Smart direction, unique storytelling, and great acting make LOVE & MERCY one of the best films of 2015! The film has an unconventional structure for a biopic, but cutting back-and-forth from the ’60s and ’80s to tell Beach Boy musician Brian Wilson’s ordeal with mental illness is seamlessly weaved together by Bill Pohlad’s exact direction and screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner’s very good script. Paul Dano and John Cusack both play Wilson (Dano the ’60s Wilson and Cusack the ’80s Wilson) and both give an award-worthy performance. Not to be outdone by Dano and Cusack, Elizabeth Banks demonstrates once again her amazing range as an actress. And Paul Giamatti and Bill Camp (playing Brian’s dad) are legitimately this year’s best bad guys (sorry Ultron).

GRADE: A

SPY is writer/director Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy’s third collaboration. Their previous films, BRIDESMAIDS and THE HEAT, are better films, but SPY has more laughs. The film also sports a stellar cast: Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Allison Janney, and Bobby Cannavale. McCarthy, who plays Jude Law’s spy assistant, is excellent as she goes undercover as a spy in order to stop the fantastic Rose Byrne from selling weapons that could lead to a global disaster. The unexpected scene stealer in the film is Statham. His performance as the cocksure, over-the-top agent that doesn’t need  the former desk-jockey (McCarthy) getting in his way, supplies some of the biggest laughs. If there is a fault in the film, it is the third act that seems a to be a bit much compared to the rest of the film.

GRADE: B+

The TESTAMENT OF YOUTH is James Kent’s directorial debut and is adapted from Vera Brittain’s memoir set in England just before and during World War I. Playing Ms. Brittain is Alicia Vikander who is having a breakthrough performance kind-of-year with this film and EX MACHINA. Vikander is perfect as the young feminist who must demonstrate steel-like resilience in a male dominated era of hypocrisy. Kit Harrington, better known as Jon Snow on “Game of Thrones”, is also good as Ms. Brittain’s boyfriend. The film gets high marks for concentrating on the “at home” effects during a war and not the actual war. However, this is one of the film’s flaws that limits any true drama as Ms. Brittain’s men go fight a war. That said, the film is good.

GRADE: B