It’s time once again to look back over the past year in film to highlight our picks for the best and worst that the industry produced.
For a complete list of our 2014 films, please check out the Movie Review Compendium for 2014.
2015 was another worrisome year in my book. Month after month the talk at press events centered heavily on the absolute lack of any film really worth discussing. Finally the cream started slowly rising to the top.
The past year was a blur for me. With so many films on my plate, only the most notable ones bubble to the surface of my memory. We had the largest letdowns of the year in Seth MacFarlane‘s A Million Ways to Die in the West and Angelina Jolie‘s Unbroken. Surprises came from every corner of the industry. Jude Law‘s opening speech in Dom Hemingway is one that I’ll never forget. The raw audacity of Wetlands hung with me for weeks, while Force Majeure‘s powerful plot turns left an indelible mark. The most talked-about film of the year was Boyhood, yet I still find myself unmoved by its core story. I just can’t give a pass to an average story just because it was so impressively shot and edited together over 12 years. A better film about an even longer life cycle was the incredibly poignant true story of Roger Ebert in Life Itself. Perhaps the oddest story of all is that one of the very best films I saw this year was Closed Season, a German film that never managed to get enough backing to be released in the U.S. See it if you get the opportunity.
I was a slacker in 2014, so I didn’t see nearly as many films as I normally would in a given year. Even so, I can tell you that there were some trends that stood out for me. I would be remiss to forget the disasters that took place on the screen as opposed to the ones in the box office. Pompeii, Noah, Godzilla and Into the Storm come to mind with plenty of destruction. There were some strong contenders in the documentary category, and Tim’s Vermeer, Finding Vivian Maier and Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me landed near the top of my list. There were plenty of outrageous comedies like Neighbors, 22 Jump Street and Horrible Bosses 2. Big-budget disappointments like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 were overshadowed by the controversy over the sort-of release of The Interview, the only case of a company bowing to pressure from an annoyed dictator. It still all smells like a giant PR stunt to me, but no matter what, the press didn’t really help the movie beyond some initial interest.
Without further ado, here are our best and worst films of the year.
My five best films:
Now there’s a group of films with a lot of angst. I can’t think of another group of past years’ favorites so heavy with dark overtones.
That’s quite a diverse group, and each one is a gem for a different reason. Selecting the best of the best is always a challenge, but this year, that honor goes to Gone Girl. What’s not to like about a film that’s at once haunting, exhausting, erotic and spellbinding? Rosamund Pike‘s performance is, in my opinion, the best of the year by a wide margin. Director David Fincher never missed a single opportunity to get the most out of every scene. My biggest hope for any film is that it connects with me emotionally. No other film this year did so more than this one. I suspect that this is a film that people will come to regard as one of the classics. It’s that good and that deserving.
My five best films:
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
I love films that take me someplace special or new and bring back that feeling of wonder that I had the first time that I sat in a theater. All five of these films had that effect on me, and there were plenty of other contenders like Calvary, Big Hero 6, Boyhood and American Sniper that might have made a list of my ten best, but for now, I thought about it and had a reason to pick these as my top five. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was the first time that I actually emotionally connected to digital characters. Guardians of the Galaxy was just a big, fun, loud superhero movie that surprised everyone. Interstellar was panned by so many people, but I was taken in by the journey beyond Earth. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For reproduced the feeling of awe at what was going on graphically that I had during the first film, and it included a lot of over-the-top gore for good measure. However, my favorite of the bunch was The Grand Budapest Hotel, another Wes Anderson classic that I can watch again and again because he filled it with quirky characters, a fun plot and visuals that make every scene look like a painting. Anderson continues to take my breath away.
For every good film we see, the industry gives us another half-dozen that we hope to forget as soon as possible. For the absolute worst films, we can only hope to be so lucky as to forget them.
Bad films are what we spend most of the year having to endure. It’s just a fact of life for reviewers. Oddly, though, there weren’t quite as many complete and utter duds this year as in previous years. It’s a trend that I don’t expect to last. That’s not to say that we still didn’t have to suffer through some snoozers. Steve Coogan‘s humor just doesn’t work for me and nearly got him on the worst list twice with grating performances in Alan Partridge and The Trip to Italy. Kevin Smith only missed the list with Tusk on the power of a decent second act. Then there was the entirely ludicrous Exodus: Gods and Kings. I still chuckle every time I think of John Turturro‘s unintentionally hilarious portrayal of Seti. I could go on, but let’s get to the real foundation of bad:
Which of these is worst? Nick Frost as a salsa sensation? Jake Gyllenhaal meets his look-alike and freaks out? Michael Pitt trying to play a brainy grad student? The Virgin Mary with a boob job or yet another been-there, done-that role from Melissa McCarthy? Yes, they were all quite trying, but one stands above (or is it below) the rest. For me, that “honor” belongs to Enemy. Take a top-flight actor, surround him with other solid performers, give them a plot that defies all logic and finish it off with a completely incomprehensible final shot. The other films on the list bugged me. This one disgusted me.
Everybody has a different opinion about the worst films of the year. Some people call mediocre movies like Transcendence or Top Five the worst, but when I make a list, I go all the way down to the point where I don’t even want to give it a rating as high as I did. When I feel insulted or unmoved, I rip apart a production. These movies made me want to eviscerate the filmmakers if they happened to be in front of me.
Each of these films ripped off moviegoers in one way or another. Devil’s Due had an amazingly successful marketing campaign and viral video in which people were scared by an evil baby in a carriage, but the complete film didn’t reach the level of excitement of that video. The filmmakers made a big deal about the twist in No Good Deed to the point of not holding press screenings. In the end, it was all malarkey because I didn’t consider the “secret” a plot twist. The biggest loser of this list has to be A Million Ways to Die in the West. It was not funny at all, and the trailer hinted at a completely different movie. This took me by surprise because I laughed myself to tears during Ted and look forward to its sequel. Seth MacFarlane blew it with this turd that even Neil Patrick Harris couldn’t resist lampooning during the Oscars telecast.