I’m not going to pretend that this is a list of the best movies of the year. This is the list of movies that stuck with me through the year. The ones I still find myself thinking about. So here is the list in inverse order.
Okay, I’ll probably take some crap for this but I’m sorry Spy is great. Melissa McCarthy is not really stretching herself in the role of Susan Cooper, basement analyst turned international spy, but she doesn’t have to she’s perfect for the role. She’s undoubtedly funny but she’s easy to empathize with as well. What really makes Spy great though is the supporting cast. McCarthy may be the star but she is not afraid of sharing the laughs. Miranda Hart, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne and Peter Serafinowicz steal every scene they are in.
It’s a shame that so many kids movie’s stink and Paddington has a lot in common with the crummiest. Cute anthropomorphized animal that would probably chew your face off in real life, check, stuffy risk averse father who has trouble connecting with his children, check, warm nurturing mother, check, precocious kids, check, over the top antagonist, check and on and on. What’s amazing about Paddington is how religiously it sticks to the well-worn family movie genre but still manages to be wonderful.
Another kid movie that goes against the grain by actually being watchable, well more than watchable actually is Inside Out. Going in I thought the basic premise of this movie was pretty stupid. Individualizing emotions just seems weird. I just deleted a bunch of stuff here that was basically was me admitting I was wrong. Simply put, I was wrong. Despite the movie distilling human complexity down to five core emotions and then turning them into individuals the real message is how they all work together and if any one emotion, even Joy, gains dominance and shuts out the other emotions it just throws everything off kilter. Maybe I’m revealing just how big an intellectual lightweight I am but in the end I found the story a sophisticated and insightful look into sadness. And that’s before we even start talking about the animation or the performances by the voice actors.
The Wolfpack is a sort of video portrait of a dysfunctional family living in a housing project in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. As the doc starts we are introduced to several young men acting out scenes from movies with home made props in a crappy apartment. As we watch it’s gradually revealed that this is a family of nine, Mom, Dad, six brothers and a sister. Dad keeps the only key to the outside door and it is revealed in an early interview that he only allows the family out a few times a year. At least until the oldest brother decides to take a walk, outside, by himself, in a Michael Myers mask. The focus is on the brothers and their journey to connect to the outside world. The Wolfpack doesn’t reveal a lot of answers. By the end of the film I had even more questions than I had at the beginning of the movie. At first this bothered me, I wanted to know, but at the end of the doc I appreciated that the mystery was still there. The Wolfpack isn’t so much a story as a long form video family portrait and as a portrait it is brilliant.
6:Mad Max: Fury Road
The first trailers had me worried about this film. Yes it had Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron and even that English kid from Skins, but it looked like a video game. Of course I was going to see it anyway and I’m glad I did. I can’t say that George Miller went back to the basics, Fury Road has a look and feel that you could describe as apocalyptic baroque, but the story was simple and the action intense and Tom Hardy was Max, as lonely and mad as he ever was. Of course Max is nearly a McGuffin in his own movie. Fury Road is Furiosa’s story and thanks to Theron’s performance that’s a good thing.
5:Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Marvel movies continue to amaze, maybe not every one of them has been a homerun but they’ve all gotten on base. To continue the baseball metaphor Age of Ultron is a grand slam. The first Avengers was strong and Age of Ultron builds on those foundations. I’ve got to be honest though, for all of the action, characterization and wonderful performances by the entire cast the one reason this film is on my list is the ethos Age of Ultron proclaims. One scene between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner arguing about how they were going to deal with Ultron cemented this film in my heart and on this list. Luddism be damned let’s build more robots!
Sometimes it seems like I grew up on action movies. The Lethal Weapon movies, Bond films, Indiana Jones, Mad Max, Remo Williams, 48 Hours, Buckaroo Bonzai, Big Trouble in Little China, Iron Eagle, and on and on. But over the last decade I’ve just lost interest, maybe it maturity (doubtful) or something else but action movies don’t hold the same appeal. Rouge Nation somehow rekindled that boyish fascination. I believe part of the puzzle is Tom Cruise. He can sell the most ridiculous stunts, and that’s part of it, but another piece of the puzzle is how Rouge Nation manages to walk right up to the line, without going over. As crazy as the stunts can be Cruise sells them. You feel the jeopardy even when intellectually know that there is no way anything is going to happen to the protagonist of the film in the opening scenes. It’s not all Cruise though; Pegg, Renner, Rhames and even Alec Baldwin play their parts perfectly. Rouge Nation is a blast.
3:The Hateful Eight
While Rouge Nation may have been a blast The Hateful Eight was an event. Try to see it in 70mm or wait for the normal theatrical screening? It wasn’t easy committing to see it on Christmas weekend, it’s not like I could talk Mom and Dad into going to see it, but in the end I wasn’t going to miss this. There was a program to go with the movie, there was a prolog to get you in the mood, a glorious extended opening scene that used every millimeter of that oversized negative. Then Tarantino spent ninety five percent of the rest of the movie in a one-room log cabin. It was a big room. Okay that was a failed attempt at snark. Bad jokes aside even though most of the movie takes place in one room Tarantino is using every bit of the frame. Visuals are always an important part of a Tarantino movie but the performances he pulls out of his actors and the interesting characters they inhabit are just as important. The Hateful Eight does not disappoint. This is easily his best movie since Pulp Fiction. As much fun as his more recent films have been Tarantino has let his films get flabby, but for a three hour movie there is not an ounce of fat on The Hateful Eight. It’s a ripped ten-foot tall monster of a movie. Oh yeah and he got Morricone to score it. The first film score Morricone’s done in thirty-five years.
Ridely Scott, Drew Goddard, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Michael Peña, that’s a hell of a lot of talent but that was not what had me exited about The Martian. What was exiting about the film was that it was the adaptation of Andy Weir’s first novel, which just happens to be one of the best books I’ve read in a long while. Of course that means the film has a lot to live up t and frankly it doesn’t quite get there. It’s an odd thing to say about a movie that comes in second on my list but it’s not as good as the book. That aside The Martian is amazing. While the movie may have not quite captured the humor of the book Scott’s majestic Martian landscapes surpassed my imaginings. While The Martian does have weaknesses, I’m looking at you epilog, it is hopeful and inspiring and I loved it best of any movie this year save one.
1:Star Wars: The Force Awakens
If I’m honest all The Force Awakens had to do to make my list was not suck. It could have been quite mediocre and still come in somewhere on this list. I was six when the original Star Wars came out and it literally changed my life. It inspired my love of science fiction and fantasy and at least half of my playtime as a kid involved trying to destroy stormtrooper figures (the other half, if your curious, was spent crashing Hot Wheels cars). Well The Force Awakens doesn’t just make the list it tops it. The Force Awakens didn’t suck, and it wasn’t mediocre, it was fantastic. First off it felt like Star Wars, second the new characters were amazing, third when each of the old gang showed up it felt like I was seeing a old friend for the first time in years, third, no wait fourth, I loved how The Force Awakens recycled themes from the original trilogy. I saw it four times opening weekend, I’ve never done that for any other movie. It’s a rare day I don’t spend time contemplating who were Rey’s parents, what were Han and Chewie up to for the last couple of decades, was that a grave that Luke was standing next to, how exactly did Snoke get his hooks into Kylo Ren and how the next two movies are going to play out. And it’s a good thing that there is so much to contemplate because as fast as time goes by December 2017 is still a ways off.