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The Fried Critic's Favorite Movies of 2015

2014 was a pretty great year for movies. Some said otherwise, but personally speaking, some of the best movies in years came out two years after the world was supposed to end. And then, three years after our alleged brush with a cataclysmic world-ending event, we struck even more cinematic gold.

Here are some choice cuts of said gold from 2015, in no particular order.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Indicating that the Golden Globes is an awards ceremony that means absolutely nothing (which isn't to say any of the other ones amount to much of anything,) Leonardo DeCaprio grunting at a camera and trying to kill Tom Hardy for over two hours beat out a film that had a man with a flamethrower guitar. A great injustice, no doubt.

There is, of course, a lot more to George Miller's post-apocalyptic opus than that. The cutthroat car acrobatics are arguably the best vehicle stunts ever put on camera. Furiosa is one of cinema's greatest heroines, presenting a rugged, gruff side of Charlize Theron that I hope to see more of. Junkie XL's score is the perfect mixture of modern edge and classic cinematic score virtuosity. And there's more. So, so much more. The cinematography, the minimalist dialogue, Nicholas fucking Hoult... there are dozens upon dozens things I could say about this movie, and I'll probably figure out dozens more to say as the years go by.

But for now, it will suffice to say that Mad Max: Fury Road is a masterpiece beyond anything else that was released in 2015. It's easily one of the top ten, if not top five, best movies I've ever seen.

And it's definitely better than Inarritu's gritty Brother Bear reboot, or whatever the fuck that was supposed to be. 

Terminator Genisys 
This movie already has a bad rap, and critical consensus on it isn't great, to say the very least. But if we're being honest, most people went in with a negative mindset to begin with. All of the advance coverage had the basic gist of, "ugh, God, why is there another Terminator," while proceeding to lavish praise over the dino-dick down the throat that Jurassic World was. 

Screw that. Terminator Genisys was some of the most fun I had at the movies last year. It was clear that Arnold had a blast reprising his role. The narrative did a lot of justice to the original films, while successfully ignoring Salvation and moving the franchise in a bold new direction. There were some stellar action sequences, memorable one-liners, and a late-game twist that made the 10 year-old in me squeal with delight. Oh, and the whole "cloud-based service that kills everyone" was a fun modernization of Skynet.

I don't think I'll ever understand the negativity surrounding Genisys, if I'm being entirely honest. I respect subjective opinions and all, but seriously? Some critics who said Jurassic World was some original, fresh take on the series said that this was an uninspired rehash. Sorry, but it's the other way around. World was an unoriginal garbage heap of bad ideas. Genisys tried new stuff, and most of it, it pulled off. Was some of it convoluted as all hell? Sure. But it at least tried, instead of just resting on the laurels of its predecessors and calling it a day.

Sure, Terminator Genisys wasn't the best movie I saw last year, but in a year of reboots, reimaginings and retreads, it was one of the only ones to actually feel like it was trying to stake out new territory.

Arnold also headbutts a helicopter. So there's that, too.

Inside Out 
Look, let's get the obvious stuff out of the way. Yeah, Inside Out was pretty fucking white and heteronormative. It's a Pixar movie, and while that's pretty much par for the course at this point, it still kind of sucks. I'd like more Pixar movies about people of color. I'd like to see some attempts at including more sexual orientations than "straight."

Does any of that mean, however, that Inside Out is a bad movie? No. Absolutely no. Positively no. Decidedly no. 

It's actually one of the more original ones in their entire ouvre, taking their tried-and-true "what if X thing had feelings" concept (what if toys had feelings, what if cars had feelings, what if old people had feelings, etc.) and taking it to its logical conclusion: what if feelings had feelings? The result is a movie that's touching and hilarious in equal amounts, following all of the emotions we experience on a day-to-day basis as they try to prevent a tween girl from making bad decisions and falling into a deep depression. 

I think what I appreciate most about Inside Out, aside from the lush animation, stellar writing and voicework (which resulted in one of my favorite lines of 2015,) and gut-busting sight gags, was the tool it gave little kids to express their emotions. It gave kids cute little fuzzy dudes that represented the extremes of the emotional spectrum, and in turn, gave them the ability to personify their feelings, explain them to adults, and sort them out in their heads. 

And if you ask me, helping kids sort through their feelings is one of the most important things a work of art can do.

This looked like it was going to be the most cringe-inducing flick of 2015 from the get-go. Actually, wait. No. Pixels did. Regardless, Unfriended looked like an obnoxious gimmick of a movie that would have nothing to say beyond its "OMG IT'S ALL ON A COMPUTER" premise and no cleverness behind its execution.

Shockingly? It's the best horror film to come along in a while, and probably the most effective one I saw last year, if not tied with another one on this list.

"Sacrilege!" you cry, clutching your copies of It Follows and The Babadook close to your chest. But hear me out. In my opinion, the most effective horror movies have a potent message behind them, something that sticks with us long after the credits have rolled and makes us reevaluate our life, sense of morality, so on and so forth. On top of that, the cream of the crop of horror flicks usually have memorable characters that you're either cheering for or are eager to see get their comeuppance, not to mention having terse stories, a palpable threat, and just enough shock value to keep you on the edge of your seat. 

Unfriended had all of those things in spades. I can't necessarily remember all of the characters' names, but I remember their faces, their roles, and even some of their exchanges. I can vividly recollect the entire plot, and can recall being absolutely terrified at some of the shit that unfolded onscreen. Not to mention the entire presentation is absurdly impressive. The fact that the entire movie unfolded inside of a Skype call and through a web browser and still managed to captivate me as much as other, more traditional films released last year is a testament to its quality. 

I know Unfriended and the next flick I'm about to talk about are probably the most unpopular choices I could have picked for the best horror films to come out last year, especially this one. But what can I say? The writers and directors knew the perfect arc of a good horror film like the back of their hand. The actors were convincing as some of the most miserable piece-of-shit teenagers you could ever hope to meet. And the tech-lingo and reactions to what was unfolding actually felt real, lending credence to its admittedly ludicrous concept.

Also? Do yourself a favor and watch it on a computer for a really good (?) time.

The Visit 
Is it cheating if I include a movie I watched a few days into 2016? Wait, what's that? Nobody's reading this? Cool, I'm doing it, then.

M. Night Shyamalan's had a storied career, to say the least. Not only is he responsible for one of the very best films ever made (The Sixth Sense,) but he also steered a beloved children's show into an iceberg with The Last Airbender. His output as of late has been lacking, and people started to wonder if he'd lost his touch.

The truth is, he probably did for a while there, but if The Visit is any indication, he's gone through hell to get it back, because I'll be damned if it wasn't one of the best horror movies I've ever seen. Not only did it manage to be the first "found footage" movie that I didn't get tired of five minutes into it, but it also reminded me why I fell in love with Shyamalan in the first place. The decidedly human storytelling, the ecclectic mixture of tenderness and shock, the potent usage of metaphor... all of the hallmarks of his early work are on display here, and executed perfectly.

Plus, the basic premise is oh-so-wickedly original. It takes the classic dilemma of "kids go visit their grandparents and get creeped out by it" and spins it into a "you think you know what's happening but, surprise, you just shit yourself" sort of yarn that keeps you on the edge of your seat. And it's all wrapped up with a sweet, heartfelt moral that feels charmingly authentic, and not just shoehorned in for posterity's sake.

The Visit is a return to form for one of Hollywood's most interesting creators, and I hope to hell he doesn't go and blow it again.

The Peanuts Movie 
The very idea of a CGI Peanuts flick terrified me. It was even worse when I caught wind that Meagan Trainor was going to have anything to do with it. You see, Charlie Brown and gang mean a great deal to me, and when I was a kid, helped me sort through some pretty rough times. It would suck for the rest of the world if this movie was bad. For me? It would be nothing short of devastation and betrayal. 

Luckily, that bullet was dodged, because The Peanuts Movie made every other animated feature that came out last year look like undercooked child's play, and that's coming from someone who genuinely loved Inside Out. But there's no one way around it: everything about Charlie Brown's latest adventure worked flawlessly. The story was a simple and sweet story of learning to love yourself. The animation had a vibrant, beautiful color palette that lended itself well to the whole fabric aesthetic. The score was jazzy and evocative in the same way that Vince Guaraldi's music was. Everything felt so alive, so subdued, so real... it was authentic Peanuts, through and through, right down to the casting of actual children in the parts of all the characters.

In a year of movies about overcoming patriarchal warlords and destroying cloud computing services gone awry, there was a simple charm about a child's struggle to overcome his self-hatred and find value in his day-to-day life. The Peanuts Movie was cute and touching, and even gut-busting at times, but above all, it was the perfect adaptation of Charles Schulz's work, and a heartfelt love letter to his legacy.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens 
It's not a retread of A New Hope. Please go read Hero With A Thousand Faces and stop crying.

Rey isn't a Mary Sue. Please. Really. Stop crying.

I hope Poe and Finn are gay so people get real mad and don't stop crying. 

Captain Phasma is my new cinematic crush, even if she is a genocidal warmonger. I don't give a fuck, I do what I want. 

Oh, and The Force Awakens was just a hella rad movie with bombast, flair, heart, charm, and everything that makes Star Wars what it is. It makes me happy that a whole generation of little girls get to grow up with Rey, and that a whole generation of young black men get to see a role beyond "thug," "noble, wise man who dies for white man," or "underprivileged man who rises to the top and is also Will Smith." It, along with Mad Max: Fury Road reminded me why I go to the movies, and were easily the two best films I saw this year. 

That said, there's one more little flick that deserves a nod.

This movie never had a chance, did it? It came out the same day as Minions, while Jurassic World was still breaking records and Inside Out was still charming the pants off everyone. Misunderstood by critics and trounced by the competition, the movie that will inevitably become known as "that one Ryan Reynolds did before Deadpool" was quickly pulled from theaters and quietly popped out onto home video.

It's a sad, undignified fate for a movie that actually attempted to make audiences think. While the latter quarter of the film definitely delved into some trope-ish thriller territory, it never stopped trying to make audiences ask questions about the meaning of their existence, the value of human life, the effect affluence has on character, and how Ryan Reynolds still looks so young and chipper when he's pushing 40. 

In all seriousness, Self/Less was one of the only pure sci-fi movies to come out in 2015, and the only one that really lingered with me after the credits rolled (sorry, Ex Machina.) It had an original concept, carried through with it until the very end, and even managed to slip in some tense yet satisfying action. Anchored by some really great performances and a surprising score, Self/Less was arguably the most criminally underrated film of last year, and I sincerely hope it finds a new lease on life on home video.

You know? I usually consider myself a bit of a film snob, but looking at this and last year's picks, they're pretty mainstream, and some of them are even critical disasters. Maybe I'm softening in my ripe old age.

Regardless. With that down, my obligatory year-end lists are done. Stay tuned this week, as I remember David Bowie the only way I know how and keep tearing through Sonic games for your amusement. 

Please leave your comments about my shitty taste in movies below!


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