The Movies of 2015

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Posted January 1, 2016 by in

2015 Movies2015. It was the year of Fantastic Four and Terminator: Genisys. It was also the year of Inside Out and Spotlight. It was a year of blockbusters such as Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and box-office flops like Jupiter Ascending and Tomorrowland. It was a year of cinematic highs and lows, a roller coaster ride, going way up and then way, way down. Here’s the year in review:

HORROR

The year began with The Woman in Black 2. It’s a tradition for distributors to begin each year with a bad horror film, and 2015 was no exception. Months after, there came The Lazarus Effect, followed by Unfriended, the worst horror film of the year, period. Insidious: Chapter 3 was bad as well, but humorously so. The three latter films were all from Blumhouse Productions, as were The Gallows, Sinister 2 and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. Quantity over quality, as they say.

But if 2015 had one great horror film, it’s It Follows. The film is, quite simply, a masterpiece, an instant classic of the genre. It FollowsIf you like horror films, if you love horror films, you need to watch It Follows. Suspenseful, shocking, and creepy, It Follows is low-budget horror-craft, done right. At the center of it is Maika Monroe’s stellar performance, who’s put herself on the map in the same way that Jamie Lee Curtis did in 1976’s Halloween.

Just as good was Abigail Breslin in Maggie, a zombie horror drama in the vein of The Walking Dead. A genuine tearjerker, Maggie is one of the underrated movies of the year, and a personal favorite of 2015.

Another decent horror film was The Vatican Tapes, a demonic possession film by Mark Neveldine of the Crank films. His films have a particular look that maybe, -maybe- could signify an auteur. Victor Frankenstein was a fun horror film that should have done better at the BO, but might find new life on streaming services. Krampus did the box office it deserved, a scary family film that will probably stand alongside other classics like Gremlins or the original Poltergeist.

SCIENCE FICTION

It’s tempting to call 2015 the year of sci-fi cinema, because of two films. The first: The Martian. Both a box-office and critical success, The Martian follows in the footsteps of 2013’s Gravity, demonstrating the public’s renewed interest in stories of the final frontier: space. The Martian is a smart, uplifting film, and, surprisingly, one of the year’s best comedies.

posters-image-4Ex Machina is, however, the best sci-film film of the year. But it’s more than that. It’s an all-time sci-fi great. Will it receive a best picture nomination? I hope so. Ex Machina will stay with you, long after you’ve left the theater.

…and then there’s those other sci-fi films this year. I mean Tomorrowland, Terminator: Genisys, and…[gurp]…Jupiter Ascending. Tomorrowland was pessimistic, violent, and depressing—and get this: it’s a family movie. Some movies bomb. Some deserve to.

So did Terminator: Genisys. I hated this movie. Most everyone hated this movie. It bombed, and it bombed hard. I regretted having seen it. This movie proves that the best way to kill the Terminator is to keep making movies about it till no one gives a shit anymore.  After that, it won’t be back.

…and then there’s Jupiter Ascending. A.K.A. Wachowski’s Descending, and crashing and burning. They’re done. A sci-fi young-adult yarn like The Hunger Games or Divergent, but without the pre-packaged audience, the films is an example of how not to start a franchise. It looked great, though.

FANTASY

With Harry Potter long since done and over with, with the Hobbit franchise finally exhausted, Cinderellathere was room in 2015 for new contenders in the fantasy genre. Enter Cinderella, a live-action fantasy remake of Disney’s own animated classic, directed by Kenneth Branagh. As a production, a creation of costumes and sets, Cinderella has been compared to Gone with the Wind, and rightly so. It’s a great looking movie. But just as strong are its performances, particularly in Lily James. Since 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, Disney has finally gotten the live-action remake almost perfect.

Too bad I can’t say the same thing for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It too, looks good on the screen. But it’s also a soulless clone of the original trilogy. Sure, the performances are better, at least in places. It has a sense of humor about itself. I enjoyed parts of it. But on the whole, I was bored by it. Any given scene or character fills in for another from A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, or Return of the Jedi. I have already seen this movie. I grew up with it. While The Force Awakens salutes George Lucas’s films, an homage must stand on its own.

This is a good a time as any to mention Jurassic World. Everyone saw it, and it wasn’t that great. Jurassic Park is a classic…why not just pop that in the Blu Ray player? If we learned anything from the summer of 2015, or the winter mini-season, is that Hollywood will remake or sequelize anything, and will probably profit from it.

COMEDY

What_We_Do_in_the_Shadows_posterI didn’t laugh much this year. Cinema didn’t afford many chances to. Seth MacFarlane continued his career decline with Ted 2. Did anyone really want a Ted sequel? Did it really need one? The answers are no, and no. And I couldn’t not laugh any harder with Vacation. But hang tight. It gets worse.

Two of the year’s absolute worst films were comedies. Mordecai and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. Technically, I didn’t finish Mordecai. I’m not going to finish Mordecai; I had seen enough. Before the movie was over, I received an emergency call, and had to walk out. Talk about saved by the bell.

Spy, however, had me in stitches. And so did the Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. I wish I’d reviewed the film, and given it whatever nudge I’m worth at the box office. But if you’re reading this when it’s out on Netflix, give it a look.

However, the funniest film of the year goes to What We Do in the Shadows. Essentially, the film is a vampire version of This Is Spinal Tap, a faux documentary with comedic intent. A little gory, a lot funny, I hadn’t laughed that much in 1,000 years.

DRAMA

There are stories that must be told, Spotlightbut they must also be seen and be heard. Spotlight is one of those stories.  The film exposes, in a matter-of-fact way, a crime that was perpetrated on children, not just in Boston, but all over the world. Spotlight could be looking at many nominations, for acting, directing, picture, and screenwriting. It’s one of the year’s best films, without a doubt.

Room, however, is also just as gripping. It’s not about all children or all people, but just two, a mother and her son, living in a storage shed, trapped in there by a sicko. Brie Larson, who portrays the mother, is quickly proving herself to be one of finest actresses of her generation, with a bright future ahead of her as an indie icon.

Let’s not forget Dope. Dope is dope. Closer to a dramedy, the film makes a statement about race and class, while also telling a compelling coming-of-age story along the way. If 2015 has one teen movie worth seeing, forget Divergent, and skip Mockingjay 2 (I did), and watch Dope. It’s Risky Business about the millennial generation.

Love, on the other hand, is one of the worst films of the year. It is the most boring film I’ve ever seen, and let me tell you, I’ve seen a few. I once saw a film that was nothing more than a single word on the screen at a time, held for several seconds. I sat through, and stayed awake, for the entire thing. This is ten thousand times more boring than that. Love could be used as a substitute for Ambien. I hate Love.

ANIMATION

Shaun the Sheep Strange Magic was the year’s first animated film. It was also probably one of the year’s least watched. It received almost nothing in terms of promotion, and it’s little wonder why. But still, I’ll take it. It’s not about animals, or robots, or the usual stuff of animated films. It’s about pretty fairies and ugly goblins, a jukebox musical from the mind of George Lucas.  It’s different.  The plot is overly-complicated, if you can imagine a family film being that, but perhaps that’s better than overly-simplistic.

I’m just going to say it. I saw Hotel Transylvania 2, with Adam Sandler, and I kind of liked it. There, I said it. It was actually decent. It had heart, a sense of humor, and a message that’s bold and progressive…had it been made 40 years ago (or more). For what it is, for who it’s from, it’s not bad. Not bad at all.

You saw Minions. I saw Minions. We saw all Minions. We saw it because the advertising told us to. There’s a moment when a crowd of Brits looks at the newly anointed minion “King Bob.” He tries to tell them, through multilingual gibberish, that he’s just a regular guy. No one wants that. “King Bob!” he exclaims. The crowd applauds. The point of Minions is that -we’re- the Minions, flocking to leadership, wherever we may find it. If you thought Minions was merely Inside Outpopcorn
entertainment for children, think again. We are children, Minions contends.

But you didn’t see Shaun the Sheep Movie. You should have seen Shaun the Sheep Movie. It was a great animated film, told almost without a word of dialog. But it all makes sense. We know who wants what, what they’re thinking and feeling. It’s great silent comedy for the modern audience by Aardman Animation, a studio as excellent as Ghibli, renaissance Disney, or Pixar.

Speaking of Pixar, Inside Out is absolutely one of the Top Ten best films of the year. I don’t rank films, but if I did, Inside Out would be a contender for top spot. I saw it four times in theaters. It is one of Pixar’s best films, ever. Like the greatest of films, it is about nothing more than the human experience, which the film captures with a perfect combination of Joy and Sadness.

ACTION

2015 was a not bad year in action, but it wasn’t, with a few exceptions, a particularly good one either. But what I can tell you is this: from what I can tell, the days of shaky-cam quick-cut might be over. Of the year’s actioners, I don’t think a single one indulged in faux-Greengrassian aesthetics—you could actually tell what the f*** was going on.

That is, with the exception of Taken 3, the year’s worst action movie. I think that before shaky-cam quick-cut went away, cinema had to produce the shakiest-cam, quickiest-cut movie yet. What a visual jumble, what a mess! And the story was almost as bad…

But hey, any year that produces Sicario can’t be too bad, right? If it gets a best-picture nomination, I won’t object. Far from it. Action films can be great films, and Sicario proves that.

kingsman-secret-service-most-posterDitto Kingsman: The Secret Service. No, it’s not getting nominated. And it doesn’t have to. It’s great in a fun way, an entertaining way. The set pieces are nothing short of amazing. The church brawl is a cinematic achievement of glorious mayhem and mindless brutality. And three cheers to 20th Century Fox for taking a chance on a big-budget, hard-R film.

I know that the same could be said for Warner Bros for Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s rated R, and the bulk of it is done with practical effects. It’s one of the highest rated films of the year, a box office success, and could be looking at a Best Picture nod. Myself, I didn’t like it.

I thought it was big, loud, and stupid. Max is completely superfluous in his own movie, few of the characters receive development or have an arc. No film is without its detractor, so if I have to go against the grain on Fury Road, I’m OK with that.

On the other hand, it’s a shame that American Ultra was under-watched and under-appreciated. Not just because it’s an R-rated action movie, or an original screenplay. But because it’s also a good love story, a funny comedy, and a brutally violent horror film. It does it all, and it does it all really well. But hey, who wants to see that when there’s a PG-13 sequel around the bend, right?

SUPER-HERO MOVIES

I for one thought Avengers 2: Age of Ultron was better than the original. The action was better, BF_Payoff_1-Sht_v8_Lg-1309x1940and there was more of it. In the original, Loki was in captivity for the second act, whereas in the sequel, Ultron is on the loose, making him more of a threat to Iron Man and company. Yes, the film serves to set-up upcoming MCU films, but I think this has been exaggerated in reviews. The best MCU movie to date? Second to the original Iron Man, I’d say.

Ant-Man, however, was the most fun I had in the summer season this year. I mean, how many heist-movies with shrinking super-heroes have you seen? None, that’s how many. It goes to show that there are still new and different movies to be made. Studios don’t have to play it safe.

Fantastic Four. This film is a case study in how not to make a superhero movie. The quartet’s powers were a curse, and they don’t do anything heroic until the end. Um…

The film, though is more than that. It’s a case study in how not to make a movie, any kind of movie. Josh Trank received a fair amount of creative control, and sold Fox on an idea for what he wanted to do. Eventually, it became apparent that it wasn’t working. Reshoots followed. That only made things worse.
What’s to be learned here is to let a bad movie be. Don’t make it a worse movie. Stick to the script, keep it under budget and on schedule. There are things which can’t be polished. Doing so just smears it around. Fantastic Four is one of those things.

THRILLER

It’s not everyday that a first-time director is compared to Alfred Hitchcock, but Joel Edgerton deserves it. The Gift is the most suspenseful film of the year, hands-down. I cannot wait for what he’s directing next. This film had two of the best jump scares since Life of Pi, and that was back in 2012!

On the other hand, The Loft was a loathsome film that managed both misogyny and misandry in under two hours. That’s quite an accomplishment. Neat poster, though.

Now, let me preface the official Top Ten with this:  there were more than 10 great films this year (and more than 10 worst…).  Why not a Top 5, or a Top 20?  A Top Ten is just a convention.  That said, other films that could have made the Top Ten include Son of SaulThe RevenantThe End of the Tour, Time out of Mind, and Predestination.  However, I try to create a Top Ten list that includes Hollywood, independent, and foreign films, and includes at least one of each genre, a list that makes you feel happy, sad, excited, frightened, everything that movies can make you feel.  So, here she be…

2015 TOP TEN
Cinderella
Dope
Ex Machina
Inside Out
It Follows
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Room
Shaun the Sheep Movie
Spotlight
What We Do in the Shadows

2015 WORST FILMS
Love
Taken 3
Mordecai
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
Unfriended
Jupiter Ascending
Fantastic Four
The Loft
The Age of Adaline
Terminator: Genisys

That’s all for 2015.  The year ahead brings many anticipated films, from comic book films such as DeadpoolCaptain America 3 and X-Men Apocalypse, as well as Batman vs Superman:  Dawn of Justice, to a Star Wars spin-off, the long awaited Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and much, much more.  RantAboutFilm will be there with reviews.  See you then.


About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.

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