Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Every critic has their blind spots. For yours truly, it’s action science-fiction. Just in the last decade, the subgenre has given birth to heart-pumping masterpieces like District 9, Inception, and Gravity and they’re the films I most consistently look forward to. (Two of my most anticipated movies this year, point in fact, were Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets and Blade Runner 2049.)
As a result of loving the sub-genre so much, I can sometimes be dazzled into distraction in a way other genres aren’t able to. The only movies I generally lower my review ratings for tend to be action sci-fi, like Star Trek Into Darkness and Elysium, both of which dropped half a star between my initial reviews and second viewings.
All of which is to say I, like most in 2015, was a little too impressed by The Force Awakens. It’s a really good movie, don’t get me wrong. But I initially gave it 4½ stars and placed it on my Best Movies of 2015 list — a little undeservingly, I’ve come to see, as my rating for the seventh Star Wars entry has settled to an even 4 stars out of 5.
Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
When it was announced to the world that the director of the seventh Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, would be J.J. Abrams, it made the most sense of anyone imaginable. The task of continuing arguably the most beloved film saga of all time — while also redeeming the collective disappointment of “the prequels” — was a fool’s errand, after all.
Of course, so was rebooting Star Trek in 2009, which Abrams handled with such deft aplomb that it resurrected the entire franchise. Abrams showed the perfect flair for paying respect to a series’ roots (which a new Star Wars movie is required, by nature, to do) while also being unafraid to take bold chances (which the three most recent Star Wars movies largely failed to do).
Perhaps most anticipated about The Force Awakens has not been what the exact plot would be or how new and old characters would intertwine but how well Abrams would do with the torch that Disney passed on, after George Lucas finally released his grip. The world can now release its collective breath. J.J. Abrams’ hugely successful rescue of the series represents the truest new hope for the saga since 1977 — and in more literal ways than you may expect. Continue reading
Photo: Warner Bros.
The premise is simple enough: Four grown-up siblings and their mother agree to spend one week in the same house, as the request of their just-deceased father. While the house-arrest premise has been done in myriad ways already, This is Where I Leave You has better acting than any of its brethren and a screenplay that, for the most part, smartly sidesteps the predictable.
Photo: E1 Entertainment
In the last two decades, romantic comedies have learned to add drama, killer music, and realistic dialogue to create richer and more evocative experiences on film. (See: Chasing Amy, High Fidelity, Garden State, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and 500 Days of Summer.) (Seriously, see them.)
The F Word (or the more generically titled What If, in the U.S.) follows that same path, but still manages to keep one foot planted in the mentality of pre-‘90s rom-coms like When Harry Met Sally… and Moonstruck. Oddly, instead of seeming of two time periods, The F Word finds a happy blend of the two styles and ends up being one of the better romantic comedies of the last few years.
Photo: CBS Films
After nearly 30 years of making movies, from the goofily comedic Raising Arizona to the Oscar-courting Fargo, the Coen brothers have attained a rare status nowadays: directors the general public pays attention for. “Coen brothers movies” aren’t released; they arrive.