This image of Princess Cinemas is courtesy Jillian Popplow and is used in accordance with her Creative Commons license.
You really want to appreciate movies, have children. But be sure you have grandparents handy. Once you get through the early years of constant attention, and lack of sleep, and once you appreciate the babysitting that grandparents provide, once you learn the value of an evening to yourself and your loved one, you’ll know the value of going out to see a good movie.
I think, in 2015, I saw more movies than I have in many a year. A tradition has evolved where one set of grandparents takes one kid with them on Friday night, giving Erin and I the evening off. On those weeks when Erin was travelling Mongolia, I had the evening off alone, and I saw some movies on my own for one of the first times in my life (that had only happened twice before 2015 — in 2013, I believe, when Erin went home to do some book related stuff, and the grandparents took the kids to a fair for a weekend, and I ended seeing Elysium, and the live Rifftrax of Starship Troopers).
In general, I think it was a good year. There may not have been the earth-shattering classics of years past, but for most of the year, there was a movie that I wanted to see in the theatre playing in the theatre. Only occasionally did I have to settle for an iTunes rental or something off of Netflix. There was no movie I hated, or walked out of. So, my top 13 movie list is my list of thirteen movies I’ve actually seen this year, in order of preference from least to most-favourite…
13. Interstellar (Video)
I’m glad I rented this cheap on iTunes. A lot was made about the science of this movie, and while the depictions of the supermassive black hole looked amazing (and were apparently accurate), they forgot to make the plot work out. The movie started out well, with allusions to the dust bowl and all, but its pace turned ponderous, and then disappeared in a puff of pure self-indulgence. When one of the characters started talking about the quantum power of love, I lost what little respect I had for the movie. It would be interesting to see this Rifftrax’d.
12. Kill Bill, Parts 1&2 (Video)
I’m willing to say that Quentin Tarantino is one of the greatest directors ever. He is a man of wonderful talents who is passionate about his film making, as seen in this ode to all of the violent kung-fu movies of the 1970s (I think). However, he’s not the director for me, and neither is this movie. It’s technically brilliant, the writing is sharp, and the acting is top notch. The action scenes are actiony. The violence is cartoonily violent. I’m glad I saw it. I have no inclination of ever watching it again.
This movie is far better than people give it credit for. I liked the film’s sense of wonder, and Raffey Cassidy steals the show as young Athena. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as good as it should have been. The threat vanishes, and Hugh Laurie is reduced to proselytizing from a script that’s about as subtle as a 1950s board of education documentary. Brad Bird, I’m disappointed in you. Do better next time.
10. The Maze Runner (Video)
Well, this was a lot of fun, with the added bonus that I found it on Netflix Canada, so it was free with my monthly membership (unlike with Tomorrowland, where I had to pay for the ticket and the popcorn). The acting is good, the direction is tight, and the setting makes the movie fascinating to watch. The book the movie is based on is criticized for having a stellar setting and not much else. I think the movie accentuates the positives. Not that there’s much else to it, though. When the movie’s lone major female character doesn’t really need to be there… I think there’s a problem. But it was a good popcorn flick for a Friday night and, better yet, free.
9. Ant Man
Speaking of popcorn flicks, Marvel pulls off a decent heist movie with one of the lesser known superheroes (for me, anyway). Good performances all-round, and I loved the tie-ins with Captain America. Nice little appetizer to keep me interested in the coming Civil War.
8. Avengers: Age of Ultron
And speaking of popcorn flicks again… this movie delivered exactly what it promised, nothing less… but nothing more. The action sequences are nice to look at, and the superheroes all have charisma coming out of their ears, but I do fear that Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is starting to creak from the weight of all that continuity. It’s getting harder and harder to tell a coherent story. Still, the movie delivered what I wanted when I wanted it, and I was glad to see it in the theatre.
7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Another movie that was, while not brilliant, darned satisfying, even after paying movie theatre prices. I really got into Rey’s character and the BB-8 droid, and loved the return of all the old favourite characters. Some interesting mysteries caught my attention as well. How did Finn break his conditioning? Is he truly special, or are the stormtroopers building to a rebellion? And who is Rey, anyway? Does Luke have a daughter? I’m intrigued.
6. Ex Machina (Video)
This movie owes much to Stanley Kubrick and really made Erin and I think while we watched it on the couch. I’m not entirely sure if inventor Nathan Bateman actually made an artificial intelligence here or just a highly-effective escaping-maching, but I’m also wondering if that’s the point. It was disturbing in all the right places, and tense and exercised the brain. Well worth seeing.
5. Big Hero 6 (Video)
It’s fascinating that this is my favourite Marvel movie of the year, not Ant Man and not Avengers: Age of Ultron. Likely it’s the lack of a continuity weighing everything down, leaving the compelling origin story to do its work with wonderfully quirky characters and a funny and uplifting script. Sometimes the simple things are the most satisfying.
4. Porko Rosso
I was pleased to add another Miyazaki movie to my list, thanks to a mini-festival put together by the Apollo Cinema here in Kitchener. Porko Rosso is an odd duck, about an old World War I flying ace who seems to have been cursed at some point before the story with the appearance of a pig, with a lot of its story left untold (was he cursed, or was it his distaste of the warlike human race that caused him to look this way), but you get the sense of a big universe underneath everything, and the characters are all compelling, especially the seventeen-year-old girl who takes on the job of aviation engineer. It gives me a warm feeling inside.
3. Mr. Holmes
This movie stars Ian McKellen, so you know he’s going to bring it. Mr. Holmes is also a wonderful and sad window on Holmes’ later life. It’s shocking to see how much such a man changes with time, and yet how much he still remains Mr. Holmes. The supporting characters also complement McKellen ably, providing a remarkable relationship in Holmes’ sunset years, and giving viewers one final mystery for the road.
2. The Martian
The Martian is the best science fiction movie of the year. Erin read and disliked the book, but the book had its strengths that director Ridley Scott was able to emphasize for the movie. The protagonist’s first person voice can get annoying over long stretches, so the movie breaks it up, bringing in a wider cast of characters to complement Matt Damon’s brilliance. Wonderful performances all-round, and wonderful direction by Ridley Scott. The movie feels like Apollo 13 in an alternate world where NASA is capable of mounting manned missions to Mars and… you know what? I really want to live in that world.
1. Inside Out
Pixar came out with a winner with a movie that still makes me teary-eyed at key moments. Full of heart, full of laughs, wonderful performances and wonderful animation. In my mind, easily the best movie of the year and, like The Martian, one which I’ll happily purchase for my iTunes collection.
Movies I Thought About Seeing, But Avoided:
Spectre. I was going to see it, but the first reviews in said that it was just “okay” and “nothing like Skyfall”. I have a limited budget for this sort of thing. Maybe I’ll see it on video. Maybe I won’t.
Mockingjay, Part 2: Haven’t seen the first part of this two-part movie, yet. Will have to rent the video. May do it for both parts.
Mad Max: Fury Road: Quite possibly my greatest regret. I’ve heard the movie is brilliant, and a great many people whose opinions I respect have strongly suggested that I watch this movie. However, I haven’t watched the first three Mad Max movies either. Like Tarantino, I’m willing to accept that the movies are brilliant. I’m just not certain that they’re for me.
So, that was my 2015 in movies. Looking ahead, I’m looking forward to the next Captain America film, and I’m sure there will be plenty more surprises.