by Noel T. Manning II
“Antman” was incredibly entertaining and offered a pleasant departure from the over saturated superhero film genre. I found myself laughing throughout the film, and was impressed by the honest humor, well-cast characters, and surprising script. For a film that had been on the drawing board for a number of years, my expectations were quite low. But Marvel found a way to reintroduce pure fun into a genre that is sometimes finding itself floating in a sea of mediocrity. There is no film that I enjoyed more during the summer of 2015.
Honorable Mention: “Grandma”
“Bone Tomahawk” is a character-driven horror/western with a great cast, wonderful script and a unique abduction tale from first time feature film director S. Craig Zahler. This is a must-see film for anyone searching for a witty, genre-bending tale of mystery, revenge, and imagination.
Honorable Mention: “It Follows”
“Inside Out” is one of Pixar’s best (and that is saying quite a bit). It offers an incredibly creative look at the power of emotions, and the fragile balancing act that occurs within our minds on a daily basis. The wonderful screenplay provides fun and touching moments that transports viewers into the depths of what we think and how we feel. It also examines the hurdles we must overcome when challenges and conflicts of the mind arise. “Inside Out” also has amazing voice talent, intoxicating animation, and fascinating characters.
Best Action Film
“Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation” brought Tom Cruise to the big screen for the fifth time as spy Ethan Hunt. With more intense action sequences, breath-taking stunt choreography, and interesting storyline, I found myself asking when the next installment will be in theatres. This was action (and espionage) at its finest.
Honorable Mention: “Furious 7”
In “The Martian” Ridley Scott directs this great Matt Damon vehicle that combines “Apollo 13,” “Cast Away,” and “MacGyver.” When astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) is left for dead on Mars, he must discover how to survive on his own in a hostile environment where the smallest of mistakes can cost him his life. It is the story of perseverance, human will, and ingenuity. As rich as the story is here, the set design, sound mix, casting, and visual design make this a complete film. This film transcends science fiction.
It is rare that a movie beckons me to the theatre for multiple viewings, but director J.J. Abrams found a way. He brought to the screen something familiar, yet new in the absolutely fantastic “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” With storylines, scenes, and concepts borrowed from the original trilogy, I found myself feeling as if I was in a comfortable pair of jeans that somehow felt fresh and clean at the same time. It is unique when I am so taken by a film-going experience, that I immediately want to view it again … and again … and again. But that is exactly what happened with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” With wonderfully written dialogue, perfect locations, engaging characters (old and new), and award-caliber special effects and musical score, this film was my favorite movie-going experience of the year.
Honorable mention: “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Surprise of the Year
When I first heard at the end of 2014, that the “Rocky” film franchise was getting another installment, I was angered, frustrated, and a bit saddened that the series was being given extended life support. In 2006, “Rocky Balboa” seemed to be a fitting final chapter to this legendary boxing saga, and I felt that the character had stepped into the ring (and on screen for a final time), and I was happy with the way it ended. So you can understand my trepidation when I saw that Rocky was coming back. But, after reading the script concept for “Creed,” I had hope. When I finally got the opportunity to screen this film I was blown away by the new approach to the nearly 40-year old franchise. With wonderful acting by Michael B. Jordan (Adonis Creed), and an Oscar-caliber performance by Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), this film offers amazing family drama, excellent fight choreography, and an enchanting story of the ultimate battle of man vs. self. And let me say it now, I’d be interested to see what a Creed 2 script would look like.
Disappointment of the Year
When I typically mention names like Jennifer Lawrence, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, David O. Russell, Isabella Rossellini, Cameron Crowe, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, James McAvoy, and the Human Torch – it is usually is a good thing. But this is not the case this year. These individuals are main ingredients to my biggest disappointments of 2015. Five films have vied for the coveted dud of the year, and I’m honoring each of them with the dishonor.
“The Fantastic Four” – A fantastic chance for a reboot was damaged by a lack of follow through. It offered a welcomed and different take on the origin story for these superheroes, and provided a wonderful back story for the characters, but at the midway point the film fell completely apart, and was so convoluted, that it never found its way back. Promises unfulfilled and franchise destroying are a couple of descriptors for this flick.
“Victor Frankenstein” – Told from Igor’s point of view, director Paul McGuigan couldn’t find the proper steering wheel needed to navigate Mary Shelly’s 200-year old story. It suffered from lack of cohesiveness, murky design, and way too much of everything else.
“Aloha” – This Hawaiian-based film offers confusion, forced character chemistry, and not enough energy to sustain the 105-minute running
time. Here’s to hoping Cameron Crowe’s next project will be closer to the beauty of “Almost Famous” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
“Joy” – For a film that had the potential of being one of the year’s best, I found the film lacked direction, and purpose. I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a comedy, a drama, or what. ”Joy” felt like three different films, all with different directors. There is no excuse for a film with this caliber of talent to end up being what my mother-in-law called “The worst film of the year.” While I don’t think it was quite that bad, it is definitely one of the biggest failures of 2015 for me.
“Manglehorn” – This Al Pacino-led vehicle is a mangled mess (much like his character’s romantic relationships in the film), and it is so sluggish that I found myself looking at my watch at least 5 times throughout this 1 hour 37 minute film.
The story of the mental illness and untamed musical brilliance of Beach Boy legend Brian Wilson, “Love and Mercy” is an absolutely intense love story with incredible acting by Paul Dano, John Cusack, Paul Giamatti, and Elizabeth Banks. It was a flawless tale of a man searching for the best of himself, while attempting to overcome the hurdles of his own mind (while others conspire to take advantage of those very challenges). A wonderful soundtrack is complimented by vivid period set pieces, visual wonders, and an enthralling narrative that takes a different approach to the bio-pic genre. It is truly a loving (and nearly perfect) tribute to the artistic genius behind the best of the “Beach Boys.”
Amy Winehouse was this amazing talent with the type of voice that I could listen to forever and a day. Her struggle between artistry and celebrity and the excesses that followed her lifestyle met with tragic ends when the 27 year-old singer lost the battle with alcohol abuse. In the documentary “Amy” we get a personal view into the life, the love, and the music of the multi-Grammy award-winning artist. It is a compelling, haunting, and powerful portrait of a monumental singer who allowed fame to control her life. This incredible documentary is a true work of art.
Honorable Mention: “Finders Keepers”