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And all the movies were above average
Or at least some — what to see and what to skip from 2015

12/31/15
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



2015 was surprisingly competent.

OK, “competent!” is not something you’re going to see on a movie poster. But I think it’s actually pretty high praise. Competence on screen was the theme in several of the better movies, and competence behind the scenes made some big-event movies better than they needed to be. I am a fan of competence and so I realize, going through my list of movies from 2015, that I’m overall a fan of this year.
Now, a caveat: I do a bit have my thumb on the scale. Due to a hiatus from movie-watching in early summer, I was able to catch up with only the things I was interested in — I’ve seen Inside Out but haven’t managed to fit a viewing of Terminator Genisys into my schedule. So maybe I lucked out, with limited time limiting my ability to see your Daddy’s Home or your Pixels. But I still sat through No Escape and the gruesome Fantastic Four, so it’s not all rose-colored 3-D glasses in my world this year.
Since my viewing of 2015 remains incomplete, I’m opting for advice this year rather than the definitive top 10 list here. Here are the movies I saw in 2015 that I recommend seeking out along with a few you can go ahead and skip.
 
• News in the movies!
See: Spotlight (R) The true story of the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal gets newspapers and newspapering circa 2001 exactly right. Even though we know the story going in, the movie is able to keep the tension throughout its run time and features several very strong performances including from Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Stanley Tucci.
Skip: Truth (R) This smug look at 60 Minutes’ bungling of a story about George W. Bush’s war record lacks nuance and self-awareness and is full of so many speeches I wanted to punch the screen.
 
• May the franchise be with you.
See: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (PG-13) OK, you probably already have, judging by the $1 billion box office the movie has raked in worldwide as of this last weekend. But if you haven’t, go, really, it’s good! No, not “except for Jar Jar and if you ignore the Midichlorians” good but like, an actual fun adventure tale with likeable characters. Even better, the newbies (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac) are actually more fun than the Carrie Fisher/Harrison Ford crowd (though I enjoyed seeing them as well). Thank you, J.J. Abrams. 
Skip: Spectre (PG-13) Daniel Craig is not having any fun at all and thus Bond, James Bond, is having no fun at all and thus you are having no fun at all. Had this movie been entirely about Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw’s Q running around after Christoph Waltz, that might have been fun.
 
• Punchy punch punch.
See: Creed (PG-13) This “Rocky movie” pushes Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky into a supporting role and turns the focus on Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed, heretofore unknown son of Apollo Creed. It recaptures some of that Rocky underdog magic and has some fun with both the sports movie beats and the Rocky legacy.
Skip: Taken 3 (PG-13) The original Taken was a grim and gritty guilty pleasure with Liam Neeson as a father on a mission. This final (final? please be the final) entry is tired and showing its age.  
 
• Year in animation.
See: Inside Out (PG) This summer Pixar movie showcases all the things Pixar does best — world-building, finding the emotionally resonant thing, creating stand-out unusual characters (Amy Poehler’s Joy is loveable, of course, but surprisingly so is Phyllis Smith’s Sadness). Yes, it makes you cry, but it also makes you think and laugh and want to hug your kids and remember your childhood imaginary friend. And did you notice that inside each of the brains we saw, different emotions were in charge? It’s all in the details.
Skip: The Good Dinosaur (PG) All those things Pixar does best were not so much done here. This story of a dinosaur and his human boy friend could have come from any animation house and, when it’s not scary, is mostly just forgettable.
Surprise: The Peanuts Movie (G) I did not expect to like this new tale about Charlie Brown and the gang but I ultimately found it sweet, goodhearted and charming. It reminded me of the best of what the Peanuts were and will hopefully help a new generation find these characters. 
 
• Movies! In! Spaaaaaace!
See: The Martian (PG-13) This movie made me want to go back to school and study physics or botany or some other useful thing so I too could be a part of the massive team of NASA and other scientists working to get stranded astronaut Matt Damon off Mars. Even more delightfully, The Martian is fun for most ages (I’m going to say 11-ish and up) and might even get your tween/teen excited about science and math. 
Skip: Jupiter Ascending (PG-13) In his attempt to secure award season acclaim for The Danish Girl, I’m sure Eddie Redmayne hopes you forget all about this strange movie from the Wachowskis full of his dreadful acting and a bunch of blather about inheritance and reincarnation. Mila Kunis plays a house cleaner/alien royalty; Channing Tatum plays a dog man!
 
• Ladies are funny.
See: Spy (R) Melissa McCarthy plays a CIA agent finally sent into the field in this top-notch comedy from Paul Feig, who also directed her in Bridesmaids and The Heat. Like those movies, Spy makes excellent use of all of McCarthy’s strengths, from her go-for-it approach to physical comedy to her talent at playing off others, especially supporting actors Rose Byrne and Jason Statham.
Skip: Hot Pursuit (PG-13) Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara try some version of the above with results that embarrass them both.
 
• Revisiting a fairy tale.
See: Cinderella (PG) Lily James is the title character in this Disney live-action movie that plays it straight with the tale as told in the 1950s animated version but somehow, to modern eyes, ends up with a much better story and an admirable heroine, even if she isn’t some sword-fighting modernization. “Have courage and be kind” is this movie’s motto. Add that to some knock-out costuming and generally lovely cinematography and the result is fairly magical.
Skip: Pan (PG) Did you ever wonder about Peter Pan’s backstory? Nope, me neither, and this stab at it does not delight you with its attempt at the origin of the boy who never grows up. 
 
• Why Marvel should do Marvel.
See: Ant-Man (PG-13) For my money it’s not your big Avengers movies that show off Marvel’s skill, it’s these movies about second (and lower) tier characters where Marvel as a movie-making engine really shines. I cared about Ant-Man! Especially in the form of Paul Rudd, who brings humor and emotion to the character. The movie’s real standout is Michael Peña, who, happily, Wikipedia says is on board for three Marvel movies.
Skip: Fantastic Four (PG-13) See this movie only if you want to see what $122 million (the movie’s budget, according to Wikipedia) getting flushed down a toilet looks like. This stab at a reboot makes those mid-aughts Fantastic Fours look like happy good times in comparison.
 
• The YA dystopia train chugs along.
See: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2  (PG-13) After the first movie, I really stopped caring about the world of the Hunger Games, but I find myself absolutely riveted by the characters. It’s worth repeating: Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Natalie Dormer and Philip Seymour Hoffman all appear in this thing. And they give it their all like it’s not a movie with a “who will she pick” love triangle. (Actually, everybody in the movie seems to ignore the love triangle.) Even if you’re not at all invested in Panem and its civil war, it’s easy to get engrossed in this. 
Skip: Insurgent (PG-13) Shailene Woodley is no Jennifer Lawrence and, though she gamely drags this second outing through every dystopia cliche, the movie is so much like all the teen-love-fight-the-power things that came before as to be first boring and then forgettable.
 
• Some seriously good, serious movies.
See: Sicario (R) This movie about the War on Drugs is a total bummer but see it — once — anyway in particular for the top-notch performance by Emily Blunt, who is the moral center without being the action center of this movie. She delivers the kind of conflict and nuance you need in a tale like this. 
See: Bridge of Spies (PG-13) Tom Hanks in front of the camera, Steven Spielberg behind — this Cold War tale was ahead of the pack from the get-go. Retro in both its story and its storytelling, this movie has noir appeal and expertly weaves several story threads together. Extra credit is earned by Mark Rylance, best-known in the U.S. as Thomas Cromwell on the BBC’s Wolf Hall, who is superb here as a taciturn Soviet spy. 
 
• The most fun I had at the theater this year.
Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (PG-13) This was the first movie I saw after my summer lull. I picked it entirely because it had the earliest start time. I was tired, I didn’t really want to go, I fully expected to fall asleep. But then, yay! — big, action-packed, crazy-stunts fun! It’s hard to always remember, but there is a reason Tom Cruise is a big movie star and this movie is that reason. He is aces at the action (he hangs off a plane and you believe it) and he can deliver on the movie’s humor and, a-hem Spectre, this movie has a just-the-right-amount dash of humor. A good amount of it comes from Simon Pegg, who is exactly the right person for all the scenes he’s in, in particular the movie’s central car chase, which is excellent. Not every movie has to be a laugh riot or a thrill a minute, but a fun movie is every bit as valid and important as some serious movie with messages and artsiness and other Serious Film attributes that land it award-season attention. Just as I believe good comedy is way harder than good drama, competently done popcorn entertainment is not as easy as it looks. And when you see it, it’s plenty of reason to cheer. 





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