen it and it will not be here either. These are of the few that I’ve seen, that I really can rally behind, and why they were so great.
In no particular order:
There was a time 10, 15, 20 years ago when family movies, the good and bad, were centered around very simple themes: nuclear families, cut and dry conflicts, black and white, good and evil stories of triumph where the good wins out with little loss to their cause. And, to be fair, some movies today are still that way, even if they end up bad–but the competition circling the movie industry now is stiff and necessitates complexity over simplicity, edging out the simpler stories of before.
Paddington is an example of how a simple, family story with an over the top, twirl-their-mustache villain can still succeed–nay–excel today, despite being surrounded by the sometimes huge nonsense around it. The short version is this: Paddington is about a bear who travels to London to find and stay with an explorer who visited his aunt and uncle years before. He comes across a semi-goofy family (“semi” because the father is quite the tightwad) who allow him to stay with them until he is able to find the explorer. Meanwhile, a sadistic taxidermist learns of his coming to London and seeks to stuff and mount him for her own exotic collection. It all doesn’t reach much farther than that and it really doesn’t have to. Paddington is about family, about the family that takes this talking bear in out of the kindness of their hearts and sets the stage for the high jinks to come. The titular Paddington bear teaches and learns from this family about what it means to be a part of family, how to fill out those roles within it properly, and, over time, learns that priorities, goals, forethinking and what not often times aren’t worth it if what is before you is better.
It’s a great movie, a fun movie, and a movie that just reminds the viewer that within the complex and the dark and all of that, there are some things that strive to be a little more simple.
Keeping in line with the childlike and goofy, we have Inside Out, the latest Pixar masterpiece that, in another’s hands, would have turned up regurgitated in the movie industry’s trashcan long before ever making it to screen. I say that because the amount of right that had to come together to make this all work is incredible, and it does it, seemingly with ease, while taking off critically to boot.
It, for the most part, takes place within the mind of a girl named Riley, and sets center stage five distinct and core emotions–Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger–all with seemingly one note personalities of their own. They reside in a sort of hub at the center of her mind that stores and processes all of her memories and the reactions she has to them, and when some of the core memories that have defined her thus far are altered and jettisoned out of the hub, it is up to Joy and Sadness to retrieve them, while the other three are left attempting to maintain Riley’s emotional state.
It’s a movie that so deftly weaves together a world and mythos alongside our own that seems genuinely plausible, and one that causes us to care for these emotions, and the people they reside within, more than I think I’ve seen in any recent animated feature. Not only is it a good Pixar movie (which there are very few that aren’t), but it is one of the best, and sits quite firmly near the top.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Alright–movie three in the parade of feel good…
Oh wait. Never mind.
For anyone unfamiliar with the universe, Mad Max, and the rest of the series including the one we are talking about here, is a set of films centered around a world post-some apocalyptic disaster, the titular Mad Max and his ultimate quest to survive.
That’s what makes Mad Max: Fury Road so good. It’s what makes it, easily, one of the best movies of the year, if not the last five years. The movie starts off with Max being taken captive by a gang called the War Boys, a group that holds singular control over the majority of the water supply in the surrounding desert. When one of Immortan Joe’s (the antagonist here) lieutenants, en route to collect gasoline, veers off course with five of his wives in tow, he sends out his army in hot pursuit to take the lieutenant (Impertor Furiosa) down and get the wives back. Max is caught up in it all.
Throughout all of this though, there is very little dialogue (comparatively) and we, as an audience, are expected to collect the information presented and draw conclusions about what it is that is happening. Max hardly speaks, and when he does he says maybe a word or two, and everything laid out is deceptively simple, which is the beauty in the incredible package that is Mad Max: Fury Road. Throughout the entire movie, the audience is hammered upon by a single idea: that survival is all there is, that the conflicts, no matter their scope, no matter the circumstances, are based around the concept of survival. Max is fighting to survive his captors. Furiosa is fighting to preserve these girls. Immortan Joe is fighting for the lives of his wives so that he may carry on his line, and the men in his band, the men throwing themselves at the heroes, are willing to do so simply because the man who leads them cares little for their lives. It’s about the value of our life, and what we value, and that when everything is gone and we are left with nothing, we’ll have little else but survival to drive us.
It’s 80’s-esque, crazy, over the top super fun and honestly is easily my favorite movie of the year. Go Mad Max:Fury Road. Go crazy guitar guy. You rock. Keep doing you.
The Duff is probably the oddball on this list for a number of reasons, chief among them probably being that it is one of these modern RomComs in the vein of Superbad that aren’t really about romance as much as they are about gettin’ some and maturity of a male from boy to gettin’ some. But the thing about The Duff is that…it really isn’t like that.
It’s about a girl named Bianca who discovers that she is the D.U.F.F. of her friend group (D.U.F.F. standing for Designated Ugly Fat Friend). Her friends are significantly more popular than she is and she slowly begins to see that that–her being the ancillary friend who is a gateway to the others–is indeed the way she is viewed. So she sets out to differentiate herself from the identity her high school society has set upon her and the majority of the movie is about that. For a modern fun romantic romp, it’s surprisingly full of heart. There’s a lot there in terms of friendship, and self-confidence and falling in love with who you love and who loves you, rather than an idea of someone you should love. It’s good. I enjoyed it. Go see it!
And rounding out our top five is Marvel’s Ant-Man, the movie that nobody thought could be anything but actually turned out to be something. It’s about Scott Lang, a kind-hearted thief, wanting nothing but good for his daughter, who, after being released from prison, after being unable to hold a job due to his record, finds himself back in thievery, only to stumble upon the Ant-Man costume and the creator who perfected it decades before. He is trained by said creator (an oldish Hank Pym) to steal a similar suit prototype being developed as a weapon to the highest bidder and comes to find his place amongst an even greater cause and his opportunity to become a hero.
Like I said, no one would have bet on Ant-Man being good when it was originally announced, or when the first, and second, and subsequent trailers came out, or when the reviews said it was actually good. Following something like Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man was sort of destined to come of short (ironically, Ant-Man was the better movie here), but it found good footing in the comic movie franchise and I am personally glad that it did.
And with that, we are done with our Top 5 list. Like I said at the top, given the opportunity to see everything that has come out or will come out this year, this list may have been vastly different, but as it stands, this is where I sit–and even if every one of these movies were knocked out of their top spots by something even better, they are still very much worth your time if you like movies at all.
I hope to bring another something like this soon. Keep your eyes open!