Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Shane’s Favourite Movies of 2015

If you need an introduction, read the title again. Some spoilers ahead.

5. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Plot Rundown: A punk-ass street kid is recruited into a gentleman spy organization and must defeat a mastermind planning mass genocide.

Now here’s a movie that I did not expect would be on my top five list. I remember seeing the trailer for this film and thinking, dear god this is going to be stupid. I rolled my eyes so hard I think I tore something. But the truth is, the movie is stupid. But it’s also hella fun.

Seriously, this movie is more entertaining than I’d ever guess. It’s funnier, crazier, and much more violent than it has any right to be. It introduced me to something I never knew I wanted: Colin Firth kicking severe ass. One amazing sequence that takes place in a church is this year’s hidden action gem. It’s worth watching the movie for that alone.

Kingsman has a bunch of well known actors, it’s full of fun sequences that veer off from conventions, and it has constant energy. This is, without a doubt, my guilty pleasure of the year. I had a blast seeing it in the theatre and I pity anyone who watched Kingsman and dismissed it as silly. The movie knows it’s ridiculous, and it embraces that fully.

4. The Revenant
Plot Rundown: A trapper, named Hugh Glass, is wrecked by a bear and must survive countless other horrific things in order to seek revenge against the man who left him for dead.

The most striking thing about this movie are the amazing visuals. The cinematography in The Revenant is stunning, and the use of only natural lighting really makes the setting more vivid. It pulls you into the past. The opening raid on the hunters’ camp was wild and visceral, and extremely well shot. In fact, all the moments of action feel raw and brutal.

DiCaprio has very limited lines to say, Hardy’s character is often unintelligible, and huge portions of the film have no dialogue at all. Because of this the movie draws you in, and lets you focus on the characters’ actions moment to moment. You feel like you have an intimate view of Glass’ struggle to survive.

It’s a long ass movie but I was invested the whole time and desperate to know how Glass would find his way back and if he would have his revenge. The Revenant is awesome filmmaking and storytelling from start to finish.

3. Ex Machina
Plot Rundown: A programmer wins a contest to visit a private mountain retreat and be part of an experiment with a female A.I. robot built by a reclusive CEO.

I’ve seen people really gushing over this movie. A lot. I really enjoyed the movie, but c’mon now, this is not a ground breaking film. It’s a beautifully shot, well acted movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s also filled with things I’ve seen dozens of times before.

Even if the story is often predictable, the details are what make it interesting. There’s a particular dance scene that stands out; guaranteed to have you confused, laughing, or grinning from ear to ear. The weirdness keeps it compelling, no question.

Ex Machina is dark and seductive. It sticks the audience in a sterile, often claustrophobic setting, and slowly unravels a mystery where each character’s motivations become clear. The whole movie I was waiting for twists that I thought Ex Machina was leading me to, but it turned out the twist was … there isn’t one. You may not be blown away by the ending, but it felt right. Any fan of science fiction should give it a look. Just don’t walk in expecting a masterpiece.

2.  Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Plot Rundown: Thirty years after the fall of the Empire a new threat arises as The First Order, and key information about the location of Luke Skywalker is entrusted with a pilot’s droid who teams up with a renegade stormtrooper and a scavenger with a mysterious past.

Man, it’s so good to have a new Star Wars movie that I care about. It feels damn good.

The first time I watched the film was great, but I think a part of me was tense with the worry of walking into another Phantom Menace. But The Force Awakens proved that it had recaptured the spirit of Star Wars that I remembered growing up. With those concerns out of the way, my second time watching was pure joy. It’s such a fun movie.

The Force Awakens does so many things perfectly. The characters, creatures, weapons, vehicles, costumes, and set pieces all felt true to the Star Wars universe. They were built with love, often as practical effects, and that infused life into the movie. By comparison, the prequels gave us cold green screen settings inhabited by dead-eyed characters delivering wooden dialogue to CGI creatures who weren’t physically there. So it was a great relief to see Episode VII finally showing us interesting characters who could look at the world around them with awe and emotion. Rey, Finn, and Poe are engaging in the world of Star Wars with enthusiasm. Our heroes look like they give a shit! They’re likeable, and they share a sense of wonder with the audience. There’s even humour and charm! You know, the things that have been missing from the series since 1983.

A weird complaint I kept hearing again and again was that The Force Awakens was too similar to the original film. Are you jerks serious? The prequels stepped far away from the familiar and people hated it for not feeling like the Star Wars they knew. Now people are going to gripe about it being too similar? Make up your mind!

The new characters to the series are great, as I mentioned. Daisy Ridley is a standout performance for me, and Rey is a hero you can care about from the first moment. Plus, characters returning from the original trilogy haven’t just been sloppily written into the story. Their actions are meaningful and true to their characters. Han Solo’s story in particular is handled with care, and by the end of the movie the stakes have been raised in a way that fans old and new can appreciate.

I loved Kylo Ren as a villain. He’s powerful but undisciplined, making him all the more dangerous and unpredictable. The First Order may look like the Empire, but they are something quite different. They are desperate to be the Empire, but haven’t earned power by the same means. They are so blinded by the Empire’s legacy that they haven’t learned from their mistakes (eg. another Death Star!?). The First Order is just as reckless in their pursuit for dominance as Kylo himself.

The greatest thing about The Force Awakens is that it has reignited my love of Star Wars, and made me hopeful again for the future of the franchise. I’m already starving for Episode VIII and my head has been spinning with possibilities and theories. It feels like there are so many surprises and adventures ahead, and I can’t fucking wait.

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Plot Rundown: A drifter named Max is captured and ends up joining forces with a rebel named Furiosa who is trying to liberate a group of female prisoners from a tyrant pursuing them through the post apocalyptic wasteland.

Star Wars is a tough one to beat, but Mad Max is another returning franchise that blew my socks clean off. I watched the trailers for Fury Road dozens of times and I could feel in my bones that something incredible was on the horizon. The hype was real, my expectations were through the roof, and it still exceeded those expectations. I walked out of this movie high on adrenaline and completely satisfied. If you haven’t seen it already, stop everything and watch it now. I mean it. Drop your baby, leave work early, jump out of that moving car and go.

I adored how this movie looked. The colour palette is rich and vibrant, and every explosion is a deep fiery red that that looks like hot magic blood. The design of all the characters and their insane vehicles was goddamn incredible. Every time I thought the movie had exhausted its creativity, another slew of freakish bad guys would come riding into action on all manner of motorized death machines. Spikes and blades and claws and guns and fire-shooting guitars. Everywhere you looked there were details of the scavenged pieces used to build these chariots from a desert hell.

The movie’s energy is incredible. The action starts almost immediately and doesn’t let up for the duration of the film. In the trailers you can see a giant sandstorm with lightning, explosions, and cars being thrown around. I had thought... well, that must be a scene from the climax of the film. Nope. It’s first act material in this fucking juggernaut.

So many characters are memorable, they feel almost iconic from the moment you meet them. Immortan Joe, for example, is a ghoulish motherfucker and a great villain. He leads the pursuit to retrieve “his property” and his presence is pure menace. The peril our heroes experience always feels real.

I’d like to address a dumb complaint I’ve heard about Fury Road: that Furiosa outshines Max as the main hero. Look, Max doesn’t have to be at the forefront of the film. He’s just a tough dude who roams the wasteland and gets caught up in other people’s shit. He’s a hero because he’ll fight injustice when he encounters it, but that doesn’t mean he has to be considered the main hero. That’s why he didn’t stick around at the Citadel when they triumph at the end. He’s going to keep moving on because it wasn’t his fight to begin with. Charlize Theron played the part of Furiosa perfectly and was a total badass. She was the hero, and that doesn’t take anything away from the film.

I will never forget the experience of seeing this film at the theatre. It completely knocked my dick in the dirt. I mean that in the best possible way. Fury Road is endlessly inventive and a one of a kind experience. It looks gorgeous, the action is frenetic and creative, and it moves at a pace that I’ve never seen before. It’s George Miller’s epic vision come to life, and he’s delivered a spectacular chase that will leave you breathless. See it.