Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Above Average Awards: Drama 2015

***This post has given me trouble on the blog, for some reason. It was accidentally published by my dog in January (as she literally stepped on my mousepad and published it), but it was released, in completion, on February 27. Regardless, enjoy...

When I decided to cut back on my blogging, earlier this year, I had no idea of the immediate effect that it would have on the number of films that I watch. I mean, without any expectation to share my opinion, I definitely cut back on watching films that I wasn't particularly excited to see. Nonetheless, when it came time for awards season and every "award-worthy" 2015 film was released in the short span of three months, I quickly regained my desire to hit the theater. Something about good movies just makes you want to watch more good movies. And, something about Avengers: Age of Ultron just makes you want to denounce the name of Disney.

So, as you check out my 2015 best list, know that I didn't see as many films, this year. However, I likely only missed the crappy ones...

Best Actor
Honorable Mention: Christian Bale (The Big Short), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Michael Keaton (Spotlight), Ryan Reynolds (Mississippi Grind), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Benicio del Toro (Sicario)

#9 - Ryan Gosling
(The Big Short)
For the second time since the creation of The Above Average Awards, Ryan Gosling is landing on my yearly best list (The Ides of March), and I'm really stoked that he continues to choose such great films. Who knew that the dancing fool from Remember the Titans would go on to do such great things?!? In an ensemble that absolutely blew me away, Gosling was one of the best. And, the jokes from his best scene--the one with the Jenga set--were highly improvised. Another great accomplishment for an actor who gave an amazing performance!

#8 - Liev Schrieber 
If you ever told me that Liev Schrieber would one day land on one of my yearly best lists, I probably would have laughed in your face. Honestly, I can't say that I've ever enjoyed seeing Schrieber on any screen, but his turn in Spotlight is so subtly amazing that I couldn't help but add him to my list. Essentially, his level of under-acting produced the best performance of Schrieber's lengthy career. Subtlety is undoubtedly the theme of the acting, throughout Spotlight, and Schrieber pulls off that subtlety better than anyone else.

#7 - John Cusack and Paul Dano
(Love & Mercy)
My love for The Beach boys knows no bounds! When I was little, my parents and I would jam out to their greatest hits CD--every. single. summer. And, I wouldn't have had it any other way. Thankfully, Love & Mercy gave me an even closer look at my favorite musical group of all time, and the great performances by both Paul Dano and John Cusack were amazing to watch. I could not decide which performance was better and both were so necessary to the success of the film. So, here they are... together, as they were always meant to be! 

#6 - Sharlto Copley
My defense of Sharlto Copley as one of the most underrated actors is not subtle, if you are familiar with this blog. Unfortunately, the critical mass has failed to appreciate what he has accomplished, because they are so concerned with picking apart Neill Blomkamp. However, if you've seen Chappie, you can't help but love the innocent robot that is so easily humanized by Copley's movements and voice. This is the second year that Copley has landed on my list (last time for Elysium), and I can't wait to sing his praises again, soon!

#5 - Jason Segel
(The End of the Tour)
When looking at Jason Segal's full body of work as an actor, he has to be one of the least impressive actors to ever find success in Hollywood. He has zero range and lacks the ability to independently create laughter. So, I must say that I never would have imagined him landing on this list (much less in the drama category). Thankfully, I was wrong, as Segal totally rocked it in The End of the Tour, which was undoubtedly one of 2015's best films, regardless of how little attention it received. Check out this great performance, right now!

#4 - Tom Hardy
(The Revenant)
With all of the hype surrounding Leo's pre-destined Oscar win, Tom Hardy's far-superior performance in The Revenant has faded into the background, which is quite disappointing, particularly considering what a big year the actor had. But, Hardy will keep on keeping on, and he will surely appreciate the love given to him by THE Tanner Jones. Kudos to Hardy for making me love the bad guy soooooo much more than the preemptive Best Actor winner.

#3 - Jacob Tremblay
Brie Larson is likely to take home the Best Actress Oscar, this weekend, but the true star of Room missed out on even being nominated. When I first heard of Jacob Tremblay's performance in this film, I assumed that I would enjoy it, considering my love for child actors. But, until I saw the film, I couldn't truly wrap my head around the range that Tremblay displayed, even at such a young age. When his character, Jack, was hurting, Tremblay hurt. When Jack was sad, Tremblay was sad. And, most importantly, when Jack was happy and curious, Tremblay was happy and curious. Everything that this kid was able to bring to the screen screamed greatness and truth. Kudos to Room for impressing, and kudos to Tremblay for blowing me away!

#2 - Steve Carell
(The Big Short)
People love Steve Carell because he's Steve Carell, and, for me (and many others), he is fun to watch, regardless of what he is doing. But, if you listen to the excitement and joy that Carell has found in his recent dramatic plunge, it will truly make you appreciate his work even more. To know that he doesn't want to just be the funny guy makes him all the more funny and believable. Carell landed at number 2 on my list, last year, and, this year, he is playing second fiddle yet again. One day, he is sure to land on top! Carell is just so easy to love!

#1 - Mark Ruffalo
If there is one word that comes to mind, when thinking of Mark Ruffalo's turn as Mike Rezendes in Spotlight, it's passion. I'm not sure that I have ever witnessed an actor portraying a character's passion as well as Ruffalo did here, and he was able to portray the character's passion, without letting his own passion or acting get in the way. Ruffalo was able to take Mike Rezendes from a character you want to trust to a character you want to be to a real, living person that you want to become. If everyone on this earth was as passionate about their contribution to society as the reporters of Spotlight, this world would be a better place. Thankfully, we at least have the knowledge of this wonderful team of people that truly made a difference--none more so than Mike Rezendes. Kudos to Mark Ruffalo for bringing that to life and giving the most impactful performance of 2015.

Best Actress

#3 - Lupita N'yongo
(Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
While most people are waiting for Maz Kanata's backstory before making any sort of judgement on her character, I'm already 100% sold. She was easily my favorite part of The Force Awakens, and the way that Lupita N'yongo was able to bring her to life was absolutely perfect. I just want my own personal Maz. You know... for wisdom and supernatural initiations... stuff like that!

#2 - Brie Larson
Brie Larson is so lovable. Not only is she gorgeous, but she truly appreciates her work and clearly has a knack for picking great roles. While I might always remember her as the goofy teenager that fell in love with Jonah Hill on 21 Jump Street, she will surely be remembered throughout the land for her amazing turn as Ma in 2015's indie wonder-film--Room. While I will say that she owes much of her success to the amazing talent of young Jacob Tremblay, there is no doubt that Larson can bring it. And, again, she's so easy to love!

#1 - Kate Winslet
(Steve Jobs)
Steve Jobs was one of my most anticipated films of 2016, and I must say that I was a bit disappointed in the end result. Thankfully, Kate Winslet provided a large silver lining to said disappointment with her portrayal of Joanna Hoffman. This character, although a real person, was very much a creation of Sorkin's need for more and more strong dialogue to mask his poor plot. Regardless, Winslet blew me away, and gave me a new appreciation for what she can do. Sure, I'm only like 20 years late to hop on her bandwagon, but she was kind enough let me ride along anyway! Best female performance of 2015, by far!

Best Film
Honorable Mention: Room, Spotlight

#5 - The End of the Tour
While The End of the Tour wasn't particularly beautiful or unique in its direction, the film's dialogue and emotion was so beautifully unique that the film really didn't need anything but two guys to read the words from the pages. The performances were good. The story was good. But, the film was able to say so much in all of its subtle goodness. There is a strong chance that you missed this film, over the course of the year, but let me be the force that pushes you toward The End of the Tour.

#4 - Chappie
As soon as I saw the first trailer for Chappie, I knew that the film was going to deserve more credit than it actually received. Blomkamp pitched the film as a sci-fi comedy. The trailer pitched the film as sci-fi action. And, the film was actually a very rich attempt to create a moral code for artificial intelligence and the future of conscience, which is quite a complicated subject matter. Unfortunately for Chappie, the critics weren't all pleased, but this particular critic was impressed by yet another underappreciated Blomkamp success. If you haven't seen Chappie, go watch it! If you watched Chappie with a cynical mind, go watch it again! Audience expectations are so important to a film's success, and that's exactly where Chappie missed the ship. I promise, this film is fantastic!

#3 - Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Ok, ok... Let's get down to business. There was no 2015 cinematic experience better than the one created by Star Wars: The Force Awakens. When "STAR WARS" flashed on the screen after the Lucasfilm logo, I felt like a kid in the best of candy stores, as my eyes widened and my heart leapt. From a critical perspective, it might not have been among the best of 2015, but, with regard to having fun at the theater, no film could top it. Kudos to my main man J.J. and the folks at Disney for giving us at least one good film... before their imminent destruction of the franchise.

#2 - Kingsman: The Secret Service
Modern, non-superhero, action flicks are given the worst rap of any film genre out there. In a world where sequels and indie flicks rule, there's not much room for the emergence of new "universes." Thankfully, Kingsman: The Secret Service says "Oh, really?!?... Watch this!" The action was great. The bloody, ruthless nature of the film was great. The performances were spot on. And, the direction of Matthew Vaughn was among the most genius that I saw in 2015. In less than two minutes, the film had already engulfed you in a world full of fun action that had a small moral core and a large appreciation for slicing people in half and taking out an extremist church. Kudos to Vaughn and to 20th Century Fox for being willing to offer up some fun action, without the word Marvel attached.

#1 - The Big Short
When I was a senior in high school, I had absolutely no clue what would become of my life, and, of course, at the time, I felt like I should probably have the answer. And, as the evolving moderate that I was preparing to become, my nightly routine typically included falling asleep to the beautiful sounds of The Colbert Report. One night, while waiting for Colbert, I happened to catch the second half of The Daily Show and had the chance to hear Michael Lewis, the author of The Big Short, pitch his book about a few nobodies who were able to game the entire financial system, as a result of its fraudulent, crumbling roots. Lewis talked for about 8 minutes that night, but those few minutes were enough to convince me to read his book, as soon as I could get my hands on it. And, considering I was a kid who never read for pleasure (or school, for that matter), his pitch was obviously great. As you might expect, at age 18, my understanding of the financial system and its complicated lingo was quite minute, which made it quite a brain-straining task to make it through The Big Short. Thankfully, about halfway through the book, Lewis literally gives you a gold star for making it to that point. The gold star was enough to make me think, "If adults are getting gold stars for reading this far, I must be doing pretty darn good." So, I powered through and finished what might be the most intriguing book that I've ever read in my life. My interest in finances and the world of business was officially piqued. And, I went on to get my degree in Finance. 

While I do believe that the Lord has a way of working things out, there is no doubt that The Big Short truly initiated my desire to devote four years of my life to learning about business and the financial system. And, while I didn't actually end up launching my career in the financial sector, I would guess that I am in the top 1% of all movie bloggers and film journalists, with regard to my understanding of the financial system... Not to boast or anything! So, I say all of that to let you know what The Big Short means to me, as an individual. And, as much as I expected the film to be a half-hearted attempt at telling a very, very complex story, it turned out to be the greatest film of 2015... by a laaaarge margin, in my book. 

Obviously, the film appealed to me as someone who loves listening to people talk about the financial world, but, when I put on my film critic hat, there just isn't anything that compared to The Big Short, this year, with regard to original and genius filmmaking. I mean, who knew that the director of Step Brothers had it in him?!? The pace of the film is perfect. The explanation of complex financial instruments is genius. The characters are so easy to love. I mean, this thing has it all! 

If you think that the film would be a bore to you, because you hate learning about finances, please take the time to check this thing out, particularly if you have any affinity for the amazing actors in the ensemble. If you have zero knowledge of the topic, you will still understand what's happening... I promise! Also, as someone who has a good grasp on the events of the financial crisis, I can say that this is a great film for anyone with a good understanding of finance. 

For any of you who actually took the time to read all of that, congratulations on being a victim of my not taking the time to write an entire review of The Big Short. 

To everyone out there in the free world, go watch The Big Short! THE best film of 2015!!!

Well, there you have it! Even in a year of less blogging I was able to pull together a great list of films and performances. Now, let's see what happens on Sunday night!