Best of 2015

While we were slackers in terms of writing reviews, we were not slackers in terms of seeing lots of movies.  Here’s our picks for the best of 2015.

 Bill IBill C
Best Movies1 Spotlight
2 The Big Short
3 The Revenant
4 Trainwreck
5 Brooklyn
6 Sicario
7 Bridge of Spies
8 Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens
9 Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
10 The Martian
11 Creed
12 Trumbo
13 Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation
14 Focus
15 Selma
16 Ex Machina
17 The Gift
18 Mr. Holmes
19 Straight Outa Compton
20 Hateful Eight
21 Southpaw
22 Chi-Raq
23 Spy
24 A Most Violent Year
25 Crimson Peak
26 MacFarland, USA
27 The Age of Adaline
28 Girlhood
29 Mad Max – Fury Road
30 Kingsman: The Secret Service
31 Grandma
32 Carol
33 Sisters
34 The Night Before
35 Phoenix
36 The Intern
37 Magic Mike XXL
38 Entourage
39 Black Mass
40 Furious 7
41 Aloha
42 Dope
43 Ricki and the Flash
44 Ted 2
1 The Big Short
2 The Martian
3 Trainwreck
4 Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
5 Star Wars: The Force Awakens
6 Mad Max: Fury Road
7 Spotlight
8 Bridge of Spies
9 Son of Saul
10 Sicario
11 Victoria
12 Inside Out
13 Ex Machina
14 Selma
15 Brooklyn
16 The Revenant
17 The Hateful Eight
18 The Gift
19 Straight Outta Compton
20 Green Room
21 Creed
22 Carol
23 Love & Mercy
24 Trumbo
25 Room
Best Documentaries1 Amy
2 Mavis
3 Best of Enemies
4 Meru
5 Raiders
6 Peace Officer
7 By Sidney Lumet
8 Twinsters
9 Being Evel
10 Man Vs. Snake

Bill I’s Best of 2015 Comments

Narrative Films

1. Spotlight – thrilling combination of investigative reporting combined with a spot-on portrayal of how the sexual abuse of children is covered up and repressed until courageous survivors come forward

2. The Big Short – making global financial meltdown understandable and enjoyable to watch

3. The Revenant – Stunning scenes in terms of the natural environment, including a bear mauling Leo. A work of art that captivated me much more then the director’s last one, Birdman.

4. Trainwreck – many hysterical scenes, I’d love to see it again

5. Brooklyn – epic period piece, perfectly done

6. Sicario – brutal action, the other side of Breaking Bad

7.  Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens – JJ Abrams does it again!

8. Bridge of Spies – true story told very well

9. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – I had no idea what to expect, and got blown away

10. The Martian – how much time and money does it take to rescue Matt Damon?

11. Creed – Rocky is revitalized as a mentor, and young Creed is his inspiration

Bill C’s Best of 2015 Comments

1. The Big Short – Great job of making an important, potentially dry  topic both informative and entertaining

2. The Martian – Accoring to the golden Globes this is the best comedy of the year!  But the visual and dram were exceptional with a little humor.

3. Trainwreck – Really the best comedy of the year.  Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow made a great movie and Hebron James, comedian, was a revelation.  I did see it again.

4. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – Moving story + coming of age story told with touching humor.

5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Great re-invigoration of series

6. Mad Max: Fury Road– A great, non-stop ride

7. Spotlight – Another story that needed to be told. A modern day ‘All the President’s Men’

8. Bridge of Spies – Steven Spielberg also still makes great movies

9. Son of Saul – A brutal concentration camp story of a Jewish prisoner trying to give his son with a proper Jewish burial

10. Sicario – Drug war from the good(?) guys side

11. Victoria – This is a two hour movie with a single take! Amazing to watch

12. Inside Out – Another really good, touching Pixar film

The Revenant

Bill I’s Review – 4.5 out of 5

A true artistic film, which I enjoyed much better than the director’s previous (award winner!), Birdman. An incredible nature film combined with revenge plot and survival movie, with an unforgettable scene of a grizzly bear mauling Leo Dicaprio’s character. Very little film trickery and special effects, with a group of trappers trying to get back to their fort (circa 1850?) in the west somewhere, in the middle of winter and intense snow, wind and rain. Native Americans show no mercy in their attacks, but the true savages are the white men (no women in sight besides a raunchy bar scene in the fort) who take what they can from who they can, and true compassion is as rare as a mild day. The plot is as simple as this: Leo needs to make it back to the fort in his wretched bear-mauled state, to get revenge on the dude (great Tom Hardy) who abandoned him and (spoiler alert) killed his kin.

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

A couple of day’s ago I was bitching and moaning about how cold it was when the high barely made 50.  That evening I saw the Revenant.  I don’t think I would have survived very long in the 1820’s (especially after being mauled by a bear).

This is really great film making with great scenery and a brutal story (if you don’t like violence skip this one).  The opening scene reminded me of the opening battle scene in Saving Private Ryan showing the chaos of battle.

Leo DiCaprio deserves kudos but I’m not sure if it’s for his acting or just for persevering in those conditions.  Tom Hardy was also excellent (I think between Mad Max, Legend, this is the year of Tom Hardy).

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Bill I’s Review – 4.5 out of 5

By now all of you have already seen this film so you don’t need to read how good it is, how JJ Abrams (and my old friend Maryann Brandon as outstanding editor!) has invigorated this franchise with excitement, thrilling action, cool characters (both old and new), while retaining the spirit and continuity of Star Wars, advancing the plot in interesting areas and shocking outcomes. Instead of continuing to extol the great aspects, I’ll bring up one pet peeve which is the fact that action unfolds in one area of remote space (the HQ of the Empire, aka the First Order) while the Resistance (the good guys) monitor them from I can only assume light years away. I can choose to believe that they’ve figured out how to use worm holes to travel such vast distances in space, but how would they get communications on essentially a real-time basis (e.g. “their weapon will be fully charged in 15 minutes!”)? Oh well, fun time anyway!

Creed

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

Michael B. Jordan plays (no spoiler) Apollo Creed’s son, who is intent on following in his champion dad’s boxing gloves, and in fact seeks out who else to be his trainer and mentor, but Rocky, the one and only. Sly Stallone is perfect and actually great in reprising his character gone mellow and a little fatalistic. Young Creed serves to bring life back into the old man, while of course helping his nascent career rocket from nowhere to a championship fight. Does it matter if he wins? This film is appropriate for all ages, at least from 12 years old and up I think. Some of the plot is a little contrived (is there a supportive mother, a young beautiful love interest with some drama, a life or death moment? yeah, so what!). This franchise ain’t done yet!

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

I’d like to see Jake Gyllenhaal from Southpaw and Michael B. Jordan fight in Creed 2 (I’m also curious to see if they can maintain their buff’ness for 2 movies).  Creed edges out Southpaw as best fight movie of the year.

The fight  scenes were terrific (although as in all fight movies if this were a real fight it would have been stopped by the second round).  The film was pretty predictable (except they didn’t figure out  a way for Rocky to yell ‘Yo, Adrian’) and the filmmaker was able to get you rooting for Creed the whole way.  Michael B. Jordan was excellent .  He and the director also made Fruitvale Station together (which is also worth checking out) . Stallone was also excellent.  My only complaints were the predictability and how depressing it is watching Stallone get old since I started rooting for him while he was a young contender!  If you like fight films check this out.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

The Big Short

Bill I’s Rating – 4.5 out of 5

Excellent, thriller believe it or not, even though the ending is not in doubt, i.e. the housing market collapses, some banks go under and others need to be bailed out, and many people lose huge percentages of their net worth. This is all based on real-life people and events (it’s based on Michael Lewis’ book), although officially a work of fiction. The director deploys cool techniques to educate the audience on what exactly are these “exotic” financial instruments that the banks created to profit on housing bonds, meanwhile exposing them to exponential risks, while some outsiders figure out how to profit on their prediction of a bursting bubble. Have fun when you watch how they explain this in simple terms. Realize after you see this movie that nothing essentially has changed that would prevent such a financial collapse from happening again, and these “too big to fail” mega firms from having to get bailed out by taxpayers once again.

Bill C’s Review – 4.5 out of 5

Not only is this a really entertaining movie, it’s an important movie that tells a story that we seem to have already forgotten and not learned from.

Director Adam McKay, mostly know as comedy director and his collaborations with Will Ferrell, surprises with his ability to clearly inform on a complex subject while throwing in non-traditional touches (I loved his photo montages) to draw us into the movie.  He gets great and quirky performances from Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carrell and others.

As Bill says, ultimately this movie tells a sad/scary story that unfortunately could happen again. It makes you mad.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

Spotlight

Bill I’s Review: 4.5 out of 5

What a powerful, engrossing, and fast paced movie. I loved it on two levels. First, it’s about investigative journalism; the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team in 2000 starts a deep and lengthy, and incredibly expansive and explosive investigation of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Boston. This small team of reporters is portrayed so well, as locals and by the way, all raised as Catholics, by Mark Ruffalo, Rachael McAdams, and Michael Keaton, with their boss (Ben Bradlee Jr!) played by John Slattery and the Jewish outsider, the new editor in chief, played as an understated super serious, even boring, person by Liev Schreiber. Second, it hit home for me by its investigative subject matter, where the few victims that are interviewed in the film get to tell their story, and the devastating impact on their lives. They track down one priest who freely admits to molesting children, but reminiscent of the clueless and disgraced Tek Young Lin, former Horace Mann teacher and abuser, he claims no harm done to the children. It was done in a loving manner, sure!

See this movie and gain a little understanding of what it means to be an innocent, powerless child and to be abused by an authority figure. And to realize later all the adults who knew what was going on, or if they didn’t know, they complied with the cover-up. The cover-up, including by bishops, the cardinal, the lawyers, the police, the reporters (yes, including the Globe) and the parents, enabled these sick men (all men here) to continue to prey for many years. Until the Globe’s publicly published proof got it out into the open, via their spotlight, and rallied public opinion.

Read a fascinating background on Cardinal Law here: http://sol-reform.com/2015/11/jason-berry-the-shadow-behind-spotlight-how-predator-priests-derailed-bostons-would-be-pope-cardinal-bernard-law-the-daily-beast/

Crimson Peak

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

No, Crimson Peak is not about the heydey of Harvard’s football team. It’s a warning issued by a ghost to an eight year old girl. Which raised a question for me: do ghosts know the future? I guess, at least Dickens thought so in A Christmas Carol, where  The Ghost of Things Yet to Come warns Scrooge of what lies ahead. Which raised another question for me: if the ghost takes all the effort to warn the girl, and by the way (no spoiler alert, it happens in the first couple of minutes), it’s her dead mother warning her little girl, couldn’t the ghost be a little more specific? I mean, who knows what she means by Crimson Peak? How is that exactly going to help her? And why scare the hell out of her in the meantime?

Anyway, this is a very well done film, kept my attention with an interesting plot and excellent scenery, acting, and cinematography. I don’t seek out horror movies, but this movie has just enough creepiness where I was never too grossed out or even too scared. I recommend you see it! Don’t bring your pre-teens though.

Bill C’s Review – 3 out of 5

Bill asks  excellent questions.  Especially the ones about why not be  more specific and why can’t the mother be a little less scary to her daughter.  The shocking thing about Bill’s review is he never mentioned nor picked a picture that included his favorite actress, Jessica Chastain!

The movie is directed by Guillermo del Toro, and while this is no Pans Labyrinth, it is a good movie – more for the atmosphere and effects than the plot.  And as Bill says, the right word is creepy – this isn’t a horror movie that will get you jumping out of your seat.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

Fantastic Fest 2015 – Part 1

This is the second year I’ve attended Fantastic Fest.  It’s the largest ‘genre’ film fest in the U.S. and is held at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar Location in Austin.  Here is a link to my post last year which gives a more detailed description of the fest.  I really enjoy this fest as it has some great movies from all over the world and many you are not likely to see anywhere else.  It also has some great activities going on at The Highball .  Here is a link to the schedule (which includes the Highball activities).

Here are some hilights from the first 4 days (this goes for 8 days):

Victoria

A really cool German film.  They made this   2 hour 15 minute movie in a single take  as they move through multiple locations in Berlin.   The single take was incredibly impressive.  The movie follows Victoria as she parties, meets some people and makes some increasingly bad decisions.  Very interesting.

Anomalisa

Charlie Kaufman’s latest.  This is all done in stop motion animation  This is an exploration of one man’s psyche and sort of depressing. I think I liked it more for the animation and because of the Q+A with Kaufman.  This film was also preceded by Don Hertzfeldt’s latest cartoon which was good  (and he was there too).

The Brand New Testament 

A French comedy about God’s daughter going off to find her own apostles and writing a new testament.  Very funny (although some might be offended).

Son of Saul

This won awards  at Cannes and is a great but very sad/depressing film.  It takes place in a concentration camp during WWII over a day when one of the Jews that is forced to help the Nazis in the concentration camps finds what he believes is his dead sons body and wants to have a proper Jewish burial. Very powerful.

High-Rise

This is like last years Snowpiercer about class struggles but takes place in a high rise instead of a  moving train.  Entertaining but too long.  See Snowpiercer instead.

Liza the Fox Fairy

I liked this one a lot.  A dark comedy about a woman striving for true love.  Very unique with a musical ghost.

Man vs. Snake

One of my all time favorite documentaries is ‘King of Kong’. It’s about Steve Wiebe trying to set a world record in Donkey Kong and is both hilarious and moving.  Man vs. Snake is a documentary about the quest to get a billion points in a lesser know video game called Nibbler.  This is also a funny documentary with lots off twists  and turns.  It’s good but I’d still recommend King of Kong first.

Schneider vs. Bax

Another good dark comedy. This one is about 2 hit man assigned to kill each other.

Klown Forever

This is a sequel to a Borat like comedy that I really loved called Klown.  Klown was hilarious, totally inappropriate and unique.  The sequel is good, but not as good as the original.

Black Mass

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Black Mass is the story of crime boss Whitey Bulger and his relationship with the FBI prior to his 16 year life as a fugitive.

I liked this a lot.  It is reminiscent of Goodfellas (although not as good).  Johnny Depp gives a great performance as Bulger – nice as can be one minute and then a psychotic murderer the next.  Joel Egerton (who Bill and I both liked in The Gift) was also awesome as Bulger’s FBI handler.  He gives a really nuanced performance as someone heading into the abyss as he lets Bulger use him and forgets what his true role is.

This also has a great supporting cast.   Benedict  Cumberbatch plays Bulger’s brother, a powerful Boston politician.  Peter Sarsgaard is terrific as a drug addict.    David Harbour is also a standout as an FBI agent.

If you like this type of movie  (and don’t mind violence) this is definitely worth seeing.

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

I liked it a lot, same as Bill C, although my rating is closer to a 4- or even 3+, because it’s not close to Goodfellas or Departed (another film that is based on Whitey Bulger, although fictional). I think I liked Ben Affleck’s Town better. This film apparently sticks close to the book written by Boston Globe reporters. I lived in Boston during the heydey of Whitey, and all I knew was that the major crime figure in town was free to walk around while his brother Billy ran the state senate, as the most powerful politician around. This movie doesn’t show really the crimes other than whacking his enemies, or supposed friends, or his scheming, rather it’s a character study of a sociopath, played compellingly by Johnny Depp, and the incredible gullibility/blindness/one-mindedness of the FBI as they focus on the Italian mafia as they let Whitey do his thing, supposedly giving them valuable information, which of course is mostly bogus or invented by his Southie buddy on the FBI. I really liked when they cut to the Winter Hill Gang members who end up informing on Whitey, in order to shave years off their sentences. So, overall an enjoyable couple of hours, and standout performance by Depp and others, but a somewhat cliche story portrayed in a straightforward fashion.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

Black-Mass-Movie-Review

Grandma

Bill C’s Review – 3 out of 5

Grandma stars Lily Tomlin in the title role helping to get her granddaughter through  a personal crisis.  It’s sort of a one day road movie with Tomling revisiting some past and current relationships as she tries to get the money to help her granddaughter.  It has it’s good moments and Tomlin’s characters is able to explore and hopefully resolve some of her past/current relationships along the way.

I liked it but I’m not sure it will stay with me very long.  If you’re a fan of Tomlin check it out.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

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