Slam Adams’ Top 50 Movies of 2015 (Part 1)
To be considered, a movie had to be released during 2015 in the USA (that’s where I live) in theaters or on VOD that indie distributors like so much these days. I got through 157 of 2015’s movies.
50. Staten Island Summer
One of the bigger surprises of the year goes to this summertime comedy. It follows the shenanigans of a group of community pool lifeguards, some of which will be moving on to college. It is that sweet spot age where a “life is short” mantra translates to “let’s throw a huge friggin’ party.” Graham Phillips makes for a pretty charming straight man and teams up with some real lovable weirdos, including stand-up Zach Pearlman and some of SNL’s most reliable performers (Bobby Moynihan, Cecily Strong, and Kate McKinnon) thanks to Lorne Michaels producing.
49. Goodnight Mommy
This Austrian horror flick captured a lot of attention this year. It stars Elias and Lukas Schwarz as a couple of adventurous young boys whose mother just got home from major surgery. Her face is covered in bandages and her behavior has been very weird. The boys don’t trust her identity and subjects her to some hardcore Home Alone meets Saw kind of torture. It is one of the few movies that not only builds tension from the mundane but also litters the story with a good use of blood.
48. The Night Before
Joseph Gordon Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie are staring adulthood in the face and need to come to terms with the fact that they are just too old and busy for their hard-partying traditions. So, they plan one big blowout for Christmas Eve, which they have spent together since college after Levitt’s character lost his parents. It is one of the few modern Christmas movies that understand how to be a Christmas classic. Christmas classics tend to be more vaudevillian than simply a sappy movie set at Christmas time. It has a sharp sense of humor, plenty of slapstick and musical moments, and even a car chase.
Boy, Burnt did not do well critically. It seemed like a passion project of Bradley Cooper’s, and it was a little disheartening to learn that it crashed and burned. However, I saw it anyway, and I kind of dug it. Sure, it didn’t knock it out of the park. Cooper’s Adam Jones is a straight up asshole, and it is sometimes hard to root for him. That’s part of the point though. He is balanced nicely by a take-no-shit Sienna Miller, a healthy rivalry in Matthew Rhys, and a composed true friend in Daniel Bruhl. They are the heroic ones helping Adam Jones get out of his own damn way and live up to his true potential. That kind of struggle can and is compelling. That and I think I really like watching people cook.
46. She’s Lost Control
Thanks to 2012’s The Sessions, sex surrogates made its rounds in the news, and everyone acted so surprised that it was a thing. Funny enough, a million movies about the very subject didn’t come out after that. Just this one. It stars Brooke Bloom (of Amazon’s “Alpha House”) as a sex surrogate, who can’t get her own shit together. That’s a decent cliché, someone who helps people get their shit together not being able to get their own shit together, but a movie or television show has never approached it with such intimacy. If nothing else, Bloom proves capable of great things.
45. The Big Short
If you couldn’t tell writer/director, Adam McKay, has some strong opinions about the American financial collapse from his movie, The Other Guys, this movie is pretty much him overtly venting. His vehicle for venting are stories following three different groups of people who saw the collapse coming. McKay, who is best known for his work with Will Ferrell, brings that same kind of energy to a movie that could have been a serious bore considering the amount of economic know-how it had to unpack. I guess a bathing Margot Robbie could teach me anything.
44. The Little Death
The Little Death is a comedy anthology about sex, the messiness and awkwardness that happens when going outside of your comfort zone. It follows the lives of a few different couples, each dealing with a different fetish. In true anthology fashion, it doesn’t quite gel together as great as it should, but each of the short stories finds its’ ability to be funny and charming, especially in one story where a hearing impaired translator calls a phone sex hotline for her deaf client.
43. He Never Died
Henry Rollins, former punk rock frontman, plays a loner of few words. He seems implausibly strong and binges on hospital supplies of blood. That is when he isn’t going to the same diner every day or playing Bingo. Rollins plays him with a crazy amount of deadpan, and it nails every time. He is a man of violent tendencies, and he is doing his best to keep his head low and his life boring so that he doesn’t act out. That all changes when a girl shows up at his front door claiming to be his daughter and some mob dudes react badly to Rollins refusing to work for them.
42. The End of the Tour
I had heard of “Infinite Jest” and its author, David Foster Wallace. I knew very little else. I certainly didn’t think he was such an enigmatic figure. None of that changed the impact of The End of the Tour, an obituary of sorts for Wallace’s untimely death. It stars Jesse Eisenberg as a “Rolling Stones” reporter, who wishes to expand the purview of the magazine to authors. He sees a lot of rock-and-roll in David Foster Wallace, brought to quirky life by Jason Segal, and thinks he would fit right in with all the other icons. The two go on a strange adventure, the tail end of Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” book tour, where they get lost in their own conversations instead of getting into antics. Although, I guess that would be the kind of antics two people who work in words would get into.
41. The Martian
The Martian would go from the book everyone was talking to the movie everyone was talking about. It stars Matt Damon as a member of a Mars landing team. When a storm hits forcing them to make a hasty exit, he is stranded thought dead. Now, alone on an inhabitable planet, he must figure out a way to survive. Sounds like a laugh-riot, right? Well, it kind of is, and the fact that it won “Best Comedy” at the Golden Globes is not nearly as ludicrous as some detractors would have you think. It is actually really impressive to see a movie that is so aware of comedy’s importance when creating something thrilling and/or compelling. Damon is essentially given a one-man show. He mugs to cameras that are documenting his best efforts to stay alive. Between that sarcastic wit and his MacGuyver-esque cleverness, Damon was never been more charming, and Ridley Scott has provided him a supporting cast (specifically Jeff Daniels and Michael Pena) that is able to reinforce drama by using comedy to inject it with a palpable sense of life, something missing from the colder, more sincere dramas.
40. Queen of Earth
Strap in and be ready for this movie because it will smack you over the top of the head with how depressing it can be. This brutally honest look at a co-dependent relationship gives “Mad Men” star, Elisabeth Moss, the kind of meaty role she deserves. She is ultimately heartbreaking and often times terrifying as Catherine, a damaged woman going through a particularly bad bout of depression. Her own personal therapy is taking some time to live with her friend Ginny (Katherine Waterson) at her family’s cabin. And vice versa. This summer is played in tandem with last where Ginny was the one going through a rough time and needed Catherine. It follows in the footsteps of the work of Steven R. McQueen and Peter Strickland, who have used horror tropes to effectively deliver memorable drama instead of scaring the pants off of you. It makes for something unique, unsettling, but satisfying.
39. The Keeping Room
I had the pleasure of seeing this at the Independent Film Festival Boston. I had been looking forward to it for a while because it stars Brit Marling, an actress I have been a fan of for the last few years. Marling plays the eldest member of a household, the oldest daughter of the home’s owner who is away fighting in the Civil War, working along her younger sister and their slave. It is most memorable for looking back on the Civil War without the rose-tinted glasses. The “war is hell” motif can be seen everywhere in fiction, but rarely do we see from the point of view from who history has decided were the villains. It has been so long since America has been a battlefield, it is interesting to see the effects it can have on those not actually fighting. When one of the girls proposes that maybe this is the end of the world, since pretty much all the men were sent to fight, it sort of feels that way, even though we know the outcome.
38. Love and Mercy
I think the pop stylings of the Beach Boys often cloud people’s perception of what Brian Wilson was truly capable of. This movie seeks to explain that to you, while also demystifying a man who was fraught with psychological issues. Played by both John Cusack and Paul Dano, Wilson is portrayed at two very different moments with two very different demeanor and work together to paint a much grander and more nuanced depiction of a celebrity than any other biopic has been capable of delivering. And I just need to get this off my chest. I get that John Cusack doesn’t exactly resemble older Brian Wilson, but prosthetics would have had a better chance of distracting viewers than making Cusack look more like Wilson.
37. White God
Bridging the empathy gap when it comes to movies about racism seems to be an on-going battle between storytellers and audiences. It is too easy for people of one race to not see themselves in characters of a different race. This Hungarian export cracked the code I think. Instead of telling the tale about a certain race being mistreated, making it political by default and by extension divisive, they use dogs as a metaphor because even though racists are pretty horrible, those who hate dogs to the point of extermination are pretty much the worst human beings imaginable.
36. Cop Car
Cop Car takes the trouble-making adventurousness and coming-of-age charm of Stand By Me and gives it a much meaner edge and a darker sense of humor. The movies stars two young teens who find an empty cop car with keys inside and decide to go joy-riding. Unfortunately, the car belonged to a crooked sheriff who was disposing a body nearby. Now, he desperately needs to get his car back before getting enough attention thrown his way to look suspicious. It really captures that moment when you are a kid, and you learn your first curse word. The way you say it over and over because you think no one is listening and it is an adult thing to do. That is what it is like living vicariously through these kids for the runtime of this movie.
Amy Schumer was firing on all cylinders when she got a chance to make a movie with Judd Apatow. It is a perfect time for people to start piling shit on her for being successful, and they are. This does not make Trainwreck a bad movie. With it, Schumer, writer and star, works through many insecurities she may (or technically may not) have about love and commitment. It takes the funny observations that are saved for the stand-up mic and played with a sense of honesty that makes it borderline dramatic. The relationship between Schumer and her on-screen boyfriend, a particularly awesome, Bill Hader, is as real as any that have appeared in the cinema.
34. The Overnight
One of the big trends for this year has been sex, specifically about the awkwardness of sex and how we let the shame of that awkwardness stunt our social development. The Overnight is one such movie. A mundane couple with a crappy love life played by Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling have their sexual norms challenged when invited to dinner by “New Age”-y couple played by Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godreche. Plenty of good laughs are peppered through their deeper than you could expect talks about sexuality and the boundaries we have made for ourselves based on what we consider correct and weird.
33. 45 Years
It is Geoff and Kate’s 45th wedding anniversary. They have planned a big party since they missed the chance to celebrate the 40th milestone when Geoff got sick. A wrench is thrown into the works though when the dead body of Geoff’s missing love of his life is found. Suspicious gears are turning in your head after reading that, I’m sure, but the movie depicts something a little more ordinary and way less scandalous. It is simply the kind of natural disaster that will either fortify or decay the love the Kate and Geoff feel for each other, a love that was 45 years in the making, a love worth saving. Slow, deliberate, and simultaneously heartfelt and heart-wrenching.
32. Beasts of No Nation
Beasts of No Nation is a dramatization of a big problem that is out of sight out of mind in my neck of the woods. It is one of those things that I hear about or read about every so often and feel really guilty about not thinking about it all the time. That problem is child soldiers and the indoctrination of one such soldier is portrayed with sobering sincerity. Idris Elba might be getting a lot of credit for his larger than life Commandant, but he is completely blown out of the water by the mature beyond his age Abraham Attah.
31. Diary of a Teenage Girl
Diary of the a Teenage Girl is a bit challenging. The story is about a 15 year old girl who has an affair with her mother’s boyfriend, a man she aggressively flirts with. She seems to learn all the wrong lessons from it, frank about her beliefs she did the right thing. Her mind is often daydreaming in graphic novel illustrations constantly reminding us that she is just a child, a child, played by an adult actor who spends a good part of the movie completely nude. It is hard to figure out at first what the intended message was, however, as the movie goes on, the frankness with which the teenage girl misinterprets her emerging love life is also applied when reality sets in and things take a turn for the worse.