Augie’s Top 5:
Phil Lord and Chris Miller have made a career out of taking on projects saddled with low expectations and turning them into greatness, and The Lego Movie is no different, imbuing its plastic characters with the same human soul that Toy Story did. The jokes come fast and furious and the voice cast, especially Will Arnett as Batman, is spirited and fun to watch in their interactions.
The first Raid was an out of nowhere surprise for action fans and made director Gareth Evans a minor star in his own right, but the sequel has actually surpassed it in almost every department. Evans’ gliding camera still has more development than his characters, although they are given more to do here. In addition, Evans varies up the action to include car chases, gun fights, and massive brawls (sometimes in the same scene) and steadily builds up to a 40 minute crescendo of some of the best action filmmaking seen in a long time.
Marvel’s current dominance of the blockbuster landscape has already been well-established, but The Winter Soldier showed that the studio was willing to broaden its creative juices and not rest on its laurels. Many of the best superhero movies graft their stories onto a specific genre to make them stand out, and Winter Soldier does so by placing the titular character in the context of a modern day spy yarn. It further develops Steve Rogers as the most heartfelt of the Marvel heroes and shows how superhero movies can be politically resonant in addition to their witty quips and colorful punch-ups.
I’ve been hot and cold on Wes Anderson, whose films I sometimes love (Fantastic Mr. Fox), sometimes just like (Moonrise Kingdom), and other times just do not get at all (Rushmore). But The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson at his most Anderson in the best way possible. The intricate visual design is just as endearing and creative as his best films, but what really gives the film its beating and lasting heart is the friendship between Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori.
Following the Tim Burton debacle, the Apes franchise made a surprising revival with 2011’s hit, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and now has an even better follow-up in Dawn. What elevates Dawn above most other films of its type is the level of restraint in its story progression by painting the ape/human conflict in shades of gray rather than black and white. Andy Serkis, along with the team of digital artists, returns to the role of Caesar, but he’s nearly overshadowed by Toby Kebbell as Koba, one of more notable and better developed screen villains in recent memory. In the tradition of the best Apes films, Dawn combines social commentary and heart in equal measure to create a complete picture that places the importance of character above hollow action.