movie-night

 

Usually when I’m preparing an end of the year list, I spend most of my time on the top of the list deciding which entry deserves the No. 1 ranking. But 2015 confronted me with a new problem, which films will be left off and how will the bottom half be ordered.

In years past when I have struggled to pick ten films for this list, it’s because there are so many good movies that I can’t bear to leave one off, but this year it was more of a struggle to if any movie deserved to be my No. 10 selection and featured on the Web site. This is a lot more depressing than I was anticipating because two of the films fighting it out for the bottom were on my must see list at the start of the year.

On the other hand, the movies that populate top of the list had less fanfare going in and surprised me with their quality. I like to think that between Anthony and I, we have enough knowledge of the upcoming movies that we are surprised by anything — good or bad. But 2015 was a humbling year for us and it is reflected in our list.

Since I had way more to say about this year’s top 10 than I had anticipated, the list will be split into two post. So please enjoy Nos. 10 through 6.

10. Spectre

SPECTRE

The latest James Bond adventure made my list because of a tie-breaker. Spectre, Ant-Man and Avengers: Age of Ultron wound up at the bottom of the list because they didn’t have much competition for the 10 spot. The only other movies I’d seen that are not mentioned on this list were Paper Towns (ugh) and Paddington. Neither of those films were memorable. Well, Paddington was okay, but Paper Towns was just awful. Since I wasn’t going to flip a coin, the tie breaker between these three was that Spectre made more of an impression on me than the two aforementioned super hero movies.

Spectre was a very average film with underused and/or poorly written villains. This was one of the rare cases where the casting was spot on, but the execution was bad. This wasn’t a Christmas Jones situation, where the casting was completely at fault, but rather one that falls squarely at the feet of the production staff. It doesn’t matter if it was the writer, the director, the editor or the food at the craft table because the misuse of these actors’ talent was unfortunate.

The main villain, Blofeld, had the most potential because he was played by the outstanding Christoph Waltz, but despite the effort put in by Waltz, the character fell flat and paled in comparison to the previous ones that Daniel Craig’s 007  battled. Waltz was born to be a Bond villain and was the casting I was most excited by when it was announced. It’s a shame that it didn’t work out. The film’s other villain was played by Sherlock‘s Moriarty, Andrew Scott. My excitement level spiked when he came on-screen, but then he was grossly underused throughout the film. For those of us that saw his turn as Moriarty, you know how great of a villain Scott can be.

Spectre, I’m not mad at you. I’m just disappointed.

9. Furious 7

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There are a few different criteria that I use for this completely subjective list, and one of them is how much fun I had while watching the movie. And I can say — without hesitation — that the most fun I had at the theater this year was during Furious 7. The plot is the same paint by numbers heist/revenge story that the series is known for, but The Fast & The Furious has done something that I’ve never seen in a film series before, it has made the craziest turnaround in tone and enjoyment level that I have seen in a series that was not based on a book.

After the terrible — almost Rocky V level — 2 Fast 2 Furious, Chris Morgan was hired to write the third installment which was subtitled, Tokyo Drift. At the time it seemed like a movie that was mostly outside of the series except for a few familiar names and a Vin Diesel cameo at the end. The cameo felt like a nod to the original as well as a way to close out the series. But when Morgan was tapped to write Fast & Furious, it was assumed to be a reboot or a Rocky Balboa situation where the last two Diesel-less films would be forgotten. Whether this was the plan from the beginning, Morgan used the new film to begin a timeline that incorporated not only Tokyo Drift, but 2 Fast 2 Furious as well. The studio held this secret through three movies until the end of Fast & Furious 6, when it was reveled that all six movies were connected and that Tokyo Drift was the latest in the timeline. It was something that wasn’t needed, but worked so much better than it should have.

Now that Morgan has closed the loop on the franchise, Furious 7 was the first one to occur after the events of Tokyo Drift. And as with the previous three movies, it captures all the ridiculousness in the series, and continued to know exactly what it is. The car chases are fun, the character interactions are top-shelf, and the pace is quicker than a street race. Furious 7 both embraces and expands on the silliness that the series exudes. There is no more perfect example of this than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s 15 minutes of screen time, which includes a fight with Jason Statham, breaking his arm out of a cast and then walking down the street with a freaking mini-gun on his hip shooting down a helicopter. I think I smiled throughout that final action scene with him.

I can’t end this without mentioning the amazing work put in by the editing team. If you didn’t know beforehand, you would have never known that Paul Walker died before filming was complete, and the tribute to him was as over the top as you would expect from a Fast & Furious film.

8. Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part 2

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At the end of last year’s list, I boldly stated that I expected to not only expected Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part 2 to land at the same spot as Part 1, but exceed it in quality.

Unlike the two-part Harry Potter finale, the slower paced part 1 was probably the best film in the series, and if history stays true, part 2 will blow this one out of the water; it already has a spot on my 2015 list. — From Mark’s 2014 Top 10 list

Boy, was I wrong. I haven’t been more disappointed in a movie since Spider-man 3, and at least that had some warning sign that I just ignored. As far as I know, there was nothing in the lead up to Part 2 that lead me to believe it wouldn’t improve on the foundation left by the film’s third installment. Even the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman shouldn’t have had much of an effect on the quality of the film since he filmed almost all of his scenes before passing. Again, there was absolutely nothing that seemed to indicate that I should back off my prediction.

In a word, this movie was stale. Instead of ramping up the action to a climatic showdown between the good (Katniss) and evil (President Snow), it meanders through a few emotional and action scenes until we reach a conclusion that comes out of nowhere and brings the film’s pace to a halt. Even the final scene between Prim and Katniss, misses the emotionally cue that it’s meant to hit, and becomes a microcosm of the film’s failed potential. It felt like the writers were trying to be too faithful to books which forced them to attempt to squeeze in and tie-up every plot thread in the story. This included short-circuiting the love triangle with little fanfare, which to be honest was never a priority of the films, but did require a more complete conclusion than it was given. The last part of the film was dragged on for too long and its twist was telegraphed long before it occurred. Also, there was a completely unnecessary epilogue that felt way to fan service-y.

Despite its shortcomings, Part 2 was once again filled with fantastic performances, especially from Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson, and it’s much heralded supporting cast. Even though the “showdown” between Katniss and Snow was sort of a let down, Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland’s performances did force you to watch every single moment of their encounter. If it wasn’t for the tremendous quality of the actors, there was a chance that Mocking Jay Part 2 could have missed my list entirely.

7. The Hateful Eight

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Every time a Quentin Tarantino movie comes out my criticism goes through the same process: First, I’m infatuated with it and then over time I either fall in love with it or I slowly realize that it’s a good but not great film. The Hateful Eight falls into the latter category.

No matter the subject matter, Tarantino’s film are always on another level with its dialogue, and in particular, it monologues. The Hateful Eight is no different. Samuel L. Jackson provides the pages long speech that is both amusing and uncomfortable, and throughout Jackson’s tale of receiving a frontier fellatio, Tarantino flaunts his ability as a wordsmith and his uncanny ability to be a walking thesaurus. But at times this gift for spoken dialogue gets in the way of the overall storytelling. There is only so much you can convey through characters’ verbal interactions in lieu of non-verbal interactions.

This is what separates a great Tarantino movie from a good one, and I think The Hateful Eight suffered from its limiting setting. While I am a huge fan of films that are able to convey their story in a stage play like fashion, such as 12 Angry Men, Tarantino’s attempt to spend the majority of the movie in one building is better in theory than practice. Even with this misstep, I think the film could have improved its quality with one simple casting change. It’s odd to say that a film’s impact could have changed with the inclusion of one actor, but it’s hard not to think that if Tim Roth was swapped with Christoph Waltz that Oswaldo’s character would be infinitely better and thus his sections of the movie would improve my overall feelings about the film. But alas, he chose Spectre instead.

None of these criticisms are meant to convey that The Hateful Eight is a bad movie, but rather an average Tarantino film which is better than some filmakers best efforts. This is more about a movie not meeting a fan’s expectations, and while the film is well done, it appears to be more of a project where Tarantino wanted to challenge himself and have fun with a production. Not a bad idea, but one that doesn’t make me want to watch it again and again.

6. Trainwreck

trainwreck john cena universal 2

Comedy is a genre that rarely makes an appearance on my end of the year list. It’s mostly because the majority of comedies that make me laugh have little to no actual story outside of a flimsy plot. So going into Trainwreck, I was expecting an enjoyable experience because I’m a fan of both Amy Schumer’s comedy and Judd Apatow’s films, but what I got was the second most surprising movie-watching experience of the year — No. 1 is a bit further up the list.

I have a scale for whether a comedy is enjoyable or one that I will tell everyone I know that the have to see it. The former is clever and makes me laugh, while the latter has at least one or two moments where I’m laughing so hard that I can’t breathe. Trainwreck is the first to enter the upper echelon in a while, probably since 21 Jump Street, and I’ve definitely annoyed a few friends and family members by asking them if they’ve seen it yet.

The wheezing-inducing moment from Trainwreck comes from the breakout star of the film, John Cena. Yes, that John Cena. He is Amy’s boyfriend at the beginning of the film and everything in their relationship is awkward, including dirty talk during sex. Even though that scene is funny and may be the most cringe-worthy, realistic sex scene on film, it was the back and forth between Cena’s Steven and another patron in the movie theater that made me happy that I left the closed-caption on because I was laughing too hard to hear what they were saying. What this performance reminded me of was when The Rock played a supporting role in Be Cool and you could see that there may be a future for Cena in non-action oriented roles.

But the true star of this film was Schumer, whose performance was so realistic and grounded that I felt that I’ve both met a woman like Amy before and that I also have similar anxieties in my personality. Even when she over does it a bit, it feels like something that character would do because she is a master in using defense mechanisms, but it was the vulnerable moments with both Bill Hader and future Oscar winner, Brie Larson, that showed Schumer has enough range to make it as a big screen actress. It’s odd to say, but a good comedy is only a good movie unless there is more to it than punchline after punchline, and Schumer proves in both her acting and writing that she gets this.

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