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 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 Scott Martin
Tangled, USA, 2010
Directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard
Tangled achieves something exemplary for Disney on two levels: it’s both a return to form and, hopefully, the birth of a new magical touch. They’ve lacked it for quite some time now. At the very least, this can be seen as an apology for last year’s abysmal The Princess and the Frog. No pointless updates to be found here, no ulterior motives, or subtle race cards being played. It’s Disney giving their unique breath to a classic fairy tale, and doing the best job they’ve done in years. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about this is their understanding of what they’re doing. Shades of acknowledgment are paid to Disney classics – Cinderella (1950), The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) – in fact, elements of all the “vaulted” Disney films can be found, in some shape or form. Perhaps that’s where the film gets its name from? Catching the references is almost as much fun as the film itself. All at once, Tangled is sharply funny, extremely touching, and visually breathtaking. We even have a couple of silent animals to make us laugh, and be moving in their own ways, along the journey. Read More
By Corey Birkhofer
Summer Wars, Japan, 2009
Directed by Mamoru Hosada
With the rampant popularity and ubiquitous prevalence of social networking phenomenon including FaceBook, Twitter, MySpace and so many other copycats, Summer Wars could not have hit the screens at a more timely point in the evolution of mankind’s obsession with recreating reality in a virtually controlled world. Other films, stories, animations, comics and forms of media distribution have all hinted at our dangerous courtship in relying too heavily upon technology to make our lives easier and more connected, but Summer Wars, which is being submitted for an Oscar nomination by Funimation, has its finger on the pulse of the inner fear we all share – the “Terminator”-phobia, if you will – that our heavily depended upon technology will turn on us.
“A spokesperson for Funimation Entertainment told TheWrap this week that it is currently filling out Academy paperwork for the Japanese anime release Summer Wars, directed by Mamoru Hosada, and will complete a qualifying run in Los Angeles before the end of the year. Barring any disqualifications for the kind of eligibility issues that can always arise with the Academy, or any unexpected decisions not to submit, Summer Wars will bring the field only two shy of the needed total.”
–TheWrap.com’s Steve Pond