That time of year, Boils and Ghouls, where we get down to lists, lists and nothing but film lists as we fritter and fret over what was the best of the best and the worst of the worst of 2015. Thus and so, and here we go.
I laughed, I cried, I may have even pooped myself a little:
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Mad Max Fury Road
Love and Mercy
About six months ago, I was in the local brick ‘n’ mortar video store, rummaging for some used DVDs, and somewhere, I hear the new Star Wars trailer playing with the volume turned up to, oh, about eleven. Here, I paused and just listened. I did not watch. I listened; to the music, to the X-Wing pilot giving a whoop, to Luke Skywalker’s monologue, to the familiar sounds of ion engines and laser blasts, the Falcon’s roar, a lightsaber igniting, and then, Chewie. And right there, I was seven again, with my father barely dead, my eldest sister even less so, and as my family crumbled around me I sought a safe refuge in a film franchise that has grown very dear to me over the decades since it, essentially, saved my life. A love that had survived and written off the prequels, and feels a little more hurt with each and every tweak made with each release of the (not so) Special Editions. And at that point I knew I needed this movie to be good. Not great, just good, or I might not be responsible for my own actions. And so, like a lot of people, I brought a lot of baggage into The Force Awakens. And frankly, I thought it was not only good but pretty great and it keeps getting better with each viewing. A pastiche of Star Wars? Yep. Did I care? Nope. It was fun, and I loved the new characters, especially Rey, and I look forward to see where their new adventures lead them.
I also think history will be kinder to Age of Ultron, which appeared to hit some kind of brick-wall right before it premiered and was then hamstrung by some misguided and misinterpreted gender politics. Again, I’m on board this ride until the end of the line.
Ant-Man was also a ton of fun, so much so that I kinda wish it could stay safely tucked away by itself and stick with its own adventures for a while.
From Down Under came Fury Road, and it was pretty awesome and then some, but, to me, it was STILL kinda overshadowed by the sheer unbridled ferocity of Wyrmwood and the earnestness of Turbo Kid, a loving nod to the direct to video action and sci-fi films of the 1980s, with Laurence Leboeuf giving one of my favorite performances of the year as the sweet and lethal Apple the android – well, at least until Daisy Ridley showed up.
And Krampus was utterly delightful, a new entry-level horror film that has been sorely missing since the days of Tremors (1990) and Gremlins(1984). Funny, a surprising amount of heart, and gleefully gruesome; and I’m still not sure if that was happy ending or not and I love the ambiguity and the courage it took to let it go either way.
Crimson Peak had some tonal issues, this story called for skeletal hands and wisps of smoke, not meat-puppets, but the characters and production design were so intoxicating I soon forgot about my nits.
Still, the most visceral film watching experience I had in 2015 was Love and Mercy, specifically the montage sequence where Brian Wilson’s efforts to get the right sound for "Good Vibrations" had me tapping my foot through the floor of the theater. I've listened to the track a dozen times since and all I can hear now is the sawing, stand-up bass that drives the song like a voracious machine.
And yet, the best film I’ve probably seen this year was The Martian, where I found myself rooting harder for Matt Damon’s stranded space pirate, who science’d the shit out of everything, than Captain America, Han Solo and Max Rockatansky. I’m just as shocked as you are, folks. As for the rest of the films of 2015…
I'd watch it again in a heartbeat:
The Wrecking Crew
Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation
Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Final Girls
Blondie's New York
The latest Mission Impossible entry almost cracked the Top Ten. Not so much for Tom Cruise, who was great, but for Rebecca Ferguson, who was even better.
I also dug the hell out of Man from U.N.C.L.E.. Cavill and Hammer both deserved a better box-office result – not to mention Alicia Vikander, who nearly stole the movie out from under both of them.
The taut thriller The Gift kinda soured on me just a bit when I thought about it too hard, perhaps; still, a fun theatrical experience that saw me stuck in the front row of the theater where a shock-moment proved so effective the collective gasp by the audience behind me physically drew my hair back and then blew it forward.
It Follows was another close call. I dug it. A lot. And it was close, but not quite.
Eh. Not THAT terrible. Honest:
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension
Bound to Vengeance
Just a quick note on Bone Tomahawk, a bizarre mash-up of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980), the image of the limbless and sensory deprived baby factory still haunts my dreams. *bleaugh*
So close, and yet...
The first hour of The Fantastic Four
Into the Grizzly Maze
Burying the Ex
Had too many issues with Jurassic World – and, for the record, none of them have anything to do with Bryce Dallas Howard’s choice of footwear.
Yeah, I’m looking right at you, inexplicably vicious death of Katie McGrath, the creepy, sexual predator in waiting older brother, and the misguided, undulating smarm of Chris Pratt. Don’t worry, buddy, we’ll always have Parks and Rec and Guardians.
Tried and died:
The last forty minutes of The Fantastic Four.
Egads, What a waste here.
Still need to see:
Bridge of Spies
Ricki and the Flash
And now, the older stuff.
Favorite vintage film discoveries of 2015:
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988)
Harold and Maude (1971)
A Star is Born (1954)
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
Action U.S.A. (1989)
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
Killer Legends (2014)
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Ulzana's Raid (1972)
Stomp! Shout! Scream! (2014)
Lost Soul: Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)
Space Master X-7 (1958)
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)
Saturday Morning Mystery (2013)
Whispering Ghosts (1942)
The Battery (2012)
The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)
The Girl Can't Help It (1956)
From The Cult Movie Project, to Hubrisween, to the usual YouTube Holes and just generally following my nose into the depths of Hulu, Netflix and Amazon, it’s been a pretty good year, cinematically speaking.
Favorite revisits of 2015:
The collected works of my second dad, Dean Jones: The Million Dollar Duck (1971), That Darn Cat (1965), Blackbeard's Ghost (1968), and The Love Bug (1968).
The collected works of the Hot-Rod, Rowdy Roddy Piper: They Live (1988), Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988), Immortal Combat (1994), and Jungleground (1995), his gonzoid urban remake of The Naked Prey.
Catching back up with Special Vehicle Unit 2: Patlabor: The Movie (1989), Patlabor 2 (1993), WXIII: Patlabor the Movie (2002). Noa and Alphonse 4VR!
A Thanksgiving Day Turkey marathon of Turkish Tarkan movies: Tarkan (1969), Tarkan and the Silver Saddle (1970), Tarkan vs. the Vikings (1971), Tarkan and the Gold Medallion (1973).
An ill-advised dusk ‘til dawn marathon of all the Friday the 13th movies that ended in disaster but we made it. Sort of.
A couple more horror highlights came with upgrades, including Mario Bava's magnificent Blood and Black Lace (1964) via Arrow Video's new glorious BluRay that I had to get through Jolly Old Engerland. So, so, worth it.
And Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) with Dark Sky Film's 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition BluRay. And then, Shout / Scream Factory's The Town that Dreaded Sundown, where I found out they used some of my ads from one of our sister sites in the supplemental features.
Recreating the Studio Ghibli double-feature of My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Grave of the Fireflies (1988); such dazzling highs of joy and fits of fancy followed by devastatingly graphic plunge and cratering into woe and despair and grief that took me a whole week to recover from.
And that about sums up my film watching experience for 2015. For a more detailed list of films watched, you can check out my sporadic attempts to keep a log at Letterbox. With that, we'll see all ya'll in 2016.