Friday, January 1, 2016

2015, Best in Movies

2015 was a phenomenal year for movies, especially on the technical side of things.  There were countless well-made movies with such delicious behind-the-scenes production values that it almost feels like an embarrassment of riches to try and see which movies did which aspect of the moviemaking process best from the past year.  Even still, that doesn't stop me from trying to say what the best in movies was last year.  From best cinematography and costumes, to best actor and director, here is what I think was the best in movies from 2015!


Best Song - "Gerrard Street" from Paddington
While I must admit that The Martian very nearly stole this with it's use of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," I have to give it to "Gerrard Street," simply because this particular song really helped bring Paddington to such a joyous conclusion.  Like all of the other calypso songs in the movie, it was performed by D Lime featuring Tobago Crusoe, with all four of the songs being old calypso classics rerecorded for this movie.  What made each one of these songs so effective is that the group is actually singing them on camera, showing up often as a band on the sidewalks of London, it's a fun idea that reminds me of Louis Armstrong's work in High Society.  Personally, "Gerrard Street" is my favorite of all the songs just because it's the most fun to listen to, plus, seeing the Brown family and Paddington have a snowball fight while listening to this song just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
2.)  "I Will Survive" from The Martian
3.)  "Writing's On The Wall" from Spectre
4.)  "London Is The Place For Me" from Paddington
5.)  "Deep In The Meadow (Lullaby)" from The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2

Best Make-Up and Hair - Mr. Holmes
It is almost always easier for fantasy and sci-fi movies to really impress with their make-up and hair work, usually because they are having to create looks that are not of our actual world, but sometimes it is the movies of our world that are the most difficult to do make-up and hair work for.  A perfect case and point was Mr. Holmes with the make-up staff having to turn Ian McKellen into a ninety-year-old Sherlock Holmes for most of the movie, while making him look even a little younger than he is in flashbacks to Sherlock's last case before retirement.  Aging make-up can often be the death nail of so many movies, but Mr. Holmes did it so delicately that I actually believed that I was seeing the future Ian McKellen, twenty years from now, onscreen.
2.)  Cinderella
3.)  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
4.)  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2
5.)  Steve Jobs

Best Costumes - Cinderella
Only with a fairy tale such as this can you go so extravagantly extreme with the looks on display.  Everything in this movie is beautiful and yet quite impractical, with none of these looks being at all fashionable if they weren't worn in such a colorful world.  From the sleek styles of the Evil Stepmother, to the Evil Stepsisters' gaudy dresses, all the way to the wondrously designed ball gown that Cinderella has made by her Fairy Godmother, the costumes in this movie are breathtaking and help inform us about who these characters are by what they wear and how they wear it.  In short, that is what a good costume designer is supposed to do, and Sandy Powell did it better than any other in 2015.
2.)  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
3.)  Kingsman:  The Secret Service
4.)  The Martian
5.)  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2

Best Sound - Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
The two things on the technical side of moviemaking that the original Star Wars helped revolutionize were special effects and sound, so it is only fitting that I believe the sound work in The Force Awakens to be the best sound work of 2015.  Big movies like this are often full of many sounds that do not exist in our world and the sound designers have to create them.  From the adorable beeps of BB-8, to the pulsating sound of Kylo Ren's unstable crossguard lightsaber, many of the sounds utilized in The Force Awakens felt both familiar and new at the same time.  It's really great to hear innovation, and I believe I heard that at times in this particular movie.
2.)  Inside Out
3.)  The Martian
4.)  Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
5.)  Avengers:  Age of Ultron

Best Special Effects - Paddington
While there were a great many movies this year that had way more special effects shots, the reason I believe the special effects in Paddington were the best of the whole year is because this movie was entirely dependent on its titular character working.  Paddington the bear was made entirely via CGI, with his whole performance being animated.  With those circumstances, it would have been very easy for this movie to fall flat on its face if Paddington looked at all fake or unbelievable.  He was never too cartoony, nor was he ever too photorealistic, he just was Paddington.
2.)  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
3.)  Ex Machina
4.)  The Martian
5.)  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2

Best Production Design - Cinderella
For me, the true mark of great production design is when I see a set and wish I could either live there, visit there, or better yet, film on it as a director myself.  Dante Ferretti's design work on Cinderella was nothing short of breathtaking.  He created the kind of lavish environments that can only exist in movies, with his ballroom being a particular stand out.  The size and scale of the things that were designed for this movie sold it as reality, and it was the kind of size and scale so many movies nowadays skimp on to save money, doing it with CGI rather than building it or finding a good location.  Here, because so much of it was physically built, you really could feel as if you could visit these places in real life, and that is when the transportive power of movies work best.
2.)  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
3.)  Paddington
4.)  Inside Out
5.)  The Martian

Best Editing - Steve Jobs
I have never seen a poorly edited movie from director Danny Boyle, and Steve Jobs is no exception.  For this movie, Boyle hired editor Elliot Graham to piece together a movie that is essentially a stage play with wall-to-wall dialogue and make it engaging as a movie.  Graham's editing really managed to give the movie a sense of energy when the movie could have really started to bog down and get boring.  The editing always kept the movie feeling fresh and never dull, and yet Graham was not editing like a highly caffeinated toddler, he knew when to hold the right shots and when to utilize a faster pace, which is when you know you've got a good editor.
2.)  The Martian
3.)  Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
4.)  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
5.)  Mr. Holmes

Best Cinematography - Cinderella
The cinematography for Steve Jobs is a very close runner-up with the way it utilized the three different types of cameras (16mm, 35mm, and digital), but it was the beautiful lensing of Cinderella that really impressed me the most.  There honestly is nothing new being done here with the cinematography of Cinderella, but Haris Zambarloukos's work is so beautiful, it really makes you feel as if you're looking through a window into a real fairy tale world.  The colors are vivid and the compositions are near perfect, all adding up to make this just an exquisitely shot movie, one that I enjoy seeing every single frame of.
2.)  Steve Jobs
3.)  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
4.)  Paddington
5.)  Bridge of Spies

Best Supporting Actress - Cate Blanchett, Cinderella
It is said that the villain is the most fun part to play, and I think that is because the villains often have more to play with.  To make a good villain believable, an actor really has to figure out, at least for themselves, why that person is the way that they are and how they justify the things that they do.  It is obvious that Cate Blanchett did that in Cinderella as Lady Tremaine, aka the Evil Stepmother.  She is so deliciously evil in the part that you are happy when she gets her comeuppance, and yet you can't help but wonder what made her this way.  The way that Blanchett plays her is with a slight undercurrent of not just bitterness, but genuine sadness that has turned her into an icy survivalist just looking to stay afloat in the world that she is accustomed to living in.  I think, to her, she sees Cinderella as everything that she once thought she was and she mourns the fact that she is no longer, and that she probably never actually was, like her.  Maybe I am reading too much into it, but that is what a good performance will often have you do when you see it.
2.)  Julianne Moore, The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2
3.)  Lupita Nyong'o, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
4.)  Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
5.)  Carrie Fisher, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens

Best Supporting Actor - Adam Driver, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
How do you create a Star Wars villain in the shadow of Darth Vader?  By (SPOILER ALERT) making his grandson the new baddie.  Kylo Ren (aka Ben Solo) is perhaps one of the most intriguing characters ever introduced to the Star Wars saga.  While there are a lot of similarities between him and Jacen Solo from the now non-canon Expanded Universe of novels, Kylo Ren is his own character.  First off, from the very first frame, Kylo is a terrifying presence.  He seems more unhinged than Darth Vader ever was, which actually makes him more unpredictable as to what he's going to do.  The fact that he is so conflicted about everything he does makes him all that more fascinating from a character perspective.  The greatest challenge of course with this character on paper, was finding an actor who can pull it all off and not fall flat on their face.  Luckily, Adam Driver brought Kylo Ren to life with so much energy.  For half of the movie he is wearing a bucket on his head and yet he is still emoting through his body language and his vocal inflections.  It's doubly hard to act when no one can see your face, but it seems like there are no boundaries or limitations for Driver's performance.  I am super excited to see where this character goes in the upcoming sequels, and Adam Driver is a large part of the reason for that.
2.)  Harrison Ford, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
3.)  Michael Pena, Ant-Man
4.)  Hugh Bonneville, Paddington
5.)  Jeff Daniels, Steve Jobs

Best Actress - Daisy Ridley, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
One of the most exciting things in the world is when you see a fresh face in a movie and feel like you have discovered a great talent along with the rest of the world.  Right now, everyone is feeling that exact same way about Daisy Ridley in The Force Awakens.  She is just such an amazing actress that it's hard to believe that this was her very first movie ever!  As Rey, she has to be emotionally sensitive as well as emotionally tough, a tall order for even the greatest actors and she makes it look so easy.  She sells just about every moment of this movie through her eyes to where you actually feel something throughout, and when (SPOILER ALERT) she reaches out at the end of the movie and calls Anakin/Luke's lightsaber to her instead of Kylo Ren, most other actresses might have overplayed this moment, but she doesn't, she seems legitimately surprised at having called the lightsaber to her.  I really can't wait to see what she does in the future, because Daisy Ridley is the kind of soul-filled actress that comes along maybe once in a generation, but it will be really hard for her to find a role that is a better showcase of her talents than Rey.
2.)  Lily James, Cinderella
3.)  Britt Robertson, Tomorrowland
4.)  Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
5.)  Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2

Best Actor - Matt Damon, The Martian
The role of Mark Watney would be a tall order for any actor, luckily for director Ridley Scott, he managed to nab Matt Damon for the role and Damon just made it all look so easy.  While the part is not the showiest or deepest of roles from this past year, the fact that for almost all of his screentime, Damon is interacting completely with himself, is all the more remarkable that his performance is as warm and soulful as it is.  In every moment, Damon manages to find humor where there might have been none, and that is the mark of a great actor, making the best of their situation, much like Watney is having to do as he's stranded on Mars.  I really don't think The Martian would have been as good of a movie with any other actor.  When you are asking an audience to spend so much time with an actor in such dire circumstances, you'd better like them or else the whole experience would just be too exhausting to watch, but thankfully, Damon's inherent likability is the x-factor that makes The Martian a special experience.
2.)  Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes
3.)  Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
4.)  John Boyega, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
5.)  Ben Whishaw, Paddington

Best Ensemble - Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
It's hard to argue against The Force Awakens cast when it comes to the question of whether or not they were the best ensemble in any movie in 2015.  J.J. Abrams already had aces up his sleeve with the returns of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Anthony Daniels, but it was the inspired casting of the new characters that made the movie work.  Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Oscar Isaac as Poe, and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, all excelled in their roles.  Not only was their chemistry palpable between one another, but it was also evident in all of the scenes with the old cast.  Then when you see all of the talent that makes up the supporting players in the movie (Lupita Nyong'o, Max von Sydow, Andy Serkis, and Simon Pegg, to name a few), you really begin to realize that there was not a single weak link in the movie's cast.
2.)  The Martian
3.)  Ant-Man
4.)  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2
5.)  Avengers:  Age of Ultron

Best Movie Moment - Rey Calls the Lightsaber, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
For me, no movie is great unless it has at least one of those defining movie moments, you know the ones that when you think of that movie those are the images you conjure up in your mind.  There were actually a lot of powerful movie moments from 2015, but none that gave me chills quite like when Kylo Ren reaches out with the Force to grab Anakin/Luke's lightsaber out of the snow and the lightsaber soars past him into the hands of Rey.  This was the moment that the whole movie was building towards, Rey finally accepting the Force and starting on the path of a Jedi.  Each time I have seen the movie I have gotten a shiver down my spine at this moment.  It is so beautifully realized in the reactions of Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley, accompanied by some stunning imagery captured by cinematographer Daniel Mindel, and topped off with the same music cue that John Williams used when Luke returned to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru's farm to find them dead.  This whole moment was just a perfect storm from top-to-bottom and it is one that will live on as one of the great defining moments in Star Wars history forever!
2.)  Riley Comes Home, Inside Out
3.)  Paddington Ventures Into the Film, Paddington
4.)  Blasting Off of the Eiffel Tower, Tomorrowland
5.)  Flying Like Iron Man, The Martian

Best Screenplay - Inside Out
Originality is always the big thing I am hoping for from Hollywood.  While I love sequels and adaptations as much as the next person, I also like new intellectual properties created just for movie screens, and thankfully Pixar is one of the few studios that still tries to do something original every few years or so.  Inside Out is perhaps one of Pixar's finest accomplishments and it is because of the imaginative script.  The characters are all lively, the dialogue clever, and the story structure is almost picture perfect.  Writers Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley (working from a story by Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen), managed to tap into the mind of an 11-year-old girl with great truth and clarity, and in doing so crafted a story that is a reflection of what I believe all of our minds are like, by getting to the emotional truths behind every thought and action.
2.)  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
3.)  Paddington
4.)  Steve Jobs
5.)  Ex Machina

Best Director - J.J. Abrams, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
I have long loved J.J., but even I was not expecting him to nail The Force Awakens as well as he did.  On paper he seemed to be the right person to succeed George Lucas, but I have seen time and again that what looks good on paper doesn't always translate.  Thankfully, J.J. threw all of himself into The Force Awakens and made a movie that is his best work to date.  He managed to successfully harken back to the style of the old Star Wars movies while infusing some of his more modern sensibilities to the material, taking Star Wars stylistically into the 21st century.  As for J.J. himself, I think he grew a lot as a moviemaker here.  By having to try and mimic the look of the old Star Wars movies, he really had to kind of strengthen his cinematic storytelling abilities.  In a lot of his previous movies there were still moments where you could tell he was a TV director making movies, but this is the first movie he has directed where I felt that all of his directorial choices were 100% cinematic.  I cannot wait to see what J.J. does next and how he uses the lessons he clearly learned here to make even greater movies in the future!
2.)  Paul King, Paddington
3.)  Christopher McQuarrie, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
4.)  Pete Docter, Inside Out
5.)  Ridley Scott, The Martian

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