The Best Movies of 2015
I’ve been in a bit of a gaming paralysis this year. With more work and less spare time, I’ve been too intimidated to delve into sprawling titles like The Witcher 3 and The Phantom Pain. I’ve stuck to “comfort gaming,” meaning Super Smash Bros. and Rocket League. How Rocket League found it’s way into that category is a marvel.
Luckily, I haven’t ever had this problem with movies. And 2015 has had its fair share of gems. Shelling out $14 (screw you Manhattan) to see Mad Max: Fury Road was the most fun I had all year, hands down.
The rest of Team Unwinnable has had its fair share of popcorn and ticket stubs too. For your reading pleasure, allow me to present to you Unwinnable’s Best Movies of 2015.
– Harry Rabinowitz
Best Deployment of Jason Statham – Spy
It’s always a pleasure when a comedy lovingly sends-up a genre while simultaneously serving as a solid example of it – Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy springs immediately to mind as a modern prototype – and Paul Feig’s Spy is perfect example.
Melissa McCarthy plays an administrative everywoman who finds herself knee-deep in the kinds of shenanigans commonly reserved for your Bonds and your Bournes, and delivers plenty of everywoman side-eye and meta commentary along the way. Some people struggle with women and gross-out humor, but if we’re getting down to brass tacks, I’d probably barf the first time I killed a dude, too. I can only hope it would be as hilariously slo-mo and outsized (in my head, at least) as the specific situation involving McCarthy’s character Susan Cooper. That’s not to say she and Feig deliver nothing but low-brow and scatological humor – she still has the requisite go-undercover-at-a-black-tie-gala scene, for example, which allows her the standard “DAAAAAAAMMMMNN” moment that we all know and love from our favorite spy flicks.
Add in a host of other comedians (and sometimes even sexy non-comedians like Jude Law and Morena Baccarin) taking the piss out of themselves and each other – Jason Statham nearly walks away with the picture by being such an exaggerated version of his Transporter character that he ends up turning everything he touches into crap (that kind of ridiculous machismo doesn’t often translate in the real world) – and you’ve got yourself a perfect spy movie that’s perfectly self-aware.
– Sara Clemens
The Best Movie to Scare White Folks With – Straight Outta Compton
In a year where the documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution released, you’d think that a movie about 90s rappers wouldn’t gain too much controversy in the media, and yet here I was being patted down and searched for a weapon by a security guard in a movie theater out in Queens, New York because the media had stoked up fears that Straight Outta Compton would lead to shootings in the movies.
Those fears were completely unfounded, as not only did no violence take place, but the movie also went on to have an amazing first weekend pushing the director, F. Gary Gray, into elite black director status.
I didn’t really know what to expect going in, I thought it was going to be another hokey look at the world of hip-hop, as movies and TV tend to have zero respect for the art form. I was pleasantly surprised.
Straight Outta Compton isn’t my favorite hip-hop infused coming of age story in Los Angeles, that would be Dope. It isn’t my favorite all black wearing group existing as an affront to authority, that is the aforementioned Black Panthers documentary.
What SOC is, however, is a testament to the importance of a quality director, a great script, (even if it omits some key, and gross elements of the group) and amazing casting, like the impeccable O’Shea Jackson Jr. playing his father Ice Cube, to creating a remarkable movie that can bring some greater meaning, introspection, and emotion to the tale of young men trying to escape a cycle of oppression, in a shit hole of a neighborhood, and take over pop culture.
Now, bring on the Wu-tang bopic.
– Shawn Alexander Allen
Best Film to Feature Personified Emotions – Inside Out
This movie, to use an awfully hackneyed phrase, was an emotional roller coaster for me. Sitting next to my wife, nearly seven months pregnant with our first child, we watched as Riley’s pre-teen emotions sat at a control panel in her brain, desperately trying to interpret, categorize and ultimately handle the events in her life as they watched through her eyes. This was my first experience where I watched a movie, let alone an emotionally charged Disney movie, through a parental lens; it was amazing and taxing.
Rich in the Disney/Pixar visual splendor we’ve come to expect over the years, Inside Out packes the usual tear-jerking and gut-busting moments, all with a sprinkle of surprising darkness a la Up. The emotional voices match their fever-dream stylized characters perfectly, especially Lewis Black’s portrayal of “Anger.” The plot pluckes all of the important strings along the way; dreams, nightmares, imagination, friendships and family turmoil all get a heartfelt treatment as Riley and her emotions navigate the sometimes murky waters of life.
Knowing that all of this is fiction, that there aren’t little fuzzy people living our brains, I couldn’t help but fixate not on my recollections of past events similar to Riley’s, but my future daughter’s. She’s three months old as I sit here writing this, and I can’t help but wonder if she’s forming “core memories” whenever I make her laugh or when she’s upset. I felt for Riley’s parents as they juggled their adult lives while trying to figure out what was “wrong” with their daughter. This is one of Pixar’s best, and the first I’ve enjoyed watching while sitting at the adult’s table.
– Erik Weinbrecht
Best monologues of the year. Yeah that’s right Shakespeare. You heard me. – Ant-Man
In a world that still bears the scars of Speed 2: Cruise Control, Teen Wolf Too, Robocop 3 and almost all the Police Academy films, it is only natural that the release of Ant-Man was greeted with wailing and gnashing. “It’s a formula! Another damn comic book film!” people were crying in the streets. “A money-making, barrel-scraping, creativity-squishing exercise! No wonder no-one wanted to direct it.”
But if 2015 did anything, it showed that a sequel or movie series can be great, and Ant-Man was no exception. A heist movie about a shrinking protagonist, it made mass-market, multiplex cinema weird and kooky and inventive. It wasn’t perfect – making fun of the Marvel last act problem isn’t the same thing as fixing it – but the dialogue popped, the visuals bazinga-ed, and it had great monologues.
I’m a bit worried that general opinion of Ant-Man is sliding again, as memories of the film fade and lingering prejudices over movie series and comic book films reassert themselves. It couldn’t have been as imaginative as that, could it? As funny? As original? It was.
– Declan Taggart
Best Film to Shoehorn Cars Into All Action Sequences – Furious 7
Furious 7 comes from a lineage that is profoundly absent of subtlety. The franchise has been defined as “those dumb car movies” with more testosterone than sense, action-packed chase sequences and characters that blur the lines between street toughs and super heroes.
Furious 7 managed to push past the bar previously raised by Fast Five – a movie whose climax involved destroying a Central American city with a room-sized safe pulled by two muscle cars. Where other movies struggle to create larger conflicts, to move from saving the city to saving the planet, Furious 7 just tries to figure out how to insert cars into scenarios where they do not belong.
Our gang of misfit heroes (thugs turned fugitives turned government operatives) challenge the basis of logic and common sense, throw cars out of airplanes and power through not one, not two but three buildings in one set-piece action scene. Above all though, Furious 7 excels at being incredibly fun.
– Amanda Hudgins
Best Use of Philly in 2015 – Creed
I love the Rocky movies. As I get older they only get better, including the weaker entries like IV and V. What’s amazing about Creed is that it’s not only something of a direct sequel to Rocky IV but it also pays homage to all of the Rocky movies. It also manages to forge ahead in a new direction, and it does so with less of a messy movie than a similar little film called Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
This movie is definitely the story of an amateur fighter with something to prove named Adonis Creed, but it also finds a way to be a naturalistic catharsis and continuation for a Rocky who’s almost lost everything. Sylvester Stallone gives an amazing performance as does Michael B. Jordan. The fight scenes are shot in a unique and exciting way that puts you right into Creed’s shoes, and are another big highlight of the film.
Director Ryan Coogler pulled off the tricky move of continuing what many thought was a done franchise, while getting the star and creator of the old franchise on board and, most importantly, making a great movie.
– Michael Edwards
Sexiest, Most Disturbing Turing Test of 2015 – Ex Machina
If you fell in love with Oscar Issac’s charming X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron, you might need to brace yourself before watching Ex Machina. Issac plays Nathan, a brilliant but demented programmer who thinks he may have successfully created a real artificial intelligence in the form of the beautiful humanoid robot, Ava. But in order to be certain, he invites a naïve young programmer named Caleb out to his secluded home/laboratory to run a Turing Test. Nathan is motivated by something darker than mere scientific curiosity, and Ava is not content to let someone else determine if she is worthy of being considered sentient. The result is a philosophical nightmare that has Caleb questioning his own sanity as well as his humanity.
Alicia Vikander gives a masterful performance as Ava, an artificial intelligence who is aware that she is being judged not on the basis of objective facts like intellectual ability or emotional literacy but on a subjective assessment of her performance of “humanity,” whatever that might be. She quickly realizes that this performance must be informed by the gendered and sexualized script that her creator imposed upon her and all of the prototypes that came before her, and she manipulates both Nathan and Caleb (along with the audience) in surprisingly subtle ways using her knowledge of the expectations they brought with them into the test. At the end of the film it is difficult to say whether Ava is a hero or a villain, if we are rooting for her to enter into the human world or to withdraw from it. Or perhaps we find ourselves rooting for her to destroy it all as a lost cause.
– Megan Condis
Best $200 Million Apology – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The primary motivation of the villains in The Force Awakens is insecurity. Kylo Ren chews much scenery brooding, fearful and angry that he won’t live up to his evil idols. And like most poseurs, he overdoes it trying to prove himself. Same goes for The First Order – they go big, building a weapon so big that it takes up an entire planet and eats stars for fuel. But when the going gets rough and it looks like the Resistance are going to eat their lunch, their commanders break rank and run. You never saw that kind of shit when Darth Vader was in charge.
It is somewhat ironic then that JJ Abrams and the new Disney Empire find so much success after prying the saga from the hands of the master. Confidence and clear-eyed understanding of Star Wars-ness made this do-over more than worthwhile. And now that this first, headlong leap is over and the landing stuck we’re all ready to see the series boldly go somewhere, anywhere, else.
Best Teenage Psycho-Sexual Stalking Thriller – It Follows
There’s this awkward phase of life that suburban teens and young adults go through, where they haven’t found their calling but can’t sit still, so they drift from parking lot to parking lot, rooftop to rooftop, house to house, trying to figure things out amongst quiet gatherings of their peers. There, they split off into little sexual sub-units, forever experimenting until they are finally ready to enter adult life.
It Follows is this feeling, this sharp psycho-sexual ennui, distilled and magnified through a menacing script and excellent production. It’s every night-time suburban cul-de-sac, the street lights flickering from poor maintenance and shadows lurking on every porch. It’s every evening spent sitting with your friends in the parking lot of a 7-11, hidden from the cashier as you drink your beers. It’s melancholic parties and sexual expression and the anxieties of future life made manifest. It’s the best horror movie of this year.
Best Wasteland Revival – Mad Max: Fury Road
This year saw the release of the highly anticipated fourth entry into the Mad Max world and it was amazing. Mad Max: Fury Road, without a doubt, was the best action film I have seen in the last ten years and even though I have been highly critical of the movie, I still think its one of the best films in the series. On a technical level, the movie shines with its lush colors, smooth cinematography, outstanding costuming and absurd vehicle designs. The movie is worth seeing for the stunts and practical effects alone. Hardy and Theron shine in their roles, with more of an emphasis on Theron. For me, Furiosa was Mad Max. She embodied the character that Mel Gibson put through its paces in three prior films.
My criticisms extend to some story elements and Hardy’s portrayal of Max. To me his Max is hesitant in his actions where as the Mel Gibson version always did what he had to do and stuck to it, whether it be right or wrong. That could be the fault of how the character was written for Fury Road and not necessarily Hardy’s depiction.
Nicholas Hoult also shines as the mindless follower turned rebel in the character of Nux. It was also cool to see Hugh Keays-Byrne bookend the series as he was the first villain in Mad Max, playing Toecutter and now Immortal Joe.
A few months after I saw Fury Road, I had a chance to see the Black and Chrome edition where all the dialog was cut out and the movie was rendered in black and white with all of the music and sound effects in tact. It was surely shiny and chrome and the perfect way to send a fearless warrior to Valhalla. If you haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet, make a trip to the wasteland where you will live, die and live again.
– Ken Lucas
Mad Max: Fury Road is a movie that I still don’t quite believe exists. It feels like dream stuff, a phantasmagoric chase through a nightmare land.
When filmmakers return to make additions to their beloved franchises, it seldom ends well (thinking of another George, here…). And yet, here George Miller comes, 30 years after Beyond Thunder Dome to make not just the best Mad Max movie to date, but one of the most visually engrossing/stunning/intoxicating movies I have ever seen.
It is tempting to compare Fury Road to that other 70s film franchise revival that came out this year, but that would be a disservice. George Miller’s opus stands apart, a warrior in the wasteland, hounded by its lessers, unyielding, unremitting; a legend.
– Stu Horvath