Here’s a magnificent seven released in the past year or so that represents my ideals of first-rate moviemaking. In no particular order:
“Inherent Vice” -- Wild and weird, a cross between “The Big Lebowski” and “Harper” (Ross MacDonald’s detective character portrayed by Paul Newman). A convoluted puzzle of a story perceived through a haze of marijuana smoke by Joaquin Phoenix, this adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel is by way of the always interesting director, Paul Thomas Anderson.
“Ex Machina” -- Not the first film to explore the ramifications of artificial intelligence but the most effective one on multiple levels. A perfect combination of fascinating and seductive characters, intelligent dialogue and relentlessly escalating suspense.
“Boyhood” -- I went into this one with a preconceived notion that any connection would be fragile at best. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise, especially in the way in which the stages of a life from childhood to college are seamlessly woven.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” -- Who says you need a lot of talking to make a great film? Actions literally speak louder than words in this sensory barrage of a chase flick overflowing with spectacular stunts. Law-of-the-jungle morality dominates a desolate, post-apocalyptic landscape, yet it remains a world where humanity’s best emotions refuse to be crushed under big wheels.
“The Fault in Our Stars” -- Rising star Shailene Woodley gives a memorable performance as a teen trapped in the calamity of deadly cancer and desperately seeking love and meaning, the former with costar Ansel Elgort, the latter with a jaded cynic of a writer played by Willem Dafoe. Sad at times yet ultimately uplifting.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” -- Over-the-top action scenes--par for the genre--are nonetheless given uncharacteristic moral weight by a politically savvy plot. Easy to see how Robert Redford was persuaded to take a role in a comic book flick.
“Wild” -- Based on a true story, Reese Witherspoon’s character solo hikes the Pacific Crest Trail. Intercutting aspects of her earlier life, the film effectively blends past and present, detailing the rediscovery of a lost mojo during a thousand-mile trek.
Next up on my must-see list: “Jurassic World.” As a long-time fan of prehistoric gate crashers to the hubris of the human party, I eagerly await this next installment of dinosaurs gone wild.