I’ve been considering my Top 10 of 2015 list, which unfortunately won’t be arriving until mid-January earliest, following the release of The Revenant. I’m really hoping to see 45 Years, too. It’s the same every January… the late releases from the year before open in town weeks after their arrival in bigger markets.
Looking back at 2015, the biggest cinematic trend I’ve noticed is what some film sites are calling the “legacequel,” where older film franchises are being rebooted and relaunched for a new generation: Mad Max, Jurassic Park, Rocky, and Star Wars most prominently. I’ve got no problem with this provided it’s done well, and would argue that it was in three of the four examples above—Jurassic World was god awful, despite its massive box office success.
And it doesn’t always work for audiences… consider Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, or Tron: Legacy or Terminator: Genisys. It’s a balancing act between fan service and offering something that feels fresh, something new to build on.
Superheroes are still huge, but I wouldn’t be surprised if 2015 was a bit of a tipping point. I can see Marvel continuing to dominate the market, but maybe not to the heights it reached previously. And I doubt DC/Warner and its Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice or Suicide Squad will be anything close to the kind of success it wants, because neither Zach Snyder nor David Ayer is Christopher Nolan.
I’m sorry to say that fewer and fewer films for adults, films that are budgeted somewhere between $15 million and $45 million, are getting distribution on the big screen. It makes finding the outstanding lower budgeted production that much more challenging, as it becomes rarer. It also means I’m watching more films on other platforms to find those gems. I will offer a list in the coming days of some of the quality under-the-radar features from 2015 you may have missed.
In the meantime, here’s a look back at 12 months in cinema.
The big film in January 2015 was American Sniper, Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper’s military biopic which blew away all the month’s box office records. I had problems with the film, but recognized why it grabbed the zeitgeist—it made audiences feel better about all the wasted lives, time, and money in Iraq. Look out for Michael Bay’s 13 Hours to try and do the same for Benghazi at the box office next month. January also saw the release of the wonderful travelling bear movie, Paddington.
February brought the Oscars, where the Academy somehow were convinced that Birdman was a better movie than Boyhood. I don’t believe history will reward them for that decision. There was also Fifty Shades of Grey, the year’s worst film, and Kingsman: The Secret Service, its most violent.
Regular readers know I don’t catch a lot of horror movies, but in March I saw It Follows, which chilled me to the bone. I also saw a few entertaining actioners, including the best Liam Neeson picture in a while, Run All Night, (so much better thanTaken 3), and Sean Penn in Gunman. I think I was the only person on the face of the planet who found something to enjoy in it. I also liked Chappie more than most, too.
April brought with it Avengers: Age of Ultron, which suffered simply because it wasn’t as good as the first Avengers. I saw it twice, and can say it was improved seeing it a second time in 2D. April also featured Noah Baumbach’s first of two films this year, the superiorWhile We’re Young, and the entirely ill-advised Jonah Hill/James Franco collaboration True Story. The month closed with the cartoonish chase sequel Furious 7.
May was all about Mad Max: Fury Road, which I saw three times in cinemas. We also finally got the astonishing Ex Machina (which I’d been looking forward to since it opened in the UK months before), and return of filmmaker Cameron Crowe to cinemas with Aloha, a flawed romantic comedy I think deserved more love than it got. I’ll See You In My Dreams opened, the first of a few lovely American indies we saw this year about women struggling with issues of aging and freedom, which also included Learning To Drive and Grandma. No surprise cars feature prominently in all these movies, and Sam Elliot in two of them. Disney’s Tomorrowland was a misfire, despite a nice sense of optimism. Maybe too preachy.
Inside Out from Pixar was June‘s big release, whatever you say about that shitty dinosaur movie. The month’s big surprises were Magic Mike XXL, The Clouds of Sils Maria, and Me And Earl and the Dying Girl.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was the big draw in July, while Pixels blew chunks. I expected more from Marvel’s Ant-Man and Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, given she was the funniest thing on TV this year—with the exception of Rick and Morty, of course. Another blockbuster fairy tale, Pan, died an ignoble death. The studios are foolish to mess with fairy tales, creating prequels and shared universes. It’s calculated and false, and audiences can see it coming.
The best film in August was The Diary of a Teenage Girl, though I also liked the retro stylings of The Man from UNCLE. And Fantastic Four showed that audiences can smell a stinker from a mile off, no matter how much people love their heroes in tights.
As usual here in Halifax, The Atlantic Film Festival in September brought a lot of great features to town and highlighted the good films being made locally.
The first big release of the fall was Black Mass, a rote gangster picture, but the quality films of autumn really started to arrive in October, with Sicario, The Martian, and Burnt. Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies was a real disappointment. I enjoyed Crimson Peak, though it didn’t muster up much excitement with audiences, and Room was a powerhouse.
I was deeply impressed with November‘s releases Creed and Spotlight, much less with the dreary, dull conclusion to the Hunger Games franchise or Suffragette, which I expected would be a little better than it was. The return of James Bond in Spectre was a real mixed bag—while some of playfulness was welcome, the script goes slack about halfway through.
In December, we’ve all been deafened by the Star Wars: The Force Awakens hype. Happily, the movie turned out to be fun and deserving of at least some of that advance buzz. The season’s prestige films have so far been pretty good: Brooklyn, Carol, The Big Short, Joy, and The Danish Girl, while Legend, featuring Tom Hardy in two roles as brother gangsters, was worth seeing for him, though not much else.
As usual, we were promised movies that never appeared in our cinemas: 99 Homes, Sleeping With Other People, Shelter, Bone Tomahawk, The Lady In The Van, Youth, and Son Of Saul are all features that have been advertised but have yet to appear, while yet another generic Will Ferrell comedy, Daddy’s Home, clogs cinemas, or more poorly reviewed Christian dramas like War Room and Beyond The Mask.
I’ll own up to my own preferences, but it’s hard to understand why quality independent, Canadian, and European films don’t often get shown at the multiplex in a town that can sustain multiple film festivals every year.
Keep your eyes open for them in 2016 on other platforms.