So we're officially halfway through the year, and while I typically don't do a Top 5 of the Year So Far, I decided to switch it up this year...
5. Tomorrowland: I'm not entirely sure why this film failed to connect with audiences, beyond the fact that as a society, we've grown so cynical that we can't enjoy a truly optimistic film about the future and our ability to make it a better place. The film has problems and like so many of Damon Lindelof's other screenplays, it falters big time in the third act, but I would rather watch an ambitious film that tries to do something new and falls short over a film with no ambition that succeeds wildly. I wonder if this film will ever find the audience it deserves, but I'm glad that Brad Bird brought his vision to the screen in an uncompromising way. This is a film for dreamers, and I know that in time, they will find it and connect with it.
4. Slow West: One of the great things about the western becoming a niche genre in the last few decades has been watching directors play with it in ways that just weren't possible when it was a dominant genre. First time feature director John Maclean's elegant, brutal, and shockingly funny film is the latest film to add to the very short list of great post-modern westerns. Anchored by an outstanding performance from Michael Fassbender and featuring another knock-out villainous turn by the brilliant Ben Mendelsohn, this economic and suspenseful film will satisfy genre fans and even win some converts to its cause.
3. Ex Machina: Working in brilliant counterpoint with Tomorrowland, Alex Garland's feature directorial debut is a fascinating meditation of the perils of artificial intelligence, but even more so on man's insistence on playing god. Man has sat atop the food chain for so long, we think we're invincible, and watching this theme play out in this pot-boiler of a film is one of the most satisfying viewing experiences you're likely to have in this—or any—year. Oscar Isaac continues to knock it out of the park every time he shows up in a film, and Alicia Vikander announces to the world that she's a major talent that we should all have on our radars. This is a bleak film, but it's also one of the smartest I've seen in quite some time.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road: This is how you do action in the 21st Century. There was a time when men like George Lucas would decry the use of special effects as anything other than a tool used to further a story, and filmmakers that buy into that line of thinking are a dying breed. Thankfully it fell to another George, George Miller, to show modern audiences that a big budget effects film can work if, and only if, the story is worth telling. Years from now, this film will be viewed as a turning point in the visual effects revolution, and rightly so. It demands that the audience not turn their brains off to enjoy it, and even more than that, rewards them handsomely for paying attention. If this truly is the future of action films, sign me up for more.
1. Inside Out: As of writing this, I've only seen this film once, but Pete Docter's third film as a director is not only his best, but possibly the best film that Pixar has done to date. Docter adheres to Brad Bird's philosophy that animation is merely the medium in which he chose to tell great stories that can't be told in live action, and he has crafted a film which works brilliantly for both children and adults. This is the best animated film of this decade, and I wouldn't be surprised if on subsequent viewings, I feel that it might usurp Wall-e as the best film Pixar has ever made, one which will stand alongside the great works of art that transcend their medium to become a part of the human narrative.