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If only we could resurrect writer Jane Austen and ask her zombified corpse what it thinks of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the 2009 mash-up novel put together by Seth Grahame-Smith. Using her 1813 classic about love and aristocracy as a basis, Grahame-Smith fused the romance novel with all the brain-munching aspects the modern, zombie sub-genre has to offer. Surprisingly enough, the mash-up novel was a success with both critics and audiences, and now the beloved story of engagements and the undead has made its way to the big screen. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, adapted and directed by Burr Steers, follows through on the novel's success, providing a ball of humor, romance, and an abundance of exploding heads. It's enough to satisfy anyone not beholden to either side of the mix.
Through the hazy light that seeps in via Venetian blinds and in the midst of the cold, dark hallways that make up the world in Jacob Gentry's Synchronicity, a mind-bending, sci-fi love story unfolds. Much of what plays out rests in familiar territory. The general design of the futuristic (but not quite future?) world is more than a little reminiscent of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. But that familiarity in structure only serves the love story Gentry is telling, the greater of the two mysteries with which the filmmaker presents. With focus, determined pace, and nice swaths of dry humor, Synchronicity emerges as more than the sum of its influences' parts. Gentry succeeds in creating the world, implications and subtext of the story he's telling.
Another year comes to a close, another opportunity arises to reflect back on the best in film. As with any space of time, there were ups and downs in the film world throughout 2015. Many films brought with them huge levels of anticipation only to disappoint, some had small amounts of anticipation and completely blew us away. No one ever expects to make a bad film, and the best audience members never go into a film expecting – or wanting – to hate it. We all love movies. The varying levels with which we admire certain, specific films is what makes the entire art form as exciting as it is. The passion we all have for cinema is what keeps us scouring the theaters for the best the artists whose work we're experiencing have to offer.
It took a while for the American Western to find its groove. Even by the 1930s, the genre hadn't quite found its prestige. Examples were cheap, cookie-cutter B-movies that hardly showed anything of resonance. That was, until 1939, when John Ford gave us Stagecoach, a near-perfect film that practically invented the genre as we know it today. The film made the genre one of importance and one that, even in 2015, continues to reinvent itself. This year's The Hateful Eight isn't exactly a reinvention of a genre so much as it is a return of sorts. Quentin Tarantino, as with all of his films, creates a singular, unique experience that is both a love letter to a genre as well as a whole, new bag entirely. And it all starts, of course, with a stagecoach.
It's likely there has never been a motion picture as anticipated on a global scale as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, except perhaps The Phantom Menace in 1999. Ever since 2012 when George Lucas sold the rights to his gigantic property and Disney along with Kathleen Kennedy took over, the excitement levels for what was to come were off the charts. It goes back much further than 2012, though. From the moment "Directed by Richard Marquand" splashed across the screen at the end of Return of the Jedi in 1983, fans have wanted to know what happened next. Try as they might, no amount of universe expansion in the form of books or video games could fill that gap the original trilogy left at its conclusion. Let's not even discuss the actual, Star Wars films that have dropped in the last 30 years. Instead, let's get right into, shall we?
Ryan Coogler's Creed is the best film of the year. That may come as a shock for some of you especially if you're among those old enough to remember many of the hokier directions the Rocky series took. After six films and several ups and downs, it didn't seem reasonable to go back to the Balboa well once again. Instead, it was time to revitalize the series for a newer, younger audience. I know what several of you think of the word "reboot," but, when it works – and those exceptions are few and far between – there's no denying it. Everything in Creed works perfectly, and the movie not only spins off from the Rocky series in the most organic and best way possible, it stands on its own as a flawlessly realized work of cinema.
The odds were not always in favor of The Hunger Games. Sure, when Lionsgate and indie studio Color Force picked up the rights to the Suzanne Collins' series in 2009, the young adult craze was in full swing. Still, nothing was guaranteed. Just ask the people behind The Golden Compass film about risks and rewards in the game of YA adaptations. They'll have some stories of heartbreak. Since the release of The Hunger Games in 2012, though, this was the new franchise by which others were measured. It's taken just four years for the series to begin and reach its inevitable conclusion, and that time has finally come. The series on fire ends with Mockingjay – Part 2, the thrilling conclusion to a truly awesome series of movies.
From its inception in 2006, the latest reboot of the James Bond franchise has taken some unexpected steps. Daniel Craig, blonde-headed as he is, quickly proved himself as the ideal choice to bring Ian Fleming's debonair superspy to life. That part of the 007 equation has been on solid footing this whole time. The films, though, have gone to great lengths in sidestepping the expectations that come with a franchise that's now passed its 50th year in the cultural zeitgeist. Craig is Bond yet again in Spectre, and, once again, fans of the series should immediately hit the eject button on any expectations. Any preconceived notion of what Spectre should be like will do a disservice to what the filmmakers were trying to do this time around.
There's very little question about Guillermo del Toro's prowess as a visionary storyteller. Whether about a demonic superhero and the strange creatures he fights or a gothic love story with supernatural tones, the director's films are wall-to-wall detail. The images he creates are gorgeous, his films the kind where every shot is an immaculate glimpse into del Toro's artistic and unique eye. This is the case, as well, with the filmmaker's latest menagerie of macabre madness and supernatural scares. Crimson Peak brings with it the same, visual detail for which the director has become known. The story plays out in basic, predictable form, but it's never enough to hold back the visual masterpiece del Toro once again delivers.
The first image we see in S. Craig Zahler's horror Western, Bone Tomahawk, is that of the violence that men do. A dull blade makes two, then three attempts at slicing through a sleeping man's throat. The man holding the knife is one of two thieves, sneaking into a camp at night to murder and steal whatever they can find. It's indicative of the violent period in American history when disorder ruled and ignorance of the land around them made people paranoid. The horrors awaiting those murderous thieves is the catalyst for the film, an epic but quick-paced horror adventure that digs deep into the violent history of this country.
Simple motivations that lead to very complicated situations, driven by generally inept protagonists: that's where up-and-coming writer/director Jeremy Saulnier excels. Whether it's an unassuming Halloween party or the simple revenge of the death of a loved one, his films layer intriguing characters with engaging events, and none of the results are predictable. So, too, is the case with the ultraviolent Green Room, Saulnier's latest. It's another brutal, suspenseful and daring entry into Saulnier's self-described "inept protagonist" trilogy in which choices made just make bad choices worse and worse all the way to the absolute worst-possible outcome. Much like his other films, though, Green Room is as smart as it is thrilling, just as rough as it is comical. In a nutshell, it's Saulnier's most accomplished gem to date.
As far as film debuts go, they don't come as terrifying as writer/director Robert Eggers' The Witch. A stunningly simple, period, family drama with loads of gothic mood and dripping with atmosphere, it isn't a horror that will appease genre fans wanting a jump-scare every 15 minutes. Nor will it satiate gore-hounds looking for blood and guts strewn throughout. The Witch, instead, draws its horror from the unseen forces at work in the universe that slowly, but surely, breaks down a family until there's hardly anything, maybe nothing at all, left. Every scene of Eggers' film is crafted with an inherent tension, every shot a gorgeous composition of wood, dirt and fog. The Witch doesn't have an immediate impact, but it damn sure festers.
Ben Wheatley is a cinematic genius. That's the only explanation for the adrenaline shooting through your veins while watching his films, that feeling you get when you know you've just seen something special. The high that comes from experiencing one of his works is indisputable. It charges back into you each time you reflect on one of his films and every time you mentally organize the puzzle pieces the filmmaker has set forth. Wheatley's films are immensely rewarding, because the director doesn't hold your hand, doesn't tie everything together, and certainly doesn't connect all the dots. You're on your own with that, and that's one of the many reasons why High-Rise, Wheatley's adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel, is so damn great.
There are a lot of avenues a filmmaker can take when discussing the emotions that drive us humans as well as the contradictory nature between love and relationships. With The Lobster, writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos creates a strange, cynical look at these contradictions with enough sardonic wit to consider it a satire. The filmmaker who hit with the equally strange comedy, Dogtooth, returns to bring yet another dry and somewhat surreal comedy that may just have you cringing in your seat as much as it has you rolling. With a stellar cast and Lanthimos' unapologetic vision, The Lobster is a unique experience that will question your faith in love as much as enhance it.