Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Top-10 Films of the Year (So Far) Part 2

This is Part 2 of my favorite films of 2015. For Part I, please click this link to read it.  Thanks.

As before, where I've written a blog entry of the movie, the title will be linked so you can go there. Thanks again.

5. Tie: Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part II and The Martian

Far better than Part I, because this one has a sense of fate, of finishing up, of ending a war and moving on with life. Its themes and messages are more mature than the other films, on purpose. And it makes a point to choose humanity over war, of even winning a war, which is dubious to me, but carried out well here. It asks: How barbaric are we willing to be to win a battle, or a war? That depends on the war, I suppose, and it's easy to make sweeping platitudes, but it all works here, anyway. It's directed better, too, though all the Hunger Games movies have the same director. A minor bone to pick is how Coin was situated right behind Snow at the end; I didn't read the books, but I didn't have to in order to know what was going to happen there. It couldn't have been telegraphed more than it was. But it all wraps up well, and meaningfully, and I'll repeat here what I said in the blog: Kudos to the filmmakers for making an action movie where a woman is the main character, the one kicking ass, and the one who has to save the rather short-sighted and dim-witted (or tyrannical) men. And for showing that a woman can be just as tyrannical, just as cold and evil. Not a single stereotypical female role here. That's rare.

The Martian is a very gung-ho, optimistic movie from Ridley Scott, who's not known for being that way. Like, at all. An astronaut gets marooned on Mars, and is forced to grow food from his feces and to listen to bad disco music before he's saved by his crew, which comes back for him, thereby sacrificing another year of their lives in space. The martian, for his part, loses a ton of weight and endures a few catastrophes, but never loses his smile or his extremely positive outlook. A friend of mine found this excessively unrealistic and therefore didn't like the movie. I disagreed, saying that the movie was purposely optimistic about space, space travel, and our role in space. It was Ridley's way of saying, "Let's fund NASA more, because Earth is screwed and sooner or later we're going to need to leave." Ridley is known to be fascinated by space, about living in space, about the optimistic and positive attributes of being in space. This despite Alien and Prometheus, very pessimistic movies about the horrors of space--though both do end with an optimistically intellectual attitude about space, and about our ultimate creation. Well, Prometheus does, anyway. So IMO The Martian has to be seen with this in mind. It's not unrealistically positive, exactly, because it's whole point is to be very positive about humans in space. Think, Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

4.  Jurassic World

Extremely exciting and hyper-visual movie that was lightyears better than Jurassic Park 2 and 3. In some ways, this even exceeds the original. Yes, it's still what David Letterman infamously called "mechanical lizards," but here there are flying ones with razor-sharp teeth, and the gigantic whaleshark, and the velociraptors and T-rex are back, plus one more...All of them very scary, and very real. These all existed in the past, unlike a few of the original movie's lizards, especially that annoying fan-shaped thing. Real danger, real menace, and a couple of characters--especially Bryce Dallas Howard's--who might also exist in real life.  It doesn't focus on the kids as much as the first one did, which worked better for me. So, yes, again, just a romp with CGI lizards, but an exciting, eye-popping one, guaranteed to please and make you wish for popcorn. An almost perfect summer action / special effects popcorn-chewing visual experience, that must really be seen on the big screen.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road

About this film I ca say almost the same thing as Jurassic World, but without the dinosaurs. An unbelievably awesome action romp, it's basically two very long action sequences, or a movie-long car chase. The most inspiring thing about it is that it's NOT CGI-heavy. George Miller wanted all the stunts and all the cars to be real, and they all look it. There are Cirque du Soleil performers, real cars on top of tanks, explosions and sand and jumping and so much precision it'll make your head spin. It's perhaps the best action movie ever made. That's not just me saying so, but most of the critics, too, all of whom have put it on their own Top 10 of 2015 lists. And the National Board of Review named it the Best Picture of the Year!!!

Perhaps as equally impressive is the message. First, it's an action movie with a message, a rare thing in of itself. That the message is of female empowerment and freedom is even more rare--in all of film, never mind in an action film. But don't lose sight of the fact that the cargo driven in the movie's War Rig is not gasoline, but the five women who are escaping with Charlize Theron's Furiosa to a better place, a world of green where they are not slaves, where they can be free. Think of the women worldwide, who live in cultures where they are not free, where they are subservient to men in absolutely every way (and I do mean every way) and I think you'll agree that this is no small thing.

2. Sicario

I have misgivings placing this here instead of at #1, and went back and forth about it. My reason is simple: It has hardly any special effects to speak of, and is all acting, writing and directing. It excels at all three, plus the score to boot, which I listen to on YouTube all the time, and will probably buy soon. Benicio del Toro gives a performance that is memorably chilling, and Emily Blunt gives a performance that is easily the best of her career. I hope they're both remembered at Oscar time--and Mark Rylance should be, too, for Bridge of Spies. (His performance was as quietly nuanced as del Toro's was loudly menacing, so it's tough to know who should get it. This shows the Oscars are often a crapshoot.) Anyway, this movie is exceptional in every way, and relevant, and a dirty little corner of America's politics and its (failed) War on Drugs. It's an important movie done dirty, menacing and well.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Of course. A huge movie that makes it all relevant again, and it sets the mark for the remaining movies. Makes you wonder why George Lucas went for the prequels and Vader, rather than the sequels, and Skywalker / Leia / Han Solo, plus the newcomers. My only caveat, as mentioned above, is that Sicario is all about acting, writing and directing, and does not count a lick on special effects. This movie has very good acting and directing as well, but it of course counts very heavily on its technical side--but how could it not, since it all takes place in space? Having said that, I don't know what else I have to say about it that I didn't say in my blog entry, so without further ado I'll direct you there.

Well, thanks for reading my two Top-10 Movie List blogs! What movies did you like the best this year? How would you rank the ones I mentioned?


  1. Sicario is a much better film than Star Wars in almost every which way. There should be no debate about whether to place it in first place. The Force Awakens is a fun enjoyable film, but ultimately it's a popcorn movie. Sicario was an intense piece of movie making that was vastly under watched and under appreciated. The fact that it was so captivating without special effects is a testament to it's writing, directing, and acting.

  2. Thanks for commenting. I can see you feel very strongly about it! Sicario was especially under-appreciated by the Oscars. Benicio del Toro was widely expected to get a nod, and didn't. And the film wasn't nominated, either, even though the Academy can nominate 10 films and only picked 8 this year. I didn't see a couple of the other films that the Supporting Actor nods went to, so I can't say they don't belong. (Ditto for the Director nominations.) But even if the 5 picked are the 5 "best," Sicario definitely deserved a nod, especially if there are 2 unused slots. I hope to see The Revenant tomorrow or Sunday, so I'll get to see what the buzz is about with that.

  3. And Sicario was a lot better than Bridge of Spies, which was, frankly, a bit boring. Again, well-made and a pleasant movie to watch, and very professionally, connect-the-dots done--but boring. Sicario was tense, intense, and captivating. I was filled with impressive dread while watching it.