I actually completed this year’s Top 25 by mid-January but then I was so hyped about movies that I couldn’t stop watching them long enough to actually write this post. (The struggle is real.) As usual, I didn’t make my goal of publishing this before Oscar season ended and this is all woefully irrelevant now but I’m continuing on. You can call me tardy but never a quitter.
According to my adorably painstaking Letterboxd score-keeping, I went to the theatre 45 times to see 39 different films. Of those 39 films, 29 were new releases; other trips included 5 holdovers from 2014 (Into the Woods, Top Five, Inherent Vice, Selma and American Sniper), special anniversary screenings of Home Alone and the three Back To The Future films and a test screening of the 2016 unintentional comedy masterpiece The 5th Wave. The rest of my trips were encores of Avengers: Age of Ultron (my first IMAX 3D splurge!), Mad Max: Fury Road (two encores, technically), Magic Mike XXL, The Night Before (I saw a test screening and went again when it was released) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Through the magic of modern viewing habits, I obviously saw way more than 29 films from 2015 (a Top 25 would be ridiculous in that case); listed below are my favorites of the year along with a few other categories, just for fun. Spoiler-free unless otherwise marked, because what am I, a monster?
Crystal’s Top 25 Movies of 2015
25. The End of the Tour (Dir: James Ponsoldt)
I’ve been an unreasonable Jason Segel enthusiast for a while now and it’s incredibly pleasing to finally see him in a role that actually gives him something to do. Jesse Eisenberg’s post-Social Network career has been confusing at best and it’s nice to see him be interesting again. At times this film almost feels Linklater-esque in that it’s literally just two people exploring each other via conversation for the majority of the run-time and the intellectual chess match is surprisingly captivating; sometimes the conversation is heartfelt and earnest, sometimes it’s aggressive and mean. It’s an intellectual tug of war and the screenplay is fantastic in that it often feels as if there is an act structure within the conversations. A really lovely film.
24. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Dir: Christopher McQuarrie)
A far more low-key affair than its predecessor – aka Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol aka one of the best action movies of all time – and the fact that I’m calling a movie where the opening scene features Tom Cruise hanging off the side of an airplane “low-key” is just a testament to how ridiculously awesome the M:I brand has become. Rebecca Ferguson is a welcome addition to the franchise (and thankfully gets loads more to do -and more character to go with it- than the previous women in the series), the set pieces are exciting and live up to M:I standard; the story itself is a bit confounding at times (and features an almost Marvel-esque let-down of a villain) but it’s still a fantastic piece of popcorn cinema and one of the better action movies in recent memory.
23. While We’re Young (Dir: Noah Baumbach)
With a biting wit, a game cast and some truly great ideas, this is definitely top tier Baumbach. Part satire, part character study with a sprinkle of farce, it gets a bit zany in the third act but the sharp final moments are more than enough to justify the detour. A fascinating blend of the ugliness of Greenberg with the hope of Frances Ha.
22. Sisters (Dir: Jason Moore)
Obviously Tina Fey & Amy Poehler are a large part of why this movie works and their efforts, along with the peripheral cast (full of dependably hilarious familiar faces), helped this movie be the surprise delight that it was. It’s consistently laugh out loud funny with just a general “I like hanging out with these people” spirit. The script has just the right amount of push & pull between conventional plot movements and bizarre humor that made Paula Pell one of my favorite SNL writers. It even earns a “hugging and learning” ending!
21. San Andreas (Dir: Brad Peyton)
Decidedly NOT a good movie but I had the BEST time watching it and kind of loved it? I was consistently entertained and frequently awed; I actually felt my eyes widen several times. The Rock is everything (obviously) but that also apparently includes a competent dramatic actor. Who knew? The direction is actually pretty decent for a disaster movie and there are a few borderline impressive shots. Sure, it was definitely unintentionally hilarious NUMEROUS times and I accidentally laughed out loud quite a bit but I actually have to admire that it wasn’t as full-on dumb as it should have been. Anytime I cracked up at its expense it was due to theatrics or cheesiness as opposed to stupidity, which is an important distinction in the art of the bad movie. Cheesiness can be entertaining, stupidity is rarely anything other than frustrating. And this was not only entertaining, but one of the best times I’d had at a movie in a long time.
20. The Big Short (Dir: Adam McKay)
2015 was an exciting year for my personal moviegoing history because there were a few films that introduced me to a new emotional reaction I didn’t even know I could feel from movies: angry tears! The Big Short might seem like a weird film to provoke such a reaction but I sat there with random lumps in my throat, trying to figure out why and then I’m like: Oh yeah, because the world is a terrible place, people are awful and it makes me so angry that no one cares about either of those things.
This movie is ingeniously structured, with a great cast and a great pace. It’s presented just zanily enough to be entertaining and feel light and then WHAM it reminds you that this is all horrifically true, there are actual real garbage people that are out there somewhere. It’s the “laugh to keep from crying” mentality and it works. As a drama, it would’ve been too much, overwrought, too unbelievable somehow. The levity is much needed and well-deployed here.
That fire and rage that was shockingly palpable during moments in The Other Guys went and grew up but thankfully remained pissed off. I love it. Adam McKay, Oscar-winning screenwriter, Oscar-nominated director? How far we’ve all come.
19. Inside Out (Dir: Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen)
It goes without saying that this is the best thing Pixar has released in a WHILE – the visuals are outstanding, the cast is literally perfect (Amy Poehler as Joy. Amy Poehler, who may actually be made up of pure sunshine, as the personification of Joy. It’s almost TOO perfect.) and the fact that this concept is even here as a kids movie is an achievement within itself. The film actually went a lot further with the concept than I expected (that subconscious scene! BING BONG!) and I was surprised and impressed that the overall thematic message was allowed to be what it is. AND I DON’T CARE IF IT MAKES ME UNCOOL, I LIKED THE LAVA SHORT, OK?
18. Ant-Man (Dir: Peyton Reed)
I honestly thought this movie might be the gust of wind to finally bring down Marvel’s house of cards and I have never been more glad to be so wrong. I (big shock) remained staunchly #TeamEdgarWright in the creative kerfuffle that ensued so I had myself steeled for mediocrity and disappointment and instead I was treated to a movie both fun and funny, and exciting in ways I didn’t expect. Even going in knowing as much as I did about said kerfuffle, it all fits together pretty well and doesn’t feel like a Frankenstein of a film at all and I was surprised and delighted at how much of Edgar Wright I could still feel in the finished product. And don’t even get me started on those post-credits scenes, kids.
17. Steve Jobs (Dir: Danny Boyle)
I don’t know how a biopic about Steve Jobs ended up being one of the most divisive and arguably underrated movies of the year but 2015 was full of surprises. It’s not the second coming of The Social Network as I think a lot of us dared to dream but it’s still an elegant, frequently excellent film. I thought the decision to stage each conflict in the time preceding a big launch in Jobs’ career worked as an excellent framing device and made everything feel more heightened and theatrical. He was a larger than life entity, why not present him as such? The device also allows the film to be more of a character study about Jobs and the effect he has on those around him. I loved the changing look of the film as the years passed and for once, Danny Boyle’s direction isn’t needlessly frenetic, he allows shots and actors to breathe and create tension for themselves rather than rely on frantic editing to do it for them.
16. The Night Before (Dir: Jonathan Levine)
This film is destined to be a holiday cult classic for sure. Consistently funny, consistently weird and consistently entertaining; it’s clever enough to know when to subvert the genre tropes and clever enough to know when to embrace them. Michael Shannon legit deserves an Oscar for this and I’m only like 15% kidding. Seth Rogen also turns in some impressive work here; I had no idea there could continue to be shades and layers to his schtick but there are some borderline revelatory bits here. All in all, it’s great fun and something I know I’ll look forward to revisiting when the holiday season rolls around again.
15. Straight Outta Compton (Dir: F. Gary Gray)
Arguably the best cast film of 2015. The film at times feels a bit over-ambitious due to an overstuffed screenplay but the majority of this movie is so good, successfully dodging most of the pitfalls surrounding biopics, the flaws just don’t matter. (Paul Giamatti can chew all the scenery he wants because the film’s opening scene and both “Fuck tha Police” scenes alone are worth the price of admission.) The first 60-90 minutes of this film are fascinating and absolutely fly by with a magic and energy you usually don’t get from stories that people are already familiar with.
14. Ex Machina (Dir: Alex Garland)
I’m almost mad at how much this lived up to the hype. I’m almost mad that I get the whole Alicia Vikander thing now. I’m mostly mad that we’ve lost Oscar Isaac to Tumblr. I was excited at how thoughtful of a thriller this was because that concept seems like such a rarity these days; it’s also gorgeously shot with a great score and fantastic performances. It’s nothing new under the sci-fi sun but what it does, it does VERY very well.
13. Mistress America (Dir: Noah Baumbach)
Hilarious and adorable, which seems superfluous to say once you know it stars Greta Gerwig. The last Gerwig/Baumbach collaboration was 2012’s Francis Ha, which quickly became one of my all-time favs, so while this at first may seem like a significantly slighter film, I don’t necessarily consider that a bad thing. It’s by no means shallow and as much as I loved Ha‘s “Sad Clown” Gerwig, I certainly don’t mind spending 90 minutes with “Screwball Comedy All-Star” Gerwig. Between this and While We’re Young, Baumbach had a maddeningly excellent 2015.
12. Trainwreck (Dir: Judd Apatow)
I am the definition of an Apatow apologist (#JusticeForFunnyPeople) but I was actually really excited that for the most part, this movie seemed almost nothing like a Judd Apatow movie. It still ~feels~ like one in the carefully concocted combination of humor, honesty and heart but it also feels so much tighter and more efficient than his films usually do. There’s plot to tend to, there’s structure to adhere to. Every scene serves a purpose, serves the story, so there’s no time for random hang-out scenes to show off the cast’s extended improv skills. I usually love those moments when they happen in his movies, don’t get me wrong. But they would feel out of place here and I feel weirdly proud that Apatow has grown enough as a filmmaker to realize that and edit his style to fit the project.
But this is really and truly Amy Schumer’s movie – she kills it on all fronts: as a comic lead, as a dramatic lead, as a romantic lead. Her screenplay is hilarious, filled with weird and wonderful moments that absolutely feel like her comedic point-of-view. Bill Hader as the lead in a romantic comedy is a weird dream I’ve had for the better part of a decade and the reality is as good as I ever could’ve hoped. The supporting cast is incredible – to name just a few: Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton, Vanessa Bayer, Jon Glaser and Ezra Miller all have shining moments. And believe it or not, as much as it seems like stunt casting, LeBron James is mind-blowingly funny.
11. Creed (Dir: Ryan Coogler)
You’ve heard the rave reviews but it’s honestly even better than you’ve heard and SO much better than it ever needed to be. It looks great, it sounds great (dat score tho) and obviously Michael B. Jordan absolutely kills it. Yes, it’s essentially a riff on the Rocky template but when it’s done THIS well, who cares? (I’ll take a solid “member of the old guard passing the torch to the next generation” sequel/spin-off over a straight up reboot any day.) Crowd pleasing, excellent and worthy of all the hype. The opening scene is legit the best superhero origin story I’ve ever seen captured on film.
10. Room (Dir: Lenny Abrahamson)
As much hype as has surrounded this movie, there’s really no way to prepare for how affecting it is. Almost instantly there’s a lump in your throat just from the obvious love between mother and child. That instant bond keeps you on the edge of your seat during the entire first act. I’d seen trailers (which are positively criminal in how much they give away) so I knew the basic outline of the story but I was still sitting there, wanting to look away, heart pounding, almost mad at myself for having such an involuntary reaction.
While the rest of the film isn’t as bracing, it’s still ripe with anxiety and heartache. I’ve been a fan of Brie Larson for quite some time now and it’s been exciting to see her finally get the attention and acclaim she’s always deserved. And Jacob Tremblay, man. Possibly the best child performance I’ve ever seen. Pitch perfect yet completely natural and unaffected. The film very rarely feels melodramatic or pandering, which is rare for a movie with such an intense subject matter. This movie stayed with me for a long time after I left the theatre. It’s haunting and yet also life-affirming, as strange a combo as that may seem.
9. Sicario (Dir: Denis Villeneuve)
It feels weird to say I “enjoyed” this movie because it’s such a harrowing and upsetting bummer of a movie but it’s a very well done bummer of a movie, so here we are. I hated watching it and yet I couldn’t look away – in other words, it’s suspense done right. The cast is great and the story is interesting but what really elevates everything to another level is the cinematography and the score. Just an excellent movie through and through.
8. The Martian (Dir: Ridley Scott)
Put quite simply, this film was a joyous event for me. The story, the storytelling, the acting, the humor, the drama, the look, the sound, the tension – nearly everything about it reminded me why I love movies. And the undeniable sense of wonder and fun and excitement reminded me why I love science fiction. This was an important movie without being an Important Movie. Bravo.
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron (Dir: Joss Whedon)
The exaggerated, venomous disdain for this movie was probably my biggest film-related disappointment of 2015. Yes, I’m a Marvel fangirl and I absolutely worship in the House of Whedon but I’m still adult enough (and enough of an entertainment snob) to know a clunker when I see one. Iron Man 2, yes. Thor 2, largely. Dollhouse? Woof. Age of Ultron? No way. It felt like people decided to dislike this movie just because it was TIME to dislike a Marvel movie and nearly every facet of it was dissected and quibbled with and think-pieced to death in the week and a half in between its international release and its opening here. I liked the movie a great deal and I still felt disappointed coming out of it, because I knew I wasn’t going to have anyone to share my excitement with.
Based on word of mouth (and aforementioned think-pieces) I had lowered my expectations a great deal but I was ecstatic to find that this was still basically everything I could’ve hoped for. No, it didn’t make me feel the way the first one did nor did I want it to; that was a once in a lifetime experience, nearly impossible to replicate. Instead of pandering fan-service or diminishing returns, Ultron served up a feast of character study and development – not just for the big ticket heroes but for everyone (even Hawkeye!). I rewatched this movie recently and it is almost shocking how many scenes of introspection and dare I say quiet reflection there is for a summer blockbuster. Somehow it’s less of a sequel but still more than just “the next chapter” for these characters.
From the long tracking action scene that opens the film (I, for one, shall miss you, Joss Whedon) to the jokes (“Eugene O’Neill long”), to the character moments (“That’s not a question I need answered”), to the grand reveals (ANYTHING INVOLVING VISION) – I was never disappointed for a moment. (I teared up at least 3 times. Not because I was particularly touched but because I was just awed and excited? Reminder that I am an adult person.) What an embarrassment of riches these films have turned out to be.
6. The Hateful Eight (Dir: Quentin Tarantino)
The Hateful Eight isn’t just a movie, it’s an experience (and I’m not just referring to the 70mm Roadshow, although I’ll be getting to that later). I laughed, I grimaced, I was delighted, I was appalled, I was awed. I’m someone who is usually fascinated but not particularly affected by Tarantino’s trademark button-pushing but it’s hard to imagine anyone could sit through this film and not raise an eyebrow, not feel their eyes widen, not feel as if maybe this time he’s gone too far. I felt that way a handful of times but by the movie’s end, I was once again fascinated because it all felt purposefully intentional this time; the film seemed to feel gross and upsetting for a reason, not just for subversiveness’ sake. And of course as usual for a Tarantino film, the cast is incredible. (How does Samuel L. Jackson not have an Oscar yet?) And also as usual, everything looks and sounds amazing. Inglourious Basterds has still yet to be dethroned in my heart but this is probably the closest he’s come to date. A masterwork for sure.
5. Spotlight (Dir: Tom McCarthy)
As mentioned above, the cinema offerings of late 2015 gave me a thrilling and grand gift just days before my 30th birthday, when I discovered there were apparently still firsts to be had: I reacted to Spotlight in a way that I’d never reacted to a movie before: angry crying. I could feel myself getting emotional during this movie but I couldn’t figure out why because I didn’t find any specific thing particularly touching or moving. Obviously the story itself is harrowing and tough but you’re so involved in the “Yeah, Journalism!” of it all that it’s not until that very last scene (and those post-scripts) that the weight of everything just falls on you all at once and you react. You basically have to go through the stages of grief for the worldview you had going into this film and finally land on acceptance for the fact that there is just real evil in this world and there’s never going to be anything we can do about it. There aren’t enough Spotlights out there to keep the innocent safe and bring the villains to light. And then that’s when you angry-cry in the theatre bathroom.
Spotlight‘s cast is obviously great and there is some great direction on display. The screenplay is nothing fancy but it moves the narrative along in a way that’s easy to follow and never feels laborious or heavy-handed. It’s really just an excellent film in every regard.
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Dir: J.J. Abrams)
How does one even begin to comprehensibly detail their feelings on a Star Wars movie, much less try to be objective? It’s been nearly 4 months since The Force Awakens was released and I still haven’t figured that out, so I’ll try to keep it brief (and relatively calm). (And trust that I will be getting unnecessarily emotional about this movie in a later section of this blog.)
The Force Awakens didn’t just make me feel like a kid again, it made me actually want to HAVE a kid so that I could introduce them to this world and share these adventures with them. This movie was just everything I needed it to be. It evoked just enough of the old movies to fit in spiritually, thematically and emotionally but not so much that it’s just nostalgia-porn trickery. The old melds with the new in a way that feels magical: I’m instantly in love with the new characters, still madly in love with the old – of COURSE I want them to meet and have adventures together! The story itself is serviceable and familiar and somehow that’s not a complaint; I totally understand and appreciate why every choice was made.
Every piece of this puzzle fits in just the right way and I’m looking forward to the future where THIS movie will eventually be “just” another piece in another larger puzzle that will blow me away even further. HOW EXCITING it is to be excited about Star Wars again!
3. Sleeping With Other People (Dir: Leslye Headlund)
This has my vote for the most underrated film of 2015. I was eagerly anticipating this film but I also wasn’t sure how high my hopes should be since every recent movie that’s been touted as “redefining” or “blowing up” the romantic comedy has disappointed me in one way or another (I’m mainly thinking of Obvious Child -which I hated- but also Trainwreck -which I obviously liked- to a lesser degree) but this was the best I could’ve ever hoped for: not an obvious subversion or ironic takedown of the genre but just a more digestible, believable version of it.
The cast is fantastic all around (Alison Brie finally has something to do in a movie! Jason Sudeikis finally adds layers to his schtick!), the screenplay sings like a screwball comedy with dick jokes and the film itself is shot really well and looks fantastic. I am so pleasantly surprised that I have no “I loved this movie BUT” complaints. It really was just a joy to experience: delightful, funny, sweet, surprisingly touching, upsettingly relatable and arguably profound while still managing to have a bite to it. This is one of those movies that people will be discovering on Netflix for the next 5 years. Get in on the ground floor while you can!
2. Magic Mike XXL (Dir: Gregory Jacobs)
2012’s Magic Mike is legitimately one of my favorite films in recent memory so it is SHOCKING for me to say that this feels like the polar opposite of its predecessor and yet I love it just as much if not more. The original film was all about seediness and sadness, XXL is just pure joy and light. There’s still a LOT going on under the surface, it has by no means been dumbed down (open another tab, Google “Magic Mike XXL gender politics” and try not to spend the next hour reading articles about how this might be the most feminist, sex-positive, woman-respecting movie of the past decade) but its main concern is having a good time and it more than delivers on that front. The fun almost never stops on-screen and judging by how rowdy my audience was on opening night, it’s absolutely infectious. BUT I’m also happy to report that the film also holds up under the scrutiny of actually watching it as opposed to experiencing it like I did opening weekend. A week and a half after it opened, I sat in a sparsely attended matinee and could not wipe the smile off of my face; I thought to myself at least three times, “This is actually a perfect movie.” JOY.
Cinematically, the film is as gorgeously shot as the first one (in case you didn’t know, while Steven Soderbergh handed off directorial duties to his long-time AD Gregory Jacobs, he still served as editor and cinematographer) and filled with long takes and odd framings that made the film nerd in me smile.
Thematically, there is barely any plot, which SHOULD be a negative but somehow allows the film to feel weirdly efficient and fast-paced. It’s utilitarian and yet still fun and seemingly unpredictable. The basic plot and efficient nature allows the film to get a little deeper and contemplative at times; it makes some interesting statements, poses some thought-provoking questions and then moves on. Those who came looking for something more don’t feel slighted and those who came to have a good time don’t feel like they were just served up a dose of cinematic medicine. Everyone wins.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road (Dir: George Miller)
Last year I mused that one day my #1 film would be a surprise. Alas, 2015 was still not that year. Like most of the cinematic world, I was absolutely floored by Fury Road, which came as a bit of a surprise to me because this movie was barely on my radar before word of mouth reached such a fever pitch that I had to check it out for myself. I’m so glad that people praised it so loudly for so long that I HAD to see what the fuss was, I would not have wanted to miss out.
The hype for this movie was so intense that I was almost sure I was going to end up the contrarian but I walked out as shell-shocked and world-rocked as everyone else. The overwhelming spectacle of the film itself is worth the price of admission but once the actual story reveals itself, it is truly something to behold. I saw this movie in theatres three times and every time it was still thrilling, still unexpectedly beautiful, still awe-inspiring.
I still can’t believe this movie even happened. I fear this film has ruined me for other movies.
I am like 20% kidding.
– Carol (Dir: Todd Haynes)
Gorgeously shot and styled; oftentimes it looked and felt like a dream. Cate Blanchett (as usual) is magnificent and I think this is actually the most I’ve ever liked Rooney Mara in a film. It’s a little too much of a slow burn at first but once that simmer starts to boil, it’s absolutely captivating. Solid work all around. Quietly devastating and haunting.
– Crimson Peak (Dir: Guillermo Del Toro)
If you can keep your eye-rolling at bay for the inane twists and turns, you’ll find there is all kinds of pretty here to behold: the art direction, the costumes, the cinematography and obviously, the cast. Looking amazing and chewing scenery like it’s going out of style. (The poster displayed above was a pointed choice; the movie itself hovers between serviceable and stupid BUT it is ultimately worth watching for the admirably committed performance by Jessica Chastain.)
– Spy (Dir: Paul Feig)
Even if you think Melissa McCarthy’s schtick is wearing thin (I’m still amused by it), this film is worth watching for the dependably underrated Rose Byrne. A surprisingly fun time and much better quality than the trailer would indicate.
5. Trumbo (Dir: Jay Roach)
Bryan Cranston performs admirably (as always) and the subject is undeniably fascinating. There’s no good reason this should be a subpar film but it has a severe pacing problem, it has a habit of telling instead of showing and most of the actors can’t help but lapse into an “old timey voice,” causing their characters to seem cartoonish and distant. (And then there’s Louis CK, who doesn’t change his cadence at all so then it seems like a weird SNL sketch where Louis CK has to defend communism.)
4. Jurassic World (Dir: Colin Trevorrow)
In my “Summer Movies of 2015” post, this movie was on both my “most anticipated” AND my “I Can’t Seem To Make Myself Care About This” lists. Somehow I went in with low expectations and was still underwhelmed. I enjoyed watching it but I couldn’t tell you a darn thing that happened in it. Chris Pratt sure does smolder pretty though.
3. Anomalisa (Dir: Charlie Kaufman)
It’s hard to say I’m disappointed with this film because I did like it very much. I suppose the problem is that I admired it from a technical and intellectual standpoint but it didn’t connect with me emotionally, which is highly unusual for a Charlie Kaufman film. You know you’re an exceptional filmmaker when your film is technically perfect in every way but I’m still left yearning for more.
2. Paper Towns (Dir: Jake Schreier)
I was lukewarm on last year’s The Fault In Our Stars so I was surprised to be SO disappointed by this latest John Green adaptation. I was shocked at how tonally all over the place and thematically confused this film was; Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber are usually on it with their screenplays but this adaptation completely eliminated everything that made the book interesting and even slightly subversive.
I won’t go into the details of why the watering down of this story and the need to make the main character more palatable ultimately destroyed the point and poignancy of the story (although if that’s something that interests you, my full review is available on Letterboxd). All you need to know is that instead of being a condemnation/dissection of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, it reinforces and even EMBRACES that concept, which is baffling and infuriating. How could this have gone so wrong?
1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two (Dir: Francis Lawrence)
I am still so sad at how disappointed I was with this movie. This is the definition of “not with a bang but with a whimper.” The whole film felt off to me: the pacing was weird, the action (which was never a problem for me before) was incomprehensible and poorly directed, the plotting confusing and indecipherable. The overall themes and bullet points of the story were fine but the execution left a lot to be desired. “Mockingjay” was the only book of the series I did not read before seeing the film so when we arrived at the final act, I kept waiting to be surprised, waiting for something to react to, something to have SOME sort of emotional impact on me… and that moment never came. And that’s bizarre. I was unreasonably invested in this franchise, something should’ve made me feel something and it just never happened. And don’t even get me started on the ending. (Any of them. There were a lot.) So sad.
– Taken 3 (Dir: Olivier Megaton)
Taken 3 is as stupid and nonsensical as its predecessors but somehow manages to be the most entertaining entry in the franchise? I don’t know if it’s because I’ve finally come to terms with these movies being campy or if the filmmakers have finally come to terms with these movies being campy but I felt like this one all but did away with the self-seriousness of its predecessors and replaced it with a more fun and overall ridiculous vibe. The movie never makes sense and it never tries to. My brother and I were laughing OUT LOUD in the theatre and OFTEN. A terrible movie but a great time.
You Might Have Missed
Formerly the underrated category, it occurred to me this year: a movie technically needs to be SEEN by people to be unjustly underrated, so here we are with this new category. Obviously I’ve already spouted off about how Sleeping With Other People is the most criminally underseen film of the year but here are five more features that deserved more attention than they got.
5. Queen of Earth (Dir: Alex Ross Perry)
Elisabeth Moss is OTHERWORLDLY in this movie. Like, something might genuinely be wrong with her, she is so good at being so unhinged. Admittedly, this film is not for everybody: the direction varies from interesting to obnoxious, the screenplay from fittingly nightmarish to pretentiously obtuse. If I had been in a different mood, I’m sure I probably would have ended up pretty angry at this movie but I was able to stick it out and I’m glad I did.
4. By the Sea (Dir: Angelina Jolie)
Gorgeous to look at, frustrating to experience, confounding to consider and yet, I honestly think I could’ve watched at least another hour of this? There are definitely moments of failed profundity and regrettable melodramatic detours but something about it is fascinating and watchable and hypnotic even. It feels weird to say I enjoyed it since it’s such a bleak film and such a trying experience but I thought it was ultimately worth the effort.
3. The Duff (Dir: Ari Sandel)
It doesn’t rise to the level of Easy A but it reminded me of that film in how it doesn’t really tread new territory for teen comedies but somehow it also doesn’t necessarily feel cliched or formulaic. A solid entry into the teen comedy canon and it’s fantastic to finally see Mae Whitman in a starring role.
2. Unfriended (Dir: Levan Gabriadze)
I’m almost mad at how much I liked this movie. I genuinely thought it was effective and kind of good? It’s purely a gimmick movie but it follows through on that gimmick SO well. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel the need to watch this film again but it definitely worked for me the first time around.
1. The Overnight (Dir: Patrick Brice)
A surprisingly thoughtful, borderline pensive at times, comedy about commitment, relationships and insecurities – this is decidedly not the “crazy sex comedy” I expected based on the festival buzz, though it’s not surprising that a film with such nuance was sensationalized for the sake of headlines. There are some zany moments and definite adult themes but I wouldn’t really call this a “sex comedy” or even really classify its content as raunch. Nothing feels like a set piece or like it’s there for shock value, every beat and every bit is setting up a larger point about its themes. Quietly funny, with great performances all around and some really striking direction – one of the best looking comedies I’ve seen in a long time. Definitely worth seeking out.
I Really Didn’t Get The Fuss Over…
These movies weren’t bad but the general public opinion (not to mention Rotten Tomatoes) had me feeling like I was crazy for not liking them more. The movies I did not understand the hype over in 2015 were…
3. The Gift (Dir: Joel Edgerton)
The Gift was a fine enough movie and I was entertained by it but it didn’t feel as surprising or noteworthy as the word of mouth or the critics (96% Top Critics! WHAT?!) made it out to be.
2. It Follows (Dir: David Robert Mitchell)
It looks great, the lead actress is phenomenal and I love the premise but the screenplay feels like it’s still one or two drafts away from being all that it could be. I was actually distracted during the movie because of the plot problems and unanswered questions I was grappling with. I appreciate this film a lot more than I actually like it, if that makes any sense. I don’t often say this, but Quentin Tarantino said it best when he said It Follows is “one of those movies that’s so good that you start getting mad at it for not being great.”
1. Kingsman: The Secret Service (Dir: Matthew Vaughn)
I was actually excited to see this movie so I was shocked when I found myself first hopelessly bored and later endlessly irritated by how smug and juvenile the film turned out to be. I kept hearing what a fun and exciting ride this movie was but I found it to be joyless and frankly, ugly. If Colin Firth in a suit straight-up murdering people can’t make me like your movie, I don’t know what to tell you.
Crystal’s Top 5 Most Memorable Moviegoing Experiences of 2015
5. The Surprising: Ant-Man
As mentioned above, I was fully prepared for this to bring my enthusiasm for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a SCREECHING halt but somehow it just made me even more invested and unreasonably excited about it. Arguably Marvel’s first outright comedy, Ant-Man was thrilling and exciting not only as a movie but also as evidence that no matter how ridiculous or ill-advised a project might seem (Firing Edgar Wright? An Ant-Man movie in general, who would’ve thought that would work?), for some reason Marvel still knows what they’re doing. AND THEN ON TOP OF ALL THAT THERE WAS A CIVIL WAR SCENE AFTER THE CREDITS AND I ACTUALLY YELLED OHMYGOD OUT LOUD IN THE THEATRE WTF
4. The Ridiculous: San Andreas/Taken 3
I’ve already extolled the virtues (?) of these films in earlier sections so I’ll just say this: while they weren’t the best quality movies, San Andreas and Taken 3 were some of the most fun I had in a movie theatre in 2015. From the sheer “I have no idea what could possibly happen next” spectacle of San Andreas to the sublime idiocy of Taken 3, I was consistently entertained by both of these films. I’m honestly chuckling to myself right now, thinking about that ABSURD final beat of San Andreas and Forest Whitaker declaring the bagels that Liam Neeson left behind as evidence and then sitting down and eating them. And why was 85% of Taken 3‘s run-time devoted to establishing shots? Sure, I often enjoyed these movies for the wrong reasons, but I enjoyed them nonetheless.
3. The Special Event: The Hateful Eight 70mm Roadshow
Oh projector light shining above me, I didn’t realize how much I missed you! And dat hum! I’m glad I got to have the Hateful Eight Roadshow experience; this is a strange, at times surreal film to watch so why not make it an ever stranger experience? Everything looks SO bright and warm on 70mm, I’m glad that THIS is how I got to see such beautifully horrific images, somehow it feels like they carry more weight on film. And I got to take home a snazzy program to commemorate the occasion!
I haven’t gotten to see the “mainstream” edit of the film, so I can’t really comment on how exactly the two differ. But I can tell you that the cut to intermission is one of the best-placed beats I’ve ever experienced in my life (TRULY a “speak now or forever hold your peace” moment) and the hilarious narrative recap following the intermission immediately made it onto my short list of favorite Tarantino moments.
2. The Unknown: Test screenings of The Night Before and The 5th Wave (Dir: J. Blakeson)
In 2014, my friends and I were introduced to the world of test screenings with a preview of The Interview and in 2015 we had the opportunity to see early cuts of two wildly different films. Although I don’t recall much being different about The Night Before from when we tested it in August to when we saw it in late November, it was obviously still super cool to see a movie I was already excited to see in advance. (Even if it was a total burden to have to keep the details of MICHAEL SHANNON’S PERFORMANCE a secret for 3 months. I’m not joking. Performance of the year.)
I did not see the final cut of The 5th Wave when it was released in January of this year but the cut I saw last July was thoroughly entertaining… albeit for the wrong reasons. We basically went into the screening blind and were delightfully baffled at what we saw. An amalgamation of some great films (District 9, Hunger Games) and a few less than great ones (Ender’s Game, Twilight), there wasn’t a beat you couldn’t see coming a mile away. On top of the poor story, the acting was parody-level awful and the direction rote. The film was basically half a year from release at that point so it even had unfinished effects which made the hilariously bombastic action finale even more absurd because, as I later put it, “it looked like they were running away from Minecraft.” The surreal cherry on top of the bad movie was the fact that it was a ridiculously disorganized screening that started over an hour late and no one seemed to know why. As absurd and legitimately terrible as the screening (and film) was, for some reason, I was never upset that we spent hours waiting for it and ended up watching a terrible movie we never would’ve seen otherwise. It was an experience (and film) that will live in infamy within our circle and a memory we look back on fondly. And I believe we also each got a free movie ticket. That’s cool too.
1. The Meaningful: Creed, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
At first I was afraid (I was petrified. Sorry.) to let myself be excited about new Star Wars movies. The Phantom Menace is one of the first movies I remember ever disappointing me and by the time the prequel trilogy finished, I still loved the original movies but I was definitely fine with leaving it at that. I’ve never had particularly strong feelings about J.J. Abrams (never watched his TV shows, loved his Star Trek, was underwhelmed by Super 8) and even the original cast coming on board didn’t move me. The first teaser looked cool but like a lot of people, the “Chewie, we’re home” teaser made me care whether I wanted to or not. There’s a difference between reading online that Harrison Ford is reprising a role and actually seeing Han Solo exist again. That trailer played in front of Age of Ultron when I treated myself to an IMAX 3D show and I think I cried through the entire thing. And EVERY TIME I saw a Force Awakens trailer in a theatre, at least one person in the audience would triumphantly throw their fists in the air at the end. EVERY TIME. It’s been a wonderful, beautiful experience falling in love with this world again and watching pop culture at large fall in love with this world again and I’ve gotten to experience it all with my younger brother, who is just as emotionally invested in this as I am, and my mother, who introduced me to all this so many decades ago.
My mom is an OG Star Wars fangirl. Like, stood in line with her brother for hours to see Empire on opening night OG. So I was indoctrinated with the ways of the Force very early on in my life. So early on, in fact, that I don’t actually have a memory of being introduced to Star Wars, it has just always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. So the fact that not only did a decidedly NOT embarrassing new Star Wars film FINALLY come out for the first time in my lifetime but I also got to see it with my family on my 30th birthday is more emotional than I know how to articulate. (Yes I can write 7000+ words on the cinema of 2015 in general but I can’t cobble together a few more gooey sentences about Star Wars.)
I just wept with my mother through a new Rocky movie & in a few days I get to weep with my mother through a new Star Wars. What a world. 👶👧👩
— Crystal (@talentedwreason) December 14, 2015
2015 also saw the revival of another of my mom’s youthful obsessions: Rocky Balboa. Like Star Wars, mom and her youngest brother were deeply invested in the Rocky franchise from the beginning, even appearing as extras in a Rocky III crowd scene. I remember watching the movies from time to time growing up and although they’ve never been my favorites, they’re still very much a part of our lives. (Even Rocky V gets quoted nearly everyday in our household. Like who has even seen Rocky V enough times to be able to quote it?! My mom has.) I don’t know what we all were doing in 2006 when Rocky Balboa was released but 2015’s Creed was the first time I’ve been able to take my mom to see a Rocky movie and it moved me more than I thought it would. (Beyond the fact that Creed is an excellent movie, of course.) Those movies and that character may not mean that much to me but they mean a lot to her and I was sitting there thinking how crazy it must be for her to be experiencing all this. Rocky and Star Wars are movies she saw just a few months apart in her late teens and now nearly 40 years later, these beloved characters are alive again and going on new adventures while she watches alongside her adult children and husband of 32 years. What a world.
If you made it this far, you have my thanks and also my concern (I am in no way legally responsible for your eyestrain). 2016 has thus far brought us more than a few excellent films (The Witch, Zootopia and 10 Cloverfield Lane just to name a few) and will hopefully be bringing many more (not to jinx anything but I hope to have 2016’s Most Anticipated Summer Movies list up in the near future). And hopefully, maybe, JUST MAYBE, my Best of 2016 list will actually get posted before the first quarter of 2017 is over. FINGERS CROSSED.
As always, feedback via comments or tweets is always welcome (or I guess Tumblr replies are a thing again now?) and my full reviews of all these films (and more!) are located at my on-going film diary on Letterboxd.com