Movies to the Max! The Toast of 2015

I wrote in many posts last year and throughout this year that my excitement for the films of 2015 was exceedingly high compared to most years. I am pleased to report that this thrilling year lived up to its grand expectations, though not always in a manner I expected. As is the case with every year, there were films I was excited about before I even saw  a second of the first trailer, and there were also plenty of films that came out of nowhere for me. Some I saw and enjoyed, others I’ve yet to and am eager to observe. Of course there is no guarantee that they will be to my liking, and quite a few films I saw this year that I anticipated enjoying immensely were not what I’d hoped they’d be.

My second and third most eagerly anticipated movies, Spectre and Avengers: Age of Ultron respectively, were both good, but not anywhere as good as I expected them to be. Though I enjoyed both, I was disappointed after seeing each because I felt that not only did they not reach as high of a ceiling as they could have, but both had much lower floors than they should have. In other words, the best parts were not super great (and were often shown in the trailers) and the low points were lower than I would have liked them to be given the strength of their predecessors.

My most anticipated film of the year, however, was everything I hoped it would be and then some, and it has earned its place on my Top 10 list for the year. I would love to offer – as so many do this time of year – a list of my absolutely incredible Top 10 Movies of the Year, but as I looked back at the films of 2015 I realized – as I always do this time of year – that there are so many films yet to be seen by me that are rated by many as some of the year’s best. It’s almost impossible to see everything that comes out each year in that year, even all the biggest releases, but with those that I’ve missed and the many that have just come out that I have not gotten a chance to see yet, it would be irresponsible of me to patch together a “Best Of” list without having seen all those that I want(ed) to.

Some of the movies I haven’t seen yet that I want to and am excited to watch are:

Ex Machina

Shaun the Sheep

Straight Outta Compton

The Danish Girl

Trumbo

Bridge of Spies

Creed

The Big Short

Joy

The Hateful Eight

The Revenant

Consider this my to-do list for the rest of winter film watching. Especially The Revenant. That looks incredible.

I did see my fair share of films this year, though, and I am ready and – in the case of most of them – willing to offer my general, spoiler-free sentiment of them. I have concocted a Top 10 list, but instead of the 10 Best of My 10 Favorite I do not feel able to make yet due to the aforementioned reasons, I made a list of the 10 movies released in 2015 that best lived up to my expectations or exceeded them. Therefore, the films are not necessarily the 10 I most enjoyed this year; rather they are the 10 I was most impressed with given my feelings going in.

Before I get to that list, though, I wish to share my thoughts on the less impressive films from this year that I saw.

Obviously all of these lists are derived from my own opinions and any disagreement should not cause frustration that we have different tastes that necessitate fierce cyber hate. Instead, I encourage you to compile your own lists and share with anyone you wish to entertain. Got it? Okay, let’s go.

Other movies I saw that were not so good – okay, some of them sucked big time and I regret watching them, but we all make mistakes for one reason or another, okay:

Blackhat – I saw this with a friend I had not seen in a while and I was pleased that he found it as silly as I did. We openly riffed on each scene of the movie, thereby making the most of the theater that was empty beside one couple tucked away in the rafters who weren’t watching it anyway.

Jupiter Ascending – My oldest friend/go-to movie buddy and I were bored and figured a movie would make things better. We should have stayed at our respective homes. Or done anything else. This movie was impressively bad on a huge, high-budget scale. It’s been a while since The Matrix for the Wachowskis. I do like the idea that the manner of Sean Bean’s death or incredibly rare survival in films is directly correlated to its quality.

Terminator: Genisys – I was on the fence about this one and figured it could go either way, so when the negative reviews started pouring in I decided to skip it in theaters. I guess such is to be expected when an action movie has the same misspelled appeal as a microwaveable frozen food item marketed to children. One of my friends is a huge fan  of the Terminator series and encouraged me to watch it for my input. I think he wanted someone else to tell him it had redeeming qualities to justify his purchase of the Blu-ray to complete his Terminator collection, but I did not have nice things to say about it.

Vacation – This one I can blame on the ex. I had no intention to see this garbage, but I didn’t want to simply give up on my ailing relationship with my girlfriend at the time and suggested going to the movies and letting her pick what we see to revitalize something I later discovered was never there. This is what she chose to watch and she was not backing down from it. She enjoyed it immensely. Days later I broke up with her. The two were not strongly linked, although her overly-simplistic taste was a major point of contention. As for this movie, it sucked.

Other movies I saw that were okay:

Ted 2 – If you liked the first you’ll like this one too, but it’s not as interesting now that we’re not inherently charmed by a talking teddy bear and the jokes don’t bring anything new to the table.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – I was excited for this mainly because my dad liked the television show from the 1960s and it served to satiate my hunger for suave secret agents and beautiful kickass women until Spectre came out months later. Guy Ritchie delivers about the same “yeah, it was kinda fun” quality he dished out on the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies.

And without further ado, the feature presentation…

10 Movies released in 2015 that lived up to my lofty standards or greatly exceeded them:

The Night Before – One of the most recently released films of this year is a Christmastime comedy about three friends who spend Christmas Eve together every year since their young adult years as a means of offering Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) the family comfort he needs in the wake of his parents death in a car accident. Many years later when the trio is in their thirties and the other two, Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie), are tiring of being Ethan’s crutch and excuse to avoid growing up, they plan their final night before Christmas together with the goal of attending the underground Christmas party that always eluded them in the past. Hijinks, of course, ensue. There are plenty of expectantly silly parts and dumb jokes, but the constant humor and somewhat developed characters serve to give us a good time that is worth enjoying with your own friends.

Crimson Peak – This was another movie I was on the fence about and went  to see mainly because my friends invited me out and I was not already doing anything. I’m glad I went because Guillermo del Toro always knows what he’s doing with elements of the supernatural. This ghost story is not the typical kind, but that’s a good thing. It also serves as a good lesson that the unknown that we fear for being such is not always as sinister as what we think we know.

Furious 7 – This was a movie I was never going to see. Ever. I liked the first movie, but that was where what admiration I had for this series ended. After seeing the insane trailer for this though, I reconsidered. Nevertheless, I assumed that the skydiving cars-bus chase-rescue-cliff jumping sequence would be the only major piece of action in the movie. Nope! This wild ride has crazy car stunt after even crazier car stunt after even crazier yet car stunt. Fully embracing the “fuck the laws of physics” mentality the series switched over to  a few sequels ago, and continuing the ever-increasing superpowered abilities of tricked out cars and their drivers, Furious 7 is actually a lot of fun. Throw in Jason Statham as the bad guy, the Rock at his most ridiculous, and fucking Kurt Russell and you’ve got yourself something much more than Vin Diesel’s most one-lineriest movie ever.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – Another I was sold on by the trailer (there’s a reason movie studios show previews!), this is my favorite Mission: Impossible yet. Coincidentally it has a similar premise to the latest Bond film, but where Spectre holds onto its serious tone with a firmer grasp, Rogue Nation has Tom Cruise hold onto the outside of a cargo plane as it takes off. He did that stunt himself for eight takes. Eight! Tom Cruise may be the daffiest of ducks, but damn it he’s a hell of an actor and a ballsy mother fucker. And that cold open is just the start of a globe-trotting race against time to stop the sinister Syndicate from doing bad-guy-ruin-everybody’s-day stuff.

Sicario – A brutally realistic portrayal of the war on drugs in the southwestern United States and Mexico shows the lack of all empathy of the cartels who rule the cities south of the border and send drugs and drug lords up into the States. Skilled FBI agent Kate Macer (played by a super tough Emily Blunt) is offered the chance to make a bigger impact and have at the bad guys who killed a few of her men in her last bust. Leading her new unit is a surprisingly relaxed commanding officer (Josh Brolin) whose ease around his Colombian companion (Benecio Del Toro) is particularly unsettling to her. All the lead actors are magnificent, especially Del Toro whose mysterious sicario is a chilling presence you do not want working against you. He is truly comfortable with his uninhibited role in dismantling the cartel at any cost; Macer is not, nor is she comfortable with her own role as she wonders if it is worth it to fight the cartels by attacking as emotionless as they do.

The Martian – Matt Damon kills it in this tale of an astronaut left behind on Mars during an evacuation from a storm. Believed dead by his crew and NASA, Mark Watney proceeds to “science the shit” out of everything to defy the odds and survive the harsh Martian surface with minimal supplies. Now he just needs to communicate with NASA so they can orchestrate a rescue mission. Even as the stakes get more dire, Damon marvelously brings charm and humor to Watney to keep him going and us entertained. Nonetheless, this is no one-man show. A large list of actors with reputations large and small, yet growing fills in a vast cast of characters at NASA and other space agencies and onboard the returning vessel that contains the rest of Watney’s crew. My personal favorite supporting character is Donald Glover’s Rich Purnell, a brilliant scientist whose few words are superbly important to everyone who hears them.

Inside Out – Pixar’s return to form is one of their best, but then again you can say that about 10 films with relative safety. Really, they do not miss often, and even when they miss the mark a little it is still a solid film that is usually above average. How many studios have as proven a track record, and with as much original content, as Pixar? Inside Out is an excellent addition to an already shining resume, although it is the first to separate itself from the lofty pack since Toy Story 3. The film focuses on the impact of five key emotions in the head of an 11 year old girl named Riley as she and parents move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Riley has trouble coping with the extreme changes, as does her most active emotion, Joy (voiced by an incredible Amy Poehler). The other emotions accompanying Joy in Headquarters (haha, get it?) are Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), my personal favorite, Anger (Lewis Black, who else?), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) whose increasingly active role in the new surroundings is too much for Joy to handle. Yet Joy will have to figure out how to work with Sadness when the two are swept away from Headquarters at the most important juncture in Riley’s life so far! They find help in an unlikely source which also eventually found the key to opening the floodgates that are my tear ducts. It’s no wonder that a movie about emotions will bring out such an active response in your own. A terrific film for adults and children alike and another deserved gimme Oscar for the Pixar team.

Jurassic World – The biggest blockbuster of all time from June until December was a ton of fun. Actually, it was many tons of fun, so much so that you can safely say it was dino-mite! Okay, I’m done, and this movie hinged upon many weak plot points and generic characters, but it got all that money for the simple reason that it was so much damn fun. Striking the nostalgia craving just right, Jurassic World gave us our favorite dinosaurs again with some new prehistoric pals along for the ride. At the center of the story is Indominus rex, a genetically engineered Tyrannosaur that has much more inside her than first meets the eye. Once loose, the rampant rex wreaks havoc and it is up to Chris Pratt and Ron Howard’s daughter to save her nephews and GTFO before they get eaten. We get samplings of old and new dinosaurs and Mesozoic reptiles along the way leading up to one of the most entertaining climaxes in film history, one that fulfills the onscreen toybox desire we’ve had since 1993.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens – The most anticipated movie of the year without a doubt has become my favorite movie of the year without a doubt. Revisiting that galaxy far, far away, this is unquestionably the best Star Wars film ever made in my lifetime, but more importantly it is on par with the Original Trilogy (Orig Trig) and establishes incredible old and new characters excellently. Just as was the case with this film, I and everyone else cannot wait to see Episode VIII.

Mad Max: Fury Road – The best film of the year was one that had me so greatly worried that I almost did not go see it in theaters! I’ve since seen it twice on the big screen and ran out to buy the Blu-ray right after it hit stores. George Miller revisits his post-apocalyptic Australia again through the eyes of Max Rockatansky for the first time in 30 years, this time with the more tolerant Tom Hardy in the title role. Most like the series previous best installment, The Road WarriorMad Max: Fury Road is essentially one long explosion filled car chase through the desert sands with an army of gaudy maniacs in hot pursuit of Max and the people he has agreed to help in the interests of his instinctual survival, but maybe a little bit for the sake of redemption too. I was afraid from the previews that I saw that this would be a half-ass reboot with excessive CGI and too much emphasis on Charlize Theron’s new character with not enough on Max. I am an idiot. The one CGI scene shown in the preview (the sand tornado) is the one major scene of CGI and it looks good; almost everything else is done with practical effects like none you’ve ever seen before. As for Charlize Theron, her character, Imperator Furiosa is the true hero of the film and she turns in the best performance I’ve seen from her. Max serves as the window onto this wild world for us in the audience, but that does not mean he is not a participant in the action. Hardy’s muted performance offers the maddest Max yet and his unseen action while Furiosa and the rest free their rig from the mire of mud is the best part of the movie for me. Truly a must-see, not just for action fans, but for everyone.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this year’s lineup of movies as much as I did. Have a happy and safe end to 2015 and start to 2016! I look forward to continue to soften the blow on Mondays in 2016, starting with another round of must-hear songs next week. As always, feel free to message me via the comments or monotrememadness@gmail.com.

Happy New Year, and May the Force continue to be with You!

Alex

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