Sunday, January 10, 2016

Dactyl's Movie Roundup 2015

Happy New Year! To kick off 2016, I present my round-up of the movies I saw last year, ranked purely by my personal subjective assessment. Although I missed some movies on my list (The Night Before, Spy, The Danish Girl, Sicario—you were next!), I thought this was a particularly strong year for female-driven stories and crowd-pleasing blockbusters. And my top 7 have become new all-time favorites!

25. The Divergent Series: Insurgent
Hilariously terrible. Halfway through the movie, Theo James tried to emote and my family and I collectively lost it.

24. Avengers: Age of Ultron 
I’m a casual Marvel fan and a major Captain America fan, but this was just so mediocre. Robot villain Ultron was a huge letdown after Loki. And I’m still confused by that Black Widow/Hulk storyline. 

23. The Intern
Classy and pleasant but boring. I think it lacks depth because neither of the lead characters had any discernable flaws.

22. Pitch Perfect 2
Anna Kendrick is an absolute gem, but I don’t think she’s ever looked so uninspired as she did in this movie. The final number with all the Bellas was sweet, though.

21. Creed
It’s probably criminal to have such a critically acclaimed movie near the bottom of this list, but I thought Creed was incredibly dull. Most of this assessment probably stems from the fact that I only understood about 30% of what Sylvester Stallone was saying. I was a huge fan of Fruitvale Station, but Creed simply didn’t connect with me at all

20. The Age of Adaline
Completely forgettable except that (a) they managed to find an eerily spot-on doppelganger to play young Harrison Ford, and (b) current Harrison Ford has totally still got it. What a movie star.

19. Cinderella
It’s basically as traditional as Cinderella can be, but I still enjoyed it. Cate Blanchett is a goddess (I’m pretty sure I say this every time I see a Cate Blanchett movie), the costumes are gorgeous, and Richard Madden’s eyes glow like those blue rocks that Marvel characters are always obsessing over.

18. Sleeping with Other People
This movie never quite nails its attempt to infuse drama into a romantic comedy, which makes it feel both tonally inconsistent and refreshingly unexpected. Overall, it’s a fun single-view movie with a solid cast (Alison Brie is particularly good).

17. Paper Towns
I saw this with my (then) 15 year-old brother, who confirmed that this movie feels very authentic to the modern high school experience. It’s not good enough to be a classic high school movie, but it’s still a worthy addition to the coming-of-age genre.

16. Ricki and the Flash
Objectively, this movie is not good at all—most characters are various shades of obnoxious, the plot doesn’t really go anywhere, and the music numbers are way too long. But Meryl Streep is so fully committed that she completely drew me into Ricki’s world; I was riveted, no matter how many dumb things she did. Plus, I’m always a sucker for ridiculously dramatic family throwdowns (remember August: Osage County?).

15. The Big Short
I have many gripes about this movie—the “bro club” tone, the actors’ uniformly terrible hair, director Adam McKay’s headache-inducing aversion to Steadicam. But the story about predicting and then waiting for the financial crisis is undeniably gripping, and the movie actually does a lot of teaching about the banking industry.

14. The Duff
I don’t think Mae Whitman’s awesomeness is a secret anymore, but I was pleasantly surprised by her fantastic chemistry with Robbie Amell. Their performances carry the film (distracting from Bella Thorne, whose mean girl was so blandly dead-eyed that I didn’t even have the heart to root against her). This will definitely be a fun rewatch for lazy Friday nights.

13. Inside Out
Don’t get me wrong, I liked Inside Out. It’s charming and creative and bittersweet, basically everything you want and expect from a Pixar film. It’s just lower on this list because—for some inexplicable reason—I didn’t find it as deep or as moving as everyone else did.

12. Room
This is a raw, powerful piece of film, and I had tears streaming down my face during the most emotional moment. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are incredible. But it was difficult to watch, and I’ll admit that I appreciated it more than I enjoyed it.

11. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
I didn’t expect much from this movie, but I thought it was smart and surprisingly elegant. I’m usually less concerned with technical prowess, but the action set pieces here were stunning; I definitely want to rewatch those scenes at the opera house. Sure, it’s not going to win any awards, but Rogue Nation is about as good as a summer blockbuster spy movie can be.

10. Trainwreck
Trainwreck confirmed 2015 as Amy Schumer breakout year, and the attention on this hilarious, poignant comedy is well-deserved. Honestly, though, my main takeaway from this movie was “Omg you guys Bill Hader is SO dreamy.” Hollywood, we demand more leading roles for Bill Hader.

9. Jurassic World
The nostalgia factor was strong with this movie. Even though the plot is basically a point-by-point rehash of Jurassic Park, I was absolutely thrilled the entire time. Those CGI dinosaurs were awesome. Chris Pratt is the officially the movie star we all want and deserve. And when the original John Williams theme song played while the camera soared over the park for the first time—straight-up chills.

8. Bridge of Spies
Bridge of Spies is fantastic. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have done it again, crafting a smart, engaging story with historical heft. Mark Rylance’s quiet strength contrasts with Hanks’ more verbal performance, but their characters’ shared humanity is the highlight of the film. And as a bonus, the dialogue is infused with the Coen Brothers’ signature wit.

7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
It’s a tall order to live up to Star Wars mania, but The Force Awakens handles the hype remarkably well. It was thrilling to see our old favorites back in action, especially Han Solo in a surprisingly meaty role. But this movie belongs to new characters Rey and Finn, whose undeniable chemistry (refreshingly platonic, I think) and parallel journeys from lonely children to heroes bring a new hope back to the galaxy. I’m so excited to see what adventures they get up to next!

6. Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road, Suffragette, and even The Force Awakens have gotten attention as the big “feminist” movies this year, but I think Brooklyn makes a subtle case of its own. Saoirse Ronan’s Eilis Lacey is such a wonderfully complex character, and you feel for her during every step of her immigrant journey. Even when I thought she was making huge mistakes, I never doubted her integrity. Other performers may have tackled more objectively challenging roles this year, but I’d give the Best Actress Oscar to Ronan’s empathic performance here.

5. Carol

A gorgeous love story, deeply moving in its emotional authenticity. Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett are sublime, and their subtle performances deserve enormous awards attention. Mara is the true lead of the film, so if she gets nominated in the Supporting Actress category at the Oscars, I think she should win in a landslide.

 4. The Martian
Who would have thought Ridley Scott would make the biggest crowd pleaser of the year? I have yet to meet a single person who didn’t love The Martian (including my mom, a notorious movie theater snoozer). Buoyed by the strength of its script and Matt Damon’s movie star charisma, The Martian’s universal acclaim is a testament to its deft balance of humor and heart.

3. Ex Machina
A brilliant, brilliant piece of science fiction tackling the question of what it means to be human. Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac all bring their A-game to a story that demands massive “NO SPOILER” tags. To anyone who has seen this movie, let’s get coffee and discuss.

2. Spotlight
I think my dad said it best: This is an A+ film. Everything about Spotlight is impeccable—script, direction, ensemble acting, editing, cinematography, set design, costuming, etc. Seriously, I would watch this again just to marvel at the music cues and editing choices. That attention to detail works perfectly for a story about investigative journalism, and the weighty subject matter should make Spotlight a strong, deserving contender for pretty much every award possible.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
I don’t even know where to begin. Visceral, stunning, riveting, risky, and endlessly rewarding, Fury Road is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen. It’s the rare film that fully embodies the “show, don’t tell” approach to storytelling, and the result is mind-blowingly great. From the first scene, Fury Road challenges you to keep up. Nothing comes easy in this post-apocalyptic desert, not even basic plot points. But by allowing us to soak in every layer of its surreal wasteland, Fury Road slowly unveils itself as a sharp reflection of our own imperfect society. Equal parts thrilling and resonant, this is art at its very best.

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