Friday, March 4, 2016

The Best and Worst Films of 2015

By Steve Herte

A clown with his pants falling down
Or the dance that's a dream of romance
Or the bear, with his claws, how they tear,
That's entertainment!

Wait a minute. Stop the music. Those aren’t the right lyrics. Even though Leonardo Di Caprio being mauled by a bear might be high entertainment for some, it was not enough to entice me to see The Revenant. That being said, you might find my “Ten Best and Ten Worst” films of 2015 quite different from the Academy Award winners and even those nominated. Of the eight nominated movies I’ve seen (out of 51 over the year), only one was up for a major award. 

Similar to the Academy, I have standards that movies have to achieve to be included on my list. The characters must be believable (including animated ones), the cinematography has to be pleasing and/or artistic but not dizzying, and the soundtrack must be appropriate but not intrusive. The writing has to be engaging and the humor clever. Nothing trite, hackneyed or inappropriate. But most of all, the trailers should be immediate attention getters and make me want to see the movie. That was one requirement failed by all three of the most nominated movies this year.

So, in reverse order I present my top ten films of 2015, followed by the ten at the bottom of my ratings:

10. Into the Woods – The only musical in my top ten, it surpassed most movies in dazzling cinematography, fine acting and the surprisingly musical performance by Meryl Streep. The imaginative staging, elaborate sets and talented cast combined to make a magical experience and even transformed Sondheim’s complex, wordy songs into comprehensible dialogues – something that didn’t always happen when I saw the show on Broadway. I still can’t remember any of the tunes, but I loved the film.

9. The Good Dinosaur – This animated feature started off as a sleeper for me. It nearly failed the “trailer” test because the dinosaurs were portrayed unrealistically; they looked goofy (which is not surprising from Disney). But though the story reminded me of others before it, it worked. The animation was clean and the characters moved smoothly. The big “Wow” in The Good Dinosaur was the settings – the water scenes. They couldn’t have been more reaI. I knew the characters were fake, but they were roaming some very convincing country.

8. Jurassic World – I admit I’ve love dinosaurs since childhood and I’ve seen the three previous installments of the “Jurassic” series (even though half of the dinosaurs depicted were not from the Jurassic Period). The stars of this movie were the creatures themselves. They alone brought me into the theater, their movements and sounds added to their credibility (even though they were too big – but the script explained that), and they helped me forget the inadequate acting by their human co-stars. And that glorious soundtrack, pure genius! I just wonder what Michael Crichton thought of it.

7. Home – When I first saw the short version with William Shatner as the leader of the Boov trying to find them a new home, I knew this film would be a lot of laughs, and it was. It was clever, very funny, well animated and enjoyable. When the Eiffel Tower was levitated and turned upside down, the effect was hilarious. The character Oh is annoying as well as lovable and of course, Steve Martin makes a great alien general.

6. Woman in Gold – Helen Mirren never disappoints, no matter what role she’s given, and this film is no exception. I became an admirer of Gustav Klimt’s artworks a few years ago and that was a part of what drew me to this movie (aside from the great starring actress). The writing was excellent and it was delivered powerfully. The story, based on real incidents, held my interest and never lagged. Of course, I forgave the CGI touching-up of the title portrait to make it look more like the actress depicted.

5. Shawn the Sheep – This is the first of my movies actually nominated this year for Animated Feature Film. It was amazing. The movie Box Trolls demonstrated the tedious, painstaking work that goes into making clay figures move and emote the way they do in Shawn the Sheep. Though the plot is something familiar, the story twists keep it interesting, funny, and even exciting.

4. Inside OuInside Out is just as good as Shawn the Sheep largely because of the sheer novelty of the concept. What goes on inside people’s heads to make them do the things they do? In an age of remakes, sequels and lack of imagination, this film (Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature) shines as a beacon of creativity. The characters are believable because of the flawless animation and they stay true to their natures. When they finally learn that they cannot exist without each other, it’s a teary moment. Bravo.

3. The Age of Adaline – This is the most serious film in my top ten. It was an excellent drama with a story that seems familiar, but it’s not. When the acting is as good as this you do not realize that the time is passing (as it didn’t for Adaline). It had power, pathos and a great plot twist at the end. I loved it.

2. The Intern – What can I say about Robert De Niro that hasn’t been said before? He can play a tough guy and can do comedy. He can be a Dutch Uncle or a Mafia Don. This time he actually portrayed a character I could identify with and he did it magnificently. The humor in this film is often subtle, sometimes risqué but always clever and the story has many endearing moments. 

1. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – As Daffy Duck would say, “Sequel schmequel! So it’s a sequel.” It was every bit as good as the first movie. Put aside that I love everything Indian and the cast was great in every way. Maggie Smith and Judy Dench belong together. They’re the subtlest comedy team in England. It was a delight to sit through this colorful film and it was sad that it was passed over by the Academy.

Just a note before we get to those unfortunate films that are in the bottom ten. It doesn’t mean all of them were bad – though some are terrible – they’re just not as good as the other 41 I saw.

10. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. – I don’t want to say that the television series had an effect on my view of this film, but that isn't true. The original was a cult favorite. I understand that the movie is intended to be a prequel and that sometimes the best of friends and closest of partners start off disliking each other but it’s difficult to imagine this familiar team at odds with each other. Cinematically, this production is visually appealing and the soundtrack is spectacular. Maybe, now that we have background material on Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, they will be more to our liking in the sequel.

9. Terminator Genisys – Sorry Arnold, this was the worst one of the series. Granted, you were the best actor in this episode and a really funny guy, but this film “stretched it.” How many time anomalies can there be before the world gets sucked up in a black hole?

8. Pixels – Did I mention a dearth of ideas for new movie stories? How video game themes are becoming fodder for films? I love animation, particularly, a good mix of animation and real characters, but this film carries it too far. If you don’t think too much about it, this is a fun flick. But, aliens using first-generation video games to test the mettle of Earth’s defenses against invasion? They might as well have sent Elvis to do battle with his imitators.

7. Tomorrowland – Disney does a “save the future by fixing the present” movie using flashy set design and futuristic special effects. George Clooney is almost wasted on this film (he narrates – something that grates on my patience) while Hugh Laurie gets to be the villain he always wanted to be in House. The continuity of the film would be better with less flashbacks.

6. Ted 2 – When I saw the first Ted, I was curious. When I heard the first Ted, I laughed. But soon the vulgarity became oppressive and unfunny. Then I saw the second one. The concept of a street-talking Teddy bear getting married and having to go to court to prove that he’s a person in order to adopt a child is ridiculous. Ted 2 just tries too hard to get laughs.

5. Fantastic Four – In one sentence: 1994, 2005 and 2007 were all better.

4. Maze Runner 2 – The Scorch Trials – When people tell you that a sequel is never better than the original movie, see the first Maze Runner and then see this one and you’ll know what they mean.

3. Strange Magi– The best part of this animated film is the soundtrack, including the title song by Electric Light Orchestra. Otherwise, it reminds me of the musicals I cobbled together in high school, only with good animation.

2. Cinderella – One has to wonder why this story needed to be remade. A perfectly good musical by Rogers and Hammerstein was the best interpretation and most memorable version for me. But this movie is a study in hyperbole. The gown she wears at the ball is a perfect example. Could it possibly have taken up more space? How did the prince dance with her without tripping over it? How did it fit in her coach? The best part was Helena Bonham Carter as the outrageous Fairy Godmother who claimed that glass slippers are very comfortable. It was nominated for Costume Design.

1. While We’re Young – I like Ben Stiller and I felt sorry that he took a lead role in this tiresome tale of a middle-aged couple hooking up with a younger couple to try to get more action in their lives. Though classified as a comedy, the most one gets are a few chuckles. You almost do not feel sorry for them when the younger couple takes advantage of them. It’s a hands-down winner of worst movie I saw in 2015.

I told you my list would be different. 

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