Thursday, January 7, 2016

My Favorite Movies of 2015!

2015 was the year that every movie fan had long been looking forward to (and that every box office analyst was especially giddy for), so many high profile movies were coming out in 2015 that it seemed like a dream come true for movie fans.  Thankfully, 2015 met most expectations and even exceeded some.  For myself personally, 2015 was a slow year for work (though I did get to take my first feature length movie to a film festival), but that is why it is awesome to have great movies to fall back on.  With that all said, there were so many great movies that I really loved this year that I found it really, really hard to narrow my list of favorites down to just 10, so I have made a list of my 11 favorite movies of 2015!  I guess you can say these are the movies that I thought were the best of the year, but I make no qualms in saying that I am a fanboy.  There are certain types of movies I am naturally drawn to (typically fantasy and science fiction), therefore this list is entirely subjective, but hopefully you will have fun in reading my thoughts on my favorite movies from 2015!

11.  Tomorrowland
Technically six Disney movies have made my list this year, primarily thanks to Disney owned studios like Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm, even still, Tomorrowland is one of two movies made in-house at Disney to make it.  The thing I loved so much about Tomorrowland, and the reason that I felt I needed an extra slot on my top 10 list, is because of the message of hope for the future that Tomorrowland preaches.  I honestly get turned off most of the time when I feel like a movie is trying to drive home a point, but the point being driven home here is one that we honestly need to hear.  Our world really is messed up and the only way to fix it is by trying to do something about it, which is the whole idea of Tomorrowland.  However, beyond that, this movie is just one fun ride from start to finish.  There is a lot of  adventure throughout, with the movie telling a story about a teen girl played very humorously by Britt Robertson.  She sees a vision of a futuristic city and sets out to actually find it, battling robots, blasting off in rocket ships, and teaming up with a cantankerous George Clooney all in the process.  If you don't smile even just a little bit while watching Tomorrowland, I think you've got issues.

10.  Ant-Man
You could almost argue that Ant-Man is Marvel's most purely fun movie to date.  While many didn't think much going into it, especially since original director Edgar Wright departed the project just months before filming began, Ant-Man wound up pleasantly surprising just about every geek I know.  One of the great things that Ant-Man does is it bucks a lot of the traditions of superhero movies, while also embracing them.  Our hero is an ex-con named Scott Lang, who thankfully (via actor Paul Rudd's innate likability) is a character we sympathize with.  We know he did wrong and we want him to now do right, which he gets the chance when Michael Douglas's reclusive billionaire inventor, Hank Pym, offers Scott the chance to become the heroic Ant-Man by stealing from an evil businessman whose invention spells doom for the world.  As you can see, it's different and yet familiar all at the same time, which is what helps separate Ant-Man from all of the other Marvel movies.  Plus, the movie is just a blast!  I mean, you have a character who can literally shrink to the size of an ant and communicate with them via a telepathic helmet!  On top of that you have the hilarity of Michael Pena as Scott's ex-con pal, the very humorous feud between Falcon and Ant-Man, and a trippy climax that adds another layer to the Marvel universe.  Honestly, if you say you love superhero movies, Ant-Man is one you wont want to skip.

9.  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2
The finale of any long-running story is difficult, but thankfully, The Hunger Games stuck the landing with Mockingjay - Part 2.  Sure, I know a lot of people hate that there are so many post-apocalyptic dystopias being saved by teenage girls trapped in the midst of a love triangle, but The Hunger Games has always done it better than any of its competitors, primarily because of the thought-filled source material and the amazing talent both in front of and behind the camera.  By having director Francis Lawrence finish out the last three movies in the series, it gave a level of consistency that many other franchise movies often lack when they start coming down the home stretch, allowing all four of the movies to actually play better when you watch them back-to-back.  Then there is the not-so-secret weapon that is Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, whose natural acting abilities almost always astonish and give heart and soul to this series.  Beyond that, Mockingjay - Part 2 arguably has the most action and the most emotional moments of all four movies.  This is a movie that has a little of everything, it's got action, suspense, heart, and thought, and it's why I think The Hunger Games movies are special as a whole, and why Mockingjay - Part 2 is a very fitting conclusion.

8.  Spectre
If Daniel Craig's fourth outing as James Bond also happens to have been his last, then it is a very awesome way for him to go out.  Spectre is everything a Bond fan could want out of a Bond movie.  The story is relatively simple, once again Bond goes rogue to track down an evil organization vying for world power called Spectre, but what makes this Bond movie special is it's the first Bond movie to feature Spectre (and with it, Bond's archnemesis Blofeld) in over three decades!  Full of some of the of most pulse pounding action set pieces in any Bond movie (the opening fight in the helicopter, the plane chase through the alps, etc.), and a very sultry, yet likable Bond girl in Lea Seydoux, Spectre pulls out all the stops to tie up every loose end from the other Daniel Craig Bond movies in style.  That is why I say that if this is Craig's last Bond movie it's a good way to go out, because Spectre is effectively the conclusion of every storyline that began with Casino Royale in 2006, and yet it teases a potential future if Daniel Craig wishes to continue with the character, which I hope he does.

7.  Avengers:  Age of Ultron
While not as good as the first Avengers from 2012, Age of Ultron was a highly ambitious successor that did more right than anything else.  The movie is fun, packed to the gills with iconic action scenes, and the story really sets the stage for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  I've said it before and I'll say it again, at this point you're either a fan of everything that Marvel is doing or you just shouldn't watch these movies, because you will not like them if you don't like all the others.  In a great many ways, a lot of the Marvel movies actually get better in hindsight after seeing how this tiny little seed that was planted in this movie pays off in another movie, so in that way it's not always about the individual movie, but all of the movies that have come before and all that will come after.  Age of Ultron pays off on a few promises made in earlier movies and even throws in a few new wrinkles to the whole MCU, like the surprisingly emotional romance between Bruce Banner and Black Widow, and the super surprising revelation that Hawkeye is a devoted family man, giving much more depth to his character.  I am real excited to see how these elements come into play in future Marvel movies.

6.  Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
It's real funny to think that with the fifth movie in the franchise, the Mission: Impossible series delivers its best to date.  Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt, who surprise, is on the run once again when the IMF is disbanded by the US government.  As far as the bad guys and their evil plot, it's all standard spy movie stuff, with the real reason that this movie works being because of the two newcomers to the franchise:  writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, and actress Rebecca Ferguson.  McQuarrie injects the whole enterprise with a much needed dose of adrenaline and clever plot machinations, while Ferguson just kicks butt without ever being annoying or unsympathetic (a problem I have with a lot of action heroines).  Add on top of that some of the finest meat-and-potatoes action scenes I've seen in a while, including a real showstopper of a fight at an opera house, and Rogue Nation simply excels in every area.

5.  The Martian
The premise is simple, Matt Damon's an astronaut stranded on Mars and NASA has to figure out how to get him home, what follows for the next two hours is a harrowing adventure that is suspenseful, funny, and surprisingly uplifting.  I think The Martian legitimately surprised a lot of people that were fearing it would be another relatively dour space survival tale like Gravity or Interstellar, thankfully it never was, all because of Matt Damon's optimistic presence, the exceptionally clever script by Drew Goddard, and Ridley Scott's best directing work in over a decade.  Of course, the movie is billed as a one man show but is actually an ensemble movie.  While Damon does occupy half of the movie's screen time, the other half is given to the folks back on Earth trying to figure out a way to bring him home.  By this jumping back-and-forth, we are able to get more layers to the story and have more emotional payoffs because we get to know other characters and who they are.  When you couple that with the humor in the face of danger that Damon infuses the role of Mark Watney, you get a movie that goes above and beyond expectations and is a great movie.

4.  Cinderella
This movie was the most pleasant surprise of 2015 for me.  I saw the trailers and thought it looked interesting, primarily because of the exceptional production values on display, but I was not expecting much from the story.  In truth, the story of Cinderella doesn't throw any curveballs and change anything that we already know about one of the most classic of fairy tales, all it does is it takes what has already been there and explores the how and why these characters do the things that they do in the context of the story's framework.  We get motivations for Cinderella, the Prince, and the Stepmother, that actually makes their characters feel three-dimensional and rich, and when you have the exceptional cast that this movie has, it's easy to deliver.  Lily James is super likable as Cinderella and Richard Madden is charming and sensitive as the Prince, while Cate Blanchett is never scenery chewing as the Stepmother but is genuinely malicious in the role.  Director Kenneth Branagh deserves genuine kudos for making an old fairy tale matter again.

3.  Inside Out
There must be something in the water up at Pixar Studios in San Francisco for them to continually deliver some of the greatest movies ever made, which they have done once more with Inside Out.  Director Pete Docter constructed a whole movie around the notion of the core emotions inside your head going on an epic adventure that never leaves the confines of it's setting, the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley.  There has never been another movie quite like this one and that is a rarity to say in this day and age where we feel like we have already seen it all, with it being very inspiring to think that originality is still possible in this medium of storytelling.  However, what makes the story resonate is not the fact that it's imaginative and fun, but that it has a huge heart that really gets to the core of how best to process life.  In all things we can't just be one emotion all the time, it's impossible and to try is detrimental.  We need sadness as much as we need joy, fear, anger, and disgust, and it's the thing that makes this movie a home run.

2.  Paddington
I have run into few people who actually saw this movie, with a lot thinking it looked just like Garfield or Alvin and the Chipmunks, and those people do not know what they are missing out on.  Being an adaptation of Michael Bond's Paddington the Bear book series, the story tells the tale of everyone's favorite Peruvian immigrant coming to London, and hijinks of course ensue.  The greatest thing I loved about this movie was that it was flat-out hilarious, with some of the jokes being the funniest I have seen and heard in a long time.  I especially loved how no one in the movie ever really questioned how or why a bear is talking, selling this cartoonish world even better.  When you couple that with the exceptional creative choices that writer/director Paul King made, and the genuine heart beating in every scene of the movie, you find a movie that is very much a standard family movie, and yet unlike any other family movie at the same time.  Personally, I'm a little biased though.  I have always had an affinity for Paddington going back to my childhood, and the thing I've realized is, you never stop loving the things of your childhood because twenty years later a movie will be made that will bring back all of the reasons as to why you loved that character in the first place.  Great characters live with us forever, whether we realize it or not, and Paddington has lived with me since I was a kid and this movie helped me remember, so I will always be thankful to the moviemakers for that.

1.  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
I can honestly say this was the most anticipated movie in my lifetime, and the fact that it actually delivered on all of its promise and then some, is just icing on the cake.  There is no other fantasy or sci-fi series, whether it be books, movies, TV, video games, etc., that I love more than Star Wars, and The Force Awakens is another sensational chapter in the ongoing saga of good versus evil.  However, what really makes The Force Awakens special, is that it recaptures the magic of the original Star Wars trilogy while being a new beginning at the same time.  Sure, we are caught back up with some old friends like Han, Leia, and Luke, but the movie is really about a new batch of heroes and villains like desert scavenger Rey,  stormtrooper deserter Finn, and Darth Vader acolyte Kylo Ren.  In particular, both Rey and Kylo Ren are two of the most emotionally complex characters in all of Star Wars lore and one needs to look no further than writers J.J. Abrams (who also directed the movie), Michael Arndt, and The Empire Strikes Back scribe, Lawrence Kasdan, for why that is the case.  On top of that, the movie has introduced the world to a whole new cast of sure to be movie stars like Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega (sorry BB-8, but your non-Star Wars acting jobs are limited).  I really can't say enough about The Force Awakens only that if you haven't seen it, go do so, because I think it's the perfect kind of entertainment that we all need right now in our world, and if you've already seen it, you might as well see it again and help it break some more box office records!


And that's it for 2015!  May the Force be with us all in 2016!

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