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
Hercules, USA, 2014
Directed by Brett Ratner
Action fans would look upon Brett Ratner’s X-Men 3 more fondly if no other X-men movies existed before or after it. Sadly, The Last Stand stands as the least enjoyable of the mutant franchise, and I attribute this largely to Ratner’s approach to action sequences. When he attaches himself to a solid story and a talented cast, he can churn out immensely watchable guilty pleasures like After the Sunset (2004) or the pilot to Prison Break, which hooked me into a hermit-like Netflix binge, burning through all four seasons in six weeks. So what about Ratner’s take on Hercules? The iconic lion’s head? Check. Dwayne Johnson dons the headgear like Riddick putting on his goggles just before opening up a can of whoop-ass, and you’ve got the familiar trope of a son struggling with who his father really is—see Superman, Simon Birch, Inception, The Empire Strikes Back, or even TV’s Archer. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Love Crime, France, 2010
Directed by Alain Corneau
Passion, Germany / France, 2012
Directed by Brian De Palma
It was probably a mistake on my part to watch both of these films within the same week, seeing as how they are very similar in plot and incident throughout the first two acts of each film. However, when I heard that Brian De Palma’s latest film was actually a remake of a fairly recent French thriller I had been meaning to see anyway, and that the original film was readily available to stream on Netflix, I decided “Why not?” I say it was a mistake mainly because I think I would have enjoyed De Palma’s film, Passion, more if the many elements directly adapted from the earlier Alain Corneau film, Love Crime, had been entirely new to me. I also feel that those elements were better handled in the original film, a taut, suspenseful, supremely clever thriller upon which De Palma apparently felt he could improve by adding a lot of his classically lurid, dreamlike De Palma flourishes, as most recently seen in the far superior Femme Fatale (2002) and the definitely inferior The Black Dahlia (2006). Read More
By Ezra Stead
Dogtooth, 2009, Greece
Directed by Giorgos Lanthimos
This film is mind-blowingly great, the best I’ve seen in quite some time. The best way to see Dogtooth is the way in which I was lucky enough to: without knowing anything about its storyline. If you have not yet seen this film, I strongly encourage you to stop reading this review and watch it, right now, on Netflix or any other method you might be able to find.
Anyone still with me? I am now going to assume you have seen the film and that it has either blown your mind and made you extremely inspired and reinvigorated about the possibilities of the cinematic art form, as it did for me on both viewings (within two weeks), or it has outraged and disgusted you with its “mean-spiritedness,” as it did for some others with whom I have discussed it. Maybe it has done a little of both. In any event, you have seen the film and I will no longer have to warn you about upcoming spoilers.
Greek filmmaker Giorgos Lanthimos has created a film of startling power and striking originality. The closest comparison I can make, both in style and content, is the work of Austrian provocateur Michael Haneke – the brilliant filmmaker behind The Seventh Continent (1989), Cache (2005) and The White Ribbon (2009), to name just a few – but Dogtooth is more perversely humorous than even Haneke’s Funny Games (1997, remade by Haneke himself in 2007), which is admittedly the only one of his films to really utilize humor. As dark, disturbing and sometimes brutal as Dogtooth ultimately is, it is hard not to laugh at some of it, and this is clearly the desired effect. Read More
By Corey Birkhofer
Resident Evil: Afterlife, Germany / France / UK, 2010
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
With ticket prices in Japan being double that of the states, I have to choose the films I see very carefully. I am not at all ashamed to admit my love for zombie flicks, and the Resident Evil (or Biohazard, as it’s referred to in Japan) series is one that has proven to be especially successful. I would even venture to say that it is even more popular in Japan than it is back home. Despite my love of all things zombie, it’s never been so extreme that I couldn’t just wait until whichever film I wanted to see came out on DVD. So why, now that the Resident Evil series has reached its fourth chapter, did I decide to shell out $30 so my wife and I could see it in the theater? The answer is simple: because it’s in 3-D.
Though it’s easy for film snobs to laugh off 3-D as just another Hollywood gimmick to lure people away from their TiVos and Netflix accounts, I think 3-D deserves a bit more credit than just calling it a phase or “gimmick.” On the contrary, in this review of Resident Evil: Afterlife I will explore why I think 3-D is more than just a new weapon to lure people off their couches and back into the theater, but rather a possible new form of storytelling to bring cinema to a new stage in its development. Read More