As per usual, my yearly recap article is way later than every other blogger’s on earth, but then again it’s just in time for this year’s upcoming Academy Awards. So much happened in cinema in 2015, and very little of it was comic-book related. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) was a bust, and the fun but forgettable Ant-Man (2015) was just that. Instead, 2015 was memorable for different reasons: It was the year of successful, dare I say triumphant returns of classic cinematic franchises from decades past. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Jurassic World (2015), Creed (2015), and of course, The Force Awakens (2015) all reminded us that, sometimes, reboots and re-imaginings are just what the movie-going world needs.
That’s not to say that 2015 wasn’t as eclectic and diverse as any other year, of course. We saw plenty of typical blockbuster action schlock, overly serious Oscar-bait, and cinematographers pushing the visual limits of cinema (e.g. The Revenant , Sicario ). Guillermo del Toro ventured back to his Gothic romantic roots in Crimson Peak (2015), while Danny Boyle made a welcome return to form in his Steve Jobs (2015) biopic, which proved more dramatic than most Oscar favorites. Joel Edgarton debuted his first feature length film as a screenwriter and director in The Gift (2015), demonstrating we may have another Ben Affleck on our hands, and finally, Pixar released not one, but two studio pictures in one calendar year (Inside Out , The Good Dinosaur ).
Sure, not all of the aforementioned were masterpieces, but to put it bluntly, 2015 was one of the best years for cinema of the 21st century so far, in my opinion.
BEST BLOCKBUSTER: This category is rather self-explanatory. Which big-budget film released in 2015, preferably action or spectacle-oriented and grossing revenue in the hundreds of millions, was the most “popcorn fun” of the year?
- Kingsman: The Secret Service
- San Andreas
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Jurassic World
- Furious 7
- Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- The Force Awakens
And the winner is… JurassicWorld, tied with The Force Awakens! That’s right, folks, 2015 was a dynamite year for old-school properties made new, and I just couldn’t feel right picking between these two. Jurassic Park (1993) and the original Star Wars trilogy (1977, 1980, 1983) are some of the most important blockbusters in cinematic history, and they are two properties that are dearer to my heart than any other movie franchise (save perhaps one… ).
Many folks loved one or the other, and quite a few had a great time with both. I was in the latter category. No, I don’t think Colin Trevorrow outdirected Steven Spielberg in his prime, but people calling JW a bad movie with fun moments or simply dumb, loud fun are hopeless cynics who can’t see the forest through the trees. JW ripped, roared, and slashed its way to $1.6 billion on a smart, surprisingly satirical and self-aware screenplay and a great pair of leads in Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.
As for The Force Awakens, I’ll get more into that in a moment, but rest assured I can now die in peace since Star Wars has finally recaptured its former glory.
MOST OVERRATED FILM: Again, this category is self-explanatory. Which film received way more hype, box office dough, and/or critical praise than it deserved?
- Furious 7
- Diary of a Teenage Girl
- Ex Machina
And the “winner” is… Spotlight! I flip-flopped a lot between this film and Furious 7, the latter of which earned a whopping $1.5 billion at the worldwide box office. Jesus, humanity, what the hell is the matter with you? Jurassic World is hollow and dumb, yet Vin Diesel mumbling and a CGI Paul Walker made you cry? Fuck off…
Anywho, no one in their right minds is putting F7 on their yearly Top 10 lists, nor is F7 nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It looks like I misjudged you, Spotlight (I predicted no less than seven nominations…). Film buffs to hack “professional” film critics are praising this movie as the greatest drama of the year, coddling its notable subject matter but repeatedly ignoring its lackluster filmmaking — you know, filmmaking, the actual craft of the art form we’re supposedly analyzing, here?
Spotlight represents everything I hate in yearly Oscar-bait trash: Depressing, creepy stories about oppression, self-righteous, showy acting, and lots and lots of scenes of people sitting down and talking. What a great and wonderful motion picture experience.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Which film had so much potential, either in its production crew, its cast, its director, or its franchise legacy (or its deceptive marketing) that failed to love up to its hype, more so than any other film in 2015?
- The Good Dinosaur
- Tremors 5: Bloodlines
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Harbinger Down
- Mocking Jay, Part 2
And the “winner” is... Avengers: Age of Ultron! Unlike the previous two categories, this one was easy to select. I make no apologies for my superhero fatigue, nor my cynicism with how formulaic the Marvel Cinematic Universe in particular has become, but I of all people was pumped for this movie. 2014 was a great year for the MCU, evidenced by The Winter Soldier (2014, my personal favorite of the franchise thus far) and the off-kilter, if somewhat overblown Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). The
Age Week of Ultron we got was not the edgy action-thriller we were teased in the trailer, and it represents Joss Whedon’s weakest film.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Which film came out of nowhere to shock us, either in its box office success or its deserved critical praise, or both?
- Kingsman: The Secret Service
- Straight Outta Compton
- Bajirao Mastani
And the winner is… Krampus! Not only was it one of the strongest films of the year, period, but Michael Dougherty’s sophomore directorial effort brought back vintage holiday horror-comedy in the style of Gremlins (1984) and Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). Krampus boasted great puppets and practical effects, a strong child cast, and some of the best scares in wide-release theatres in a long, long time. I shall never lose the Christmas Spirit again.
TOP TEN FILMS OF 2015: No explanation needed — here are my picks for the ten best films of a dynamite year.
10.) Jurassic World: Sorry to keep serving the haters, but I just had too much fun with this movie in theatres… three times, no less. After two terrible sequels and over a decade of development hell, the Jurassic Park reboot lived up to the hype and made dinosaurs fun again. It had great special FX, a fun cast, great dinosaur designs, and a crowd-pleasing ending. F7’s appeal I don’t understand, but this I get.
9.) Steve Jobs: My pick for 2015’s best drama was Boyle’s take on the eponymous tech giant and business mastermind. Michael Fassbender gives one of the finest performances of his career as the title character, but it’s Boyle’s surprisingly restrained direction of the story’s subtle drama, and Elliot Graham’s immaculate crosscut editing that make this movie so emotional. The biopic has historically been one of the most overblown and least cinematic genres in film, but here screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director Boyle make a great case for its cinematic power.
8.) The Force Awakens: As I said, this was not the Star Wars sequel we deserved, but the one we so desperately needed. Never before has a movie franchise made such an argument for a massive corporation wresting creative control from its “creator.” Put bluntly, George Lucas selling the franchise is the best thing to happen to it since The Empire Strikes Back. With a great new cast and wonderful callbacks to classic SW-characters and monomythic storytelling, TFA is Star Wars reborn: Honor the past, embrace the future.
7.) Krampus: You better watch out, ’cause this movie will eat you alive. Writer-director Michael Doughtery is the closest thing we have to John Carpenter these days, so give him the reins of the totally unnecessary yet totally inevitable Gremlins-remake. He knows what to do.
6.) Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation: The MI series seems to get better and better with every sequel. The unkillable franchise was reborn under animation-master Brad Bird, and now Christopher McQuarrie has turned the series into a thoroughbred action stallion. With a great cast, a smart script, and some of the year’s most pulse-pounding set-pieces, Rogue Nation reminds us what an invaluable and selective action-star Tom Cruise is. Make fun of him at your own risk.
5.) The Revenant: While some are calling this film 2015’s Boyhood (it didn’t take 12 years to make…), in fact, Alejandro Inarritu’s film recalls the divisive reception of 2013’s Man of Steel. It also features the year’s finest supporting performance in Tom Hardy, a rugged, wretched survivalist who puts Leonardo DiCaprio’s face to the grindstone, as well as the year’s best cinematography. Last time I checked, film is a visual medium, and thus its visual prowess and storytelling come before hollow dialogue and mindless spectacle. It’s “pretty” in the way that Whiplash (2014) was well edited.
4.) The Hateful Eight: Quentin Tarantino’s masturbatory eighth film is a masturbatory masterclass in how to shock audiences and irritate cinephiles. Like The Revenant, it’s either a movie you’re gonna love or despise, but for my part, I’m impressed a man created a three hour motion picture inside a cabin and kept it riveting, tense, and bloody brilliant. It’s characters are unlikable yet fascinating, its violence brutal yet irresistible, and its social commentary shockingly on-point.
3.) Creed: Ryan Coogler did the impossible by creating the sixth sequel in the fabled (and bloated) Rocky franchise (1972-present), as well as the best film in said franchise. Its long takes are as potent as any in The Revenant, its physicality rivals all-time classics like Raging Bull (1980), and it has as many feels as The Sandlot (1993). Creed is one of the greatest sports movies ever made.
2.) Sicario: Easily the coolest and most cold-blooded movie of the year, Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario painted a border war as deadly as any in the Middle East yet far closer to the American homeland. With the help of cinematographer Roger Deakins, a relatable lead in Emily Blunt, dark comic relief from Josh Brolin, and the most threatening character of the year from Benicio del Toro, Villeneuve melded westerns, crime thrillers, and even war film motifs into a seamless whole. We have a spiritual successor to David Fincher’s Se7en (1995) at last.
- Beasts of No Nation — Netflix’s original feature film smash that wasn’t Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six (also 2015…) was brutal, hard-hitting, and cinematic in all the ways that Spotlight wasn’t.
- Bajirao Mastani — My long awaited spiritual sequel to Sanjay Bhansali’s Devdas (2002), as well as vintage Bollywood historical epics in general…
- Room — Overlook the awful, stereotypical posters for this film and enjoy one of the more intimate, deceptively powerful dramas of 2015. Go watch without reading anything about it!
1.) Mad Max: Fury Road: Was there ever any doubt? Amongst a powerhouse year of franchise resurgences and all-around great movies, George Miller’s Fury Road stands head and shoulders above the competition. Mad Max’s latest sequel proves how great action can be when it’s weighted by a strong narrative, emotional characters, thematic potency, and physical grit. Fury Road is “lights, camera, action(!),” and represents the true power of cinema. The original fire of the Mad Max franchise and the action genre died long ago, but the riot inside moves on…
There’s nothing much left to say about 2015 in film. It was a great year, and somewhat of a creative lull in the overarching comic-book domination of modern cinema. For those of you who love the latter, 2016 may be a year we can all embrace the spandex. Till this new year is done, though, my hat is off to the filmmakers and artists who made my travels to the cineplex and television-time ever so rewarding in 2015. To the power of movies!