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TIFF Review: Sicario (2015)

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Violent, tense, and above all absorbing, ‘Sicario’ finds French-Canadian director Dennis Villeneuve at the height of his prowess. Led by an emotional and honest performance from Emily Blunt and especially magnetic, ruthless work from Benicio Del Toro; this action juggernaut is a must-see, even if its unflinching visuals may be difficult for some to swallow.

Relentless from start to finish, a somber, looming tone cloaks Dennis Villeneuve’s thriller in risk and secrecy. Aided by Roger Deakins ghostly, majestic cinematography and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s penetrating, ominous, intimidating score. ‘Sicario’ is an exhausting, inescapable experience.

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Supported impeccably by Josh Brolin and a slew of precise tactical performances by the film’s gunslingers. ‘Sicario’ might just be the most effective, entrancing piece of war cinema since Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’

Taylor Sheridan’s horrifying, entertaining, narratively-complex story and devastating, memorable dialogue effortlessly elevates the intensity and execution in Blunt, Del Toro, and Brolin’s performances. Additionally allowing Villeneuve and Deakins to truly explore and excel behind the camera.

‘Sicario’ has Roger Deakins in award-season form and features some of the master cinematographer’s finest work. Most notably, a night-vision sequence that gets the heart racing and palms sweating.

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The delicacy and boldness in Blunt’s performance cannot be understated. Imperative and determined, Blunt’s Macer mimics the viewer’s terrified, meddlesome mindset, expertly holding their attention as if you sit fastened in the interrogation chair.

Outshining his co-stars’ already blinding brilliance, Benicio Del Toro’s ferocious, smothering, calculated anti-hero is a performance to contemplate and savour. Exercising the actor’s formidable charisma, ‘Sicario’ catapults Del Toro back into the working elite.

Uncompromising, thought-provoking, and brutally straightforward, ‘Sicario’ is unmissable.

Sicario: 9.5 out of 10.

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Top 10 Films of 2014

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Just a quick update before we get started. I’ll have my Oscar predictions and results from the latest Vote! segment out this week, so make sure to get your votes in before it closes. Additionally, hopefully, my review of “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter,” a film I greatly adore, will be published before week’s end. Now let’s get going…

25: The Raid 2: Berandal (Gareth Evans)
24: Snowpiercer (Joon-Ho Bong)
23: Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller)
22: The Trip to Italy (MIchael Winterbottom)
21: Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)

20: The Rover (David Michod)
19: I Origins (Mike Cahill)
18: Frank (Lenny Abrahamson)
17: The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum)
16: Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)

15: Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
14: The Drop (Michael R. Roskam)
13: Nymphomaniac (Lars Von Trier)
12: Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)
11: Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

10: Starred Up (David Mackenzie)/(’71, Yann Demange, 2015?)

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Are we going with 2014 or 2015 for “’71?” It’s rather comical that up-and-coming super-stud Jack O’Connell had three films screen this year, the worst of which received the widest release. “Starred Up” is a hard-hitting prison drama that’s lifted to towering heights by the performances of O’Connell and co-star Ben Mendelsohn. Swapping the more traditional, cringe-worthy visual aspects of the unflinching prison sub-genre (not all) for impenetrable dialogue and a vast array of relationships teetering on the brink, “Starred Up” will fill you with insight before knocking a few teeth down your throat.

9: Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy) / Enemy (Dennis Villenueve)

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Very few have had quite as stellar a year as Jake Gyllenhaal in 2014, which is why I couldn’t help but rank this remarkable double-feature inside my top 10. This double-dose of Gyllenhaal showcases the actor’s staggering, at times terrifying range. It’s mind-blowing that Gyllenhaal didn’t garner an Oscar nomination for either of these two fantastic performances, but I digress.

8: The Guest (Adam Wingard)

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Containing easily the best soundtrack any film of 2014 had to offer, “The Guest” sees dynamic duo Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett reach new cult status. With incredibly charismatic performances from Dan Stevens and Maika Monroe, in addition to non-stop action “The Guest” is endlessly entertaining!

7: Locke (Steven Knight)

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Looked upon as a reliable, strong-minded scribe with a plethora of solid screenplays to his name, including the creation of “Peaky Blinders,” a personal television favourite of mine. Prior to 2014’s “Locke,” Steven Knight hadn’t much to brag about from behind the camera, but that quickly and assertively changed. Led by a phenomenal performance from occasional Knight collaborator Tom Hardy, “Locke” is a magnificent spectacle of the human experience.

6: A Most Violent Year (J. C. Chandor)

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This is the second consecutive year-end “best of” list J. C. Chandor has cracked for me, personally (All Is Lost, 2013). Much like last year’s film “All Is Lost,” “A Most Violent Year” didn’t get much love come award season, but once again that didn’t discourage my ranking it inside the top 10. With formidable performances from its entire cast, including Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, and Albert Brooks, a subtle, yet immensely powerful story, gloomy atmosphere, and the sure-handed direction from Chandor, “A Most Violent Year” is a must-see to any who missed it.

5: Force Majeure (Ruben Ostlund)

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As I’m sure most of you are aware, comedy cinema doesn’t sit too well with me. Which should only speak volumes in regards to “Force Majeure’s” placement on this list. Providing the laughs, abundantly, and a rock-solid story that’s never as easy to watch as its breezy demeanour would insist, “Force Majeure’s” Oscar snub is almost as unforgivable as the absence of “Mommy” in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

4: Gone Girl (David Fincher)

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To say that I adore David Fincher and his very impressive resume would be a massive understatement. “Gone Girl,” although not the illustrious filmmakers best work to date, certainly has a place amongst the top of his efforts. Further cementing Ben Affleck as a force to be reckoned with both on and off screen and earning Rosamund Pike an Oscar nomination, deservedly so I might add, “Gone Girl” mixes all the potent Fincher facets into one hell of a morbid cocktail.

3: Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

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The odds-on favourite to take home “best foreign language film” at this year’s Academy Awards, “Leviathan” is an aptly titled juggernaut. Breathtaking visuals, impressive performances, and an unfathomable socio-political complexity are just a few tangents of what makes “Leviathan” triumphant.

2: Mommy (Xavier Dolan)

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Directed and written by home-grown Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, “Mommy” catapults the young filmmaker to the relative peak of my top 10. I’d feel very unpatriotic leaving Dolan’s latest off this list, but rest-assured he earned this spot. “Mommy” is brutal, unforgiving, whilst conversely evoking the most genuine and rooted responses of the emotional spectrum. Performed with the utmost investment by the entire ensemble, “Mommy” is one foreign language film you won’t want to miss.

1: Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)

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It doesn’t exactly bode well for the credibility of Nolan’s latest topping this list, seeing as I could be considered the leader of Nolan’s group of so-called “Fanboys,” but I can’t stress “Interstellar’s” greatness enough. You’ve either seen this film by now and loved it or hated it. I fail to see the middle ground and apparently so does everyone else. With monumental visuals, a complex, out-of-this-world premise that simultaneously showcases the down-to-earth emotionality and intellectual reach of the human race. “Interstellar” will leave you in awe and down-right flabbergasted. Thankfully, this film offers much post-viewing reading that should solve any issues or curiosity.

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What did you think of my list? Have a list of your own? Let me know in the comment section below!

 

Enemy (2014)

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Dennis Villeneuve’s latest, “Enemy,” is seemingly shrouded in secrecy. Amongst the remnants of Villeneuve’s last film, high-profile crime-thriller “Prisoners,” this mysterious piece of suspenseful anti-existentialism took form and emerged from the shadows. Blending staggeringly beautiful camerawork, the lovely Toronto skyline muddled in a glowing haze, and marvellously haunting performances from the entire cast, “Enemy” quite handily manages to stimulate, stump, and shock. With Hitchcock-like suspense, an atmosphere akin to classic David Lynch, and a skin-crawling metamorphosis that would make Kafka proud. “Enemy” stands not only as a sufficiently fulfilling thriller, but a nerve-shredding, confident, worthy art-house piece in the ranks of its inspirations.

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A flick that’s as much an exercise in problem solving as it is a piece of art, a lot like a puzzle or a mathematical game of deciphering a pattern or code. “Enemy” is about as complex as they come, never ceasing to challenge the viewer with a barrage of variables, twists and turns. It’s an equation comprised of shapeless pieces that intertwine to form a web on the grandest scale.

Based on “The Double” by Jose Saramago, “Enemy” was adapted for the screen by Javier Gullon and directed by the aforementioned Dennis Villeneuve. Shot on location in Toronto, this modern-day fable stars Jake Gyllenhaal in a dual role, Melanie Laurent, and Sarah Gadon.

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Adam (Gyllenhaal) is a history professor who is slowly becoming more and more disinterested in the world and people surrounding him. Even his girlfriend Mary (Laurent) can’t seem to hold his attention outside of the bedroom in his gloomy, run-down apartment. On a recommendation, Adam decides to pick up a local film at a nearby video store, perhaps a last attempt at salvaging his humanity. Later that night, while Mary sleeps alone in the next room, Adam has reluctantly become entranced by the low-budget flick. Then, while lost in a deep sleep, Adam has a dream heavily influenced by the movie, so much so that Adam begins to see himself in the picture. Awakening frightened, he revisits the film to find that it wasn’t himself he was seeing in his dream, but an extra that resembles himself exactly. Stunned, Adam becomes obsessed with his look-alike and eventually searches out his identical being.

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Anthony (Gyllenhaal) is an aspiring actor who is expecting his first child with his lovely wife Helen (Gadon). The two are looking for a fresh start after some turbulence early on in their relationship. Having recently moved to a respectable apartment, one could conclude that this new place of residence is a symbol of their relationship’s rejuvenation. One day, Helen receives a bizarre phone call from someone who sounds exactly like her husband Anthony. As days pass, the phone calls persist, which Anthony now handles in private. Letting speculation get the best of her, Helen demands Anthony reveal the nature of the calls. Anthony informs his wife that it is nothing but a bizarre man claiming to be a big fan of his films. Fully aware of the trust issues his marriage has sustained, Anthony decides to keep the true nature of the calls from his wife, that Adam is on the other end, clamouring to be Anthony’s doppelgänger.

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I know it may appear as if I’ve somewhat spoiled the film with the previous summarization, but I assure you, the information I’ve provided you with is merely the premise. I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of “Enemy” and that’s the way it’ll have to stay in order for you, the reader, to thoroughly experience and discover its depths. That being said, I can tell you that what follows will undoubtedly leave a fair amount of viewers on the opposite side of the fence. “Enemy” is a complex, intricate beast that’ll leave you begging for a second viewing. It’ll keep you up at night, reading, thinking about every aspect of its veiled misdirection, dialogue, and symbolism. You won’t be able to view “Enemy” and then simply sit it on a shelf, it requires ambitious follow-up.

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While I can’t reveal “Enemy’s” secrets, I can describe to you Dennis Villeneuve’s mastery is on display throughout this film. However, if I’m to be honest, this is the first film of Villeneuve’s I’ve seen. That being said, after viewing “Enemy,” I can assure you his catalogue is on my radar.

Now, what I found most impressive is Villeneuve’s ability to shift seamlessly from the large-scale stuff down to the minuscule. Through his lens, we span across a luminous smog and an achromatic pallet that has Toronto looking menacing and infinite. Then, a few shots down the road, we’re locked, engulfed in a dark and dreary apartment, watching two men and their identities crumble under what defines them, or lack there of. Villeneuve somehow manages to create this rapidly rising claustrophobia through intimate settings and predicaments, like travelling on a streetcar or partaking in compassionate sex. A vulnerable helplessness, inescapability that gives us a distinct vantage point to our own importance and insignificance that is truly remarkable. Without question some of the finest camerawork and direction I’ve ever seen.

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It’s always a visual treat for viewers when an actor tackles multiple roles in a film, and quite a challenge for the one who has undertaken it. Still, I feel most filmmakers and actors haven’t fully capitalized on the double premise…until now.

On one hand, sitting on a motorcycle sporting a devilishly handsome and intimidating beard while wearing a black leather jacket, we have Jake Gyllenhaal’s Anthony. A cold, pretentious, opportunistic predator bordering narcissistic. Conversely, lounging around his crappy apartment, unkempt, grading papers, and forcing himself on his girlfriend, we have Gyllenhaal’s Adam. A pessimist and reluctant narcissist, who’s soul just might still be salvageable. Two vastly different characters comprised of a single man’s brilliance. Gyllenhaal, who’s wowed us in the past with “Donnie Darko” and “Source Code,” gives a career defining performance…twice. Even if you find yourself flabbergasted, obsessed, or just plain infuriated by “Enemy,” there’s no denying Gyllenhaal’s triumph.

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The characters of Mary and Helen are a level of bizarre all on their own, mirroring one another, although not to the same extent of Adam and Anthony. Melanie Laurent (Mary), arguably portraying the sanest character in the film, does what she can with her limited dialogue and screen time. Had Mary been more crucial to the story instead of merely being an oblivious pawn, Laurent would have been allowed to stun as we should expect. Nonetheless, Laurent is as radiant and invested as always. Sarah Gadon (Helen) has drawn possibly the most intriguing character in the film, which I cannot explain due to spoilers. Regardless, this gorgeous rising star continues to improve and hone her craft while building a very respectable repertoire.   Immaculate performances by the entire ensemble, through and through.

Featuring a transfixing musical score, stunning visuals, immensely impressive performances, and dread that reaches its pinnacle at the terrifying ending. “Enemy” is a taut, entertaining, slow-burning thriller that we’ll be discussing and revisiting for a good, long while.

Enemy: 9 out of 10.