Monday, January 11, 2016

Film Year In Review--2015

The time has come for our eagerly awaited film wrap-up for 2015.  It's a bit later than those of professional critics because I see movies with regular folks at the cineplex.  As always, there are some notable titles I missed--big hits that I couldn't force myself to see, critical favorites that looked boring--but not so many that my list is pointless (I hope).

Overall, a lackluster year.  I often say that, but let's face it, most years aren't great.  As it is, I'm halfhearted about my top ten list.  And quite a few films that got critical approval didn't do it for me.  (I also saw a lot of documentaries that were okay more because of the subject than the filmmaking.)

First, a few ground rules.  I discuss only feature films released or made widely available in U. S. theatres in 2015.  No shorts, no TV (though that's getting tougher, with a lot of films coming out in all formats at once, or getting token releases before going to video).  I will give out some awards, note some trends, tell you which films were good, bad and ugly, and then list my top ten.  You can rush to the bottom right now, but really, the best stuff is along the way.

Feel free to leave a comment, whether you agree with me or not.  In fact, comments tend to be better when you don't agree.


2015 AWARDS:

Performance Of The Year: There was no single lead performance that stood out so strongly that I can give this award, but here are some supporting performances that I enjoyed, and went places I didn't expect: Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy, Jon Bernthal in Me And Earl And The Dying Girl; Peter Sarsgaard in Pawn Sacrifice.

Star Of The Year:  Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes, there's plenty to complain about regarding the film and her character, but Ridley, an unknown, held the center of the story in the biggest money-maker ever.  Runner-up: Amy Poehler, who, the same year her sitcom Parks And Recreation ended, acquitted herself well as the lead of the hit comedy Sisters as well as the voice of Joy in Inside Out.

Comedy Star Of The Year:  Muscleman John Cena, who turns up in three of the biggest comedies of 2015, Trainwreck, Sisters and Daddy's Home.

Biggest Range Award: Tom Hardy, who played very different roles in Mad Max: Fury Road, Legend (where he had two parts) and The Revenant.

Not Quite A Star Yet Award:  It should have been a big year for Alicia Vikander, who played the lead in four major films--Ex Machina, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Burnt and The Danish Girl--but I don't think most people know who she is yet.

Best Opening CreditsEntourage. It's the same thing the TV version did--putting the names of the cast in Los Angeles landmarks--but it's done on a grander scale. (Might be more fun if you live out here.)



Best SequelMission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation

Worst Sequel:  The most competitive category of the year.  And the winner is...The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2.

Best Reboot:  Mad Max: Fury Road.

Worst Reboot:  The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  There wasn't exactly a crying need for this film, but if you're gonna do it, do it right.  It's fun to see two cool guys solving crimes, but, alas, following the Men In Black template, the filmmakers decided the two leads should be at each other's throats.  Worse, rather than make Illya Kuryakin a romantic and mysterious figure, they decided to make him a sociopathic brute.

Put It Out Of Its Misery AwardTaken 3.  How much more can they take from Liam Neeson? How much more can we take?

Most Generic Title:  I thought it would be tough to beat last year's winner Men, Women & Children, but People Places Things manages to do it.

Worst Title:  The Good Dinosaur.  Kind of vague, and, let's face it, he wasn't that good.  Runner-up.  Bridge Of Spies. We gotta wait till the end to get to the bridge, and when we do, there weren't even that many spies.

Most Ironically Titled Film: Truth

Best Opening:  Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  We see the "Lucasfilm Ltd" logo, followed by "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...." followed by a receding "STAR WARS" accompanied by John William's theme, followed by a crawl announcing the episode number and title, followed by the sentence "Luke Skywalker has vanished."  That's how you start a film, though the rest doesn't quite live up to that.

Best Ending:  Meadowland.  The movie wasn't much, but the ending really worked--didn't see it coming but it made sense.  Runner-up:  Krampus.  Didn't like the film at all, but I have to admit the ending is memorable.

Worst Ending:  Our Brand Is Crisis.  When cynical political consultant Sandra Bullock has a change of heart (though I question if it will help anyone), the film turns its back on the one thing we enjoyed.

Worst Last ActTomorrowland--we wait the whole movie to get there and when we do it's just depressing.

Song Of The Year: From A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence:



Worst Performance In A New Film From Someone Who Was Winning An Oscar For A Previous Film:  Eddie Redmayne, just horrible in Jupiter Ascending, at the same time winning the Best Actor Oscar for The Theory Of Everything.

Worst Line:  It's from The Big Short.  I don't have the exact quote, but near the end of the film Mark Baum (Steve Carell), who's about the make a ton of dough betting against Wall Street, bemoans the fact that people will blame the 2008 crash on "immigrants and poor people." Perhaps the person Baum was based on actually did go around saying things like this, but that's no reason to put it in the movie.  It's a line where the filmmakers stop the action to make a political point and tell us what we're supposed to think.  Funny thing is, the film is just as simplistic in blaming bankers for everything that happened. (I suppose I should be happy this time around it's only "bankers" and not "Jewish bankers.")

Jason Statham Award For Actor Who Appears In One Bad Film After Another But Still Manages To Be Appealing:  Bill Murray was in two of the worst films of 2015, Rock The Kasbah and Aloha, not to mention his underdone Christmas special, but we still like him.  Though I should warn him our patience isn't unlimited.  Runner-up (with same warning):  Emma Stone in Aloha (best cast, worst movie) and Irrational Man.

Actor With Most Thankless Roles:  Everyone loves Judy Greer, so why, when she got to appear in three of the most prominent films of the year--Jurassic World, Tomorrowland and Ant-Man--was she stuck with mom roles where she gets left behind when anything exciting happens?  Runner-up:  Gwendoline Christie, a favorite from Game Of Thrones, was featured in two huge hits--The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  However, in the former she has only one scene, where she discusses some war plans she won't take part in, and in the latter plays a general who fails at everything she tries and, in any case, is behind a mask the entire movie so the part could have been played by anyone.

You Me And Dupree Award For The Film That While Nominally A Hollywood Comedy Is Actually A Surrealist Masterpiece Where Plot Points Are Introduced And Dropped For No Reason, Dialogue Is Unrelated To The Action, And Characters Do Things That Bear No Resemblance To How Humans Act: Hot Pursuit.

There's Something About Mary Award for the comedy that most confuses being disgusting with being funny (not that There's Something About Mary isn't funny, just that too many people learned the wrong lesson from it):  Vacation

Film With The Most Jokes:  Very Semi-Serious, since it must show at least 100 New Yorker cartoons.

Worst Date Movie:  The Tribe--lots of violence, lots of ugly sex, prostitution and abortion, all performed in Ukrainian sign language.

Best Trend:  Some longish films--The Hateful Eight and Star Wars: The Force Awakens--ran without trailers (at least where I saw them).  I've got nothing against trailers, but when films are well over two hours, I don't need my bladder tested any more than it already is.

Worst Trend:  More theatres (where I live, anyway) switching to presold seats.  I prefer to see the house first before I decide where to sit.  Instead, I have to pay extra money for something that makes my experience less enjoyable.

Lamest Enemy:  Donald Sutherland in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2.  After setting him up as the alpha villain for three movies, he's pretty much over before they get to him.

Worst Premise:  Concussion.  Does anyone really want to see a film about a crusading doctor who discovers getting hit on the head a lot isn't good for you?


TRENDS AND OBSERVATIONS

Sequels No One Was Asking For: Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Ted 2, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Entourage, Vacation

The Name Game: Carol, Joy, Danny Collins, Ned Rifle, Alex Of Venice, When Marnie Was There, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Mad Max: Fury Road, Ted 2, Mr. Holmes, Z For Zachariah, Steve Jobs, Trumbo, Son Of Saul

What State (Or City) Are You In?:  Alex Of Venice, Live From New York!, Straight Outta Compton, San Andreas, Mississippi Grind, Brooklyn

Land Ho!:  Tomorrowland, Meadowland, McFarland, USA

A Little Bit Country: Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation, Beasts Of No Nation, Mistress America, American Ultra

What Planet Are You From?:  Jupiter Ascending, Jurassic World, Queen Of Earth, The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It's A Numbers Game:  The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, 4Got10, Mr. Six, Furious Seven, 7 Chinese Brothers, The Hateful Eight, 45 Years, Fifty Shades Of Grey

Dick Jokes:  Ted 2, Trainwreck, The Overnight, Daddy's Home

Alec Baldwin Is An Authority Figure Who Turn On A Dime When Presented With New Information:  Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation, Aloha, Concussion

I Get It, It's Hard To Make A Movie -- A Bunch Of Documentaries On The Travails Of Filmmaking:  Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley's Island Of Dr. Moreau, Doomed!, The Death Of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?, even Meru

Decade Of The Year:  The 1950s, as featured in Carol, Brooklyn, Bridge Of Spies, Trumbo

Profession Of The Year: Cartoonist, as seen in Diary Of A Teenage Girl, People Places Things, Very Semi-Serious and American Ultra.  Runner-up: gambler, as seen in Cold Deck, Mississippi Grind and, sort of, The Big Short

Violence In The Snow: The Revenant, The Hateful Eight, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Krampus

Trouble In The Sand: Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, Rock The Kasbah, Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Old People Have Stories, Too: I'll See You In My Dreams, Youth, Grandma, Mr. Holmes, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, 45 Years

Got A Comedy?  Put A Sports Star In It:  Serena Williams in Pixels, Tom Brady in Ted 2, Ronda Rousey--and Tom Brady again--in Entourage, Kobe Bryant in Daddy's Home, LeBron James (who was great) in Trainwreck.

Stuck In A Car:  San Andreas, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Cop Car, American Ultra, Krampus

Young Salesladies In New York In The 1950s In Big Department Stores Find Romance:  Brooklyn, Carol

Help Him, He Spoke French: American actors Bradley Cooper in Burnt and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in The Walk required to speak some French (and Adam Scott gets a bit of German in Krampus)

Saving An Unconscious Man Who's Underwater:  Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Slamming Into Livestock With A Motor Vehicle:  Cop Car, Vacation

The Easiest Way To Deal With People Is To Lock Them Up In Your Backyard:  Room, Secret In Their Eyes

If You Put Mark Wahlberg In A Comedy, Sooner Or Later There'll Be Semen:  Ted 2, Daddy's Home

Busting Through Dry Wall: Daddy's Home, Sisters, Concussion

In The Cold Snowy America Of The 1800s You Communicate By Blinking:  The Revenant, The Hateful Eight

Robert De Niro Likes To Help Young Women Building Huge New Businesses:  Joy, The Intern

Beasts Of Some Nations:  Olivia Wilde pets an elephant in Meadowland, Catherina Deneuve sleeps with a gorilla in The Brand New Testament and a bear has his way with Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant

Older Women Need A Little Sam Elliott In Their Lives:  I'll See You In My Dreams, Grandma

Deaf Dumb And Blind:  The Tribe (entire cast is deaf), Bajrangi Bhaijaan (feauring a little girl who can't speak) and Blind, of course

It's No Fun Getting Stabbed In The Left Part Of The Stomach:  Mississippi Grind, The Martian

Two Erudite White Men Bob And Weave:  True Story, The End Of The Tour, Best Of Enemies

Stay Away From That Pond:  Z For Zachariah, Vacation

Climb Every Mountain:  Everest, Meru, Sunshine Superman, A Walk In The Woods, The Good Dinosaur

Science Proves It--We Stink:  Experimenter, The Stanford Prison Experiment


RANKINGS

Good

Wild Tales, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley's Island Of Dr. Moreau, Mad Max: Fury Road, A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence, Deep Web, Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation, The End Of The Tour, Mistress America, Blind, The Martian, Brooklyn, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (almost entirely for nostalgic reasons), He Never Died, The Revenant, Mustang, The Brand New Testament, The Fencer

Okay

Still Alice, Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Focus, An Honest Liar, The Wrecking Crew, Danny Collins, While We're Young, Can't Stand Losing You, Furious Seven, Ned Rifle, Ex Machina, Alex Of Venice, The DUFF, Dior And I, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Welcome To Me, Iris, McFarland, USA, Cobain: Montage Of Heck, Sunshine Superman, Tomorrowland, I'll See You In My Dreams, Love & Mercy, Live From New York!, Dope, A Poem Is A Naked Person, Trainwreck, 7 Chinese Brothers, Best Of Enemies, Sir Doug And The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove, What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael, Bajranji Bhaijaan, Listen To Me Marlon, Mr. Holmes, Doomed!, Straight Outta Compton,  People Places Things, Meru, San Andreas, American Ultra, Gueros, Grandma, Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine, Sicario, The Intern, The Death Of "Superman Lives" What Happened?, Mississippi Grind, Drunk Stone Brilliant Dead: The Story Of The National Lampoon, Steve Jobs, All Things Must Pass, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, Very Semi-Serious, Creed, The Good Dinosaur, The Peanuts Movie (better thirty minutes at a time), Hitchcock/Truffaut, The Big Short (liked this a lot till it got preachy), Sisters, Youth, The Hateful Eight, Anomalisa, Beasts Of No Nation, Daddy's Home

Not Okay

Taken 3, The Wedding Ringer, Son Of A Gun, Jupiter Ascending, Deli Man, Run All Night, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Insurgent, Get Hard, True Story, Dior And I, Far From The Madding Crowd, Hot Pursuit, Pitch Perfect 2, Survivor, Spy, Results, Entourage, Jurassic World, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2, The Overnight, Ted 2, The Tribe, Terminator Genisys, The Wolfpack, Aloha, Irrational Man, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Cop Car, Call Me Lucky, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Z For Zachariah, A Walk In The Woods, Queen Of Earth, 4Got10, Black Mass, Vacation, Everest, Gravy, Northern Soul, Goodnight Mommy, Meadowland, Experimenter, Bridge Of Spies, Rock The Kasbah, Our Brand Is Crisis, Burnt, Pixels, Trumbo, Spectre, Spotlight, Maze Runner Scorch Trials, Entertainment, The Night Before, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 2, Carol, Unfinished Business, Fifty Shades Of Grey, Cold Deck, Secret In Their Eyes, Blackhat, Legend, Son Of Saul, Dreams Rewired, Love The Coopers, Joy, Krampus, 45 Years, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Concussion, Point Break


TOP TEN (In Alphabetical Order):

Let me note I feel less strong about this top ten than usual, and a lot of the films listed above as "good" could easily have made it on a different day.

Ant-Man

When I heard they were making this film, I thought it was a joke.  Instead, it became the best action film of the year--with real action (and a good sense of humor).

Faults

A small film that featured powerful performances and a went in directions you don't necessarily see coming.

Inside Out

Somewhere in the middle for Pixar, which is good enough for the top ten this year.

Korla

It helped that I knew next to nothing about the Godfather of Exotica.  It's quite a story, and plenty of great old footage.

Man Up

A romantic comedy mixed with farce, that actually had some juice.  No classic, but with so many romantic comedies forgetting the second half of that phrase, it reminds you the genre can be fun.

Room

A dramatic concept (from a book I hadn't read) that is really two movies in one, both of which work.

Tangerine

Shot on an iPhone just a few blocks from where I live, this story of two transvestite prostitutes on Christmas Eve showed movies don't need money to tell a story (though money is nice).

The Walk

No one wanted to see this--I guess they either felt they knew the story or were afraid they'd get vertigo. But, in general, it was the most charming film of the year.

What We Do In The Shadows

Just when you think there are no more twists in the vampire genre, we get this smart mock documentary.  Excellent character work.

When Marnie Was There

It's odd how so often drawings can elicit more emotions than actual actors.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think years from now people will remember Mad Max as the best film of the year. It's certainly better than Jurassic World or the new Avengers or Star Wars.

1:29 AM, January 11, 2016  
Blogger Jesse said...

I've seen very few of these, but I agree about When Marnie Was There. And it passed the What Does My Kid Think About It test too, since my daughter then got the book and read it three or four times.

6:47 AM, January 11, 2016  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I'm surprised you didn'thave more love for Mr. Holmes. Maybe I'm fixated on the travails of dementia and memroy loss (I thought Still Alice should be in the top ten too). But Mr. Holmes was superbly acted, had just enough of a sense of mystery to satisfy mystery (and Holmes) lovers. I thought it was beautifully shot. But it was an excellent treatment of the question of how we remember, and choose to forget painful things - a companion piece for me with Memento.

I saw Mad Max (by mself, couldn't get Denver Gal to to come), and I enjoyed it. I also got it as a gift, and just watched it again. Visually it is very compelling. But there's just not that much to the story. I loved the original Mad Max series, Road Warrior in particular, but those films combine terrific action (for the era) with more interesting characters (or characatures) and backstory.

In Fury Road, there are only 3 interesting characters, imho. There wasn't enough background to understand Humongous, his sons, the Banker from Gas City, or the dozens of throw away parts (the breeders, the grandmas, etc.). There will be a sequel, and as with Road Warrior, I anticipate it being better than the original.

9:02 AM, January 11, 2016  
Anonymous Todd said...

Like every year, Steve, you've delivered an impressive essay about the jaw-dropping number of movies you've seen in an actual theater. Me? I saw only one movie "at the cineplex" this year, "The Martian", and only because a friend of mine who works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (featured prominently in the film) had tickets to a special screening for JPL employees at the Arclight in Pasadena. I thought it was pretty good, though that may have been influenced by seeing it with a VERY partisan crowd, who wanted nothing more than to "science the shit out of this thing."

[Sidebar: 3D. Why? WHY???]

The only other movie I saw in 2015 was "The Big Short" - as a screener at another friend's house in December. The entire family sat down to watch it... and the entire family ended up disliking it. Including me. I agree with your "preachy" comment, but my bigger question would be simply this: Who was this movie intended for? Too complex for (most of) the comic book crowd, too mainstream for the art house tribe. An uneasy - and ultimately, un-entertaining - hybrid of documentary and movie. I would call it, "The Falls Short".

Just like Michigan football!

Todd

9:07 AM, January 11, 2016  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Jesse: Guess we'll have to wait a decade to find out what you really think.

Denver Guy: If you want to see a film that's beautifully shot, and is about memory and loss, you should check out Youth.

You say there are only three interesting characters in Mad Max? That's three more than you usually get.

Todd: It seems that The Martian was the film everyone I know saw, even those who only saw one or two films this year.

As for The Big Short, it's doing pretty well at the box office considering its difficult subject. And it certainly is a major contender for the Oscars. It'll be fun seeing all the greedy multimillionaires of Hollywood honoring a film that condemns the greed of those awful bankers.

11:03 AM, January 11, 2016  
Blogger New England Guy said...

I guess I mainly saw art house films this year. The art-house is close by and has easy parking. F the mall theaters

I Liked Brooklyn, I'll See You in My Dreams, Still Alice (since then it really bothers me when I can't remember things) and Far From The Madding Crowd and I think there was one with Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith about a life estate in Paris (or was that last year?). My wife liked Room but it felt like a gimmicky movie of the week to me and I was waiting for it to just end already. I liked Star Wars a great deal (despite the mall) though I do not think people will still be talking about in 38 years. I liked Black Mass though mainly for the local angles. Not too many others I am itching to go out and see. Thought I would finish my investment in the Hunger Games but not even my son seemed to want to go to that one.

Might as well write about this here- I am watching an old movie right now "Hurry Sundown" by Otto Preminger (1966 or 67 depending on where you check)- GWTW wannabe-its mediocre and the score makes no sense most of the time (file like it was written for a western) and Michael Caine's southern accent leaves much. Very strange sex scenes make it interesting though- Jane Fonda and a saxophone.

12:42 PM, January 11, 2016  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

I don't know,that gang rape scene at Limping Lotta's was about more than I could take.

But I admit, it was sweet.

4:10 AM, January 12, 2016  
Blogger sheldon said...

"Help him, he spoke French." Ya must've loved gettin' that in there.

Good job, Pajama Guy. Do you actually wear pajamas? Nevermind. Don't tell me.

8:26 AM, February 05, 2016  

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