I saw a bunch of movies this year that I really, really enjoyed. As we opened 2015, it seems like there were about a dozen highly anticipated films on the release schedule and many of them actually lived up the some of the hype. I expanded on a few in longer posts this year, but here are some quick thoughts on my favorites:
#10. The Good Dinosaur
So Pixar actually released two films this year. Inside Out, the creatively unique and universally praised masterpiece was first. Then in the fall, they dropped The Good Dinosaur, a throwback coming-of-age western with a species-swapped duo at the center. What? I thought it was very good, not great. It still had a lot of heart and some very touching scenes that Pixar is adept at creating. Still, critics and audiences haven’t latched onto it like they did to Inside Out. Sure, it’s no Toy Story 3, but it’s definitely not Cars 2. I recommend it.
#9. Avengers: Age of Ultron
The first Avengers film was just so much fun! For the sequel, they tried to raise the stakes and create a new super-scary villain for our heroes to fight. Marvel partially succeeded, but the whole film felt a bit messy and loud. In fact, the best parts of the film are the quiet scenes during the groups retreat to set up Act 3. I loved diving a little deeper into Hawkeye’s character and how they depicted his marriage and family life. Otherwise, the movie ended up being rather forgettable, sadly.
#8. Jurassic World
It was the highest earning movie of the year (until Star Wars was unleashed). Clearly people were ready for another movie from this stagnant franchise! Newly minted superstar actor Chris Pine leads a very entertaining action flick that gives nods to the original classic (while ignoring the dumb sequels) and also blazes slightly new territory. I enjoyed it.
Against all odds, I liked Ant-Man better than Age of Ultron. Sure, it was sort of a re-hash of the Iron Man origin story, but Marvel excels with imbibing their stories with a light, fun feel. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, they created a very good blend here of action and humor. Edgar Wright’s influences are still there in shadow form, which is nice to see. I still wish he could have directed the whole things. Still, a very fun movie with replay value.
#6. The Martian
I loved, loved the book and was anxious to see it adapted by Ridley Scott, whom I consider a very good director. The movie didn’t disappoint and was packed with science, ingenuity, teamwork, wit and action. It’s a love letter to space travel engineering that actually has broad appeal. It was incredible that Andy Weir’s book hit all those marks and it’s incredible that the film was able to as well. Plus, the best use of 70’s pop music since Guardians of the Galaxy!
#5. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Wow, probably the best MI film of the series so far. Great action sequences, great spy story, good banter. And two standout performances from series newcomers Sean Harris and Rebecca Ferguson. Both of those two brought some fresh air to the film and were totally believable in their characters. I liked Ghost Protocol a lot, but Rogue Nation is the superior film.
#4. Mad Max: Fury Road
Many are calling Mad Max: Fury Road the best movie of the year. I think part of that is the perceived relevant cultural message of “feminism” that many people have drawn from the movie that is fanning those flames. It’s surely a very good movie and very entertaining. The visual are stunning and the story is simple yet relevant, yes. But I’m still annoyed that “feminism” now means just valuing women and seeing them as important enough to fight for. I think those things should also be seen as masculine views. Anyway, Max is a great ride.
#3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Remember Avatar and how the effects were awesome but the story was cookie-cutter? Remember how it was basically Pocahontas in space? Well, James Cameron could learn something from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The special effects here are often staggering in how good they look, but they are NOT over the top at all. And the story is a familiar trope in some ways, but it plays out so well that you fall right into the allegory of “different = bad = kill them”.
#2. Inside Out
I wrote up a long form review of this movie because I saw it in the theater with my kids and was deeply moved by the great storytelling and visuals. Plus, they had so many fun, creative concepts were thrown in here and there that were pitch perfect. Pixar had been on a bit of a downward trajectory with some stale sequel releases, but this one showed that they still have a solid brain trust that can come up with fantastic stories.
#1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
A movie that probably needed no marketing to become a hit got the most saturated marketing campaign ever. The hype was ridiculous, but incredibly the movie lived up to it. This was easily my favorite movie of the year. Perfect, no, but it didn’t need to be. When the credits rolled, I was legitimately sad that there wasn’t more. So, so good.