April 18, 2016 by Vinnie Leduc
2015 was a big year for the big screen. Of course you could say that every year in some way, but it might have been more appropriate for 2015 than in other recent years. Not only were moviegoers spoiled with a broad selection of truly excellent cinema, but half of the films we’ve chosen here swallowed up audiences in IMAX, and even more had some sort of big significance beyond the literal sense.
Despite our reservations about the corporate plague behind the cinematic deception that is “LIEMAX,” bigger was better in 2015, if not an excuse for more time at the movies. When it came down to anointing which of our top trio would be MediaStinger’s Movie of the Year 2015, I had been fortunate enough to catch all three (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) twice each, once in the standard format and again in IMAX.
But before we touch upon that discussion, let’s take a look at the other dozen or so motion pictures that round out our favorite 15 from 2015.
A pair of biographical spectacles went big first. With exclusive early engagements in IMAX before their conventional wide releases, both Everest and The Walk climbed to new breathtaking heights by maximizing their theatrical presentations on the biggest 3D screens available. Everest captivated audiences with stunning cinematography and stunts, then the disaster thriller scared everybody into seriously reconsidering extreme elements on their bucket lists. Not to be outdone, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s memorable performance, along with the film’s own impressive cinematography and stunts, helped Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk breathe new life into Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire. Both exhilarating experiences were based on true stories, and no matter how intense each one got, you couldn’t look away. You could only just hold onto something.
At the other end of the spectrum are some of the little guys that deserve a lot more attention, including a couple of coming-of-age indies. Hollywood has been oversaturated with teen dramas in the past few years, but both of these motion pictures managed to leave behind more than your typical impressions of young romance. In fact, they both had little to do with love. Dope followed a group of kids straight outta
Compton Inglewood on a silk road against urban stereotypes. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, one of the most surprising and endearing films of the year, tackled a very unfunny central topic with touching humor and outstanding performances from the titular cast.
Inside Out, hands down the best animated movie of the year and easily in the top five overall, was another pleasant surprise. It’s aesthetically pleasing (no surprise there), and it’s arguably a family flick that’s better for the parents taking their kids than the little ones themselves. Boasting multiple tearjerkers that rank among the most emotional in the history of Pixar, Inside Out was so phenomenal with such big shoes to fill that it made the studio’s next film, The Good Dinosaur, seem bad.
Featuring another group of emotions (but mainly one far from those depicted in Inside Out), The Hateful Eight came from the mind and eye of Quentin Tarantino, so you knew going in that there’d be plenty of conversation and yes, there will be blood. Tarantino extracted his trademark humor and lively performances from an ensemble cast to keep the wheels rolling on his long but rewarding whodunnit wagon.
Our wagon of favorite ’15 films continues with a pair of spy flicks. Last year was loaded with movies surrounding espionage, but Mission: Impossible and Kingsman emerged as the killer elite. Armed with R-rated satire and one of the craziest action sequences in recent memory, Kingsman: The Secret Service was another one of 2015’s best surprises. It even made Oscar winner Colin Firth look cool for the first time ever. The popular mid-credits extra scene, which we crowned best movie stinger of 2015, left viewers wanting more from this newborn franchise. Later in the year, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation marked a new high for Tom Cruise’s pet project series by showcasing amazing DIY stunts and an incredible story that earned the blockbuster heavyweight’s moniker better than ever before.
The Night Before partied its way onto the list of classic Christmas comedies. In an outrageously hysterical performance, Seth Rogan hit another peak here, but we also gotta give props to Michael Shannon in his first significant comedic role. Everybody might have expected The Night Before to have the year’s best cameos, but that accomplishment probably belongs to The Big Short, which sprinkled in some unconventional and hilarious cameos to help explain the financial crisis nearly a decade ago. Powered by an all-star cast all around and snappy direction from Adam McKay in his first film sans Will Ferrell, The Big Short is must-see American history and Oscar bait.
Speaking of the Oscars, The Martian had the third-most nominations this year (only trailing The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road), but went home 0-for-7. However, it was Ridley Scott’s biggest commercial success by far, and as big fans of most of his work, we’re happy to see him return to sci-fi with such an overall entertaining package that’s sure to inspire the next generation’s brightest minds. A sci-fi feature that didn’t go home from the Oscars empty-handed was Ex Machina, which won Best Visual Effects and scored a Best Supporting Actress nomination. But that was just the surface. Viewers discovered more under the skin of this A.I. flick, and all credit goes to first-time director Alex Garland, who previously wrote a couple of our favorite movies (Sunshine, Dredd) and evoked profound discourse beyond the psychological thrill ride that was Ex Machina.
That brings us down to our Big 3. It would be a bit lazy and too convenient to hand the title to our most anticipated movie of 2015, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Indeed it is the biggest blockbuster at the box office with nearly a billion dollars made in North America alone. And we loved the movie itself; J.J. Abrams couldn’t have done a better job igniting an exciting new trilogy while not tarnishing the original one. But we can’t be completely blinded by nostalgic fanboydom and ignore the dozens of
loopholes lingering questions.
Both The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road are visually striking masterpieces from Oscar-winning directors. Both epic motion pictures include unforgettable supporting performances and brutal action sequences that have had audiences wondering, “How’d they do that?” The Revenant, of course, also spotlights Leonardo DiCaprio in his long overdue Oscar-winning performance, while Mel Gibson replacement Tom Hardy mostly grunts his way through Fury Road and is slightly less incomprehensible than he is in The Revenant and The Dark Knight Rises. Alejandro González Iñárritu deftly contrasted scenes of bleak loneliness with extraordinary action of many different kinds, while George Miller slammed the pedal to the metal in a non-stop car chase that will ride eternal, shiny and chrome.
Well, The Revenant may have led the pack with the most Oscar nominations at 12, but we’re ultimately going with the film that brought home the most statues. We love that George Miller was able to return to the revolutionary post-apocalyptic world that he created 30 years later and go beyond not missing a beat. He definitely didn’t disappoint old fans of the Mad Max trilogy, but he also made new ones out of the hordes who had never seen or even heard of the franchise before last year. In addition, his penchant for magnificent practical effects fueled an imaginative white-knuckle rollercoaster ride that was as majestic as it was violent. This wasn’t just the best action movie of the year; it could be the best action movie of the decade. Finally, the guitar guy.
Mad Max: Fury Road is MediaStinger’s Movie of the Year 2015.
Honorable Mentions: Ant-Man, Creed, Chappie, Furious 7, Goosebumps, The Green Inferno, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, In the Heart of the Sea, Jurassic World, Room, Sicario, Spectre, Steve Jobs, Straight Outta Compton, Unfriended