Monday, February 15, 2016

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of 2015

The hallowed time that the prophecies foretold has come again, for us to delve into our critical brains, and analyze what the best and worst entertainment of the last year were. That's important to do because life can't go on without me doing this. Because I don't want time to freeze for all eternity and leave everyone's soul with the missing and nagging feeling that you don't know what Cinema Freaks thinks are the best and worst, I guess I have to bite the bullet and write this list, of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in terms of 2015's movies. Let's start off with the good.

Best of 2015, or, The Good



This was probably the surprise of the year for me. I expected a pretty safe and generic cash-in, but I got a highly passionate, well made love letter to the fans of the original. The new characters are excellently acted and written, the action heart-pounding exciting and the story is told with sweep and emotional crests to spare. It's a heartfelt action movie with craftsmanship and style behind it. I'm actually excited to be a Star Wars fan again.



An artful and creatively directed film about a woman who goes blind and starts to suspect that her husband isn't being faithful to her. It's funny and stylish, and tells a pretty emotional story in a unique way. Like a mirror showing you a dark part of yourself, Blind will make you laugh while also getting you to question some of what you're seeing and your perception in general. It's intelligent, enjoyable filmmaking. Recommended.



A mockumentary about a bunch of vampires being roommates. It plays with horror tropes and conventions, and the characters all being different vampire cliches from different time periods just ramps up the hilarity. They're also well acted and written, and you get to like them as characters while still laughing at the jokes. This is so silly, but there's a lot of legitimately hilarious things going on. Tons of fun.



Genuinely great science fiction. This story about an inventor who's built a sentient android raises some great questions about where the line is between man and machine and what makes us human. Add in some feminist sprinklings about how we view and treat women in society, and great acting and directing, and Ex Machina is a first rate movie. Go see it if you haven't.



A Young Adult movie, but it's John Green, which makes it great by default. This is a story with great characters - especially them being in high school is cool, as so few movies write good high school aged characters. The story is about how we tend to idolize those we're in love with. That's an important lesson. The fact that the movie tells that story with both energetic comedy and sobering drama, with memorable characters, dialogue and scenes aplenty, makes it well worth seeing multiple times over.



A drama about one of the little-seen facets of crime/kidnapping stories: what happens to the victim afterwards. This is hard to watch from the onset, with Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay playing a woman and her son who have been locked in a room by a sick pervert for seven years - the entirety of her son's life, in fact. The fact that they escape isn't much of a spoiler, because where less intelligent films would focus on the sensationalistic things like a trial or the cops investigating the case, this movie goes for something different by telling us what happens to Larson and Tremblay's characters afterward, showing us the emotional repercussions and healing process. It's beautifully honest, naked emotion bared on screen. An incredibly powerful film.



Crime movie of the year. This follows a woman in the DEA assigned to a drug case to work with a couple shady FBI agents south of the border. Slowly she learns she has very little control of the situation and she's in over her head. It's exciting, visceral, take-no-prisoners stuff. The commentary on how women are treated in workplace jobs is understated but very brilliant as the film gets murkier and murkier and things keep ramping up in intensity. Emily Blunt is fabulous, and director Denis Villenueve is a gem with this being his third or fourth dead-on hit of a movie in a row (he also did Prisoners and Enemy within the last few years).



Alejandro González Iñárritu returns from Birdman with this slow-burn, searing atmospheric Western survival story. DiCaprio and Tom Hardy are fantastic. And despite the bleak and desolate nature of it, this is far from one of those gimmick films that relies on silences and empty pauses to give the illusion of depth (see: Melancholia, The American, Only God Forgives). A lot happens in this movie and it's actually a very human, emotional story of man's desires and fallability, as well as a great revenge tale. The scenery is used as a set-piece to help tell the story in a way that's so simple it's almost obvious - but the craftsmanship and artistry make it ingenious.



My favorite horror movie of the year, and of the last few years. It's scary but also meaningful and kind of poignant, and maybe a bit funny in its own wry way, too. The scenes of that monster creeping up from far away, barely noticeable at first, and the way it plays with your expectations so you don't always know when it's coming are great. But what was even better was the message about young love and adulthood and leaving the past behind. Growing up is scary, confusing and doesn't make sense. You're thrown into a world you don't know and you make the best of it. That's It Follows.

4. Spotlight


An outstanding film that just tells a great story. This is about the discovery of the Catholic Church molestation scandal by a team of journalists, and it's a near flawless film with great characters, writing and pacing. I was never bored with this. It's rare to find a movie that's completely no nonsense and just keeps its eye on the ball, without any kind of gimmickry or pontification or trying to force some moral message. This movie knew what story it wanted to tell and it told that story, with gusto and drama. Gripping, intelligent, mature filmmaking. We need more movies like this.

3. Beasts of No Nation


Beasts of No Nation is a stunning war epic about African child soldiers. Every shot is gorgeous and every moment of the film is harrowing and heartbreaking. Idris Elba is great, and the child star, Abraham Attah, delivers a show-stealing performance. It's a long film but every second is worth seeing. This is a stand out film from any angle, and I think it will be remembered as a classic in the future.

2. Inside Out


Probably the best animated film I've ever seen. By now, you probably know the story is about emotions inside a young girl's head personified. The way this movie tells dual stories, both the emotions in their quest to help the girl be happy again, AND the girl's life herself, is staggeringly good for a kid's movie - in fact, it's so good that it's just great by any standard. The movie has a lot to say about growing up too, just like It Follows and Paper Towns - I guess that was a theme of 2015. The way it talks about emotions and memories is insanely complex but also told in a way that anyone can get into it on some level. And in today's nostalgia culture where we love remembering the past, Inside Out is even more important - the fact that it's about a kid leaving the past behind is especially poignant and I shouldn't have to explain why.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road


With all the meaningful and insightful films on my list, my number one pick is still the gnarly, badass, explosion-filled action movie with cars racing through the desert. I loved Fury Road because it was extremely entertaining and well made, and didn't pander to the audience or dumb down its story with cliche. It was just a great action movie, and the level of fine-tuning. craftsmanship and detail made it a legit work of art. But I also loved this because it's a symbol of the blockbuster, that long-dead-horse flogged for years, being reborn like a phoenix from the ashes. This is the best summer movie in I don't even know how long; since The Dark Knight at least, and it's probably better than even that movie. Finally we have a great, balls-out, fucking metallic screaming ball of fury of an action movie that isn't bogged down by the sad-sack cliche and dumb writing and dumbing down that other Hollywood garbage has. This movie is a fuck-you to all that. It's a middle finger in the face of Hollywood's lifeless corpse. It's an ironclad vice-grip hand around the throat of everything we hate about Hollywood.

Is that all extremely dramatic as a way to explain my point? Yes. But that's how the movie makes me feel, and why Fury Road is the best of the year.

Now that that's done with, let's move onto the bad! Oh yeah, I can feel the hairs on my arm tingling like the fur of a cat in heat before a lightning storm!

Worst/Disappointments of 2015, or, The Bad

Avengers: Age of Ultron


Not a bad movie per se, more just a disappointment. This is a very bloated and oft-tired-feeling film that lacks severely in the pacing department. The acting, production values and action are all well done, but it's so corporately controlled and overstuffed that it loses any humanity or character development that director Joss Whedon could have brought to it. There are a few good scenes and some pretty cool fights and all that, but after two and a half hours, do we need to see any more cities blow up?

The Hateful Eight


The Hateful Eight is three hours long, except it really only has like an hour and a half of actual good material. The rest is artificially stretched out with long silences, long pauses and lots of repeated, awkwardly extended dialogue exchanges between characters - basically Tarantino's style exaggerated to nauseating levels. The humor is just bad. While the story maybe had potential, any of that is snuffed out quick by the overlong runtime. Tarantino is like your awkward 55-year-old uncle trying to be cool by digging out his old Harley Davidson and bomber jacket with the Motorhead and AC/DC patches, but instead it's just like go home, you're embarrassing yourself.

Ant-Man


The characters in Ant-Man don't act like real people, and there's nothing in the film that diverts from cliche you've seen a thousand times over. I hated Paul Rudd, I hated the awful comedy from him and his three friends (who are all ridiculous racial/cultural stereotypes with zero character) and I hated Evangeline Lily's super generic stoic/tough chick character, like having an actual personality or showing any emotion was too much to ask, but how can it be sexist when she knows how to fight, right? This is just a waste of time. It feels like the thought behind this was 'it's Ant Man, we don't have to try that hard.'

Taken 3


A woeful experience full of some of the worst writing of the year. The entire plot could be solved if Liam Neeson would just sit down with the cops and go, hey, I didn't kill a guy like you think I did. But then they wouldn't have a movie. And a world without this gutter-trash bullshit movie was just too much to bear for some Hollywood exec in need of a paycheck somewhere.

Exeter


This is a step below even the most generic horror movies out there with terrible everything about it. Just such fraud, such absolute shit. I hated this movie, and you should too. Everything wrong with horror here.

Insidious: Chapter 3


Jump scare after jump scare after jump scare, zero thought or atmosphere put into the very rote story, nothing redeemable or even close. I will say those Islamic societies that outlaw movies have at least one positive if the oppressed citizens don't have to watch any Insidious or James Wan movies.

The Visit


Director M. Night Shyamalan, at times during The Visit, seems to be deliberately making his own story worse, as the problems in the narrative are easy fixes and it comes off like he left them there on purpose. It's either shockingly amateurish or annoyingly in-your-face bad on purpose, and neither option is attractive. Every second of this movie is just unwatchable. It was a given as soon as I started watching this that I'd put it as the worst of 2015, and in fact it's a contender for worst of the entire decade.

Phew. Well that was fun. Let's just go onto the last part now, where I talk about the other movies I liked this year.

The Other Pretty Good Movies of 2015 Not on the Best List, or, The Ugly

Krampus

A really good, fun horror film about a Pagan Christmas creature called the Krampus. It grooves and bounces along pretty well, and actually does manage to be funny and scary in the same film. It didn't go quite for the throat like it maybe should have, but I was never bored.

The Walk

A classic Zemeckis film in his usual uplifting, family-friendly style. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fantastic and the visuals are great. The story about overcoming odds and achieving whatever bat shit, weird-ass dream you want is a lot of fun. What more do you need?

The End of the Tour

Parts of this were good enough to be on the regular Best Of list, but like a lot of true-story movies, I just didn't think this semi-biopic of author David Foster Wallace went as far as it should have. It ended right when I was really getting invested. But even so, Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg are great and their chemistry is great. This is a very entertaining movie.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Epic, sweeping and dark, the final Hunger Games installment delivers one of its best chapters as the last one. This was extremely detailed and well articulated, and the story had a real raw, dark power to it. I wanted to give other movies the spotlight more than this big name, but it's definitely worth seeing so far as blockbusters go.

Black Mass

Kick ass crime movie in the classic Scorsese mold. I thought this was pretty awesome, gritty fun, with a fast pace and lots of badass scenes. Johnny Depp is inimitable and this is his best role in ages.

Goodnight Mommy

Nothing makes me happier than to have so many good horror movies on one year's Best Of list. This is a killer movie that just has no nonsense about it. Its creeping unease in the first act turns into outright screaming terror, followed by an ending that is perfect for what the film was going for. It's the kind of all-business genre film, taken seriously and done with care, that the genre needs.

Bone Tomahawk

And another good horror movie. This was super old-school Western desert horror with a cannibal legion hiding in a cave and a bunch of ten-gallon-hat-clad dudes with 5 o'clock shadow hunting them. That's so badass I barely need to say anything else. Not perfect but the dedication to old school horror is admirable, and it's done with a modern touch that accentuates the cool parts. Really awesome flick.

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