Yep, it’s that time when I publish my opinions on what were the top movies and films of the year. 2015 was a better year than 2014 in many ways. It gave people lots of reasons to go see a movie. It also gave a lot of good quality films as well. Basically the year gave a lot to be admired. It also helped the film industry breathe a sigh of relief as they may have felt that they were losing crowds because of new media forms.
Nope, people still like going to the cinema to see a movie. And 2015 gave lots of good reasons from your typical superhero movies to the return of a maverick series to a sci-fi film that came from nowhere to amaze people to a film that will infuriate you over bankers to a bear attack for the ages.
So without further ado, here are my Top 10 films of 2015:
The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road
Bridge of Spies
Straight Outta Compton
The Hateful Eight
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Love and Mercy
And there you have it. My Top 10 films of 2015. For my past lists, just click on the links below:
Normally I would do single movie reviews. Additionally, I never really had plans to see How To Train Your Dragon 2 or Big Hero 6. When it comes to animated movies, I mostly go to see the one or ones that look like they have the best chances of winning Best Animated Feature. All year I thought I had it all wrapped up when I saw The LEGO Movie and nothing else. Then the Oscar nominations came and The LEGO Movie was inexplicably snubbed out of that category. That led me scramming to see both movies. I saw Dragon 2 on a DVD while I was lucky to see Hero on the big screen. Here are my thoughts:
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
Making a sequel from a hit movie is always a challenge as commercial pressures will demand it. It’s sink or swim as it can either be a continuation of the original’s charm or simply a flavorless rehash of the original. Yes, the audience will distinguish between tried-and-true and tried-and-tired. We saw how Shrek burst on the scene back in 2001 but its excellence and flavor declined with each subsequent movie. Now How To Train Your Dragon has its sequel out. Will How To Train Your Dragon 2 measure up?
First off, the writers and producers did the right thing by releasing the sequel four years after the original and four years since they first started work on it as opposed to the three years between the Shrek films. For those unfamiliar with work on animated features, it takes four years to create from start to finish. The focus on the story this time is in the Fjords of Norway. The story begins with Hiccup, still awkward but well-respected. It also adds in a story where he experiences friction between his girlfriend and his father as well as an enemy he must fight.
I’m unsure if the story would remain true to what Cressida Cowell wrote in her dragon books but I do feel the story is not ‘spoiled’ as so many sequels as most sequels, both animation and live-action, are prone to do. It will continue to delight fans of the first Dragon movie too. The story was darker this time as this would include the death of Stoick and Toothless is under a spell which causes him to want to attack Hiccup. I believe the story would be more suitable for older children but one thing the story doesn’t do is lose the charm of the original. It also has its fun moments and a happy ending that should make it enjoyable for the whole family.
Now on to the technical bits. Whenever I watch a 3D animated movie, I especially pay attention to the quality of the images and effects. I know that each image has to have 100% detail in order to succeed. Any glitch or inconsistency will hurt the movie. I didn’t notice any glitches in the images. I felt the detail was very accurate from the scales on the dragon to the fire they unleashed. The characters’ mouths were always in sync with the dialogue. The film’s images also continued to give the audience a thrill-ride. Naturally when you have a film of people travelling on dragons, you would expect there to be images of the various flights and even parts in the movie that get the audience feel like they’re flying on their own dragons too. The audience will come expecting that. People come to such movies for the escape and the thrill-ride of it all. It succeeds in doing so and it does a top notch job of doing so.
I’m sure that most of you expected The LEGO Movie to win Best Animated Feature even before the nominations were announced. I did too. An interesting bit of trivia to know is that Dragon 2 actually beat out The LEGO Movie in that category to win major awards like the National Board of Review award, the Annie Award and the Golden Globe. Now with The LEGO Movie snubbed out of that category, it appears safe to assume that Dragon 2 will win the Oscar. However that snub reminds us nothing is a foregone conclusion as it is possible Big Hero 6 or The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya could pull an upset.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 was faced with the common pressures of a movie sequel but was able to overcome them to the point they again deliver a movie that’s entertaining and a thrill-ride and still maintains the charm of the original without appearing to exhaust it or stray too far away from it.
BIG HERO 6
Now moving on from a sequel to an original. And moving from one I saw on DVD to one I was lucky to see on the big screen. This time a Disney film: Big Hero 6.
Big Hero 6 is based off of characters from the Big Hero 6 comic series from Marvel comics that first hit shelves in 1998 and went under the Marvel name in 2008. However the story for the film is nothing like the comic series. In the comic series, the characters were all heroes commissioned and created by the Japanese government. Hiro Takachiho was a 13 year-old whiz kid who became part of the team after his mother was kidnapped and creates a Godzilla-style monster hero off of his deceased father’s brain named Baymax. The comics come with the type of over-the-top violence and imagination that you would come to expect from Japanese comic books. The comics have won a following here in the US.
Here for the film, we have a much different story. Hiro is an orphaned boy who lives with his brother Tadashi in San Fransokyo. Hiro commonly gets himself in trouble as he tries to win bot-fights for money but Tadashi takes him to his polytechnic. Hiro thinks it will be the ‘nerd school’ he thinks it is but is amazed with what he sees created by Tadashis’s friends –including his brother’s creation: Baymax, the inflatable virtual doctor which is kept at home–and tries to win a scholarship in a young innovators contest held by the school. After winning the scholarship, a fire breaks out killing Tadashi and a professor.
Hiro feels alone at first even distancing himself from Tadashi’s friends but Baymax suddenly becomes a friend-like to him despite Hiro being unwelcome at first. Later as Hiro learns more new truths about what really happened at the school that night and how his brother really dies, Hiro gets Baymax and the friends to team up to get his brother’s killer. All of them don costumes in the images of the Big Hero 6 comic book characters except Baymax who has an outfit more like Iron Man.
I don’t think the movie was meant to be a film version of the main comic book characters. Remember writers can adapt stories into whatever they want. It’s obvious Walt Disney Studios wanted to do their own story with the characters and have it as a family-friendly film. It succeeds in doing so as it creates a story that’s thrilling, entertaining and imaginative. The story also has a good message for children too as justice is better than any revenge. It also doesn’t try to be too dark in the situations involving Tadashi’s death and Hiro being an orphan.
Although this is an original film, it’s not to say it was without its pressures. We shouldn’t forget this movie comes a year after Walt Disney released the phenomenon Frozen. It wasn’t simply a hit movie. It became a marketing phenomenon and even spawned a release of a sing-along version. Already you could tell there would be pressure upon the release of their follow-up. Big Hero 6 doesn’t exactly deliver to the dame length Frozen has. It has its charm and is a likable film on its own. Whatever the situation, Big Hero 6 was not hurt at the box office as it has already grossed more than $200 million and has been nominated for Best Animated Feature.
Another thing Big Hero 6 succeeds in doing is it adds to the recent resurgence to the Walt Disney Animation Studios. For decades the studios reigned supreme in the world of animated motion pictures. It had very few challengers save for Spielberg animation in the 80’s but made a comeback in the 90’s with 2D masterpieces like The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King. However the studios knew that the world of 3D animation was coming and it did become the case as soon Disney’s partnership with Pixar would create the 3D revolution in animated features. The flavor of the 2D movies from the main Disney Studios were running thin as they couldn’t compete with the Disney/Pixar movies. Eventually Walt Disney Animation Studios did acquire the skills and know how to create their own successful 3D animated movies starting with 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph which rivaled Pixar’s Brave that year and Frozen from last year. Big Hero 6 succeeds in keeping its comeback alive. The Disney/Pixar partnership is still there but it’s good to see Pixar now has a rival with Walt Disney Animation Studios back on its feet.
Big Hero 6 may not be a phenomenon like Frozen nor is it the best animated feature of the year. Nevertheless it succeeds in being entertaining on its own and is another plus in the comeback of the Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Remember those popular Big Eyes paintings from the 60’s? Did you know about the story of art forgery behind it? Some of you will first think that the film Big Eyes is about art. As true as that is, it’s also a drama about art forgery and the ones caught in the middle. This is especially of intrigue to those who remember the ‘big eyes’ paintings from the 60’s.
The film begins with Margaret Ulbrich arriving in San Francisco with her daughter. She has recently divorced her husband and is hoping to make it as an artist. Art is not only her best skill but it’s her one and only skill in terms of employability. At first she’s hired by a furniture factory to paint drawings on children’s furniture. She does drawings of caricatures in a San Francisco market to make extra change.
Soon she catches the attention of a successful ‘artist’ by the name of Walter Keane. He’s impressed with her ‘big eyes’ caricatures she draws. They’re based off the wide eyes of her daughter Jane and Margaret even says that children’s eyes are the windows to their souls. Walter promises Margaret that he can make her art famous. He’s a good salesman as he knows how to sell real estate and his own art: painting of Paris where he claims to have been inspired by the city even though spending a mere week in it. She agrees and the two marry.
This comes as a welcome relief for Margaret as she is threatened to lose custody of Jane because she can’t afford to care for her. This is also a relief for Walter as his paintings of Paris are declining in sales. Soon Walter promotes the big eyes paintings at restaurants. He’s even willing to create phony brawls to stimulate news hype. Whatever he does, it works and the big eyes painting are catching a ton of renown.
However the secret of the success is exposed to Margaret and it’s ugly. Walter is claiming the paintings as his own. As the paintings become more popular and Walter becomes more famous, they become more and more in demand. That leads Walter to keep Amy in a hidden room where she’s to paint all the portraits. She’s practically exiled away from everyone including friends and her own daughter. Further friction grows when Margaret learns the truth about the Paris paintings. They were actually painted by an artist going by S. Cenic. Somehow Walter is able to talk his way out of it.
The real turning point is when the giant painting of a crowd of big-eyed children to be displayed at a pavilion during Expo 1964 is dissed by art critic John Canaday as ‘appalling.’ Keane can’t take it. He tries to stab Canaday but fails. He tried locking Margaret and Jane in a closet and setting it ablaze. Fortunately they escape and find a new life for themselves in Hawaii. However it’s after a visit from two Jehovah’s Witnesses that Margaret is prompted to bring Walter to justice. The trial goes with Walter playing his own attorney and doing a big song and dance for the jury but there comes the moment of truth. The film ends rather conventionally but will leave the audience satisfied justice was done.
One thing we should not forget is that art forgery is nothing new. There have been imposters claiming paintings and other works of art in the past. However this makes for an intriguing story. There are many elements why one would consider this intriguing. One would be people who remember the big eyes painting and still like them to this day. Another would be because of the conniving nature of Walter who knows how to get his way until the score is finally settled. I’m sure there’s something many people can find intriguing with the film to want to see it.
However the film doesn’t make itself too clear about what it is primarily all about. I do give the film credit for showing a story of art forgery and both the artist and scammer. I do give credit for showcasing the thriving and influential San Francisco art scene form the 50’s and 60’s. I also give the film credit about showing just how much of a conniver Walter Keane was to the point he felt he could kill a critic and even connive a judge in the court of law. And I especially give the film credit for showing the mother-daughter relationship involved with the story. In fact that was one of my favorite parts of the film where after Margaret left Walter, Margaret became a typical mother again and Jane became a typical daughter again. However it does leave one to wonder if it was mostly to do about the art or to do about the forgery behind it? It’s very possible to balance those two elements out appropriately on film but I just wonder if it was balanced out right.
Amy Adams did a very good job of portraying Margaret Keane. However I’ve seen better acting performances from her in the past. Christoph Waltz was also very good as the conniving Walter Keane. He succeeds at making you hate Walter and get annoyed with him. However there are times in which I think his role of Walter is a bit too close to his Oscar-winning roles of Hans Landa and King Schultz. Danny Huston also did well in the role of Dick Nolan. However it does seem odd how the narrator of all that’s happening gets so little screen time. There were additional good performances in minor roles from Terence Stamp and Jason Schwartzman.
Tim Burton did a good job of directing a film that doesn’t seem too much like your typical Tim Burton film. Interesting fact is that Burton owns two of Keane’s paintings.
Scriptwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski did a good job with the script even though it lacked consistency and focus. The set designers and costumers did a very good job in setting the scenes to the time of the film. And the score by Danny Elfman also fit the movie well.
Big Eyes is an intriguing look at the artist, the art and the forgery behind it. Even though the story was a bit off in terms of focus to its central theme, it does keep one interested.
DISCLAIMER: The 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival officially ended on Friday. Nevertheless I will continue to post reviews of films associated with it including repeat screenings shown within one week after the festival’s end.
Big Bad Wolves is one of those films at the VIFF that’s more movie than film. It’s Israel’s attempt at creating a thriller movie. How good is it?
The movie starts with a young girl going missing. The police first question Dror: a physically awkward religion teacher. He is accidentally released due to a police bungle. This upsets officer Miki and he decides to take things into his own hands. He hires men to beat up Dror into confessing but it doesn’t work. Unknown at the time is a teenager caught it on his camera phone. Within days the girl is found dead and beheaded. It is learned that the killer had the victim eat a cake full of sedatives before murdering her. Dror has become defamed at his teaching job and his ex-wife won’t even let him see his daughter. Meanwhile another girl is found killed and beheaded. She too was set up with the drugged-up cake. And word has come of the beating video appearing on YouTube. This leads Miki getting fired.
The firing doesn’t stop Miki from taking things into his own hands and getting to the bottom of this. He attempts to corner Dror and hopefully torture him into a confession. However Gidi, the father of the latest victim, also wants Dror to confess for his sake. Gidi and Miki first appear to form an alliance for getting Dror to confess only for things to turn ugly as Miki ends up attacked by Gidi too.
Gidi then takes Dror and Miki to the basement of his house. Miki is handcuffed to a pipe while Dror is strapped to a chair. Gidi attempts to be the one to get a confession out of Dror by torture. But no matter how hard he tries, Dror still maintains his innocence, even after Gidi rips off his toenails or disjoints his fingers. Gidi even has a cake full of sedatives ready. However just as he’s about to get Dror, interruptions occur like a phone call from his mother and a visit from his father Yoram. Things become surprising when Yoram joins with Gidi in the torture. Meanwhile Miki plans a getaway after one act from Yoram backfires and Dror gives an alleged burial location of the girls’ heads. Things have a twist of surprises that has the movie ending on a surprising note but a note that works with the story.
I don’t think the movie is trying to give a social message. I believe the movie is trying to play out a story while giving some comedic ironies at times. Like when the phone rings just as Gidi is about to torture Dror or the visit from his father or Yoram eating the sedative-loaded cake in front of Dror. It kind of gives the movie a bit of a dark humor like Fargo or even a Quentin Tarantino movie. It’s interesting that when you first see the movie, you’d think it would be a strictly serous drama but the humor added to the moment and to the surprises. The movie’s other great quality is it’s also full of surprises. There are a lot of unpredictable moments. Like who would have thought that Yoram the father would participate with Gidi in revenge? Or even Miki would receive the shocking news of his own? Also for those that saw the movie, did you really think it would end that way? I didn’t.
I’m not too familiar with the Israeli film scene or the entertainment business but I think this film is a positive move for them to create movies. As you know there’s a big difference between movies and films. Films are works of effort and creativity. Movies have ingredients to draw crowds. I’m sure anyone who likes suspense movies will find this to be a movie that will keep them intrigued in what happens next and what will happen in the end. There may be some that would think the basement torture scene went too long but some thought the intensity of that long scene was just right. I myself am appreciative of the story that was being drawn out. I may question the ending whether it should have ended that way but otherwise a very good story that had me thrilled and even laughing at times. I’m sure Hollywood will pay attention to something like this.
Surprisingly this is only the second work in both writing and directing for the duo of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado. You’d figure with an effort as professional and polished as this, they would have been veteran writers and directors. I am very impressed. It was an excellent script and excellent directing work. However there are times I’ve questioned whether the basement scene should have been that long.
There were a lot of great performances but I think the best performance came from Rotem Keinan. His portrayal as the victim Dror was very dead-on in terms of emotions and physical acting. He will often win your sympathy and have you believe he is an innocent man. Tzahi Grad was also very good as Gidi especially in making his role alternate between the dramatic and the comedic. Lior Ashkenazi was also very good but I think his part of Miki could have been more. Doval’e Glickman however came across as too cartoonish. The editing was very professional as well as the addition of the score in the movie. So overall I’m very impressed with how well-done this Israeli movie is. Sometimes I think it looks like something Hollywood would send out.
Big Bad Wolves is a very good thriller movie that will keep the viewer at the edge of their seat. It’s also an excellent effort from the Israeli film industry in movie making. I can see this as a crowd winner.
“Initially you’re overwhelmed. But gradually you realize it’s like a wave. Resist, and you’ll be knocked over. Dive into it, and you’ll swim out the other side.”
-Evelyn Greenslade from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
In the last two years, it seems like movies are mostly set out for the Echo or Millenial generation but also intended to attract Generation X and today’s children too. It seemed like the Boomer Generation was a movie crowd that had many years and decades in the sun in terms of movies and its now past. But not so fast. They’re still leaving one last impact that been especially present in the last two years. I’ve noticed it in three films from the past while and even a current release. It’s positive there will be more to come but it does face challenges.
It’s hard to exactly pinpoint what birthyears define a generation. There are common assumptions of what years consist of the Baby Boomer generation but I was commonly told it was the generation that began just after World War II had ended. The most common birthyears I have seen associated with the Baby Boomer generation are from 1946 to 1964.
The Baby Boomer generation is a generation that has made an impact in many ways but is especially noticeable on its impact in movies. We first saw it in the 70’s when they went to see thrillers by Spielberg and Lucas and dramas from Scorsese and but also experimental movies like Clockwork Orange and Pulp Fiction. They’ve also made their own sets of stars like Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Bette Midler, Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks, Geena Davis…I could go on. Baby Boomer filmmakers, actors and audiences have contributed to the changes greatly in both Hollywood film and films of other format. Even Baby Boomer women left their mark as many showed they didn’t simply have to be in front of the camera but behind the camera too.
Even as they were getting older as the late-80’s came, they still showed that they were a viable audience market worth major focus and continued to have films and movies with them in mind. They also showed that an actor or actress can get older in age like their 30’s and 40’s and still be a big draw. They also changed family movies in the late 80’s/early 90’s too as the movies directed to their children would also have to include elements in which parents could watch and enjoy too.
Then it appeared at the turn of the millennium, it would be handed to the younger generations like Generation X and especially the Echo/Millennial generation mostly comprised of their children while most boomer actor would be relegated to supporting roles. It was thought that they would now have to make way for them. Even now with the Boomers getting older and many entering into their Golden Years, it appears the core audience for movies is now the Millennial generation mostly composed of their children or children of the generation after them. Even though the Boomer generation no longer has that decades-old grip on movies they used to, they appeared to still have a spark in them that allowed for films to be released with them in mind.
I believe the first trigger was back in 2007 with the hit movie The Bucket List. Directed by Rob Reiner and written by Justin Zackham, this featured Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as two men with terminal lung cancer giving themselves goals to achieve before they ‘kick the bucket.’ The movie was a hit achieving $93 million at the US box office and $175 million worldwide. The box office success sent the message that Boomers and the generation before them were still a marketable film crowd and that younger generations can also be entertained by movies featuring older movie stars. Hey, didn’t we like Grumpy Old Men back in the 90’s?
The first movie that caught my attention to this was a British movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The movie was directed by 64 year-old John madden and its ensemble cast consisted mostly of British actors in their 60’s and 70’s like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy. The movie was about older retired people who come to live at what they think will be a nice hotel in India. Instead it turns out to be dingy. Over time they discover more about themselves and many learn that their life doesn’t have to end in their golden ages. They can start a new life. One can free their soul. One can even finally meet Mr. Right. The movie did very well grossing $46 million in North America and $134 million worldwide.
There was a second British movie also based on aging that scored well: Quartet. This was the directorial debut of American Dustin Hoffman. The movie starred Maggie Smith, included Ton Courtenay and Michael Gambon, and is based off of a hit British stage play. The movie is situated in a retirement home for former professional musicians. The home has always had financial issues but has always kept themselves going by teaching to young people and holding an annual gala. The gala has had its issues as many of its top former musicians have died over the years. Their best hope is to have a famous quartet as their main attraction. Their best hopes rest on soprano Jean Horton who actually is an ex-wife of one of the other quartet singers and both failed to heal the bad terms between them. The movie was not just about healing relationships. The movie was also coming to terms with aging and dealing with the changes; especially since the artistic giftedness that once made their greatness withered away with age. The movie scored very well with the critics and made $55 million worldwide at the box office.
You may have noticed that not every star actor in the movie is a Baby Boomer. Not Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Michael Gambon. Nevertheless the theme of aging is a common theme Baby Boomers can relate to especially since the first wave of Baby Boomers–born in the first few years following World War II– have now entered into their 60’s and are dealing with the issues with aging and also attempting to overcome the obstacles associated with it.
Hollywood has noticed that too and they even sent out a more commercial movie about getting older called Parental Guidance. Since it stars Bette Midler and Billy Crystal, you know it would be a comedy. It’s not necessarily about aging but about the role of grandparents who come into the lives of their daughter, her husband and grandchildren. The movie is about grandparents trying to raise the grandchildren while the parents are away. They have a wide array of obstacles to deal with like new technology, children’s behavior, modern methods of parenting and psychology, a musically gifted granddaughter making social sacrifices, a new job pursuit and above all the role as grandparents. This was a unique movie upon release as it appeared marketed to Baby Boomer grandparents, Generation X or Echo parents and the current generation of children. The critical consensus was not too pleased with parental Guidance but it made 4477 million at the US box office and almost $120 million worldwide.
Parental Guidance may have been a hit but it’s not to say that aging Boomer stars still face challenges in Hollywood movies. Recently there was the movie The Big Wedding which featured an ensemble cast starring older stars like Robert de Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams along with younger stars Ben Barnes, Katharine Heigl and Amanda Seyfried. The movie was written and directed by The Bucket List scriptwriter Justin Zackham. The movie was seen by the consensus of critics as unfunny and predictable. The box office didn’t fare well either grossing a total of $21 million so far.
Even the artistic film industry faces challenges as well. There was the French Language film Amour about an aging couple dealing with their love for each other as the wife suffers a stroke and is left terminally impaired. The film was nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture and won Best Foreign Language Film but achieved less than $7 million at the US box office and $20 million worldwide.
The past twelve months have showed that the aging populations, especially the aging Baby Boomers, are still a marketable and profitable movie crowd despite the majority of movies focused on the under-30’s. It’s fair to say that the film industry has done a good job in turning out movies with them in mind but it still faces a lot of challenges in the present and in the future. It’s not just the aging crowds that want to see movies but the aging actors that still want to act and aging stars that want to prove they still have it. Only time will define what works with them and what will continue to draw them to the cinemas.