2015 year in review: Strong cinematography and adaptations become a common theme

THE BOX OFFICE AWAKENS – 2015 produced some of the highest-grossing movies of all time, including ‘Jurassic World,’ ‘Furious 7,’ ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ ‘Minions’ and ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron.’

In the realm of film, 2015 was a year full of the expected. There were movies on various ends of the industry spectrum, but all seemed to fulfill what they needed to fulfill. Whether they were crowd-pleasers or the cerebral indie film, most were done adequately well, but not without standouts. Certain experiences in the theater this past year remind me why we still go to the movies: the cultural and communal aspect of it all, tied with the realization that seeing movies on a big screen is still an experience.

 I suppose 2015 should be known as a director’s year. So many great visions were adapted or dreamt up in the hands of skilled directors that made unforgettably distinct movies. There were movies made by legendary, respected directors while some newcomers and newly familiar filmmakers took the helm behind some of the most memorable films in 2015. Cinematographers also had a marked year. Movies were often beautiful, and some from last year are among the best looking I’ve seen. Even if some films didn’t please their audiences, it would be hard to deny the visual allure on screen.

With the passing of time, so comes the task of listing my favorite films released in 2015. Granted, I missed a few I wanted to see, but they won’t put a damper on the list. These are largely great films and really only a fraction of what I saw last year. In no order, here are a few of my favorite films of 2015.

Mad Max: Fury Road – Sometimes there needs to be a high voltage jolt of joy to the brain, and Mad Max: Fury Road most certainly delivered it to pretty much everyone. No movie in recent memory has simply come out in such audacious terms; the speed of it all and the audacity to actually even release another one of these after so long, speaks to the commitment of director George Miller. Miller’s crazy, frenetic world doesn’t care if you can’t keep up with all the inside references to its lore and machinations: it really wants you to have a great time with nonstop psychotic characters driving and fighting in a weird, beautifully filmed and realized wasteland.

The Big Short – While it does seem like an economics lesson, The Big Short is leagues beyond that. Stylized by brilliant editing, Adam McKay directs an obviously talented cast including involved performances from Christian Bale and Steve Carell in this, at times, unbelievable true story about the financial collapse of 2008. The film is not intrinsically happy, but McKay manages to create an expert duality of anger and comedy. Laughing at the characters then uncovering the hard truth is the thrill of The Big Short. You learn, but then become angry at what that knowledge helps you understand. That process enthralls you over its runtime, until the film ends and the thought of “I can’t believe it” rushes all over your brain.

Inside Out – Pixar is… back? After a string of misses from the legendary animation studio comes this astoundingly smart and genuinely heartwarming comedy. The foundation is laid by the hilarious voice work by Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, and Phyllis Smith. It was a reminder of how clever Pixar’s films are and how Pixar can instill magic moments and characters into the pantheon of modern animation. By exploring the emotions themselves, Pixar already has sketches for these characters, but by the end the audience truly sees them as living, breathing things that carry out the film’s most emotional facets. The script is equally clever, exploring the density of human emotion in the simplest way possible, enlisting the brain as a visual marvel full of its own striking areas and lands.

The Hateful Eight – Being able to see a Tarantino film in 70mm was reason enough to remember the experience, but the lingering thoughts I had on The Hateful Eight usually recalled its ability to build and actually, truly pay off. What starts out as a languid Western road trip slowly morphs into a terrifying stage play of deceit and murder mystery; Tarantino enlists his trademark zany darkness into the script with characters brought to life by veteran actors chewing scenery while also pledging sincerity to their roles. Though its central action takes its time to get started, once it does, all bets are off and Tarantino’s magic works more than most of his intentionally slow works.

The Revenant – As far as a theater experience, The Revenant is amongst the strongest I had in 2015. The film itself is light on plot, but the air of it all, the incredible cinematography that envelops you in a blanket of cold and grime, the masterful camera work, and the realistic intensity all work to put the viewer inside the movie. Although the movie aims to make you feel and think, the latter is poorly done, and what really takes place is a surrender to your surroundings. It’s a bloody, unrelenting story about revenge done in arguably the best way possible.

The list was far beyond what I wrote about above. In terms of honorable mentions, or even a larger list, I’d include: Sicario, The End of The Tour, Macbeth, The Martian and Ex Machina. These were all simply great and worth your time.

Whatever kind of movie you like, there is something exceptional from that genre in 2015. It was a strong, highly visual year overall, filled with originality and an approach to adapting books to screen in a unique and refreshing way. Here’s to hoping 2016 continues the trend of great filmmakers supplying their talents in the best way possible, while newcomers and smaller films only continue to grow.