N&R film critic gives us his take on 2015’s movies, plus Oscar predictions
The movie year was actually quite terrible until December … and then it exploded.
This is something I’ve said many times before. The movie year has become quite predictable. You get a punch up May through July and a crap load of great movies in late November and December. Many of the other months can be barren.
Rather than taking the artistically enriched fertilizer that is great movies and then spreading it out on the field we call the film year generously and evenly over 12 months, Hollywood just takes a big dump on us in December.
On top of unleashing a new Star Wars this last month that totally rocked balls, a bunch of excellent films got in before the old Dec. 31 cutoff and made the year look substantial in retrospect.The best of the year
1. The Revenant: Leonardo DiCaprio should be getting his first Oscar this year. His mostly dialogue-free performance here is the year’s best in many ways. It’s a case of an actor putting his everything into a movie, and the payoff is spectacular. By my count, he should have a few Oscars already.
This is the second year in a row I’m giving top honors to a film by director Alejandro González Inárritu, who made last year’s Birdman. His film about a frontier man (DiCaprio) getting his ass kicked by a bear and seeking revenge on a villainous trapper (Tom Hardy as the year’s nastiest bad guy) is a note-for-note perfect film. See it on the big screen and marvel at what a real filmmaker can do.
Also marvel at the sight of vegetarian DiCaprio eating a raw bison liver on screen. It’s gross.
2. Anomolisa: This is the year’s most visually innovative film and, because it was written and co-directed by Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York; Being John Malkovich); easily its most bizarre. It’s a stop-motion animation movie that will blow your mind. It’s nothing like anything you have ever seen, and you probably will never see anything like it again.
3. Steve Jobs: Michael Fassbender had a great year with Slow West, Macbeth and this one from director Danny Boyle (127 Hours). It’s an unflattering look at the guy who, with his iTunes and phone doodads, killed that thing called patience for a large percentage of humanity. I love Apple Music, and I’m married to my iPhone 6 Plus, but my ability to shop and let conversations brew over time has been decimated. Thanks, Steve Jobs!
Anyway, it’s a very well-done film.
4. The Hateful Eight: After the slight step backward that was Django Unchained (good, but not great), Quentin Tarantino gets back on track with this crazy, beautiful-looking Western that is an acting showcase for everybody involved. A lot has been said about the 70mm cut for its visuals, but not enough has been said about Samuel L. Jackson doing career-best work as a Civil War soldier turned bounty hunter who crosses paths with a surly, hairy Kurt Russell.
It’s time to give Jennifer Jason Leigh an Oscar. She’s so good it hurts in this movie.
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens: J.J. Abrams has achieved geek bliss. Daisy Ridley gets my vote for an Oscar nomination as Rey. Star Wars is back in a big way.
I’ve seen it twice. I loved it the first time. I went crazy for it the second time. That’s the mark of a great Star Wars movie. Yes, it follows many of the same beats from the original. I don’t have a problem with that.
Are we still in spoiler-free zone when it comes to Star Wars? No, we aren’t? OK, then let me tell you about what happens to …
6. Inside Out: Pixar gave us two films in 2015, and this would be the better of the two. This would be the much better of the two. It has inventive characters, an engaging plot and a terrific voice cast, including Amy Poehler and Bill Hader. The other one has dinosaurs harvesting corn. Did you hear me? Dinosaurs harvesting corn!
7. The End of the Tour: Some of the year’s best dialogue occurs between Jesse Eisenberg’s reporter and Jason Segel’s David Foster Wallace in this road trip movie about the book tour for Infinite Jest. Segel makes another nice foray into the dramatic, while Eisenberg gets in another good performance before putting himself under the microscope as Lex Luthor for this year’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. That’s going to make or break his career.
8. Spotlight: Michael Keaton continues his return from the dead as a newspaper editor investigating some bad priests in Boston. You’ll find one of 2015’s best ensemble casts in this one (Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber).
9. Beasts of No Nation: Abraham Attah and Idris Elba are astoundingly good as an African boy and his terrible commander/father figure fighting a bloody civil war. Produced by Netflix.
10. Brooklyn: A young Irish woman (Saoirse Ronan) has to choose between Ireland and Brooklyn, N.Y., in the ’50s. The only problem I have with this movie is that there are too many damned Yankee fans in it.
11. Ex Machina: With this robot movie and a little thing called Star Wars, Oscar Isaac got his charismatic ass into the year’s two best science-fiction offerings.
12. Love & Mercy: Whether or not you like the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, it’s fascinating to watch Paul Dano’s depiction of a young Wilson filling his living room with beach sand and trying to make animals sing. John Cusack does his best acting in years as an older, more scattered Wilson, while Elizabeth Banks impresses as the love interest that got Wilson away from his crazy doctor (Paul Giamatti).
13. Creed: Another great ’70s franchise got its seventh chapter this year. This one finds a creative way to fire up the Rocky machine again by making Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) the mentor character, not unlike Burgess Meredith in the original series. Michael B. Jordan is impressive as the son of Apollo. He also took real punches in the face and allowed himself to be knocked out in the name of great cinema.
14. The Martian: Matt Damon won a Golden Globe for best actor in a musical or comedy in this Ridley Scott sci-fi adventure. That is a bit of a stretch, but he does have plenty of funny moments as a dude stranded on Mars eating potatoes cultivated by his own poop. Actually, maybe this is a comedy.
15. Straight Outta Compton: While Jason Mitchell is quite good as N.W.A. rapper Eazy-E in this biopic, O’Shea Jackson Jr. (son of Ice Cube) is perhaps the film’s real star. There were times I was convinced I was watching his dad.
16. Room: Jacob Tremblay will break your heart as Jack, a 5-year-old captive who knows nothing beyond the small room in which he’s been imprisoned his whole life. Brie Larson is equally good as Ma, who was kidnapped when she was 17 and is trying to give her son a life with meaning.
17. Sicario: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are all exceptional in this scary tale of Americans intervening in Juarez, Mexico. While it isn’t a horror film, some of its scenes are certainly among the year’s most frightening.
18. The Big Short: Another outstanding ensemble (Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale) in the service of some good directing from Adam McKay, taking a break from his usual broad comedies to examine the housing bubble that nearly collapsed the world economy.
19. It Follows: There were many good horror films this year, and I’m going to give this nice ode to John Carpenter the edge over the likes of Bone Tomahawk, We Are Still Here and Goodnight Mommy. Expressionless people unrelentingly following you can be really scary.
20. Cop Car: Kevin Bacon stars as a creepy cop in pursuit of two stupid kids who take his patrol car for a joyride. Director Jon Watts has been handed the Spider-Man franchise, and I’m guessing some executives saw his work here and thought the guy might know what he’s doing. I’m telling you, he most certainly does.The worst of the year
1. A Walk in the Woods: Nick Nolte acts like a jackass with broken glass in his throat for nearly two hours, and Robert Redford does a lot of bug-eyed looks. This is a movie about hiking the Appalachian Trail that spends very little time on that trail and a lot of time in laundromats and diners. This might be the worst movie Redford has ever made, and he was in Indecent Proposal. Nolte needs to stop. Just stop.
2. In the Heart of the Sea/Blackhat: Chris Hemsworth sucked major ass in two lousy movies this year, and he wasn’t all that good in the colossal letdown Avengers: Age of Ultron either. I recommend this movie if you like huge bullshit-looking CGI whales and fake beards chased with spazz dialogue.
3. The Good Dinosaur: This mess has dinosaurs harvesting corn! The production problems that plagued the movie are glaringly evident in the mess that wound up on screen. The dinosaurs look like salamanders. It’s a blight on the cinematic rose that is Pixar.
4. The Green Inferno: Eli Roth released two movies this year. This one involved cannibals and body horror, two things very much in his wheelhouse. The other (Knock, Knock) involved Keanu Reeves getting harassed by two girls. The one with Reeves was much better. That’s a big surprise.
5. Fantastic Four: Why can’t anybody make a decent Fantastic Four movie? Come on! There’s a rock guy, and a stretchy guy and a guy constantly bursting into flames. These should be the ingredients for never-ending excitement. Yeah, an invisible woman is kind of boring, but there’s a guy constantly on fire in this franchise! How come they keep screwing it up?
6. Pixels/The Cobbler/The Ridiculous Six: Let’s just stick all of the Adam Sandler movies into one foul lump. It’s just safer that way. It’s worth noting that Tom McCarthy, frontrunner for a directing Oscar (Spotlight) also directed The Cobbler. It’s been an off-kilter year for Mr. McCarthy.
7. Fifty Shades of Grey: This movie is about as erotic and romantic as sticking your dick into a vat of hardened, moldy bacon grease and stroking your butthole with a recently deceased parakeet. I’m not saying I’ve ever tried such things, but I felt I should illustrate, and … well … actually … I should probably drop this subject right now.
8. Unfriended: An entire movie staring at a computer screen while a bunch of teen douchebags Skype each other. I’m not exaggerating … that’s what this was about. An exercise in pure, tedious boredom. Movies now apparently cost $73 to make. You future director kids better get cracking on those iPhone cameras!
9. The Gunman: This is basically a movie with the sole purpose of showing you that a shirtless Sean Penn still looks pretty good even though he smokes 50 packs a day. He has washboard abs, and his career is in the toilet.
10. Chappie: If you need to see a robot movie made in 2015, see Ex Machina. This one’s insipid nonsense. I also think its failure caused director Neill Blomkamp’s star to fade, thus delaying plans for his Alien 5 where Ripley, Corporal Hicks and Newt would’ve come back to life in some sort of alternate universe. So, in some ways, Chappie is the film I hate most in 2015.The year ahead
In 2016, you will be getting a lot of sequels and reboots! The already mentioned Batman v. Superman, an all-female Ghostbusters, the long-awaited and perhaps dreaded Independence Day sequel and the next Captain America are all on the way.
As for the more cerebral, the Coen Brothers will deliver Hail, Caesar! and Terrence Malick directs Knight of Cups. Jeff Nichols helms Midnight Special, and Seth Rogen gives us the animated Sausage Party. Actually, Rogen has described that last one as the dirtiest, most juvenile thing he’s ever made, so don’t expect it in the Oscar race.
Also, yep, another Star Wars movie in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I hope you kids like your Star Wars because you are getting heaping spoonfuls of it every year for the foreseeable future.