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


2015’s movie theme: The Year of Trying to Bury Your Father.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

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. 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…

And now, on with the countdown:

11. Ant-Man. After weathering so many threats of world domination or destruction, the Marvel Cinematic Universe took a breather and scaled itself back for a more tightly contained story on a personal scale, proving high adventure can work on many volume settings below 11. All you need is an unlikely hero, a woman who punches you every time you fail, a wizened scientist, a plucky Scooby gang, and credible threats from evil movie billionaire #17,451,880. Paul Rudd and pals charm their way through this mostly inconsequential romp in which the best parts were obviously written during Edgar Wright’s shift, but I like to think this proves that maybe there’s hope yet for big-screen transitions for awesome second-tier heroes like Squirrel Girl or Power Pack. Also, this may be the first paragraph in world history written about Ant-Man that didn’t employ a single short/small joke. Wasn’t easy.

10. Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s not the best Marvel movie to date. James Spader’s towering, disgruntled, metallic man-child didn’t exactly match the fearsome foe who frightened me when I was eight. It’s too crowded by half, suffering from Marvel Inc.’s intent to see the entire contents of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe personified as onscreen merchandise by 2020. Its lone character death felt like a tacky contrivance for licensing settlement purposes. Its purported connection to Agents of SHIELD season two was so flimsy that I’ve refused to keep up with season three. It’s nonetheless the kind of exciting classic-superhero movie throwdown Hollywood refused to make in my youth, and it doubles as Joss Whedon’s swan song to the MCU, which could’ve sucked and maybe even died five movies ago without his involvement. Here he proved on his way out the door that he could overcome some of the flaws of the first Avengers film, that they didn’t need to put Loki in every single movie, and that Hawkeye can be a fun action hero if given the right kind of attention.

9. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. SUCK IT, BOND. The year’s best spy flick defied some of its own clichés, staged speedy yet intricate chain-reaction sequences that I can still savor months later, gave Simon Pegg a chance to run loose, and confirmed how much better the fifth film in a series can be when your talent agency doesn’t insist on bringing Jai Courtney to the party.

8. The Martian. If Roland Emmerich had walked into the studio and pitched “Matt Damon, space potato farmer!” this movie would never have happened and they would’ve arrested the pod-person impersonating him. Poor Will Hunting would’ve had too much time on hands and probably wasted it on something far worse, like winning the title role in Mortdecai. Lucky for us and him that Ridley Scott got there first, itching to develop a sleek, compelling sci-fi reality well removed from his other famous, grungier efforts. We held our breath for two hours and watched enraptured as Our Hero navigated the harsh man-vs.-nature conflict with dignity, wit, an A-plus supporting cast, an awful lot of convenient resources for a short stay on a barren planet, and a graduate-school knowledge of every advanced form of science known to mankind. I was pretty okay with this noble ad campaign for spaceflight science in general, though you gotta admit its nigh-impervious frontiersman who never runs out of air or water for months and months on end is arguably the year’s biggest Mary Sue.

7. Brooklyn. Throughout the back half of 2015, a few of the theaters within ten miles of our house have been making a noticeable effort to fill out their screens with a more diverse assortment of smaller fare — zero-budget black films, weirdly stylized Indian pageants, Christian drama-club sermons, and even a few nationally known selections I’d assume would be consigned to the single art-house theater over on the opposite, upscale side of Indianapolis. Hopefully this is a growing trend in 2016, because I appreciated having the chance — on the silver screen, not years behind on Netflix — to see Saoirse Ronan grow older, wiser, and more confident and independent in a world not designed to allow her that chance. I also rooted for her character.

Kylo Ren!

“Dad, where are you? You can’t hide from me. I can hear your wallet growing.”

6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Once upon a time I had online friends who enjoyed discussing a wide variety of topics. And then this very good film, which was quite a relief on many levels, came along and wiped away their memories of the Star Wars prequels and all other discussion topics. I wrote about it more than once myself, but now whenever I check in with them, they’re all STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS and I cannot tell you how thoroughly sick I am of talking Star Wars. Look, it was a stellar comeback, but it doesn’t rule my life. I’m moving on now unless a new joke comes to mind, and it would have to be the Best Star Wars Joke of the Year. It would have to be, like, ten times more fascinating than that Emo Kylo Ren guy currently reigning over all of Twitter.

5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens in IMAX 3-D. Edging out the 2-D version by the narrowest of maneuvers because the effects really make the dogfight through the Star Destroyer husk pop. I would’ve ranked it even higher if the full 136-minute running time had taken up the entire height of our IMAX screen — an actual, full-scale IMAX screen, not one of those comparatively dinky “Lie-MAX” screens. I saw Gravity on one of those, but when you’ve seen films at a real IMAX, you can tell the difference unless you’re terrible at geometry.

Immortan Joe!


4. Mad Max: Fury Road. All the 12,000-horsepower action of a Fast and the Furious film, none of the skeevy dancer-ogling guilt. Academy Award Winner Charlize Theron and her li’l buddy Silent Bane stormed the American movie scene and crushed every piece of conventional filmmaker wisdom in their path with a guitar-shaped sledgehammer. The year’s best synthesis of spectacle and subtext hopefully heralds a more unpredictable cinematic playing field in our future and not just a thousand dimwitted Death Race clones.


Sometimes it’s not even about your father. Sometimes it’s a “Father” perverting the will of The Father.

3. Spotlight. A sobering, disturbing reminder that while other universes have their leering despots and cosmic bullies to tend to, we have entire communities right here in the normal world who need heroes to speak up and fight for them. Crusading journalists seem as much of an endangered species in movies as they are in real life, but the passionate ensemble of Keaton, McAdams, Schreiber, Tucci, Slattery, James, and a particularly outspoken Mark Ruffalo take us back to a dark time when chasing down hard facts, untangling webs of lies, piecing together terrible truths, and publishing the resulting testimonies in the face of entrenched opposition was the only viable way to stop cycles of abuse and save scores of innocent victims from an establishment left unchecked and imbalanced. The discovery process itself is as fascinating as the reasons for it are despicable.


“Don’t look at me. My dad was buried when I got here. That legacy, though…”

2. Creed. It’s an above-average boxing movie, a way-above-average sequel in a series that’ll celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2016, another home run for Michael B. Jordan, a rare acting showcase for Stallone, and a potent catharsis for millions of us left-behind children who grew up without active fathers and asked ourselves every single day if we’re even supposed to be here. Much as I love what director Ryan Coogler has accomplished both here and in his previous achievement, 2013’s Fruitvale Station, if his next film is a Disney merchandising machine I promise I shall have the most disappointed scowl in movie-fan history.

Inside Out!

“…what. Why is everyone looking at me. What did I do?”

1. Inside Out. Until I sat down to begin these two entries, I honestly hadn’t noticed that only one of the twenty-one films on my list is animated. Since June, though, I’ve been confident it would remain the year’s best film on my list — a masterfully considered, frequently hilarious, loving deconstruction of our basic emotions, their complex interactions, the understated surface responses that mask them all, and the world of stimuli that can reconfirm their vibes or have them at each other’s figurative throats. Even after a second showing, I left the theater emotionally wrecked, picking apart the way my own brain works and trying to figure out just how I’m ruled by the five avatars of feels. This, I think, is why I’ve been avoiding last November’s The Good Dinosaur these past two months: I don’t want to be reminded that Pixar today is either able or willing to produce anything less perfect and transformative than Inside Out.

…so that was my 2015 at the movies. Funny how so many of these converged in the same year my absentee father passed away. Here’s hoping 2016 has great new works and surprises in store for us, including maybe one film with an actual, decent father in it, not just father figures and daddy issues.

(I know, I know. I can dream.)

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