I know, I know: the hands on the clock haven’t seen too much action since my last film recommendation post, but Hollywood does this thing every year where it clogs the fourth quarter with an incredible excess of box office busters (so that they’re in the back of everyone’s minds when the Oscar festivities unfold in February). There have been multitudes of mediocre movies (*cough cough* Mockingjay Pt. 2) and several that stood out—here are my favorites.


 

Creed

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Everyone, whether they’ve seen the movie or not, knows the Rocky theme. Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” manages to challenge Sylvester Stallone’s performance as Rocky Balboa for the title of the most iconic element of Rocky, both still relevant nearly 40 years after the film’s release. In under 10 seconds, the staccato horn fanfare builds empowerment for anyone that wants to use it. For that exact reason, it’s helpful both with and without the film’s context, giving athletes and the like motivation to push through whatever struggles line up in their way. In this year’s Creed — the emotional seventh Rocky film that sees Rocky Balboa (Stallone) train Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), son of his old opponent Apollo Creed — the original Rocky theme is sliced up and left sputtering in the background of Future’s “Last Breath”. – Nina Corcoran, Consequence of Sound

I tried and tried to think of an enticing first few lines, but the above quote (regarding merely the soundtrack) does a wonderful job embodying the film’s vibe; it’s a vibrant young twist to an old classic. Adonis Johnson, played by Michael B. Jordan (whom we came to adore in Fruitvale Station), seeks out the man himself—Rocky Balboa—to mold him into the best boxer in the world. There is a catch, though. Adonis, the product of a highly secretive Apollo Creed affair, deliberately hides his paternal lineage so that he can create his own story; he’s a nobody, he’s never even had a trainer before, and the only man he believes can send him to the top is the champ, the man who led to his father’s abrupt demise (in that crazy fight at the end of Rocky IV).

Nike, Apple, Vince Staples, Meek Mill, Twitter, electro-indie, HBO, Max Kellerman, ESPN, Stephen A. Smith- this movie screams 2015, and the energy it encompasses matches it. There is also so much humor and humanity in this masterful movie. Unlike other young directors, Ryan Coogler, having not directed a movie since the aforementioned Fruitvale Station, doesn’t lose his touch and surrender control in his leap from indie to studio feature. Moreover, he shoots his street and gym scenes with grit, while his fight scenes look just like HBO pay-per-view Saturday nights. You see the Rocky references in the lingering shots of a turtle and another of eggs, but they come with a wink. Because in the end, you don’t have to know anything about the original Rocky movies or the Italian Stallion himself to find yourself crying tears of joy and/or simply pumped up. To top it with a cherry, with the promise of this movie in mind, it looks like this isn’t the last Creed feature film you’ll hear me talking about.

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Spotlight

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With an all-star cast, including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Billy Crudup, and Liev Schreiber, this movie is about some dang good journalism (and acting, for that matter), finding your way through all the clouds of obfuscated realities, and the deconstruction of all the politics and business behind secret-keeping. It’s a true story of the muckraking done by the Boston Globe in the early 2000’s, exposing the lies and secrets perpetrated by the Catholic Church, judicial and political systems, media- pretty much everybody, inside and outside of Boston. It’s maturely, but also intensely, paced, relatively unpredictable, and puts quite a few knots in your back by the end.

Did you know that at least 6% of Catholic priests in the U.S. face serious allegations of child molestation at some point, yet the powerful institution that is the Vatican almost always finds a way to not only clear the names of the priests but also reassign them to different communities and keep them amongst the clergy? Granted, the church does a lot of good for people, but these atrocious choices are, quite simply, criminal acts and cannot be neglected. I thank this movie for putting these issues in the “Spotlight.”

Expect this movie to win big in the award season. Don’t be surprised if Tom McCarthy wins Best Director from the Academy, if Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton pick up acting accolades, if Best Original Screenplay goes to Spotlight… heck, I could definitely see this movie winning Best Picture; though it’s not my personal favorite, I can see why it will potentially be perceived as the objectively greatest work made all year. If you’re patient, old enough to find out what occasionally happens after Catholic bishops pledge celibacy, and appreciative of excellent movies, look no further than Spotlight.

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Sicario

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Sicario (Spanish for “hitman”) is one of those movies with a really screwed up ending, you know? It is, literally and figuratively, an ambush. It opens at such an anxiety-inducing pitch and manages to sustain that pitch throughout the movie, manifesting the horrors of the lawless U.S.-Mexico border area, drug trafficking, and cold murder. It’s strange: the low levels of humanity in this film that persevere through every glimpse of hope, combined with the sickening reality conveyed by the story. Moreover, Sicario allows us to take a glimpse into this infamous part of the world through a nonpartisan perspective; the United States government, the Mexican government, the Mexican drug cartels, other Latin American drug cartels- we see the sketchiness and recklessness from every side.

Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro deliver stunning performances, ones definitely worthy of Oscar acting nominations. I’m not sure that this movie will clear the boards otherwise at the Academy Awards, but it’s definitely worth a see, both for its quality and its content. Just when you think you know what you’re talking about in regard to foreign policy, as well as US-Mexico relations + the cartels, Sicario proves you wrong. It’s provocative, socially conscious, and something we all need to acknowledge. I do not, however, recommend this movie to people that are easily disturbed by mutilated bodies, intense shootouts, violent deaths, etc. Otherwise, check it out!

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Side Note: We’re approaching 6,000 views now and I’d really appreciate some feedback. I just declared professional writing as a major at Baylor and, with this in mind, would love to hear some constructive criticism. Plus, the encouragement and support obviously help a ton too. Thanks for reading and happy late Thanksgiving!