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2015 Movie List with Commentary

January 3, 2016

This year, I saw 43 movies. I re-watched 7 movies, went to the movies 12 times, watched saw 4 documentaries, and 9 animated films. Below, you will find my thoughts!

Her

A complicated but good movie. I liked how nuanced the portrayal of love was: between a man and perhaps a computer, or between two computers, or between people even. Set in the near distant future, this was really good. I like it when Joaquin Phoenix isn’t being creepy. He’s a good actor when he isn’t pretending to be a dick bag for the younger Affleck.

Birdman

Staehli and I saw this in the theater. We hated it. It was pretentious. Well-made, but pretentious. I was sad when it won many Oscars.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

This was fun! Although I don’t remember much about this movie, which I think is maybe a problem with a number of superhero movies: lots of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The Brothers Bloom

When we got word that Rian Johnson was writing and directing Star Wars Episode 8, Staehli said she hadn’t seen any of his work. Jake showed her this movie, which was much better than I remember. This movie was more clever, sadder, and funnier than I recalled. Staehli was happy that her crush Rinko Kikuchi was in this movie. She was very pleased.

Only Lovers Left Alive

This is a Jim Jarsmuch movie about vampires featuring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. If you’ve never seen a Jim Jarsmuch movie, and I’ve only seen a few, they are very dreamy. Meaning, the camera will occasionally go look at something more interesting than the characters, some things happen or are explained with a simple line of dialogue, the plots are very loose, and you watch the characters having somewhat cryptic conversations. It’s a movie that requires some active watching and thinking. They are moody. Perhaps worth a re-watch for more details. I prefer to watch Jim Jarsmuch movies with others, because I can lose focus sometimes. Although this does an excellent job portraying Detroit as a place where things can disappear or re-appear.

Lucy

This movie was terrible. Do not see this movie. It combines ever-escalating action with pseudoscience-pseudo-philosophy into a non-sensical gibberish plot about a human basically becoming the singularity. It is terrible and awful.

The Kingsmen

I didn’t like this as much as others did. There’s some poor treatment of women, grotesque violence, and a weird role for Samuel L. Jackson. This was one of the more memorable movie going experiences that I’ve ever had because a bunch of young people enjoying this movie RUINED the experience for the rest of the old people in the theater. Two separate groups people told us this after the movie.

Under the Skin

Scarlett Johansson the alien. More and more she has been portrayed as not really understanding humans, as being detached. Just in this list: Her, Lucy, and now Under the Skin. Apparently Scarlett Johansson just likes toying with human beings. Beyond that, this movie is great. It was dreamy, but had a firmer plot than Only Lovers Left Alive, although that plot required some attention to detail to understand. It was definitely sci-fi in the old school sense, and wonderfully set in Scotland. I think it had a very tragic ending, although you may disagree.

Obvious Child

Funny, but not uproarious, sad but not weepy. This was a great character piece about an important topic: abortions! This movie never makes light of the choice facing the character, but also doesn’t make it a decision weighed down with other factors. Instead, the film positions the decision as important but also in context with everything else going on with the character.

Waking Sleeping Beauty

I have seen this twice before, and finally got other people to watch it during a night of movie watching. I was glad that others got to see the strange, wonderful history behind the resurgence of Disney Animation in the late 80s and early 90s. You’ll see some faces you recognize and have your eyes bug out of your head, but also some unfamiliar faces that were the actual geniuses behind your childhood. I cannot recommend this film enough. Watching it with Julia and Jake was great.

Frozen

Immediately after watching Waking Sleeping Beauty, we were encouraged to watch a recent great animated Disney film. Surprisingly Jake knew most of the words to the songs.

To Be Takei

Interesting and light documentary about George Takei who is a way more well rounded and interesting person than I anticipated. Somebody usually reposts something he’s reblogged in my Facebook timeline every day. And now his husband has gotten in on the act too. I’m glad Takei is around to spread the message of acceptance.

True Lies

This basically completes my James Cameron series, I think I’ve seen every movie he’s ever made. This was surprisingly good, and also over the top in a way that early 90s action movies were when they were still using practical effects for most things. This film also features a parable about government overreach regarding surveillance 20 years before it became popular. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a total creep in this movie.

Riddick

A ridiculous movie about Vin Diesel surviving near death through monsters, bounty hunters, and more. Much better than The Chronicles of Riddick, in part because the stakes are so much lower. Also, it is weird to realize that Vin Diesel has only been in a handful of movies that were not Fast and Furious or Riddick movies. So long as he’s happy.

What We Do in the Shadows

Funny and low-key mockumentary about vampires in New Zealand. I’m glad I saw this in a theater and with Staehli, because we could both laugh with other people about what we were seeing. This is definitely the kind of movie that would have been much worse without the crowd.

Fast Five

For reasons still mysterious to me, Jake downloaded all of the Fast and Furious movies. We randomly selected this one, which takes place mostly in Brazil, to be the one we would start with. This was a dumb action movie, with some very strange editing. I barely remember the story (stealing….something from…the police? The government?). I worry a little bit about Star Trek since it has the same director.

My Neighbor Totoro

I have seen the visions of Totoro around since I was a kid. I have known that there was an entire movie about this big half-bear half-cat looking creature, but I wasn’t really prepared for what I saw. This movie was cute, and again, was dreamy without much a plot. Some young children move to a new town with their overwhelmed father and sick mother and have to adapt. There was much, much less Totoro than I expected, but there was also this immense, magical lushness to the animation, particularly the backgrounds that blew me away. I really appreciated the craft of this animation a great deal, and also saw connections to Avatar: the Last Airbender both in terms of animation but also story and culture. In some ways, I understand the symbolism here if only because there’s not a ton going on, but the fundamentally sound structure to build on. Imagining your own adventures with Totoro becomes really compelling, it encourages you to play around with Totoro the character, and the close-by world that isn’t entirely out of reach.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Staehli’s big crush on Rinko Kikuchi meant we really had to see this movie in theaters. A Japanese woman finds a hidden VHS tape of Fargo, becomes convinced the treasure in the movie was real, and goes to find it, despite not knowing much English at all, or having any semblance of a plan. This movie was weird, uncomfortable, but beautifully shot. Also, an a testament to the willingness of the Minnesota State Patrol to help people. Apparently based on a true story. Staheli has thoughts about this movie re: when people don’t fit into Japanese Society they get ostracized, and the pressure to conform is really, really high. Also, we were very pleased to see a pet bunny called Bunzo.

Big Hero Six

This was cute. I liked that the primary thing the hero is “fighting” in this story is his own sense of guilt in emotions. The cultivation and development of emotional stakes is central to the story. There was also glorious animation in a future San Francisco, and cool side-characters.

Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind

Upon seeing Totoro, I realized that I hadn’t seen many other Miyazaki films. So, I began to try and complete my gaps. First up, Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind. There were more bugs than I was expecting, but it was also more meditative about our actions as a human race, and our role in the world’s ecosystem. There was less swordsmen and fighting, and much better flying. Despite the creepy bugs, this may be one of my favorite of the Miyazaki movies.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America was one of my favorite comic book characters growing up. His sense of justice was always paramount. This movie had some of the key ingredients to be good: the role of spying in our world, the meeting place of our idealism in freedom and justice, the practical applications of security. These are themes and conversations that are pertinent and uniquely suited to Captain America. I did not like the bombast and enormous set pieces that capped off this movie.

Thor: The Dark World

This movie was better than the first one, but still had issues. Loki remains the most compelling character, in part because Thor is a weird character. In the comic books, it’s a little easier to talk about Asgardians as essentially being aliens, and different planets representing the different realms, and playing with alternate dimensions. In the movies, that gets trickier, and when trying to make Thor relevant to the Avengers, rather than just taking care of space business, managing the two demands can be tricky. This movie had roughly the same plot as the second Hellboy movie, and about the same problems. Good visuals, bad motivations, big smashy things.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Bonnie said it best: Sassy banter, explosion, sassy banter, explosion, James Spader. There, now you’ve seen Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Mad Max: Fury Road

This movie never let up. A visceral thrill ride that holds up on second viewing (saw it on a smaller screen with Kate and Peter at Thanksgiving). This was so good for many reasons, and the potential for it to win awards is amazing. I don’t know that I can add anything to many, many articles about this movie.

Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a self-starter who gets into the evening news business, filming footage of car crashes, robberies, arrests, shootings, and more on location. But, how far will he go to make his business successful? This movie is tense, well-made, and Gyllenhaal is completely repulsive, almost lizard like in his affectation of cool intensity.

Stripped

A documentary about comic stips. The dailies that you might read, or the webcomics that came afterward. There were so many different perspectives in making comics, but all of them showed how much work-a-holics comic creators are, totally in love with their characters, driven to see them on paper, but also slaves to the need of content. But also the range of styles: formalists, abstractionists, those willing to integrate pop-culture, those wanting to strive for simple themes. The sheer variety there was great, and I recommend it to comic nerds.

Inherent Vice

I saw this on a plane to Hawaii. That was not the way to see this movie. I want to re-watch this movie because Paul Thomas Anderson deserves better. This movie picks up where the Big Lebowski left off, but with a hint more crime.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

By Friday of our vacation to Hawaii, Staehli and I were sunburnt and tired. We wanted to be in a place that was both air-conditioned and not moving. We had only had air-conditioned moving places (the car) or un-air-conditioned not-moving places (everywhere else). This was more fun than I expected. Tom Cruise was more charismatic, the action was good, and it was perfect for what we wanted: escapism.

Zatoichi

Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman has literally hundreds of films made about him. This was an attempt at a reboot while I was in college that Staehli and Jake recommended. Zatoichi is a blind but excellent swordsman who wanders into a town, and works to try and right wrongs. The special effects were a little cheesy, but the acting and set dressing was good. Watching the behind the scenes demystified parts of the film once I realized certains tics were innate to the actor, not necessarily acting choices that he was making. There is also a bollywood style dance sequence at the end that is neat.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

I was going to get my last wisdom tooth removed. I anticipated a drug-induced haze on the couch. Staehli and I planned programming of many, many Studio Ghibli movies. To prepare, I watched this documentary about Studio Ghibli, in particular making of Miyazaki’s last film. Miyazaki is a cranky, demanding old coot, but also it solidified some of the impressions from earlier: animators are work-a-holics, dedicated to their craft and obsessive about their work. Every movie is an insane labor of love and worth all of your money.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Who doesn’t want to be a wizard’s apprentice? Grand, well-animated, and more of a plot than some of Studio Ghibli’s films.

Porco Rosso

This is arguably the strangest of Miyaki’s films, and the one I had the hardest time figuring out. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but I think it didn’t live up to some of the traditional themes that Miyazaki works with. It was more of a character piece about a man who got turned into a pig, but was still an excellent fighter pilot in the Mediterranean. The animators made some really gorgeous shots of their invented scenery. I liked the zany pirates and plucky girl. Michael Keaton was both a good choice, and a strange choice to play Porco.

Kiki’s Delivery Service

A girl witch becomes a woman witch. I would argue this is the cutest of all of Miyazaki’s movies, and yes, flying is a trope of his, here I think there’s some interesting scenes and motivations that invoke a true love of flying versus some of his other films. I was sad to recognize Phil Hartman’s voice, who did great work as the cat.

Spirited Away

Prior to this year, the only Miyazaki movie I had seen. It fits better with his oeuvre better than I thought it would, in part because the movie is weirder than I remember. Children: much more likely to just accept new circumstances and go along with stuff than adults. This was also as good as I remember. It was strange to realize how big an impression some things made on me, and how little others did. I thought Zenbaba was a bigger part of the plot, but the boy-dragon a much smaller part. Reverse!

Ponyo

Of the films, my least favorite, I think because it was the most-childlike. Again, animation was gorgeous, but the language was so-so simple.

The Wolf of Wall Street

This film is pretty repugnant, but glamorously and gleefully so. I think The Departed was the last time Leonardo DiCaprio played a decent human being.

The Martian

One of the central features of this movie, I feel, is that everyone is pretty good at their jobs. Everyone makes the right choices, or takes calculated risks, and they either pay off or don’t pay off. I enjoyed this movie a great deal, and it was thrilling to watch in part because I had no idea what the ending would be like.

Crimson Peak

A simple story in a glorious setting. Girl whirlwind marries man who whisks her off to his haunted house in England that oozes red clay. Guillermo Del Toro pumps this simple tale full of atmosphere and visual splendor. It’s a bit of a pity this is so straightforward. It was not a horror film, but instead a ghost story.

Spectre

Bad Bond movie (they’ve gone good, bad, good, bad now with Daniel Craig). I saw this at Thanksgiving with Peter and Kate. We worked to re-write the film after seeing it. It was so bad. It had all the ingredients to be good, but didn’t do anything with any of them. It re-hashed the plots of the past three films poorly, and made references to previous Bond films that didn’t make any sense in context. It was flashy and good looking, but underwhelming.

The Hebrew Hammer

A Hanukkah tradition with Julia and Jake. This movie is comical, never takes itself too seriously, and I wish there were more Hanukkah movies! Word on the street is that there will be a sequel!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Delivered on most of the promises it made. It was Star Wars. It didn’t go any wild, new places (which made some people upset) but laid the groundwork to do so. This movie harkened back to what made the previous ones good, and re-invested us in new characters (yay women and people of color!). I saw it twice in theaters, and it was amazing both times. A fine way to cap off 2015.

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