2015 was kind of a shit year, to be honest. Not “my dog has cancer and now I also have cancer” shit, but let’s say that if 2015 got a passing grade, it was only because they didn’t care enough to hold it back a year. [2015 (2015) – (6/10)] A few speckles of gold here and there (friends’ weddings, some memorable nights of good camaraderie, the good fights that were fought), but boy howdy was 2015, in the grand scheme of things, a stinker. This review is even coming out three days late because 2015 decided to piddle on my carpet in the basement and fill my lungs with enough mold to leave me bedridden. Yeah, 2015 was a scumbag pretty much everywhere except in the movies.
(Well, in my movies, anyway.)
Because of some writing research I ended up surpassing my usual hundred-movie benchmark, clocking in at a robust hundred-and-eight. In the process, I ended up with thirty-two movies that I would call “the best”. (I’m not really one for the “10 Best of the Year” Thunderdome hooplah; so what if you’re the best of the year in a forgettable lineup?) Compare that to fourteen “bests” in 2014 and twenty-eight in 2013, and this year there were only five that I would label “the worst”–which I hesitate to do, because I wonder if negative reviews to warn away consumers are less useful compared to positive ones to promote unrecognized works? Maybe next year I just won’t include them at all. Ah, but I do love griping about the wasted hours…)
In a lot of cases, the big franchise hits–Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens–all started to feel like duplicates of their forebears, unable to stand on their own without an identical substructure. I dinged a lot of movies for that this year; it tends to feel like a display of timidity to me, particularly when great creative minds end up extruded into blase demagogy by the increasingly Hindenberg-esque A-list titles that keep the producers’ lights on.
This was also the year in which we coined the term “fart house” to describe movies with such artsy pretensions that they end up baffling the viewer throughout or shitting on an otherwise straightforward narrative with the last five minutes of screen time. (“I’m looking at YOU Come Out and Play and Enemy… You know what you did.”)
As for other media, I did a number on books this year, and that number is twenty-seven-ish (two more than last year). (I read about 50% of Lovecraft’s entire literary canon this year, which I would estimate to be approximately two fuckoff big books.) I also watched a ton of television, new and old, often in background while working on things, and I’ll give a quick overview/review here: Daredevil (not bad), Orange is the New Black (S1; I like what I’m seeing, but DAMN is that drama thick), Supernatural (S1; I see why the people who like it do but no thank you), Constantine (not bad, the next season might be–oh.), The Wrong Mans (assd.; meh), Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (S1; pleasant), Over the Garden Wall (FANTASTICO), Wayward Pines (E1-2, read the rest on Wikipedia; Shyamalamadingdong), Speed Grapher (E1-10, Wiki; meh), Sense8 (S1,E1-8,12 and Wiki; risque but toothless), Attack on Titan (why am I standing in my chair saluting?), Bojack Horseman (S1 & 2; also damn impressive), Steven Universe (S1, assd.; meh), Penn and Teller Fool Us (S2, assd.; a little weak), Rick & Morty (S1, S2; pretty damn solid), True Detective (S2; woof); Jessica Jones (yeah, okay!), Mr. Robot (S1; intriguing), Ash Vs. The Evil Dead (double woof), One Punch Man (great work adapting this), Stein’s; Gate, & The Expanse (Episodes 1-4; very intriguing).
But that’s not what we’re here for; we’re here for MOVIES! And here are my reviews, sorted by genre and alphabetized. As far as the numeric scores go, here’s a broad rubric:
10 – the absolute best of the best; movies I can speak no ill of
7 – a darn good showing, but not without flaws that detract
5 – movies I was tepid about, neither here nor there: meh
3 – poorly-received films, but with some redeeming effort
1 – WHY DID I WATCH THIS!?
(2015) movies are indicated with their year in bold
® indicates any movies which were second-viewings in 2015 (no numeric reviews or best-of’s for these).
Yellow highlighted titles were my favorites among the movies I saw for the first time in 2015.
Struck-through titles were my worst movies of the year. (It doesn’t mean you’re bad; it just means I LOATHE YOU AND EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR. But in a fun way!)
(Also, in previous years I only put trailer URLs for the best-ofs to save time; since time ended up not being a factor this year, I just went ahead and put them all in.)
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) – (6/10) Carpenter’s siege actioner is dramatically rangy, but decently shot, paced and acted: a fun gun ride.
The Dark Knight (2008) ® – (4th? 5th?) rewatch reveals all the plot holes skipped over like Mario sprinting over gaps; breakneck pacing
High Plains Drifter (1973) – (6/10) Turns Seven Samurai on its ear, but with a hero who does no wrong, victories come cheap. Dark climax!
John Wick (2014) – (8/10) World and kinetics carry this half-ironic charcoal sketch of an honest, vengeful, power fantasy trip.
Jurassic World (2015) – (5/10) Bland splice of an original nods at the crassness of its own existence, yet fails to rise above that.
Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015) – (3/10) Stilted dialog and off-the-cuff conflict cuts a story that looks poor to even a lesser DC production.
Kingsmen: The Secret Service (2015) – (5/10) Tacitly subversive & politically conservative: thugs by any other name. Over-mixes gravitas & whimsy.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – (10/10) Whiplash insanity in a fiery world machined to epic proportions with fine details and roaring music.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015) – (7/10) Fun though rote; nowhere near as unpredictable as its previous installment’s deconstructionist humor.
The Rock (1996) ® – The sort of movie John Wick roasts: every line bolsters reputations of those off-screen. Action’s so sparse?
Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (2014) – (7/10) Manga roots fetter progression but suitably action-packed and better-choreographed than the 1st film.
Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014) – (7/10) While in this one the cinematography distracts from choreography but offers a sufficiently grand end.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010) ® – An a-traditional story about a jerk-ass M.C. trying to become a better person; “The World”, though? I dunno.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) – (6/10) A pretty, safe, mass-market museum tour of graven nostalgia in the chaotic shape of “what fans want.”
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) ® – “Magneto betrays” one of many recyclings, but dramatic overtures strike true, & the scale & scope impresses.
Coraline (2009) ® – Overeager in most ways, rushing lines and activity. Colorful male cohort added to Gaiman’s hero weakens her.
Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade (2015) – (8/10) A gorgeous, sweet sequel from Yoh Yoshinari; with his flair for action I wanna see what he does next!
Dear White People (2014) – (8/10) A dense tapestry of text and subtext leaves little room to say anything else, but does so with verve.
Death Becomes Her (1992) – (5/10) The writing is hypoplasiac & the effects are on life support, but the concept and the actors are fun.
Going Postal (2010) ® – About as uneven and graceless as I remembered. Nevertheless, charm & moxie win out in a fun, memorable ride.
Once Bitten (1985) – (5/10) Jokes delivered via coroner’s while raunch and gay slurs fall flat today. A dance off? Why the F not?
The Three Stooges (2012) – (5/10) A commendable effort getting this mummy to walk but his time has passed and he shambles too ungainly.
Trainwreck (2015) – (5/10) Trades the players, doesn’t change the game; I think that the awkward pause comedy just isn’t for me.
The Trip (2010) – (6/10) Hushed comedy of egos, celebrity impressions, & (occasionally) food couldn’t compel me to ride along.
The Voices (2014) – (5/10) Candy-apple quirk A-to-B-to-C dramady has some fun managing its M.C.’s dissociation, but little else.
12 Angry Men (1957) ® – A political microcosm that plays out effectively on all levels; the solution to the racist is a bit surreal.
A Time to Kill (1996) – (6/10) Might be a useful primer for the truly stone-hidden, but otherwise rather didactic; no subtexts here.
Amadeus (1984) – (7/10) The complexity of the score is unmatched by that of the plot, but the telling is finer than the tale.
Boyz N’ The Hood (1991) – (10/10) Captivating & crushing in equal amounts. This all-star cast birthed one of the realest milieus ever.
Byzantium (2012) – (7/10) Languid “mother versus daughter” fable with fangs has a fair bit of imagination and drama on display.
Chappie (2015) – (6/10) Colorfully-set. Relies overly on convenient timings, fuzzy science and caricature: a flattened fable.
Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013) – (7/10) Bale delivers, Academies are Awarded, a worthwhile niche story from the AIDS crisis is adroitly told.
Detachment (2011) – (8/10) Occasionally self-aggrandizing drama about our relationships is nonetheless devastating and poignant.
Frank (2014) – (7/10) Unconventional dram-com about mental illness highlights disease of aspiration and art’s balmy crutch.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988) – (9/10) While Seita seemed dubiously-aged, impeccable artistry helped soldier forth a heart-thieving tragedy.
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) ® – The acting occasionally gets trampled by the breakneck dialog, but the tone is what survives the transition.
The Hateful Eight (2015) – (8/10) Paranoid little potboiler in the fine Tarantino style. Pre-nut flashback might have had more tension?
Interstellar (2014) – (7/10) Suitably epic in scale and scope; perhaps too sentimental to be hard-sci-fi, but optimism usually is.
Memories of Murder (2003) – (7/10) 2-hr runtime’s necessity is debatable but the hunt is worth following for setting & characters alone.
Mr. Holmes (2015) – (6/10) Blunt characters deliver a decent little tale–movie offers kindness in Holmes’ dotage, if not rigor.
My Dinner With Andre (1981) – (7/10) Philosophical journey ivory towers a bit but presents its insights well; why a film & not a cassette?
Silver Linings Playbook (2013) – (8/10) In a world where everyone manipulates everyone else, romance comes with reservations or not at all.
Straight Outta Compton (2015) – (7/10) N.W.A. lived the classic “rags to riches to split” drama, even if it’s too polished for its own good.
Whip It (2009) ® – A little herky-jerky under repeat viewings, but the cast and script made backyard magic together that lives.
7500 (2014) – (2/10) A lopsided half-effort at producing Japanese ghosts at minimal cost, combined with a plane for fail.
Absentia (2011) – (6/10) The premise is agonizing, but the horror itself seems loosely-strung and over-reliant on jump scares.
An American Werewolf in London (1981) – (6/10) Awesome practical effects and comedic irony are bogged by lacklustre puppetry and a leaden homage end
The Birds (1963) – (8/10) Bird effects and violence are still impressive today, despite minimal blood. Classic for good reason!
Eden Lake (2008) – (7/10) For a suitably tense fusion of “social contract gone sour” and “evil kid” plots, it doesn’t do a ton.
Honeymoon (2014) – (7/10) Too minimal to tell when people are acting odd, but still has good effects and a serviceable premise.
Housebound (2014) – (6/10) Playful lampoons an otherwise standard ghost story; fitfully funny with some jarring editing choices.
The Innkeepers (2011) – (8/10) Hotel spookery meets paranormal quackery; the performances and social tension bring this spirit home.
Jug Face (2013) – (7/10) Scaled-down tale’s not much of a looker, but she’s got a good set of teeth. Good casting and setting!
Livide (2014) – (4/10) A girl with two souls; a movie with two genres. Kind of a mess, with some cool images here and there.
Maniac Cop (1988) – (5/10) A harmless slasher, neither overly bad nor overly good. Meh.
Possession (1981) – (4/10) Impressive acting and one cool creature could not sustain me through the uncompromising expressionism
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) – (7/10) A strangely sweet story about a boy, his father, and one bad Santa. Helps fill that Xmas horror hole.
The Shining (1981) ® – After reading I see King’s fault w/Wendy’s frailty, Jacks’ madness: a terror not of the species King penned.
Stake Land (2010) – (4/10) Plagued by inconsistencies in plot and setting, the End-O-Tha-World™ fangatorium just doesn’t dazzle.
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) – (7/10) Strong ghost mystery plus body horror merger. Rote setups and payoffs, but rattles the chains loudly.
We Are Still Here (2015) – (8/10) Fantastic performances hedge in a conventional house horror with some twisty complications bolted on.
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014) – (5/10) A dog’s dinner of posturing badasses; doesn’t presume to become more than a zombie exploitation film.
All The President’s Men (1976) – (10/10) 1970’s shoeleather journos drama needs no embellishment to delight; intrigue follows in chain smoke.
The Big Sleep (1946) – (8/10) Bogart nails it again, though at times the delivery is a bit clipped to achieve the desired velocity.
Blue Velvet (1986) – (8/10) Lynch’s most accessible (to me) thus far: a noir mystery framed in Lynch’s “just slightly off” lens.
The China Syndrome (1979) – (9/10) Thriller still thrills, sirens still shrill in our post-Katrina, infrastructurally-insolvent America.
Enemy (2013) – (3/10) Draggled pacing leaves me tortuously tailing an unpleasant cast, wondering “Why?” as often as “What?”
Ex Machina (2015) – (8/10) A paranoid garage-sci-fi premise executed with precision, style and gravitas. Minimal, if antiseptic.
Gone Baby Gone (2007) – (8/10) Affleck’s two-hander still unfolds powerfully, w/grade-A performances and a challenging moral center.
Lost Highway (1997) – (4/10) Nowhere as lush as Eraserhead, but more straightforward narratively. Drags with its extensive length.
Michael Clayton (2007) – (7/10) Fine. Just fine. Chooses its moments well, but when all’s said and done there’s little growth to see.
Repulsion (1965) – (8/10) Languished pace denies release from a suffocating tension; details and repulses male gaze with aplomb
Sicario (2015) – (7/10) Timely: nether realm between Americans and their defense, where protections go off the grid. Fascist?
Sleuth (1972) – (9/10) Two-man deconstructionist potboiler plays audiences’ and characters’ expectations with mystery afoot.
The Act of Killing (2012) – (10/10) Humanizing look at dehumanization; narrative unfolds on two brilliant levels and captivates totally.
Bad Writing (2010) – (?/10) Driftful, pleasant, earnest. Alights on a few creative subjects, sniffs around, then flits off again.
Best of Enemies (2015) – (6/10) Burns strongest in debates themselves; more on network, fallout, aftereffects, would have been nice.
Murderball (2005) – (5/10) Examines impotence’s manifestations among toxic-masculine; banishes all-important team to background.
MOVIES OF 2015 I WANTED TO WATCH (but haven’t yet)
(descriptions from IMDb)
45 Years – “In the week leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary, a couple receive an unexpected letter which contains potentially life changing news.”
A Brilliant Young Mind – “A socially awkward teenage math prodigy finds new confidence and new friendships when he lands a spot on the British squad at the International Mathematics Olympiad.”
Advantagous – “In a near-future city where soaring opulence overshadows economic hardship, Gwen and her daughter Jules do all they can to hold on to their joy together, despite the instability surfacing in their world.”
Anomalisa – “A man crippled by the mundanity of his life experiences something out of the ordinary.”
Beasts of no Nation – “A drama based on the experiences of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country.”
The Big Short – “Four outsiders in the world of high-finance who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed.”
The Boy and The Beast – One day, Kyuta, an orphan boy living in Shibuya, forays into the magical world of Jutengai and, as he’s looking for his way back, meets Kumatetsu, a lonesome beast from Jutengai, who becomes his spirit guide and raises him to be a man.
Bridge of Spies – “During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.”
Carol – “In 1950s New York, a department-store clerk who dreams of a better life falls for an older, married woman.”
Deathgasm – “Two teenage boys unwittingly summon an ancient evil entity known as The Blind One by delving into black magic while trying to escape their mundane lives.”
The Diary of a Teenage Girl – “A teen artist living in 1970s San Francisco enters into an affair with her mother’s boyfriend.”
Faults – “A man who debunks mind control techniques as a profession must help a couple whose daughter has recently joined a cult.”
The Forbidden Room – “A never-before-seen woodsman mysteriously appears aboard a submarine that’s been trapped deep under water for months with an unstable cargo. As the terrified crew make their way through the corridors of the doomed vessel, they find themselves on a voyage into the origins of their darkest fears.”
Furious 7 – “Deckard Shaw seeks revenge against Dominic Toretto and his family for his comatose brother.”
Hitchcock/Truffaut – “Filmmakers discuss how Francois Truffaut’s 1966 book “Cinema According to Hitchcock” influenced their work.”
Krampus – “A boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home.”
The Lobster – “In a dystopian near future, single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in forty-five days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods.”
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – “High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer.”
Mustang – “Early summer. In a village in northern Turkey, Lale and her four sisters are walking home from school, playing innocently with some boys. The immorality of their play sets off a scandal that has unexpected consequences. The family home is progressively transformed into a prison; instruction in homemaking replaces school and marriages start being arranged. The five sisters who share a common passion for freedom, find ways of getting around the constraints imposed on them.”
The Overnight – “Alex, Emily, and their son, RJ, are new to Los Angeles. A chance meeting at the park introduces them to the mysterious Kurt, Charlotte, and Max. A family ‘playdate’ becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on.”
The Revenant – “In the 1820s, a frontiersman named Hugh Glass sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling.”
Room – “After five-year-old Jack and his mother escape from the enclosed surroundings that Jack has known his entire life, the boy makes a thrilling discovery: the outside world.”
Suffragette – “The foot soldiers of the early feminist movement, women who were forced underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal State.”
Tales of Halloween – “Ten stories are woven together by their shared theme of Halloween night in an American suburb, where ghouls, imps, aliens and axe murderers appear for one night only to terrorize unsuspecting residents.”
Turbo Kid – “In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a comic book fan dons the persona of his favourite hero to save his enthusiastic friend and fight a tyrannical overlord.”
Victoria – “A young Spanish woman who has newly moved to Berlin finds her flirtation with a local guy turn potentially deadly as their night out with his friends reveals a dangerous secret.”
White God – “Thirteen-year-old Lili fights to protect her dog Hagen. She is devastated when her father eventually sets Hagen free on the streets. Still innocently believing love can conquer any difficulty, Lili sets out to find her dog and save him.”
The Witch – “A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.”