Originality made a long-overdue comeback in 2015
FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
2015 was the year superhero movies were given a taste of humility. Sure, Ant-Man and Avengers: Age of Ultron made a mint, but the one studio without caped crusaders in its roster — Universal — is poised to be the box office winner of an all-time record year. More importantly, I’m happy to report that original material made a comeback: The Martian, Straight Outta Compton and Trainwreck battled sequels galore and made money doing it.
Let’s take a closer look at 2015, a year that gave film fans reasons to be cautiously optimistic for the future.
MOVIE OF THE YEAR: INSIDE OUT A strong plot and great acting isn’t enough to separate a movie from the pack. Emotional punch is certainly a plus, but the critical factor is to break ground in some new field. Inside Out, Pixar’s best movie possibly ever, tackles the mind’s inner workings in a ludicrously relatable way. Not only that, it gives kids a strategy to understand and manage their emotions. It’s such a massive feat that in my books, no other film comes close to it this year. RUNNER-UP: THE REVENANT I saw this ferocious survival western from the director of Birdman at TIFF. It’s going to blow you people away when it opens next month.
MOST DECEIVING: FIFTY SHADES OF GREY As a film, Grey is as bad as the book: mediocre plot, horrible dialogue (I’m still trying to forget “I don’t make love. I fuck hard.”) and a disproportionate amount of time spent on unsexy paperwork. But Fifty Shades’ truly subversive aspect is how conservative it is. In theory, this is a movie that celebrates unconventional sexual practices. In reality, it acts like anything that isn’t the missionary position is shameful. Christian Grey — the supposed master of sadomasochism — is hardly a world-class pervert, but he’s depicted as “sick” and ultimately abandoned. Peter Rosenthal’s parody review for The Onion, in which he mocks the film for being tame, is disturbingly dead-on. RUNNER-UP: STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON I can see the historic value of N.W.A., but the convenient omission of their misogyny, homophobia and thuggishness is off-putting.
MOST UNWATCHABLE: HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 When a sequel is so bad the lead actor (in this case, John Cusack) refuses to return, you know you should stay away. As the default lead, Rob Corddry delivers the most repulsive performance this side of The Human Centipede. I can’t watch the guy now. RUNNERS-UP: Terminator: Genisys, Taken 3, Pixels, Project Almanac, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Jupiter Ascending and the remarkably incompetent Fantastic Four. All garbage.
BEST MOVIE YOU DIDN’T SEE: GOODNIGHT MOMMY This has been a great year for horror movies. After a decade of torture porn and “90 minutes of surprising loud noises” movies, quality finally returns to the genre. The Babadook and It Follows brought back psychological dread — the kind of horror that sticks with you when you leave the theatre. Goodnight Mommy, about children’s perception of reality, is the best of the bunch. A couple of nine-year-old twins suspect their mother has been replaced by an alien and test her humanity. The final half hour had me cringing and averting my eyes from the screen. An agonizing experience that I wouldn’t change for the world. RUNNER-UP: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was better than Spectre, Kingsman, and nearly every other spy movie this year.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: THE HATEFUL EIGHT Don’t get me wrong — under no circumstances can The Hateful Eight be considered a bad movie. The 70 mm print is gorgeous and Ennio Morricone’s first original score for an American movie in over a decade is marvellous. Plus, it’s a Quentin Tarantino creation, so you can count on a good time (if you don’t mind the heaps of violence). The problem is there’s no depth to this movie. Eight is dangerously similar to Reservoir Dogs: the characters’ motivations are skin-deep and the plot has no nutritional value. If Tarantino stays true to his promise to retire after 10 movies, he only has two movies left to redeem himself. RUNNER-UP: Carol. For a movie about forbidden passion, Carol is way too cold and clinical.
BEST CANADIAN TREND: FULLY FORMED FIRST-TIME FILMMAKERS There are arguably more Canadian films than there have ever been, but audiences are still weirdly reluctant to watch them. A few expensive movies got some traction — Beeba Boys, Hyena Road, Remember — but failed to leave a mark. More exciting is the number of first-timers delivering touching coming-of-age dramas soaked in Canadiana: Sleeping Giant, Closet Monster and Wet Bum were all effortlessly watchable. The best Canadian movie is actually a sophomore effort: Anne Emond’s Les Êtres Chers, a mature, low-key dissection of a family torn apart by depression. As usual, finding any of these films requires some effort, but the payoff is worth it.
BEST MOVIE EVERYBODY BUT ME LOVED: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Mad Max: Fury Road was the summer’s most celebrated blockbuster. Alas, for a movie lauded as groundbreaking, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Feminist? Sure, I suppose Charlize Theron and her five prancing supermodels are all kinds of empowered. Visually groundbreaking? It’s not bad, but feels more like a collage of elements from better movies delivered at high speed. Mind-bending setting? Absolutely not. George Miller’s universe is cool but he does little with it. Next to a hallucinatory dystopia like The Matrix, MM:FR is just a very long chase with cutesy decorations planted through the journey. Imagine the movie without them and it becomes duller than a bag of hammers. RUNNER-UP: Sicario. An eye-opening indictment of the War On Drugs… if you haven’t seen any movies in the last 15 years.
BEST MOVIE EVERYBODY BUT ME HATED: TOMORROWLAND Next to those dystopian scenarios that use teens as cannon fodder, Tomorrowland feels like an anomaly. Here is a movie that stands for science and optimism. It doesn’t question the reality of evolution, social inequality or climate change. It condemns those who know about humanity’s most pressing problems and don’t do anything about it. The film has issues (unnecessarily complicated plot, poorly developed villain), but it’s earnest and fun to look at. Give it a chance… or a second chance. RUNNER-UP: Southpaw. As boxing dramas go, the Jake Gyllenhaal-starrer is the rare technique-savvy flick in an overpopulated genre.