2015 was a great year for movies. Star Wars and Jurassic Park got exciting new entries. Pixar released its first commercial flop. James Bond made a bit of a stir. David O. Russel and Jennifer Lawrence teamed up again. Brie Larson finally broke through. George Miller proved ages is only a number. Michael B. Jordan starred in one of the best Rocky movies ever. The Avenger’s Assembled again. We met The World’s Tiniest Hero. Will Ferrell and Mark Walberg got back together for a comedy, and again, there was Star Wars. With 2015 behind us, I thought I would look back on my favorite movies of 2015.
Honorable Mention: Ex Machina
A classic sci-f tale about AI and the Singularity. What makes this old trope so interesting are the players involved. Oscar Issac is a complete weirdo, drunk, horny tech genius with an affinity for robots… also, there’s Domhnall Gleeson. Great movie!
Pixar isn’t the Pixar it used to be. There was a time where every single Pixar film was a hit, both commercially and critically. From Toy Story to Monsters Inc., to Finding Nemo, the studio built characters and worlds, both children and adults love. Unfortunately, they’ve faulted more recently. The Good Dinosaur was released this year and is Pixar’s first financial flop. They still had Inside Out, which might be one of the most thoughtful movies they’ve ever created. The concept is simple. Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust are the characters in the mind of Riley, a little girl, who loves hockey and suddenly moves to San Francisco with her family. The five emotions control her personality, but when Sadness and Joy end up in The Hall of Long Term Memories, Riley goes off the rails. This movie is fabulous. As I watched I started going through my own emotions and personal development. My own triumphs and low points. This movie almost brought me to tears by the end and I laughed more than I have at any other movie this year. Inside Out proves that Pixar is still the studio we know and love, and they’re still capable of creating amazing stories and characters we cherish.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Not at all surprising. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is so much fun! The new characters are awesome and our old heroes are handled with care. Kylo Ren is the most complex villain we’ve seen in a Star Wars film, and the lightsaber battle at the end is one of the best I’ve seen. I enjoyed it more the second time around. Although I wish the dogfights were more entertaining, and the final conflict a bit more original, I’m excited for this new trilogy, our new leads and where this story is headed. Also, BB-8 is the greatest droid ever.
Steve Jobs has become a bit of a myth after his death in 2011. The man who created some for most important consumer electronics ever had a bit of a reputation. He was difficult to work with and very particular with the look and feel of his products. Wasting valuable memory on rounded images, or making a closed-sourced personal computer. All of these things went against the grain created in Silicon Valley. What makes Steve Jobs work so well as a film is that it doesn’t try to tell his entire story. It focuses on three product launches, and key conversations that never really went down the way they’re depicted. In these three moments, that act out like stage plays, you find out everything you need to know about Steve, his quirks, and his background. Michael Fassbender does a fantastic job and although he looks nothing like the titular character, he melts into the role after a few lines. The rest of the cast is well acted, but it really is Fassbender’s movie. He carries the script, written wonderfully by Aaron Sorkin and captured magically by Danny Boyle. The pieces came together perfectly for this movie.
The Hateful Eight
It’s to be assumed that if Tarantino releases a movie then it will be among my favorite of the year. The Hateful Eight is no exception. A dark, hilarious, gory and unforgiving Western full of weird characters and long monologues. Just how I like it. All of Quinten’s films feel like plays, but none more than The Hateful Eight. From the delivery of the lines to the set the movie rests in, it has that theatrical, loud energetic air to it. I was fortunate enough to watch this movie in 70mm, and although I couldn’t see a massive difference, I did appreciate the overture and perfectly placed intermission. Samuel L. Jackson is the lead, but everyone has their moment to shine in this mystery movie. Jennifer Jason Leigh nearly steals the show as the bat-shit crazy Daisy Domergue and Kurt Russel is perfect as The Hangman.
Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the movie is an interesting one to study. A black Civil War general with a letter from Abraham Lincoln and a temper as quick as his trigger finger. He doesn’t hate white people but he seems astutely aware of their fear of blackness and thirst for power and control. The story he tells to the old white Confederate solider, whether it’s true or not, clearly shows that Major Marquis Warren isn’t surrendering to whiteness. Marquis would rather provoke it than leave it alone. I have my issues with the use of the N-word, but that’s a conversation for a different day. I loved every bit of this long, drawn out piece of movie goodness. It all worked for me… except for the N-word.
Beasts Of No Nation
Beasts Of No Nation is a huge bummer. In an unspecified nation in Africa, there is civil conflict. Africans fighting Africans. A small boy named Agu becomes a child solider and we see him lose his innocence and transform into the very monsters that killed his family. This movie is depressing. Director, Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective Season 1), isn’t trying to offer solutions or fix the unending conflicts. He’s merely telling this one story at the ground level that involves structures and institutions larger than Agu. This movie will make you feel hopeless, and I think that’s the goal. That’s how these people feel. In many ways, there is so much we can’t do. Idris Alba hams it up for his performance and he does a fantastic job. The supporting cast is strong and Abraham Atta, who plays Agu, is splendid.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max was a beloved franchise that began in 1979 and starred a young, less racist Mel Gibson. The crazy characters and environments came from the mind of Australian director George Miller and spawned two successful sequels. The character went away for 30 years while the visionary worked on other things (Happy Feet & Babe). This year we returned to the post-apocalyptic wasteland with Mad Max: Fury Road. 70-year-old George Miller came back to direct and Tom Hardy donned the leather jacket as the new Max for this mad world. The movie created is a sequel/reboot/re-imagining of the franchise and it is gory, beautiful, violent and amazing. The action is the best I’ve seen all year, with an unparalleled level of detail given to every car chase and fighting scene. Charlize Theron, as Imperator Furiosa, steals the show and is the driving force of the film. It’s her actions that push the plot forward while Max is simply along for the ride. This movie is strange, but once you move past the pale white henchmen, the breast pumps and chrome you’ll find a spectacular action movie full of life and imagination.