not merely superfluous, but ridiculous
The circumstances we find ourselves in can radically alter our experience with culture. After moving to Golden, Colorado in the first part of 2015, I found I was living practically down the street from a movie theater, and my consumption of movies grew accordingly. This taught me something about my own filmgoing habits: I like blockbusters a little more than I expected, and I might not be willing to go to a highly-praised film like Steve Jobs if I can watch Everest in IMAX just down the hall.
Or maybe it was just an exceptionally good year for blockbusters. The year saw several excellent entries in decades-old film franchises, one of which looks like it could be in the running for Best Picture. Or maybe I just started to pay more attention to hype from the movie industry. Who knows why anything really happens. Anyway, I’m bored of writing this part, so here are the 10 films released this year that I most enjoyed watching.
Guillermo del Toro’s homage to Gothic novels and Hammer Horror films wasn’t particularly scary, and continues the director’s run of minor but beautiful films. But the beauty is worth appreciating, particularly in the costumes and set design, and anyone with a soft spot for Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, and other similar novels will find a very fun story in this film.
Another film that nods at horror without ever becoming a horror film itself, this low-budget mockumentary about the surprisingly mundane lives of a group of vampires sharing a house in a New Zealand town is one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen, sharing a laughs-to-blood ratio to rival Cabin in the Woods or Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. Rarely have the fantastical and mundane been conflated to such hilarious effect.
Amy Schumer steps into the Judd Apatow Comedy Machine and comes out with a pleasant surprise, a film that manages to be heartfelt and funny in equal measure. Schumer wrote the film, and her performance carries it, with some excellent assistance from Brie Larson, Bill Hader, and LeBron James.
I was divided in my opinion of Andy Weir’s novel, which manages to create a tense situation and demonstrate some cool hypothetical scenarios without ever giving readers much in the way of a central character. But these deficiencies made it the perfect vehicle for a movie star like Matt Damon, who invests astronaut Mark Watney’s quips and scientific Macgyvering with hints of an interior life and some real emotional stakes.
Everyone I’ve heard from seems to agree that Mistress America was the best movie Noah Baumbach directed this year, but I haven’t gotten to that one yet. Fortunately, this story about dealing with the realities of aging was plenty good for me (who, full disclaimer, will be celebrating my 30th birthday in about 6 months’ time, so it may have caught me at the right moment in my life). As long as Baumbach can keep making fleet, observant comedies with excellent casts, I’m going to keep watching them.
Lots of critics seemed overwhelmed by the running time and overstuffed story, but for me those were two of the film’s greatest charms. The cinematic equivalent of a 48-page Giant-Size comic, Joss Whedon’s final(?) contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe aims to overwhelm with its scope and ambition, and as far as I’m concerned it succeeded. My only regret is that they apparently decided to scrap the 3.5-hour version of the film that was supposed to come out on video.
The funniest comedy of the year, this film proved once and for all that if you give Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy some money, they’re going to give you a good return on your investment, commercially and artistically. Not to say this is high art. It’s something much more rare these days, an explosively funny movie that also manages to invest its characters with humanity and sympathy–with the exception of Jason Statham’s scene-stealing character, who is superhuman to hilarious effect.
Steven Spielberg movies are always something I will take the time to see, and that goes double for when he has Tom Hanks in them. The combination may threaten to be almost painfully wholesome and dad-friendly, but here Spielberg and Hanks tilt expectations on their head, giving us a film that argues for the importance of American values that some may see as controversial: essentially, this is a film that argues that the best thing America does for its own security is to extend many of the same rights to our enemies that we give to our own citizens. In a time when politicians seem more reluctant than ever to engage in real diplomacy, or to lend a hand to people outside the country, this is a stirring call for real American values. The most politically prescient film of the year.
Humor and politics done well are both things worth seeking out in our films, but for me, one of the primary draws of the cinema is the opportunity to see car chases and explosions. George Miller’s newest entry in his Mad Max film series gives us both in abundance, with excellent turns by Tom Hardy as Max and Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. This is on enough year-end lists that you’ve probably already memorized the points we all enumerate: the real stunts and practical effects, the gorgeous cinematography, the minimalist storyline, the insane action sequences, the way the film is able to create a world in the margins of its images rather than in long-winded expository dialogue. I can’t add much to all that, but then I think all that is more than enough.
You wouldn’t think that a film that’s essentially a modern update of the medieval allegory would make for a crowd-pleasing movie, let alone a major artistic statement but as they have so often done, the minds at Pixar have again managed to combine high art with real entertainment. This is the most creatively daring concept I’ve seen a big-budget movie try in some time, and while the structure of the film is pretty standard, the level of detail packed into every line, the hidden significance of each line that every character has, was absolutely mind-blowing. I’ve seen Inside Out three times so far this year, and I’ve found new things each time. I suspect that will continue to be the case however many times I revisit it.
The Hateful Eight, Chiraq, Phoenix, End of The Tour, Steve Jobs, The Revenant, Creed, Ex Machina, Amy, Joy, Carol, Tangerine, The Look of Silence, The Lobster, Brooklyn, It Follows, ’71, Girlhood, A Most Violent Year, Beasts of No Nation
Sicario – I feel like Denis Villenueve’s films should work a lot better than they ever end up working. This film had some great action sequences, performances, and cinematography, but generates more heat than light.
Tomorrowland – This one might be my fault for having the wrong sort of expectations, but I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by it. Again, some real visual wizardry from Brad Bird, and I like how he clearly believes in making films that make a point about the world without ever shading into polemics, but the movie takes over two hours getting to the point I expected it to get to in 20 minutes, and then it ends.