Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: The Year in Reviews

I have my "top ten" for the year on track for tomorrow, but in the meantime here's an overview of all the movies I did full reviews during calendar year 2015, with a little blurb from each. This was a big year for me, as I reviewed more flicks than ever before. (This doesn't include retro or archival reviews, of which there were also a few.) Catch them all after the jump!

...a pointed and poignant riposte to our current historical moment. It's an important film about an important story. It deserves to be seen, shared, discussed, and, like the events it depicts, never forgotten.
Whether we're talking about the overly-complicated story, the overly-simplistic dialogue, or the clunky pacing, Blackhat is such a smorgasbord of missteps that it's genuinely hard to divine what the filmmakers' actual intent even was.
American Sniper
...the very fact that American Sniper asks to be accepted as an artifact that will stand for time immemorial virtually necessitates a higher degree of investigation then the film is able or willing to offer.
Black or White
While it attempts some measure of high-minded resolution to the many complicated issues it raises, it's simply casting too wide a net to feel truly satisfying. In trying to be color blind, it just comes off as tone deaf.
Jupiter Ascending
...a melange of misplaced ambition that's asphyxiated by tangled plot threads that are at once overcooked and undernourished.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
While it's veritably awash in knowing nods to the tropes and iconography of the Bond canon, and could very easily have tipped over into Austin Powers territory, it manages to navigate the narrowest of tonal tightropes while spinning a ripping good yarn in the process.
McFarland, USA
...pairing star Kevin Costner with any given athletic competition tends to pay crowd-pleasing dividends. And now here comes McFarland, USA to help me double down on the point.
It's rare to see a talented filmmaker with so many tools and so much talent at his disposal squander a compelling idea so thoroughly.
Furious 7
No matter how you feel about these films, the seventh one isn't going to suddenly change your opinion.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
It's a bit perplexing that Ultron manages to get so much right except for the very villain whose name is in the title.
Mad Max: Fury Road
A welcome return by George Miller to the kind of anarchic action he hasn't directed in three decades.
Tomorrowland has no shortage of breathtaking visuals. Where it falls apart is its inability to pull those visuals together into something more meaningful.
San Andreas
Per San Andreas, if the big one hits, just sit back, cross your fingers, and wish the Rock was your dad.
Jurassic World
Effectively turns the lights back on for the mothballed franchise while also setting a sturdy foundation for any future such expeditions.
Terminator Genisys
It's been thirty-one years since the The Terminator first wowed audiences, and my fear as I stare down the abyss into the dark future is that they'll just keep cranking these things out forever and always until the end of time. They. Will. Not. Stop.
It has fun characters, relatable stakes, and lots of laughs.
Pretty much vanishes from your brainpan as soon as the credits start rolling and you've hit your mental "reset" button on your way out the door. In that sense, I guess it fits right in with the extensive oeuvre of star Adam Sandler.
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
...a puzzle box of such complexity that we in the audience are utterly mystified as to how our heroes will figure their way out of it.
Fantastic Four so hard to go so far off-model that one wonders why they bothered at all if what they were going to end up with was so numbingly unoriginal.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
While I don't think a sequel is necessary or required, I'd be happy to join them on another assignment.
Straight Outta Compton
Just like "Straight Outta Compton" the album, Straight Outta Compton the film arrives at a nexus moment of social unrest and racial violence, and when viewed through that prism, it becomes more than just your standard music biopic.
American Ultra
Arriving very near the tail end of summer movie season, American Ultra probably ends up benefiting more than it should from the inevitable lowered expectations that come from its particular positioning on the release calendar.
The Visit
Unlike The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, both of which are legitimately good movies capped off by brilliant final act swerves, The Visit's structure is such that its only reason to exist is that swerve, after which we have the rest of the film to work backwards and see all the ways it doesn't particularly hold up to scrutiny.
Fully taking advantage of the immersive IMAX-3D palette, Everest benefits from some of the most breathtaking and dizzying mountain photography I've ever seen, as well as a top-drawer cast.
With its visceral depiction of the United States government's ongoing war against Mexican drug cartels, Sicario is so grimy you can practically feel it under your fingernails like soot. Not a feel-good movie, but a damn good one.
The Martian
While it boasts plenty of amazing effects and wide open vistas to justify its apportionment of IMAX screens, the film (featuring a droll Matt Damon in the title role) is a celebration of science, selflessness, and good old fashioned smarts.
Despite the best efforts to liven the proceedings, it all has a bit of a "played twice" quality to it.
Steve Jobs
A filmmaking achievement of the highest order, and one of the best movies of the year.
It's a little too long, a little too indulgent, and a little too scattered to be top tier 007, but it nonetheless benefits from solid action sequences and the sizable reservoir of audience goodwill for this franchise.
Given its subject matter, I have no doubt that many discussions of Spotlight will automatically or eventually engender comparisons with such old-fashioned journalism movies as All the President's Men (arguably the gold standard for this particular genre). But in this case, such comparisons are both welcome and warranted.
As gritty and grounded as the original Rocky, and it packs an emotional punch that's as powerful as any in the ring.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
When the lights came up I felt both satisfaction and anticipation.

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