Sunday, February 28, 2016

10 Best Films of 2015

Oscars are tonight, which means time for my annual top ten films post. As usual, this will only cover movies I've actually seen. Didn't get the chance to see Spolight or a few of the others. So without further ado, in no particular order, my favorite films of the year:

Ex Machina -- A stunning science-fiction piece about artificial intelligence. All the performances are great, particularly Alicia Vikander who was nominated for the wrong movie. The special effects work is brilliant and seamless. However, the film is very dark and I was not at all happy with the way it ended.

Mad Max: Fury Road -- I'm not a huge Mad Max fan. I'm probably one of the few who prefers the first movie over The Road Warrior. And yet, I went into this movie with no expectations, and had a great experience because it's just so insane. The mother of all chase scenes in this movie makes every other car chase action scene feel quaint. A shame this couldn't have been made with Mel instead of Tom Hardy, but he gives it his all. Definitely not for all audiences, as George Miller's post-apocalyptic crazyland is populated with all manner of insane ideas, but it is very good filmmaking. And I actually enjoyed the ride.

Love & Mercy -- under-appreciated biopic of Brian Wilson, genius behind the Beach Boys. It plays with Brian in two periods of time, and the sixties recreations are fantastic. Paul Dano is a wonderful Brian. And the guy playing Mike Love is very good too. He was in Across the Universe, and I really wanted him to get a supporting actor nod. The half with older Brian, played by John Cusack, isn't quite as good for me, but has its own charm. This was one of my favorite movies of the year. The sound design is remarkable, filled with audio collages of Beach Boys music. If you like the Beach Boys, definitely see this movie.

Inside Out -- Pixar does it again. I did not like Pete Doctor's previous movie, Up. But this one works very well. It is funny and moving and plays to all audiences. This was a movie Pixar rushed into release while The Good Dinosaur was delayed with production problems, and now has overshadowed the latter as one of their best movies. I rank it probably number 3 of all their movies.

Straight Outta Compton -- A well-made look at the rise and fall of N.W.A. The cast is good, and it evokes the time period. If it has failures, it's that it overlooks some of the more troubling elements of the group toward the latter part (the second album's misogyny, Dre's sexual assaults). And sometimes the movie itself seems to revel in the excesses that the group seemed to glorify. Is this commentary on the gangster rap genre, or celebration of it? And yet it's a good movie even if gangster rap is not your thing. If you are at all interested in the history of hip hop in the '90s, this movie is a good place to start.

Sicario -- I debated its inclusion, but this is one of those movies that got talked about upon its release, then everyone forgot about. Emily Blunt is very good in it. It's a sobering look at personal morality, as it explores international crime. It's a brutal movie at times. The cinematography is very good. It's not one I'd be quick to revisit, but it was a solid film.

The Martian -- Maybe not as good as it could be, but it's fun and gave Ridley Scott one of his better movies in years. After watching it though, I continue to think human space travel is a stupid idea. This is another movie spawned from internet fiction, but with more merit than Fifty Shades of Grey. It's got science, but not too much science. Basically, it's a more accessible Apollo 13 crossed with Cast Away. Not as good as either of them, but worth a rent.

Krampus -- Why is this movie on this list? Because it was better than it had any right to be. I saw this movie the day before Star Wars, and I liked it more. The story involves a family who all essentially hate each other stuck together on Christmas, and after a boy basically wishes they'd get taught a lesson, Krampus comes instead of Santa, bringing judgment. Through the ordeal of fighting off a monster trying to kill them all, the family find ways to come together again and learn what the holidays and family are really about. While there is some CG, there are a lot of practical effects as well, and they work very well. It was a kooky Christmas horror story, very reminiscent of Gremlins in that respect. Not too scary or grotesque to be very off-putting, either. I'm sure it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I hope it becomes a new family holiday favorite for those tired of watching A Christmas Story every year. It was funny, and weird, and unsettling, and heartwarming. In other words, it was Christmas.

99 Homes -- This is not a fun movie. It's actually a hard movie to watch. In a year where one film about the housing crises (The Big Short) gets nominations, this one got overlooked. It takes a more personal look at things. In this movie, our lead is evicted from his home, where he lives with his mom and son. He has nowhere to go. They move into a motel. He does construction, but work has dried up. But through unlikely circumstance, he gets a job working for the agent who evicted him, played by Michael Shannon. He becomes the kind of guy who threw him out; working to get his family back in a home while turning others out of theirs. A stunning character portrayal of how a man can easily go astray with the promise of better things, and Andrew Garfield is very good in it. As someone who lost his home a few years ago, I had a visceral reaction to those early scenes. Michael Shannon is always good, and he's allowed a little bit of nuance to make him seem sympathetic, even when he's also being kind of scummy. Well worth seeking out on DVD, if you are in the right mindset.

Room -- I don't want to spoil this movie if you haven't seen it. Suffice to say, Room took me by surprise and blew me away and was the most emotional experience I had at the movies all year. I am pulling for it to win Best Picture. All the performances are good. Emma Donoghue's screenplay adapted from her own book is solid. What's great about this movie is after it passes what would normally be the climax, the story continues. It's a character study. Some have issues with the second half, and I understand that. While it may have gone on a bit too long, what makes it work is that we continue to see things from the boy's perspective. That might make the story developments later on feel a little distant, and not the way we're used to movies being, but I don't think that makes it bad. Do yourself a favor, and see Room.

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