2015 – what a year for movies! From epic blockbusters to small films, animated and live-action, this was an exceptional movie year. In fact, this has been the first year in quite a while where it pained me to leave great movies off my top 10 list!
This was a year of triumphant returns. The Jurassic Park and Star Wars franchises leaped into movie theaters and became box office juggernauts. Pixar returned to form creatively with Inside Out. Even Paul Walker returned from the dead for one last ride in Furious 7 (too soon?).
2015 was a good year. However, for the first time in many years, there were some genuine disappointments and misfires. I’m usually good at discerning which movies I want to spend my money on. Some were movies I was eagerly anticipating and really wanted to like.
First, let’s take a look at those aforementioned disappointments.
Walt Disney Pictures
Written by Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird (from a story by Lindelof, Bird and Jeff Jensen)
Directed by Brad Bird
All the parts of this movie are great – actors, director, score, visuals, etc. Being a student of Walt Disney, the concept is one that really appealed to me. But for some reason, the movie just doesn’t gel and falls apart at the end. The story, like most other Damon Lindelof yarns, is more obsessed with the journey and the mystery, and the payoff is seldom worth it.
For a more in-depth look at what Tomorrowland has to offer, be sure to take a look at my review.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
Written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong
Based on the novel Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Directed by Francis Lawrence
If there is one thing I despise in a film, it’s a rousing story that builds to an insufficient payoff. The Hunger Games series started out mundane, and slowly gained momentum with Catching Fire and Mockingjay Part 1. I was enjoying where the story was headed – building to a showdown between the growing rebellion and the Capitol.
The ending to Mockingjay Part 2 is among the most unsatisfying I’ve ever seen. I suppose I can pin that on Suzanne Collins, the author of the book upon which the film is based. The film itself is exciting and expertly crafted. That ending just sucked all the life out of it.
20th Century Fox
Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
Directed by Olivier Megaton
While Taken wasn’t Best Picture material, it was definitely entertaining and engaging. It also introduced us to an acting side of Liam Neeson we had never seen. And so began his second career as an action star. Taken 2 was not as entertaining, but was still engaging, and the characters had taken on a life of their own.
Taken 3 took all the good things about the first two films and threw them out. It felt like a semi-unrelated chapter in what was otherwise an intriguing story. I had thought that the Albanians were going to take one last shot at Bryan Mills, but we got Russians for some reason. The film also had an awkward ending, which didn’t make things better.
The Good Dinosaur
Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios
Written by Meg LeFauve (from a story by Peter Sohn, Erick Benson, LeFauve, Kelsey Mann and Bob Peterson)
Directed by Peter Sohn
This movie perplexed me, and was my biggest disappointment of the year. I really wanted to like it. But it left me in a general state of confusion. This is now my least-favorite Pixar film, taking the place of Cars 2. The brilliance of Inside Out made this film look even worse. And it’s never a good idea to trot out the director before the film begins to explain things.
Why did anyone think a juxtaposition of genre was a good idea? I know what they were going for: a western. All the elements are there. But why dinosaurs? It was genuinely silly to see these creatures farming, tending to cattle, etc. There was no reason for them to be dinosaurs! It would have worked better as a straight western about a (human) boy and his (actual) dog.
My Top 10 Films of 2015
10. The Martian
20th Century Fox
Written by Drew Goddard
Based on the novel by Andy Weir
Directed by Ridley Scott
Where was this Ridley Scott when he made the horrible Exodus: Gods and Kings? I can’t believe this is the same director. This movie is positive, full of hope, and epic in scope. These are all things the Exodus should have been!
The Martian is a great story with some (surprisingly) great acting from Matt Damon. Damon’s Mark Watney is funny, sardonic, sarcastic and charming. Damon hasn’t been this good in years, perhaps ever. It’s not easy to essentially be the only actor in a good stretch of a film, but Damon really made the experience engaging.
This film is also an love letter to NASA and space exploration generally (despite the fact that they aren’t in the manned space business anymore) with more heart and humanity that the similar but robotic Interstellar. It also makes science and exploration cool, which is something the current generation of kids needs to understand.
9. Furious 7
Written by Chris Morgan
Based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson
Directed by James Wan
I’ll be the first to admit that the Fast & Furious films are dumb, and at times implausible. But they are so much fun to watch. An action-packed experience with just enough heart attached to it, this is the best of franchise to date.
Paul Walker’s tragic death hangs all over, but the filmmakers did give him a nice, tasteful send-off. Personally, I would have preferred a more final end to Walker’s character. I see problems with consistency in future installments, knowing Brian and Dom’s loyalty to each other. The CGI done on Walker is passable in most shots, and again, done very tastefully.
It will be interesting to see where this franchise goes from here. Personally, I would love to see the Shaw brothers team up against Dom and his crew in a battle royal.
8. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Written by Christopher McQuarrie (from a story by McQuarrie and Drew Pearce)
Based on the television show created by Bruce Geller
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
This Mission: Impossible film keep getting better! I didn’t think that Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol could be topped, but this film certainly did.
The action is tight, engaging and thrilling, with Tom Cruise right in the thick of some complicated stunts. I really have to give Cruise some serious props for being willing, at his age, to engage in some of those crazy set pieces. The story was an interesting twist on a conventional (and today, somewhat ubiquitous) idea – the secret organization operating in the shadows.
My favorite aspect, however, was that the humor and ensemble chemistry that made Ghost Protocol so different from the previous installments is very much intact, and has been built upon.
Written by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and Paul Rudd (from a story by Wright and Cornish)
Based on the Marvel Comics character
Directed by Peyton Reed
This may be one of the smaller films in the growing Marvel Cinematic Universe (no pun intended), but that doesn’t make it bad or sub-par. In fact, knowing the somewhat troubled history of this production, I’m surprised it was as good as it was.
Paul Rudd was an interesting choice for this character, but he appears to fit it like a glove. His frustrated everyman persona works well with the character. Michael Douglas was a spectacular supporting actor, and his computer-generated de-aging is some of the best the industry has ever done.
What I really walked away liking about Ant-Man was its spirit. It had a strong thematic frame to which I really responded. I like redemption stories, where a protagonist gets a second chance to do good things. It reminds me of my relationship with God, and His inexhaustible grace toward me.
6. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Written by Joss Whedon
Based on the Marvel Comics characters
Directed by Joss Whedon
A good, fun movie – but not as fun as the first Avengers outing. The novelty of all these legendary heroes I love onscreen together for the first time is gone. But I did enjoy the film quite a lot.
I’m really going to miss Joss Whedon steering this franchise. He has a gift for crafting stories with multiple characters, and have all the characters get their own moments and enough screen time to satisfy character development.
Age of Ultron isn’t higher on my list because I felt it went by a little too quickly. I had to see it three times before I really understood everything. The first Avengers was tight, but had more wiggle room to get to know the characters more.
Still, the movie is fantastic and all of the lead characters are now firmly comfortable in their roles. I was pleasantly surprised by James Spader’s Ultron. I didn’t think Spader’s persona in a robot would work, but he won me over with his sneering attitude and almost hypnotic charm. Ultron is also thematically deeper than most villains of the MCU, which made him all the more fascinating.
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt
Based on characters created by George Lucas
Directed by J.J. Abrams
This is the film Star Wars fans have been waiting for a long time – a good Star Wars movie. Not great, but good. Definitely better than the prequels and worthy follow-up to the Star Wars saga. This movie brings the fun back to the franchise and introduces new characters with actual personalities (shocking!).
Besides his trademark lens flares and frenetic camera movements, director J.J. Abrams has also brought more complexity to the Star Wars universe. Kylo Ren is one of the most fascinating characters in the Star Wars films. Just the way he dresses and wields his lightsaber projects aspects of his personality and internal conflict.
Being a hardcore Star Wars fan, I had a few quibbles about certain story choices that were made, which is probably why this film isn’t higher on my list. That and there was a lot of story beats borrowed from A New Hope. But I still had a good time overall.
4. Jurassic World
Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow (from a story by Jaffa and Silver)
Based on characters created by Michael Crichton
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
What a triumphant return to form for the Jurassic Park series – up from the muck of b-movie horror (Jurassic Park III) to a-list epicness!
Jurassic World is a great movie on so many levels. It is sumptuous satire, rousing adventure, thoughtful commentary and more. The world-building in this film was awesome, and made me want to visit (Universal Orlando, I hope you’re taking notice!). Michael Giacchino fills in for John Williams with a great score that evokes the wonder of the sights onscreen.
One of the questions I hear from people about this film is “If it comes out terrible every time, why do they keep cloning dinosaurs?” Besides the obvious monetary reasons for the studio to make more Jurassic films, this cuts to the core theme of the film: humanity’s constant need to control that which they cannot, and the sin of arrogance.
3. The Peanuts Movie
20th Century Fox / Blue Sky Animation
Written by Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz and Cornelius Uliano
Based on characters created by Charles M. Schulz
Directed by Steve Martino
This is a charming and wonderful tribute to Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts characters. Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest have never looked better, and the medium of computer animation has given them new detail and depth never before seen.
Despite the state-of-the-art animation medium, I thoroughly admire the filmmakers for doing their homework and evoking the “limited animation” style of the Bill Melendez-directed TV specials and films. Longtime fans like me appreciate the preservation of the Peanuts aesthetic. Otherwise the characters wouldn’t look and move right onscreen.
The film captures what everyone truly loves about the Peanuts characters and Charlie Brown in particular. For a more comprehensive look at this wonderful film, check out my review.
2. Inside Out
Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios
Written by Pete Docter, Meg LaFauve and Josh Cooley (from a story by Docter and Ronnie del Carmen)
Directed by Pete Docter
When they think up original ideas, Pixar cannot be beat. The studio has an incredible knack at taking a simple concept and turn it into something truly revolutionary. This is very true about Inside Out.
This film is as profound as it is beautiful. The art direction is whimsical and functional all at the same time. Each vocal performance is perfectly suited to the characters they inhabit. And this movie has so much incredible world-building, where everything works and has a logical reason for being.
At its emotional core, Inside Out is a brilliant (albeit simple) explanation of the human mind. Director Pete Docter and his story team crafted a tale of growing up, and the increased complexity of our emotions as we mature and learn more about ourselves. I also appreciated how complex the mind was portrayed and that there were manuals – indicating that there was a Creator of the manuals.
MGM / Warner Bros.
Written by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington (from a story by Coogler)
Based on characters created by Sylvester Stallone
Directed by Ryan Coogler
My pick for my favorite film of the year was a surprise. I went into this film not really knowing if it even needed to be made. Rocky Balboa was a great ending to the titular boxer’s story. Why was another Rocky film necessary?
What this movie had more than any other movie this year was heart. Like the other Rocky films before it, Creed is a brilliant underdog story. It is the natural evolution in the Rocky franchise – Rocky himself has taken the role of Mickey and is teaching a rough-hewn but talented fighter how to take the hits in and out of the ring.
What surprised me the most was Sylvester Stallone. This is probably the best performance of his career, and I really hope he gets nominated for all the awards. He’s that good. He fit back into the role of Rocky like a glove – still as charismatic as ever, but wiser in his old age.
Director Ryan Coogler is a very talented filmmaker. He has retained the grit of the original Rocky, while adding some modern visual street cred. The way he handles the fights in this movie is truly unique. One of them is one long take from what I could see, and was flawlessly shot and choreographed.
Happy New Year, and here’s looking forward to another amazing year at the movies! Which film are you most looking forward to?