And being a fan of the kind of movies Cleveland ex-pat Michael Weldon coined the term "psychotronic" to describe, it was a really good year. There were a lot of good horror, science fiction, action, and erotic films released during the year, several of which made my top ten over more respectable fare. And I'm not alone in praising these films. IT FOLLOWS, EX MACHINA, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD have all shown up on multiple lists of more reputable critics than me.
Aside from being a good movie year, it was also an exceptionally busy one. More movies than ever are playing in theaters thanks to digital distribution, and keeping on top of all of them has become nearly impossible. I saw almost 200 new releases this past year, and I still didn’t see everything I wanted to, including such high profile end of the year films as THE BIG SHORT, CAROL, THE DANISH GIRL, SON OF SAUL, and SPOTLIGHT, all of which have been on numerous “best of the year” lists.
It also bears mentioning that, for my purposes, a film is a 2015 release if it opened in the greater Cleveland area in that year. So a couple of films on my list might technically be 2014 releases, but since they weren’t available for me (or you) to see until this past year, I’m counting them for 2015.
Bob’s favorite scripted films of 2015
10. IT FOLLOWS – A stylish indie horror film that gives a fresh and creepy spin to the tired old “sex = death” teen horror formula.
9. SONG OF THE SEA – This animated fantasy had a limited release in late 2014, but didn’t open in Cleveland until early 2015. A classic kid’s adventure tale of two young siblings caught up in a world of magic.
8. BREATHE – We’ve seen plenty of films explore friendships that take a darker turn, particularly those between teenage girls. BREATHE is one of the best.
7. THE HATEFUL EIGHT – Quentin Tarantino’s latest is a brilliantly constructed piece of meta cinema that plays with genre convention while making a statement about the toxic nature of hatred.
6. THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY - Conceived as an homage to prolific filmmaker Jesus “Jess” Franco and his contemporaries in the sixties/seventies Euro softcore scene, THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY captures the spirit of those films perfectly while bringing them forward into the present to be molded and transformed into something fresh and personal.
5. EX MACHINA –About as fine an example of intelligent, thought provoking sci-fi as we've seen in recent years. It’s entertaining, to be sure, but there’s also a lot of food for thought in this film about the nature of what it means to be human, and the ways we dehumanize those we choose to see as different from ourselves.
4. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (linked review by Wayne Richards) – Four vampires living together invite a camera crew into their home and their (un)lives. Laughs, and lots of them, follow. Easily the funniest movie I saw this year.
3. ROOM (linked review by Candice Lee Catullo) – A harrowing yet hopeful story of a kidnap victim and her young son whose whole world is a backyard shed. Best actress nomination for Brie Larson is practically a given.
2. TIMBUKTU - We hear about “sharia law”, but what would it really be like to live under it? Based on the real year-long occupation of the titular locale, director/co-writer Abderrahmane Sissako's TIMBUKTU depicts the situation as a mixture of comic absurdity and medieval horror. One of last year’s Oscar nominee’s for “best foreign language film”, it’s a true masterpiece that makes its point without being heavy handed or self-important.
1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (linked review by Matt Finley) – There were a lot of sequels and reboots to dormant franchises this past year (JURASSIC WORLD, CREED, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS), but this was the only one that not only equaled its previous installments, but arguably exceeded them. Despite being essentially a two hour motor vehicle chase through the desert, there was actual thematic depth to George Miller’s post-apocalyptic actioner. And while Tom Hardy was more than capable stepping into the role Mel Gibson originated, it was Charlize Theron as Furiosa who really owned the film. For fans of insane sci-fi/action/exploitation cinema, it doesn’t get much better than this. Normal moviegoers seemed to like it, too.
Honorable Mentions: ANT MAN, BEASTS OF NO NATION, BRIDGE OF SPIES, BUZZARD, CHAPPIE, CHARLIE’S COUNTRY, CREED, COURT, CUB, DEATHGASM, DIPLOMACY, THE FINAL GIRLS, FURIOUS 7, GANGS OF WASSEYPUR, GOODNIGHT MOMMY, THE GUEST, HUMAN CAPITAL, INSIDE OUT, KUMIKO THE TREASURE HUNTER, LIL’ QUINQUIN, LILTING, LOVE & MERCY, MAGGIE, THE MARTIAN, THE OVERNIGHT, PADDINGTON, PREDESTINATION, DER SAMURAI, THE SECOND MOTHER, SHAUN THE SHEEP, SICARIO, SPY, STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS, TURBO KID, THE WALK, WHITE GOD
Bob’s favorite documentary films of 2015
10. HEART OF A DOG - Laurie Anderson's meditation on loss isn't what most people think of when they hear the word "documentary", but it's as moving and engrossing work of non-fiction cinema as any to come out this past year.
9. THE WOLFPACK – Sheltered siblings live vicariously by acting out and refilming their favorite movies, until one of them finally ventures out into the real world.
8. 3 ½ MINUTES/10 BULLETS – This doc follows the trial known as the "loud music" case in which a Florida man who "felt threatened" opened fire on a car full of young black men, killing one.
7. THAT’S SEXPLOITATION! – A rollicking look back at the cheesy, sleazy sinema of yesteryear.
6. LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU – The crazy but true story of how what might have been an interesting adaptation of the H. G. Wells novel turned into an off the rails disaster.
5. A MURDER IN THE PARK – Sometimes crusaders can help free the innocent from wrongful convictions. In this case, however, it looks like they got a guilty man set free, and sent an innocent man to jail in his place.
4. CARTEL LAND – A gripping on-the-ground look at how people on both sides of the border are trying to cope with Mexican drug cartels.
3. SHE’S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE’S ANGRY – A great history lesson on the early years of feminism. It reminds us of some unsung heroes who deserve more recognition, but isn’t afraid to point out some of the movement’s missteps, too.
2. GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF – I’m not a fan of religion in general, but Scientology is particularly ridiculous and dangerous, and therefore deserving of this no holds barred takedown.
1. AN HONEST LIAR –I’ve been inspired by magician/escape artist/paranormal debunker James Randi for a long time. Still, I had never known all that much about his personal life until I watched this fascinating, warts and all documentary.
Honorable Mentions: BEST OF ENEMIES, DO I SOUND GAY?, ENQUIRING MINDS: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE MAN BEHIND THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER, THE HUNTING GROUND, I AM BIG BIRD, I AM THOR, IN THE BASEMENT, MERU, MONTAGE OF HECK, THE OTHER ONE, RICH HILL, THE SHEIK, THE WRECKING CREW
And let's be honest, two of the year's best documentaries were TV shows (or whatever you call a show on Netflix): 'The Jinx' and 'Making a Murderer'.
Bob’s least favorite and/or most disappointing films of 2015
10. ROCK THE KASBAH – Despite starring Bill Murray and being directed by Barry Levinson (DINER, AVALON), this cliché ridden Afghan war meets “American Idol” dramedy is depressingly mediocre.
9. THE ASSASSIN – I may lose my snooty critic cred for saying this, but I thought this period piece about a reluctant killer embroiled in Chinese imperial intrigue was the year’s most overrated film. Call me crazy, but I don’t want a martial arts movie that makes martial arts seem boring.
8. BLACKHAT – Director Michael Mann’s trademark visual style couldn’t save this dreary, slow-moving cyber thriller.
7. THE BOY NEXT DOOR – This idiotic thriller starring Jennifer Lopez makes nineties schlockfests like SINGLE WHITE FEMALE and UNLAWFUL ENTRY look like masterpieces.
6. BURYING THE EX – Joe Dante (GREMLINS, MATINEE) is one of my favorite directors, but the script he was saddled with here is unfunny and misogynistic. I saw worse this past year, but this was a major personal disappointment.
5. FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (linked review by Matt Finley) – Laughably bad mommy porn.
4. HOT PURSUIT – This female “wunza” movie (wunza incompetent by-the-book cop, wunza sassy Latina trying to avoid testifying against a dangerous drug dealer) was shrill, stupid, and unfunny.
3. THE LAZARUS EFFECT – An insipid horror flick that mixes ideas from FLATLINERS and LUCY to poor "effect".
2. PAN – A big budget, star studded kid-tastrophe of a "Peter Pan" prequel that shoehorns the classic characters into a script that feels like recycled STAR WARS. Who needs that when we already have a good recycled STAR WARS movie this year?
1. PAUL BLART: MALL COP 2 – I actually thought the first BLART was an okay family comedy, but this sequel is aggressively bad.
More crap to avoid: 7 MINUTES, ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE ROAD CHIP, BEYOND THE REACH, COOTIES, DEVIL’S BACKBONE TEXAS, THE GALLOWS, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2, KIDNAPPING MR. HEINEKEN, LISTEN UP PHILLIP, POLTERGEIST, SERENA, STUNG, TOMORROWLAND, VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN