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