Let’s be honest, when the movie headline of the year is what won’t be in Kim Jong-un’s Netflix queue it’s not been exactly what we critics would call a banner crop. Still, it was not without a few solid films. Here are my top 10 in no particular order.
Brad Pitt was sergeant of a motley tank crew whose adhesion no doubt began as conscription, at best patriotism, before morphing into duty and valiance, until finally this: a way of life. Director David Ayer, who grew-up in Bloomington, Minnesota, also penned the script. Ayer scribed Denzel Washington’s gritty “Training Day” and brings the same rawness and paradoxical character study here in what is easily one of the best war films of the past quarter century.
The true story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic athlete then Army airman whose plane went down in the Pacific where he and a comrade survived for 47 days in a raft before being “rescued” by the Japanese Navy. Immediately engaging and masterful storytelling by director Angelina Jolie conveys Zamperini’s endurance, especially his time in a prisoner of war camp that makes Guantanamo Bay look like the Four Seasons (the hotel, not the band).
Based on the memoir of Chaska, Minnesota writer Cheryl Strayed. She hiked more than 1,000 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail between the borders of Mexico and Canada in equal parts penance, healing and ablution after her mother’s death sent her into a downward spiral. As uplifting as the cinematography is vivid. Award-caliber performance by Reese Witherspoon.
Jon Favreau converts a roach coach to bring his flavor of haute cuisine to the masses and along the way reconnects with his son.
Ben Affleck’s inability to muster grief puts him on the wrong side of the media circus and the police when his wife is apparently abducted. From director David Fincher (“Seven,” “Fight Club”), this one delivers an artfully-woven plot with as many twists as a bag of Old Dutch pretzels.
Amy Adams is Margaret Keane, the brush behind popular 1950s painter Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) who rose to fame with his (!) illustrations of big-eyed children. Directed by Tim Burton.
Director Clint Eastwood and “American Hustle” star Bradley Cooper had their work cut out for them bringing Chris Kyle’s story to the big screen. As a Navy SEAL, Kyle was the most lethal sniper in history with 160 confirmed kills that Eastwood treats as dutiful, balancing his tours of duty and his commitments to family.
Get On Up
I feel good … about this respectable homage to “Godfather of Soul” James Brown that perhaps only “42’s” Chadwick Boseman (and maybe Daniel Day-Lewis) could pull off. Director Tate Taylor (“The Help”) and producer Mick Jagger capture the essence of Brown’s fusion of gospel and soul not to mention the inexhaustible performer’s revolutionary dance moves.
“If it bleeds, it leads.” That’s the credo of the 24-hour news cycle that spawns freelance video-journalists like Jake Gyllenhaal’s creepy Louis Bloom. But does the quick study go too far when he stages the capture of the suspects in a brutal home invasion? Of course he does, but it makes for good TV and that’s all that matters in this dark and edgy statement.
Before it’s over, Bill Murray is a cross between Clint Eastwood’s martyred Walt Kowalski in “Gran Torino” and the iconic George Bailey of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But for the rest of the charming comedy, he’s a crusty old man who reluctantly babysits the son of his new neighbor (Melissa McCarthy). Sharp writing and a lot of heart give us precisely the old man we expect Murray to be.