Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Best Movies of 2015

Stop me if this sounds familiar: there were a lot of movies released last year that I wanted to see and didn't get a chance to yet, but I still think these ones I did see were pretty good!

Best of 2015

9. Ant-Man

You can make a case that the smaller of Marvel Studios' two movies this year was the better one, focusing on a single story and letting the characters breathe and get to know each other naturally. Ant-Man is one of the funniest super hero movies ever made, with a lot of the talent involved having a strong comedy background. It also has some very clever action scenes built around the title character's ability to shrink and return to his original size at will. I'm very confident in the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, knowing that they can take pretty much any property and turn it into a solid movie that makes good money pretty much at will.

8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

For me, The Force Awakens stuck a little too closely to the original films with its visuals and plot, and it kind of rushed from place to place without letting anything new develop. Still, it looks really nice, the cast is amazing, I like all the new characters, and they put together a strong foundation for the series going forward. I just wish it felt less like a stepping stone for Disney and more like a great movie on its own terms. I love Star Wars, and I can't blame the creators for wanting to win back my trust after the prequels.

7. Love & Mercy

Love & Mercy tells two different stories about Brian Wilson at very different times in his life, starring two different actors. It's an interesting experiment that works well. I preferred the scenes in the 60s that told the tale of Wilson's efforts to create what many consider the best album ever made, but the parts in the 80s, that show a more difficult time in his life when he was struggling against a controlling therapist, are also interesting. The movie uses sound very creatively to depict the odd way Wilson's mind works, and it's a well constructed film about a great artist without being a hagiography.

6. Avengers: Age of Ultron

I think a lot of people were disappointed in Age of Ultron because they didn't feel giddy leaving the theater like they did after the first Avengers movie. Age of Ultron is more complicated, trying to explore the downsides to a bunch of super heroes running around doing what they want and the problems that occur when only they can deal with the messes they create themselves. It's almost too big a story to handle in a single movie, and you can see the cracks where they shoved things in too tightly to fit. But I really liked the themes of responsibility and self-doubt it went into, and I also liked watching a bunch of strong guys and girls beating up robots.

5. Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman is like if you took a typical James Bond movie and stripped away all the bullshit and euphemisms it uses to hide how ugly those stories can really be. White colonialism disguised as progress for impoverished nations? Let's have a plot about rich people literally trying to kill every poor person on Earth. Sex as a final reward for saving the day in the end? Let's depict that way past the point where it's still comfortable. Matthew Vaughn's films are often smarter than they get credit for, and that trend continues here. It also has some exceptionally well filmed action scenes and a great cast all putting in good work.

4. Ex Machina

Ex Machina holds its cards close to its chest for a long time, which makes it all the more memorable and satisfying when it finally pulls the trigger on where its plot is going. A sense of menace pervades the whole film, but it's coming from one direction until near the end, and when the switch finally happens, it creates an odd mix of emotions that you're not sure how to deal with. It's a great story about artificial intelligence, a concept which has generally gotten a bit stale, and just a darn good science fiction film in general. The small cast is quite good, with two The Force Awakens actors appearing in very different roles.

3. Tangerine

"Shot on an iPhone" is a phrase that might not inspire a ton of confidence, but honestly, if I didn't know that going in, I would have had no idea. It's just a nice looking movie that captures a side of Los Angeles you don't usually see. Tangerine is about two transgender prostitutes (played by actual transgender actresses!) spending a Christmas Eve together as one looks for her cheating boyfriend and the other tries to keep her from getting out of control. The movie is funny, sweet, and touching, not trying to be about Big Issues but just showing that humanity is everywhere, even with the kinds of people you might not spend much time with.

2. The Hateful Eight

In an interview earlier this year, Quentin Tarantino said he wants to make one more western so that he can be considered a "western director". I'm not sure why that interested me so much. I guess it's just unusual that he would want to be known for working in a genre that has all but disappeared since he's been alive. In any case, he knows that world of cinema inside and out, and as much as I'd like to see another contemporary movie from him, I won't mind if he keeps it up with the period pieces for as long as he wants. The Hateful Eight is not the crowd pleaser his last couple movies have been. Despite the much-talked about 70 mm presentation, it takes place mostly in a single room. And he didn't pick "hateful" to describe its central characters just because it rhymes with "eight". This is a mean-ass movie about mean-ass people doing mean-ass things. And it doesn't end well for them. Before the end though, it has everything Tarantino is known for. Great acting, delicious dialogue, sudden and extreme violence, and jumping around in time. It's probably too ponderous for some, but I loved this movie.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is a miracle. Of the many sequels in 2015 that came many years after the last entry in the series, Fury Road is the only one directed by a guy who worked on the originals. George Miller is 70 years old, and hasn't made an action movie since the last Mad Max, 30 years earlier. I also never particularly connected with the original movies, thinking they were fine but not much more. So it's kind of amazing that this 70 year old man, who hadn't done this kind of thing for much longer than he had been doing it in the first place, came back and kicked everyone else's asses. Fury Road is pure action filmmaking, telling a story and thrilling the audience with little more than tightly crafted, well-edited visuals, the occasional word of memorable dialogue, and a pure expression of excitement and wonder. It's been described as one long action scene, but there are enough breaks that allow the characters moments of reflection and variations in the different segments of the chase that it never gets monotonous or uninteresting. The action expertly combines practical stunts and vehicles with computer generated effects to create some absolutely stunning images, scenes that I will remember for years after I've forgotten all the bland, unmotivated explosions that pepper so many other films.

Delayed Entry

This is the best movie that wasn't released in 2015 but I didn't see until then.


Her is not only the best old movie I saw last year, but one of the best movies I've ever seen. It's one of the best science fiction movies, and one of the best love stories. It also combines those two elements brilliantly, with both feeding into each other and being necessary for the other to work. Joaquin Phoenix has become one of my favorite actors lately, and he makes his character, a man who falls in love with his computer, believable and likable. Scarlett Johansson also does amazing work with just her voice, bringing life to the AI and making you believe a guy could come to love her. The movie explores love and loneliness honestly, and just grabbed me harder than most movies ever manage.

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