This is a list, in the order of release date, of the best films I saw in the theater this year. Titles with links will take you to the full review I wrote. Also be sure to look for the links to The 602 Club reviews of many of the movies on the list.
The live action remake was a true surprise. As I said in my original review, “Going into the movie, one would not expect much more than the basic story seen in the animated feature. What Branagh has done is create depth in a story that many have derided as nothing more than an old fashioned and sadly outdated tale. This simple yet elegant theme, ‘Have Courage and Be Kind’ is the heart of the movie…The greatest gift of this Cinderella is the reminder to the world that it takes the utmost courage to be kind, especially in the face of constant adversity. Most films give us sarcastic, mean-spirited people who use their painful experiences as excuses to treat people terribly. Crafted with a deft hand, though, Cinderella lovingly directs us to see that it’s easy to be cruel and almost impossible to be kind, unless you have courage.”
I have never seen any of the previous Mad Max films, but with the praise this movie garnered on it’s release it felt like something I should see. Thankfully I was far from disappointed. As I wrote in my review, “No movie in the last decade has been a better representation of the total depravity of the human race than Mad Max: Fury Road. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, caused by its hubris, humankind has returned to the dust, scrounging like the animal it believes itself to be. What is left is ruled by a demonic sadist with a proclivity for a heavy metal inspired wardrobe. This is survival of the fittest at it’s most extreme. This is a movie that shows in the bleakest of ways that humanity left on it’s own is truly it own worst enemy.”
This film’s mysterious marketing had me intrigued for a year and I was glad that the film did not let me down. For me it was the themes that really captivated my attention and my review pointed out a few. “There does seem to be a loss of perspective; thoughts of tomorrow have been replaced with an obsession over what can be accumulated or acquired for immediate pleasure. A mandate was given at the beginning of time to take care of the earth and steward it. We were meant to create and foster life all around us. Inspiration used tocome from places like NASA, where the impossible seemed possible. Where the undiscovered country of the future was just a shuttle ride away. Technology was about making the world a better place, not just a more convenient one. Tomorrowland reminds us that we are all in this together, and not just now, but for the generations to come.” Please check out The 602 Club review.
This may have been the biggest surprise of the year for me since I didn’t have high hopes after the mediocre Lost Word and awful jurassic Park III. What I wrote originally still holds up, “Jurassic World is fun. I’ve been a dinosaur fan since I was young and I love having them back in a movie that is good. There are moments that the movie does make you feel awe again, just as the original did. While at the same time reminding you just how scary these animals would be. I liked Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt. A lot has been made of whether or not Claire is feminist enough and I think if her character had been a guy, no one would complain about the characterization, so I have no issues with her. Jurassic World is a great popcorn movie with timely reminders of the dangers that not dinosaurs, but humanity are to ourselves and to the world when we forget our place.” Please check out The 602 Club review.
It’s a testament to Pixar that when they are on their game their movies can be the most heartfelt and moving you will see. I wrote, “Inside Out powerfully and emotionally helps illuminate for everyone the ways in which the worst things in our lives can actually become the best, sadness and joy going hand in hand. It’s here that complex emotions are born; things are never simple but a jumble of joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust.”
The story of an aging Sherlock Holmes that is making the slow slide towards dementia was one of the most powerful films of the year. “Mr. Holmes is the perfect antidote to superheroes, explosions and dinosaurs. None of these have been bad things, but Mr. Holmes stands above these with it’s reminders of the importance of community and truly knowing those around us and allowing ourselves to be known. Go see Mr. Holmes and revel in the quiet mystery of a film doing what the medium does at it’s best, teaching us through a good story and good characters.”
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
When you reach the fifth movie in a franchise the audience cannot be blamed for wondering if it can possibly be good. Let’s face it, on a whole, the more films in a series, the more likely one is to experience diminishing returns. Luckily, Rogue Nation could arguably be considered the best of the Mission Impossible series. Tom Cruise continues to fire on all cylinders, proving that he’s still a mega star, but it is Rebecca Ferguson that steals the show. She’s the best female protagonist in the series and thankfully will be back for the next mission. Please check out The 602 Club review.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
There is no cooler or more retro film than U.N.C.L.E.. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer are terrific as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in a prequel that sets up the hit show from the 1960s. Alicia Vikander continues to impress, she was phenomenal in Ex Machina and her she’s every bit a foil for both men. The soundtrack is the grooviest you’ll hear and the movie is just so much fun, start to finish. Rent it, buy it and let’s cross our fingers they are given a sequel. Please check out The 602 Club review.
This movie was a fascinating look at the creative drive of men and the ways in which we are terrible gods. Oscar Isaac is mesmerizing as an inventor that has created the first true A.I. and asks Domhall Gleeson’s character to administer the Turing Test to the android. What follows is breathtaking, with performances from Isaac, Gleeson and Vikander that are truly Oscar worthy.
This was a gem in a summer of superheroes and dinosaurs and it’s message was inspiring. “Hollywood is not particularly known for being overly pro-life in it’s films, yet Unexpected is. There’s a beautiful moment when Samantha and John are at the doctor’s office for their first ultrasound and she sees the heartbeat on screen for the first time and it becomes real to her, that there is a life inside her. It can be so easy to forget that since the baby is hidden, but as that window opens, so do her eyes to what’s truly happening; she carrying a human baby. Neither of these women planned for their pregnancy, yet each of them decides to do the best for that new life. John Lennon famously said that life is what happens when you are busy making other plans and that is exactly what happens to the characters in this film. Having a baby is never going to be convenient, but it is always going to be a blessing whether that’s to the biological parents or the adoptive parents.”
Bond is back and this time it feels a little more familiar. There is a sense that yes, Craig is more serious as Bond but that does not mean he can’t have fun. The action is spectacular, especially the opening sequence and the story wraps up most of the storylines that began in Casino Royale. I thoroughly enjoy Léa Seydoux as Bond’s new love interest, she the best Bond woman since Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This is a worthy successor to Skyfall and if it is Craig’s last Bond, a wonderful swan song. Please check out The 602 Club review.
Set in the 1950s, it tells the story of Eilis, an Irish immigrant who comes to America in search of a better opportunities. Just as she begins to build a new life for herself, she must race back home to face the past and her family. Saoirse Ronan is a vision in this film and the scenery in Ireland will leave you longing for a trip to the Emerald Isle. Small movies that are all about characters are sometimes hard to find so be sure to seek this one out.
There is no bigger movie this year than the latest film in the Star Wars saga. My review on this was a long one, but it boiled down to this, “This is not the best Star Wars movie, that honor still belongs to The Empire Strikes Back, but it is a better one than I initially thought. It has some problems in the pacing, lack of clarity in the story and themes as well as a death that still leaves me numb…I would recommend seeing the movie more than once, since the first time can be a little jarring with it’s fast-paced nature and important story points almost glossed over because of it. I’d give the movie 3.75 lost lightsabers out of 5.” Please check out The 602 Club review.
This movie tells the story of Joy Mangano who invented the Miracle Mop. David O. Russell is back with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro muses. I found the movie inspiring as Joy embraces the “can do” spirit of America and rises above the limitations that life, choices and family have put on her to become one of the most successful QVC sellers and a self-made millionaire. It’s not perfect, but it’s a strong movie with another stellar performance from Jennifer Lawrence.
The Big Short
I can say, unequivocally that this is the best film of the year. It is based on the book by Michael Lewis which chronicles the lives of the people that recognized the coming crash in the housing market that led to the financial crisis of 2007-2010. Seldom has a film portrayed the hubris of man in all it’s disgusting glory. If Gordon Gekko though greed was good then those responsible for the foundation of sand that the housing markets were build on put him to shame. It’s a compelling and brilliant film that tries to help the view actually understand the financial mumbo-jumbo so that the viewer walks away with a clearer picture of just what and who was responsible. In a world throughly distracted by social media, celebrity lives and technological trinkets, mass fraud never been easier and sadly the world only cares when it all hits the fan. The Big Short is a clarion call to everyone, this will happen again if we let it, so we need to wake up and demand that things change.
I was reminded that Love&Mercy was this year and it was clearly one of the best of 2015 with Paul Dano’s phenomenal performance. Be sure to seek it out! What were your favorite movies this year? Comment and let me know so I can put them on my “to see” list!