8.2.16

Top 20 of 2015

Last year I did a Top 30 for 2014, but to be completely honest 2015 didn't have enough great film experiences to warrant such a list, so we'll have to make due with a Top 20 this year. And here it is:

THE LIST

20. Mea Culpa

Damn this movie looks good! What is it about French action movies? They can take the most trivial stories, which we've seen a thousand times before in American movies, and make them new and fresh. This one concerns an estranged father whose young son becomes the target for some ruthless gangsters, after he witnesses a murder. However, there's so much more at play here than that simple description reveals. Plus, there's something about the actors here that just sells the whole endeavor on a completely different level than similar American movies.


19. Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Full of energy, and juvenile to a fault, this film wears its derivative nature proudly on its sleeve, next to its 'lighting a fire using cow dung' badge. Don't bother if you want your zombie movie to be all gross and serious, or if you tolerate nothing but absolute Walking Dead grimness. This is a goofy, charming, little flick.


18. American Ultra

No, I'm not quite sure why this movie worked so well for me, by all accounts it shouldn't. Jesse Eisenberg is the stoner who turns out to be a secret agent, and Kristen Stewart is his resourceful girlfriend. I found their partnership, and the crazy adventure they get into, quite irresistible. The action scenes are inventive, and the whole stoner aspect is not quite as trite as I expected. And then there's Connie Britton.


17. Big Hero 6

Admittedly, this film would be nowhere near the Top 20 if it didn't have Baymax, the robot, but it DOES have that, so it's here! A fun, colorful ride! Hilarious, with a few surprisingly rough moments.


16. Antarctica: A Year on the Ice

A documentary about people who live and work year-round in the Antarctic? Hell yes, I'm in! There are some amazing images in this film, but it also captures the feeling of being stuck in a totally inhospitable place. The monotony, the isolation, the cold, the lack of fresh food. In spite of all this it did not dissuade me from my dream of moving there permanently one day. Nice try, though.


15. Birdman

Both self-obsessed and self-deprecating, and constantly on the verge of crawling up its own ass, Birdman is nevertheless an amazing film, both due to the technical aspects and the themes it covers. Although that drum-score can only be described as ear-rape.


14) Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau

Love Story is sad. My Girl will make most grown men shed a tear. The first 10 minutes of Up made everybody cry. But this... This is inhuman. This is the heartbreaking story about that great adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau that never got made. Any card-carrying film geek will know parts of the story already, but hearing it from the people who were there in the trenches gave the whole fiasco a new dimension.


13. Pressure

Underwater movies are cool. And I love when filmmakers tell a simple story in a limited, but unique setting. So this story, about four men trapped on the bottom of the sea in a diving bell, with limited air supply, and no way of contacting the surface, did the trick for me. It's kind of like The Abyss, without the action sequences, the nukes and the aliens. And any time a movie reminds me of The Abyss, it's doing something right.


12. Black Sea

U-boats are cool. Underwater movies are cool (see above). Jude Law is cool! So this movie about a harebrained mission to recover lost Nazi gold from the bottom of the Black Sea had me from the beginning. This is such a cool, intense, little flick.


11. Let Us Prey

This sinister thriller came out of nowhere for me and I fell in love with it instantly. It's moody as hell, stylish, and rotten to the core. A simple premise - a cop on her first day in a small police station - combined with a supernatural twist - who IS that guy? And how can he make everybody do those things? - once again demonstrates how it's possible to turn the familiar into the brilliant if you've got the brains and the balls.


10. Inside Out

It's almost pointless to praise Pixar at this point. So I won't. They did it again. But boy, this is more depressing than I thought it was going to be. I'm never leaving my house again. The world is too cruel.


9. Big Game

Who says it's impossible to make an 80's action movie, just because we're no longer in the 80's? Finish filmmaker Jalmari Helander sure did it. He pulled off a Die Hard jr.  And young lead Onni Tommila manages to go toe to toe with BOTH Samuel L. Jackson and Ray Stevenson! I just loved the hell out of the rugged little bastard of a movie.


8. Spring

I found this moody love story, come supernatural tale, completely irresistible. It's just a story about a guy who runs away from his life and meets a girl with a secret in Italy. But what a girl, what a secret, and what a meeting. Few films capture the headrush of falling in love. This one does.


7. Time Lapse

Three young people discover a camera that can take pictures of tomorrow. And it completely takes over their lives. This is a great spin on traditional time travel movies, and it's got more than a few tricks up its sleeve. What it lacks in budget and big showstopping set-pieces it makes up for in cleverness.


6. Whiplash

This falls into the category: Loved it. Not sure I can ever bear to watch it again. Miles Teller gives everything he's got as the dedicated drummer, who runs into the music teacher from hell. J.K. Simmons got all the accolades, but the blood and sweat of this film is the stunning performances from the Miles man.


5. John Wick

The ending is weak, but that doesn't stop John Wick from being an immensely enjoyable, enormously cool return to form for Keanu Reeves. The entire plot description can double as the tagline - "They killed his dog, now he's going to kill them!" - but isn't that the beauty of a good action movie? A simple story and a lot of guns.


4. Spectre

We all loved Skyfall, and we were all worried that it would be impossible to replicate that movie's success, and sure enough Spectre didn't. But it came THIS close. It was the culmination of the Daniel Craig Bond movies, and I almost wish they wouldn't make any more with him, because this is such a perfect note to go out on. It's a gorgeous film, it's full of brilliant set-pieces, and though it stumbles here and there, it's still so much better than we had any right to expect.


3. The Martian

Science. Mars. Space. Survival. That's about all the ingredients you need to make a good film. The most surprising aspect of The Martian is that Ridley Scott managed to get out of his own way and make his first good film since 1989. I love everything about this film: The characters, the story, the designs, the adventure, the potatoes.


2. Mad Max: Fury Road

I'm not sure what the hell happened to George Miller. He hasn't made a film in 30+ years that would suggest he could create this thundering beast. Strike that, he's NEVER made a film that would suggest he could create this thundering beast. Mad Max: Fury Road is the pinnacle of cool, and a near perfect reduction of the Mad Max legacy. It's so far beyond the original movies - which are, frankly, pretty much shite - that I wonder why Mad Max was even a thing, before Fury Road came along.


1) Star Wars: The Force Awakens

He did it. JJ f**king did it. The Force Awakens did exactly what it needed to do. It obliterated the dark ages of the prequels. They are simply gone. They don't exist any more. We can once again be jolly little boys and girls, head over heels in love with a wonderful space adventure. The road has been paved for the next movies to take the story in new directions, but that wouldn't be possible without the new solid foundation this film has laid. The sheer joy I felt watching this movie is something everyone deserves to experience. I can't wait to watch it again.


FINAL THOUGHTS

That's it! All we have left of 2015 is to give out those pesky Oscars, and then we can start to wonder what films will show up on the Top and Bottom lists for 2016. I've got a few candidates already.