Okay, finally getting around to this. (EDIT: UPDATED 02/01/2016)
Remember, I love the movies, I only like films. What's the difference? Movies are fun, flamboyant, and often have little to do with reality. They have explosions, bare breasts for no reason other than prurience, profanity galore and a lot of cool shit. Films delve deep into social issues and are framed in a mirror of our day to day lives. In other words, all the grim despair that you can find on the local news - you can often find in films. Not my favorite thing usually.
As usual, first here's a list of movies that I enjoyed and would recommend, but they didn't make my top ten. In no particular order they are...
Mission Impossible 5
Not as good as parts 3 or 4, but still a hell of a lot of fun.
I've never been a huge fan of this series, but I do always enjoy the gags (stunts) and the frenetic energy. I've especially liked the recent movies, which are more caper flicks than anything. Especially moving in this one is the tribute to Paul Walker at the end - gets me all choked up every time I see it.
This one is a blast and a hell of a lot of fun. A warm and fuzzy tribute to the original that gets better each time I see it. Yes, we did get it on Blu-Ray. I have to be honest though, I'm a bit mystified that it made SO much money. I mean it's made like, crazy Titanic/Star Wars type money. I think it's because I'm old and this wasn't really made for me. Still, I can appreciate Chris Pratt a lot, he truly elevates the material. The last act is also a superb action/stunt/cg showcase that is very satisfying.
This one got panned by the critics and dismissed by a lot of people who said it was too preachy and sanctimonious. I avoided it for a long time because I despise being lectured by people like Clooney, who deserves every bit of the South Park episode that blasts him for being a smug douche about social issues. So I was very surprised when my kid and I finally saw this on a Disney cruise, at how good it was. So good, that we saw it twice! A good action adventure story that reminded me very much of the old great Disney live action adventures like Witch Mountain and Candleshoe. Looking forward to putting this one on my shelf.
Shumer is hilarious and oh so wrong and so is this movie, which of course also has heart as do all the raunch-coms these days. Hader is great as well.
An unexpected gem, brought to you by the Harry Potter production team. This one will be around for a long time. It's similar in tone and message to the Nanny McPhee movies, which my family and I have enjoyed for years.
Okay, and the two best docs I saw in 2015.
Fascinating indictment of L. Ron Hubbard and his cult. Had no idea all the dark stuff that went on and is likely still going on with this bunch of crazies.
Best of Enemies
A great examination of politics through the two O.G.'s of modern discourse on television. I don't care too much for the docs lazy conclusion that Buckly and Vidal begat Fox News, as if Fox News is some crazy and evil entity - but there's enough meat on the bones here in the rest of the piece that it's easy to forgive this typical conclusion.
Okay, and here's the top ten. Really enjoyed all of these immensely.
11. Avengers 2
Originally this was in the top ten, it got bumped when I saw The Martian. Age of Ultron falls well short of the impossibly high bench mark set by the first Avengers movie. But it's still a great time. The heart of the film is the 'dream' sequences / flashbacks that our leads go through. I always wanted to visit Black Widow's past - and this is just a perfect way to do it. They show us just enough that we can fill in the rest ourselves. I also love the Vision, and he has several movie stealing moments that make the convoluted plot and exposition for future movies well worth it.
10. The Walk
Had very little interest in seeing this after watching the superb doc Man on Wire. Movies based on true stories are almost always inferior to the real people and places shown in documentaries. Two thirds of the way through this film I still believed this. Then we went out on the wire in 3D and in Imax and I suddenly understood why Zemekis wanted to make this movie. He does what no documentary could ever do - he puts us out on the wire with Philipe. Absolutely breath taking, and an experience that can only be found in a movie theater. No point in getting this on Blu Ray, it's a good movie, but only a great one on the big screen.
This one is the closest thing I have to a "film" on the list. Emily Blunt is a revelation in this grim, gritty and bleak exploration of the drug trade and the soldiers that fight it. Benicio Del Toro is also phenomenal, as an avenger of death who does anything and everything he needs to do to get justice. This movie is both enthralling and repulsive - violent to the extreme in parts and heart wrenching as well. Are the good guys good here? I think for the most part they are. I was certainly rooting for Benicio through most of it. The final scene though, is the heart of the film and truly leaves us wondering if there are any true heroes left. Ambiguous and terrifying, for sure not upbeat or fantastical. Why did I love this so much? What's wrong with me?
8. Hateful Eight
On the opposite end of believability and seriousness - we have Quentin Tarantino's eighth film. This time a parlor mystery, shot in 70 millimeter and taking place mostly in one room. I just love love love the over the top characters and dialogue. It's insane, it's extreme, it's hyper-violent and yet not at all realistic beyond being a fantastic character study and extravagent whodunit mystery. I love love love Jennifer Jason Leigh - her character is truly a horrible person, and yet somehow we feel a bit of sympathy for her plight. Sam Jackson kicks all kinds of ass here, chewing up the scenery as he goes. Kurt Russell is as always, every bit a movie star - but as he's older, he's morphed into a great character actor too. I can't wait to see this again at home, it's just so wonderfully gory, silly and sick at the same time. I also believe, as I do with all of Quintin's work, that it is very righteous and every bit a morality play. Too bad he's such a dip-shit in real life.
7. Ant Man
Best Marvel movie of the two this year and probably top 5 over all. A great caper / heist movie. Funny, smaller, yet somehow still epic. Michael Douglas is a marvel, so to speak. Especially impressive is a young Michael Douglas in the prologue. How did they do that? Rudd's Scott Lang is great and very faithful to the comic. I can't wait to see Hope Van Dyne as the Wasp in the next one. And of course, the highlight of the whole thing is Pena's frenetic story telling via' comical lip synching of various larger than life characters, including Stan Lee of course.
6. Inside Out
Absolutely blown away by this one. The most heart wrenching and powerful Pixar flick since Up. What could have been a contrived and clunky premise, is instead a revelatory examination of the human psyche and ultimately a reassuring journey for the young and the young at heart. The story is about an 11 year old girl, and I of course, have an 11 year old girl. Needless to say I blubbered a bit more than once watching this one.
5. Ex Machina
Best original sci-fi story I've seen in a long time. I just adore all 3 main performances here. Oscar Isaac is just fantastic. Bill Weasely is almost entirely unrecognizable, and the girl robot is out of this world in her deeply compelling but disturbing portrayal of an artificial mind. The story goes exactly where I expected it to go - but I was still enthralled by it. Great great stuff, the best kind of popcorn flick for grown-ups.
4. The Revenant
I really liked Birdman but I absolutely love Alejandro's follow up. One of the most visually stunning movies I've ever seen - shot in what looks to be almost entirely on location in the frozen reaches of Canada. This movie is harsh, it's brutal and it pulls at the heart strings as well. I was more than half way through the movie before I realized that Mad Max was the bad guy. That Hardy fellow is quite the chameleon. And now finally, after Wolf of Wallstreet and now this movie, I finally get what all the fuss is about Leo. He absolutely just owns his character and this story. I have to see this again soon. (Warning: there is a rape in this movie, which is about my least favorite thing ever. I always let people know about this element, as I myself tend to walk out if things get too out of hand. Good news is though, the rape is brief (like 10 seconds) and not graphic - and best of all the female isn't scared, she's pissed and then gets her revenge quickly and in a very brutal fashion.)
3. The Martian
Finally saw this with the wife the other night and have to say I was pleasantly bowled over - not just because of the great FX and suspenseful story line, reminiscent of the best parts of Castaway, but I love this movie so much for it's effervescent optimism. There are no 'bad guys' in this film - there are disagreements, but in the end, everyone pulls together and gets Watney home. Very fun, very upbeat, and most of all hopeful. This movie is true nourishment for the soul, a big heaping portion of uplift and rightfully this movie leaps nearly to the top of my best list.
2. Star Wars VII
Where to begin. I think I will write a separate review for this one soon - but suffice it to say, this one is an absolute home run. I've seen it 4 times now I believe, and will be watching it for the rest of my life. If you love Star Wars, you love this movie. Period.
1. Mad Max Fury Road
If you had told me how good the new Star Wars movie was going to be at the beginning of 2015, I would've never have imagined that a different film could end up at the top of my list. George Miller, that 70 year old mad man from Australia, has done it again and captured lightening in a bottle to present an apocalyptic death race that is every bit as good, and maybe even better, than the seminal film of it's genre, The Road Warrior. Again, I feel compelled to write a separate review for this one, there's just so much to love. It's big and loud and over the top, and mostly dialogue free - but it says so much. If you loved Road Warrior, you love this movie. Period.
So, there it is. I also really want to see these - and most likely will at home on Netflix.
The Martian (can't wait for this one) - EDIT: SAW IT!
Bridge of Spies EDIT: SAW IT! Very, very, VERY good.
Spy EDIT: SAW IT! Pretty darn funny, good not great.
MockingJay 2 EDIT: SAW IT! Excellent conclusion after the mildly disappointing part 1.
Terminator Genisys EDIT: SAW IT! Shockingly good, easily the best since T2!
Black Mass EDIT: SAW IT! Very by the numbers, but I was never bored.
Steve Jobs (not the Ashton Kutcher version obviously) EDIT: SAW IT! Very good.
Ted 2 EDIT: SAW IT! Hella funny, though not as side splitting as the original.
Finally, we have to end with the disappointments.
Beautifully shot and directed and completely forgettable and unnecessary. I don't understand this compulsion to make a live action remake of an animated classic note for note and beat for beat - except without the music. I mean, I guess I do understand the compulsion - money. Not that there's anything wrong with that per se, but I fear these live action do-overs will tarnish the Disney legacy much the way the straight to DVD sequels did back in the 1990's. Anyone remember Cinderella III? I do, unfortunately.
Pitch Perfect 2
Great singing and choreography, weak story and improvised scenes that go nowhere. Anna Kendrick phones it in and Rebel Wilson is thoroughly not funny. Also, what is my girl Hailee Steinfeld doing here and why is she so terrible?
Cobain: Montage of Heck
An interesting but ultimately unfulfilling look at a very talented dude who was ultimately a selfish asshole. The home movies of Kurt and Courtney do not make them sympathetic whatsoever. I'm glad their kid has grown up and distanced herself from her mom. What a trainwreck.
So that's it - over all another great year for movies. Any I've missed here, be sure to let me know!