by Tanner Smith
It’s that time of year again I usually refer to as “the time I feel like a true critic.” Usually, I try to wait until the middle of January so that I’ve had time to see some of the most critically acclaimed films I have yet to see. But seeing as how it is the end of the movie year I’m highlighting, I don’t see that as fair. So I’m just going to make my “2015 Review” as of now and I probably will review films like “The Big Short,” “The Revenant,” “The Hateful Eight,” “Brooklyn,” “Carol,” and “Sicario” after I’ve seen them. And I will—I know I’ve been slow in my reviews lately. But I’ll change that soon, because there are quite a lot I should really get into. Let me put it this way—six of my top 10 films of 2015 have not been reviewed by me (YET).
Now I’ll start off with my least favorite films of the year. I surprisingly have very few films for this category. I try to save my money for good movies, since I don’t get paid for reviewing films and so I’m not obligated to see some trashy films. I did not see “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Pixels,” or “Fant4stic,” three of the most critical bombs of the year; maybe I should consider myself lucky. However, I did see…
- Jupiter Ascending—I disliked this movie when I first saw it. I intensely hated it, the more I thought about it. Hardly anything about it is original, the exposition is ridiculously uninteresting, the sci-fi action/adventure aspects are mostly dull, and the main character is a blank slate with the ridiculous name of “Jupiter Jones.” Do I even need to mention the bees or the dinosaurs? I gave up on even trying to figure out what those were about. That was the worst film I saw this year.
There were three other films I saw this year that I didn’t hate but I didn’t like all that much either. They were:
- Beyond the Reach—Just a standard chase movie around the desert with Michael Douglas hunting down Jeremy Irvine, and…there’s just not much else to it than that. The one highlight is the funniest line of dialogue I’ve heard all year, delivered by Douglas: “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice…I KEEEL YOOOOOUUUUU!!!” That moment was worth the price of admission.
- Furious 7—Okay, so I don’t hate this movie. It is a lot of fun in its own dumb way and I was glad to be taken along for the ride…but only once.
- Goosebumps—I thought this movie had potential. I won’t pretend the original “Goosebumps” books by R.L. Stine were great, but they were creative enough to keep kids interested in reading and had clever ideas and concepts. I thought this film would take the concepts and bring a satirical edge to it. Sometimes, it did…but other times, it reminded me of just how cheesy the original ‘90s “Goosebumps” TV show was, despite higher production value.
Before I get into my favorite films of the year, I want to give special mentions to the best made-in-Arkansas short films I saw at 2015’s Little Rock Film Festival (which sadly turned out to be the last year for it, though it won’t be forgotten and hopefully a good alternative will come around for this upcoming year).
These are my Top 5 LRFF2015 Arkansas Shorts (in alphabetical order):
- The Dealer’s Tale—This 15-minute modern retelling of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale” is a riveting short film that had me engrossed from beginning to end. It’s very well-made, well-acted, and gloriously-shot. I look forward to Justin Nickels’ next project and I hope it also stars Jason Thompson and Jason Willey together again.
- Perfect Machine—What a beautiful short this is! This futuristic fable about “what is,” “what was,” and “what can be again” is enthralling, stunning, well-made, and intelligent. A lot of effort was put into this 20-minute film; it paid off wonderfully.
- Stranger Than Paradise—Can a truly great, thought-provoking, skillfully crafted minute-long short be created with less than 20 minutes of camera battery power? With this film in mind, I say it’s possible!
- Undefeated—I was only able to see this documentary on boxer Terrence “Tank” Dumas once at the festival; I’m still eagerly awaiting the time when I can see it again.
- The Whisperers—This chilling 20-minute horror film (which won the Best Arkansas Film award at the festival) was said to be homage to certain family-horror TV shows of the 1990s (like “Goosebumps” and “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”). The main difference between this and them? This is actually scary. The short film’s epilogue makes it even more chilling.
Honorable Mentions (to the Special Mentions): The Ask, Hush, I Hate Alphaman, Little Brother, Monotony Broken, The PaperBoy, The Pop N’ Lock, Pyro, Rapture Us, Spoonin’ the Devil, The Tricycle, ‘Twas the Night of the Krampus
My reviews for all of these short films and more can be found in my Shorts category on this blog.
And now I get to my favorite films of 2015.
But first, 11 Honorable Mentions: Amy, When Marnie was There, Ex Machina, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton, It Follows, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Predestination, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Steve Jobs, and The Gift
Might as Well Mention These Too: Bridge of Spies, How to Dance in Ohio, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Mistress America, Unfriended, While We’re Young
Oh, and I Liked These Too: Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Burying the Ex, Clouds of Sils Maria, Dope, Escobar: Paradise Lost, The Final Girls, Focus, I Believe in Unicorns, In the Heart of the Sea, Jurassic World, King Jack, Mr. Holmes, Trainwreck, True Story, Valley Inn, The Visit
And now for my Top 10 Favorite Films of 2015.
10. THE WALK–I don’t know who or what is to blame for this film’s failure at the box-office (the marketing executives or The Martian), but I think Robert Zemeckis’ latest film deserved more attention. It’s a great-looking, effectively-done film about how a daring dreamer walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in the 1970s. It reminds us that all good things are worth waiting for.
9. LOVE & MERCY—Love & Mercy is like two movies woven into one (one showing Paul Dano as The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson in the rough points of his career and the other showing John Cusack as Wilson 20 years later, still suffering from paranoia), and they’re both very well-done. I don’t think I can listen to a Beach Boys song the same way again.
8. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS–I skipped over the question of how vampires can appear on camera if they don’t have reflections, because this New Zealand mock-umentary about the vampire lifestyle made me laugh harder and louder than any other comedy this year.
7. THE MARTIAN—I had a feeling this would be an intriguing survival tale of an astronaut stranded on Mars, but what pleasantly surprised me was the humor, thanks to a witty script by Drew Goddard. With this and the new Star Wars film, maybe now we’re moving toward an era where our sci-fi blockbusters can have characters most of us optimistic wiseasses can actually relate to. Ridley Scott is at his best, Matt Damon and his fellow cast members are at their a-game, and the film is a lot of fun.
6. CREED—This is the sequel to Rocky that I’ve been waiting for, with something old and something new. The performances are strong, the relationships well-developed, the fights expertly handled, and I admire the bold move on writer-director Ryan Coogler’s part to truly go down the road and assume accurately where Rocky Balboa’s life is now compared to where it was back in 1976.
5. THE END OF THE TOUR—I feel like there’s a very slim chance James Ponsoldt’s terrific slice-of-life comedy/drama will get an Adapted Screenplay nod, and that’d be a shame because this features some of the most interesting dialogue I’ve heard all year. In addition to that, the film truly is wonderful—honest, insightful, a great balance of drollness and pathos, and very well-acted.
4. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD—Every decade has its new ground-breaking action-adventure flick. There are still four more years to go in the 2010s, so I’ll be interested to see if there’s another such film that’s as riveting, exhilarating, and downright awesome as Mad Max: Fury Road. What a lovely day!
3. TWO STEP—This film made its way into my “Special Mention” category last year, having seen it in the Little Rock Film Festival. Since it had a limited theatrical release this year and is now available on VOD, this tense thriller now qualifies for my year-end list this year. I highly recommend you seek it out and check it out.
2. ROOM—This one was in competition with Inside Out for the #1 spot and it lost out in the end by a very slim chance. Room is a very powerful film that is more moving than its horrific backstory would lead someone to believe, thanks to a brilliant second half showing what happens after being brought back to the real world after spending years in imprisonment. Great acting from Brie Larson and a new young talent named Jacob Tremblay help elevate the film’s emotional levels.
And my favorite film of 2015 is…
1. INSIDE OUT—The best original animated film and one of the most enjoyable, inventive, touching films I’ve seen in a long time. This is Disney-PIXAR’s return to form, delivering something for both children and adults with a genuinely moving story about the importance of our emotions and getting past hardships in life that is also very imaginative, taking advantage of its creative concepts. From the moment I left the theater the first time I saw it, I knew there wouldn’t be a 2015 film I liked better (though there were a few that came very close).
Not a bad year for movies! Let’s hope 2016 is even better…