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Superheroes, killer robots and secret agents get a bad rap from certain corners but here at THR‘s Heat Vision we swim in it.
Yes, superheroes, killer robots and secret agents were responsible for some serious dreck this year.
But 2015 also saw some amazing movies, giving us not only cool worlds and great characters but genuine emotion and unparalleled filmmaking. In fact, a lot of these can easily go toe to toe with any of the so-called awards players.
Below is Heat Vision’s top 10 favorites of the year:
10) The Martian (tie)
Ridley Scott delivered his most satisfyingly complete film in years with this survival adventure of an astronaut stranded on Mars. Matt Damon embodies the movie’s pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps and never-give-up attitude, giving it almost a studio movie of yore quality. It also isn’t afraid to embrace its heart of science nerd-dom.
10) Paddington (tie)
That’s right. Paddington, the live-action adaptation of the stories by Michael Bond about a bear from darkest Peru who finds himself in London, is so amusing, so heartfelt, this decidedly British movie should be an example to studios on how to make an all-ages movie. The movie’s near perfect script deftly gives all its characters their arcs and has the best set-up and pay-offs since Back to the Future.
Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi wrote, directed and starred in this vampire mockumentary that intelligently and freshly tackles the lore by transplanting the classic archetypes, not only into modern day, but into a reality TV trope. The movie has zingers aplenty but it also has unexpected heart.
Who knew that it would be Marvel’s more publicly troubled movie — the one that didn’t have the A-team and was underestimated by some rival studios and fanboys alike — that would end up being the good one? But with a winning Paul Rudd and scene-stealing work by Michael Pena, Ant-Man truly was an underdog tale made with the trademarked Marvel attitude that works best when it has something to prove. The movie harkens back to the summer moviegoing era of the 1980s with its smarmy heroes, focus on families and desire to just have fun.
If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you married the John Wayne classic The Searchers with exploitation classic Cannibal Holocaust, wonder no more. But what could have been something trashy is, in writer-director S. Craig Zahler’s hands, a fun genre mash-up with choice dialogue that is decidedly not for everyone.
Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins are unlikely gunmen who set out to rescue Wilson’s wife, kidnapped by God knows who or what. The interplay between them feels very true to the period while also being fun showcases for the actors (Jenkins is a standout). And when the flint hits the bone, the movie delivers on some truly memorable gory horror.
6) It Follows
The best horror film of the year is friggin‘ creepy, man. David Robert Mitchell goes out of his way to show how mundane the lives and homes of teenagers in Detroit’s suburbs are before introducing us to an unstoppable supernatural force that, passed through sexual contact, also seems initially mundane: it will simply walk, that’s right, walk, after you until it gets you. The tension and paranoia quickly ratchet up and just like our heroine, played by Maika Monroe, you’re bug-eyed with terror. This movie will make you think twice about having sex.
Perhaps no movie in history came as pre-loaded with preconceived notions, standards, hopes and dreams all wrapped up in a gauze of childhood nostalgia as Episode VII of George Lucas’ space fantasy opera. So it’s a testament to all involved, from director J.J. Abrams to the screenwriters to the new generation of Star Wars actors led by Daisy Ridley and co., that the movie not only delivers but keeps delivering on repeat viewings. The movie hits all the boxes but doesn’t feel like it was made by a corporate committee but rather by people who love and respect Lucas’ creations. Sure you can hit the boards to complain and dissect (hey, the less said about the third act the better, I’m not sure I should call this a sequel, a reboot or a remake, and seriously, a third Death Star?!) but Harrison Ford is the best he’s been in almost two decades, the new heroes are fresh and, well, actually heroic, and it’s a universe we can’t wait to return to.
It’s an almost unlikely scenario: almost two decades into a franchise, and five entries in, we get the best one. But Rogue Nation may be the most fun action movie of the year and fun is something most action movies seem to leave out nowadays. Tom Cruise is at his Cruisiest from the moment he runs and jumps on the plane, and with his attitude the audience can’t help but be with him. Armed with a script by Christopher McQuarrie, who also directed, the movie is charming, thrilling and genuinely romantic. The latter is helped by a breakthrough performance by Rebecca Ferguson, playing a double agent, who alongside Cruise’s agent Ethan Hunt as he gets into situations that go from bad to worse to impossible.
3) Ex Machina
A slow burn of a movie, the best speculative sci-fi pic of the year, tells of an employee (Domhnall Gleeson) of a search engine company who thinks he’s won a week with his reclusive genius tech boss (Oscar Isaac). But he’s actually been invited to spend time with a robot (Alicia Vikander) to test whether she is a true artificial intelligence.
The movie slowly ratchets up the creep factor, giving us a sense something is wrong but in the script by Alex Garland, who also makes his directorial debut, you never know whom is playing whom. With its contained sets, the topicality of themes, and gut-wrenching ending (the most haunting of the year), this is best episode of The Twilight Zone never made.
2) Inside Out
The tale of the anthromorphosized emotions inside the head of a girl who is dealing with a hard cross-country move may not sound like cinematic gold but this is, simply put, one of Pixar’s best movies ever. It cannily aims for the heart, soul and funny bone of both children and adults (it may also be the most adult-skewing of Pixar’s movies) and while many Pixar films have deep moments or sequences, this tale of a girl on the verge of adolescence and depression is likely its most consistently deepest.
The best movie of the year, a prequel-slash-reboot of the early ‘80s franchise that stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, breaks the mold in so many ways. In a town obsessed with the next hot young director, it’s made by a filmmaker, George Miller, who is at the top of his game in his early 70s. It handles themes of female empowerment without speeches or signs trumpeting its doing so, making the messages all the more powerful. Miller redefines what a post-apocalyptic society would look like, while at the same time pushing the envelope of what an action movie should feel and sound like — leaving the faces of its audience burnt by hot metal and hot wind.
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