Good news folks, 2015 is finally over. Bad news folks, that means you’re going to have to suffer through a variety of “year in review” articles. In fact, you’re reading one right now. I’ll do my best to make it as painless as possible. This article will be all reverie! You see, I like movies. That’s why I’m a film critic! I know that most folks of my ilk tend to be a lil’ whiney and pissy about movies. You might even start to think that film critics hate them. But nope! We don’t. We just love em’ so much that we hate when they are bad. That sentence makes sense, right?
Anyhoo, now that we’re all crossing the finish line for 2015, the time has come to look back and announce the finest flicks of the year. To be more precise, I’ll be dubbing ten movies from 2015 as the best. You know, in a top ten list. Like the headline. With this being a CGM sanctioned list, you know that we’re only talking about genre films and animation. It’s what we love and it’s what you love. Here are the movies I loved the most in 2015. Check ‘em out if you haven’t seen ‘em. I’ve got a feeling that you’ll love them too. And now…on with the countdown.
It might not have lit the box office on fire and was a little underrated by most critics, but Crimson Peak was probably the most artistically pure experience that Guillermo Del Toro has enjoyed within the studio system. Sure, the film doesn’t quite reach the ambitious heights of The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth, but the big guy comes close. Delivering a gothic romance produced with almost jarring earnestness, Del Toro created what is easily the most sumptuous film of the year. Sure, those who fell for the marketing trap and went in expecting a jump scare horror movie might have been disappointed. The film has scares, certainly. However, it’s primarily a gothic romance, just with ghostly (and unexpectedly Giallo) influences. It’s the gothic romance that finally delivers the overt chills you were waiting for in high school English class, combined with some of the most beautiful images to appear in a Hollywood film this year (seriously, Del Toro’s use of color alone is worthy of a viewing). If you missed it, give it a chance. You won’t regret it.
Here’s an obscure one, but a goddamn fun film. The nutty Winnipeg filmmaking collective known as Astron-6 have spent years resurrecting 80s trash and transforming it into parody comedy gold. Their short films were fantastic and their first features Father’s Day and Manborg made a mark. However, their latest film The Editor is a whole other ballgame. A pitch perfect parody/homage to the Italian horror films of the 70s/80s, The Editor was hands down the funniest film of the year for anyone who knows the names Fulci and Argento as well as a close relative. The team nailed the glorious aesthetic, ludicrous writing, and ridiculous dubbing of those films perfectly, wrapping it around their usual surrealist comedy impulses and delivering a movie made by and for horror movie nerds. Quite simply, if you love Italian horror, you need to see The Editor. You won’t believe how perfectly the nutty gentlemen at Astron-6 nailed their homage.
Released in the spring to little fanfare, Ex Machina was a pleasant indie sci-fi surprise. However, it was only after months of hindsight that it became clear Ex Machina was one the finest films of 2015. Alex Garland’s directorial debut (he previously wrote a handful of films like 28 Days Later and Dredd) is a quirky, creepy, and kinky bit of thought experiment AI sci-fi. It’s damn entertaining. But it’s only after a little time spent sitting with the movie in hindsight that it became clear what a singularly bizarre, insightful, intelligent flick this thing truly is (exploring everything from gender politics to digital manipulation in a manner both timely and fresh). Garland created something special here and hopefully it won’t be the last script the man directs. Clearly, he’s preeettty good at it. Not to mention the fact that the film featured three of the finest performances of the year, especially from the almost supernaturally talented Alicia Vikander. Her work as an AI experiment will likely be a sci-fi milestone for many moons to come.
Few filmmakers have ever transitioned from art house origins into genre thrills as effectively as Canuck Denis Villeneuve. After scoring awards and critical gushings for films like Polytechnique and Incendies, Villeneuve made the leap to La-La-land in 2013 with the decent thriller Prisoners. Then, this year, he made his first mainstream masterpiece in Sicario. A sweaty thriller that takes place within the US/Mexican drug war and featuring the likes of Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro, this nasty genre romp slithers under your skin with thrills that sting. The parade of lies, betrayal, and deception all bear the weight of social commentary in addition to visceral entertainment without one side overwhelming the other. Watch it as an action flick and you’ll find yourself ruminating on the futility of the drug war for hours later. It’s clever, brilliantly acted stuff. Toss in some absolutely astounding imagery from cinematography genius Roger Deakins and you’ve got yourself one of the most beautiful and accomplished action flicks of the year that also happens to double as a work of art. I can’t wait to see what Villeneuve does with the new Blade Runner movie. He’s an inspired choice.
This year’s official, canonical James Bond movie Spectre attempted to fuse the old fashioned globe-hopping adventure, cartoony supervillains, secret liars, and goofy gadgets of the Roger Moore Bond era with Daniel Craig’s more grounded Bond. But aside from a few amazing action scenes, the experiment was a failure that proved Craig’s Bond is too sombre for such light pleasures. However, just a few months earlier the underrated Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class) delivered a pitch perfect old-timey Bond romp in Kingsman. The R-rated blockbuster is a virtual checklist of classic Bond pleasures, only with a far more contemporary, sarcastic, self-conscious, and even mildly subversive tone. Vaughn did such an amazing job of applying the most ludicrous excesses of Bond to the comic book blockbuster era that he really should have been given the keys to the Aston Martin and 007 franchise the second the credits rolled. Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world. But that’s ok. Vaughn will make a Kingsman sequel soon enough, which will allow him to continue to revive the R-rated blockbuster for an era that needs such things. That’ll do. That’ll do just fine.
Oh Pixar. Your remarkable decade-plus of animated masterpieces sure earned you all a lot of leeway over the past few years. Sure, we could all agree that Cars 2, Monsters University, and even Brave were disappointments. But the Pixar legacy meant that we’d let it slide. However, there was a legitimate concern that the Pixar clan had lost their way and the golden days were over. Thank God for Inside Out. This beautiful parable about the importance of accepting sadness for the sake of growth featured a message that all children (and most of their parents) could benefit from, wrapped up in a gorgeously animated and hilariously voiced bit of sterling entertainment. Inside Out is a new Pixar masterpiece and it was worth the wait. Oh, and Bing Bong…need I say more?
Unsurprisingly, the first George Lucas lite Star Wars film made by the Disney empire has been shattering box office records at a fever pitch. Surprisingly, the movie is also good…really good. JJ Abrams and his team created a $300 million apology for the prequels that delivered all of the nostalgia and warm fuzzies of familiarity that we dreamed of. Is it a perfect movie? Absolutely not. But what Star Wars movie is perfect? Well, The Empire Strikes Back, I suppose. Yet even then, we’re talking about popcorn fluff. It’s just popcorn fluff elevated to the stuff of myth. Abrams’ Star Wars pilot project set the tone well for the one-movie-a-year Star Wars onslaught that the Disney overlords have planned for the foreseeable future. Eventually repetition will dilute the special Star Wars feeling we all have right now. But who cares about that? The good news is that The Force Awakens delivered in every way that we could have hoped. Bring on the next round! It’s so delightful to love Star Wars again.
As usual, Quentin Tarantino has delivered a big ol’ work of bloody entertainment tainted with all sorts of ugly ideas about America. It’s been strange to watch the leader of the 90s indie film movement transition into writing and directing blockbusters, but it happened and he’s pretty gosh darn good at it. The Hateful Eight might not quite match the bold historical fiction of Inglourious Basterds or Django: Unchained. Nope, it’s more of a claustrophobic thriller filled with a collection of secretive scumbags on a one-way journey to bloody kumuppins. Along the way, Tarantino lays on some beautiful 70mm visuals, cracklingly filthy dialogue, harsh explorations of violence, and a few pointed barbs about the unofficial American pastime of antagonism. Excessive and overblown? Sure, but that’s just the Tarantino way. It’s not his best, but even very good Tarantino movies tend to play better than excellent projects by lesser filmmakers.
From the perverse and depressed mind of Charlie Kaufman comes yet another bleakly comedic masterpiece. This stop motion film about a sad middle-aged man for whom the world is a wall of identical faces and voices until he finds a unique woman, is both a beautiful little fable and a twisted provocation. Working with 3D printers to create remarkable nationalistic puppetry and animation, the film represents an intriguing new vision of Kaufman’s distinct brand of mundane surrealism that tickles with laughs in the moment, but leaves you head-scratchingly depressed for days in hindsight. Granted, that’s not a cinematic experience for everyone. Yet for those with a soft spot for Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, prepare for something special.
Finally, there was only one film that could possibly top this list. In theory, a third sequel to an ancient action franchise made a full 30 years after the last chapter doesn’t sound like something that could be considered a masterpiece. However, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is truly something special. As a feat of relentlessly intense action and pure cinematic spectacle, Fury Road is practically unparalleled in the blockbuster world. The fact that Miller crammed in so many resonant themes, ideas, and instantly iconic characters within that rush of visual storytelling elevates Fury Road into something truly special. This is the platonic ideal of action movies, y’all. A film that does so much so right that it’s hard to imagine that any blockbuster filmmaker will top it in the foreseeable future. This movie will be remembered and beloved for quite some time. A genuine masterpiece…and all the pretty explosions were nice too.
Well, that CGM’s official top ten film list for 2015. However, the struggle to condense the list down to ten slots was immense this year. So, for those who are interested, here’s another ranked list of the ten best genre films that didn’t make the cut. Confusing? Maybe. But if you’re looking for a few more cinematic gems that escaped your eyeholes last year, here’s another round:
1) What We Do In The Shadows (Mock doc vampire comedy perfection.)
2) Krampus (The ideal horror/comedy lump of coal for all naughty girls and boys.)
3) The Martian (Hard sci-fi meets popcorn pleasure.)
4) Ant-Man (The MCU gets its funniest superhero.)
5) It Follows (It’ll scare you sexless.)
6) Slow West (Poetically sardonic Western bliss.)
7) Furious 7 (Stupid. Fun.)
8) The Avengers: Age Of Ultron (A strange and underrated tale of superhero implosion.)
9) The Green Inferno (Gleefully offensive and deceptively intelligent sleaze.)
10) Cop Car (Striped to the bone genre joy.)