Thursday, February 11, 2016

My 2015 Movie Year Recap

Another year gone, another year of reflection. Politics wise, it was the year of Donald Trump’s presidential hopefulness, Justin Trudeau overtaking Stephen Harper as leader of Canada and the influx of refugees from Syria. Celebrity wise, it was the year that Bill Cosby and Jared Fogle’s dark pasts came to the public’s eye. And movie wise, it was another year of booms, tears and laughter, such that I feel it best to reflect on it…in February. Well, better late than never, right?

I initially wanted to bring back the format I used two years ago, since it worked so well. But as I got about 2/3 of the way through, I realized something: it’s boring. Why not discuss my thoughts in detail? That's harder, but more rewarding. So that’s what I’ll do.

Also, minor spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Anyway, every year has that defining theme or feel to it. Since my previous piece, we’ve had a really strong year with a weak finish (2014) and this year. 2015 was decent, being neither disappointing nor fantastic, although little stood out as “this is why 2015 was amazing”.

It started with the potential to be one of the best years in film, with Paddington being the “I’m amazed you don’t suck” movie in the month of “why does stuff generally suck here?” January. January’s the film-equivalent of “shovelware” en masse early in the year. Generally speaking, January releases are either leftovers from Oscar season, or lame, uninspired trash that no one gives a damn about. So when I heard Paddington was getting a January release in North America, I prayed it’d be over quickly. It not only wasn’t bad, it ended up being a clever comedy with great visual gags and a message about the immigrant experience in modern-day Britain.

February also had a decent entry by the name of Kingsman: The Secret Service. I say “decent” because, being a Matthew Vaughn film, it’s tonally-inconsistent. I enjoyed it, but that doesn’t mean it’s immune from the “what exactly are you going for here?” plague of his other movies. It’s more self-assured than Kick-Ass, but the comparison to a “snot-nosed kid” that Rule 3rds mentioned is accurate. That being said, the Church scene…

Spring was when the year started slipping into conventionality, with Cinderella and It Follows, being good, but nothing spectacular. I have to commend Kenneth Branagh for making the former tolerable, especially compared to some of Disney’s other live-action fairytales lately, but…man, 2014 had The LEGO Movie and the dub premiere of The Wind Rises by this point! Where was one of those?

The Summer line-up that followed, while fine enough, didn’t fix that. Unlike the barren wasteland of 2013, there were plenty of titles, but few of them exceeded expectations. More-importantly, some were even let-downs, as was the case with The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Coming off the high of the first film, and even Marvel’s strong year in 2014, I had such high-expectations. It disappointed with a mess. Was it enjoyable? Would I call it bad? Yes to the first, no to the second. But given the behind-the-scenes troubles, I’m not at all surprised.

Of course, everyone’s favourite movie, Mad Max: Fury Road, didn’t wow me either, but that’s for another day.

On the plus side, there were some pleasant surprises. Ex Machina was the first genuinely-great movie of the year, while Spy was Archer if it wasn’t annoying. When Marnie Was There, a film I was initially quite disappointed by, has grown on me, and I’d definitely recommend without question. But it was Inside Out that really got me; after all, Pixar had been in a slump since Cars 2, and the trailers didn’t impress. That it rekindled my faith in Pixar is an achievement, but that it’s my favourite film of 2015 is a testament. It’s also in my top 5 from Pixar.

The rest of the Summer was meh. Ant-Man was fun, perhaps more than I thought, but it wasn’t fantastic. Jurassic World and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation were both mediocre, while Shaun the Sheep is my least-favourite of the four Aardman films I’ve seen. The only other movie of note was The Gift, which, for all intents and purposes, is this past year’s Gone Girl. Seriously, GO WATCH IT!

As Fall came and films starting upping their game, I was waiting for the cream of the crop of the year. What I got was another typical, run-of-the-mill slew of films. For the first time in ages, the year’s Oscar season was underwhelming, with some strong candidates, but nothing that instantly screams “Best Picture”.

The season started with Black Mass, the true story of gangster Whitey Bulger. It was good, but it felt like a typical biopic: safe, not all ambitious or daring, worth seeing mostly for the best performance Johnny Depp’s given in 10 years. Steve Jobs also didn’t wow me, which is weird considering Aaron Sorkin’s screenwriting clout, but I think it’s because the main character left me cold. Was that point? Because if you want cold-yet-sympathetic from Sorkin, I’d say go for The Social Network. (It’s also a far better movie.)

Conversely, The Martian, The Walk and Bridge of Spies were all fantastic, albeit for different reasons. The first was a fun sci-fi film that showed that Ridley Scott can still make good movies, something that Exodus: Gods and Kings wasn’t. The Walk was a fun, campy heist movie that got my adrenaline going, while Bridge of Spies was another solid film from Steven Spielberg (i.e., it’s better than 90% of the films released this year.) The former two also looked amazing in 3D.

Then…there’s Spectre. I’ve covered my thoughts on the film in full-detail, so…moving on.

The Peanuts Movie was another surprise, in that it was actually good, while The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 was a disappointing finale. I liked it, but it was too dour for its own good. And it dragged. And it’s ending was anti-climactic. And it should’ve been merged with the previous film. Seriously, why are so many final books in franchises split into two for movie adaptations, it makes the end-result feel so needlessly-

Sorry, I needed to vent.

The next entry is The Good Dinosaur, and I know what you think I’m gonna say: it’s awful. It’s a mess. It’s Pixar’s worst movie to-date. Sorry to disappoint…but it’s none of those. It’s not great, but too much of it worked in my mind for me to hate it. Plus, it made me cry. A few times.

As for Star Wars: The Force Awakens? My thoughts remain the same since my review, save that Rey’s Theme is growing on me. That, and Kylo Ren’s Theme isn’t half bad either. I might like it more the next time I see it, however.

The final two Oscar films I saw were Spotlight and The Big Short. I loved both. One of them was great despite me still not understanding what a CPO is, while the other was great despite it not being filmic. I think the reason why I attached to both is because of their human elements. In the case of Spotlight, it tackled a serious issue that’s still happening today. In the case of The Big Short, it tackled a serious issue we all need to know about. In both cases, it was an eye-opener.

Finally, there’s Tomorrowland. Forgive me, but I have to rant on this one:

There were plenty of possible candidates for this category: Fant4stic, Pixels, Jem and the Holograms, Fifty Shades of Grey, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Aloha, the list goes on. However, since I try to avoid bad movies unless I can’t otherwise, they weren’t watched by yours truly. And probably for good reason, as I most likely would’ve been miserable. Regardless, one that I kinda knew would be bad, yet was curious about, was a film by a great director that could’ve been promising had it not been co-written by one of the most amusing science-fiction hacks working in film. That’s right, we’re talking Tomorrowland.

The premise involves a world where the most brilliant people to ever live could harness their skills and creations without limitations. One of these individuals is Casey Newton, a naïve teenager with a high IQ who frequently tries sabotaging NASA to save her father’s job. When her escapades get her caught, she’s stealthily recruited by an android girl to join this world and fix it. Along the way, she encounters other androids who are out to stop her, plenty of weird contraptions, a jaded inventor named Frank Walker and a megalomaniac who believes that the world is doomed. All the while, plenty of questions are raised, many of which are either not answered, or answered sloppily. In other words, it’s co-written by Damon Lindelof.

Honestly, I’m torn on this one. On one hand, Lindelof needs to stop trying to be clever. I’ve seen two other films he’s had a hand in writing, Prometheus and Star Trek into Darkness, and while I enjoyed both, they also suffered from trying to over-complicate straight-forward scenarios that needn’t be explained. Tomorrowland’s more of what I’ve come to expect from Lindelof, but, being a Disney movie, it’s also insincerely cloaked by the family-friendly schmaltz you’d come to expect from The House of Mouse. I firmly maintain that Disney isn’t inherently awful, but when they hire Lindelof to write a film based on one of their amusement rides…it screams “lazy” and “greedy”. Because while Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl worked because, flaws aside, it had focus, Tomorrowland doesn’t. It’s messy and sloppy in many ways, and while they’re subtle enough to hoodwink someone looking for a good time, nothing about this film’s premise makes sense when you stop and think about it.

I’m sure you want examples, but the aesthetic plotholes (like how no one guarding it had the faintest clue that the Eiffel Tower was a satellite spaceship) matter not to the core problem: arguing that freedom without limitations can solve all the world’s problems. It’s a cute, but life doesn’t work that way. Reality is messy and flawed, and every good idea must have limitations in order to function. Is that cynical to say? Perhaps, but given how too much free reign is proven to be detrimental, I think it’s reasonable to say that. I hate restrictions as much as anyone else, but they force you to be strategic and clever. Essentially, saying “no” sometimes can be healthier than always saying “yes”.

The real kicker is the forced message about the environment. I’m not talking in an Avatar kind of way, that I can tolerate. No, the film argues that the environment is doomed to fail because we believe it’s doomed to fail and feed on that, and that the way to change that is by breaking the cycle of negativity. An interesting idea in theory, but it’s shoved in so poorly in the final act that it hurts thinking about it. How do you make self-guided optimism, something so clearly healthy and important, feel forced? Movie, do you even?

Still, I don’t hate this film. On the contrary, it’s quite entertaining. Is it sloppy? Yes. Is it another example of why Damon Lindelof’s pretentious? Again, yes. But it’s kinda fun. Dumb and bad, but fun. Let’s hope Brad Bird’s next movie isn’t a dud.

In short, this year was okay, but nothing special. I saw 28 films in 2015, and while that’d normally be enough to judge the cycle, most of my choices were fine at best. Some of them were disappointing too, with only one truly exceeding expectations. Still, it could be worse. I give it a 3.5/5.

Lastly, here’s a ranking of my 12 favourite movies of 2015, from least-favourite to favourite:

12. The Peanuts Movie
11. Paddington
10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
9. When Marnie Was There
8. Spotlight
7. The Big Short
6. Bridge of Spies
5. The Walk
4. The Martian
3. Ex Machina
2. The Gift
1. Inside Out


  1. You plainly saw more movies in the theater in 2015 than I did. I did see plenty of movies this past year, but my ventures were generally limited to the small screen. I'll venture a few brief comments on the ones you mention here that I *did* see. Well, apart from "The Force Awakens", since you already know my thoughts on that one.

    "Avengers: Age of Ultron" was a movie I was largely bored with throughout, which was a shame, as I liked the first one. [I didn't *love* it, mind you- just liked it.] I can see the appeal, but it was just too bloated and messy for my tastes. Fair disclosure, though- I'm not one of the people who constantly sings the praises of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but neither do I hate it outright. In general, I find the majority of its installments to be fairly average in quality. I'm quite fond of the Captain America movies [especially the somewhat underrated first one], and I think the first Iron Man was nicely ambitious, despite a frightfully dull final battle. But apart from those three, I don't think any of them I've seen have been anything to write home about. I mean, I've generally had fun with the ones I've seen, but I don't see myself watching them over and over again.

    You already know how much I adored "When Marnie Was There", so I won't go into that again, besides mentioning that its my favorite movie I saw in a theater last year.

    I saw "Inside Out" once in the theater. While I need to see it again before I can properly decide where I rank it in relation to the other Pixar films, I personally consider it their best film since "Toy Story 3"- maybe even since "Up". I really, really enjoyed it on first viewing, even if I was less deeply moved by it than many of its biggest fans, and was instead more impressed with its sheer cleverness in terms of both concept and execution. I don't begrudge people the gushing, though. I was as happy as anyone to see Pixar once again make a movie that could legitimately be considered "very good", at the least.

    I liked "Cinderella" for what it was- a non-ironic, traditional fairy tale that was [aside from one notable problem], well-told. That's harder to pull off than it might sound. So while I don't consider it an epic masterpiece or anything like that, I've no regrets at having seen it in the theater.

    Of the ones you mention that I've yet to see, "Bridge of Spies" is high priority for me, and I should be viewing it soon. As a long-time fan of Peanuts, I'd like to see The Peanuts Movie as well; to my regret, I haven't been able to yet. "The Good Dinosaur" is a lesser priority for me; I absolutely will see it eventually, as I always see every Pixar film, but considering the trailers -and the premise- did nothing for me, I'll probably wait until I can rent it on DVD.

    I'm genuinely surprised to hear that Paddington had any merit whatsoever.I'm still very apprehensive about watching it, however. I was a big fan of the original Paddington stories as a child, and -even allowing for the possibility that they were withholding a lot of good stuff from a purely cinematic perspective- the trailers did nothing whatever to assuage my doubts that the film could capture even a tenth of the quaint charm that was the lifeblood of Michael Bond's original tales.

    There's one movie I saw that you made no mention of here, and that was "Testament of Youth", which was a well-done WWI drama film. I don't think it got much publicity outside of arthouse theaters, though, so I wouldn't blame you for not having seen it.

  2. Oh yeah, I forget to mention that I saw "Jurassic World" as well. My verdict? A disappointment, even by the very low bar I was more than willing to hold it to. The movie couldn't even make something as mindlessly simple as "dinosaurs eat people" entertaining. The second and third films might have been [arguably] even stupider in their premises, but they were much more entertaining- and more visually interesting to boot.

    1. I've yet to hate an MCU movie, and they're kinda growing on me, but yeah, very few are "fantastic". Though, if the recent behind-the-scenes stuff is indication, the future films might start taking more risks.

      Inside Out will grow on you. I promise you that much. And your thoughts on Cinderella echo mine.

      As for Bridge of Spies, I didn't like it as much as Lincoln, but it was still quite good. I think people give Steven Spielberg too much crap for only doing biopics these days, when it's the biopic genre that's pretty much redeemed him lately in my eyes.

      Paddington was surprisingly good. It's like Inside Out as far as trailers go: they picked the worst scene as the focal point. Outside of that, it's a clever and quirky British comedy, which means plenty of great visual gags.

      And do see The Peanuts Movie. The Good Dinosaur can wait, but that's a genuine surprise.

      Lastly, Jurassic World is a sort of guilty pleasure for me. Not great, but enjoyable enough.

      In general, I had some budget restraints this year that made it hard to see certain movies. I still want to see Sicario and Straight Outta Compton, for example. Others, like Creed, will have to wait until I watch Rocky for the first time, however...

    2. I've likewise yet to legitimately hate an MCU movie, though there have been times when I've had to go against the grain and consider one of them overrated. For example, while I can understand the appeal of "Guardians of the Galaxy", it largely lost me after the halfway point, where it succumbed to formula at the expense of the relatively creative [by MCU standards, at least] direction it had been going. I think it might have been better had it not been a part of a preexisting film series.

      Knowing my own tastes, I expect "Inside Out" will indeed grow on me, though the extent to which it will do so remains to be seen. And I remain a tremendous admire of "Lincoln", so if "Bridge of Spies" is even half as good as that film, I should enjoy it.

      "Paddington was surprisingly good."
      Okay, now you're really intriguing me. While I don't consider it much of a priority, I *might* watch it before the year is out.

      "Lastly, Jurassic World is a sort of guilty pleasure for me."
      I can see how it might be that for some. For my part, though, I thought it suffered from an inability to realize the sheer pointlessness of its own existence beyond providing mindless spectacle; it tried too hard to be a genuinely meaningful addition to the franchise, only to dash headlong into a brick wall because of the general lack of ambition on display in the areas besides the thematic department. Also, as a result of some of its tonal and character decisions, the dinosaur action wound up being almost spitefully callous in many places, as opposed to thrillingly entertaining [like the first film's action] or stupidly entertaining [like the action in the second and third films]. In way, for all that the film preached against "bigger, faster, more teeth", it was pretty much exactly that- and not in a good way. Outside of the park owner and the ending with the T-Rex, I just didn't find much of anything to appreciate in Jurassic World.

      I can speak for the first Rocky film. Its a genuinely good movie,and proof that Sylvester Stallone can actually act -and act well- when given a decent screenplay. Both he and Carl Weathers give very fine performances. Weathers in particular is excellent as Apollo Creed.

    3. All of you points are valid, I'll say that much. And please do see Paddington. It's very much "an Edgar Wright comedy for kids", and it has one of the best running gags I've seen all-year. I can't recommend it enough, seriously...