2015 Year-End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

6. “THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Quentin Tarantino’s first crack at making a Western may have resulted in the slightly disappointing “Django Unchained,” but his second attempt is a much-improved genre piece that represents his most accomplished work behind the camera to date. While Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins all deliver excellent work, Samuel L. Jackson’s show-stopping turn is the real standout, chewing up scenery with every juicy monologue and sly look. Granted, the first half of the film moves like molasses as Tarantino gets all of his pieces on the board, but the pacing is intentional, slowly building to a boil that spills out into a flurry of blood and violence in the final hour. Though “The Hateful Eight” is filled with the same self-indulgent tendencies that fans have come to expect from the director’s movies, this Agatha Christie-styled whodunit is a lot of fun thanks to a smartly crafted script, some outstanding camerawork that benefits from the 65mm film format, and riotous performances from the ensemble cast.

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7. “BROOKLYN

Director John Crowley’s coming-of-age tale about a young Irish woman immigrating to America in the 1950s is a beautiful little movie that shines in its simplicity. Adapted from Colm Toibin’s novel of the same name, “Brooklyn” adds a layer of emotional complexity to its otherwise familiar love story by centering it on the notion of home, both the one we make and the one we leave behind. Saoirse Ronan, who’s always displayed a maturity beyond her years, is fantastic in her first adult role, radiating with old-school movie star elegance. Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson are also really good as rival love interests on different sides of the Atlantic, but it’s Ronan who gives the film its heart and soul. Gorgeously shot by Yves Bélanger with lush visuals that transport you back to that time period, “Brooklyn” is every bit as sweet as it is heartbreaking – an old-fashioned romance that reminds you what it’s like to fall in love.

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8. “STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is an exciting return to form for the franchise that recaptures the childlike sensation of watching the original trilogy for the first time. It’s thrilling, funny and surprisingly emotional. While the inclusion of familiar faces like Han Solo, Chewbacca and Leia is great fan service that also functions as a passing of the torch to the new characters, director J.J. Abrams never lets you forget that this is their movie. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver all shine in their respective roles, although it’s playful droid BB-8 who ultimately steals the show. If there’s one complaint, it’s that Abrams packs too many characters into the story, resulting in several unanswered questions that are dangled in front of the audience like a carrot on a stick. But those kinds of mysteries have always been a part of the “Star Wars” ethos, and “The Force Awakens” is “Star Wars” to the core, blending the old with the new to produce an excellent continuation of the saga that leaves you wanting more.

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9. “THE REVENANT

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-up to “Birdman” is an unflinchingly brutal tale of survival and revenge that completely immerses you in the rugged conditions of early frontier life. Iñárritu does his best Terrence Malick impression with this gorgeous drama filmed largely in the Canadian wilderness, reteaming with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to deliver more of the same great visuals and signature tracking shots, which amplify the realism of the never-ending suffering that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character endures. The much talked about grizzly bear mauling may be one of the most intense sequences ever captured on film, but it’s only a small piece of the actor’s raw and physically demanding performance. Though Tom Hardy is absolutely electric as the villain, DiCaprio has the tougher role, and he makes you feel every bit of blood-curdling agony. “The Revenant” is the classic battle of man vs. nature at its cruelest, and save for some minor pacing issues, it doesn’t disappoint.

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10. “THE BIG SHORT

The 2008 housing market crash was no joke, which is why it might come as a surprise that “The Big Short” was directed by the same man responsible for goofball comedies like “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights.” But while Adam McKay isn’t the first person you’d think of to direct a movie about the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, he’s produced a darkly humorous examination of a nationwide disaster so ridiculous that it’s difficult not to laugh. McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph do a great job of breaking down the complex financial jargon into something the average moviegoer can understand, turning what could have been a dull and dense PowerPoint presentation on mortgage loans into an entertaining lesson about just how messed up the whole financial crisis really was. McKay’s docudrama approach isn’t entirely successful, but the movie’s flaws are offset by some solid performances and a steady stream of humor that makes the infuriating subject matter a little easier to swallow, even if we seem doomed to repeat those same mistakes again.

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Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)

ANT-MAN
BEASTS OF NO NATION
CREED
EX MACHINA
INSIDE OUT
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE
ROOM
SLOW WEST
THE WALK
WILD TALES

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