2015 Recap: Top 10 Best + 5 Worst Movies of the Year

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It’s THAT time of the year again… time for film bloggers to rake our brains to do the tricky-but-fun process of selecting the best films they’ve seen all year. I was going to post this on December 31 but due to my East Coast trip I had to delay it until I’m back home. Suffice to say I didn’t see any 2015 releases since I left on Dec 22, so the last 2015 film I saw at the cinema was The Force Awakens. As it wasn’t tough enough selecting only 10 films, it’s even tougher ranking them. But like the years before, once I decided on my top three, ranking the other seven was a bit easier to do. Btw, what constitutes a 2015 movie is based on US release, so even though it’d say 2014 on IMDb, if a film is released in 2015 in the US, I will include it here.

In case you’re wondering about the criteria of selecting these, well I always say that my ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Re-watchability is also a factor here and I’d readily re-watch most of the films listed here, in fact, I have seen a few of them at least twice already.

Ok well, without further ado, I present you …

10 BEST FILMS OF 2015

10. Girlhood (Bande de filles)

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I saw this at MSP film fest last April and it really made an impression on me. It’s the only foreign language film on my list, which means I didn’t get to see as many foreign films this year. Bande de filles means gang of girls, and it’s set in a low-income suburbs of Paris, which offers the unglamorous part of the City of Light I rarely see in cinema. The female-centric drama was written AND directed by a female filmmaker, Céline Sciamma, and it centers on16-year-old girl Marime played by the mesmerizing Karidja Touré. Let’s just say she’s one of my two French actor discoveries I’m thankful for this year. The film is on Netflix and I highly recommend it if you’re in the mood for an off-the-beaten path French film that’s emotional and indelible. (full review)

9. 99 Homes

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For some reason this film flew under the radar and it’s really a shame. Based on the strength of the two actors alone, Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon, this film is well worth your time. The latter is especially electrifying in a role that really utilized Shannon’s inherently ominous quality, combined with his understated but powerful dramatic style. This is my first intro to Ramin Bahrani’s work and he’s made such a riveting drama about the housing crisis without resorting to sensationalizing to get the point across. A timely drama that will linger long after the closing credits. (full review)

8. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

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I LOVE how there are two franchise films that shift the film’s focus to be more female-driven and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is one of them. Yes of course we still have the venerable Tom Cruise back as super-spy Ethan Hunt, but Rebecca Ferguson‘s Ilsa Faust has an intriguing character arc. Miss Ferguson also belongs to my list of top 5 actors I’d love to see more of based on 2015 viewing. She is as bad ass as she is shrewd, pretty much Hunt’s equal, if not better. This is a film that prides itself in its preposterous action sequences and there’s chock full of those here to entertain even the most cynical moviegoers. There are SO many awesome sequences I could watch over and over, with the Vienna Opera House sequence being my absolute favorite. (full review)

7. Creed

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I LOVE it when a film I wasn’t really interested in initially ended up blowing me away. Well Creed is one of those films and it proves that not every reboot/spin-off is automatically bad. In fact, I’d consider this a gem of 2015 cinema that’d certainly please Rocky fans as well as win new ones. Michael B. Jordan hit gold once again with his second collaboration with writer/director Ryan Coogler, whose excellent direction makes for a dynamic as well as emotional film. Jordan is a charismatic lead, but it’s Sylvester Stallone who’s the scene-stealer, reprising his role he did forty years ago. As I mentioned in my awards musings post, it’d be cool to see him be nominated AND win an Oscar for the same role, as he absolutely deserved it. (full review)

6. The Big Short

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Films about the housing crisis have been the subject of many films as well as documentaries. I have to admit that the cast that include Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt piqued my interest. Well, those four actors were great, especially Bale and Carell who were the most memorable of the bunch. When I first saw the trailer and saw Adam McKay directing, I was a bit taken aback. I mean, this is the guy who did Anchorman and a bunch of comedies with Will Ferrell.  In a way, treating this dark and even upsetting subject matter in a comedic way works and it breaks the topic down to a level that’s easy to understand. The comedic style doesn’t mean it downplays the heartbreaking reality of the housing bubble crash however. There’s a similarities to 99 Homes and also Wolf of Wall Street in terms of its subject matter, but compared to Scorsese’s film I actually enjoyed this a lot more. It’s immensely entertaining from start to finish, so the bold-but-risky filmmaking style paid off here.

5. The Martian

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If you had told me that The Martian might end up on someone’s top 10 list earlier this year, I’d have laughed in their face. Somehow I just didn’t have any interest in seeing this given my disappointment with Ridley Scott’s movies lately, but I had to eat my own words as I ended up loving this. The comedic tone (as well as the disco music) was so unexpected but somehow worked beautifully for the film and Matt Damon is as likable as ever in the lead. For much of the film, it was mostly a one-man show with his character Mark Watney, but I remained engrossed throughout. The film also had a nice balance of his scenes in Mars and the scenes on earth with the rescue team at NASA. Jeff Daniels gave one of his two most memorable performances of the year (the other was in Steve Jobs), but kudos to Drew Goddard‘s sharp script and Mr. Scott for his return-to-form as a filmmaker. (full review)

4. Ex Machina

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This has been quite a year for Alicia Vikander. I hadn’t even heard of her before 2015, as I had just seen Anna Karenina earlier this year where she had a small part. Well, my intro to the Swedish actress was a memorable one. She played a beautiful female AI, as fetching and seductive even when her body looks very much like a machine. Alex Garland took an oft-told story of man vs. machine and somehow made it feel organic and even personal. Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac delivered excellent performances as well, especially the latter, as he continues to display amazing versatility as an actor. I saw this early in the year but I knew it’ll end up in my final top 10. It’s one of the best sci-fi films in recent memory, quite amazing what they achieved on a shoe-string budget of $15 million. (full review)

3. Brooklyn

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This was my favorite film I saw at TCFF this year and I knew this film would make my final Top 10. Brooklyn tells a simple yet very relatable and heartfelt story of an Irish immigrant and being an immigrant myself, I definitely relate to her in many ways. I’ve been a huge fan of Saoirse Ronan for some time and this is definitely her best work amongst her already illustrious career. She infused such gravitas into her role and able to convey the internal battle within her with just her eyes or a subtle smile. I also love Emory Cohen as one of her love interests, but the supporting cast are excellent overall. Sometimes a simple, no-frills story can make a great impact, and that’s the case with this one. Brilliant work from director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby, certainly one I’d appreciate for years to come. (full review)

2. Spotlight

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I just heard about this film a few months before its release and I’ve been anticipating it since. Well it did NOT disappoint and it ranks as one of the best ensemble cast AND journalism film ever. It’s the kind of good story-telling that I wish Hollywood would make more of. The captivating dialog grabs you right from the start and the pacing is just right that the film never drags despite not having much action. Powerful without being sensationalizing the story or emotionally-manipulative, at times it even felt like a documentary.

The fantastic cast brought the disturbing true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the Catholic Church’s child molestation and cover-up scandal to life. The investigative journalism scenes are riveting, but quiet scenes such as the meet-up between the Globe’s new editor and Cardinal Law was brimming with tension, and even occasional humor. I love that it subtly highlights the humanity of the journalists, more than just their reporting skills, without distracting from the main narrative.

The entire cast brought their A-game, especially those who made up the Spotlight investigative team: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo (who got the most screen time), Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James. Also kudos to Stanley Tucci and Liev Schreiber, the latter had the least screen time but perhaps one of the most memorable scenes as the Globe’s editor, thanks to his understated but astute performance. Tom McCarthy‘s script (co-written with Josh Singer) and his astute direction made a solid drama that will certainly linger with you for days. Definitely not the most comfortable subject but I encourage everyone to see this. Guaranteed to stun and rile you up, but that’s what what a brilliant retelling such a grievous subject matter is supposed to do.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

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This is an easy pick for number 1. It’s one of the most unique and unusual films I’ve seen in a while, and the level of artistry that goes into it is off the charts. Technically it’s simply astounding, especially in terms of cinematography. Now, the first two sentences were from my #1 pick of 2014 (Birdman), but it also fits perfectly for George Miller‘s masterpiece. Yes I said the ‘m’ word and I don’t think it’s a hyperbole.

I wish I had seen this more than once on the big screen but I’ve seen re-watched it on Blu-ray twice and loved every minute of it. The visual effects is simply magnificent and awe-inspiring, which is more fun to watch over and over and you’d always something new to marvel at. Once you realize most of it is practical effects and not simply CGI it’d blow your mind away even more. But action alone, no matter how spectacular, doesn’t make a movie, and that’s what makes Fury Road so gratifying on every level. At the heart of the film is a compelling and heart-wrenching, female-driven story. I love stories of unlikely friendship and so is the pairing of fierce Furiosa and the drifter, Max Rockatansky. The partnership between the two lost souls is beautifully realized… nobody needed *saving* but their shared journey ended up bringing redemption to both of them. I sure hope Charlize Theron would get lots of nominations for Best Actress in the role as she’s absolutely astounding. Tom Hardy‘s as cool as ever as the strong, silent-type hero and I look forward to seeing more of him in this franchise.

What a rockin’ duo this proved out to be, oh and the music is equally rock-tastic [pardon the pun] and has become a staple in our car now. It’s tough to find films that are such an intense feast for the eyes (and ear) but also deeply emotional and moving, but Fury Road did that for me. It made me want to get up and cheer one moment and got me teary-eyed the next. Yes it’s an inherently bizarre film, but once it grabs you it’s impossible to turn away. What a ride, what a lovely ride! (full review).

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Some of these almost made my final top 10 so some of these are excellent and some have become personal faves that I’d love to watch again and again. I list this in order of personal favorites, I actually owned the Blu-ray of Cinderella and What We Do in the Shadows, so yeah, I absolutely adore those two!

  1. Cinderella

  2. What We Do in the Shadows

  3. Inside Out

  4. Bridge of Spies

  5. Clouds of Sils Maria

  6. Room

  7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  8. Me and Earl and The Dying Girl

  9. Remember

  10. Mr. Holmes

  11. Cartel Land

  12. Kingsman: The Secret Service

  13. The End of the Tour

  14. Steve Jobs

  15. Spy

One film I’m surprised didn’t even make my top 25 is Macbeth, which I had been anticipating for some time. I don’t think I’ll be reviewing it but suffice it to say it didn’t quite make an impression to me, in fact I found it rather tedious. I was far more captivated watching Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus at the Donmar Theater on National Theatre Live. It may not be Shakespeare’s most famous play, but Hiddle’s performance was gripping from start to finish.

What I missed from 2015:

45 Years, Carol, The Danish Girl, The Lobster, Love & Mercy, Mustang, The Look of Silence, Tangerine, The Revenant, Sicario, Straight Outta Compton, etc.

I hope to catch these later this year.


5 Worst Movies of the Year

Now, some of these aren’t straight out horrible, there are some things I admire about Tomorrowland and Pan, I think both have interesting concepts but the execution didn’t quite work. I’d say those two still merit a rental, but I’d skip the rest. It really pains me to put Blackhat on here as I LOVE Michael Mann, but well, the movie was terrible! I wish Hollywood would realize there are other hunks besides Chris Hemsworth who can actually act! Self/Less and Jupiter Ascending are simply dreadful and a complete waste of time. In fact, the latter is just SO bad it still makes me cringe every time I see a photo of it, ugh. To this day I can’t understand the appeal of Channing Tatum and I probably never will.

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Now, I probably should’ve made a separate list for Most Disappointing Movies but I’d rather not waste my time. For sure Spectre and Jurassic World would make THAT list, as they’re not terrible film per se but it sure wasn’t nearly as good as I had expected.

Bullets Dodged:

Glad I missed some terrible ones like Terminator Genysis, Fantastic Four, The Seventh Son, The Cobler, Chappie, Aloha, etc. I have no interest in even renting these.


So that’s my top 10 list of 2015. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d love to hear it!

FlixChatter Review: The Martian (2015)

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It’s a testament of a truly good film when two weeks after I saw it I’m still thinking about it fondly and can’t wait to see it again. I mentioned in this post that I had been anticipating this film for a couple of reasons, but deep down I still wished it’d be good as I like Ridley Scott. Well, glad to report that the 77-year-old British thespian certainly still got it.

If the plot makes you think of Saving Private Ryan because it involves saving Matt Damon, well you wouldn’t be wrong, but the similarities pretty much end there. The film doesn’t waste much time to get to the part when Mark Watney is left alone in Mars following an accident that made his teammates presumed he’s killed. It turns out he survives the accident but that’s only the beginning of his journey being stranded in a desolate planet. The first act pretty much contains scenes of Watney dealing with the concept of surviving on whatever resources is left on the space station, as the next Mars mission would take at least four years.

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There are similarities to Gravity and Interstellar, but I think The Martian is a heck of a lot more entertaining than both. It’s an intelligent crowd pleaser that doesn’t dumb down the audience, but it also doesn’t bog us down with scientific mumbo jumbo or bludgeon us with over-sentimentality. Even the scenes in NASA with a terrific ensemble cast doesn’t feel at all boring or obligatory and has its share of amusing and fun moments. The emotional moments throughout the film feels natural and not at all manipulative, a testament to the shrewd script by Drew Goddard and Scott’s direction.

The whole concept of an astronaut growing potatoes inside a space station certainly make for some amusing and highly entertaining scenes. Whether it’s actually possible or not doesn’t really matter, and that’s what I find about this film. I find that I don’t pick apart the science as much as I did with say Interstellar, as I was completely invested in Watney’s journey from start to finish. It helps too that the script is really focused about the ‘bring him home’ storyline and keep it frill-free from unneccessary subplots.

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As for that ensemble cast, I’ll mention those who impressed me most, starting with Jeff Daniels as NASA chief Teddy Sanders. He made him memorable even though he’s not the most interesting characters. The same could be said with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong as two lead scientists tasked to help bring Watney home. Sean Bean is always great to watch but there is one particularly memorable scene involving a very famous fantasy trilogy that made his casting even more perfect. They actually have more to do in the film than Watney’s fellow team mates including Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie, though they are all pretty good in their roles. Donald Glover also has a brief but memorable role as a young genius astronomer who provides a key theory for the recovery mission. But the real star here is obviously Damon, who has the most screen time and most of his scenes are basically a one-man-show of him talking to the camera.

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The Martian looks phenomenal and has some breathtaking *aerial shots* by Dariusz Wolski of the red planet, shot in Wadi Rum, Jordan, which has a red-colored desert. That said, it’s not a style-over-substance film, in fact, it’s a story and character-driven piece, which is what every film should be. It must have been hellish for Watney to be stuck up there on his own, but thankfully, watching him being stuck there isn’t. The survival story is more akin to Tom Hanks’ Castaway, given the humorous tone and amazing survival skills of the protagonist. This is perhaps one of my favorite roles of Matt Damon, and he’s as likable and funny as he ever as astronaut Mark Watney.

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As with any survival story, there is an element of inspiration that make you appreciate what you have on earth, from profound things like spending time with your family to seemingly-trivial things like duct tape. But the film does it in such a droll and fun way, which seems to be faithful in terms to tone to Andy Weir‘s sci-fi novel, described by one book critic as “…sharp, funny and thrilling, with just the right amount of geekery” (per Wiki). I also love that The Martian is not dark and brooding despite the rather grim subject matter of a man being trapped alone in space. It’s also not nearly as violent as Scott’s other sci-fi film, apart from an earlier scene that definitely made me avert my eyes. This could very well be the most enjoyable theatrical experience from Ridley Scott since Gladiator, so yeah sir, we’re definitely entertained. And thanks for making another epic film that I can watch and appreciate for years to come.

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Have you seen The Martian? What did you think?

Fall Movie Spotlight: Ridley Scott’s The Martian

You’re probably wondering why I’m suddenly blogging about this film, with just two weeks before its US release (October 2). UK folks actually will get this two days sooner on Sept. 30. In all honesty, up until fairly recently, I had been mostly blasé about this film, given my disappointments with Sir Ridley Scott‘s movies lately. I even skipped The Counselor but I somehow got around to seeing Exodus despite my dread, and though I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would, it still was such a letdown.

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But y’know what, the relentless campaign somehow succeeded in getting me more intrigued about this one and it seems that the reviews suggest that this could be a return to form for the 77-year-old prolific filmmaker. The Rotten Tomatoes summary said the film is “Smart, thrilling, and surprisingly funny…” hmmm, I’m most intrigued by the surprisingly funny part, esp. given the 141-min running time, a bit of humor goes a long way.

During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

As for the casting, well I have to admit I was rather meh about Matt Damon casting, but perhaps because I was one of those who don’t care for his casting in Interstellar and he’s playing an astronaut yet again here. But yes I realize it’s a totally different character and I am intrigued by the MacGyver style survival story in space.

I do love the supporting cast! Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara … nice to see a trio of actresses in prominent roles. I’ve always liked Michael Peña, Jeff Daniels, Sebastian Stan and Chiwetel Ejiofor, so that’s very cool too. Interesting to see Ejiofor playing an Indian character, but apparently Irrfan Khan was originally cast but had scheduling conflict. Hey, even Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie whom I like in Headhunters is here, too!

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Another piece of trivia per IMDb, Drew Goddard, who wrote the screenplay for the film, was also at one point set to direct, but left that role to go direct the Sinister Six film. After that, Scott read the script and jumped into the project, rather than making a Prometheus sequel (I think that’s wise). I also didn’t realize that the writer of the novel Andy Weir first published his book for free on his own site as a blog for fun. Then people asked him to put it in a downloadable form, then people asked him to put it on Amazon for Kindle download which he did at the then min price of $0.99.

So apparently this movie had the coolest premiere ever… in the International Space Station! I guess that made sense as NASA was consulted while making the film in order to get aspects of space and space travel, specifically in relation to Mars, with the most accuracy.

FEATURETTES

Well I’m seeing the film later tonight, and I thought I’d post three featurettes from the film. The marketing budget for this film is pretty massive, so we’ll see if it pays off.


So are you looking forward to seeing The Martian?