There were quite a few movies that I loved in 2015 and some of them didn’t quite make my Top Ten for the year. I wanted to give those that came close a mention and talk about what they did especially well and maybe why they didn’t quite make the final list. So, here’s a short paragraph, or so, on each. I didn’t shoot for any certain number of films, here, but I ended up with seven. In another year, any of these might have cracked my Top Ten. I present them in alphabetical order.
For a Marvel Studios movie, Ant-Man was middle-of-the-road. That means that it was pretty dang great. It did lots of things right, but most of what it did well, it did well at the B+ level. Humor that was pretty funny, but not often hilarious. A story that was fun and interesting, but not particularly revolutionary. Perfect performances but nothing too outside-the-box as to be a standout. Strong characters (Marvel’s specialty) but not quite as memorable as many of their others. Where it truly excelled was in the design of the special effects. The effects team literally created new, groundbreaking techniques just for this film and it was a sight to behold. It should have been nominated for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects and it quite possibly should have won. No other comic book/action movie has ever existed that was quite like this one and I wish I could have included it in my Top Ten.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT
This isn’t my favorite Tarantino film. My favorite would have made my Top Ten. But this was Tarantino doing what Tarantino does – telling a story. It could have been shorter. The first half is all character-building and it’s done through a lot of talk (brilliant talk, though, as usual for Tarantino) and very little action. I don’t mind that, but after a while even I was left wondering where it was all heading. We were about ninety minutes in and I still wasn’t yet sure what the movie was about. But then it all breaks loose. Without spoiling anything, this is basically Tarantino doing Clue. And it was a fun ride with unpredictable characters and a great cast who looked like they were having the time of their lives. With a little more focus during the first half, this could have made my Top Ten.
Out of all the films on this list, Inside Out came the closest to making my Top Ten. It was incredibly difficult – and even a little painful in my soul – to leave it off. Inside Out is absolutely, without any question whatsoever, the most original, creative, intelligent concept that the world of entertainment has seen in many, many, many years. Not only coming up with the idea of conscious, anthropomorphic emotions, but then constructing a universe using so many ingenious metaphors, and then finding a way to communicate these incredibly complex ideas so that general audiences and even kids could follow them by somehow wrapping it all around a simple, relatable human story was too amazing for words. Though I just tried. The humor fell a little flat for me and it didn’t quite resonate emotionally like Pixar intended and that’s why it fell just behind Straight Outta Compton on my list. But this is a must-see for absolutely everyone and I’m just tickled that this intelligent, meaningful animated picture domestically out-grossed Minions, the latest entry in the creatively- and intellectually-stunted Despicable Me franchise.
Jurassic World gets a lot of flak for lacking an original take or major story twists. To those people, I say two things: 1. You’re right, and 2. Lighten up. Sometimes, it’s possible to overcomplicate things. This movie needed to do two basic things – thrill audiences and look amazing. It accomplished both with the greatest of ease. Well, not really. This stuff is never easy. But they made it look easy. And that kind of worked against it as people don’t realize how difficult it is to pull off a film like this, even when the story is fairly straightforward. Trying to revive a classic and beloved franchise (the original is the movie that made me love movies) is incredibly difficult to do, but Colin Trevorrow and gang did it. And I can’t wait for more. Had the script been a little wittier and on-point with its humor (Chris Pratt felt woefully underutilized), it might have made my Top Ten.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
The biggest complaint about this film is that it’s light on story, much like Jurassic World. And that’s completely accurate. Director George Miller was actually a guest of Conan O’Brien, last week, and he remarked that his goal was to make a silent film with sound. He wanted it to be a throwback picture that could be understood by anyone, regardless of what language they speak. I found that interesting. No matter your take on that, Fury Road was pure adrenaline and the fact that the overwhelming majority of the special effects were done practically and not through CGI (which are called “visual effects”, so even though it should win at the Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, it actually had very few visual effects. That category should probably be re-named.) is almost impossible to fathom. Mix in the unique characters (and character design) and the strong performances and I don’t begrudge any of the nominations that this film is getting. For me, it would have made my Top Ten if there were more story points that took me by surprise. Otherwise, I loved it.
It’s just all the rage these days to hate on any and every horror movie that comes along. It’s as though people’s biggest fear is what others will think of them if they admit they like something or that they jumped in a movie theater or got a little creeped out. Well, I don’t care what anybody thinks about me. I know good filmmaking when it slaps me in the face, and that’s what Unfriended did. Yes, it had a fun, scary ambiance but it also took a very unique approach unlike anything I had seen before (although I have since watched The Den. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the folks behind Unfriended hadn’t, at the time they were making this film.). I applaud anything with a fresh approach. On top of that, the film contained a deadly accurate portrayal of modern online culture and exists as an exaggerated – but appropriate – cautionary tale. Yet, it never gets so heavy-handed that it loses its fun factor. Easily my favorite horror movie of 2015.
He’s back. And he’s back to his true form. Like many others, I was once a huge fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s work. The Sixth Sense was an unqualified masterpiece which he followed up with several other solid works. For me, he started to lose his touch with Lady in the Water and completely went off the rails with The Happening, which is one of my least-favorite films I’ve ever seen. With The Visit (which he paid for himself, apparently), he returns to what worked for him at the beginning of his career: the unexpected. That doesn’t necessarily mean a huge twist. But audiences like to be pleasantly surprised and this film delivers in that regard. There are plenty of unexpected laughs and unexpected scares, both from unexpected sources. Again, it’s kewl to h8 on this movie, but that’s only for people who can’t be objective. And for people who say they hated Ed Oxenbould’s portrayal of Tyler because he was “annoying”, I have to tell you, that’s pretty much exactly how kids that age act and he was hilariously spot on. For the first time in what feels like forever, I’m excited to see what Shyamalan has coming next and that feels great.