Welcome back, faithful reader. A few weeks ago I posted my top 5 video games of 2015 (here it is in case you missed it, which I doubt you did, but you never know: https://thecasaofelhanlo.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/kyle-hanleys-top-5-games-of-2015/ ), and as promised, I have written a new list. It is officially time to unveil my top 5 movies of 2015!
As with any year, the movies had a vast range in quality. While these five movies are all must watches, 2015 was cruel enough to poop out Fantastic Four, Pixels, The Last Witch Hunter and (shudder) Mortdecai. None of those movies appear on this list so any passionate fans of those movies need not read this (though that thankfully shouldn’t cause me to lose any readers). Nope, these five movies are the best of the best and only the finest films get the highly coveted Kyle Hanley Stamp of Approval ™
Enough pointless blathering, let’s get onto the list!
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
There’s still a small part of that can’t believe we have gotten a new Star Wars movie, let alone a new trilogy. The prequel movies were so bad, I couldn’t imagine any good coming from that franchise during my lifetime. It’s like if half your family died of food poisoning from Taco Bell, only for you to go back a week later to pick up a few Quesaritos.
And just like Taco Bell, The Force Awakens reminds us of why we go back. Because when it’s good, Star Wars is very good. It’s exciting and creative and fun and tastes great with salsa and god dammit, now I can’t stop thinking about Taco Bell.
Statistically speaking, if you are reading this or have a working pulse, you have seen The Force Awakens. So I probably don’t have to say much. It’s great. The Force Awakens is a rare pleasure in a couple of ways. For one, it captures the feel of Star Wars perfectly, creating a sense of nostalgia many movies can’t produce, thanks to the fact that not many movies are part of a franchise that are massive pop cultural zeitgeists from decades ago. Yet it’s also got a very contemporary tone, giving a new, fresh and updated feel. Factor in this balancing act along with the fact that it manages to introduce new characters and concepts, creating a sense of wonder and discovery, and you’ve got yourself a fantastic mixture of things that creates a truly one of a kind movie going event. Also, while it won’t satisfy hunger and Taco Bell cravings like a Quesarito will, your bathroom won’t demand a written apology afterwards.
It’s not a perfect movie by any stretch. A couple of characters feel underdeveloped/underused, especially Captain Phasma/Brienne of Tarth in Space. The movie is also waaaay too much like A New Hope, a complaint logged by pretty much everyone who has seen both movies, and also by people with eyes.
The movie fixes pretty much everything that the prequels did wrong. I know, not exactly an amazing feat they did here, but still. The movie doesn’t rely on cartoonish CGI, the dialogue doesn’t sound like it was written by an 8 year old whose only human contact is another 8 year old, and the plot itself is much more interesting and fast paced. Hell, BB-8, a ball that rolls around and beep beep boops for dialogue, has more personality than any character introduced in the prequel. And of course, this one goes without saying but I’ll mention it anyway: there is no Jar Jar. This decision alone should result in J.J. Abrams a Nobel Prize of some sort.
Despite these criticisms, The Force Awakens is still very good, as I said. It’s a ton of fun and does a fine job of laying the groundwork for the next two movies. I know I am excited for Episode VIII, along with every other virgin on the planet.
Random observation: A shout out to Kylo Ren, who’s actually a very interesting and complex villain. Even if, with his mask off, he looks like someone who writers bad poetry in his bedroom that is covered in My Chemical Romance posters.
4. The Revenant
A quick note about this movie before you start writing me hate mail about how ignorant and stupid and ugly I am: I know The Revenant wasn’t given a wide release until 2016, but it had a limited release in late December of 2015. Therefore it is fair game for a 2015 movie based list. Got it? Good! Let’s continue with your regularly scheduled list.
The director of last year’s excellent Birdman (his name is too hard to type)is the man behind The Revenant and he has done quite a 180 with this movie. While Birdman was a present day character study dripping with black humor, the Revenant is a violent, brutal Western that has as much humor as a Holocaust museum.
The Revenant stars Leonardo “Just Give Him A Fucking Oscar, Already” DiCaprio and Tom “Actually, You Should Probably Just Give Him A Fucking Oscar, Too” Hardy. As members of the same hunting and trapping party, things get hectic when a Native American tribe attacks their group, forcing them to track a rough trail back home with depleted supplies and just a handful of surviving men. Then Leo gets attacked by a bear. It’s a bad few days for Leo’s character.
Since a lot of this was already in the trailer, it’s not really a spoiler to see that Tom Hardy then kills Leo’s son (okay, it’s a REALLY bad few days for Leo’s character) and then he haphazardly buries Leo alive before hightailing back home. The movie then follows Leo’s painful trek back to civilization as he crawls, cries, grunts, spits, and crawls some more.
Let’s get one thing straight: the Revenant is beautiful. Like, your girlfriend/boyfriend should be jealous that you’re watching this movie. I hesitate to say it because it makes it sound like an insult, but the cinematography is by far the best thing about this movie. Scenes are shot in thrilling, up close and personal ways and it makes everything that much more intense. In one scene, Hardy and Leo’s characters are having a heated discussion and that five minute scene packs more punch than most action movies nowadays thanks to the way it was shot and framed.
Speaking of Hardy and Leo, their performances are incredible. Hardy in particular steals every scene he’s in, spouting off like an asshole in an accent that sounds like Bane playing the role of a backwoods Virginian. That’s not to say Leo doesn’t pull off a great show. The role doesn’t really allow him to show off his range, since he’s incapacitated for half of it (that’s what happens when you’re playing a bear attack victim), but his acting is still powerful and a major driving force of the movie.
And yet this movie only got the four spot on my list. At its best, The Revenant is probably better than any movie this year. There are some scenes, like the opening Native American attack scene and the bear mauling scene, that are just superb. Unfortunately, The Revenant is not always at its best. The movie is horrendously slow and bloated, like a manatee on her period after a visit to Golden Corral. At least thirty minutes of this movie could have been cut and it would have vastly improved the film. I mean, considering that the main character has to crawl for a good portion of the movie, it’s not surprising that the pacing is a little on the slow side. There are also a lot of hallucination and spiritual scenes, often ending in Leo staring at objects for a few minutes or hugging a tree.
Still, despite the glacial pace, it manages to be thrilling and engrossing. And on a technical level, The Revenant has no equal. If you don’t mind wading through some pointless, artsy fartsy scenes, it’s definitely worth a watch.
Random observation: There has been a lot of controversy around the bear scene, with many saying that the bear tries to rape Leo. I strongly disagree and didn’t see anything of the sort. I did, however, find the scene where the bear places rohypnol in Leo’s drink to be off putting and unnecessary.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
Remember when everyone was clamoring for a new Mad Max movies? Yeah, me neither. Even in this nostalgia driven world, where we are getting remasters of every game from the 90s and early 2000s, where beloved movie franchises are getting rebooted or getting sequels twenty-thirty years later, and where people are constantly pining for Taco Bell to bring back the XXL Chalupa (somebody just please get me Taco Bell already) I didn’t hear a single person demand the return of the Mel Gibson led post-apocalyptic adventure.
But Hollywood decided it was time to bring back the franchise, whether anyone wanted it or not. The original director was coming back for the project which at least made the forecast optimistic. If it was going to be phoned in, at least it would be authentically phoned in. Mel Gibson was not coming back, however, which made the forecast even more optimistic.
I myself didn’t really have much desire for the movie upon first hearing it. Even though I’ve loved Tom Hardy (Gibson’s replacement) since he was just the paunchy British guy from Inception, I never saw any of the other Mad Max movies so why should I care? But then I saw the trailers and when it was apparent the movie was probably going to be a 2 hour clusterfuck of explosions, car crashes, explosions, sand storms, explosions, and rock guitar powered flamethrowers, I was all in.
And guess what? It is a 2 hour clusterfuck of explosions, car crashes, explosions, sand storms, explosions, and rock guitar powered flamethrowers and it is absolutely glorious. Not having seen any of the Mad Max movies does literally nothing to hurt your enjoyment of this movie as the movie itself doesn’t give two shits about petty things like ‘exposition’ and ‘plot’. Sure, there’s obviously story and world building. The first five minutes sets the post-apocalyptic world up for us, but even that is vague and rushed, like the movie itself is an impatient toddler in the back seat yelling, “ARE WE THERE YET, ARE WE THERE YET?”
Meanwhile the plot is incredibly basic and is only there to provide context for the explosions. Usually this would be a big negative for me, but you know what? It totally works because the action in Mad Max is just so much fucking fun. No action movie in the past decade has had set pieces as entertaining as this movie. The chase and fight sequences are creative and thrilling and it totally makes you forget that you haven’t heard a line of dialogue for roughly a half hour.
What makes the action in Mad Max even better is that most of the effects are practical, not some computer animated bullshit. So whereas most movies these days are CGI circle jerks (I’m looking at you, The Hobbit), Mad Max paves the way with just good old fashioned real stunts and effects. It’s a refreshing change of pace and it makes you realize how much more enjoyable practical effects are to watch.
So if you’re looking for an action movie that is the equivalent of a cocaine laced Red Bull enema, Mad Max: Fury Road is just the prescription that the doctor ordered.
Random observation: To show how little a shit Mad Max gives for thoughtful story, the characters get gasoline from a place called Gas Town, bullets from a place called The Bullet Farm, and Charlize Theron’s character is looking for an oasis called The Green Place. This film was nominated for Best Picture of the Year, by the way.
2. The Hateful Eight
Say what you will about Quentin Tarantino. The man may come across as a self-absorbed douchebag, probably because he IS a self-absorbed douchebag, but damn he makes good movies. His latest, The Hateful Eight, is no exception.
Tarantino returns to the Western genre for a second straight movie. Unlike Django Unchained (his previous Western), which was a more action oriented revenge flick, Hateful Eight is a slow burn character study that gradually evolves into a murder mystery. It features pretty much every Tarantino trope in the book, including memorable dialogue, tense standoffs, and LOTS of blood. God, there’s a lot of blood.
The Hateful Eight is primarily set in a snowed in cabin, where eight strangers find themselves cooped up until the blizzard passes. Being set in 1800s America, a lot of these characters are racist and a lot of them hate each other right off the bat. It’s the movie equivalent of spending three hours in a nursing home.
As I mentioned earlier, this movie is actually a bit of a character study (or maybe I should say characters study), as we spend a lot of time getting to know the characters and what makes them tick. A good portion of the movie is simple conversation, watching these characters interact and react with each other until, this being a Tarantino movie, the bullets and blood start flying. If the characters weren’t interesting, this movie would fall flat on its face. Luckily, the characters are indeed interesting and, as I mentioned earlier, the dialogue is constantly engaging. The performances also help with bringing the characters to life, with Kurt Russel, Walton Goggins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Samuel L. Jackson all showcasing their acting chops throughout. Kurt Russel’s Facial Hair may be the best performance of the movie though, chewing scenery in every scene he’s in.
Another thing I love about the movie is the atmosphere. There is a constant feeling of tension and dread in the movie that’s so potent it’ll make you feel claustrophobic. You are constantly expecting something bad to happen and Tarantino does a magnificent job of stretching this feeling throughout the movie’s near three hour run time. Watching The Hateful Eight gives you the same feeling you experience when you go on a first date with someone you’re really into: an anxious feeling that one wrong move will result in your head being blown off, and the person not calling you back for a second date.
If I had to find a blemish for this movie, it’s that there are a lot of logic issues with the plot. After seeing the movie, my friends and I spent a good amount of time discussing just how many plot holes there were. That could possibly be because we are brilliant individuals, but that still doesn’t defend the storytelling flaws with the movie.
Even with an imperfect plot, I loved this movie. Tarantino continues to make it difficult to completely hate him by directing another must see film.
Random observation: I mentioned that this movie has all of the Tarantino tropes, but it’s actually missing one. I didn’t notice ANY bare feet in this movie.
I’m going to be honest. I didn’t even know Sicario existed until like a week before I decided to go see it. I had only seen like one trailer for it and it didn’t reveal much besides that it starred Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro trying to take down Mexican drug Cartel members, and that’s honestly all I needed to know. So imagine my surprise when I go to this movie I barely knew was a thing and not only enjoy the ever loving dick out of it, but that it would end up being my favorite movie of the year.
In the movie, we mainly follow Emily Blunt’s point of view as she joins a task force operation to try and find a Mexican drug Cartel kingpin. Blunt proved a few years ago that she could handle badass action roles by starring in Edge of Tomorrow/Live. Die. Repeat./Tom Cruise Dies A LOT and she once again proves her worth in this one. Unfortunately for her character, she doesn’t have that awesome sword that she wielded in Edge of Tomorrow, but she also doesn’t have to deal with Tom Cruise as a love interest so it is a trade-off.
The person who really steals the show, though, is Benicio del Toro. I don’t really want to go into his role too much, since that would spoil the fun of discovering who he is throughout the movie, but he is a downright scary badass. Which honestly seems to be every role he plays lately.
Sicario is a tightly paced thriller, with lots of scenes that feature quiet, tense build up before exploding at just the right time. One scene in particular features a traffic jam at the U.S.-Mexico border that is one my favorite movie scenes of the year. If you can make a bumper to bumper traffic jam at Customs relentlessly suspenseful, you have done your job as a filmmaker.
There’s not much else to say about Sicario. I couldn’t find any big problems with it which makes for a great movie going experience, but makes it tough to say anything interesting about it. So I will end with this: see Sicario. It’s got the distinction of being the best movie that I, Kyle Hanley, saw in 2015 and, honestly, there’s not much more to strive for than that.
Random observation: According to the first shot of the movie, Sicario is a term in Mexico for hitman, which certainly has a better ring to it than ‘El killer-oh person-oh for hire-oh.’