I’ve put it off long enough. Here we are in January of 2016, the Golden Globes have come and gone, and I haven’t yet posted my “Best of 2015” film list. I really wanted to get a few more movies under my belt, but I’m pretty secure in my top choices. Are these films “the best”? Objectively, maybe not, but they were the films that I enjoyed the most this year. I saw many of them multiple times in the cinema, and I bought them when they came out on DVD. For most of the year, Mad Max: Fury Road couldn’t be beat for the No. 1 spot. That changed when I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, in IMAX and 3D. Then I saw The Revenant. Cue the choir of angels. The rest of the films aren’t necessarily in order of preference.
Best Movies of 2015
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, this western/adventure/drama focuses on a frontiersman/fur trader (Leonardo DiCaprio) living in the 1820s, and it demonstrates the harsh, horrible realities of that time, including frequent raids by native Americans and even an up-close-and-personal grizzly bear attack, which traumatized me. Everyone in the film looks as if they could freeze to death at any moment, with the biggest hardships endured by a rough looking DiCaprio, who really deserves an Oscar win for this outing. Tom Hardy plays the baddie, but for some reason even though he does horrible things, I felt a bit sorry for him. After all, his character survived a near scalping. If you know Inarritu’s previous films, specifically his first feature Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Biutiful, you know to expect brutality and bleakness but also the perseverance of the human spirit. The Revenant would be amazing to experience in IMAX, but even when watching this in “normal” format, I found myself deeply affected, both emotionally and spiritually. At times I cried, at others I was simply in awe. I cannot wait to see this again, even though it’s not an easy film to sit through. I was so mesmerized that it never seemed like it was 156 minutes long. Wonderful acting, writing, cinematography, score … Easily takes the No. 1 spot in my list.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I had serious doubts about J.J. Abrams directing this film, as I haven’t liked what he’s done to the Star Trek I became more confident; however, when I saw that Lawrence Kasdan was once again on the screenwriting team. (He is responsible for The Empire Strikes Back, only the greatest of the Star Wars films, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, so …) As a super fan, I stalked Fandango on the first day that the tickets became available, and secured a screening for the early Thursday screening, seeing it in IMAX and 3D. Once the film began, it didn’t take long for me to become enraptured, and as soon as the ride was finished, we got tickets for a second, 11:45 showing. While watching The Force Awakens, I felt like I did all those years ago when I saw the original Star Wars. I was giddy as a child. The film made me laugh, and cry; I felt excited and nostalgic. I’ve already seen it three times. I would really like a few more times before it leaves the cinema. BB-8 is the best creation ever. Rey is an amazing, empowering character for girls. The interaction between Finn and Poe made me laugh. And the inclusion of Han Solo and Chewbacca made me happier than anything on this planet. My favorite character was probably Kylo Ren, though. I like flawed, slightly petulant villains with anger management issues. So much could be written about The Force Awakens … truly an amazing experience.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Speaking of experiences … I’ve been stoked about a new Mad Max film since it was announced. I was even MORE stoked when I discovered that writer/director George Miller had added Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy to the cast. Sitting in the movie theater, watching such a gonzo, kinetic, balls-out-and-on-proud-display kind of film was exhilarating. I saw Fury Road, and then quickly saw it again. The minute it was available on DVD, I bought a copy. I can’t name one thing about this film that I dislike, and it was really difficult for me to move it from the No. 1 slot on this list. My favorite aspect of it has to be Furiosa. Having a strong, central female character in such a dynamic blockbuster film is incredibly important. We need more characters like this one. I cannot wait for Miller to get the next installment made.
The fast pace, long hours, and borderline insulting pay associated with being a newspaper journalist, which I was for a few years, can make you lose sight of why you even bother toiling in the profession. I got burned out and left, vowing never to return. The very passionate and riveting Spotlight reminded me why journalism is such a noble and much needed profession. The film centers on a four-person investigative team – called Spotlight – who, thanks to the suggestion of their new boss (Liev Schreiber), uncover sexual abuse, and the decades-long cover-up, committed by the Catholic Church in Boston. I knew bits and pieces of what happened, but not the scope. I came away from this film a changed person. Exceptional performances all around, but most notable was Mark Ruffalo. He deserves an Oscar. I am always excited to see Michael Keaton, who is great here, and Stanley Tucci, also exceptional in a small, but important role. Will buy this when it comes out on DVD.
Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II
I love the Hunger Games trilogy, largely because it has a strong central female (Jennifer Lawrence) who is conflicted about what she must do. And even though she must engage in violent behavior, violence is never glorified. This franchise might be based on novels aimed at Young Adults, but thankfully it never dumbs down its message. This is as good a commentary as anything you can find on the abuse of power by the wealthy elite. I also really applaud the film for having such complex characters and relationships. Katniss isn’t a love sick, doe-eyed girl who needs to be rescued. And her “love interest,” Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) gives the film, such a strong heart. (Both are against “type.”) Every time his character showed up on screen, I bawled like a baby. He unleashes my empathy like nobody can. My only complaint is that there wasn’t enough Woody Harrelson. Philip Seymour Hoffman will be missed.
Kingsmen: The Secret Service
This was the first film of 2015 that I saw and said to myself “I better start a Best of 2015 list, because this is going on it,” and despite many good films coming out throughout the year, it held firm. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, of Kick-Ass fame, Kingsmen proved to me that Colin Firth was more than a dull, clench buttocked Englishman – his fight sequence in the church gave me endless fits of delight – and that Taron Egerton, who plays the handsome lead, is destined for super stardom should he choose the right roles. It’s difficult to reinvigorate the spy genre, but this film does it in such a delightfully violent way. And you can never go wrong with having Mark Strong or Michael Caine in your cast. Very excited for the sequel.
I am such a Guillermo del Toro fan, and when I learned he had made a Gothic (haunted house with damsel in distress) horror film, set to open around my birthday, I figured I had about died and gone to heaven. I really enjoyed the film and the performances – (Tom Hiddleston could charm about anyone out of a bodice.)- but sadly I wasn’t as frightened as I wanted to be. Still, I’ll buy it on DVD. I wanted to see this in IMAX but never got the chance to check it out again. It’s a regret, no doubt.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
I love superhero films, and am one of the few who won’t complain that this year there are a ton scheduled for release. I particularly love the Avengers team, so when you set those characters into a story about robots and A.I. – a favorite subject of mine – I think you can guess how much I loved this outing. In a nutshell, when Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) idea of protecting the world with his Iron Man fleet backfires, and unleashes A.I. (voiced by James Spader) with a genocidal bent, the Avengers, with a few new “mutants” along for the ride (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen), come to the rescue … but not without casualties. I really liked the relationship built between Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and the one between Quicksilver (Taylor-Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch (Olsen). Both made me tear up. As usual, the banter is often fun, the action dynamic, and by this point, these guys feel like family to me. The Avengers films have been consistently great as have most of the Marvel hero stand-alones. (That said, I didn’t like the first Captain America film, or any of the Hulk films). I am super stoked for Captain America: Civil War. And am REALLY excited for DC to start churning out their films!
Chris Pratt continues to slay the box office in this latest installment about marauding dinosaurs killing people. It’s so many decades later, and the scientists and capitalists still haven’t learned their lesson. To attract more customers to the theme park, the powers-that-be are developing genetically modified hybrids. Scarier, bigger, and smarter isn’t really such a good idea, people. The velociraptors have always been my favorite characters, and to my absolute delight, this action/adventure has four of them from beginning to end. Jurassic World was absolute, giddy fun. It is its own amusement ride. It captures the spirit of Spielberg’s original, and it amps the human consumption to a really delirious level. If I remember correctly, I saw this three or four times in the cinema.
Alex Garland has written some of my favorite films – Sunshine, Dredd, and 28 Days Later – and now we can add Ex Machina to that list. In short, this sci-fi masterpiece is about man’s hubris and how A.I. will destroy us all, but it’s really even more than that. It makes a powerful statement about gender, more specifically on the male subjugation of females. It’s also a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve. It’s so complex that when I saw it the first time, I thought it was misogynistic; upon second viewing, I had a very different take. I still need to see it again, and since I bought it on DVD, I just need to find the time. All of the actors – Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac – are on fire, right now … She was most recently in the heavily lauded The Danish Girl, and the truly awful Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Gleeson and Isaac are both in Star Wars: The Force Awakens among so many other things… and there’s a reason: All are really good, well at least in this film. Good sci-fi doesn’t come around very often; truly great sci-fi is practically a unicorn. Thanks to Garland, we keep getting a rare glimpse at how it can be done correctly.
Movies I Still Need to See
The Danish Girl
Enjoyable films that could have made the Best of list:
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation
Run All Night
Disappointing and or Bad Movies:
The Good Dinosaur
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
What We Do in Shadows