My 2015 at the Movies, Part 1 of 2: The Year’s Least Best

Jai Courtney!

Jai Courtney comin’ up on loot at the thrift shop while waiting for a call back from the producers of Lethal Weapon 5.

Once again it’s National List Month, when all of Hollywood runs down to Hallmark and buys “For Your Consideration” cards to mail out to their fifty thousand closest friends. Meanwhile on the internet, where no one sends us free stuff to buy our love, we dedicated theater-goers are forced to make up our own minds, revisit our opinions, and vote with our bullet points. It’s just this fun thing some of us love doing even though the rules are made up and the points don’t matter.

I saw twenty-six films in theaters in 2015, but five were Best Picture nominees released in 2014 and therefore disqualified from this list, even though two of them amazed me, because I’m an unreasonable stickler about dates. Also disqualified are a few 2015 indie releases I watched via the graces of Netflix as well as one recent sci-fi film I caught on Blu-ray last night. Of the remaining 21 contenders, one was a reboot, ten were sequels or continuations of long-running series, and one was arguably both depending on how you feel about time travel consequences. Call it a “bootquel”, I guess.

Links to past reviews and thoughts are provided for historical reference. And now, on with the lower half of the countdown:

21. The Hateful Eight. Among all the other reasons already plainly stated, playing sexual assault for black-humor yuks really doesn’t work for me, and I pray it never will.

20. Terminator: Genisys. Meet the bootquel. Studio execs looked at the box office disappointment of Terminator Salvation and assumed its worst defect was the lack of Arnold Schwarzenegger. They okayed a script with more borrowed dialogue than new, and the few new lines they added were far too weak to Scotch-tape its cause-and-effect twaddle together. They wasted the time and talents of a Doctor, a queen of dragons, Mister Whiplash, and the laidback torturer from Zero Dark Thirty. They convinced themselves Jai Courtney should share no blame for the awfulness of A Good Day to Die Hard. They were somehow content to release a two-hour adaptation of someone’s “Dude, remember these cool ’80s movie parts?” Facebook list. And they proved nostalgia is a drug that can and sometimes should be kicked.

19. Chappie. Movies designed as vehicles for musicians fail big nine times out of ten. In the dustbin that contains Xanadu, Glitter, Honey, and From Justin to Kelly, add this ill-conceived showcase for South Africa’s Die Antwoord, an oddball glam-hop duo convinced that if PSY can make it big in America, anyone can. The studio opted to downplay their antics in the trailers and tried selling us on the wistful image of a simpleton robot wearing ’80s-rapper chains, running from The MAN, and ostensibly symbolizing Big Ideas in a big mean world. Instead we got baited-‘n’-switched for the leaden tale of how Number Five from Short Circuit replaced his treads with legs, became the world’s biggest Die Antwoord fan, and learned a very special lesson about how gunfire makes you a super cool dude.


If I were the best thing about a movie but weren’t allowed to tell anyone, I’d be pretty ticked off too.

18. Tomorrowland. Because one day every theme park ride will have been adapted into a major motion picture. If I might add one to the suggestion box, the Indiana State Fair used to have this glass/mirror fun-house maze that I ran through so many times, I had the pattern memorized for years. That might make a keen project for some enterprising Saw sequel director. Until that day comes, we’ll have to settle for a grumpy George Clooney, a puzzled dreamer, and a secret young-lady hero who appeared in not a single trailer taking us on an expensively produced tour of an otherdimensional future suburb where all the best and brightest scientists have moved off Earth because it’s a messy, ungrateful neighborhood that doesn’t get them and ought to choke on its own ignorance while they live the high life in their shiny gated community. My least favorite Brad Bird film to date meandered, preened, and hit all my wrong buttons like a brat pranking other riders on an elevator.

17. Fantastic Four. Faint flickers of the former career of director Josh Trank are still visible in its most inventive and Cronenbergian parts, but I felt too many awkward minutes ticking away while watching five young, otherwise celebrated actors work through the stilted, piecemeal script with the kind of joy and camaraderie usually reserved for eighth-grade Social Studies group projects. And just when you think the best part is about to begin, down comes the gloomy “ONE YEAR LATER” card that announces the final reel was doused in kerosene and set on fire, so instead please enjoy this extended YouTube skit called “What if Roger Corman had won the 1989 Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes?”

Jupiter Ascending!

Could another Oscar be in young Stephen Hawking’s future?

16. Jupiter Ascending. Pointy-eared Channing Tatum fighting CG marauders on hoverskates over Chicago and reciting silly science fiction proper nouns with nigh-Shakespearean gravitas. Academy Award Winner Eddie Redmayne summoning the hamminess and courage of a thousand dead off-off-off-Broadway thespians. Far more outlandish upscale fashions than The Force Awakens. Mila Kunis playing a damsel in distress who ultimately finds a happy ending in cleaning bathrooms. Sean Bean refusing to do anything he’s normally hired to do. Technically it was all kinds of terrible, but the more I think about it, the more I want to see it again. Five years from now I won’t be surprised if this becomes one of those flicks I’ve revisited multiple times through accidental channel-flipping.

15. Jurassic World. I cannot deny the sheer awesomeness of the T-Rex/raptor team-up that someone had probably been dreaming about for years, but that was maybe a single minute of an otherwise rote rehash of previous dinosaur rampages. My biggest disappointment was seeing Chris Pratt confined inside the Generic Action Hero mold without permission to turn on any of his usual wit and charm for more than thirty seconds total. Heaven forbid he become more interesting to viewers than the Jurassic World merchandise we’re meant to go buy.

14. Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II. At last, the series is finished on a humdrum note and now we can all move on to the next young-adult adaptation smash, whatever that might be. Without any teens or preteens in our house anymore, I have no idea what other series I’m supposed to wish for Hollywood to co-opt. My son was a big fan of that other big Suzanne Collins concept, The Underland Chronicles. He’s 21 now, but can they do those next anyway? Or could they maybe rework Amelia Bedelia into a Lord of the Rings pastiche? Those are still like printing money, right? What were we talking about?

San Andreas!

The Rock and Carla Gugino are an ex-couple, but of course disaster cures that. I like to imagine a better version in which Gugino shouts here, “STOP TAKING MY HAND!”

13. San Andreas. Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are. I expected low-budget Syfy tedium; I got a few extra dollars’ worth of effects, some decent practical stunts amid the CG spectacles, a fairly fake tracking-shot sequence that scored triple bonus points just for trying, The Rock relishing an old-fashioned man’s-man role while giving Carla Gugino chances to one-up him, and several astonishing moments in which slightly-better-than-stock characters come thiiiis close to doing something stupid because the plot asked it, only to have them refuse and do something smarter instead. It’s a popcorn film through and through, but someone went to the trouble of sprinkling extra cheese on its popcorn — like, name-brand cheese, even, not the sticky, powdery crap that comes with dollar-store macaroni.

12. Spectre. A lot of fans of classic James Bond who hated the nuance and feels of Skyfall probably found this return-to-form Amazing Race send-up the most Bondiest Bond film that ever did Bond. Unfortunately for me, Skyfall‘s my favorite among the admittedly few Bond films I’ve seen, and Spectre is no Skyfall. To its credit, it had a strong opening sequence and Christoph Waltz’ understated performance going for it, and it helps that I haven’t seen enough classic Bond films to build up resentment for his stalest tropes. Yet.

To be concluded!

9 responses

  1. I skipped most of these for the reasons you cited above–I spend my movie money carefully. The inclusion of Hateful Eight feels gratuitous, and your glib critique is misleading: there was no sexual assault in this film. There was violence against women, but then, there was violence against everyone. I’ve long contended that Tarantino uses extreme, exagerated violence as a sort of crucible–it’s so horrible, sometimes, that one can’t help but laugh, and the moment you laugh is the moment you become complicit in the cruelty that humans rain down on each other as a matter of course. The irony of making such a gloriously beautiful movie, populated by such a collection of sociopaths and psychopaths, is both brilliant and, I think, artfully diabolical. Tarantino is an evil genius hiding behind a prankster’s mask. This film will be remembered long after most of the year’s “respectable” works have taken their place on a dusty shelf.


    • I’ll agree it was memorable and had many scenes that rank among his best works. I expect to see many more conversations about it when Oscar season kicks off next Thursday. But by “sexual assault” I’m referring to the flashback with Bruce Dern’s son. It’s one of the very textbook definitions, and the kind of content I usually take precautions to avoid at any and all costs. Despite that, in this case I avoided all spoilers because a key part of the Tarantino experience is how he’s a maestro of game-changing surprises. On the other hand, I once again and continually forget how far he’s capable of pushing boundaries. That’s my own fault for going in on a movie when I wasn’t 100%.

      (It’s for this same reason that, after a few avid viewings in my youth, I’m now at a point in my life where I can’t really return to Pulp Fiction again either, among a few others.)

      I actually had this ranked higher on my list at first, but as I was writing this entry and reliving each potential “worst film” I kept pausing and asking myself the hard question, “How is this worse than watching sexual assault?” After several tries to come up with a cogent response for any of them, even from a devil’s advocate standpoint, I decided my conscience is ultimately more important than my entertainment opinions, and this is where I had to land, even if it leaves me siding with the uncool Tomatometer minority.


  2. Isn’t the 5th Wave the next big YA thing?

    I haven’t watched the Hunger Games movies, but I did finally read the rest of the books. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


    • I’ve seen the 5th Wave trailer, but didn’t know it was a book series. NOW I get it. Figures.

      I liked the Hunger Games books better than the movies, mostly because the unreliable-narrator device works much better in print. That sourpuss Katniss is almost as grating as Holden Caulfield at times, and yet unknowingly leaves subtle hints about what others around her are really thinking and doing, even if she doesn’t get them. The books are thoughtful on a few levels, except for the final postscript that was a generic anticlimax.

      By contrast, as the film series gets further in, Katniss gets glummer, more unresponsive, and not as inviting to root for. What’s supposed to seem like repressed PTSD feels more like the boredom of a starlet itching to fulfill her contract…up until one scene near the end where she finally lets it all out and reminds us what she can do when a director asks the right questions. The films are louder and shinier, but they scrubbed most of my favorite nuances.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I saw Terminator, the last of the hunger games and Jurassic park. I found the first to be funny in a way but a rehash of the first one, the second followed the book ok, and the last to be the best of the three, though not a fan of the group. Not looking too good for what is coming up for 2016, too many redos of old stories


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