Our Favorites: The Best And Worst Movies Of 2015

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Our Favorites:  Best and Worst Films of 2015

Here we do the heavy lifting and give you our best and worst films of the year.  After 365 days of watching films, we’ve grabbed our laurels and pitchforks, and we’re ready now to declare the winners and losers.  The best part?  Only one movie in common!  That’s a lot of movies (technically 19 movies.  Which is a lot, I guess.)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

Erik’s Five Worst Films Of 2015

5.  Taken 3

Taken 3 Worst Movies Of 2015
We can only hope liam, we can only hope..

Alright, I’m done with this series and hopefully Hollywood is as well. The original Taken was so badass that even the mediocre (borderline terrible) Taken 2 didn’t deter me from streaming it on Amazon Prime after dusting off a sixer of PBR’s.

A few things here:

  1. Amazon should have better safeguards for drunk ordering.
  2. You should probably avoid any sequels that abandons the entire premise of the series.
  3. If the leading man comments that he is reprising his role solely for the fat stacks of cash, it’s probably worth avoiding.

There is so much bad in this film, I barely know where to begin. To start the editing done for this film is incomprehensible.  Most if not all of the scenes are shot ala Bourne, in a frenetic handheld pace. Unfortunately it doesn’t work here as Director Oliver Megatron does not have the skill to pull this off. Most scenes just come out a visual mess, and muted because of this.

Liam Neeson worked as an older ex CIA operative in the first film, at 56 he pushed the boundaries but he worked in the role. This go around at age 61 I’m hardly convinced he could open a jar of peanut butter on his own, much less kill a bunch a dudes despite how mundane and dead the action sequences are.

4.  Aloha

Somehow this movie starred Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Danny McBride, John Krasinski and the legendary Bill Murray, and it still sucked! How is that possible?! Give me some adderal and an Iphone,  lock me up in a room with them for two hours and I’m sure I can come up with some more entertaining footage than Cameron Crowe did.

Part of my issue with Aloha was that it was confused as a product, and it couldn’t decide if it was a rom-com or a dramedy.  It had more sub-plots than Hamlet, and failed at every one of those things. There was simply way too much going on and it was all so very boring. I can barely believe that this is coming from the same man who made Almost Famous.

Perhaps a bigger tragedy than Pearl Harbor, this movie bombs big time.

I'll show myself out, thanks.
I’ll show myself out, thanks.

3.  Hot Tub Time Machine 2

I love dick and fart jokes. Perhaps it’s the juvenile side of me that I try to keep under lock and key. I can’t help but snicker when someone mentions “wood” or that somethings “hard”. Juvenile I know, but I can’t help it. This outing follows the same formula as the first film in an attempt to repeat the success of that under rated gem. It’s the same director, and mostly the original cast, with one big exception.  Replacing Cusack is Adam Scott, who is hysterical in Stepbrothers and Parks and Recreations (Bonus he also was in Boy Meets world). At worst you would think this would be worth a few cheap laughs right?

Nope.

big nope.
Big nope.

Perhaps the absence of John Cusack should have tipped me off but Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is just terrible. The twist this time around is the gang is transported to the future and meet up with Cusack’s son (Adam Scott). However unlike the Back To The Future series, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 fails to make the retreading previous material entertaining. Instead the film just meanders about, throwing around the previous gags of the first film ad naseum.

2.  Fifty Shades Of Grey

Chicken? This movie is more turkey...
Chicken? This movie is more turkey…

Millions of bored housewives that hate their lives so much that they fantasize about some boring dude torturing them, propels this piece of shit to nearly $600 Million in the Box Office. Meanwhile I resort to shitty dates on tinder. Perhaps I need a torture chamber or be more robotic in my interactions with the other gender

So the hype/mythology of the novels led me to give this film a look, and to be honest I didn’t expect a whole lot. Yet, I was still seriously disappointed. Despite the hype surrounding the novel, the sex scenes are rather vanilla and at times plain boring. I anticipated to get a few cheap laughs and perhaps some fodder for a scathing review, but this atrocity’s pacing is slower than a glacier.

The story is a train wreck, I’ve seen soft-core porn with better pacing, character development and acting. Essentially it’s a shitty version of boy gets girl, boy loses girl. There’s also an online petition to replace Charlie Hunnam and Dakota Johnson. While both are equally terrible, they are the least of this franchises problems.

1.  The Cobbler

I love Adam Sandler, and I’ll eat the occasional shit sandwich because of this, but for the most part I can watch his films and have fun. The Cobbler is unfortunately the shit sandwich of a lifetime. You can have misses and have bad flicks on your resume, but The Cobbler takes it too far.

Guess who made a movie worse than Pixels this year? Hint, he's the only guy in this picture.
Guess who made a movie worse than Pixels this year? Hint, he’s the only guy in this picture.

The film attempts to take you down the road A Punch Drunk Love did, but fails miserably.  Punch Drunk was quirky and confusing but had some real emotion attached to it. We  were able to see Sandler’s more vulnerable side and It appears to me that The Cobbler attempts to recreate those emotions, but not only does it fail on that level, it fails to get any human response. It is just that bad.

Sandler plays Max Simkins, a depressed footwear repairman whose neighborhood is being swallowed up by corporate interests. When he unearths his father’s old stitching machine in the basement, Simkin discovers the ability to transform into another person when he puts on their shoes. While this could be interesting, the film winds up only paying lip service to the walk-a-mile-in-another-person’s shoes idea.

The Cobbler tries to be the bastard child of Darkman and Be Kind, Rewind but fails miserably.

 

Erik’s Five Best Film’s Of 2015

1.  Ex Machina

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who works for a powerful tech company wins a lottery contest at his workplace, allowing him to spend an entire week with the company’s reclusive founder Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Upon arriving at Nathan’s well-hidden estate, Caleb learns that Nathan wants him to conduct a “Turing test” of sorts on a humanoid A.I. called “Ava”  basically, Nathan wants to know if Caleb finds Ava to be convincingly human.

This is my favorite film of 2015 hands down. If there ever was psychological thriller, this is it. The premise and scenery simple enough, but all of that turns into a giant mindfuck.The entire film is sparse in its nature, shot in a gray/green/brown color palate. The story delivers an undertone of unease throughout, but you become so invested in the story that you shrug most of it away. A true masterpiece.

Haunting.
Haunting.

2.  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Angsty teenager Greg (Thomas Mann) is content with just coasting by and being invisible to the world.  Greg is in fact so self loathing that he calls his only friend, Earl, a co-worker. The only time he appears to be in his element is when he and Earl are making parodies of classic movies. When Greg’s classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with cancer, He finds his world forever altered.

I find watching highly publicized Indie movies a mixed bag.  Most folks will call it “quirky” or “heart warming” regardless if it has substance or not. It’s as if the Indie label automatically spots them twenty points on rotten tomatoes. Meanwhile I’m groaning or rolling my eyes. To be honest I fully expected Me and Earl and The Dying Girl to be just that, an overhyped version of The Fault In Our Stars. I am glad to say I was wrong.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl eschews the usual teenage melodrama we have all seen a million times. Instead director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon focuses on real people and feelings resulting in a blend of truly funny moments and dark ones as well. Combined with incredible performances and mindful pacing, Gomez-Rejon succeeds in proving that not every story has been told.

OK, so we're just going to have to disagree about how bad the all white Oscar picks are...
OK, so we’re just going to have to disagree about how bad the all white Oscar picks are…

3.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens

As much as I bitched about this film, and even though we didn’t quite sing its praises in our reviews, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a spectacle to behold. Very few films have me leaving a theater thinking the extra few bucks were worth the IMAX experience. This was one of them. I still stand by my criticism, but as Star Wars continues to break every record known to man it’s hard to deny it was an exciting ride.

See? He's excited!
See? He’s excited!

4.  The Assassinfav ass

Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi, The Transporter) after spending a generation in exile training in the ways of an assassin, returns to her noble parents tasked with assassinating her former betrothed.

My first viewing of the The Assassin I found myself a bit confused with the story: it is in no way a film that you can half-pay attention to as Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien chooses to tell Nie’s story through subtle nuances from the actors gestures, and the film is shot in such a way that leaves the audience to fill in the narrative. It works, as the cinematography can only be described as visual poetry, this is hands down the most beautiful film I have ever seen. The Assassin may not be for the uninitiated but for those of you that give this movie a chance you will be rewarded with visually arresting imagery that is as sumptuous as it is complex.

Plus kung fu!
Plus kung fu!

5.  Slow Westfav slow

This one was a tough choice for me as I had expected much more from Slow West when I first saw the trailer. Not to say I was disappointed, but I could see how many critics and fans could feel a bit underwhelmed. The main issue is that Slow west comes in at 83 minutes, and as Neil said in his review:

Hurting the effort is the brevity of the film.  At just shy of an hour and a half, this film hardly has enough room to breath, and the characters and story never find their footing.

I generally agree with Neil’s statement, as thirty more minutes or so could have made an enormous impact on the story and character development. But where Neil and I differ is I felt in the 83 minutes I invested in this film was better than 99% of what we had out there in 2015.

All in all, a good year for westerns.
All in all, a good year for westerns.

Director John Maclean managed to cram a wide array of big topics, such as our treatment of Native Americans,  the trials and tribulations of the immigrant experiences, a hardened scoundrel’s crisis of conscience, and perhaps the best climatic action sequence of the year. To top this all off, Maclean channels his inner Jim Jarmusch with inspired episodic vignettes that are reminiscent of one of my all time favorite films, Dead Man.ex jim[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

Neil’s Five Worst Films of 2015

5.  (Tie)  Transporter Refueled and Hitman:  Agent 47

These films both merit a mention in this category for committing the same sin:  rebooting a franchise while doing absolutely nothing new.  Neither of these wasted efforts bring any new wrinkles to the table.  The protagonists are essentially unchanged, the plots are generic mashes of earlier material, and the action sequences (the only real reason to make these films in the first place) fail to rise to the level of entertaining or novel.

The Transporter reboot just proves that this series is completely tapped out, much like Erik’s take on Taken 3.  There’s nothing really interesting or new this character can do, and if that is the case, you need to really go crazy on the action sequences if you’re hoping to justify another installment.  This film never makes you feel like you’re seeing anything Jason Statham hasn’t done better.

Hitman, one of my favorite series of games, just can’t seem to find a way to bring this character to movie audiences.  I can’t blame them:  the series is a sandbox murder simulator, where you are given a broad goal and left to execute your hit in any manner you chose.  Agent 47 is a death god because he needs to be able to handle any situation you, the player, put him into.  That really doesn’t translate into good linear story telling.  He’s silent, amoral, and anonymous by design.  As cool as anything you can make him do in the game is, when you lose control of him, his adventures become hollow.  This film tried to create a compelling origin story for the killer, but ended up just rehashing most of the forgettable aspects of the first movie and the bazillion video games he has starred in.  This flick wasn’t so bad that I wanted my money back, but it did convince me that this character 100% does not work in a movie.

It's a copy of a copy. You lose some fidelity...
It’s a copy of a copy. You lose some fidelity…

4.  Sinister 2

Generic modern horror movie is generic.  This film “borrows” from so many better films, you feel like you’re watching a top ten list instead of an original feature.  Aspects of Amityville Horror, Children of the Corn, Village of the Damned, and even the original Sinister are thrown into a blender and poured out over a blank canvas.  Anyone who has worked with paint knows that when you mix that many bright colors carelessly, you end up with an ugly brown mess.  I’m trying to convey that this film is a turd.

Herp a derp.
Herp a derp.

3. Pan

Yes. Exactly.
Yes. Exactly.

What a wasted opportunity!  Robin Williams showed us that you can play by the rules of this universe and still have a rollicking good time in Never Never Land.  This film sucks all of the joy out of this property, despite having free reign to use the best aspects of the series.  The pirates, natives, and fairies have always been window dressing compared to the adventures of Peter and Hook.  In a pre-Hook Never Land, we should have had complete freedom to experience this world in a pristine state, without all of the Hook/Pan rivalry to muddy the waters.  Instead this film labors under the delusion that we can’t possibly imagine how Peter became Pan.  I don’t know…orphan boy goes to a magical land and becomes a magical hero.  That’s a pretty rock solid origin, and one that we all know and are comfortable with.  It didn’t need any elaborating.  Just give us a reason to love Never Land again.

Stripped of the 3-D wonderment, this film had nothing to recommend it.  The movie shot itself in the foot time and time again by ignoring the really interesting characters of Black Beard and Tiger Lily in favor of a flaccid young Hook and an uninteresting young Peter.  Throw in some cringe worthy anachronisms and the baffling casting of the natives, and you have a film actively sabotaging it’s own credibility.  A complete shame.

We give up!
We give up!

2.  Vacation

Literally covered in shit.
Literally covered in shit.

Raunchy comedies are really not my thing.  Most of the jokes are infantile and predictable, and increasingly the genre has become more vile than funny.  Never was there a cruder or more mean-spirited comedy than this half-hearted relaunch of the National Lampoon Vacation series.  While the charm of the original was that world-class asshole Clark got exactly what was coming to him, unfortunately dragging his long-suffering family into the mess, this film seemed to delight in destroying the Griswolds for no good reason.  Rusty (Ed Helms) and Debbie (Christina Applegate) are not bad people, just clueless, so when the universe conspires to shit on them (in the film, literally) it isn’t humorous or justified.  It’s just a series of horrible calamities that befall two ordinary people for no good reason.  That’s cruelty, not comedy.

1. Child 44

What were they even thinking when they made this movie?  I can only think that this film was a love letter to watching vintage steam trains chug through remote countrysides.  There certainly was no shortage of those sequences in this film.  As a crime thriller, it was a complete dud.  Our heavily accented hero (Tom Hardy) is thrown about by fate until he accidentally lands on his quarry.  As a social drama, the film never takes the time to explain its social context, and never stays in one place long enough to get a feel for any one locale.  As a love story, our two leads have zero chemistry and actively are rotten to each other.  There’s no single aspect of this film that is at all enjoyable or even comprehensible.  Unless you really really like to watch trains.  Then this movie is aces, I guess.

For trains, by trains.
For trains, by trains.

 

Neil’s Top Five Films of 2015

1.  Ex Machina

We're here for our Oscars, motherfuckers.
We’re here for our Oscars, motherfuckers.

Erik and I both agreed, this movie was phenomenal.  An actual phenomena, something that may never happen again.  A cast of four, set in a hermetically sealed environment, grapple with bleeding edge philosophical implications arising from a hard sci-fi premise.  You won’t see anything else like it this year.  Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander were viciously mugged by the academy by not all receiving best actor nods.  A David Mammet play does not contain such vibrant and cerebral characters as these three created.  Director Alex Garland uses color, sound, tempo and omission to create a lurid and vivid world, one part The Shining and one part Blade Runner.  I don’t care if he directs a cat food commercial next, I am on board to watch the hell out of it, and anything these three leads star in has my immediate attention.  Go see it.  Stop reading and go see it now.

2.  The End of the Tour

David Foster Wallace is my favorite writer, so I knew that this biopic was either going to delight me or give me a major case of the screaming fantods.  I can happily report that a loved every minute of this film.

The End of the Tour recounts the days spent by fellow author David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) as he interviews Wallace (Jerry Segel) who is wrapping up the book tour for his magnum opus, Infinite Jest.  Lipsky is currently struggling to find a wider market for his book, and comes upon Wallace’s monolithic tome with an agenda to hate it and the critically adored author…but unfortunately finds that he also loves the book.  He cajoles his editor at Rolling Stone to allow an embedded interview with the reclusive genius, and the two begin a slow dance of friendship, rivalry, and mental sparring.

I’m luke-warm on Jesse Eisenberg, but his acting in this film is a revelation.  He gives his character such depth that you never doubt his authenticity.  He’s jealous, earnest, jovial and ruthless by turns, and each mask he wears is fully engaged.  I was impressed to all hell by him, especially since he is acting opposite of Jerry Segel who is almost literally wearing Wallace’s skin.  It was like Wallace was back from the dead.  His mannerisms, speech patterns, quirks and razor sharp intellect were re-created flawlessly.  I’ve listened to a lot of Wallace’s interviews, and Segel was channeling the big guy like a seance.

fav endThis film is aimed at a small market, but it faithfully and brilliantly executes its mission.  Even if you don’t know David Foster Wallace (or actively despise his byzantine tomes) this film is a rare chance to watch two incredible minds hash out what it means to write a book, and what it means to be a modernly dysfunctional human being, ie normal.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road

TLC.
TLC.

In my full review, I covered my reaction to this film in greater detail. Suffice it to say, I loved every aspect of it, and was thrilled that my early reservations about this movie were dead wrong.  It is a masterpiece.  Incredible action sequences which blend computer and practical effects are rarer today than gasoline in the wasteland, and director George Miller is the undisputed master.  This has been a great year for digital effects, but the action movie that got my engine roaring was done almost completely the old fashioned way: if you want something blown up, you build it and then actually blow it up.  That is dedication to craft, my friends.

 

4. Beasts of No Nation

Netflix has gotten into the movie-making game, and their first effort was easily one of my favorite films of the year.  Based upon the best-selling novel by Uzodinma Iweala, this film tells the story of Agu, a pre-teen boy living in an unnamed Africa country that is in the middle of a vicious civil war.  Despite living in a UN protected village with his loving family, the war still takes everything from young Agu, who is forced to flee after watching his mother and sister disappear and witness his father and brother being shot by government loyalists.  After trying to live in the jungle, starving and dehydrated, he is found by a battalion of child soldiers led by a vicious and charasmatic rebel known as the Commandant.  Despite befriending some of the other children, notably a nearly mute kid named Striker, his life becomes hell:  he is forced to train, march, shoot and kill.  When not doing the killing himself, he has to watch as his fellow “soldiers” are blown to bits by the formless enemy that the Commandant warns is always surrounding them.  When the Commandant is demoted because of his brutal tactics, even former allies become enemies, and Agu must chose whether or not to abandon his war-time “family.”

The acting in this film is superb.  Idris Elba’s Commandant is riveting and visceral,  and Elba plays him as a man who is part patriot and part cult leader.  The real stand out for me was Abraham Attah who plays Agu, a tremendously difficult role, especially for a first-time actor and teenager.  He is magnificent, carrying the full weight of this film on his shoulders.  He shines not only as a vulnerable and sympathetic victim, but also as a hardened and traumatized killer.  The rest of the cast is also excellent, rendering an emotionally difficult and culturally distinct movie approachable by their efforts.

#oscarssowhite
#oscarssowhite

The film does not only rely on the actors in front of the camera.  Director Cari Fukunaga’s skillful camera work is some of the best I’ve seen.  There is equal time given to the beauty and the desolation of the people and countryside.  The action sequences are impeccably shot and the pacing is perfect.  You never feel anything but total immersion.  There are also a flourish of artistic touches where sound and color are hyper-charged, reflecting Agu’s mental state.

If you missed this film, the good news is that it is free on Netflix.  Despite the atrocious Oscar snub, this film is more than deserving of your time.

5. It Follows

Very few movies stuck with me this year as fervently as this little gem.  I found myself going over the plot over and over again, and trying to not fixate on several of the really great scares that this film generated.  I basically lived in fear for about a week that some dead-eyed ghoul was going to slouch through my front door if I wasn’t vigilant.  All of this means that Director David Robert Mitchell and his young cast did their job.

Even the poster lends to the retro vibe.
Even the poster lends to the retro vibe.

Thematically this film is a treat.  It makes explicit many of the tropes that have infiltrated the horror genre, such as the concept of “the last girl,”  the prudish sexual conventions which demand that any sexually active teen (almost always the woman) will face a summary execution by the monster, and the fetishization of virginity and purity.  A sexually transmitted monster turns many of those conventions on their head.  We know our heroine isn’t pure as the driven snow, and she gains full agency as a result:  she can keep or pass the curse.  Working as a metaphor for a variety of issues (the monster can be seen as a stand in for pregnancy, or a sexually transmitted disease; the young woman’s journey is part sexual assault survivor and part coming of age/sexual empowerment parable, etc.) there is a lot of meat on these bones to chew over after the movie is finished.  If you can think of anything besides a creepy pale homunculus stalking your every waking hour.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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