2015 Movie Year in Review: The Underrated, The Overrated, The Worst, and My Top 13 Films of the Year
Well another movie year has passed bringing with it its share of disasters, diamonds, and hidden gems. There’s been lows (Get Hard), highs (Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed), a triumphant return for a storied franchise (The Force Awakens), and the end of another (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II). With the Oscars only a few weeks away, it is high time to express my thoughts on the best and worst of 2015’s cinema circuit.
PLEASE NOTE: Due to the fact that I’m a husband, father, full-time network employee, and not Data from Star Trek, I naturally was unable to see every movie in 2015 even some of the major ones. These included the following: Pixels, Fantastic 4, The Ridiculous Six, The Big Short, Spotlight, Brooklyn, and Room, among others, so you will not see these movies on my list. Also I was unable to include Straight Outta Compton on this list because I only saw 2/3 of it before I had technical difficulties and was unable to finish it before this writing. While what I saw was awesome, it’s not fair for me to include a movie on a “best of” list that I haven’t fully seen.
WORST MOVIE OF THE YEAR
Terminator: Genisys 2/10
Now I know I originally gave this film a rather glowing review (https://houseofgeekery.com/2015/07/11/movie-review-terminator-genisys/) but I’ve done a complete 180 on this movie. The story was a semi-amalgamation of the first two films, the CGI effects were overused and under-effective, and the direction was sloppy to say the least. Emilia Clarke’s performance pales in comparison to Linda Hamilton’s original Sarah Connor and Jason Clarke as John Connor doesn’t fare much better. And Jai Courtney? STOP TRYING TO MAKE JAI COURTNEY HAPPEN HOLLYWOOD!! In fact the only things good about this film were Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return as the Terminator and the future war scenes. If not for that, the movie would have been a complete disaster. As it stands Genisys was a calamity at best. Thankfully, Paramount just pulled the plug on the proposed sequels so hopefully audiences won’t have to endure anymore of this pabulum.
MOST OVERRATED MOVIE OF THE YEAR
Ex Machina 5/10
The media, Rotten Tomatoes, even my closest friends, touted Ex Machina as this revolutionary and cerebral science fiction film. I found Ex Machina ponderous and boring (https://houseofgeekery.com/2015/06/14/movie-review-ex-machina/). The “shocking” ending I saw coming about thirty minutes before it happened and the lighting scheme in this movie was annoying as Hell. Dialogue comes across stilted and forced in Ex Machina and Domnhall Gleeson fails to provoke any sense of intrigue or interest. As much as I like Oscar Isaac in The Force Awakes, I couldn’t stand him in this movie. Thankfully, Alicia Vikander’s performance redeems the film somewhat and it’s too bad she missed out on an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
MOST OVERHYPED MOVIE OF THE YEAR
I just don’t get the appeal of Amy Schumer. I just don’t. She’s not funny to me at all and this movie as a whole was only moderately funny. The funnier moments actually involved members of the supporting cast like John Cena, Bill Hader, and (surprisingly) Lebron James. (The scene with Hader and James having lunch where Lebron tries not to pay is hysterical.) However, Trainwreck ultimately proves to be just another overly long Judd Apatow comedy (shocking!) mired in unneeded melodrama and redundant foul language.
MOST SURPRISING MOVIE OF THE YEAR
I know some of you probably find it odd that a Marvel film that made over $500 million worldwide would be my surprise movie of the year. However, I can honestly say I was surprised how good this movie ended up being. I had zero interest in this film or this character (I refused to see the movie in the theater) and thought the trailers were cringe worthy. Yet the self-deprecating humor, the intense action sequences, the numerous hilarious moments for Michael Pena, and a strong lead performance from Paul Rudd, won me over. The fact that Marvel included a strong female character in Evangeline Lily’s Hope van Dyne impressed me as well. And Michael Douglas just looked like he was having a blast as Hank Pym. So glad Marvel is doing a sequel.
MOST UNDERRATED/OVERLOOKED MOVIE OF THE YEAR
Bone Tomahawk 8.5/10
While Kurt Russell received acclaim for another Western this year (The Hateful Eight) and rightly so, he delivers an even better performance in the severely underseen film Bone Tomahawk. The Western (with some horror elements) from director S. Craig Zahler, harkens back to classics like The Searchers and The Outlaw Josey Wales. Although the concept is an old trope used in Westerns (kidnapping by Indians), the story was fresh and original. Bone Tomahawk‘s cast was also dynamite especially Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins. In fact if not for its limited release, Jenkins may have earned a Best Supporting Oscar nomination for his role in Bone Tomahawk.
And NOW for my top 13 best films of the year…
#13 Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (9/10)
My one and only documentary on this list, it’s a shame this one didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. The conspiracy theorist in me would say the Church of Scientology had something to do with it, but that’s probably not the case. (Or is it?) When people think of Scientology they often picture Tom Cruise jumping on a couch or South Park. But the Church itself is so much more insidious. Alex Debney’s in-depth look at the Church and its heads is as terrifying as it is riveting. Told from the perspective of former members such as director/producer Alex Rathbun (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) and actor Jason Beghe (Chicago PD), the in-depth look into how scientologists maliciously trap their members/victims proves insightful and informative. First hand accounts from former leaders in the Church like Mark Rathbun and Mike Rinder lend credibility to Debney’s documentary. This “religion” is even wackier than you think.
#12 Black Mass (9/10)
A true return to form for actor Johnny Depp, Black Mass is maybe director Scott Cooper’s best film to date. An intimate look at notorious Boston crime lord Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger, Depp went full method with this role delivering his best performance since Sweeney Todd. The director of films like Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace, Cooper’s Black Mass is easily the best gangster film since The Departed. The all-star cast of actors like Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, and Joel Edgerton in Black Mass only adds to this superb crime drama.
#11 Steve Jobs (9/10)
Take the story of one of the most innovative people in the last fifty years, add in Oscar winners director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), and sprinkle with one of the best working actors today in Michael Fassbender, and you’ve got a recipe for an incredible movie. Steve Jobs was a unique and honest look at the founder of Apple, warts (many of them) and all. The film works because of Fassbender’s performance and the biting and snappy dialogue of Aaron Sorkin. Jeff Daniels steals every scene he’s in as former Apple CEO John Sculley, and Kate Winslet (who is the frontrunner to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar) delivers as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs marketing director. This film is worth the watch for the dialogue alone.
#10 Sicario (9/10)
I’ll tell you what, Denis Villeneuve just keeps churning out great films. I sincerely hope he gets some recognition by the Academy at some point. (If you haven’t checked out his film Prisoners stop reading this article and go do that now.) Villeneuve hits another homerun with Sicario, a gritty and thrilling look at the Mexican drug cartels. Emily Blunt is dynamite, Josh Brolin is even better, and Benicio del Toro gives the performance of a lifetime. That Sicario was shut out at the Oscars this year is criminal.
#9 The Revenant (9/10)
Director Alejandro Inarritu’s Birdman won Best Picture at the Oscars last year, and Inarritu also won Best Director. Those two things may happen for the second year in a row, as the film and director are front-runners for both awards. Based on true story of trapper Hugh Glass, this period Western from the 1820s is something to behold both visually and acting wise. It is a stunningly beautiful film shot mostly in natural light and sports powerhouse performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. You can’t take your eyes off it.
#8 The Martian (9/10)
The Martian was a joy to watch. The science-fiction film was a brilliant and near flawless adaptation of the Andy Weir novel. Just like Johnny Depp’s performance in Black Mass was a true return to form, The Martian was a return to form for director Ridley Scott. Matt Damon kills it as astronaut Mark Watney who’s accidentally left behind. His determination and gallows humor really show through. The ensemble cast is also excellent particularly Jessica Chastain and Jeff Daniels. Hopefully this movie will get people interested in space again.
#7 Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (9.5/10)
Yeah like this one wasn’t going to be on my list. After the debacle of the prequel trilogy, J.J. Abrams delivered a Star Wars film that garnered almost universal acclaim and plenty of box office. Fun, exciting, emotionally resonant and filled with awesome special effects, The Force Awakens was everything you could want in a Star Wars film. Newcomers John Boyega and Daisy Ridley crushed it as Finn and Rey and Adam Driver was a revelation as baddie Kylo Ren. I’ve seen it twice already and for me it’s my #2 behind The Empire Strikes Back. I can’t wait to see where the other two films go.
#6 Creed (9.5/10)
Like a lot of people I was leery of Creed…until I saw the film. From start to finish Creed delivers in every way possible. The cast is great with Michael B. Jordan leading the way in the title role and Tessa Thompson giving an admirable performance as Adonis Creed’s love interest Bianca. And this was hands down the best performance of Sylvester Stallone’s career. He fits back into the role of Rocky Balboa like an old glove. Director Ryan Coogler crafted not just a great boxing film but a great film period. Let’s hope he comes back for the sequel.
#5 Predestination (10/10)
Predestination really flew under the radar, possibly because of it’s limited release last January and little to no marketing. It’s really too bad because directors Michael and Peter Spierig’s film is one of the best science fiction movies in the last fifteen years. Based on the Robert Heinlein novel “–All You Zombies–“, Predestination examines many themes including if time travel were real could we change our own destiny? There’s also a strong transgender story that doesn’t feel forced at all. Ethan Hawke was great as The Barkeep but Sarah Snook steals the show as Jane. And the ending was mind blowing.
#4 The Hateful Eight (10/10)
Quentin Tarantino’s latest Magnum Opus was a divisive film to say the least. However, I found his homage to Spaghetti Westerns absolutely enthralling. The performances are first-rate, the cinematography a marvel, the dialogue acerbic and biting, and the score flawless. Despite it’s almost three-hour run time I loved every moment of this film. I’m sure it’s a movie I’ll be revisiting again and again over the years. While the movie obviously isn’t for everyone it definitely was for me.
#3 Beasts of No Nation (10/10)
Sometimes being innovative costs you. The first fully commissioned film by Netflix, director Cary Fukunaga’s brilliant film about a boy’s life in the African juntas was magnificent. Unfortunately it got a very limited release although it was critically acclaimed. This was due in large part to the performances of actors Abraham Attah and Idris Elba. In the #OscarsSoWhite season, Elba earned a nomination but didn’t get it. His role as the Commandant was his best performance to date. The cinematography (which Fukunaga also handled) was stunning but the story was even more compelling and tragic. It’s a dark part of African society that most people ignore. Beasts of no Nation brings this horror into the limelight and forces you to recognize it.
#2 Mad Max: Fury Road (10/10)
I really can’t say much more about Mad Max: Fury Road than has already been said. George Miller’s return to the post apocalyptic world of the title character was triumphant to say the least. It worked on every level imaginable and (surprisingly) proved to be a very feminist film. I defy you to find better stunts and cinematography than any film over the last thirty years. I loved Tom Hardy (seriously when is he going to have a bad acting role?) as Mad Max but Charlize Theron was even better as Furiosa. A 70-year-old director put the youngins on notice in Hollywood with Fury Road. I’ll definitely be pulling for Miller this month at the Oscars.
And my #1 best movie of the year is….
Oh wait no my mistake…I read the wrong movie title.
What I meant was…
#1 99 Homes (10/10)
I know I’ve talked about how the Academy Awards is an awards show where popularity counts more than merit, but 99 Homes getting shut out this year is an absolute joke. Director Ramin Bahrani’s film about how the effects of the housing market collapse on working class families was devastating in its power and resonance. The Faustian deal that Andrew Garfield’s character Dennis Nash makes with ruthless real estate broker Rick Carver demonstrates how far one man will go for their family and how those actions can tear you apart. I’ve never seen a better performance out of Michael Shannon. The movie is worth the watch for his performance alone. It’s a film so powerful and devastating that I’ll probably never be able to watch it again.
And that my fellow movie lovers is my 2015 year in review. Let’s hope our cinema experiences in 2016 are even better.
You can follow me on Twitter as Darth Gandalf at @DarthGandalf1