“Malignant”

7.7

James Wan at the height of his powers.

A creative, original story. Camera angles no one else would think of using. A largely unknown cast that you care for enough to cause buy-in into the story, heightening its impact. This film fires on all cylinders.

You can see elements of Wan’s entire filmography in this. The music and feel of “Saw,” the storytelling and characters of “The Conjuring,” and the road trip scenes of “Fast and the Furious.” The third act reveal of the true villain, and some of the closing shots had me on the edge of my seat in a way I haven’t been since I first watched “Saw.” The film’s rewatchability may not be as strong as some other horror films, but the initial wow factor is superb. A solid start to spooky season!

“The Card Counter”

7.9

“Any man can tilt.”

An Abu Ghraib movie the weekend of the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Ballsy move, but one I think pays off by the time the credits roll. What begins as “Molly’s Game” quickly turns into an Oliver Stone documentary, pulling back the curtain on the complicated nature of morality, the role of the United States in history, and the human costs of war. Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish cement themselves as leading cast members. A masterclass in framing, tension building, and impactful filmmaking.

“Cooking With Paris”

7.2

I’m still a bigger “Selena + Chef” fan, but this was a close second. All the typical Paris shenanigans, with a carousel of celebrity friends learning to cook. It’s gaudy to the max. If you’re not concerned with actually learning any culinary expertise, this is your show. If you want actual recipes and depth, head over to HBO Max for Selena’s rendition.

“Free Guy”

9.2

This is the movie of the year, as far as I’m concerned.

You think I’ve lost my mind, I know… Well, I’m completely lucid and in love with this movie. I expected a fun hour and a half of laughing along with unmasked Deadpool. You know what? I got a profound story about purpose in life, adventure, artificial intelligence, ethics, and a fantastic action film. All with just the right amount of ridiculousness, cameos, and appearances by Disney intellectual property. It adds to the story with finesse, instead of beating you over the head with sensory overload like “Ready Player One.”

Perfect cast, all in the ideal roles, with an excellent story. Told through rich cinematography that feels much more lifelike than the videogame most of the story takes place in. The grounding of the story is a love story, and it being the last one you expect left me blown away and singing the praises of this film I had to wait over a year for. Much more worth the wait than “New Mutants.”

Honestly, this thing fires on all cylinders and will leave you moved and inspired. Bravo!

“Heat”

8.4

This is one of those monumental films that suffers from its own success. Similar to “Psycho,” “Halloween,” or “JAWS,” it kicks off a revolution of a genre and reimagines the craft of cinema, but then is copied so much that it eventually becomes a watered-down version of itself. I saw so many action tropes in this film and was reminded of the late 90’s action boom and the grandness of epics such as the Dark Knight trilogy, “Titanic,” and “Pearl Harbor.”

This film separates itself because the cast is so overflowing with talent than it does the micro exceptionally well. The intimate, deeply personal scenes, such as the scene in the coffee shop between Pacino and De Niro, are just as awe-inspiring as the grand scale action scenes. The heists and shootouts are some of the best tension-filled directing I’ve seen in quite some time. Shout-out to the Amazon Val Kilmer biopic “Val,” for leading me to this gem!