Entertainment Magazine

Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015

Posted on the 01 January 2016 by Christopher Saunders
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 20152015! What a shitty year, cinematically and otherwise - I'm glad it's over. I didn't watch as many films as usual, but I managed enough to scrape together our annual list. For rules and regulations, see my articles for 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The Worst:
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015This year, I'll reverse our usual order and start with the worst. I'm declaring Jud Suss ineligible because none of the other films contributed to a genocide. Which doesn't make them any easier to watch.
10. Paper Towns (2015, Jake Schreier)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015Please let's not make John Green adaptations annual events. I gave The Fault In Our Stars a pass, but this charmless would-be weepy doesn't work on any level. Here's an aimless story turning its wheels for two hours, without giving us a plot, relatable characters or any reason to care. Hopefully we won't be seeing An Abundance of Katherines any time soon.
9. Behold a Pale Horse (1964, Fred Zinnemann)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015Even great directors strike out sometimes. Fred Zinnemann can't make heads or tales of this stillborn thriller, where Gregory Peck glowers, Anthony Quinn whines and Omar Sharif sulks, waiting for things to happen. They never do.
8. Serena (2014, Susanne Bier)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015This movie languished on the shelf for nearly two years after its completion. It should have stayed there. Special points for reducing Jennifer Lawrence, one of Hollywood's most engaging young actresses, into a vapid mannequin spouting inane dialog while befriending snake-hungry eagles.

7. King of Marvin Gardens (1972, Bob Rafelson)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015Bob Rafelson gave Jack Nicholson his best role in Five Easy Pieces. Here he strands him an inscrutable faux-Bunuel mess, inundating viewers with oddball surrealism and overripe monologues without purpose. When you're being self-consciously weird, you'd better have a point beyond baffling the audience.

6. Cleopatra (1963, Joseph Mankiewicz)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015The '60s biggest bomb remains as just as terrible today. Long, talky, badly acted and boring, it's probably Hollywood's worst sound epic - at least Inchon has camp value. All this vapid spectacle has is gauche visuals and Liz and Dick at the start of their rocky relationship. Enough to commend it to some, but not this blogger.

5. Rocky V (1990, John G. Avildsen)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015Justly considered the franchise's low point, Rocky V starts with potential then degenerates into cheap melodrama. After Sly Stallone spends an hour-and-a-half arguing with his son and mulling over his treacherous protege, he forfeits his dignity in a gutter brawl that leaves viewers shamed and disgusted. Worse yet, the movie thinks this inspiring. Thank God for Creed, which told a similar story infinitely better.
4. Cromwell (1970, Ken Hughes)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015Some actors could make a tedious history lesson like Cromwell watchable through charisma - certainly Alec Guinness, as Charles I, tries. Richard Harris, on the other hand, opts to enhance its badness with jaw-dropping histrionics. Whether shouting righteously, growling inscrutably or whipsawing between emotions and character choices, Harris provides a lesson on how not to act.

3. The Jackal (1997, Michael Caton-Jones)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015Few remakes are good ideas, but The Jackal is a conscious insult. Where the original Day of the Jackal has Edward Fox cunningly stalking Charles De Gaulle, this one has a cackling, peroxide-blonde Bruce Willis using a portable cannon to incinerate America's First Lady. Add Richard Gere impersonating Warwick Davis's Leprechaun as a loveable IRA terrorist and Jack Black's arm getting blown off; remove any tension, style or craftsmanship.
2. Fifty Shades of Grey (2015, Sam Taylor-Johnson)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015It's not the brain-rotting misogyny, awful scripting or unerotic erotica that makes Fifty Shades so terrible. It's that E.L. James and her adapter, Sam Taylor-Johnson, think this is an earnest, honest-to-God love story. We're meant to consider floggings and emotional blackmail an epic romance and that's sickening beyond belief. Dakota Johnson's winsome cuteness doesn't make it anymore bearable.
1. A Time to Kill (1996, Joel Schumacher)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015Neither incompetent nor boring, A Time to Kill is intolerably offensive. Never has a movie more shamelessly manipulated viewers, pushing every conceivable button to evoke our hatred against racists, rapists, slimeball lawyers, do-gooding liberals and black activists alike. This is an ADHD-addled child's idea of complexity, feeding viewers' most base instincts while claiming significance. Forget Batman and Robin: this is Joel Schumacher's crime against cinema.
The Best:
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015For once, my best list consists largely of films from this decade - several from this year! An eclectic bunch they are, too.
10. Trumbo (2015, Jay Roach)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015Critics didn't think much of Trumbo, but it hit all the right notes for this blogger. Great cast, headlined by a witty Bryan Cranston and sulphurous Helen Mirren; sharp, quotable script; great evocation of '50s Hollywood and its battles over politics and personalities. I suppose you could find its portrayal of the blacklist one-sided, but my tolerance for HUAC apologists has its limits.
9. I Never Sang for My Father (1970, Gilbert Cates)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015Robert Anderson's plays brilliantly examine the tragedy of family members unable to connect. While Tea and Sympathy's adaptation is a gloppy mess, I Never Sang for My Father does much a better job capturing. Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas beautiful render a lifelong father-and-son misunderstanding, culminating in one of the most wrenching confrontations in cinema history.

8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Andrew and Joe Russo)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015The best Marvel film yet, The Winter Soldier proved a pleasant surprise. More vintage thriller than superhero flick, it delivers the convoluted plot and crazy action we expect, plus unexpected depth. Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson finally give their characters human dimensions, with Robert Redford brilliantly cast as the villain. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps producing gems like this, it could last forever.
7. State of Siege (1972, Costa-Gavras) 
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015Costa-Gavras does radical anger better than anyone, so it's a relief to cinephiles everywhere that one of his most obscure (and best) films received a handsome Criterion release. '70s cinema didn't lack for anti-American posturing, but this searing look at CIA meddling in Latin America remains potent for its docudrama outrage. One difficulty: accepting Yves Montand as an American.
6. Raging Bull (1980, Martin Scorsese)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015Somehow I'd missed Raging Bull until this year - so much for my cinephile credentials. One of Martin Scorsese's most accomplished yet least accessible movies, mixing high-grade showmanship with uncompromising characterization. Robert De Niro's performance is the stuff of legends, the kind of raw, indelible acting that's tough to watch without flinching.

5. The Seventh Victim (1945, Robert Wise)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015Val Lewton's best production isn't really a horror film, rather a psychological thriller to shame Hitchcock and Lang. Whether staging stylish, suspenseful set pieces or exploring a bizarre world of crooks, indulgent philosophes and Satan-worshippers, Lewton and Val Lewton deliver an earnest, complex masterpiece about Monsters from the Id.
4. Spotlight (2015, Todd McCarthy)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015Spotlight is that rare thing: an unadorned, no-frills masterpiece  Evoking All the President's Men and other retro thrillers, it provides a detailed and disquieting portrait of clerical abuse, and a clarion call for responsible journalism. Crisp writing and a flawless ensemble help immeasurably: Michael Keaton cements his comeback, Rachel McAdams gives a career-best performance.

3. The Lives of Others (2006, Florian Von Hammersmark)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015A German historical drama not dealing with Nazism? Florian Von Hammersmark explores instead the bureaucratic gulag of East Germany, through the eyes of dissident dramatists and a quietly disaffected policeman. Billed as a thriller, it's more a sign of totalitarianism decaying the human soul, punishing emotion by imprisonment or death.
2. Do the Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015Spike Lee is a messy, infuriating filmmaker. When he's got his shit together, he delivers - as with this brilliant, scintillating film. Riotously blending dozens of characters and plotlines, blending fairy tale allegory with urban realism, it's complex, energetic, angry and alive in a way few films hope to match. Controversial in its day, it remains essential viewing for Americans unable to comprehend recent eruptions in our "post-racial" society.

1. Inside Out (2015, Peter Docter)
Best and Worst Film Viewings of 2015This year contained many setbacks, including severe depression that's led to missed work, emergency room visits and blogging hiatuses. Often in 2015, I wondered whether I could go on working, writing or living. It helps to have the love of family and support of friends, both of which I'm lucky enough to have. It also helps when you encounter special films that somehow understand what you're going through.
Such is Inside Out, Pixar's best movie. It's a beauty regardless, from its zippy animation, peppy score and unexpected mix of goofy humor and unleavened pathos. But it gained special meaning watching it during an emotional trough. The film's message - that it's okay to be sad, that all emotions are natural - is a useful one to digest, and its earnestness touched me in a way that made it easier to manage a rough time.
Sometimes, even an adult can learn something from a kid's movie. I owe more to Inside Out than I do to any film I've seen in the past year, and for that it earns our top spot.
Honorable mentions: American Sniper, The China Syndrome, Creed, The Great King, Il Divo, The Life of Emile Zola, My Cousin Vinny, Ruby Sparks, Selma.
Here's hoping for a better 2016. I can't imagine how it could be worse. Thanks to all my readers for sticking with me through a rough year.

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