As you can see from the picture above (and our top three picks), 2015 was the year of the rejuvenated, long dormant franchise. Jurassic Park, Mad Max and Star Wars returned to theaters to thunderous critical acclaim and millions upon millions in commercial success. It’s a shame we can’t say the same for Terminator Genisys. I had fun with it but that, uh… wasn’t a popular opinion. In addition to those juggernauts, the best of the rest finds us tackling action, horror, comedy, and a few indie outliers that managed to worm their way into our cold dead hearts. Here’s our 2015 favorites:
“Aside from the considerable acting talents of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, both in Oscar worthy turns that run the entire emotional gamut extremely convincingly, director Lenny Abrahamson’s ace in the hole is screenwriter Emma Donoghue, adapting her own critically acclaimed 2010 novel of the same name. You may even be fooled into thinking this was based on true events, again, given the refreshingly matter of fact portrayal of subject matter that could be easily sensationalized to the point of melodrama, and that’s thanks to the smart writing just as much as the flawless performances. A truly special piece of art.”
“It was one scene towards the end of the film, where Amy Winehouse met and sang with her idol Tony Bennett that really showed how fragile and insecure she was. After feeling that she messed up on a track, she clearly beats herself up and tells Bennett “I just don’t wanna to waste your time.” While I found Amy’s story touching, I have to wonder how the shy and reclusive artist who only wanted to be judged for her music and nothing more would feel about being thrown back into the spotlight in such a revealing, somewhat sensationalistic and tabloid-y way. No way to know now, as Amy the celebrity is lost and all that remains are the fruits of the too-brief career of Amy the artist. She probably would’ve at least liked that.”
Though Age of Ultron may have slightly missed the mark of usual Marvel excellence (but not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination), the same plucky spirit that wormed the oddball Guardians of the Galaxy into the hearts of moviegoers worldwide in 2014 was alive and well in Ant Man. After a highly publicized trip through development hell that would’ve left most potential summer tentpoles dead in the water, director Peyton Reed delivered a crowd pleasing special effects action/comedy on par with 80’s classics like Ghostbusters and Back to the Future. A perfectly cast and totally game Paul Rudd in the title role didn’t hurt either, and his return in the Russo Brothers upcoming Captain America: Civil War makes the wait for that surefire blockbuster even more excruciating.
“Both conceptually and visually this is a feast for the eyes, especially in 3D. All the various facets of young protagonist Riley’s mind, including imagination land and dream production, are realized brilliantly. We’re also introduced to a breakout character in the form of Bing Bong, Riley’s former imaginary friend, an elephant made of cotton candy perfectly voiced by Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Richard Kind. Expect to see various merchandise of this guy for sale in Disney’s Stores and Theme Parks for decades to come. Inside Out is definitely a can’t miss proposition for animation enthusiasts of all ages, another jewel in Pixar’s near unbeatable crown.”
“The End of the Tour as a film is just as unexpected of a journey as the source material itself, as Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky, portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, begins by pragmatically trying to get to the bottom of the many rumors surrounding mysterious Infinite Jest author David Foster Wallace (Jason Seagal), spurned by his unconvinced Editor (Ron Livingston) but eventually learns that a man is much more than his “superhero origin story”, especially one as talented and misunderstood as Wallace. Seagal and Eisenberg bring the characters to vivid life, completely selling the initial awkwardness of the pairing that eventually blooms into a deep, however brief, friendship, understanding and camaraderie. Eisenberg is solid as usual but Seagal completely disappears into Wallace, achieving a mastery of his craft usually not seen in his myriad of goofball stoner roles.”
Following in the footsteps of similar feminist tinged, retro minded, synthwave drenched recent horrors like House of the Devil and You’re Next, It Follows sets The Guest’s Maika Monroe against a vengeful sexually transmitted curse in this smart modern update to “young girl vs. weird shit” masterpiece Carnival of Souls. Director David Robert Mitchell elevates the somewhat ridiculous concept with amazing execution, filling each frame with dread and foreboding in a refreshingly minimalistic and grounded fashion. Monroe, who will be next seen in this year’s Independence Day follow up, and Mitchell are well deserving of the long careers they surely have in front of them.
“Rookie directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala transport us to an idyllic ultramodern home amidst vast cornfields in the middle of nowhere, the perfect playground for two young twin boys, that is until their mother returns home from a facial surgery, her head ominously wrapped in bandages, stricter and colder to the boys than we’re led to believe she was before, and refusing to acknowledge, feed, clothe or even speak to one of them. What follows is a brutal game of both physical and mental one-upmanship, resembling a bloodily mean spirited and at times blackly comic version of Home Alone even more so than the 2013’s You’re Next. A twist at the midpoint may be easy to decipher by some audience members but don’t dismiss this type of plotting as mere Shyamalan level hucksterism, the film has so much more to offer beyond this aspect that it seems as if the filmmakers were almost hinting at too much at the outset to lull viewers into a false sense of security and superiority for the true endurance test to come.”
“The premise might sound post-Dark Knight dour but this movie is fun, maybe even more fun than the original. Sure nothing’s ever going to be as innovative as that, probably ever again, so stop wringing your hands about that BS and just sit back and enjoy the ride. And this is definitely a ride, seeing the movie in 3D I half expected to have the seats rumble or water shot at me during appropriate scenes. The cast seems to be enjoying themselves as well, with Chris Pratt not quite as entertaining as he was in Guardians of the Galaxy but still fully capable of carrying a movie like this. Bryce Dallas Howard does really well with a somewhat thankless role and manages to make her initially off-putting character really likable by the end, and Vincent D’Onofrio just oozes the same villainous magnetic charm as he did in Netflix’s Daredevil. We also appreciated the more action and horror leaning slant some of the scenes took, resembling the Alien and Predator franchises at times. The Dino action is fact and fierce and the violence and suspense might be overwhelming for smaller children, but 10-ish year olds should eat it up, I know I would’ve at that age. Director Colin Trevorrow here is more Spielberg than Spielberg, channeling Jaws and the Spielberg produced Poltergeist and Gremlins more than the original JP when it comes to the monster/horror/action and the film is all the better for it.”
“This movie really had me floored from beginning to end. It’s just the right amount of ridiculousness, never veering into being outright corny, and it’s badass all the way. Tom Hardy’s Max is your classic strong, silent type, the star of the show here is really Furiosa, with Charlize Theron handling the “Ripley-esque” strong female role admirably, fully capable with just the right amount of vulnerability. All the villains are great, well designed and hilariously portrayed by a troupe of angry Brits, especially Nicholas Hoult’s Nux who is equally despicable and pathetic throughout his journey. It’s a goddamned masterpiece, a brutal ballet of stunts, chases, production design, practical effects, ridiculous characters and costumes. This is a feast for the eyes for its entire running time.”
“Any survivors of the great prequel debacle of ’99 – ’05 dreading having to wince and squirm their way through two and a half more hours of farts and “poodoo” and then grade everything else on a curve afterwards will be extremely relieved to meet Finn, Poe and BB-8 and remember when the comic relief in these movies was actually funny. Shaking off the grim specter of the franchise’s greatest villain, Hayden Christensen, acting performances are near flawless across the board. Director J.J. Abrams’ most noble edict was that the world these characters inhabit be just as tactile as the then-groundbreaking “used future” ushered in by the original trilogy, and that may be the film’s greatest success of them all as the effects here are absolutely seamless and do nothing at all to detract from the very grounded story at hand. Star Wars is joyously, genuinely, unapologetically great again.”
Coming up in 2016, Godzilla director Gareth Edwards heads up Star Wars spinoff Rogue One with a cast of geek ringers like Mads Mikkelsen and Alan Tudyk. Fox tries to build a superhero continuity to rival Marvel’s with Deadpool, Gambit and X-Men Apocalypse, and WB and DC hopes to do the same with Suicide Squad and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. But the main event for me will be the previously mentioned Captain America: Civil War. Winter Soldier is still the best thing Marvel’s done in my opinion and directors Anthony and Joe Russo returning to follow it with an adaptation of one of my all-time favorite comic storylines is a can’t miss proposition. See you then!