The Best and Worst of 2015
By Danny Minton
1) The Revenant (in theaters January 8). As I was sitting in the theater about to watch Alejandro’s Iñárritu’s latest starring Leonardo DiCaprio, I was overhearing many critics discussing their anticipation for seeing “the bear scene,” but aside from those few minutes of buzz and a trailer that gives nothing away, I had no idea what was going to hit me over the next two and a half hours. According to Webster’s, revenant is defined as “one that returns after death or a long absence.” This is very fitting since the story revolves around sweet Leo, a fur trapper in the early 1800’s who is mauled by a bear (in one of the fiercest visual sequences I’ve ever seen), forced to watch his son get killed in front of him by fellow trapper Tom Hardy (who was supposed to be taking care of him), and then left for dead in the cold, harsh wilderness. His only desire for survival is to seek revenge, and he has to overcome the worst of challenges to do so. It’s a film like you’ve never seen before. The beautiful camera work makes you feel like you are a part of the party following along watching everything take place. You will experience moments where your mind will think you are in danger and not just in a comfortable theater seat watching a movie. I walked out of the theater in a daze, like I had just lived through a treacherous adventure and was blessed enough to come out alive.
2) Mad Max: Fury Road (on Blu-ray and DVD). The best simple description I’ve heard of this 4th installment of the Mad Max franchise is “a two hour car chase” and that it is. But it is so much more complex than your imagination could take you with that synopsis. While a prominent character, Tom Hardy’s Max takes a back seat as he tries to aid Charlize Theron’s Furiosa who is attempting to steal a tyrant’s harem from him and must face his full wrath as he tries to chase them down. It is a wild, crazy ride that takes you into writer/director George Miller’s twisted imagination. If you haven’t seen this one yet, make sure to turn out the lights, put away your phones, and turn the volume up to 10.
3) The Martian (on Blu-ray and DVD January 12). Based on Andy Weir’s addictive novel, The Martian places Matt Damon as an astronaut who is stuck on Mars when his crew believes he died during an evacuation. It is a smart thrill-ride with attitude and a great sense of humor, all put together under the masterful hand of director Ridley Scott (Gladiator). The most amazing accomplishment from this film is how close it was able to stay to the novel while not leaving anything major out.
4) The Big Short (in theaters now). Michael Lewis’s book about the housing bubble collapse is cleverly told here by Anchorman director Adam McKay and a huge talented cast including Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt. In a sarcastically humorous fashion the story is presented in a manner that allows you to easily understand how everything happened, while at the same time better understand why we should be incredibly angry about it all. The performances are off the charts great and the screenplay is easily the best of the year.
5) Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (in theaters now, duh). While heavily anticipated, this newest introduction to the Star Wars universe had a lot of folks worried until opening day. After all, the prequels were also almost equally anticipated and now they are almost unfairly looked upon with disgust. Well fortunately JJ Abrams pulled off a whopper of a feat by giving fans the movie they wanted with only minor quibbles. It is now bound to be the biggest film of all time and there is a new hope that our precious franchise is, at least for the time being, saved.
6) Joy (in theaters now). It seems odd that the story of Joy Mangano, queen of home shopping, would make for such a fascinating movie, but under the hands of David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) and with star Jennifer Lawrence in the titular role, the movie comes off as an inspirational, thrilling movie, with style coming out of its pores. If even half as much drama took place in real life, then this is the kind of tale a hero is born from. My heart, mind and soul were fully engaged and I had a smile on my face from start to finish.
7) The Hunting Ground (on Blu-ray and DVD now). This incredibly important documentary by Kirby Dick (The Invisible War) looks at the astronomical amount of sexual assault that occurs on college campuses and the coverups employed by the universities where they occur. This is a film that every parent sending their son/daughter to college should watch and take to heart. It’s an issue that most of us weren’t even aware of before this movie and one for which all of us should be fighting for accountability and change.
8) Dope (on Blu-ray and DVD now). This comedy focusses on a young black nerd living in a tough Los Angeles neighborhood who is attempting to get into Harvard while at the same time dealing with a drug situation he has been forced into while being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I love it when a film like this has the power to sneak up on you and not only engage and entertain, but change your perspective as well. It not only provides some of the biggest laughs of the year, but forces you to rethink some age-old stereotypes as well.
9) Kingsman: The Secret Service (on Blu-ray and DVD now). Newcomer Taron Egerton leads a fantastic cast including Colin Firth, Samuel L Jackson and Michael Caine in this extreme action film from director Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class) about a secret British spy agency that tries to foil a plot that would wreak havoc on the planet. It is an entertainingly super-violent action flick with a biting sense of humor, and one of the most fun times I had at the theater this year.
10) Ex Machina (on Blu-ray and DVD now). In this weirdly wonderful sci-fi story, eccentric billionaire techie Oscar Issac hires fellow Force Awakens star Domhall Gleeson to examine his new female robot (The Danish Girl’s Alicia Vikander) to test the extent of her artificial intelligence. It is an uncomfortable yet exciting and oddly sexy thriller.
Honorable Mention: Creed, Inside Out, Love and Mercy, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, Room, Slow West, Spy, Steve Jobs, Straight Outta Compton, Where to Invade Next
1) Mortdecai. Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor turn in arguably their worst performances with this simply awful movie about a shady art dealer trying to recover a stolen painting. It’s sad to see a movie that is both over-the-top and phoned-in.
2) Aloha. Director Cameron Crowe misses badly with this romantic comedy starring Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams and Bill Murray that is neither romantic nor funny.
3) Hot Pursuit. Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara star in this road trip disaster that should have seen both actresses firing their agents.
4) The Pixels. This Adam Sandler film with a budget so badly wants to be Ghostbusters, but while the cast is decent, the writing makes as little sense as its plot about aliens attacking Earth with 80s Atari games.
5) The Seventh Son. Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore star in this nonsensical fantasy film which proves that sometimes Hollywood likes to throw away a lot of money. Wish they could throw some my way. I’d settle for a small fraction.