If I were to use an
anagram acronym (hey, I accidentally mixed up two words that I know the definitions of but shit happens when you write articles every single day and self-edit many of them but here's your opportunity to feel smarter than another person on the Internet for two seconds) to describe the types of movies that Hollywood is making right now, I'd have to go with "K.I.S.S." or as you probably already know it: Keep It Simple, Studios.
As the minds of moviegoers have become -- let's be kind and say "more efficient" -- box office revenues have proven that people don't want their moves to be too complicated anymore. At least not en masse. You may never again see a film like Chinatown reign supreme. Perhaps as a Netflix special or as a $500,000 independent movie funded by IndieGoGo, but the days of Rain Man finishing first in box office gross (as it did in 1988) are long gone.
And maybe that's okay.
Some of my favorite films of last year had no story, no plot, or laid it all out for you on the surface. Mad Max is a 2-hour car chase; Ex Machina is two guys, a girl, and a skin closet; The Force Awakens is your favorite movie from 1977, back again; Even Inside Out, which is billed as a complicated story of teenage emotions, literally removes the outer layers of a movie and says "This is what this character is feeling!"
Consider this: The top 11 box office films of 2015, eight are sequels in a franchise, one is a book adaptation (The Martian), one is a tale as old as time (Cinderella), and the other is Inside Out.
As people have lost their will to be challenged, Hollywood has supplied unchallenging films. I can't really blame them for that, because if people didn't go, these movies wouldn't get made. And while I think "The Avengers: Quest for 3 Hours of Useless Punching Between People Who Don't Get Hurt by Punches Plus Tony Stark is Witty, I Guess?" is a waste of $500 million for my tastes, it still makes back all of it's money plus a bill. Besides, if they stopped making Avengers movies, they'd stop making Furious movies, and that's something I will not stand for.
These are the ten films that I saw last year that I felt either challenged conventional movie-making in a way that can still be interesting in 2015, or said "Fuck it, let's just churn out some good fuckin' flicks."
These movies were pretty cool, but probably won't be films I re-watch a lot or push on friends like drugs:
The Force Awakens -- I went at 12:30 AM, opening ... morning (?) and it was worth it only because I don't have a life. The best character in the whole movie was a robot, but unlike in Ex Machina I didn't want to have sex with it. (He said, coyly.)
99 Homes -- A better movie about the housing crisis than The Big Short, and another example of why Michael Shannon is probably the Zodiac Killer.
The Hateful Eight -- I so wanted this to be my number one film of 2015, but even after having seen it three times, I can't say that it falls in Quentin Tarantino's top five. The language was on point again, but the many plot holes made me want to horse laugh.
The Visit -- I was a M Night Shyamalan loyalist and apologist right up until The Happening, at which point I had about as much to say to skeptics as Mark Wahlberg has to say to a tree. The Visit was a true comeback film for him, though it can't make the top ten because I'm not sure it's worth more than two lifetime viewings. Once you've visited it, there's not many other layers to peel back.
Now onto the top ten.
On paper, it sounds like the most pretentious film of all-time (it was shot on three iPhones) but Tangerine delivers as a "KIDS"-type street movie about a transgender prostitute looking to kick the shit out of her boyfriend for cheating on her while she was in jail. They smoke crack and you feel like you're on crack while watching it.
Wait, I was on crack while watching it. My opinion may be tarnished.
(Unlike most great movies from the last few years, Tangerine is available on Netflix.)
9. Crimson Peak
Perhaps it will be the most forgotten movie of 2015, but it was also the best looking. The story isn't very good or original but the acting is on point and each frame of footage by Guillermo Del Toro could be hung in a gallery somewhere. I guess that could be said of any film, there are no limits to what a "gallery" even means nor what kind of shit you could hang in one ... But Crimson Peak is a legit work of art that moves along just fine for it's two or two and a half or three hour runtime, whatever the hell it was, who even knows anymore at this point.
I resisted this movie for months because everyone was talking about how good it was. That's not usually what I do with movies, but the trailers did nothing for me (that "slippery slope" line still makes me cringe) and I figured everyone was being overly nice to the independent movie with a 90s nostalgia slant. I finally gave in and watched it, fell in love with Dig, and would have anointed director Rick Famuyiwa as "the next big thing" if it wasn't for the fact that he made The Wood 16 years ago.
(Another great movie -- Famuyiwa is like the Daniel Day-Lewis of directors except lowkey and his classic films are four times as long apart.)
Going in, all I knew was that "In Mexico, Sicario means hitman" because I heard as such in the trailer ... And I saw the trailer many times. It's funny how sometimes one line in a trailer will always stick with you, and those lines always sound stupid. I bet the studio was like, "You can't call this Sicario, nobody knows what that means" and director Denis Villeneuve was just like "We got a plan" with a wry smile.
That plan was to define "Sicario" in the trailer. Pretty clever.
But it flew under the tunnels and barely made 150% of it's budget, without any of the expected Oscar noms for Villeneuve and Emily Blunt (though it was nominated for three Oscars, including cinematography) and so people have mostly forgotten about it. Well, I'm telling you now to rent it and have a good time. What's more of a good time than cartel murders and backstabbing?
*Other such lines include "We are two duly appointed federal marshals" from the Shutter Island trailer.
6. The Revenant
I've only seen it once, which makes me feel like this score could either go up or down as time passes and more viewings are held. This is my film analysis for The Revenant.
It seems like there's a good chance that AGI (can we all agree to this, Alejandro?) will win Best Picture two years in a row. What's next? A TV show on Starz called "The One Percent" starring Ed Helms, Ed Harris, and Hilary Swank. Count me in.
Not sure I would have seen that after AGI made Babel. Seriously, has anyone watched Babel since 2006?
The Revenant is really good, but unlike some other movies on the list, I'm not sure I could stand to watch it more than two or three times. Just make sure you see it the one time because I think we can all agree that we're all curious about what it would be like to get mauled by a bear and thrown around like a rag doll but without any of the painful consequences. It's like wanting to sleep with a full-grown tiger. Not sexually, but damn, what I wouldn't give to spoon a tiger.
5. The Lobster
Let me just tell you the synopsis:
"In a dystopian near future, single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in forty-five days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods."
Is this animated? No. Is it low-budget? Relatively, but IMDb estimates it at four million pounds. Does it star a bunch of foreign actors I won't recognize or like? Well, you might not like Colin Farrell, and I guess technically he is foreign. It also has John C. Reilly and Rachel Weisz.
Funny, challenging, heartbreaking, insane, and oddly hopeful. It's one of those movies you only recommend to certain people, but when you do recommend it, you tie them down and force them to watch it with their eyelids pinned back a la Clockwork.
4. The Gift
I went to the "out of my way" theater to see The Gift because it was pulling a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and you only get maybe one good "stalker thriller" per year. I walked in with high expectations, left with those expectations exceeded while also being dumbfounded to see in the credits that Joel Edgerton wasn't just the star but also the writer and director of one of the best "strange psycho" films of the last five years.
(Shoutout to one more "The (GENERIC ONE SYLLABLE WORD)" thriller: The Guest. If I had done this list in 2014, it would have been top five.)
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
Sequels are almost always a bad idea. You think Deadpool 2 isn't going to be a total shitfest with a 43% on RottenTomatoes in 2018? Come on, it's going to suck really bad. There are going to be 10x as many hands in Deadpool's cookie jar.
Maybe the key is to wait 30 years.
George Miller rocked Fury Road (a figurative and literal statement on numerous levels (there was rock music and also they were surrounded by rocks)) and made "The Easiest Movie of 2015 That You Could Watch Every Day, If You Had To." It's going to take awhile before someone suggests we watch Mad Max: Fury Road and I say, "Eh, I just seen it, mate." You can chill, you can zone out, you can zone in, you can drink a beer, you can focus on it ... the wasteland is your oyster.
It's not complicated, but it is faultless.
2. Ex Machina
When it was released, I couldn't get a straight answer on where it was made or when it was released. We can confidently now say that it was a "movie classified by the year 2015" and therefore, it comes in at number two. Speaking of "number twos" and things that robots can't do, one thing that Ava (Alicia Vikander) can do is make me fall in love with a bot in a way that Twitter spam bots have only managed to do six times.
Going to another movie for comparison, Her might be a "better" movie, but I'm gonna watch Ex Machina 10+ times in my life and I've already gotten in my one single viewing of Her that I'll ever have. Entertainment value is as important to me as level of difficulty.
1. Bone Tomahawk
I never saw a trailer for Bone Tomahawk. Never even heard about it until it was available to stream. Movies fly under the radar all the time, but movies starring Kurt Russell (with his Hateful Eight mustache to boot), Patrick Wilson, Richard Jennings, and Matthew Fox? How do those fly under the radar? Perhaps because nobody knew how to classify it. (it's a Western/Horror/Thriller/Mystery/Comedy?) Maybe because it was just too brutal for mainstream audiences. (Didn't stop The Revenant or Hateful Eight.) I don't think it's because it was too challenging: Four dudes go into hostile territory to rescue one of the dude's wife from a group of inbred, psycho, cannibalistic savages. It's sort of like The Green Inferno (a decent movie from last year) meets The Hills Have Eyes meets Deadwood meets Wyatt Earp.
Well, I don't know how you would classify it, or what you would call it, but I'm calling it the best film of 2015.
In 5 or 10 years, this is going to be the Donnie Darko or Boondock Saints of it's time (though it will hold up better than Boondock because it's written in perfect Deadwood prose instead of the language of douche), a film that gains steam over years instead of days or weeks. Eventually everyone will start asking "How was this not on everyone's top 10 list?" and "Where the fuck was Jenkins' Oscar?" because it's going to hold up as the most exciting, original, and beautiful (collectively in cinematography and dialogue) movie of the year.