Tuesday, June 14, 2016

REVIEW: X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

As a lover and proponent of original filmmaking, I seem to have found myself in a bit of a hypocritical stance. This year alone I have seen four superhero films, a reboot of a Disney movie...and The Nice Guys. Let's stop now, and keep reading to see my review of the threequel to a rebooted franchise of the now eight-strong X-Men films.

The movie starts (in a startlingly cinematic epic fashion I hadn't seen in an X-Men movie thus far) with an ancient Egyptian landscape, where the world's first mutant En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is worshipped by practically all of CGI Egypt. After betrayal by his men who see him as a false god, Grandaddy Mutant is trapped in the rubble of a pyramid, until 1983 rears its retro head, and some...culty people (??? it's never explained ???) are able to summon up from his slumber. En Sabah Nur (who's actually never called Apocalypse come to think of it) like Ultron and countless others before him is unsatisfied with machinery, weapons and other "superpowers" are being worshipped by the people who should be worshipping true power, i.e. him. Cue his quest to cleanse, er, save the world of its weak links, employing four followers (Horsemen, get it?) to help him vanquish the "superpowers." The mutants with real superpowers, especially those under the residential hood of Professor Charles Xavier, aren't thrilled about it.

Juggling an ensemble of superheroes seems to be the trend this year. The X-Men characters have always been a team, yet they've had comic book issue after issue to give minor characters spotlight. That's where the films have a distinct disadvantage. In usually two hours (Apocalypse's daunting running time proves the exception) you have to give new stories to the old characters, introduce the young blood, introduce your villain and his/her's plot of global destruction, have them duke it out with a loss or some grieve-inducing element to the battle, and have the villain lose. Whether or not  they stick exactly to that formula here in Apocalypse, you'll have to find out. The man/mutant/self-proclaimed god is certainly a worthy adversary, and the question has come up of why doesn't he just kill everyone in his way? With an unspecified power of...trapping people in sand? Don't bring Apocalypse to the beach...with the right transportation he could wipe out all of humanity. I guess the reason they give is he sees potential in all mutants, and wants them all to be his "children" so he can tap into their true power. Unrecognizable under the blue makeup that the film knowingly acknowledges is strange in one scene, Isaac certainly projects an authority and menace needed to play this creature with a god complex. But after the costume, makeup, voice distortion and special effects, how much of Isaac was actually put into that role?

Newcomers who deliver on their roles however are Ty Sheridan, forever Ellis from Mud to me, is a solid Cyclops, although it always gives me a chuckle when the outcast is tall, good looking and might be on the football team. Young Storm already has had more screen time than Halle Berry combined in the original X-Men trilogy, but even that's not saying much. I can't say she's an electric screen presence, although I'm dying to make that pun. She's one of Apocalypse's aforementioned Horsemen, along with Angel, who strangers to the comic like myself haven't heard of and didn't get a great deal of info on them, Magneto, who I'll address momentarily, and perhaps quite disappointingly, Psylocke. I didn't have any problems with her, but she was just eye candy and a henchman, something I feel Olivia Munn who plays her wasn't expecting and something that left the fans down.

Getting back to Michael Fassbender's magnetic screen presence (there's a pun for you!), he certainly has the most emotionally investing scene in the film, even more devastating than the one that opened up the series at the first place in Auschwitz. His arc is typically always is he/is he not evil, and this proves no exception. But you're certainly always invested in what he does next. James McAvoy once again is a Marvel marvel as Professor X. It doesn't seem as daunting as playing a mutant, but handling Xavier's intellect and maturity is no easy feat. Jennifer Lawrence is passable as Mystique. I remember the original trilogy's incarnation of her (played by Rebecca Romijn) being much more mischievous and daring. Lawrence plays the shape-shifter a little flat, lacking her usual charisma she oozed in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Maybe the next X-Men needs David O. Russell as a co-director. Nightcrawler was a welcome addition to the prequel series. Alan Cumming is a hard act to follow, though. Now that the cast has been addressed, the spectacle of this film is grand, perhaps second only to the nearly unanimous agreement of 2014's franchise-high Days of Future Past. The special effects are Oscar worthy, the script serviceable and at times self-referential, the score bombastic. Technically it's a summer delight, but perhaps its heart feels a little too mechanical and by the numbers.

The next installment is said to be set in the 90's. Get ready to see Professor X blasting "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Magneto sporting MC Hammer pants.

Rating: 2.5/4 stars

P.S. The Evan Peters Quiksilver scene is still wonderful, though it's hard to top the DOFP scene.

Monday, June 6, 2016

REVIEW: THE NICE GUYS

The odd couple troupe is one of the oldest cinema can offer: but if it ain't broke, right? The joy of The Nice Guys, a good turnaround for acclaimed writer/director Shane Black, who we last saw helm Iron Man 3, is seeing these two Oscar-nominated actors play the camera for laughs. You don't think belly laughs when you think of Russell Crowe. Ryan Gosling was in last year's Oscar-winning comedy The Big Short, and he was pretty funny it, and we know he has chops from his "SNL" appearance. But they're generally seen as dramatic actors, so the joy of seeing them drive around 1970's L.A. with a hallucinatory creature is pretty spectacular.

The plot (for a mystery, anyway) is much pretty straightforward, with a few curves and backtracks to make it juicy. Healy, a "hit man," as I like to call him, because he pretty much just punches you in the face (Crowe) comes to private eye Holland March's (Gosling) door, breaks his arm and tells him to not pursue looking for Amelia Kutner, someone one of March's clients paid him to look for. When Healy goes back to his office, he's bombarded by two thugs, one of them the golden-voiced Keith David, the other (known as Blue Face, and I'll have you find out why) played by newcomer Beau Knapp, who makes his cartoonish, yippy role memorable here. Why are they there: to see what Healy knows about Amelia. He escapes from them, and returns to the now one-armed March, in that wonderful bathroom stall sequence the studio spoiled in the trailers. It's golden physical comedy. He wants them to team up to find Amelia. What do you think March says?

Crowe and Gosling have dynamite chemistry, but the movie is absolutely a trio. Angourie Rice plays Holly, March's tweenage daughter. At first, she seems a little like a nuisance, like so many kid actors who are probably talented but goaded to play the annoying brat who forces their adult guardians into unwanted situations. Holly does that in the beginning but it's instrumental to the plot going forward. She's a huge, completely necessary help to not only the boys solving the crime, but a key in March's redemptive storyline. Despite Healy taking a few bodies, both main characters are actually pretty nice, considering these types of stories usually feature chipped, hard-boiled men who call women dames and inhale whisky with their cigarette smoke.

After cranking out a mystery whodunit of my own this past summer that at least tries to be suspenseful and tie up all the loose ends, I can personally testify I don't envy the writing aspect of producing a crime movie. While the laughs come at you frequently and more than often land, the script is also the movie's weakness. When the Big Bad is revealed (and it's actually sooner than you'd expect) the motivation of him/her falls a little flat. And with mysteries, you're only as strong as your reveal. But, in a world full of cinema that's remaking itself from 30 years ago (in a stab at being...relevant?) this movie is highly welcome. Look at the box office for right now (June 6th), and just look at the top five movies, not even the top ten. You have a sequel to a reboot at number one, a sequel to a franchise at #2, a sequel that tanked at #4, and...a movie based on an app at #5. In a stronger, more creative year, maybe The Nice Guys, like it's ragtag duo wouldn't be the hottest on the block. But original ideas and concepts will always get my seal of approval, and The Nice Guys is pulpy, violent, very comical R-rated fun.

Rating: 3/4 stars

Thursday, May 26, 2016

REVIEW: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

Even though this admits my guilt to my mind wandering a little, I realized that while watching Civil War this was the Marvel Cinematic Universe's thirteenth film. Besides Bond and probably those awful Transformers movies because audiences keep feeding Michael Bay's ego, how many franchises can say that? Additionally, how many can say that just about all of the films in their franchise have been well received? Most people cite the second Iron Man film as the worst, (and personally I think Iron Man 3 was a poorly executed film), but there isn't really a stinker in there. They're all fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, they all made obscene amounts of money...it's pretty impressive.

Some have noted how the Marvel films are all fairly similar, at least in tone and the formula that follows a TV episode of thwarting the bad guy at the end of it. That's why they bring in directors to genre bend. Sometimes it works, when the Russo brothers (who directed this edition) make a 70s, espionage thriller and call it The Winter Soldier, and sometimes it doesn't, when Shane Black makes a Shane Black movie and calls it Iron Man 3, which you might know I really did not enjoy as a superhero film. Of course, it's awful hard not to enjoy something someone works on for so long, and how much endless work probably goes into a Marvel film. That's why it's so wonderful to see the culmination of all of Marvel's work since Iron Man in 2008 (god, I was 12 and now I'm going to be a junior in college) in Civil War. This is a later review (no rest for the wicked, they say) so I'm going to address the big things below that everyone's talking about. But as for a general review, while there were some flaws, it's everything I wanted Batman v Superman to be, yet so far from that rather mess of a movie mashup it's gotten me so excited for Marvel's Phase Three:

  • SPIDER-MAN: He isn't even a man yet! And yet I like him already so much better than Andrew Garfield. Without spoiling anything, Tom Holland's Peter Parker is a revelation, and even in his limited screen time you know his Homecoming spinoff is going to be wonderful. He's jokey and fun but he's also in awe of all these superhero icons he's meeting. The directors had fun making meta-references here, you can tell, after all they buttered their bread with Community
  • THE OTHER NEW(ER) CHARACTERS: Technically of the Avengers, Black Panther is the only new face to the MCU. I thought his origin story was a little rushed, but the character himself looks like he's gonna be ferocious, and his stand alone film will be not only entertaining but a step forward in superhero diversity. Boseman is winning as the prince. Scarlet Witch and Vision was an...interesting interaction. I certainly didn't see it coming as a non-comic book reader. Everyone else really got their moment in the sun, which I'll talk about in just a second. Except Hawkeye. His appearance confused me, other than just another face to put on the poster. He came so late, too. 
  • THE VILLAIN: MCU films are now notorious for their forgettable villains, sans Loki. I enjoyed Ultron (more than most people) and Jebediah Stone as well, but I couldn't even tell you who the bad guy was from The Dark World  or Guardians of the Galaxy. Daniel Brühl as Helmut Zemo wasn't particularly a standout, but his reasoning for becoming who he is isn't cartoony. It's real, and stinging, and something that might happen in this post 9/11 world. 
  • CAP AND TONY'S RELATIONSHIP: Like I said, everyone got their time to shine in Civil War. Black Widow, Falcon and War Machine maybe less so, but they've been established. It's just cool to see all of these faces and heroes interacting with each other at this point, and how Falcon can be in Ant-Man (which I didn't review but thoroughly enjoyed) and they can just drop in because it's all the same world. It's a 1940's serial, really. But instead of calling it Avengers 2.5, it is indeed a sequel to The Winter Soldier. It focuses on Cap's troubling relationship with Bucky, and then his troubling relationship with Stark after something horrible happens when the Avengers are out of country. I thought it was handled expertly, which leads to...
  • THE THEME: Collateral damage is not what you think of when you think of superhero films, but now both BvS and this film have addressed it. They aren't fighting baddies in deserted regions: they're protecting the world from the forces of evil, but that means a cost in lives. The "Civil War" in question is the government wanting to supervise the Avengers. Tony's for it, Cap isn't. It's meta and wonderful and such a smart move. 
  • THE AIRPORT FIGHT: Believe the hype. 
Rating: 3/4 stars

Friday, April 1, 2016

REVIEW: BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

It seems like people are always facing off in Zack Snyder films. With 300, it was the Spartans v. the Persians. With Watchmen it was a batch of old superheroes against the effects of time. With Man of Steel, he pitted Kal-El against the insanity of General Zod (though some could argue Michael Shannon didn't realize he was in a Superman movie and the cameras kept rolling). And with Batman v Superman, Snyder is dramatizing the ultimate battle: himself v. the source material v. the studios v. setting up a franchise v. fans' expectations v. making a coherent blockbuster (in March?!) that additionally serves as a sequel to Man of Steel v. establishing a new Batman. Oh and Wonder Woman's in it. And Lex Luthor. And Holly Hunter? Spoiler alert: I'm afraid Snyder lost this fight.

I was initially very disappointed walking out of the film, thinking of the things they could have cut, other heroes they could've introduced (how many times do we have to see Lex Luthor onscreen? How many times do we have to see Batman's parents get killed?). But after discussing it over with people and seeing different perspectives online, you can't not say that BvS lacks something that typically bad movies do: ambition. Even if it was stupid of execs to think that Snyder and his team could juggle ten bowling balls in the air so to speak, it certainly makes choices (not counting the last cop-out at the very end.) We're getting a different Batman here. He's reclusive like Bale's incarnation, but he's bitter. He's depressed. He's been here a long time, and he's got Joker-graffitied suits to prove it (Look for it!). His Alfred (Jeremy Irons) is a little more upgraded: the old butler's fairly high tech. In a clever move that visually still turned out way too 9/11 for me, Bruce Wayne sees the destruction Superman's fight with Zod wreaked, and views him as an alien threat. Clark Kent sees Batman as an impending threat. Lex Luthor Jr. (yeah, he's his son) sees ample opportunity to do damage.

So how does The Avengers franchise handle their superheroes so well and this film seem so bloated? Not only is is almost 10 minutes shorter, but you had Iron Man, Cap and Thor stand-alones before you had the 2012 film. We had Cavill's turn in Man of Steel, and now one movie has to have all this weight on its shoulders? It's unfair. With what we're giving though, I would not call Batman v. Superman a disaster. It does the opposite of Spider-Man 3, which in this case is not a good thing. It crams its running time with too many heroes, and one and a half (but Doomsday is a big half) villains.

Speaking of which: Lex Jr. There's been much talk about Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of yet another billionaire genius, this one highly more unstable. If people hate him, I understand. He was flittering around all the time, annoying, and his more menacing parts, like when he's intimidating Holly Hunter's Sen. Finch, come out as a little boy puffing out his chest to be a big man. However, I've talked to people who think this portrayal was phenomenal, that Eisenberg played up that psychopath persona, that he had the best dialogue and that the character was meant to frustrate and infuriate. Plus, this isn't Lex Luthor. This is his son. So I'm still on the fence about him, and another viewing a year or two down the road might make me see the light on Luthor. For now, I can concretely say one thing: he annoyed me.

In fact, several things did. Why so many dream sequences? One was explained to me, something that I can't put in a spoiler-free review, but it linked up to something later in the plot. Otherwise, they seemed like visually-appealing jump scares: one worked particularly well because it shocked me out of my hazy almost-sleeping state. But I was awake and aware just in time to see the excellent Batman fight that everyone highlights as one of the strongest points of the film (it's true), and Wonder Woman's entrance into the boy's club is pretty stunning. I have a feeling Gal Gadot and her upcoming stand-alone will continue to blow everyone away. As far as Snyder goes, he's still got two parts of a Justice League movie to film. If Dawn of Justice is any indication, I'm a little worried how he's going to handle even more heroes, and if he's going to have to need an intermission for either of them.

Rating: 2/4 stars

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

REVIEW: DEADPOOL

What a way to ring in the cinematic new year. Last year the box-office phenomenon was American Sniper, which became the biggest domestic movie of 2014 (did you know that?! I didn't know that!!), won an Oscar, caused loads of controversy and beat every single Marvel movie that came out that year in the U.S.: that's right, The Winter Soldier, Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy couldn't top Chris Kyle's biography. Well, as a little slice of revenge, here's a Marvel movie that's posed to not only beat American Sniper, but to beat Jesus himself. Here's Deadpool.

That last comment wasn't irreverent sacrilege: Deadpool is poised to dethrone The Passion of the Christ as the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time. Since 2004 that's made sense: naturally that film reaches an enormous built-in fan base. But a movie about sarcastic, antihero Deadpool, a relatively new comic book character (as opposed to say Batman and Superman, both 70-80 years old)? If I was a kid, the image of Deadpool himself would terrify me: a seemingly mouthless, red and black killer with no pupils visible in his mask. So how is this such a gargantuan phenomenon, already at about half a billion worldwide as of this post? Because it's not aimed at little 7 year old Travis. Adults will probably bring younger kids to the forthcoming Batman v. Superman, just because it's been marketed everywhere. But Deadpool has that  too, in fact some of the craftiest marking of a movie of all time. It knows exactly what it is, and it fearlessly delivers.

It's in the IMDb top 250 and people are giving it titles like "the best superhero movie transition from comic to screen of all time," but that will either fade or an immediate backlash will come like The Force Awakens received (See: "This needs to get nominated for Best Picture!" vs. "This is just a rehash of A New Hope"). Instead of holding it up on this pedestal, let's take it for what it is, because that's what the filmmakers have done. After two nightmares of mouthless Deadpool and a poor Green Lantern movie, Reynolds has finally found comfort in his own superhero skin. This project has always been highly important to him, and his devotion and dedication to sarcastic mercenary Wade Wilson shows off tremendously here. Supported by him are his love interest (at the core of a Deadpool movie is a love story, isn't that odd?) Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Their meet-cute is definitely not so traditionally cute, and I'll talk about that later. Then there's T.J. Miller's Weasel. T.J. Miller is like Seth Rogen in that he always seems to play the same character but we all never seem to mind. Holding up the rear is Colossus, in the best form you've ever seen him, and Brianna Hildebrand's Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Such a bizarre motley crew of characters until the merc with the mouth himself tells you that these are the only two X-Men Fox could afford. Classic.

So here's the only beef I have with Deadpool: it knows the movie it is, but sometimes it skips out on the most basic details. Deadpool's origin story of evolving from hideously scarred smart alec to red and black-clad antihero is so quick it's like the filmmakers knew you didn't want to see it. But I didn't know that much about Deadpool, and I would've liked to've seen the moments. Additionally, not every joke lands, but there's an upside to this. Deadpool is middle school bus ride jerk humor, and when it lands, boy it lands. But when it falls: yikes. The audience was very responsive and there were jokes in there no one even cracked a smile on. When you're dishing them out left and right however, there's going to be a certain success rate. I respect what they tried, but some were just offensive misfires.

But that really is just nitpicking. Even though the formula is clearly "superhero origin" and the British bad guy which they joke about in the opening credits isn't highly memorable, Tim Miller's Deadpool delivers exactly what the fans wanted, and I pity whoever makes the sequel because know it's going to have Dark Knight Rises syndrome: what do you do when people are calling your predecessor perfect? Let's just enjoy the very funny, raucously violent and extremely profane film we have in theaters now. I'm glad Reynolds finally became comfortable with the superhero skin he was in. I can't wait to see him don it again.

Rating: 3/4 stars

Sunday, February 28, 2016

OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2016!

Here we are folks! Just a couple of days away from this year's Academy Awards. In the past few years I've tried to tell myself there was drama between the big category (Best Picture) to hype myself up for the show...but deep down I've pretty much known every year what was going to win, and which of my other movies in that category it would trump. The King's Speech quietly swept away Social Network's Oscar. The Artist silently pranced with jazz hands away with the top prize, leaving The Descendants in the dust. Last year Birdman swooped in and clutched it right out of Boyhood's fingers. But this year: I have an idea...but I am genuinely unsure of how things are going to play out. The way I see it, there are three contenders. There's The Revenant, The Big Short and Spotlight. And then there's the race of Supporting Actress: will Oscar veteran Kate Winslet scoop up her second trophy, or will breakout newcomer Alicia Vikander steal it with her stellar supporting performance in Ex Machina The Danish Girl? Will The Big Short shock us all like McKay shocked us with his dramatic directing chops and sweep the night? Read below to see my analysis!

Bold= will win
Red= should win

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Inside Out is of course my favorite of the year, but this category is full of creative choices. Spotlight will take it home because it has won the WGA and the Critic's Choice.
  • Inside Out
  • Ex Machina
  • Spotlight
  • Straight Outta Compton
  • Bridge of Spies
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Anorthy worthy set of nominees, but anytime you can combine a scathing look at the events leading to the 2008 Recession and a certain celebrity enjoying a bubble bath, you're going to win. All signs point to Adam McKay and Randolph Scott's (difficult) but wonderful, wall-breaking script.
  • Room
  • The Big Short
  • The Martian
  • Carol
  • Brooklyn
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Once I see Creed I'm sure I'll be glad Sly is taking home Best Supporting Actor for his seventh turn as Rocky Balboa. Somehow this feels better than when older actors usually get "consolation" prizes for their long list of work. I heard nothing but great things about Stallone when Creed  premiered.
  • Sylvester Stallone- Creed
  • Mark Ruffalo- Spotlight
  • Tom Hardy- The Revenant
  • Christian Bale- The Big Short
  • Mark Rylance- Bridge of Spies
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: I haven't seen the bulk of these other nominees, but this is really a showdown between Winslet and Vikander. I'm giving the edge to the newbie, who has a slight advantage because from what I've heard her portrayal as artist Gerda Wegener is more of a lead role. Winslet won the Globe and the BAFTA's because they're both obsessed with her, but here in the States I'm giving it to Alicia. I would've loved to've seen Leigh take this home, for holding her own against some truly despicable  men.
  • Kate Winslet- Steve Jobs
  • Alicia Vikander- The Danish Girl
  • Rachel McAdams- Spotlight
  • Rooney Mara- Carol
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh- The Hateful Eight
BEST ACTOR: Yes, Internet. Leo will be finally getting his rightly deserved statue. Why didn't you make this big a deal when Peter O'Toole lost the Oscar eight times?!
  • Matt Damon- The Martian
  • Leonardo DiCaprio- The Revenant
  • Bryan Cranston- Trumbo
  • Eddie Redmayne- The Danish Girl
  • Michael Fassbender- Steve Jobs
BEST ACTRESS: This award was never any one else's. Unless Leo loses, this'll be the biggest shocker of the night if the award goes to anyone but Brie Larson.
  • Cate Blanchett- Carol
  • Brie Larson- Room
  • Saoirse Ronan- Brooklyn
  • Charlotte Rampling- 45 Years
  • Jennifer Lawrence- Joy
BEST ANIMATED FILM: What a bizarre assortment of nominees. There was some early doubt that Anamolisa could prove an upset, but now there seems no stopping Pixar's first offering of 2015 from taking home the gold.
  • When Marnie Was There
  • Anamolisa
  • Inside Out
  • Boy and the World
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
BEST DIRECTOR: This award has me so torn. What Iñárritu did, and what he went through is astonishing, and the movie is a spectacle. BUT SO WAS FURY ROAD! Miller's passionate project went through the Dante's Inferno equivalent of development hell, and it's been reported that every minute decision went through him. Miller's Critic's Choice win made me cross my fingers in hope, but the DGA win solidifies it. AGI is going to accomplish a rare feat, matched only by the iconic likes of John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz: back-to-back Best Director wins.
  • Tom McCarthy- Spotlight
  • George Miller- Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu- The Revenant
  • Adam McKay- The Big Short
  • Lenny Abramson- Room
BEST PICTURE: As I've said, I haven't been so unsure about a film winning Best Picture in a long time. With Leo, Iñárritu, and inevitably cinematographer Chivo's Oscars, I think four will be The Revenant's lucky number. As soon as I came out of the theaters in October 2012, I predicted in the parking lot Argo would deservedly take home Best Picture. I did the exact same thing after seeing Spotlight. Well, I was wrong. If my predictions are correct, Hugh Glass's tale of survival will join the leagues of Wings, Lawrence of Arabia and Titanic.
  • The Martian
  • Room
  • The Big Short
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Spotlight
  • The Revenant
  • Brooklyn
  • Bridge of Spies

Sunday, January 17, 2016

REVIEW: THE REVENANT

After cleaning up handsomely at the Golden Globes, and getting a whopping twelve nominations at the Academy Awards (with Mad Max: Fury Road coming in a close second place!), the casual moviegoer is probably becoming very intrigued with seeing Alejandro G. Innáritu's The Revenant. On paper it's maybe not such an easy sell: a man is left for dead by a greedy trapper and he has to fight is way back to exact revenge. That's it: a fairly simple plot. So is it worth your dollar?

Absolutely: if you don't mind a little blood. And by a little I mean one of the most violent movies I saw in the 2015 movie year, right behind The Hateful Eight but still well in front of Kingsman. It also has some shades of Angelina Jolie's Unbroken. If you hate Leonardo DiCaprio, see this movie, because you get to watch him suffer what regular people would break under: unendurable circumstances. When he's not almost mercy killed by his men he's getting buried alive. When he's not getting hurled through river rapids he's getting shot at. He is not assaulted by the Oscar-nominated (for special effects) bear named Judy, but it was one of the most intense sequences from last year's cinematic offerings. And if you like Leonardo DiCaprio, oh boy. This is one of his best roles to date.

With now six Oscar nominations under his belt, it's easy to see why we fan over DiCaprio like he's a movie god. He's not: is there such thing? But he's very selective (not Daniel Day-Lewis selective, but still) over his projects. Since the year 2000 he's worked with Eastwood, Tarantino, Scorsese, Nolan. You know why that's an impressive list? Those are all directors that you knew by just their last names. He can add another to that roster: Innáritu. Fresh off his triple-Oscar winning success of Birdman, AGI delivers another bonafide winner here. Again working with Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki on cinematography, the movie is one of the more beautifully filmed I've seen in a long time. Additionally, filmed only using natural light, it looks utterly realistic, and like Malcolm McDowell whose head was held inside a full bathtub for over a minute in A Clockwork Orange, you have to wonder how is it possible that DiCaprio was able to pull off these stunts. It's said the vegetarian actor ate a raw bison liver. Honestly, I believe it.

He is so utterly deserving of the Oscar he'll be receiving on February 28th. This isn't a lifetime achievement award like Christopher Plummer's for Beginners. This is merited. Though one of my strongest points is that we don't know a ton about Hugh Glass besides the fact that he can survive bear attacks and falling off cliffs and has Han Solo resourcefulness (think the Battle of Hoth), the physical acting in this film is indescribable. He is so convincing, so hateful and yet we get this great sensitive side to him: he truly loves his son. Countering him is the now finally Oscar-nominated Tom Hardy, playing the gruff, money-centric Fitzgerald, a key figure in the plan of leaving Glass for dead. With those eyes that can conjure up such soulless evil, Hardy uses his established movie star presence to not get us to totally despise Fitzgerald, and nearly gets us on his side before we realize how despicable he is. Domnhall Gleeson, who's been criminally overlooked this awards season for four stellar roles in three other Oscar contenders (Ex Machina, Brooklyn and The Force Awakens). He's never showy in any of these roles, but he's a welcome presence. Will Poulter is the last big name here, shedding his We're the Millers "aw shucks!" comedy persona. This kid and his eyebrows have a bright future ahead.

Like Unbroken however, I had to wonder whether all of DiCaprio's suffering was essential to the film. Some of it, of course. Nearly an hour and a half of it? Not really. I would've loved to know more about Glass and Fitzgerald. But these are mostly nitpicks. I couldn't be more excited for AGI's new movie, though he says after the production hell he went through for this film, he's not planning on another one anytime soon. The man dreams in huge scope. I also watched Babel over my winter break, and it's my favorite film of his. It looks like he's got another Best Picture winner on his hands, and while my hopes for Mad Max: Fury Road driving off with it (though Sunday's 9 Critic's Choice wins including Best Director for Miller fan my hopes) are unrealistic, what a worthy adversary to lose to. Here's to Judy, and Innáritu, and Leo's first Oscar, for making one of the most harrowing dramas of last year so investing.

Rating: 3/4 stars