By Michael O’Hearn, Social Media Coordinator
DISCLAIMER: I have not seen every movie that has come out this year, so you won’t see films that are being critically acclaimed, such as the recent Straight Outta Compton or January’s Selma, on this list. These are the top five best films I can remember released this year.
1) MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (STARRING TOM CRUISE, JEREMY RENNER, VING RHAMES, SIMON PEGG AND ALEC BALDWIN)
In this day and age, a different director or new actor coming to the series boosts the fifth film in a franchise. By this time in a film series, it can become stale and overdone. For example, Fast Five actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson added a new level of testosterone to a film franchise already brimming with machismo. Here, director Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie and Jack Reacher) revitalizes the Mission Impossible series, taking it to new heights (literally, as seen in the first scene) and exhilarating lengths. Tom Cruise does not act as if he’s a day over 53 years old as he performs his own stunts (as he has since portraying an Air Force pilot in Top Gun) for this fifth entry in the franchise. Even newcomer Rebecca Ferguson surprised me as the femme fatale double agent against Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as he searches for the mysterious Syndicate terrorist organization. Blending action and humor, this film is exactly what the MI franchise needed to not run out of steam. (9.7/10)
2) MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (STARRING TOM HARDY, CHARLIZE THERON AND NICHOLAS HOULT)
This summer proved to be one oversaturated with CGI-heavy films, like The Avengers: Age of Ultron. It was clever of Hollywood to release both the Avengers sequel and Mad Max: Fury Road on back-to-back weekends, as Fury Road showcases how successful a film with practical effects and minimal dialogue can be in opposition to the big and bloated superhero film that came before it early in May. Director George Miller returns to the franchise he began in the 1970s to tell the story of Max (Tom Hardy) as he is tasked with freeing the slaves held captive by tyrannical Immortan Joe. Charlize Theron brings her A-game to the role of Furiosa, proving she is an action heroine in her own right. I would not mind seeing a spinoff in the future telling her story. The entire film is a car chase shot in the desert but it’s done so skillfully by Miller and company that you are on the edge of your seat as you see each car enter the chase. Even seeing the designs of each car as they were built by the different factions of this post-apocalyptic world is a treat. (9.5/10)
3) KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (STARRING TARON EGERTON, COLIN FIRTH, SAMUEL L. JACKSON AND MARK STRONG)
Director Matthew Vaughn must have sat down to rewatch Quentin Tarantino films before diving into this over-the-top and highly stylized spy thriller that bends genre rules to create a massively entertaining action film complete with a cheesy, but lovable, villain played by Samuel L. Jackson. This film was designed as the middle finger to the James Bond spy films of the 1960s, sending the protagonist, young Eggsy, on his quest to become one of the greatest secret spy organizations, the Kingsmen. Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” playing in the background of a desert in the first scene brilliantly set the tone for the rest of the film. This was one of the best action sequences that I have ever seen on film. Science fiction fans will even get a kick out of one cast member who makes an appearance early in the film. I won’t spoil that surprise. (9.3/10)
4) INSIDE OUT (STARRING AMY POEHLER, BILL HADER, LEWIS BLACK AND MINDY KALING)
What would this list be without an entry from Disney-Pixar? Over the last few years, Pixar has had some misses with Brave and Cars 2 and fans like myself were beginning to think Pixar had finally kicked the can, letting films like Frozen take over popular culture. This year, Pixar came back in full force with this film. As we watch the young girl protagonist move with her family to San Francisco, we see her emotions personified. It is so clever, I’m surprised no one thought of it sooner. The casting of each emotion was spot-on, with Lewis Black as Anger and Amy Poehler voicing Joy, for example. At first, I didn’t think the film would be geared towards me as a college student. Again, I was wrong, as the film played on my memories of being a kid living a world filled with endless imagination and possibilities. Pixar can rightfully declare this as one of their classic films alongside Toy Story and Monsters Inc. Now, who’s excited for The Incredibles 2? I’m on board with that as long as Pixar continues to make quality entertainment. (9/10)
5) ANT-MAN (STARRING PAUL RUDD, EVANGELINE LILLY, MICHAEL DOUGLAS AND COREY STOLL)
Taking a break from the bigger group of Marvel heroes known as the Avengers, the superhero film company transitions to one of their really obscure characters, the Ant-Man. Using a suit that can either shrink him or make him big again, Ant-Man (played with instant likability by Paul Rudd) uses his powers for good to pull off a heist that, if unsuccessful, means the utter destruction of the world through a form of technology that is in the wrong hands. This film is a decidedly smaller film because of the nature of the protagonist hero. It’s also one of only two of Marvel’s self-contained films (Guardians of the Galaxy being the pinnacle of that category) with just a few brief references to Age of Ultron coming out a mere two and a half months before it. You’re not going to get the impending threat of Thanos or the looming Civil War occurring in this film. This is like a behind-the-scenes look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, detailing the story of a minor hero who will eventually become crucial to the events moving forward in phase three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Fans of the comic books know Ant-Man as one of the original founding members of the Avengers, but even that is pushed aside as Marvel Studios tinkered with the origin story through many years of production hell, dating back as far as 2007, even before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born. With stellar performances from Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, Evangeline Lilly as his daughter Hope and Michael Pena as Ant-Man alter ego Scott Lang’s best friend, this film doesn’t slam the door shut on phase two of the Cinematic Universe. Instead, it quietly bookends the second round of superhero films prior to the uproar caused in the beginning of phase three when Captain America: Civil War arrives in theaters May 2016. (Final score: 8.4/10)