Ten of My Favorite Movies in 2015

I didn't seen as many films in 2015 as I should have, which is why my New Year's Resolution is to see more films in 2016. But I was fortunate enough to see most of the films that I wanted to see during 2015. Here are ten of my favorites, in (sort-of) reverse order:

Creed
The old king is dead, long live the new King. Rest in peace, Apollo Creed.

I love all of the Rocky movies. My favorite Rocky movie is Rocky 2. This movie is basically Rocky 7. It’s not as good as Rocky 2, but it’s better than Rocky 3, 4, and 5. It’s definitely as good as Rocky Balboa (6), but probably slightly “worse” than Rocky 1. Michael B. Jordan is really good. And Sylvester Stallone gives an all-time performance.

The Martian
A funny, kindhearted survival story about a well funded American space program that cooperates with China? Please sir, may I have another? This is Ridley Scott in full-blown mercenary director mode and it works like a charm. What I've said all along is this: Scott isn't a particularly adept storyteller without a good, clear narrative to work with (and yes, I know I’m not the first to say it). But here, working off Drew Godard's adaptation of Andy Weir's novel (still unread by your's truly), he's got what he needs to get the job done. Was this the palette cleanser for those who choked on and spat out the insanity that was Prometheus? I hope so. Let's go back to when Scott was one of the best in the biz.

Steve Jobs
Apple Cultists scare me, but their prophet Steve Jobs--blessed be his name, amen--scares me more. As much as I would have loved to see Christian Bale's take on this rich asshole genius, we've already drunk from that cup a few times. Fassbender is electric here, and somehow manages to imbue Steve Jobs the Movie Character with a spark of humanity, despite his utter failings as a member of the human race. Steve Jobs wasn't an inventor, he was an artist who painted with MP3 players and tablet computers, and he was paid handsomely for it, both with stock options and the blind adoration of millions of people who are now addicted to slave-made consumer products. This movie shows us why that's a bad thing, despite its unearned "happy" ending. 

Straight Outta Compton
As a Jewish teenager growing up on Long Island, I, of course, pretended to enjoy my fair share of hip-hop. Now that I'm older and hang out with slightly fewer Hebrews, I'm okay admitting that I don't love rap. But I do understand that NWA's power came from more than just their songs, even though I think "I Ain't Tha 1" is a work of lyrical genius. It was the persona that each NWA member crafted for himself that gave people something to tap into, and those personas are on display with ferocity in this film, especially those belonging to Ice Cube, Easy-E, and Dr. Dre. The performances in Straight Outta Compton took me by complete surprise, and I look forward to seeing what these talented actors show up in next.

Bone Tomahawk
This was easily the most disturbing film I saw this year. When you consider the pacing of this film—the “action” doesn’t really start until you reach the final half hour—and that the majority of the narrative involves a group of men walking through the desert chit chatting, Bone Tomahawk becomes even more impressive. The violence visited upon the characters in this movie is at times surreal, but somehow always nauseatingly realistic; it functions like an exclamation point on a very well written back and forth between disparate personalities at a dinner party. The film’s antagonists, a group of mutated Native Americans called “Troglodytes,” appear from off-screen like ghosts, and unceremoniously attack their prey with unmatched brutality. I screamed like a little baby boy and had to turn my head from the screen more than once. 

The End of the Tour
Three of the movies on my list are, at their cores, long conversations between characters (with two of them being punctuated with primo ultra-violence). This is one of those films. As an adult, I’ve avoided and feared Infinite Jest, as one might, but I’ve had a nagging interest in David Foster Wallace: the Man. I’ve read some of his essays and thought them quite good, but I just don’t think I’ll ever have it in me to spend 1,100 pages delving into the convergence of tennis and addiction. Plus, I find footnotes disdainful. But Wallace seems like an interesting man, and The End of the Tour, creative liberties aside, highlights the reason why. A deeply conflicted, action-movie-loving genius, Wallace hungered to be both famous and obscure simultaneously. That’s a pathology I can’t wrap my head around, but it’s great to see Jason Segel try it on for size. I’m not familiar with director James Ponsoldt’s work, but I’ll be keeping my eye on him.

The Hateful 8
Clue
for people who don’t care about Clue. John Carpenter’s The Thing in the Old West. Call it whatever you want to call it. This is Tarantino stripped down to his most basic, yet most powerful elements. It’s a goddamn masterpiece. 

I think some critics and moviegoers alike have a hard time with Tarantino as a human being. I know at least one person who is now boycotting his films because of his “anti-cop” attitude. Some people take umbrage with the casual use of the word “nigger” in his films. It’s strange, but indicative of an increasingly simplistic appreciation of film nowadays: filmgoers are coming into these movies politically pre-conditioned, ready to tear the thing to shreds if it doesn’t meet their internet-PhD criteria or their blue-collar American exceptionalism. 

Look, I’m not saying that the people who talk during movies or tap away on their cellphones in the midst of a crucial sequence are right-wingers, but I am saying that I wouldn’t be surprised if the correlation between Fox News fans and people who don't appreciate film was pronounced. 

Mission Impossible: 5
This movie is the manifestation of destiny. 

Christopher McQuarrie is the kind of action director we need, but not the one we deserve right now. There's an art to the shootout, the car chase, and the fistfight that certain filmmakers simply don't know how to capture and express. But McQuarrie knows how to shoot that type of movie magic, and he's working with Hollywood's greatest special effect in this one: Mr. Tom Cruise, disciple of Xenu and SP shattering extraordinaire. Historically, MI films have taken on a new director with each subsequent entry, but I’m okay with the guy who gave us Mission Impossible 5 mainlining the secret truth of the universe directly into our collective brainstem for a second time.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The problems of the Prequel Trilogy are myriad. This is known. But one of the biggest issues with Episodes 1-3 is that they're Star Wars films with a lot of the pulp strained out. They aren't "Star Wars-y" enough; they don't contain that essential element, a cinematic fluid that is defined by the mixture of expansive world-building and hokey doodle-in-the-margins-of-your-childhood-notebook wizardry. J.J. Abrams (whom I was very disappointed in after that In2 Darkness debacle) brought the juice back. Yes, yes, it’s a remix of A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, but after having my innards ripped out by the rotten apple that was late-period George Lucas, I was in no position to turn away fresh fruit. 

If I were forced to pick a favorite new character, I must admit that Adam Driver steals the show as new baddy and Darth Vader fanboy Kylo Ren.

Mad Max: Fury Road
At first I was more than a little disappointed to see the immense cloud of chatter surrounding Fury Road devolve into a single live-or-die-by-it political utility for either the Feminist Cause or the Men’s Rights Activists, but I have now arrived in Valhalla, shiny and chrome. Multiple viewings of this masterwork will produce that effect, so if you’re still unsure, go ahead, have another helping.

As a person who unabashedly awaits for the return of the Mel Gibson, it’s hard not to acknowledge that his trio of Mad Max performances lack a certain…madness. Tom Hardy has no such problem. He spends the first half of this film grunting like a rabid dog, scratching at himself, and gnawing at the unconscious form of Nicholas Hoult.

And for all of those people who claimed there wasn’t enough meat on Mad Max’s bone, I have only one thing to say to you: MEDIOCRE! 

***

Two Movies I Absolutely Refused To Watch on Sheer Principle: Jurassic World and Terminator Vaginasys
In 2013 I had my childhood murdered right in front of me when I was DP’ed by Star Trek: In2 Blah-Ness and Man of Steel during one very long summer of unfiltered cinematic barbarism. These were two movies created by people who fundamentally misunderstood the tenets of the mythologies they had inherited, and these mythologies happened to be the two I cherished the most. 

After that, there are a few other tales that defined my childhood and gave me the sensibilities I bring to every film I watch now. Jurassic Park and Terminator (and to a certain extent Terminator 2) are two of my favorite movies of all time. So factoring in the trauma of watching The S Stands for Suck and Scarf Fest: Into Ass-Ness, and the PTSD that followed, I determined to never voluntarily submit myself to Cretacious World and Termagenysis: This Time It's Terminal, unless there was a way to actively hurt the filmmakers involved. As of this writing, I have yet to figure out a way to enact my fiery vengeance.

But I shall wait...

The Assassin Kills (Your Moviegoing Afternoon)

Most critics have agreed that The Assassin, Hsiao-Hsien Hou's take on an 8th century Tang Dynasty feudal dispute/kissing cousins romance, is both beautiful and enigmatic. And the critics and I are in wholehearted agreement on the former; The Assassin is a painting of feudal China come to life--scored with vibrant color and pastoral charm. 

But the only enigma surrounding this film's existence, is how the filmmaker stayed awake long enough to make it. Scratch that. There's another big mystery. One that hits you about thirty minutes in, then sixty, then ninety...

And if you manage to get to the end of this hour and forty five minute slog through a history lesson, it's a mystery that will have you gritting your teeth just trying to figure out what the hell you just watched.

Who are any of these characters and what are they doing? Scenes begin and end with almost no context or connective tissue to other sections of the film and the plot is resolved when our protagonist, the assassin Yinniang, walks off into the sunset with two characters I simply could not recognize. In the middle of one baffling sequence, the camera cuts to a woman dressed like a Chinese superhero in the middle of a remote woodland area, stays with her for five or ten seconds and then moves on, without any sort of indication as to who she is or why she's important. When we catch up with this woman again, it's during a fight with Yinniang, a fight that occurs--you guessed it--without cause and without coincidence. As a matter of fact, the fight stops mid-knife slice and the two characters walk off in opposite directions. 

The boredom and confusion wouldn't be so bad if the Hou devoted any time or effort to make the action sequences interesting or thrilling. Instead, they just come and go without rhyme or reason, most of the time not lasting more than a minute. 

"Painting come to life" sounds nicer than it is now that I think about it. The Assassin is more like your grandfather's special set of limited edition stamps, depicting scenes from China thirteen hundred years ago, viewed from the inside of a very slow moving theme park graviton. Step off as soon as you can, the thing is never gonna spin faster.