Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Movies of 2015

I plain old forgot to come here and update this earlier in the year. Oops.

Didn't see as many films in 2015. Partly this was because I've been busy with other things: writing, the boys, life in general. Partly it's to do with more TV shows of quality being available. Shows like Happy Valley, Jessica Jones, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and more.

Anyhow, in 2015 I saw 60 films, although a few of them were shorts, including some seen at Saskatoon's Fantastic Film Fest. That's down 10 from last year, but I saw 30 in the cinema (denoted with *),  up from 27, although again, some were shorts.

It doesn't feel as if I was quite as international last year. 11 countries in 2015, 16 in 2014. I must fix that for 2016. Here's that list:

Argentina - 1
Australia - 2
Austria - 1
Canada - 2
France - 1
India - 1
New Zealand - 3
South Korea - 2
Sweden - 2
UK - 8
USA - 37

Anyhow, here's what I saw last year, followed by my personal top ten of the year. I do count some movies from 2014 in my final assessment, depending on whether or not they were possible to see upon release.

*The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) USA - A couple of nice moments as well as tremendous emotional anchoring by Martin Freeman as Bilbo couldn’t save this unholy mess of a movie. I used to think there was plenty Jackson could do with the battle scenes, since in the book Bilbo took a knock to the head and missed pretty much the whole damn thing. But no, the battle (aside from the funny but not clever injection of Billy Connolly) was interminable, the changes made bothering even me, definitely not a purist.

Rich Hill (2014) USA - Disturbing and so very sad, and yet some moments that were remarkably uplifting. These kids have been given the short end of the stick all their lives, and yet they still work to get by.

Pride (2014) UK - Very enjoyable, with an excellent cast. As usual, I sometimes find myself wishing these movies based on real people and events wouldn’t feel the urge to create fictional characters to add to the group, but happily some of the characters were actual people of the events.

Housebound (2014) New Zealand - The funnest and funniest horror movie I’ve seen in quite some time. At least until the other horror movie from New Zealand I saw this year. Some nice twists and turns in this one.

*The Babadook (2014) Australia - Creepy and powerful, and a reminder that horror films often seem to be the places where you can find the strongest female characters, those who have the most agency.

*Wild (2014) USA - A nice vehicle for Reese Witherspoon, this is an emotional film that almost teeters over the precipice once (the two hunters, who may or may not be threatening to be worse) but pulls back and, again, gives the character agency.

*Wild Tales (2015) Argentina - Hilarious and horrific in equal measure. The wedding sequence is quite rightly the one most people talk about.

Force Majeure (2014) Sweden - Another funny and slightly disturbing film, this one about uncomfortable dynamics in a family after the husband turns tail and runs in the face of a possible disaster. Cutting and sometimes vicious, too.

Atari: Game Over (2014) USA - An intriguing little documentary about the mystery of cartridges for one of the worst games ever made (ET for Atari) being possibly buried in a dump, and the archaeological detective work done to find them.

Big Eyes (2014) USA - Tim Burton, exhibiting a (slight) return to form after a rather horrific spell. Perhaps it helped that there was no Johnny Depp in this one.

*Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) USA - I enjoyed it well enough, but in the end it’s a big, noisy, flashy, expensive mess, and reminds me how tired I am of the stakes always being upped in these movies so that the end of the world is always what’s on the line.

*Ex Machina (2015) USA - An excellent little film, more about character and the philosophy of what it means to be human than it is about the explosions and adventure that so often marks current SF films. Although, as noted below, explosions and adventure don’t have to be a bad thing.

*Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Australia - A remarkable, explosive, adventurous film that is also very subversive. Make no mistake: Max may be the title character, but he is not the main character. This is a film about and driven (sorry) by women.

Selma (2014) USA - A decent historical film that wisely picks a smaller slice of time rather than the broader sweep of the entire civil rights movement.

Korengal (2014) USA - A follow-up (I hesitate to say “sequel”) to Restrepo, another excellent documentary about life for soldiers deep in enemy territory in Afghanistan.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) UK - Violent and cheeky and a whole lot of fun. Probably my favourite (big screen) comic book adaptation of the year.

*Spy (2015) USA - Very funny, and who knew Jason Statham could be as hilarious as he was here?

Kundo: Age of the Rampant (2014) South Korea - A good (but not great) Korean film, which feels odd to write, because Korean films very often blow me out of the water. Still worth seeing, though.

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me (2014) USA - Sad and sometimes difficult to watch, a nonetheless somewhat uplifting film about the power music has to keep Glen Campbell’s life and deteriorating health on a temporary even keel.

*Inside Out (2015) USA - Another triumph for Pixar. Simply lovely, and so very moving.

*Slow West (2015) New Zealand - A film about the American west made in New Zealand by a Kiwi director. The best western I’ve seen in ages, this one lives up to its title, a slow burn leading up to a horrific, nail-biting climax. And then, the perfect finish.

*Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (2015) USA - The best of the lot, and how does the 5th movie in a series get to be that way? Great fun.

What We Do In The Shadows (2014) New Zealand - One of the funniest movies I saw this year, a mockumentary about vampires.

Kill the Messenger (2014) USA - A decent movie about the true events surrounding the reporter who uncovered the CIA’s involvement in arming the Nicaraguan rebels and coke smuggling, and the efforts made to smear him.

’71 (2014) UK - Thrilling and tense and sad, about a British soldier trapped behind “enemy lines” in Northern Ireland and trying desperately to get to safety. Had one of two great turns by Sam Harris that I saw this year, the other being in the MI film. Watch for him.

*Ant Man (2015) USA - I think this was the best superhero film of the year, although, again, it doesn’t hold a patch to Jessica Jones on Netflix.

Tig (2015) USA - Another moving documentary, this one about the comedian Tig Notaro. Even though I knew what was coming, her final performance is awesome and brave and inspiring.

Locke (2013) UK - Finally got to this one. Tom Hardy to me is a cipher: I’m never sure what he really looks or sounds like, and playing a Welshman in this just adds to it. Excellent film.

It Follows (2015) USA - An excellent horror film, although I would like to see a sequel that deals with the disposability of sex workers on the street, because the ending surely doesn’t, even though it leaves the question wide open.

Lucy (2014) France - Blah. Quite lousy, a sign we should allow fewer ten-year-olds access to screenplay writing software.

Rosewater (2014) USA - A good, heartfelt film. Especially nice that Jon Stewart didn’t inject himself into it.

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014) USA - An appalling (in a good way) documentary about the shit show that arose from a movie that, no matter what the hopeful folks say, was likely going to remain a shit show, just of a different type.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015) USA - Very good documentary, frightening to see the control exerted and the abuse given.

*The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015) UK - This was much more fun and clever and suave than I anticipated. Not a classic, but it stood up well.

*Mistress America (2015) USA - Another enjoyable Noah Baumbach film, although I did prefer Frances Ha from 2012.

*Mr. Holmes (2015) UK - Ian McKellen is wonderful as an aged Sherlock Holmes. The central mystery is not world-shattering, but it still means very much.

The Lunchbox (2013) India - Not only an astonishing look at one small aspect of a very different culture, this is a very sweet love story.

*Cop Car (2015) USA - Kevin Bacon as a cop in a fair amount of trouble, and two young boys are a part of why he’s in trouble. Extremely tense thriller.

*A Way Out (2015) USA (Short)

*Goodnight Mommy (2015) Austria - Horrific and frightening thriller/horror, I only felt let down by the little sung coda at the very end.

*Heir (2015) Canada (Short)

*A Hard Day (2014) South Korea - Proving once again that some of the best thrillers come from South Korea, this is an excellent film that has a very funny and very tense set piece involving a remote-control toy car and a dead body.

*Green Room (2015) USA - By the director of the also-brilliant Blue Ruin, this is another great thriller, a very tense movie involving a punk band, neo-nazis, and Captain Picard.

*The Stomach (2014) UK (Short)

We Are What We Are (2014) USA - A decent horror/thriller about a very dysfunctional family.

*The Martian (2015) USA - A top notch science fiction film with a very likeable main character.

*The Walk (2015) USA - An all right movie with astonishing special effects, best served if seen in 3D on the big screen. But the story itself was captured much better in the documentary Man On Wire.

Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) USA - Not as appealing a documentary as I would have hoped. The music selections are largely drawn from the sort of thing only obsessive completists would want to hear.

*Bridge of Spies (2015) USA - Not the highest calibre Spielberg movie, but still very good. A spy movie of a different sort.

Jupiter Ascending (2015) USA - Ick. Much like The Fifth Element, this felt like a movie based on the dreams of a 12-year-old, except it made even less sense.

Kung Fury (2015) Sweden (Short) - A crazed, deliberately mediocre-looking homage to bad ‘80s cop shows and ‘70s martial arts flicks. Hilarious.

Beasts of No Nation (2015) UK - An excellent film made for Netflix, with a great performance by Idris Elba.

*Spotlight (2015) USA - Outstanding. At the end my wife said to me, “It feels like I’ve just read a really good book.”

Back in Time (2015) USA - A fun if light documentary about the making of Back to the Future.

*Remember (2015) Canada - A decent thriller about two elderly men and the effects of the Holocaust, but the ending borders on ridiculously unbelievable. Both Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau are excellent.

*Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) USA - Fun. Felt like a Star Wars movie should. Which may be partly because it matched a lot of the first film beat for beat.

*The Big Short (2015) USA - Tremendous and funny and not afraid to deal complicated ideas to its audience, even when it tries to explain them.

A Walk in the Woods (2015) USA - A so-so film based on a very funny book. A shame Paul Newman couldn’t have made this with Redford, instead of Nick Nolte, although even then I question whether or not it would have really worked.

Trainwreck (2015) USA - Very funny, very NSFW.

*The Hateful Eight (2015) USA - I know a bunch of my friends weren’t fans of this, but I really enjoyed it. Some neat twists and turns, as is Tarantino’s wont.

A few movies came close to making the top ten. As always, a list like this might change depending on my mood. I could see adding The Big Short, Housebound, Bridge of Spies, What We Do In The Shadows, Beasts of No Nation, Ex Machina, The Babadook, Rich Hill, Korengal (my favorite documentary of the year), '71, or Force Majeure to the list. And yes, that's eleven more movies right there.

1. Spotlight
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. The Martian
4. Slow West
5. A Hard Day
6. Inside Out
7. Green Room
8. Mr. Holmes
9. Cop Car
10. Wild Tales

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