This is always a difficult thing to do, and this year, just like every other year, I left out plenty of movies I really like, even from the Honorable Mentions. This is a particularly interesting year in that I actually really like all the Oscar nominees that I’ve seen, which is relatively rare for me. Anyway, of the 107 new movies from 2015 I managed to see in time for this list, these are my (completely subjective) favorites.
1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD – it’s always a treat to have really high expectations for a movie and then to see them exceeded. George Miller’s return to the wasteland of his career-defining trilogy is a perfect example of this phenomenon. The first time I saw it, though, Fury Road appeared to only meet my expectations, a rare enough feat in its own right. It was the second viewing that made me realize that this was not only my favorite movie of the year, but also my favorite Mad Max movie, and quite possibly my favorite movie of the last two decades. Then I saw it three more times in the space of about two weeks, and I noticed something new about it every single time. The rich, detailed world-building not only rewards but demands multiple viewings, and it’s a testament to Miller’s craft that the movie doesn’t rely on a lot of expository dialogue and other hand-holding devices to make sure the audience can keep up. Max Rockatansky’s world of “fire and blood” has its own language that is every bit as evocative and original as its eye-popping visuals: War Boys, Blood Bags, Bullet Farms, etc. This is a movie in the glorious pulp tradition of Robert E. Howard and Heavy Metal magazine, but it never feels derivative, even of its own source material (The Road Warrior being the original Mad Max movie it most closely resembles). What seems to be overlooked in all the talk about its incredible visual effects and stuntwork (which makes a better case than any movie I can think of for an Oscar category devoted to the people who risk their lives to make movies awesome) is the quality of the writing and performances. Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult are especially great, but there is also a surprising tenderness and depth to Tom Hardy’s performance as Max, a man of few words and great stoicism, and Melissa Jaffer managed to break my heart with just a few minutes of screen time as the Keeper of the Seeds. Critics and skeptics say this movie is just one long chase scene, which is reductive, but even if that were strictly true, complaining about that misses the point of how amazing it is that a movie this compelling could be made from a single long chase. Others might say it doesn’t belong in the Best Picture Oscar race because it’s not serious and important enough, but its themes of feminism and environmentalism are extremely relevant; they’re just not belabored to the point of didacticism. Fury Road’s vision of the destruction of the Old World, in which water was plentiful and “everyone had a show,” seems all too plausible, despite its over-the-top visual antics, and there’s a funny/scary comparison to be made between the film’s main villain, Immortan Joe, and a certain current Presidential candidate. I have no doubt this movie will ride eternal in Valhalla, shiny and chrome. It is perfect in every way. Read More
Much has been said about Ridley Scott’s career of late. Even though he’s given us such great additions to the Sci Fi lexicon as Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), much remains to be concluded concerning his legacy or if he can return to his former glory. Unfortunately, Prometheus does not help the conversation in his favor. Prometheus is visually stunning and the FX are what you would expect from a big-budget film, it’s ambitious and epic within its context, performances by Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender are memorable, but the film slowly falls apart in its far-reaching themes and illogical plot.
Meet Mavis Gary. Peculiar name, sure, but consider the woman: she’s an alcoholic, forever single, 40-year-old former beauty queen for Minnesota (Mercury, to be exact). Fitting that someone so alienating comes from a place named after a planet. It’s worth noting that Young Adult doesn’t follow any sort of conventional formula (even if that’s becoming a bit conventional these days). Diablo Cody, who won a well-deserved Oscar for writing Juno, and Jason Reitman, who received a well-deserved nomination for directing it, team up again to bring us this divisive film. That’s probably the best way of putting it. It seems to be something you either fall in love with or hate from the moment it starts. I’m happy to say that I fell in love with it, and its characters. Even Mavis. Read More
About a month ago, I made the dramatic decision to limit my film and television consumption to only women writers and directors. This isn’t out of distaste for male directors and writers. I love movies of all kinds, for countless reasons. I would never allow my opinion of a film or TV series to be influenced by the gender of the creative force behind it. That said, women writers and directors are few and far between. Their struggle for recognition in the industry and the funds to make their films is well-known (although, not well-known enough). Still, even the most ingenious amongst them tends to fade into the background before they’ve weathered a full career.
As an aspiring writer-director myself, I’ve always kept my ear closely trained on the life events that lead people in this field to success, or even just a career that pays the bills. I look for myself in their stories. I imagine how my flat feet could follow their huge strides. Or, at least, I try. It’s next to impossible to picture myself following in the footsteps of any Kubrick, or Coppola, or Scorsese. My inability to grow facial hair puts a stop to that. So I watch for the women, and this project is an attempt to do that more acutely. Read More
Will Smith is on fire: a big blockbuster nearly every year for as long as I can remember, and it doesn’t seem like he’s going to stop anytime soon. Now for any of you who follow his work, you’ll know that Smith has played the last-action-hero or beaten-down-nice-guy-against-the-rest-of-the-world role before: I, Robot (2004), I Am Legend (2007), The Pursuit of Happyness (2006). Personally, I have loved him in every one of these roles because there was always something unique about his character that compelled me to watch him succeed through all the struggles put before him.
Earlier this year when I finally had a chance to see Hancock, I have to say I felt more than a little giddy to see what Smith would bring to the role. To me, there’s something about Smith’s whole aura that just makes me want to watch him do what he does. He has a full range of emotions at his disposal, not to mention his consistency in picking interesting characters that have unbelievably difficult obstacles put before them.
On the surface of I, Robot, Smith is a detective bent on solving the murder of a leading scientist who was also his friend. Underneath the surface of this detective exterior is a character that hates robots. This is a problem for him in the overly robot-reliant society in which he lives, and it makes his struggle all the more difficult and, as such, compelling to watch. In I Am Legend, Smith is again the lone man (in this case, literally) trying to find the cure to a disease that has killed and/or mutated the remaining human population into vicious, zombie-like carnivores. Throughout the film, we see the protagonist’s clockwork routine that he has undoubtedly developed through near-death experiences fighting the once human, now zombie-like creatures that only come out at night. This routine is what has kept him alive, and the meticulousness of it is real and tangible, thus making him an interesting protagonist to watch succeed. In ThePursuit of Happyness (which was based on a true story), Smith plays a salesman trying to sell these ridiculously difficult to sell x-ray machines, all while his family is falling apart at the seams. Despite this, his strange knack for memorizing numbers and his insanely driven work ethic are character attributes that make him incredibly interesting to watch as he struggles to get what he wants. No surprise that this, too, was a film I loved. Now let me get to Hancock.