The Best Movies Of 2015

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It’s my favorite time of year and my favorite review to write – MY FAVORITE MOVIES (OR FILMS) OF 2015!!!! This year was a solid year, especially in the genre films department. Now I have a couple of disclaimers.

  • I go see at least three or four movies a month, but it’s hard to catch everything. So films on other peoples’ lists like Straight Outta Compton, Room, and Carol won’t be on the list.
  • I really wanted to see The Revenant, but it won’t be out until a week after the new year, so it’s unfortunately not a contender.
  • There are a few movies you’ll see on this list and think, “Hey, why didn’t you review or mention this?” It’s because I either saw them before I launched this blog or after they were released on video.
  • A grade doesn’t mean I have to rank an A+ over an A. There’s even a movie I gave an A+ that’s not on the list at all!

On that note, I have some honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut, but are still worth mentioning:

  • Beasts of No Nation (the only A+ movie not on the list) was a beautiful and harrowing war film about innocence lost, featuring Idris Elba’s finest performance to date.
  • Creed restored my faith in the Rocky franchise, thanks to Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone.
  • The End of the Tour is the best road trip movie I’ve seen in the last few years and featured Jason Segel’s finest work.
  • Ex-Machina was a disturbing and suspenseful sci-fi thriller that had great commentary on objectification.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service – was the best spy movie I saw in a year loaded with spy movies, and featured one of the most innovative and memorable fight scenes to date.
  • Trainwreck was a very funny and surprisingly dramatic comedy that introduced me to the talented Amy Schumer.

And now let’s get down to it! My top 10 favorite films of 2015 are:

10) It FollowsIt Follows may have the ridiculous concept of a dark sex comedy, but it’s also a very disturbing commentary on teen sexuality and a strong message to young kids about safe sex.

9) Sicario – Perhaps the darkest and most nihilistic movie on my list, Sicario shines through the darkness, thanks to Denis Villeneuve’s visceral direction and powerful performances from both Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro. This is one cartel thriller that isn’t for the faint of heart.

8) The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino’s newest Western is also not for the faint of heart, but still an absolute blast. Part murder mystery and part classical Western, Tarantino’s beautiful direction brings out the best work from its cast, particularly Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins.

7) Love & Mercy – I hate music biopics, but Love & Mercy is more of an engaging psychological study of a broken man than a generic Brian Wilson biopic. Paul Dano plays young Wilson with frenetic energy while John Cusack portrays the older fragile version of Wilson in this unique music film.

6) Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – Thank you, J.J. Abrams, for giving us a great Star Wars movie for Christmas. New and old blood, nostalgia mixed with more character-driven storytelling, Star Wars ranks among the best Star Wars installments to date.

5) The Martian – Ridley Scott returns to form and directs the year’s most optimistic movie featuring this year’s most likable protagonist, Mark Watney (Matt Damon in his best performance). This is a survival sci-fi tale that will have viewers laughing while engaged in science and disco music.

4) Steve Jobs – Director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin crafted the best film that no one saw this year! Shame on the film goers for skipping a visionary fast-paced biopic, featuring a brilliant performance from Michael Fassbender as the titular character.

3) Spotlight – Likely this year’s Best Picture winner, Spotlight is a gripping and important journalism piece that follows people (not heroes or villains) and their struggles writing an investigative piece on molestation in the Catholic Church. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel MacAdams all deliver standout performances as our protagonists.

2) Inside Out – Pixar is back with the very beautiful, funny, and emotional Inside Out. Director Pete Docter (Up, Monster’s Inc.) continues to combine basic genre formulas with innovative storytelling in the form of an animated film. In this case, a disaster movie with insight on emotions.

1) Mad Max: Fury Road – What a film! WHAT A LOVELY FILM! That’s the fanboy part of me talking, but the reason why Mad Max is #1 is because George Miller rebooted his own franchise and topped his previous installments. Between the action sequences with stuntmen and reliance on basic props for visual effects, we rarely get an action movie with as much effort put into it as Mad Max: Fury Road. Also, I can’t remember the last time I saw an action movie that treated an ensemble of female characters as powerful people and passed the Bechdel test. These reasons are enough to please all film goers and not just action fans.

Thanks a bunch for reading this countdown! At the bottom, tell me if you agree or disagree with my list. Also, what was your favorite film of 2015?

 

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“The Hateful Eight”

Restraint has been quite popular this year for a few filmmakers who had seemed to forgotten the meaning of the word. Quentin Tarantino is the latest with “The Hateful Eight”.

“The Hateful Eight” is Tarantino’s second Western film, and it’s set in a violent blizzard in Wyoming. Colonel Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) sits on a pile of dead bounties and a stage coach featuring fellow bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and convict Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) offer him a ride.

Along the way, they pick up a dimwitted sheriff named Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), and the four find themselves in a lodge with four other strangers – retired confederate general Smithers (Bruce Dern), cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), British hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), and lodge owner Bob (Demian Bichir).

It’s when the eight characters meet each other that “The Hateful Eight” turns into a bloody Western play with elements of dark comedy, murder mystery, and even a brief moment of body horror. This is not “Django Unchained” (which is good, but not his best) or “Inglourious Basterds” (which I loved). This is a glimpse of what Tarantino’s future looks like as a playwright/novelist.

Tarantino uses 70mm film stock to beautifully photograph exterior landscapes and pay close attention to detail within the elaborate lodge set-piece. His script is cleverly written since he’s restrained his humor and ego. I mean that we hear Tarantino’s character’s talk; not Tarantino.

The characters are by far the best part of “Eight”. Jackson’s Warren is a menacing vengeful sociopath who takes pride in bounty hunting and his role in the civil war. Russell’s Ruth is an arrogant and misogynistic bounty hunter who respects his hardened allies. Leigh’s Daisy starts as a foul and quirky convict who gets increasingly psychotic throughout the film. Goggins’ Mannix is the most dynamic character, seeing he’s a bigoted-yet-noble sheriff.

The first half of “The Hateful Eight” is all about mystery and tension, which is masterfully built and paced, thanks to Ennio Morricone’s mesmerizing score, eerie shots reminiscent of John Carptenter’s “The Thing,” and interactions between the characters. The second half gets meta and over-the-top with loads of blood splatter and revelations.

I love Tarantino and I was greatly impressed with his execution in “The Hateful Eight”. It was less of a film tribute and more of an actual film. Even with the trademark heads blowing off, the racial slurs, and the similarities to “Reservoir Dogs,” it’s one damn innovative Western.

Grade: A

 

“The Big Short”

Did you know that a small group of bankers predicted the economy crashing before 2008? Did you know it started with these bankers predicting the housing market crash? Well, I didn’t know until I saw “The Big Short”, which is an insightful  look at the events leading to the recession.

“The Big Short” is director Adam McKay’s (“Anchorman”) introduction to dramatic filmmaking and stars Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling as the  bankers who saw the financial disaster coming. Bale plays the eccentric Michael Burry, who first predicted the recession and bet the housing market would crash while everyone laughed at him. Gosling and Carell play bankers Jared Vinnett and Mark Baum, who learned of Burry’s deal and invested in it. Brad Pitt is a retired banker named Ben Rickert, who mentors two greedy young kids that want in on the short.

“The Big Short” is part docudrama and part satirical comedy, occasionally scoring some laughs (this is the guy who directed “Anchorman” afterall). It doesn’t always hit its mark due to dizzying camerawork and a lack of focus.

Bale delivers a brilliant performance as Burry. He’s a one-eyed man with a lack of social skills who’s focused entirely on numbers and metal music. He’s by far the most interesting character in this movie, but here’s the problem – he’s hardly in it! Carell gives one of his angriest and most human performances as Baum, a man overwhelmed by the flaws in the system and survivor’s guilt.

Pitt and Gosling are both the cool guys as usual, with Pitt portraying Rickert as a health-conscious retired banker, and Gosling acting as the film’s narrator. Vinnett’s narration scenes are funny in a dark and condescending way as he turns the scene over to several celebrities as guest narrators.

McKay’s strong point in “The Big Short” is showing us the horrors of the impending recession, but then finding a funny and cartoonish way to explain it to us. One scene involving Carell’s horrific realization with “Sweet Child O’Mine” as background music, followed by an explanation comparing a black jack game to the recession crumbling is the highlight of the film.

Sadly, there’s just not enough humor or balance between McKay’s cinema verite approach and his dark comedy angle. Not saying McKay should go back to what he knows because he made a good movie, but he does have some room to grow.

Grade: B+

 

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” (Spoiler Free)

I won’t fanboy over “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”. I won’t spoil anything whilst talking about “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”. I’ll say that it’s good to read, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” again.

“The Force Awakens” follows the Resistance over thirty years after the events of “Return of the Jedi”, and they’re now up against the First Order led by dark master Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson). They’re in pursuit of resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his droid, BB-88 for mysterious reasons.

Thrown in the middle, are a rogue storm trooper named Finn (John Boyega) and a young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) who become the franchise’s new heroes while aided by our classic heroes, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca.

I don’t want to spoil anything for the people who haven’t seen this movie, but this film is great. Director JJ Abrams has brought new life into the series while paying tribute to the classic trilogy.

Abrams doesn’t rely on CGI and lackluster camera tilts like prequels. He’s gone back to the original aesthetics with props, limited CGI, and innovative camera movements. He even restrained himself on lens flare, which was nice.

Abrams co-wrote the script with Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”) and Lawrence Kasdan (the original “Star Wars” trilogy) and they’ve crafted an exciting and beautiful story. There’s limited dialogue, but we get a sense of who Rey and Finn are through their expressions and possessions.

Rey is the star of “The Force Awakens” and Ridley brings great spirit to the character. She’s spunky, fearless, and destined for greatness. Finn is a vulnerable and redeemable character who isn’t afraid to take on any adversaries.

Kylo Ren is also a human villain, but perhaps a tad whiny (my biggest complaint with the movie), but his background and development make up for the whining he does later. I can’t wait to see more of him.

My favorite new character in the new trilogy is Poe. He’s cool and noble, and has a human-pet relationship with BB-88 that brings some charm to the film.

I’ll also say that it was great to see my favorite childhood characters Han and Chewy back together on the big screen, but I think I liked them more in this movie than the original ones. Han has more depth in his old age while maintaining the attitude that originally made him a badass.

That’s what’s great about this movie. For the first time, this is a “Star Wars” movie where there aren’t good guys and bad guys; there are flawed people.

Flaws? Well, sure, there are a few. The climactic setting isn’t as cool as it could have been, and the storm trooper Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) gets the Boba Fett treatment (NOT A SPOILER – she’s just hyped and has limited screen time). Good news is we still have two more movies to explore her character.

“Star Wars” will break box office records and it should. This is a film that I didn’t want originally (the prequels, you know?). I was skeptical of Abrams directing, but he left me smiling for a great two hours.

Grade: A

The Worst Movies of 2015

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It’s that time again… Reluctantly speaking… Time to share the crappiest, worst movies of the year, so none of you have to see them! If you skipped them in theaters, good!

10) The Loft – I’ll admit I’m a sucker for erotic thrillers (see my Knock, Knock review), but there’s nothing erotic about The Loft. Five guys rent a private loft to have extramarital affairs? One rapes prostitutes? One has feelings objectifies a prostitute? One films his friends’ affairs as a fetish? All of this is gross and none of it works.

9) Chappie – Another movie that shows Neill Blomkamp (District 9) is a one-trick pony. Chappie makes us sit through an unintentionally funny ultra-violent tale where we have to root for a gun-toting engineer who gets away with threatening his coworkers in the office, another engineer with a god complex, an overly childlike robot, and Die Antwoord. The worst part of Chappie is it’s nothing but a two-hour Die Antwoord music video.

8) Taken 3 – The silliest and most soap opera-y installment in the franchise and it’s just as lazily directed as Taken 2. We clearly didn’t need a second Taken and we sure as hell didn’t need a third one.

7) The Gunman – I couldn’t put my anger over “buying” a Redbox copy aside thanks to Sean Penn’s half-assed action sequences and overkill on shirtless scenes. What’s even more sinful is casting Idris Elba in a very pointless role and Javier Bardem in a very hilariously melodramatic character who dies after 45 minutes of onscreen time.

6) Unfinished Business – Unfinished Business screams poor taste by picking on the mentally disabled, homosexuals, disabled veterans, and glorifying infidelity while trying to make us sympathize with three unlikable morons. Further insult to injury is added due to its uneven balance of mean-spirited humor and attempt at being inspirational with Vince Vaughn’s bro-ish logic.

5) Jupiter Ascending – It’s sad knowing that the creators of The Matrix have fallen. They had some interesting ideas, but they’re lost in a frenetic, plot hole-fueled epic that features the year’s worst performance (an embarrassing Eddie Redmayne).

4) Lost River – Did you guys know that Ryan Gosling tried to make a surreal noir film reminiscent of David Lynch and Nicolas Rending Refn? It’s just an expression of Gosling’s weird fetishes that will make you shrug your shoulders in the end.

3) Fifty Shades of Grey – It would be a waste of breath and finger strength to type out fifty reasons why you know this is a piece of crap.

2) The Green Inferno – Eli Roth is officially the Michael Bay of horror movies in this poop-stained, weed-drenched, idiotic, pretentious, anticlimactic gorefest. Not only couldn’t Roth execute his promising artistic pitch, but he couldn’t even gross me out effectively. Also, if you start to see the cast’s twitter addresses in the closing credits of movies from here on, you can thank Roth for the tacky product placement.

1) Fant4stic (Fantastic Four) – This movie makes me sad every time I think this was the worst movie of 2015. There was such potential with Josh Trank’s (Chronicle) vision and cast. Well, I’ll give this to Fox – they did a great job in the trailers covering up the movie’s messy effects, poor pacing, wooden acting, rushed narrative, and lack of personality.

That’s it for 2015, thanks for reading! What were your picks for the worst movies of 2015? You can share in your comments below!

“Spotlight”

“It’s not just sexual abuse, it’s also spiritual abuse,” a sexual assault survivor tells the Spotlight news team (Michael Keaton, Rachel MacAdams, Mark Ruffalo, & Brian d’Arcy James). This is one of many key lines in “Spotlight” that make it one of the year’s very best films.

It’s 2003 and the Boston Globe has a new editor-in-chief, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). An outsider for cultural reasons, he appoints his investigative Spotlight news team led by Robby Robinson (Keaton) to investigate child molestation accusations against the Catholic church. This stirs up personal and societal tensions as Robinson and his team dig deeper into a shocking story bigger than any other story.

Each member of the team has something at risk in writing this story. Robinson’s friendships with several attorneys and detectives become strained. Mark Rezendes (Ruffalo) questions his own religion. Sacha Pfeiffer (MacAdams)  knows her relationships with her priest brother and religious grandmother will be damaged. Matt Carroll (d’Arcy James) discovers a confirmed sex offender priest lives around the corner from his house, but can’t take action until after the story prints.

These conflicts depicted in “Spotlight” are what drive the film into being one hell of a character piece. Brilliant, terrific, important, powerful, and fascinating are just understatements here.

Director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent”) uses subtlety to build up tension with background shots of churches during interviews and crosses featured in interview scenes, giving us the impression the Church is watching our heroes. Further emphasis is made as attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) reluctantly aids the team, stating the Church is watching him.

Keaton, Tucci, Schreiber, MacAdams, and d’Arcy James all deliver career-defining performances, but Ruffalo steals every scene as the socially withdrawn Rezendes. He’s a loner in the midst of a divorce who becomes increasingly emotional as he gets further invested in the story. I don’t like to say things like this, but Ruffalo deserves an Oscar for his performance.

“Spotlight” is likely the most serious award contender this season, and I strongly urge everyone to give this movie a chance.

Grade: A+

 

“Creed”

In a year with several sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and reboots, who knew that one of the year’s best movies would be “Creed” – a sequel and spinoff to the “Rocky” franchise?

Michael B. Jordan (“The Wire”, “Fruitvale Station”) stars as Adonnis “Donnie” Creed, son of Carl Weathers’s Apollo Creed from the previous “Rocky” installments. He’s a rising accountant who abandons his job to follow his dad’s footsteps. And who does he enlist as his trainer? No one else but Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone returning to the role).

The two make a great duo as Donnie gives Rocky a new found purpose and Rocky helps Donnie grow as a fighter, eventually making him a top contender.

“Creed” is one of the year’s biggest surprises thanks to director Ryan Coogler’s (“Fruitvale Station”) visionary direction and emotional roller coaster of a screenplay. His visceral and innovative boxing sequences, along with Michael B. Jordan’s heartfelt performance, bring new life to the franchise.

Jordan’s performance as Donnie isn’t by any means reminiscent of Weathers’s Apollo. Donnie is insecure about his name and angry at the world, and Jordan is believable in his portrayal of these emotions. Stallone is once again great as Rocky, showing a more vulnerable side to the character than in previous installments.

Coogler directs some of the franchise’s greatest moments in “Creed”, including a fast-paced fight filmed in a long take that’s the highlight of the movie. I’m able to forgive the film’s flaws thanks to Coogler and the cast.

The antagonist (Tony Bellew) is the movie’s weakest point because he’s not well-developed. There’s an earlier confrontation between Donnie and a different fighter that sets up the climax, but he quickly disappears and we’re given Bellew’s dull “Pretty” Ricky Conlan as our antagonist. He’s no Ivan Drago or Clubber Lang.

“Creed” may not be a perfect new installment, but it’s open for some promising sequels and is a solid revival to the “Rocky” franchise.

Grade: A-