18 January 2016

Good and Bad of 2015: Movies - Vol. 1

Hello ladies and gentlemen! 2015 is behind us, and with it, the onslaught of 'Best Of . . .' and 'Worst Of . . .' lists, and I, the Great Connoisseur of Movie Nerdery, shall be no different! But in an attempt to mix things up a little bit, liven up the party, so to speak, my best/worst of lists are gonna be ever-so-slightly different. After all, this is a celebration of a whole year of film, so let's have some fun with it!

All in all, I've tallied 61 flicks released in the calendar year of 2015 seen, with plenty still left unchecked (looking at you Carol, Straight Outta Compton, The Big Short, The End of the Tour, etc.), but more than enough to give my verdict on the good and bad of 2015! All amped up!? Ready!? Then . . . .

The Good and Bad of 2015: Movies 


Oh go on, call me bias, but Brie Larson completely deserves it. Years ago, she melted her way into my heart with an exceedingly adorable role in 21 Jump Street, and it wasn't too long after that I was exposed to the honestly brilliant series United States of Tara, where she played the teenage daughter of the titular Tara where she impressed even more with her wide range and powerful performance. Then enter Short Term 12, a flick from a year ago that will forever be burned into my memory because it's so damn moving, and so damn engaging. At its core, it's a movie about messed up people helping messed up people, and it's a relatively simple movie, narratively-speaking, but my Gods, if Brie Larson doesn't completely astound even the most seasoned performer with her turn in that movie. 

And now, in 2015, the world is finally ready to recognize her seemingly boundless skill with Room, a movie that doesn't utilize her acting talent as well as it could, but boy does she so completely own the screentime she is afforded.


Contenders: Jurassic World / Star Wars: The Force Awakens /  
Tomorrowland / Avengers: Age of Ultron / The Martian

Winner: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
It would be easy to dismiss The Force Awakens and just call it another CG-extravaganza, but I feel that would be doing the visual effects team and all the crew a wild disservice. Take a look at the Prequel Trilogy, and tell me if there's anything there that looks or feels real (granted, you could argue they're 16 years old at this point, but I'd rather not concentrate on that part), and then take a gander here, and you'll see a difference. It's  not just that advancements in CGI over the years has made rendering digital characters easier (it has), but it's that the effects team and production crew so beautifully and seamlessly meshed practical effects with digital effects to create a (near) unified whole of believability and fantasy. The Prequel Trilogy just looked fake from side to side of the frame, but with The Force Awakens, from the swerving and diving of the Millennium Falcon or X-wings to the layered facial nuances of Maz Kanata, this flick is on point in their digital artistry.


The Witch's AnguishAvengers: Age of Ultron
If you went up to a Random Joe who has seen Avengers: Age of Ultron and asked them, 'what would you say was the most memorable scene?', I wouldn't be surprised to hear the Stark Tower party scene was the top choice, specifically the game of Lifting the Hammer (and Banner's priceless attempt to mess around with his colleagues). For me, though, this relatively silent but profound spectacle takes the cake, easily. After a whole movie of building Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch into layered characters stuck between vengeance and wanting to do the right thing, and really capturing their strong sibling bond, to have this moment where Scarlett Witch 'feels' her brother's death, and lashes out in pure, untempered anguish is one of the more powerful scenes of the year. Just look at all those Ultron baddies blasting into red oblivion! This scene manages to accomplish two things: (1) rip our hearts out as her cries of pain become ours (or at least mine, you heartless bastards!), and (2) effectively showcases how much of a mega-powerful badass 'enhanced' she is, that her primal powers are strong and fierce enough to disintegrate the Ultron-bots without any effort. Basically, she became a nuclear bomb that just went off, and it was glorious.

Seeing Red - Macbeth
Look, I have some huge problems with Macbeth, chief among them how excruciatingly boring this adaptation of a relatively engaging Shakespeare play is, but there's one element of this adaptation that cannot be disputed in any way whatsoever: it is visually GORGEOUS. Honestly one of the best looking films I've seen in all my years, and while the movie is loaded with striking imagery, it wasn't until the final act when Macbeth goes into a fiery chasm of crimson smoke for his final battle. After a whole two hours of mind-boggling gorgeous imagery accompanied by performances that were powerful in physicality but subpar in emotion, the film enters a climax where the visuals own all, and its inadequacies fall to the wayside as I just sat there wide-jawed in complete awe at what beautiful sights I was seeing. [Random note, this ending really invokes a sort of Akira Kurosawa visual vibe; at least, that's the first connection I made] Damn beautiful, and damn brutal - not a combination that's in any danger of being soon forgotten.

Sins of the Past Revenged - Steve Jobs
While the movie itself is a cross between really damn good and 'well, that was aiight', there's a beautiful ten minute intercut sequence about halfway through the movie where it bounces around time to show the origins of a partnership split and Steve's single-mindedness resolve to keep improving and improving and be better. It's ten minutes where Aaron Sorkin's dialogue is on rapid-pace fire, Daniel Pemberton's classical music is relentless in its ferocity, and director Danny Boyle ups the intensity level a hundred fold as we cut between night and day and Steve's biggest failure and his burgeoning success. Look below for Pemberton's score that accompanies this scene, "Revenge." The whole movie is compelling, but man, these ten minutes are chair-crushing gripping.

While the majority of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was damn good, immensely enjoyable, and already one of my favorite films of the year, it was the thirty or so seconds that took place right after Kylo Ren took care of poor Finn in a lightsaber duel that really made this movie more than an enjoyable experience, but mythic and amazing, to begin with. Kylo holsters his lightsaber, and, channeling the Force, attempts to finally claim ownership of the long lost lightsaber of Anakin and Luke Skywalker. Except -- as the lightsaber stubbornly refuses to budge for him -- the lightsaber SOARS through the snowy, cold sky, FLIES past him, and LANDS IN REY'S HAND!!!!! Tentatively, but with purpose and conviction, Rey wields the saber, and ignites it. These thirty seconds - complete with a haunting rendition of The Force Theme by John Williams (which is criminally absent in the original soundtrack CD) - had me squeezing my friends arm opening night in so much giddy excitement, it's hard for anything in 2015 to possibly compare. This was truly and utterly amazing, and solidified my deep love and care for the new kids of the Star Wars universe. And also, DID YOU SEE THE PART WHERE THE LIGHTSABER FLEW INTO HER HANDS?!?!

Up is Down - Mad Max: Fury Road
There are so many phenomenal action pieces in Mad Max: Fury Road, the very notion to narrow a memorable scene down to one seems kind of pointless. But for me, however, there is one action sequence that blows all the others out of the desert due to sheer visual spectacle and a beautiful mix of cacophonous chaos. In this particular bit of awesomeness, Max manages to get himself in the drivers seat of a car, but one thing leads to another, and he gets pulled out by one of the War Boys on this twenty-foot tall 'metronome pole' that swings back and forth. Holding onto Max, the War Boy and Max nearly dip head first into the dirt, but Max knives the War Boy loose, and with the extra weight released, Max swings back up, right as fuel tanks and cars explode behind him. Add in the appropriately pulse-pounding music by Junkie XL, and you have all the makings of a thrilling action set piece that is just a true wonder to behold. And then, when you own it on Blu-ray, rewatch over, and over, and over, and over again.

This Emotional Ben/Reed Scene - Fantastic Four
Nah . . . Just kidding.


Daniel Pemberton – Steve Jobs
Unfortunately, I don't quite have the words to describe the score Daniel Pemberton delivered here, so I'll just equate it to the lovechild of Hans Zimmer's Interstellar and Trent Reznor/Attitucs Finch's The Social Network. There is a very techno tune mixed in with classical, sweeping opera, working together to make a soundtrack that is both odd and fittingly appropriate. Steve Jobs is a man who felt larger than life with his inventions, and the music reflects that. The technology side of the story also is reflected in the more Interstellar-y bits, such as "Change the Word" and "It's Not Working". Just somehow, this wide range of music that shouldn't work, does, and easily becomes one of the most unique and memorable scores of the year.

Ennio Morricone – The Hateful Eight

One of Tarantino's weakest efforts as a writer and filmmaker, The Hateful Eight nevertheless delivers one of his best contributions in years - a completely new original score by Ennio Morricone. From Kill Bill on, nearly every work of Tarantino's has included a cue or more from Morricone, and now the two have teamed up to create this unique beast of brooding and foreboding. It's evocative of the western Tarantino maintains Hateful Eight is, but could easily be at home in a horror movie. There's also a sense of mysteriousness in the music, which nicely compliments the unknown allegiances of the characters stuck in Minnie's diner. All in all, a brilliant collection of music, and Morricone has crafted one hell of a score that stands completely on its own.

Daniel Pemberton – The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Personally, I've never heard anything quite like this.So damn unique and energetic, the perfect blend of spy thriller and kind of jazzy fun. Give it a listen below!

Junkie XL – Mad Max: Fury Road

After listening to the score for Mad Max: Fury Road, my first thought was, 'Gee, am I glad Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer are doing Batman v Superman.' Sure, I may end up eating my words, but there's nothing about this score that suggests I'm not in for a wild ride come March. For a movie that is so full of action and unrelenting spectacle, its music would have to perfectly compliment the specific beats and intensity of the myriad of crazy unfolding, and sure enough, Junkie XL does just that. I love scores that build and build and build to this amazing crescendo, like a balloon being blown and then snaps due to too much air, that's how I like my music, so it's not surprise that this Fury Road soundtrack is one of my most-listened-to on iTunes.  Sidenote: also really good for working out.

Jóhann Jóhannsson - Sicario

Unsettling is a good word to describe the music for Sicario. Frankly, it reminds me of a growl of some giant beast, and that's actually not too far off from what the movie itself is (minus the literal giant monster). Also somewhat Terminator-y (anyone else get that vibe?). Point is, this score is haunting, and deservedly so. It may not be instantly memorable, and you might not be humming it like Pemberton's work in Steve Jobs and Man from U.N.C.L.E, but it creeps into you, right under the skin, into the subconscious, this monster of chaos, danger, and death. Basically, it's beautiful.


Tune in tomorrow when I give off some completely made up and some usual fare awards to cinema 2015! In the meanwhile, what's some of your favorite scenes of the year?

1 comment:

Zach said...

Nice round-up. I like the mentions of Steve Jobs, The Force Awakens, and Fury Road in the best scenes section. Along with those, I'm a big fan of a lot of the scenes in Creed.

Totally agree on the Short Term 12 bit too. One of my favorite films in recent years, and I think Brie Larson got majorly snubbed. But at least she's getting a lot of recognition this year.