Top Movies of 2015

Every film fan feels the need to do a “top ten” or “ten best” list for the year.

Well just like the past few years- as much as I LOVE movies I don’t go as often as you might think. If you counted up every NEW movie Ive seen in the theater this year, THAT might be less than ten.

Sure I go to Terror Tuesday every week and Weird Wednesday a lot- those are usually ten to thirty year old movies.

So here I go :

22)  JOY – a “just okay” Lifetime TV movie about female empowerment who uses a very sexist thing, kitchen mops, to build a business empire as all the men around her either battle her or belittle her.

21)  THE MARTIAN.  Reminded too much of recent similar films like GRAVITY  and the ending had the same structure as ARMAGEDDON… “ he’s about to get his ship to take off…. but no- wait he gets it work- he gets into space.. then another setback, then another…..

20) BRIDGE OF SPIES.  Cold War thriller…. reminded me of “13 Days” good but not great.

19) CHAPPIE – a blatantly plagiaristic mash up of “ Short Circuit” “ Robo Cop” and “District 13” That goofy guys bad haircut and scrawny attempts to sound “ gangsta”  Bad but it stuck in my mind.  One of those  movies I SAY I hate but I could watch it again just to be aggravated by the weird accents.

18) 50 SHADES OF GREY I’m almost embarrassed to say I went to see this. My (then) girlfriend wanted to see it…. Dakota Johnson is gorgeous and the photography conveys a sense of dark mystery. But this is teenybopper fan fix slash… Pretty college grad gets a billionaire boyfriend who’s got a dark secret that only a good woman can heal….. GAG!

17) MAGGIE.  I love “The Walking Dead” comic book and TV show, as well as Romero’s DEAD films.  This is pretty much a standalone episode of “The Walking Dead”  shot in the style of last years “ The road”.  I was excited to see it because my old pal JD Evermoore is seen shoving Arnold Schwarzenegger around in the trailer! WHO shoves Arnold and lives?

16) POLTERGEIST. Un necessary remake.  I saw it on dvd not in the theater so i can’t say if the 3D footage of “the other side” was any good.  Putting a camera drone into another dimension was a clever idea! Why not a sequel instead of a remake?  ANOTHER family moves in and meets the same ghost wall.

15) COP CAR. Got it from RedBox….  Pretty good…..not amazing….

14) JUPITER ASCENDING – everyone hated it. I saw it at the discount theater and thought it was… OK. The ending reminded me of “Flash Gordon” in a bad way. Flash Gordon meets the Transformers meets… Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe. Visually great though.

13) BLACK MASS.  I’d seen TV documentaries on the real Whitey Bulger and “The Departed” was almost the same story.. so this didn’t really do it for me.  Boston accented movies have been in vogue lately, Benedict Cumberbatch was cast for his name value not because he’s right for the part.  I just didn’t care about this character, theres nothing in this that explains why he was the way he was.

12) CHAPPIE – a blatantly plagiaristic mash up of “ Short Circuit” “ Robo Cop” and “District 13” That goofy guys bad haircut and scrawny attempts to sound “ gangsta”  Bad but it stuck in my mind.  One of those  movies I SAY I hate but I could watch it again just to be aggravated by the weird accents.

11) TERMINATOR GENISYS. Arnie! You’ve been Governor and legally CAN’T be President so why not play a bad guy again?!? This is a reboot like the “ Nu Trek” and a lot like JURASSIC WORLD. This is nice clean professional filmmaking and lacks the dirt B Movie energy of the first. And setting a key scene on the Golden Gate Bridge make it all the more reminiscent of yet another reboot “ Rise of the Planet of the Apes”.

10) JURASSIC WORLD.  Ho Hum. They re opened Jurassic Park even bigger and better than the old one. Gee I wonder if the monsters are gonna get out?!?!  The good- seeing Chris Pratt’s training of the raptors… Bryce Howard’s gratuitous cleavage, the rolling ball ride, that whale thing……  the bad? It seemed like a remake of the first one. And I’m the ONE  person who really liked Jurassic Park 3!

09) IT FOLLOWS.  Partway through I realized I’d seen it before at a film festival. A blatant STD analogy… very good direction and atmosphere.  Cheap looking in a VERY good way- that adds to the atmosphere. I stopped thinking about how they made it ( for once) and got lost in the story.

08) SICARIO.   Stylistically cribs from “Clear and Present Danger” and “ Traffic” but still pretty good. Benicio is great as someone who doesn’t want to be evil but wants to do evil things.  That final staredown in the apartment parking lot!

07) MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (2015)   I have completely lost track of how many of these there have been or really what they’re about.   Tom Cruise is some sort of James Bond guy doing…. impossible things…..  That opening stunt with Cruise REALLY hanging from the outside of a plane was great but it never got that good again for the rest of the movie.  At this point the movies have absolutely NO connection to the TV show I so loved in re runs!

06) LISTEN TO ME MARLON   a documentary on an acclaimed actor who is alleged to have been an egotistical weirdo who treated his directors like shit.  Brando was a fascinating bastard and this is a fascinating look at him. It opens on a CGI Brando but NOT the one from Superman Returns.

05) INSIDE OUT. After CARS I no longer said “ Pixar can do no wrong”.  This took awhile to start to work on me, but the unusual story point that sadness is just as valuable as joy saved it for .

04) THE HATEFUL 8.  This is both on my best of and WORST of movies of 2015.  A friend of mine got me a ticket as a Christmas present and getting to see 70mm on a big screen is always a good thing!  And it was the first really cold night of the year here in Austin Texas so I still had a chill over me when I sat down in the theater.  This doesn’t seem like typical Tarantino- a bunch of surrogates for QT himself spouting ceaseless pop culture references that don’t seem to have anything to do with the scene they’re in. The big gorgeous snowy Colorado mountains looked great in wide screen.  Characters DO talk too much and  characters stuck out in the middle of no where amazingly know each other, COINCIDENTALLY are somehow connected….  Once the characters get into a horse drawn stage coach its an interior character study.  The camera just stays in them- it may as well have been inside.  Then they get to “Minnie’s Haberdashery”   an odd combination of the general store we see in every western  and some sort of lounge / coffee shoppe ( is this historically accurate?) theres a bit of outdoor action in the barn and when they plunk down a guideline to the outhouse.

Theres a running gag about how the door has to be hammered shut every time its opened. This doesn’t seem to make any sense- which is actually GOOD writing because it gets you thinking WHY the door is like that- and eventually they DO explain it.    I’m no expert on racial history but I always thought there was formal segregation everywhere until the late 1950’s / 60s…. I didn’t get how Samuel Jacksons character was allowed into the same carriage as Kurt Russell’s character, not why he was allowed into the “haberdashery” Actually several characters ask “ Why is HE here?”     ( They explain later that Minnie was a black who apparently had no issues with the mixed race clientele.  I guess in the old west- or at least in THIS MOVIE’s old west no one has a problem with patronizing a black business.   I am assuming there were dozens of references to old western movies that I haven’t seen.  The Alamo Drafthouse sort of spelled jot out with their video pre-show- they showed charlie Chaplin’s short “The Gold Rush” ( where he’s trapped in a snowbound cabin) John Carpenters THE THING ( a bunch of men trapped in a snowbound building trying to figure out  who is the bad guy) and some odd foreign western I knew nothing about .  The second half is all inside the cabin so why make it a 70mm epic?  This part reminded of a Woody Allen film, QT’s own Reservoir Dogs ( the men trapped in  room arguing about who’s the bad guy/ who’s the impostor )   or… a stage play.   AND.. having QT use his own voice to suddenly narrate about the poisoned coffee was so amateurish, so “film school” so old hack I couldn’t stand it. Theres a dozen different ways I could think of to show the audience that information- extreme EXTREME close ups of the bottle of poison going into the coffee pot so that we can’t see WHO poured, but not have the directors voice come and just TELL us! QT did the same thing in “Inglorious Basterds” where Samuel Jacksons came from out of nowhere to tell us about combustible nitrate film.  An enjoyable film as I watched it but frustrating as I think about it afterwards.


03) GOING CLEAR- SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF.  An HBO documentary that got played in theaters, does that count?  I’ve been a big Scientology buff for the last couple of years  ( watching EVERYTHING on youtube about Scientology) so much of this was old hat to me ( but It would be news to most other people!)   Gorgeously shot, eerie music….. anything that sticks it to the national Church of Scientology con artists gets a thumbs up from me!

02) STAR WARS : THE FORCE AWAKENS.  What can I say?!?!?  I’m in the minority in that I really liked the second and third prequels – ( “Phantom Menace”?!?!? GAG!!). A lot of old school fans SAY that they hated the prequels that George Lucas had lost whatever it was he had to make the first ones. Yeah right, thats why all of them were box office hits and everyone who says they hate them has them on DVD!  Roger Ebert said of “The Phantom Menace” in May 1999 :

If it were the first “Star Wars” movie, “The Phantom Menace” would be hailed as a visionary breakthrough. But this is the fourth movie of the famous series, and we think we know the territory;

There are new places here–new kinds of places. Consider the underwater cities, floating in their transparent membranes. The Senate chamber, a vast sphere with senators arrayed along the inside walls, and speakers floating on pods in the center. And other places: the cityscape with the waterfall that has a dizzying descent through space. And the other cities: one city Venetian, with canals, another looking like a hothouse version of imperial Rome, and a third that seems to have grown out of desert sands.

Set against awesome backdrops, the characters in “The Phantom Menace” inhabit a plot that is little more complex than the stories I grew up on in science-fiction magazines. The whole series sometimes feel like a cover from Thrilling Wonder Stories, come to life.

Anyhoo- JJ Abrams breathed life back into Star Trek ( in ways I strongly disagree with but SOMETHING had to be done to resurrect Trek so OK….) and fans eagerly awaited how he would rejuvenate Star Wars.  They tried to keep a lid on spoilers but we saw on posters that there was SOME kind of masked Darth Vadery character, some kind of new Death Star, some new young actors and…… THE ORIGINAL CAST!

Back in 1983 I can remember hearing that Harrison Ford wanted Han Solo to die. I thought we’d see him die in “JEDI” but we didn’t….  He said it was right for the character but I think he didn’t want to be typecast in sci fi movies ( like what happened to George “Superman” Reeves in the 1950s and …. what happened to Mark Hamill!)   George Lucas said he didn’t want to be cruel to the audience by killing off a beloved character, but I believe the rumor that the toy merchandisers advised him that kids won’t buy a toy of a dead character.  Note – Harrison Ford DIDNT contract to do the first 3 movies, he could renegotiate each time and said he didn’t want to come back. I think thats why he was “killed” in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in a manner that left the door open to him being revived IF Ford agreed to come back.

I liked RETURN OF THE JEDI but I didn’t love it as much as the first 2.  Another Death Star- ANOTHER fatal point that could take it down, they went back to Tatooine, they went back to Dagobah, and the one new place was just a forest.  A big forest but it was so bright and happy looking it lacked the mystery and atmosphere of the planets they went to in the first 2.

Disney has become the evil empire. They bought up Marvel Comics, bought up the Muppets, and…. bought up Lucasfilm! Then again- Disney has been smart about their subsidiaries, keeping the “Disney” name off them and taking an honest look at what makes them work. The new Muppets movie has that irreverent sarcasm that the old Muppets had but would never fly in an actual branded Disney film.  The Marvel comics films are NOT afraid to dive into full fandom, no scenes of “why are you dressed like that”  never being embarrassed of their source.  And…. I’m assuming when they were about to give George Lucas FIVE BILLION DOLLARS they put a LOT of thought into how they were going to get their money back. Not just JJ Abrams but I bet every Disney accountant, VP, writer, marketing person was in on meetings to make sure they came up with something worth 5 billion!

The fans said they hated Jar Jar, they hated Midi Chlorians, they hated so much CGI…..   they hated that it wasn’t the originals.    

So I had a feeling that this new one, the Force Awakens would be good but would be like JEDI….. playing it safe.

By the way, I thought “Guardians of The Galaxy” felt more like an original trilogy film than a Marvel comics film, and I mean that as a compliment. “ Star Lord “ seemed like an amalgam of Han and Luke…..

The original 1977 STAR WARS was released to a world that had never seen anything on its technical scale before! THE FORCE AWAKENS came out in a world that has Star Wars calibre effects on every show on TV!

Personal backstory. I couldn’t get IMAX tickets for opening night ( tho I wanted to- they were sold out ) so I settled for 2 days later. Sunday 10 o clock. Not bad right? All hell broke loose at the house Im living at- so I was a nervous wreck as I went to get in line. An hour early and there already was a long line at the Bob Bullock. Not to worry I got a good seat anyway. IMAX 3D!

The opening scrawl! The yellow letters in IMAX 3D! Awwwwwesome!  The backstory…. the expanded Universe of Star Wars guessed that some remnants of The Evil Empire would remain to cause trouble for Luke, Han and Leia and their children. They threw all that out in favor of…. almost the same thing.

Jakku looks a LOT like Tatooine, but less bright and even more dismal. All that destroyed star destroyer wreckage! Love it- its like a star wars calendar painting come to life!   Luke, I mean Rey, finds R2D2 I mean BB8, who has a special message for the resistance which leads her to true Millennium Falcon and off the planet…  Rey has a makeshift Luke Skywalker doll in her room and at one point wears a Luke Skywalker helmet. Is she Lukes daughter?

The Falcon being scooped by that enormous ship- reminded me of “ The Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy”.   When the door got pried open and its the big reveal of Han and Chewie- no cheering from the crowd? You guys suck!

Those evil weird monsters on Hans ship. LOVE it! ( but if Lucas did that, the fan boys would have said it was stupid)!  This little gal knows the Falcon almost as well as Han. Is this his daughter? He DID do a lot of roguish things before he met Leia.

The cantina scene- a much more “rained on” looking location than the Mos Eisley cantina. The creatures in THIS cantina look more like they’re from a Terry Gilliam film not a Lucas or JJ film.

The original trilogy was a bunch of white males battling the “ black” Vader. In a nod to political correctness the two new leads are a smart resourceful woman and a sincere honest black man.  Well the old one had Leia, in fact Rey reminds me a lot of Leia now that I think about it.

As soon as we learn about the new Death Star planet I knew Han would lead a raid on the shield generator and SOMEONE would know the magic spot to blow it up.  I don’t know if I read this or just imagined it, but I alway thought that the old Death Star was one huge light saber and that while technicians could build it it would take the Emperors and Vaders knowledge of the Force to make it work.  You would think the Empire/New Order would put a LOT of thought into making sure there was no magic weak spot that could take it down after the rebels found weak spots TWICE before.

I didn’t get too much into the old Star Wars Expanded Universe but I read part of the “ Death Star” novel and picked up pieces of the EU from magazines and the internet. In the novels Luke started a new Jedi academy despite fears of a new Darth Vader. Presumably in the world of this new movie something similar happened, and Lukes nephew was tempted to the Dark side.   Someone went and got Vaders burnt helmet from Endor and somehow someone else got Annakin/Lukes original lightsaber from the bottom of Landos sky city? Ok…  ( By the way- even in the original continuity- why wouldn’t Vader have said to Luke “ You’ve got MY lightsaber!”)

Was it Coruscant that the New Order blew up?  Say what you want about THE PHANTOM MENACE, Lucas knew better than to give us a THIRD death star, little Annie made the magic shot that took down the Federation control ship, which looked a little bit like the later Death Star (s)  and it didn’t go up all at once , it had a fatal big explosion but pieces of it were intact.  I thought about this later, wouldn’t it hav been better that the New Order was TRYING to build a new Death Star and needed Rey or Luke to give up the secrets of the Force to make it really work?

It really really bothered me that this new film gave us the same ending as Jedi. Playing it far too safe. I still loved it though. Seen it twice and will probably see it again.

01) MAD MAX FURY ROAD.  Mel Gibson isn’t THAT old- he should have played the lead! To me this is Max Jr, maybe the Feral Kid who took Max’s clothes and cars and adopted his moniker!  I had forgotten how awesome George Miller is!  I loved the heck out of the first two Max films, but was disappointed at how “conventional” the third one was, how the intensity of the second film just wasn’t there. This one captured that mad cap feel of the first two!  In this day and age of unconvincing unexciting digital effects this film is full of REAL stunts, crashes and explosions! ( Shhh! Yeah I know theres a lot of CGI in this but its done so well you can barely tell its CGI! It still feels real!)  The stunning shot of Max seeing the angelic women in the middle of a dirt apocalypse- that evil mask on the bad guy- the intensity of the car scenes!  Usually action movies like this are geared towards men but this has a refreshing amount of strong women in most of the supporting roles.  The collapsing satellite described as a relic of the past! I want FURY ROAD 2 right now!

I still want to see Anomalisa


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