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DamienRoc's 15 from '15 | Complete List on Page 3

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I don't believe I've done a top x list in any previous year, but I had a lot of feelings about the movies of 2015, so you're going to suffer from me rambling about things I like for a bit. It won't be as cool as Tele's supercut (damn him for putting points into editing), but hopefully you'll enjoy it.


Stay tuned.


The complete list is posted on page three. Click the link if you want to just read that, but I'll leave all the spoiler tags for anyone who wants to read along with all the twists and turns.

Edited by DamienRoc
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First off, some honorable mentions. Not every film is good enough to make it into a top X list, but I tend to enjoy pretty much any movie I see, at least if I'm willing to sit through it. There's only a couple films this year that I really don't like in the slightest (*coughJWcough*), and over time things that were honorable may stand up and rise in my opinion.


These are alphabetical order, because ranking is for top 15s only.


Honorable Mention #1



A surprisingly enjoyable new entry into the MCU canon. The loss of Edgar Wright didn't seem to harm the film in the end. And it continues that Marvel's best films are their hero introduction films.


Honorable Mention #2



Pixar's latest entry had a difficult path to the screen, and its uneven storytelling never quite gets to the greatness you'd expect from the studio. Despite that there are numerous fun parts and the photorealistic visuals are among the most amazing ever found in an animated film.


Honorable Mention #3



Dreamworks Animation scaled back their production and had a lone film in 2015 that was a surprise hit. It's much lambasted, but I found it quite endearing. Plus animated films with non-white protagonists are rare, so they should be celebrated.


Honorable Mention #4



The Wachowski's latest effort is a messy, uneven affair. But it's an honest attempt to gender flip a lot of our genre tropes and the worldbuilding is delightful. The visuals (production design and effects) are arguably the best of any film from last year, and the score is phenomenal. Yes, it has problems, but it's terrifically enjoyable regardless.


Honorable Mention #5



It isn't great, but there are a couple standout scenes, particularly the batshit crazy Free Bird sequence that is one of the best of the year. Even if a lot of the ideas should be viewed askance, it's a fun, delightful romp that was a surprise.



I've got more honorable mentions, but I'll get started on the list before I go into those.

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An entry in 2015's most popular genre!



The MI franchise is an interesting beast. Despite its ongoing popularity, the films are never rushed. Four years between entries is pretty normal, a pace that would be glacial for others. Over the course of 20 years, it's had five films. This patience pays off. The MI franchise consistently delivers exciting thrills and twists, and Rogue Nation is no exception. In fact, it's arguable that this is the best entry in the series to date. In fact for the first time ever, it's like they actually figured out how to deliver a satisfying third act. 


One amazing trick with MI:RN is how it deals with the money shot reveal. Very often film marketing will want to at least have a glimpse of some of the most amazing features in he film, which leads to a bit of a letdown when you realize that the highlight moment of the climax is something you've seen a dozen times over the past month. Not so here. The trailers for the film finished on a shot of Ethan Hunt (the character, not the forum member) hanging off the size of a plane as it takes off. And I admittedly had concerns that this was going to play heavily into the third act of the film and wouldn't be as amazing.


To deal with this, the entire plane sequence is given at the start of the film, as a cold open to lead into the rest of the plot. It's an amazing sequence, but it's given as something to be appreciated on that visual level only, not a crux point of the plot. It's as if to say, "You were expecting this and it's out of the way, now enjoy the show."


The rest of the film is a great at ramping up the tension while giving really fun set pieces. They range from traditional (motorcycle chase) to weirdly inventive (underwater computer repair) to edge of the seat brilliance (the opera scene is one of the best ever in a spy film). All of them are executed perfectly under Christopher McQuarrie's direction. In fact, he's going to be the first director to return to an MI franchise with #6.


While some of the plot is a little goofy, that's part of the genre, and MI:RN doesn't take itself so seriously that it becomes overbearing. A few scenes, particularly those with Alec Baldwin, are amazingly funny.


All in all, a terrific entry to a really good series.

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At this point, Neill Blomkamp's thing is pretty apparent. He likes to tackle some of the high-minded ideas of literary science fiction while coming up with really cool, high-tech weapons that have gory results. It's really not much more than a lot of the R-rated sci-fi films of the 70s and 80s, but his skill at doing amazing visuals raises the bar somewhat and puts him in a place that's pretty much his own. How well he tackles the ideas often leaves a bit to be desired. District 9 was pretty terrific, but some of the racist elements make me give it a bit of the side-eye. Elysium was gorgeous, but lacked any nuance whatsoever, which made it less than memorable.


Chappie is more of the same. He's tackling AI and what it means to be alive this time around. Essentially, the film is an update to Short Circuit, with a lot more profanity and blood. It's an admittedly overstuffed and uneven affair, with characters and plotlines that aren't necessary and lead nowhere, but inside is probably his best work to date.


At its core, Chappie is a story about a dysfunctional family. Die Antwoord play slightly fictionalized versions of their stage personas and take the role of not really capable parents to Chappie's wide-eyed child. It's a relationship drama that works very well, and provides a lot of heart that keeps the movie captivating despite the regular swerves off into other directions following less fully realized characters.


To be fair, Hugh Jackman getting to ham it up with his own accent is a wonder that must be experienced, but it doesn't really provide a lot of focus for the plot. Still he, and the other supporting characters, are out there enough that you can enjoy them in their own right while ignoring their rather thin natures.


Despite its messiness, Chappie works because Blomkamp can marry the two things he likes pretty well. In the hands of another director, this would either be a turgid philosophical ramble or a schlocky action misfire like The Island. I don't know how long he'll be able to keep doing these films without another District 9 level hit, but I'm not hating what he's given us so far.

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Sometimes, all you need is style.


A throwback to a time of less cinematic complexity, The Man from UNCLE is a breath of fresh air. It's a fun romp through the spy tropes of yesteryear, and really highlights what appealed about early James Bond in a way that hasn't happened in a few decades, at least. This is a film about beautiful people having fun together in tensely enjoyable situations.


The contrast between UNCLE and other spy films is pretty shocking. Now every film is about the end of the world in some fashion. MI:RN and SPECTRE both brought out hyper insidious organizations that threaten to topple governments and uproot our very fabric of civilization. While here the big problem is a single nuclear weapon falling into the wrong hands. A bad thing, to be sure, but it is much more believable and brings the film onto a more personal level with the audience.


The characters hanging out in this plot structure skew heavily towards archetypes: the suave American, the Russian badass, and so forth. They're all just oozing charisma from every pore and exist to pull the viewer along for a ride. Leads Cavill and Hammer have both had runs in super big budget affairs, but it's this more stripped down film that highlights why they were chosen for those roles (Superman and The Lone Ranger) in the first place. They're joined by Alicia Vikander in possibly her most underrated role of a magnificent year and a delicious evil Elizabeth Debecki. Jared Hess and Hugh Grant provide enjoyable supporting roles. One really great bit is how everyone, except Grant, isn't speaking in their normal accent. There isn't anything blatant, but it's a small declaration of "acting can be fun!"


Guy Ritchie is very much in his element. While none of the action setpieces are the gigantic, earth-shattering affairs you'd expect from bigger budget films, they all have a great amount of panache in their execution. Bigger is not necessarily better, and not everything has to be so serious. That playful nature that was a hallmark of his early films and occasionally shown through the Sherlock Holmes joints, is back on display here.


The reception for the film was a bit lackluster, but I think that in time it's going to be more appreciated. Hopefully, at least, because it's a great little film that's a lot of fun.

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The modern fairy tale revival has generally been all about the twist. With aims at updating the classic stories, there have been various measures to turn them on their head, by making us follow villains who were really heroes and to find out what the true story was. Cinderella eschews all of that and plays it straight. It isn't an update of the classic story but more an expansion. Taking what existed in the animated film and fleshing out the characters and plots. Everything that we're familiar with is there, but a light touch on the modern updates allows the classic strength to shine through. 


Kenneth Branagh's always been a director who works best at finding the emotional connection between the actors, and that's still on display here. Indeed, this is an emotionally driven story. The plot had no heavy additions. There are no action-packed set pieces. What's on display is an understated assurance that the actors are strong enough to carry the weight of the story. And they are. Lily James as the lead is cementing herself as a great young actress. Richard Madden successfully jumps from Game of Thrones to the big screen. And Cate Blanchett is amazing as one of the best (and most underrated) villains of the year.


Cinderella is gorgeous. Not just James as the character, but the film as a whole. The costume work is absolutely top notch, the set designs grand and inviting, and the special effects don't shock the audience into sensory oblivion but do give a sumptuous visual feast.


The lack of action might be a detriment to some. There are no violent deaths. But as the film builds to its climax, it sets the stage for one of the most satisfying moments that happened all year. Cinderella's final response to her evil stepmother is both completely true to her gentle nature and still fist-pumpingly awesome. 


Also, Patrick Doyle brings it on the score, as he always does. It's a fantastically subtle undercurrent to the entire film, but hasn't been celebrated as other more bombastic scores have this year.

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Paul Feig's built a little cottage industry for himself. He's doing comedy, but with a desire to change the gender expectations all around. Bridesmaids was a raunch-fest along the lines of The Hangover, but about women. The Heat is a buddy cop action comedy like Lethal Weapon, but about women. And Spy is a, well, spy comedy, but about women. Melissa McCarthy has been with him on ever film, and remains an excellently funny leading lady.


He tends to play the tropes pretty straight, except for the gender flip, but even that small thing elevates his work to an invigorating level. While it can be argued that his directing style doesn't really specifically lend itself to comedy (unlike, say, Edgar Wright), he's got a sure enough hand that nothing he's doing is getting in the way of the laughs. And he doesn't seem inclined to rest on his laurels. While The Heat is a perfectly fine action comedy piece, Spy works to be better than it as both an action film and a comedy.


What makes Spy pretty brilliant is it's willingness to engage directly with the expectations. Hey, it's a fat lady trying to do action things! This should be a riot. And, indeed, there are a few nods to that, but then the film goes, "No, fuck you, this is what we're about" and shows McCarthy's Susan Cooper for the bad-ass she really is. In contrast, it's the other spy characters, played by Jude Law and Jason Statham (absolutely brilliant in a supporting role), who are the more bumbling idiots we expected her to be.


One particular standout is the relationship between McCarthy's Cooper and Rose Byrne's Reyna Boyanov. They're definitely enemies, but also friends and have a complex give and take between them that is wonderfully refreshing and also deliciously funny. 


It's interesting that Spy would work even without the comedy. If you took out the jokes, you'd still be left with a pretty solid action film that has enjoyable twists and turns. This isn't a parody or a farce of the genre. It's a loving acknowledgement of what makes spy films great fun, while also saying, "We can make you laugh, too."


And it does make you laugh. A lot. Until your sides hurt. Spy is hilarious.


It makes me excited to see how Feig, McCarthy, and co tackle Ghosbusters.

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I'll get going on the top ten in a few hours after I get my wordcount for the day done.


But for now here's some stats!


If you average the films in my top 15 together you'd have a film that is:


110 minutes long

Has a $76m budget

Grossed $353m WW

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The top Ten begins!





Late career Steven Spielberg is an interesting sight to behold. He's always been an exemplary director, but his recent efforts such as Lincoln and Bridge of Spies, show an extremely subtle and experienced hand. In a way, he makes the difficult nature of direction seem almost effortless.


When I sat down to watch Bridge of Spies, the storytelling choices, which scenes he used, seemed a bit off kilter at first. Why would he do this, I wondered, and not that other thing. But by the time the film reaches its climax, everything falls into place. What had been shown was necessary to get to that point. Anything discarded is unimportant to the film. This is the work of a man who can take a razor to the story and leave only the absolute minimum required. No more. No less. There is no excess here. Nothing flabs or waves.


If you compare it to his early efforts at dramatic films, such as The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun, breakaways from the summer blockbuster fare that characterized his early career, you can see that while he's always been an exemplary director, he still didn't know quite how to best tell those stories. There may be moments that meander, small details that feel out of place. That doesn't seem to exist any more.


Bridge of Spies is a spy film without any of the trademark action. There are no dramatic explosions (well, save for the U2 crash scene), no high speed chases. No amazing gadgets, except for the very real hollow nickel that starts the entire plot. Despite this, the film builds tension upon tension, and its third act involving high stakes negotiation between three countries in Berlin at the height of the Cold War is so taught that you have to sit at the edge of your seat, unable to look away. It is, easily, the best third act in a spy film in many years.


One interesting and compelling point of commentary happens just after the climax. Lawyer James Donovan has successfully negotiated the trade of hostage spies and he gets on a plane back to the states with U2 pilot Francis Powers. "I didn't tell them anything!" Powers insists, perhaps fearing that someone back home will believe he told secrets to the Russians. "It doesn't matter," Donovan replies. "People will believe what they want to believe."


Indeed, the information that is sought by both American and Russian powers is never revealed in the film. It doesn't matter. The information itself is unimportant. Much in the tradition of Le Carre rather than Fleming, Bridge of Spies says that, despite all the drama, spycraft itself is a useless endeavor. The good, if any, came from the saving of three lives, not in the efforts of the CIA to secure what was in Rudolf Abel's head.


While Spielberg deserves far more acclaim than he's received for this film, it would be a mistake to short change his collaborators. The cast is impeccable, led by Tom Hanks (also very assured in his craft in his late career) and Mark Rylance in a stunning supporting role. The Coen brothers have delivered an amazing script, with all that tension intact, but also a lot of their trademark subtle humor. There are many moments that bring laughs. Finally, Thomas Newman has stepped to provide the score, the first time John Williams hasn't been Spielberg's collaborator since The Color Purple. Newman evokes a Williams-esque feel exceptionally well, and, frankly, delivers a better overall score than Williams did with The Force Awakens.


There were many spy films in 2015, but this one is by far the best.

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Studio Ghibli is legendary. Arguably the best animation house in history, behind Hayao Miyazaki (unarguably the best director of animation, ever), they've delivered a swath of classics over thirty years that would make Pixar jealous.


Sadly, with Miyazaki's retirement and long-time cohort Isao Takahata possibly retiring as well (he's even older than Miyazaki), the studio has never found a younger director to fully take up the reigns and lead the studio into the future. Back in the 90s, Yoshifumi Kondo was the obvious heir apparent. His Whisper of the Heart is, in my opinion, the best film the studio has ever done. But he died suddenly in 1998 and a bright future was lost.


More recently, Miyazaki's son Goro has been something of an up and comer, but his first film, Tales of Earthsea, is the worst in studio history and he Miyazaki himself famously did not think Goro was ready. His second feature, From Up on Poppy Hill is a good recovery, but is still slight by Ghibli standards. 


It had seemed that Hiromasa Yonebayashi would be the true heir apparent. He's worked at the studio for the a long time, and his first directing effort, Arrietty the Borrower, was a massive success in addition to being a great film. Unfortunately, his own followup, this film, did not achieve the same success and Studio Ghibli announced it was shuttering its animation division, making When Marnie Was There the possible final release from the studio.


In a way, it fits as a final film for the venerable studio. A melancholic story that waxes about growing up, making connections and losing them, and identity, it fits right in with the later efforts from Miyazaki (The Wind Rises) and Takahata (The Princess Kaguya). All three films are fairly action-light, but utilize the unique power of animation to their fullest, telling stories that would not be possible to convey otherwise. All three tackle themes that are quite a bit deeper than the usual animation fare we get on this side of the Pacific.


Despite the sadness of losing Studio Ghibli, Yonebayashi remains one of the most exciting animation directors to watch. Even if it's elsewhere, he's a deserving director to carry on the legacy of Miyazaki. I, for one, can't wait to see what he's got in store for us next.

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A surprising late addition to my top 10.



Gendered expectations are unfortunate. When the first Magic Mike was released, I had a (common) reaction of "this is not for me", expecting the film to be a bunch of man-candy tailor made for a gals night out. This was incorrect because Magic Mike, as the film, under Stephen Soderbergh, is a very heartfelt look into the disparity between what we do and who we are. What dreams people have and how the reality of our lives can differ from those.


Still, when the sequel was announced, this time sans Soderbergh, I thought that it would hew closer to expectations. The first film was a surprise hit, so this one would surely be a cranked out affair: light and breezy on the plot and characterization, but heavy on the man candy. Oh, how wrong I was. Twice, now, Magic Mike has turned out to be among the stronger films of the decade.


To be sure, under the hand of long time Soderbergh collaborator Gregory Jacobs, the film does play a bit closer to expectations. The first film had men on display aplenty, but it often felt that such appearances were obligatory and getting in the way of the philosophical meat that interested the creators. This time around, it's structured more conventionally and builds to an appropriately sexy climax.


However, while playing within the road trip skeleton plot, it continues a lot of the discussions that were started in the first film. How do you define friendships with people you work with? What do you do when you're in a young person's industry but you find your aging out? Where do you go when the future seems uncertain? It's not necessarily a deep introspection into these issues, but it's honest.


Plus, all the actors, starting from Channing Tatum on down, are wholly on board with the premise. There are a number of standouts (Jada Pinkett Smith shows up in a supporting role doing what she does the best), but perhaps nothing is better than Joe Manganiello, who's Big Dick Richie finds himself in a crisis of conscience. The resulting scene stands as not only one of the best of the year, but, I'd argue, actually one of the best scenes ever made.


Here, take a look again:






The Magic Mike films may not be for me, but they're incredibly well done efforts that can and do appeal beyond their supposed target audience. If Tatum and company decide to make a third one, I'll be looking forward to it. I may even catch it in the theater.

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1 hour ago, DamienRoc said:



A surprising late addition to my top 10.



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Okay, I actually couldn't Finish Magic mike, maybe I need to give it another try definitely watching XXL now... Joe Mangino in that scene. :wub: 

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