- Thrillers & Action Adventure
- Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is a brilliant, though jarringly violent and stylistic, take on slavery in the 1800s. It follows a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) and a freed slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) as they set out to free Django’s wife from a sadistic plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). The linear western is undeniably brazen, with heavy use of vulgarity and racial slurs, but it’s still a sensational satire — so long as you can overlook a few historical inaccuracies and stomach the atrociousness of the gladiator-like Mandingo scene.
Not everyone thought comedian and satirical news anchor John Stewart would leave behind his primetime charades to direct a film, especially one as dramatic and heavy-hitting as Rosewater. The turbulent film, which is based on Maziar Bahari’s memoir (Then They Came for Me), recounts a London-based journalist who is imprisoned, tortured, and interrogated in Iran for nearly four months as an alleged U.S. spy. Stewart seamlessly captures the overwhelming tension of the whole ordeal alongside lead actor Gael García Bernal, and moreover, does so while shedding light on political absurdities of it all and upholding the utmost respect for the Iranian people.
Although the 2014 World Cup may have depicted otherwise, Rio de Janeiro isn’t the most hospitable of places. Adapted from author Paulo Lins’ semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, City of God follows a young boy named Rocket as attempts to skirt the drugs, gang violence, and crime plaguing the Brazilian slums he calls home for three decades. It’s both breathtaking and terrifying, with excellent character development, camerawork, and authenticity.
Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker may be the lowest-grossing film to have ever won Best Picture, but it’s still one of the best dramatizations of the Iraq War to date. The gripping drama follows a three-man, Explosive Ordinance Disposal team in the war-torn country tasked with eradicating bombs during the height of the Iraq War. It received quite a bit of flack for inaccurately portraying certain aspects of wartime, yet the brilliant film’s suspenseful action and steely atmosphere render it more than simply a movie about mindless explosions and special effects. It’s also the undisputed highlight of Jeremy Renner’s career thus far, showcasing a confidence and charisma most people never thought he possessed.
Director Lee Daniels has been on a roll as of late, first with Precious and again with the acclaimed Empire. With The Butler, he helped hone a melodramatic tale regarding a White House butler who served under eight U.S. presidents during his 34-year career. The understated Forest Whitaker shines as butler Cecil Gaines despite the film’s uneven narrative, which slowly unfolds alongside dramatic shifts in politic perspective and American culture. It’s sentimental in a Forest Gump kind of way, with a host of historical anecdotes that tie one generation with the next. And to think, President Barack Obama teared up just thinking about it.
Bill Murray is a well-loved guy, sure, but he doesn’t typically tout the kind of acting chops showcased by one Robert Duvall. In Get Low, the essentric Duvall stars as a backwoods hermit who organizes his own funeral — before his death — alongside Frank Quinn (Murray), so he can attend the proceedings. It’s loosely based on a true incident involving a Tennessee man in the ’30s, and though the film may come off as unbelievable and overly melodramatic at times, Duvall’s brilliant performance propels the tidy narrative through until the end.
Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird has been heralded as a masterpiece ever since it graced the silver screen in ’62. The heartfelt film is based upon Harper Lee’s Pulitzer-winning novel of the same name, which follows lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) and the maelstrom of hate and prejudice that swirls around him as he works to defend an innocent black man (Brock Peters) accused of raping a white woman. In many ways, the historical film is a strong portrayal of how justice functioned in small-town Alabama, one which also examines the innocence of the children and the special bond between a father and child. Peck’s incredible performance is also one for the books, so much so his role has essentially become synonymous with the character.
Underrated director John Curran’s Tracks is particularly known for its high-octane excitement and penchant for action, but more so its sprawling cinematography and actress Mia Wasikowska’s exemplary performance as real-life adventurer Robyn Davidson. The film is based on Davidson’s novel of the same name, which chronicles her 1,700-mile trek across the Australian outback during the late ‘70s with little more than four camels and her dog. Adam Drivers plays a National Geographic photographer charged with periodically capturing her journey along the way, and though it never achieves the widespread acclaim of similar titles such as Wild, it remains an inspiring tale of one steely broad who just strives to be alone.
Director Rob Reiner’s coming-of-age tale tugs at more than just your heartstrings. It’s awash with honest humor, recalling a group of childhood friends who set out to find a missing teenager’s body in the rural backwoods of Oregon, while showcasing fine acting from the likes of a young Kiefer Sutherland and the late River Phoenix. It’s also a marvelous adaptation of the Stephen King novella on which it is based, teeming with a familiar innocence and the inevitable turbulence of growing up.
Million Dollar Baby actually cost around $30 million to make, but frankly, it paid off. The performances in the film swept the Academy Awards — garnering Clint Eastwood, Hillary Swank, and Morgan Freeman an Oscar — subsequently establishing it as one of the most revered sports dramas every conceived. It’s based on a collection of short stories depicting an underappreciated trainer and the amateur boxer beneath him, yet, the film’s scathing emotion and vivid characterization render it far more memorable than the any work produced by fight manager F.X. Toole. It’s an undisputed triumph, even if the story itself is not.
Underground, high-stakes poker is both lucrative and lethal, which is probably why ace players Matt Damon and Edward Norton aren’t exactly thrilled when they’re forced to come up with $15,000 within five days due to an outstanding gambling debt. Nonetheless, the brilliant film remains a go-to among poker players to this day, featuring well-staged games and solid performances across the board. Norton’s mischievous nature and John Malkovich’s performance as Russian mobster Teddy “KGB” are particularly grand, even if you can’t quite get behind the latter’s accent when he rattles off lines like “Ho-kay, Meester sum of a beech” in his club.
Based on the true story of Philomena Lee’s five decade-long search for her adopted son, Philomena is a powerfully affecting drama film lovers won’t soon forget. Judi Dench and Steve Coogan head this incredible film’s cast, with each giving some of the most moving performances of their entire careers. If you haven’t heard much of the movie’s real-life source material don’t worry, director Stephen Frears leaves no stone unturned and gives this heartwarming tale of love and family its proper due. It’s not the least bit surprising this film turned critics heads en masse in 2013.
The late Howard Hughes was a big name, not necessarily in stature but in vision. Scorsese’s stylistic, Oscar-winning film looks back upon the life and times of Hughes, touching upon his earlier days as an aviation magnate to his later work producing what would essentially become the world’s first blockbuster to include sound. Scorsese litters the film with insight and intrigue, and DiCaprio’s portrayal as the eccentric Hughes manages to capture both his golden years and the dark, troublesome life he would later inhabit once he locked himself within the Beverly Hills Hotel. The supporting cast is also phenomenal, particularly Cate Blanchett and Kate Beckinsale, as is the set design and the film’s ability to examine the complexity of man few have tried.
Just try to overlook Mel Gibson’s personal affairs for a moment and take Braveheart for what it is: one of the best medieval epics to ever grace the big screen. It’s centered on Scottish warrior William Wallace (Gibson) and the revolt he led against King Edward I in the First War of Scottish Independence. Despite the wealth of historical inaccuracies, the film has single-handedly bolstered Scottish tourism more than anything else. It’s brutal and violent, but so was the 13th century and Blind Harry’s epic poem on which the film is based.
There’s never been a film quite like director Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump. A romantic dramedy of sorts, the film stars Tom Hanks as a slow-witted Alabama with exceptional athleticism, one who finds himself in some of the most pivotal and defining moments of the second half of the 20th century (i.e. the Watergate scandal). Though it swept the 67th Academy Awards, it remains a polarizing film given the undisclosed symbolism and vague political interpretations. Nonetheless, it was a box office success and one of Hanks’ strongest roles to date.
The beauty of Marc Forster’s Finding Neverland lies in its stark use of contrasts. The semi-autobiographic, Edwardian film follows author J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) and his relationship with the family who inspired him to write Peter Pan. No performance is particularly exemplary, even if Depp was nominated for an Oscar, but it unconventionally blends the whimsy of nostalgia with the harsh realities of the world, allowing the slow-paced film to curb an demeanor that may come off as maudlin or hokey on first glance. The costumes and score take it all one step further.
Daniel Day Lewis won an Oscar for his portrayal as Daniel Plainview, a mineral prospector in New Mexico in 1898. Life is pretty good for Daniel and his adopted son H.W. — that is, until companies start to vie for Daniel’s oil source. There are gun-fights, murder, arsonists, and of course oil. The film is based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, so prepare yourself for violence and grit, and lots of it.
While Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 drama Boogie Nights does, in fact, focus on the porn industry of the 1970s, it’s anything but a raunchy or lewd piece of filmmaking. Over the course of the film’s semi-long run time of two and a half hours, Anderson tells the story of Dirk Diggler (played by Mark Wahlberg), a young high school dropout who stumbles into the world of porn because of his large… personality. With a star studded cast and perfectly written script, Boogie Nights excels at nearly every turn.