2015 Year-End Movie Review: David Medsker

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I am not a difficult person to please when it comes to movies. There is a big joke among the film critics in town that we are either film critics or movie reviewers, meaning that film critics dissect everything at a subatomic level, while movie reviewers talk about whether or not they liked the film. I am squarely in the latter category.

This year, however, something was off. There are films getting a ton of film group buzz that I just didn’t get, and even worse, I found myself enjoying what was widely considered to be the worst movie of the year, but more on that later. First up, the movies I liked.

Movies I Liked

1. “SPOTLIGHT”

Nothing comes even close to this one. This expertly-paced account of the Boston Globe’s expose on the Catholic Church’s systematic covering up of abusive priests is top-notch storytelling, one in which the city of Boston becomes not just the backdrop, but the main character.

2. “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE”

Ten bucks says Daniel Craig likes this film more than any of the Bond films he’s done, and with good reason. “Kingsman” is the most entertaining spy movie I’ve ever seen, and it earned this spot on my list for the church scene alone.

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3. “THE REVENANT”

The bear attack. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it. Alejandro Inarritu’s film about life in the Pacific Northwest in the 1820s is every bit as hostile and unforgiving as the landscape in which it is based. There is a scene, though, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character gets his hands on some raw meat (the first he has seen in a while), and he scarfs it down, even though there is a fire burning nearby. Dude, put it on a stick and cook that thing!

4. “GOODNIGHT MOMMY”

This Austrian film about twin boys who believe their mother, who’s recently undergone facial reconstruction surgery, to be an imposter, is deeply unsettling. There are several games being played here, and there is a bliss in not knowing what they are.

5. “BROOKLYN”

What a delightful little film this is. A young Irish girl (Saiorse Ronan) in the early 1950s gets a chance to leave her small Irish village to start a new life in the United States. It’s not a groundbreaking film in any way; it’s just beautifully shot, well-acted, and anyone can relate to it. It is also quite possibly the whitest film I’ve ever seen. I don’t believe that a single person of color makes an appearance onscreen (unless you count Ronan’s love interest, who’s Italian), which is a side statement in and of itself about that time period.

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6. “MAD MAX: FURY ROAD”

This is far, far better than it has a right to be. Thirty years removed from the last “Mad Max” installment, and 17 years removed from directing something not related to animated penguins, director George Miller assembles an embarrassment of riches here. It’s a pity that there isn’t a Best Choreography category at the Academy Awards, because the Polecats would win that hands down.

7. “INSIDE OUT”

I still have issues with how they forced Sadness to continue doing dumb things in order to get the plot to the next level, but putting that aside, this is a sweet, deeply touching movie about the one thing no one ever wants to talk about: how truly heartbreaking it is when one loses his innocence. As an added bonus, the ‘abstract thought’ sequence is genius.

8. “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”

“Mission: Impossible 3” seemed impossible to top at the time, so give Tom Cruise credit (much as we are sometimes loath to do so) for making a fourth and now a fifth installment that rank among the best of the series. Next year will be the 20-year anniversary of the first “Mission: Impossible,” and “Rogue Nation” blows that film and its successor out of the water. The opening scene contains multiple jaw drops, Rebecca Ferguson is a revelation, and the underwater sequence is heart-stopping. We credit Simon Pegg for this rejuvenation, by the way. Things only got better once Cruise had a comic foil. Keep Pegg on speed dial, Tommy. You need him more than you know.

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9. “THE MARTIAN”

Andy Weir’s book is so good that it was admittedly rough to accept the compromises that were made in order to make the film more PG-13-friendly. (Matt Damon’s character swears a lot in the book, as does Kristen Wiig’s character.) As compromises go, though, this is a good one, maintaining the book’s integrity while recognizing that sometimes a little Hollywood pixie dust is required. And the movie’s last scene is up there with the last shot of “Edge of Tomorrow.”

10. “THE BIG SHORT”

This movie could have been a dreadful bore, but give Adam McKay and his screenwriters credit for finding an inventive and entertaining way to explain just how horribly fraudulent the banking and bond rating systems are. They keep mentioning that Christian Bale’s character has a glass eye, though, yet whenever he looks at something, both eyes move. Huh.

Movies I Didn’t Get

For the record, I didn’t dislike any (well, most) of the following films. I just didn’t love them like a lot of my peers did.

“SICARIO”

Benicio Del Toro seems like a lock to win his second Academy Award, and rightfully so. Actually, all three leads in this film (Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin are the others) are fantastic. However, the story “Sicario” tells is deeply cynical and borderline fascist. Worse, it tries to convince you that it’s all for the greater good. This movie is terrifying, but for all the wrong reasons.

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“STEVE JOBS”

This seemed like a dream collaboration, Danny Boyle directing a script written by Aaron Sorkin. And then the credits rolled, and my first thought was, “Man, he was an asshole.” Sorkin’s framing device, which sets the action at three different product launches, did not help matters, either. It turned the entire film into a never-ending exposition. Finally, Seth Rogen, as longtime Apple devotee Steve Wozniak, dared to ask Michael Fassbender’s Jobs what exactly he did. “I play the orchestra,” he replies pretentiously. From that moment, I was squarely on Team Woz, and emotionally checked out for the rest of the film.

“JOY”

I keep seeing the word ‘hilarious’ used to describe this movie. Occasionally amusing, yes, but the only way this movie is hilarious is if you’re a sadist, with a fetish for family discord. Jennifer Lawrence, though – she is just incredible. The world is a slightly better place because she’s in it. But as for this film, the joy begins and ends with the title.

“THE DANISH GIRL”

This is an important story to tell, and the timing couldn’t be better (hello, Kaitlyn Jenner). So why is it that the film seems afraid of its own protagonist? Hopefully, though, the Academy recognizes the work by Alicia Vikander, because she is positively stunning.

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“IT FOLLOWS”

There are lots of things to admire about this film – the mixing up of technological timelines, where people drove ‘50s-era cars, watched ‘60s-era TVs on top of ‘50s-era TVs, and read news and gained flashlight-style light from makeup compacts – and there is even a lot to like about the idea of sexually transmitted diseases being something that would literally come back to haunt and kill you. That is a very ‘70s/‘80s horror movie concept, and I respect it. I just wasn’t scared by it, not for a minute. There is some nice camera work (the slow pans), but there are “Doctor Who” episodes (several, in fact) that are far, far scarier than “It Follows.”

“CAROL”

Being a lesbian in the ‘50s had to have been hard, especially if you have a vengeful ex-husband and a child he can use as a hostage. “Carol” made all of those points abundantly clear. What it didn’t make clear is why I should give a damn about any of these people. Two of the finest actresses working today (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, the latter of whom might have the most perfect face on the planet), utterly wasted.

I did dislike this one, for the record.

The One I’d Like to Take Back

“PIXELS”

For certain movies – comedies in particular – environment is everything. The crowd at the screening for “Pixels” was amped and ready for fun, and that movie KILLED the audience. It was easy to get caught up in their enjoyment, especially when my 8-year-old son is on the edge of his seat and quite literally panicking during the Pac-Man sequence, convinced that Adam Sandler is going to die, in real life, on the movie screen.

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Then we watched it again at home, and the flaws were much, much, more apparent. There was a better movie within its grasp, and with minimal effort. Maybe that’s why everyone hated this movie so much. There is no saving “Jack and Jill,” but this, this had potential, and they pissed it away for scenes where a petulant Sandler makes fun of every one of the advisors of his best friend, who happens to be President of the United States (who does that?). Also, they had Q-Bert speak English, which is unacceptable, and then they asked him to do unspeakable things. I stand by my three-star review with great reluctance and shame.

  

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