In regards to cinema, it’s a great time to be alive. I remember talking with friends 2 years ago saying, “we just have to stay alive until 2015 because the movies that are coming out are going to be awesome!” 2015 was promised to be a great year of movies. For the most part, this year did deliver in entertaining us at the cinemas. There were some hits, and of course, there were some misses. Below is a list of 2015 films that made my lists:
Let’s first weed out the let downs. These are the movies that we were either looking forward to that didn’t live up to the hype, or that started “good” and just fell apart through bad filmmaking/storytelling:
Avengers: Age of Ultron:
This will be a little confusing because this movie will also be on the list as one of the best movies of the year. This movie is a disappointment because it did not live up to the hype. The concern is that going forward, the Avengers movies could be seen as disappointments because the first Avengers movie hit a home run, and the subsequent films just won’t be as good. The film sometimes operated as a trailer for future Marvel movies as well, and once again Marvel’s villain was too “one-note” and easily disposable. Overall, this was a great film, just not as good as the first and, therefore, a disappointment. My list, my rules.
In a world where everything Hollywood rolls out is either a sequel or a remake, it was refreshing to know that a new and original movie was coming out. Who better than the Wachowski’s (who gave us the first Matrix movie) to give us an original sci-fi movie. They certainly get an A for effort, but ultimately this was not a particularly good film. The premise of the movie and the world-building were actually a great concept, but the story was not there. Unfortunately, the two leads of the film also did not engage the audience either. The movie was also plagued with reshoots to the point that the film’s release was substantially delayed (never a good sign). Eddie Redmayne’s character was laughably terrible (it’s very surprising that the 2015 Best Actor Oscar winner put out such a dismal performance.) It’s not all bad, the special effects and space battles did provide some great escapist entertainment, but overall this movie was a failure.
Terminator Genisys is a disappointment because never did a movie just take a drastic turn from a pretty decent movie to a total mess. This movie had an awesome beginning, starting in the future with John Connor and the resistance fighting the machines. I remember watching it and thinking to myself “why is everyone trashing this movie? That was awesome!” Even the “alternate timeline” was working. About halfway through the film, there is a tonal shift and the movie goes from being a C+ to an F. Emilia Clarke, while great on Game of Thrones, is no Linda Hamilton and had no business being Sarah Connor. Arnold at this point is phoning it in. For some reason, Hollywood is determined to make Jai Courtney a movie star, despite having zero charisma. Of course, making John Connor a Terminator was the nail in the coffin for this film (unfortunately not for the franchise as they are going to make a sequel: thanks, China!) and it went from a decent film to an abomination.
Just give the film rights back to Marvel! It’s clear Fox does not know what to do with these characters and are wasting money (and the public’s goodwill) because they don’t want Marvel Studios to get the rights back to these characters. They would be so better served fighting alongside the Avengers in the next Infinity War movie. This movie from start to finish was terrible. The sad thing is that each of the Fantastic Four members are all talented actors, but the script and direction are just horrible. Don’t even start on Doctor Doom! If they were going to ground these characters, they failed miserably. It seemed as though Fox had a bet with themselves if they could make the previous Fantastic Four iteration better, and spat out this film. There are talks about a sequel, but with the amount of money they lit on fire for this movie, they are better serving themselves by just giving it to a competent film studio and simply walking away from it.
Simply put: this is a perfect nostalgia film. This is by no means a “great” movie, but this movie is the exact reason we pack theaters during the summers. Full disclaimer, I am a dinosaur groupie! Jurassic Park is one of my favorite films and whenever it’s on TNT or TBS, I’m not doing anything for the next 2 hours. This is a successful reboot film as well. It pretty much ignores Jurassic Park 2 and 3, and allows the audience to remember everything great about the first Jurassic Park film. Chris Pratt, fresh off of Guardians of the Galaxy, is the perfect lead for this film. The movie also knows how to take a joke, constantly referencing the need for audiences to have something bigger and flashier than previous iterations, and it succeeds on many levels. Now it is not without faults. The shoehorned divorce storyline with the annoying kids is, well annoying. Bryce Dallas Howard running throughout the film in high heels was not necessary, and also physically impossible, and there was no way she was going to outrun a T-Rex doing so. But the last 15 minutes of the film was pure cotton candy. I mean come on, the T-Rex and a raptor going toe-to-toe with the Indominus-Rex is why we go to the movies. There was a good reason this film set all sorts of records because it was all sorts of awesome!
Avengers: Age of Ultron:
Like I said before, this was a disappointment because it wasn’t better than the first. But at the end of the day, this was a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, and it did rock! Hulk vs. Iron-Man Hulkbuster, The Vision, and that “Splash Panel” scene were worth the price of admission alone. The 13-year-old in me would not believe that in 2015 we would see the beginning of Vision and Scarlet Witch, get to see glimpses of what will be Wakanda, a glimpse of Civil War, and many other great Easter Eggs that we come to expect now from a Marvel movie. When Vision picked up Thor’s hammer, the audience went nuts! For all the villain's faults, no one could be Ultron better than James Spader. Overall, this is still a great film!
Speaking of Marvel: how does Marvel follow-up a grand, summer blockbuster like Avengers 2? By making a literally smaller-scale action adventure like Ant-Man. Every time Marvel is about to release a film about a character not well-known, everyone predicts that will be the one Marvel movie that fails. This happened for Guardians of the Galaxy, which turned out to be one of their best films. The same thing happened for Ant-Man. This movie operates as an origin story for a new Marvel superhero, but instead of saving the world, the hero is pulling off a heist. This brings the stakes down but still involves great storytelling. Paul Rudd was initially a doubtful choice, but now we see him simply as Scott Lang, which is a testament to Marvel’s formula. Both Michael Douglas and Michael Peña put in memorable performances. Anthony Mackie’s cameo as Falcon reminds the audience that there is a larger world out there, plus Ant-Man holds his own against him. Overall, this movie not only exceeded expectations but ended up being one of the more refreshing, enjoyable Marvel films.
This movie is such a gem; it literally slipped in under the radar and blew audiences away! It’s been a while since there has been a solid coming-of-age film, and there has never been one that focused on young black teens. The film centers on young Malcolm and his friends, who are the geeks, smart kids who are the outsiders in their hood until they come across a bag of dope (drugs), which launches them on a crazy adventure. Not knowing what to expect from this movie, it exceeded all expectations. The film was funny, outlandish, and very, very soulful. All Malcolm wants to do is to get into college, but along the way he has to become a drug kingpin. Because Malcolm and his friends are heavily influenced by 90s hip-hop (my favorite time when rap music was at its commercial and critical best), so is the soundtrack. In an era where music is such a corporate, soulless farm factory of catchy hooks with barely any good lyrics, it was refreshing to go back to a time that literally was my childhood. Once again, 2015 was the year of nostalgia. This film introduces us to actor Shameik Moore (who I hope will have a long, successful career because he was great in this film), as well as gives us a pretty good performance by rapper A$AP Rocky. This was not a film to take the whole family to. The only movie that said the N-word more than this was The Hateful Eight. At first, it is a distraction, but by the end of the film, you have become used to the distraction and enjoy the movie beyond it. In an era of endless sequels and reboots, it’s great to have a small-scale original film, especially one that centers on people of color. And it’s really funny!
Beasts of No Nation:
From a happy movie about people of color, to a hopeless movie about people of color, Beast of No Nation is a terrifying work of art. This is Netflix’s first film. Directed by True Detective veteran, Cary Joji Fukunaga comes a story of young Agu, who lives in a war-torn West African country. After seeing his family slaughtered by the government he joins a rebel group of boy-soldiers. The film follows him as he goes from a sweet, innocent child to a hardened monster. He is under the leadership of The Commandant, played remarkably by Idris Elba. As Agu grows as a boy-soldier, so does the horror and despair that the audience witnesses. The filmmaking is astonishingly beautiful. Never has so much terror and horror occupied such beautiful cinematography. This film has one scene that is particularly harrowing, that you will be watching while covering your mouth. It truly is a shame that the Best Supporting Actor nomination did not go to Idris Elba, but I also believe that newcomer Abraham Attah should have received some recognition as well: he literally carried the movie by himself! Overall this is a great film.
In many science fiction films, we get very one-note storylines. They are primarily action-adventure films filled with explosions, muscle-bound heroes, and nothing else. But more and more, we are experiencing “intelligent” sci-fi films. We are getting District 9, Looper, and now Ex Machina. This is a sci-fi film where dialogue and story are the main drivers; it feels as though Aaron Sorkin wrote it. The film centers on Caleb (played wonderfully by Domhnall Gleeson), a low-level programmer who is invited to the secluded home of Nathan (Oscar Isaac, whose streak of greatness is unending), the CEO of his software company. There Nathan informs him that he has created an artificial intelligence named Ava (Alicia Vikander) that he would like to have Caleb conduct a Turing Test on. That’s pretty much the entire movie, administering a test to prove that the robot is, in fact, its own person, or simply a machine pretending to be its own person. But it is done in such an intelligent way, with sharp writing, great twists, that the audience is glued to their seats the entire movie. The ending of the film is nearly flawless. This was considered a low budget movie (there weren’t many changes of scenery), but the special effects to bring Ava to life were perfect. There is also a very cool dance number where Oscar Issac “tears up the fucking dance floor” that was just the right amount of fun. This was a refreshing film, with many twists and turns, and an ending that leaves you breathless.
The Hateful Eight:
Quentin Tarantino once again strikes gold. There are few screenwriters that can make a dialog-driven, no-action, action film. This is exactly what The Hateful Eight is. This is a three-hour, character-driven film that does not require explosions, and the audience is glued to the screen the entire time. This film does not even have many sets. The main set pieces in the film are the wagon ride to the lodge, and the lodge itself. It almost acts like a stage play, due to the fact that there is almost no change of scenery. Just like the title says, there are eight main characters, but this is ultimately a Sam Jackson movie. Without giving away any spoiler, he does steal the movie in many ways, but so do Walton Goggins, Kurt Russel, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. There are no heroes in this film. Every single one of these characters is a terrible person at one point of the movie. Even when you want to root for a character, they do something terrible to make you dislike them. The film is also a mystery, very similar to Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (which also had barely any set changes), that requires the audience to be fully engaged with the dialogue/writing. Like Pulp Fiction, the film is broken down into different chapters that ultimately have a great payoff. Tarantino continues his tradition of saying The N-word every 6 words, so once again you have to look past his love of colorful language. But overall, this was a great film, and much better than many of his recent movies.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens:
If you thought Jurassic World was the nostalgia movie of the year, you really know nothing of fanboys! Star Wars: The Force Awakens has answered fanboys prayers for the last 30 years: a great Star Wars movie. The prequels were… well, the prequels. They did not really have the soul of the original trilogy and were good for what they were. But ultimately we wanted a continuation from Return of The Jedi, and we finally got it. Now this is not a perfect movie, (this is not The Empire Strikes Back) but it absolutely captures everything we love about what makes Star Wars the cultural phenomenon that it is today. There are complaints about some character choices and it being eerily similar to A New Hope, but this movie did exactly what it needed to: jumpstart a new trilogy that is a worthy successor to the original. Plus the new leads of the franchise are a woman, a black man, and a Guatemalan man: this is Star Wars finally catching up to the way the world really looks. Kylo Ren gives us the angst dark Jedi we were all hoping Anakin Skywalker was to be in the prequel trilogy. Harrison Ford gives one of his best performances in years, bringing Han Solo back into the fold. John Boyega will finally become a movie star for his role as Finn, and Daisy Ridley is going to also shine. This movie is everything I needed it to be and leaves me excited for the next 2 movies.
Mad Max: Fury Road:
Continuing the nostalgia trend of great films, we have Mad Max: Fury Road. This was a movie I didn’t know I needed to see. You see I was too young to see the original Mel Gibson movies as a kid. I saw them as I got older and was floored that no one died filming those movies. Nowadays we have the Fast & Furious franchise where it is so blatant that the action is strictly CGI. The original director of the franchise George Miller (who went from the original Mad Max series to Babe, to the Happy Feet franchise and back to this Mad Max sequel at 70 years old) went back to old school and made a worthy successor to the films that made him famous. Let’s be honest, the plot is very simple, but it’s the execution that lifts it up. You are once again watching unbelievable stunts that question how anyone driving those cars actually survived these stunts. The movie will literally have you screaming “oh what a lovely day” as you are driving on I-95. Once great thing about the film is that it does its share of world-building without holding your hand and telling it to you. You are simply dropped into that world and have to figure it out yourself. The true star of the movie actually isn’t Max, but Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa, continuing the 2015 trend that girls can do it, and do it better. She is such a badass in this film it’s not even funny. Hopefully, she will be a part of the sequel because this film rocked!
There are some films that are what I’d like to call “More Than a Movie.” Creed is one of those films. This film is one of those life-changing experiences you get while sitting in a theater. Everything in this film just works perfectly on another level. Creed is essentially a Rocky movie. It’s actually the best Rocky movie since the original 1976 movie. This film follows Adonis “Donnie” Johnson as Apollo Creed’s (who died in Rocky IV) illegitimate son, who wants to follow his father’s footsteps as a boxer. He leaves his comfortable investment banker life in Los Angeles and goes to Philadelphia seeking Rocky Balboa to train him as a boxer. Then we are taken on a wonderful display of impressive filmmaking, great script, perfect score, awesome fight choreography, and damn near flawless acting. This is the film in which even the hardest grown men agree that it’s OK to cry during this movie. I tried hard to find one thing wrong with this one, there really isn’t! Michael B. Jordan is now a certified movie star. He should have gotten a Best Actor nomination, but we know how that played out. This movie makes us all forget (and forgive him for) that terrible Fantastic Four film. Tessa Thompson continues to impress as Creed’s love interest Bianca. Phylicia Rashad shines as Apollo Creed’s widow and Donnie’s adoptive mother, once again reminding you that she can act her butt off. Sylvester Stallone gives the performance of his career as an aged Rocky, who about halfway through the film will have you crying like a baby. He's already cleaning up the awards, there is no way he doesn’t win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in this film. He was that good in this film. All the credit for this film is due to director Ryan Coogler, who wrote (with writing partner Aaron Covington) and directed this film. I haven’t seen Fruitvale Station (shame on me), so I didn’t know much about this director, but he knocked this film out of the park! He resurrected a franchise that was pretty much dead and made possibly the best movie of the year. He should have gotten the Best Director nomination and the film should have gotten the Best Picture nomination, but sigh. Once again, couldn’t find one thing wrong with this movie. Watching this film is an experience that is so emotional, it can only be described as more than a movie.
- The Revenant
- Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
- The Martian
- Kingsman: The Secret Service
Each of these films was great, just not in the top 10. The Revenant was great cinematography, but the film wasn’t spectacular. It's getting much of the awards attention for the fact that Leo is owed an Oscar at this point, and because the movie was hard to shoot. It was a standard revenge western. Tom Hardy should not have been nominated as well. Mission Impossible also was a great action film and Tom Cruise hanging off a jet without a parachute is quite impressive. The Martian was a great film as well. Kingsman was fun, just to see a lispy, afraid of blood Sam Jackson.
Films That Might Have Been Considered If I Saw Them:
These are films that got great reviews that I simply never got around to seeing, so as a result they can’t be on my list.
- Straight Outta Compton
- Inside Out
Looking Forward to 2016:
2016 looks to be an even bigger year for films. Here are a few movies I’m looking forward to most:
Batman v Superman - Dawn of Justice: this requires no explanation
Deadpool - hopefully they can do this character right, because he was royally screwed in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - this requires no explanation
Doctor Strange - this requires no explanation
Gambit - Another character that needs redemption after being screwed in X-Men Origins: Wolverine
The Magnificent Seven- Denzel Washington as a cowboy
Suicide Squad- this requires no explanation
Star Trek Beyond
Independence Day: Resurgence
X-Men: Apocalypse - Hopefully Apocalypse will not look like Ivan Ooze
Free State of Jones - Matthew McConaughey leads a group of farmers and former slaves against the Confederacy
Captain America: Civil War- this requires no explanation
The Jungle Book - This looks amazing!
Green Room - who doesn’t want to see Patrick Stewart as a KKK leader?
2015 was a great year, especially for film geeks. 2016 looks to be even better!
What was your favorite film?