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
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
In case you missed it, there was a fun little game trending on Twitter over the weekend, with the hashtag “Explain A Film Plot Badly.” It’s kind of similar to this old thing I wrote. Here are the ones I came up with, in order of when they were tweeted (answers can be found in the tags for this article, but I think you’ll get ’em all):
Kevin Spacey has a nice time drinking coffee and telling stories to a grumpy policeman.
Jason and Ezra discuss the basic elements of good and bad film. From dramas to comedies, action to science fiction, good and bad movies come in many forms and take on many critics. Here are just a few examples as we ponder the idea of what makes a good film good and a bad film bad.
We’re used to movie franchises being victim to diminishing returns, with the sequels to classic films generally lackluster at best (Ghostbusters II, Halloween II), and at worst, utter travesties that threaten to tarnish the legacy of the original (the Matrix sequels, The Godfather: Part III). On rare occasions, though, the second film in a trilogy or franchise (which I consider to be any series with more than three movies) actually surpasses the original in some way. Here are ten sequels that are, in some circles at least, considered better than the films that spawned them, and my thoughts on each.
1. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) – this is the one that got me thinking about the topic in the first place, and it’s also the oldest of the films discussed herein. James Whale’s follow-up to his 1931 hit, Frankenstein, ties up the loose end of Victor Frankenstein (Colin Clive) promising his monster (Boris Karloff) a bride to quell his loneliness. It also features most of the iconic images and dialogue associated with Universal Studios’ most famous monster, including Frank learning to smoke in the hut of the blind man he befriends (which was cemented in the public consciousness by Mel Brooks’ spoof of it in 1974’s Young Frankenstein). Bride’s expert blend of humor and pathos, as well as truly chilling moments such as Frank’s hollow, soulless intonation of the classic line, “I love dead,” make it not only better than the original Frankenstein, but also the best of all Universal monster movies. Read More
Let’s stray from the beaten path for awhile, shall we? Instead of a review in the usual format, today I’d like to offer up thoughts on over 25 films, mostly some of my favorites, but with a few that I love to hate thrown in for good measure. Only a few of these actually work as reviews; most are free-form poetic interpretations of the feelings they brought up in me. Some are just plain silly. At any rate, all are written in the form of the ancient Japanese art of haiku. For those who don’t know, that means five syllables in the first line, seven in the next, and another five in the last, preferably with some sort of twist in the last line or, failing that, at least a sense of poetry throughout. Almost all of these were written sometime in 2005, which explains why there are three inspired by Frank Miller’s Sin City, my favorite film that year. Let’s begin with a couple of actual Japanese films:
The net is vast and / infinite. Now that we two / have merged, where to go?
– Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Tetsuo – not the / Iron Man, but a bike punk / transcends earthly life.
– Akira (1988) Read More
Based on the Novel Monkey Shines by Michael Stewart
Much like famous rappers, great horror directors often do their best (or at least most well-received) work right out of the gate, only to spend decades laboring over increasingly diminished returns. Often this critical and/or commercial appraisal is unfair, but it is arguably true that, for example, Nas never again put out an album as good as his debut, Illmatic, or that John Carpenter has never equaled or exceeded his early work of the 1970s and ’80s, though his late-period Masters of Horror film, Cigarette Burns (2005), showed the kind of genius not seen in his films for about a decade up to that point. Tobe Hooper is another filmmaker who never quite lived up to the promise of his brilliant breakthrough feature, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), despite doing some pretty quality follow-up work such as Salem’s Lot (1979) and Poltergeist (1982), though of course producer Steven Spielberg is commonly recognized as the real creative force behind the latter.
George A. Romero is generally considered to be one of these unlucky filmmakers as well, and while it is true that he never topped his chilling debut feature, Night of the Living Dead (1968), there is a worthwhile body of work to examine in later decades, and his 1988 film Monkey Shines is among his best work, along with films like Martin (1976), Creepshow (1982) and, of course, the original Dead trilogy (I haven’t seen his latest, 2009’s Survival of the Dead, but based on the previous two – 2005’s Land of the Dead and 2007’s Diary of the Dead – I feel relatively comfortable relegating the new Dead trilogy to the same scorn-pile as the new Star Wars trilogy). Read More