Wow. What a difference seven days makes.

Last weekend we were ‘blessed’ with arguably the two worst films of the year– Shark Night 3D and Apollo 18. This weekend, though, we get two bona fide 5-star films that will surely be remembered come Oscar time and will also stand for many years as classics in their respective genres.

Contagion sets a new standard for fear-inducing pandemic films, and Warrior reaches a level of excellence among fight films that hasn’t been seen since the original Rocky (and maybe even before).

Tom Hardy (Inception) is Tommy Conlon, an Iraq War vet with a shady past who shows up one night on the Pittsburgh doorstep of his father Paddy (Nick Nolte), a former alcoholic who used to abuse Tommy’s mom. Tommy has absolutely no use for him… other than having him be his trainer for an upcoming mega-huge Mixed Martial Arts competition.

At the same time, Tommy’s estranged brother Brendan is struggling to make ends meet as a high school science teacher in Philadelphia. Married (to House‘s Jennifer Morrison) with two cute kids, he’s just a few months away from being foreclosed upon, and there’s no hope in sight.

Eventually the three men’s lives get started on a compelling and utterly riveting collision course that ends inside the chain-link octagon in Atlantic City.

Director and co-writer Gavin O’Connor (Miracle) has made a film for the ages. And even though the story has moments that seem to be ripped straight from the ‘boxing movie’ playbook, there’s not a single bit that feels forced, trite, or silly. Much of its success is due to the gritty and honest script, but it’s the career-high performances from everyone involved that push Warrior from the level of, say, The Fighter, into rare air.

Hardy’s turn as an ice-cold, ruthless combat soldier-turned-Ultimate Fighter is breathtaking stuff, and it’s a sincere credit to his skills that a character so completely uncaring can somehow remain sympathetic. Likewise, Joel Edgerton, in his first big-time starring role, gives a performance as a loving and devoted family man that will resound with you long after you leave the theater.

It’s Nick Nolte, though, who steals the show as a three-years-sober ex-Marine ostracized by his two grown sons; ‘heartbreaking’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The fights are brutal, the performances are brutally honest, and Warrior instantly becomes one of the best films of the year.

5/5 stars