By Ezra Stead
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
By Mike Shaeffer
I was totin’ my pack along the icy frontier of Hoth, when along came a wild-eyed pistol waver a-ridin’ on his tauntaun. He said, “If you’ve heard of the Millennium Falcon, with me you can ride,” then he sliced open the tauntaun, and then I settled down inside.
He said he made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. I told him that a parsec is not a unit of speed but a unit of distance equal to approximately three and a quarter light years, and then I looked right into his frostbit face and said, “Han, ol’ buddy… I’ve been everywhere, man.
“I’ve been everywhere, man. I’ve crossed the deserts bare, man. I’ve breathed the mountain air, man. Of travel I’ve had my share, man. I’ve been everywhere. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Every year, I struggle with the relatively arbitrary process of ranking movies, so this year I’ve decided to do something a little different. Instead of a traditional Top Ten list, I’m grouping two thematically connected films together for each place on the list, resulting in a hopefully more interesting Top 20 list. I’ve also included a more traditional Top Ten below that, for all you “too long, didn’t read” folks. One final note before we get to the list: it should tell you a lot about my credibility as a film critic that I liked Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa more than most of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees for 2013.
10. THE WICKER MAN: FINAL CUT / JURASSIC PARK 3-D – BEST RE-RELEASES. Obviously, this category doesn’t really count, as both of these films were originally released decades ago, but I can’t deny that each of them provided one of the most enjoyable experiences I had in a movie theater in 2013. This new cut of the original 1973 classic The Wicker Man adds some nuance and more musical numbers to an already great film. Most crucially, it opens with a scene of Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) praying in church, emphasizing his piousness from the very start, which enriches the events to follow. Jurassic Park, on the other hand, is quite simply my favorite movie (it has the most dinosaurs in it – I rest my case), and seeing it on a big screen again, in 3-D no less, made me fall in love with it all over again. Read More
By Scott Martin
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, USA / United Arab Emirates, 2011
Directed by Brad Bird
It’s worth noting that Tom Cruise performed all of his stunts in this film, as well as the other three Mission: Impossible films. Sure, there are bits of CGI, though seamless, and I’m sure a large team of medics and nets and other things were around to make sure he was alive at the end of the day, but that’s really the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, it really is the tallest building in the world, and that really is Tom Cruise dangling off its side, thousands of feet in the air. And that’s not even the most impressive set piece in the film.
You don’t necessarily have to see the first three M:I films to get this one and enjoy it, but it can’t hurt. Here’s a brief recap just in case you missed them:
Mission: Impossible – they make the hero from the TV show the bad guy in the film.
Mission: Impossible 2 – they do some stuff with motorcycles and Thandie Newton.
Mission: Impossible 3 – There’s an actual story involving Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his now late wife, involving her death, and a couple other intricate missions. Probably the only important story of the three, even if it’s not the best film at that point. Up until now, the first adventure remained the most startlingly well-made of the series, but, with the inclusion of Ghost Protocol into the canon, those three seem a mite irrelevant in the world of filmmaking. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Citizen Kane, USA, 1941
Directed by Orson Welles
Scarface, USA, 1932
Directed by Howard Hawks
Beauty and the Beast, France, 1946
Written and Directed by Jean Cocteau
Never before or since has any director made such an impressive feature film debut as Orson Welles did, at the astonishing age of 25, with Citizen Kane (1941). Despite having no prior experience in filmmaking, Welles was given carte blanche on the film, and he delivered the most original, innovative and provocative film of its time. Even today it is considered one of the greatest films ever made, and it is a standard by which all other films are judged. According to the great critic Andrew Sarris, as quoted in his 1967 book Interviews with Film Directors, “Citizen Kane is still the work which influenced the cinema more profoundly than any American film since Birth of a Nation.” Read More
By Ezra Stead
Since M. Night Shyamalan’s much-ballyhooed 1999 feature The Sixth Sense, twist endings have gotten something of a bad rap, and usually with good reason. After all, in many cases they are a cheap way to add excitement to the climax of an otherwise dull story; sometimes they are a cop-out, negating all emotional involvement that may have been invested in a film up until that point; others seem to be the sole reason for a story’s existence, without which the whole thing crumbles. On the other hand, when they work, twist endings can make a good film great, and they occasionally even reward repeat viewings by revealing previously unseen layers that can only be recognized once the conclusion of the story is known.
As rightly reviled as are many recent examples of the technique, especially many of Shyamalan’s subsequent efforts, there are also many laudable examples to be found among some of history’s greatest cinematic achievements, old and new. Widely respected filmmakers from Alfred Hitchcock to David Fincher and Christopher Nolan have successfully employed the well-placed twist to wonderful effect, and even Orson Welles’s immortal classic Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the greatest American film ever made, concludes with what can only be deemed an elegant, emotionally rich twist ending. Read More
By Scott Martin
Coraline, USA, 2009
Written and Directed by Henry Selick
Based on the Book Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Henry Selick, notable director of The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), is hit or miss. With James and the Giant Peach (1996) and the aforementioned Nightmare under his belt, I’m not quite sure where he went wrong. Those two organically energetic and bright films were followed by Monkeybone (2001), and the soulless concoction of Coraline. His heart might have been in the right place, and I’m sure his intention outweighs the validity of the project, but it’s been years since I’ve seen a film so bereft of heart. This is not to imply that heart means something jolly or even fun, but rather a passion for craft, mainly. The film as a whole winds up being depressing, mainly because of this lack, and ugly for a slew of other reasons, and while moments of the film remain frightening, as does the entire idea behind it, there’s something intangible that’s hard to abide. Read More