Well, the end of the year is finally upon us, and that means it's time for me to recap the best of the year so you'll have something to watch instead of Ryan Seacrest on New Years. I have carefully selected my top five favorite films of the year and ranked them according to highly subjective criteria. And to clear things up right away, Star Wars is not on this list, though it made the number six spot. It was narrowly beaten out by...
Call this a case of my inner biased James Bond fanboy wanting his own way. This film has received kind of a lot of hate due to its plotting, but one can't really evaluate a Bond based on its plot, because they all have basically the same level of believability. What it does give us is a stylish, dangerous, and appropriately woman-izing spy fantasy that reintroduces the series' most wonderful baddie. Yes, the way he is revealed bugged me, and yes, Sam Smith's "song" is worse than salt and vinegar chips on a canker. But those deficiencies can't defeat my irrational love of these movies, which is, I suppose, what it means to be a fan. I won't judge you if you won't judge me.
This is not your Kenneth Branagh-issue Shakespeare, but it is also not as revisionist as its ultra-stylized visuals suggest. The play is plunged into a period in Scotland where pagan superstition shares the bench with Christianity and bathing is not a concept. Leads Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender are a grim delight, and a supporting cast featuring Professor Lupin rounds out a very introspective take on the Bard's grim play. The photography and immaculate composition often evoke a graphic novel-ish aesthetic which is occasionally a little distracting, but it also provides contrasting stimulus during soliloquies that other cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare lack. Check it out.
3. Inside Out
As the one film on this list that I know all of you have seen, I don't know that I need to say much by way of praise. But I love it as an example of the kind of wonderful thing that can be accomplished in the world of animation, when those in charge are not busy trying to figure out ways to make half a billion dollars on the backs of one-joke side characters. Ahem... Anyway, this film was a delight, somehow maintaining its light heart through some surprisingly complex emotional material that breaks with the black-and-white happily-ever-after doctrine of any mainstream animated feature ever released. (Okay, except Toy Story 3.) And those scenes during the credits, though.
2. Slow West
Like I have said before, Slow West is the neo-western fairy tale lovechild of Shakespeare, the Coens, and Frederico Fellini, and I loved every minute of it. It is, well, kind of slow, moving between detached scenes in a pretty observational way, but patches of brutish violence or emotional realization punctuate it throughout. Of those on this list, this is the film you probably have heard the least about, so I highly suggest going and renting it, like tonight. It is the kind of unexpected delight you only get a few of each year, and in another year would have been sitting at the top of this list. But what could possibly have topped such a wonderful little thing?
1. Mad Max: Fury Road, duh
I want to be careful not to wax too hyperbolic here, but Mad Max: Fury Road is as close to a perfect a movie as they come. It is, first of all, an absolute riot: an exhilarating, crazy, technically exquisite thrill ride. It also functions as the best, most concise symbol of the terror of the unbridled masculinism in our culture. It is the perfect marriage of pure cinematic showmanship and timely, uncompromising, but undidactic commentary on what we live with today. It is the result of of years of work by masters at the top of their game, visual storytelling the way it ought to be. And if you don't like it, our relationship may never recover. There, I said it.
This brings us to the real reason you're reading, to find out what I really didn't like. So here we go:
My issues with this movie are many and varied, but let's start off by saying that it just wasn't good, like in any way. There is not much to be entertained by in terms of character, plot, or action. In fact, it leaves mostly a bad taste in the mouth due to its bizarre sexism and constant "hey, remember this?" moments. I say that it is worse than what you think of as other "bad" movies because it is so intent on being as good and important as its older brother, and is so inexplicably popular. Bad movies usually have the decency to at least not make money.
It is what others more clever than I have termed a "legacy-quel:" a narratively unnecessary sequel that relies more upon nostalgia than novelty in order to bring in an audience. Here we see recycled fan-favorite sets, props, and animated characters that make us think of watching Jurassic Park on VHS after school. These winky moments trick us into thinking we like the movie, when really there are no likable characters or memorable sequences, only lots of cartoon dinosaurs and product placement. Other legacy-quels of note this year include Terminator: Genisys and, yes, Star Wars. Almost all of Star Wars. But what about Mad Max, you say. It is not, since it does not pander for attention by throwing in references to Bartertown or Toecutter. It supplies new material with the tools provided by its world. A fine line, but one that Jurassic World crosses repeatedly and unenjoyably.
But with all of the cinematic good out there, we needn't bother with the rubbish. And you needn't even bother with the rantings of this writer, for if you have enjoyed any movie, that ought to be good enough, and I can and should have nothing to say against it. Just please enjoy movies next year responsibly.
There's no need to address the hype or response to this film, so let's just jump right in. Be advised that this will be a candid discussion you might not want to participate in if you haven't seen the film.
First, I say that The Force Awakens is a good movie. It is fun and exciting and pretty much what you would hope for. I think it strikes the right kind of tonal note for fans of pretty much any level of intensity, and may even encourage a different stylistic approach to large fantasy tentpoles, which I'd be just fine with.
I say that because the film's greatest strength is its wonderful design. There is just something lovely about real props and creatures and robots and stuff in a movie like this. Even if you know it's just a guy in suit or an overlarge puppet. I don't know that any one thing could have tied this movie to its ancestors better than this kind of stylistic approach. Using sub-par 21st century CG visual effects is one large reason why movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Terminator: Genisys are no where near as cool as what came before. That, and, well, crappy storytelling. But whatever.
All of this practical design makes for an unartificially fun viewing experience, which is what a movie like this should be first and foremost. Adding to that fun is the delightful dialog by master Lawrence Kasdan. He gets playful intergender banter like no one else in the business. Where lesser writers opt for casual misogyny or unfounded competition, he goes for good-natured, witty word sparring. He is also the reason geriatric Han Solo works, which was my single greatest fear going in. So wherever this film works, thank the design team and Mr Kasdan.
And of course, Daisy Ridley. I mean seriously.
Now, although I have said it is a good movie, it is not a really good movie. One mustn't confuse exhilaration leaving the theatre for witnessing a marvel. For, as delightful as many of its elements are, the movie suffers from one kind of large problem: it's not really very complete. It functions like a really fun first act. Which, you say, it is, since it's a trilogy. But I think that it still ought to be complete in itself, with more complete character arcs and resolutions. Instead I almost get the feeling of being played, of being put off until the real movie comes out in a few years and then the world explodes out of its wonderfulness. But what else could we expect from the people who bring us a certain other "cinematic universe."
I don't want to sound like a whiner, but I really think we should at least consider the film's structural issues while heaping praise upon it. Because of how it is structured, none of the characters really have any significant development, and therefore problems kind of just solve themselves, leaving the characters essentially where they were. Take Rey. She starts off as determined and competent, and she stays that way. The one difference is that she can Force by the end, something that took Luke two masters and three movies to do but which she teaches herself in an afternoon to get out of a plot corner. The effect this change has on her as a character is not seen. It is perhaps hinted at in her journey to Luke, but something that momentous should be concluded better. Meanwhile, no other character is given any kind of resolution, either, or even time to process or emote about the death of the series' most beloved character. I guess we'll just have to wait until next time.
Of course you'll say that The Empire Strikes Back ends like that, too. Which it does. But it is the middle chapter, not the first. With it, we have already been through like five hours of story together, seen growth, setback, triumph, and failure, and know the characters well. I do not think we know any of our new characters well enough at the end of The Force Awakens or have seen them do enough to leave them as we do. It may end up being a gutsy, satisfying way of structuring the new trilogy. But until it can be enjoyed as a whole several years from now, it is an incomplete and narratively weak chunk of story.
So I say go and see it and enjoy the heck out of it, because it is an undeniably fun ride. Its enjoyability largely outweighs its dubious structure (which will be forgotten once everyone owns all three anyway) but that does keep it from being great.
Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens features Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaacs, Domhnall Gleeson, and all your old favorites, and is rated PG-13 for general Star Warsing.
Written by Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams, and Michael Arndt
Directed by JJ Abrams
by Chase Harrison