2015 Mid-Year Recap

Hello, readers. We’ve reached the halfway point of 2015, so here’s a quick recap of what’s worth seeing in theaters or available to rent. I’ll also give you my top 5 best of the year so far, as well as the top 5 films you should most definitely avoid like the plague.

So far, 2015 hasn’t had nearly as many mid-year disappointments as 2014; Tomorrowland and Ted 2 were the only big disappointments this year so far. With the one exception of Spy, the comedy genre has been as knee-slapping hilarious as a documentary on third-world children.

But though it seems like it’s been a grueling six months, and nearly three top 10 worst lists worth of garbage with six months still to go certainly make it seem that way, once again the little films have come through. Dope, Slow West, Spring, It Follows, Ex Machina and What We Do in the Shadows are just a few examples of lower-budget, lesser-known films that have stepped up to the plate and delivered.

So here’s a look at what’s worth your time and money so far.

In Theaters:
Inside Out (A+, ★★★★)
Animated/Family/Fantasy: Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action

Mad Max: Fury Road (A+, ★★★★)
Action/Adventure/Thriller: Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images

Spy (A, ★★★½)
Action/Comedy/Spy: Rated R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity

Dope (B+, ★★★)
Comedy/Drama: Rated R for language, drug content, sexuality/nudity, and some violence-all involving teens

Avengers: Age of Ultron (B, ★★★)
Action/Comic Book/Science-Fiction: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments

Jurassic World (B, ★★★)
Action/Adventure/Science-Fiction: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril

Available to Rent:
Kingsman: The Secret Service (A-, ★★★½)
Action/Comedy/Spy: Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (A-, ★★★½)
Drama: Not Rated

Spring (A-, ★★★½)
Romance/Science-Fiction/Supernatural: Not Rated

Welcome to Me (A- ★★★½)
Comedy/Drama: Rated R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language and brief drug use

McFarland, USA (B+, ★★★)
Biopic/Drama/Sports: Rated PG for thematic material, some violence and language

Predestination (B+, ★★★)
Drama/Science-Fiction/Thriller: Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language

Run All Night (B+, ★★★)
Action/Drama/Thriller: Rated R for strong violence, language including sexual references, and some drug use

The Voices (B+, ★★★)
Comedy/Drama/Horror: Rated R for for bloody violence, and for language including sexual references

Black or White (B, ★★★)
Drama: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, thematic material involving drug use and drinking, and for a fight

Paddington (B, ★★★)
Comedy/Family: Rated PG for mild action and rude humor

And now here are the top 5 best and worst of 2015 so far. I honestly don’t even know where to begin with the top 5 worst, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

Top 5 Worst Films of 2015:
5) The Boy Next Door (D-, ½★)
So much effort went into making Jennifer Lopez look absolutely stunning here, everyone aboard this laughable theatrical version of a Lifetime crap-fest forgot to throw in acting, a decent script, a convincing villain and dialogue that isn’t “I loooove your mom’s cookies.” This film tries so desperately to make it seem like Lopez’s Claire Peterson having sex with a boy of perfectly legal age, during a separation from her husband, before the school year even started is the end of the world for her legally and ethically. And that’s actually the most plausible aspect of the film (I haven’t brought up the doozy of an excuse they use to explain why 19-year-old Noah’s still in high school). There’s no thrills, no genuine feeling of suspense, just characters making one stupid decision after another. It makes Lifetime look like Hitchcock.

4) Mortdecai (D-, ½★)
Johnny Depp’s unbearably overachieving performance as the title character – a razor-sharp contrast from the others in the cast who just don’t appear to give a shit – is so desperate, he needs this fall’s Black Mass to be a hit more than the studio footing the bill does. I gotta give Mortdecai credit, though. The jokes don’t work the first time, but like the ever-so-determined Rocky Balboa, this film just keeps on trying and trying and trying to make these God awful jokes work, and every time they do so it only gets worse. If this film succeeded at anything, it was somehow managing to make a bad joke actually less funny than not even close to being even the slightest bit funny to begin with.

3) Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (D-, ½★)
The first Hot Tub Time Machine was a film that definitely took me by surprise by how funny it was. The cast had chemistry and there was a nice balance of R-rated raunchy jokes and funny ’80s nostalgia jokes. Hot Tub Time Machine 2, however, will have you waxing nostalgic very quickly about the life you had 90-minutes ago when seeing Hot Tub Time Machine 2 didn’t yet take place. Rob Corddry was able to work in the first film since he had John Cusack’s relatable straight-man to play off of, but now he’s the anchor Cusack originally was, and his completely obnoxious and unrelentingly annoying Lou Dorchen causes the whole ship to sink. But at least there’s dick jokes, though. Lots of dick jokes. Grabbing dicks. Touching dicks. Dicks, dicks, dicks, and more dicks. Lots and lots and lots of dick, dick, dicky dick. Here a dick, there a dick, everywhere a dick dick. Bravo writers.

2) Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (F, 0 stars)
Another comedy sequel? Sure, why not? They’ve been rearing their ugly as sin head all year long so far. As hard to believe as it may sound, it’s gotta take some skill to make a comedy that has no laughs whatsoever. No laughs! None, no matter how many times Kevin James falls off a Segway. Yes, even some of the worst comedies I’ve seen in the past few years have slipped up and accidentally let a decently funny joke sneak into the film. Okay, correction. I did get a few laughs in. Not at the movie. God forbid I give this film any credit. No, my laughs came at the expense of the exasperated sighs from all the parents whose children dragged them unwillingly to this. Happy Madison, even you are better than this. Yes, that’s right. The studio behind two Grown Ups films and Bucky Larson… is better than this. Admitting that actually hurt.

1) The Loft  (F, 0 stars)
You don’t expect much from a Paul Blart film to begin with, which is why this dull, crap-tacular Valium pill excuse of a movie gets the top not-so honors so far this year. The Loft wants to be a smart and twisty little whodunit thriller, but it’s hard to care at all about the mystery when we’re dealing with characters who don’t have a shred of redeemability found in them, and are so dirty I was just dying to shower the filth off of me by the time the end credits… were still an hour away from appearing. If the film didn’t move sloooooooooooooooower than a turtle on heroin I maybe could’ve at least considered forgiving the film for that fact. Then again, the unlikeable characters are like the tenth thing wrong with this film, so maybe not.

Top 5 Best Films of 2015:
5) It Follows (A, ★★★½)
Maika Monroe follows up her strong supporting performance opposite Dan Stevens in 2014’s The Guest with another strong performance, this time as the lead in this terrifically creepy little film. Taking inspiration from legendary horror filmmakers like John Carpenter and George A. Romero, writer/director David Robert Mitchell brings similar grade-A craftsmanship to his horror gem, creating pulse-pounding tension through a dreadful atmosphere and superb use of sound, be it unnerving silence or the retro ’80s synth score. No, it may not be “scary”, but Monroe’s believably vulnerable performance and Mitchell’s taut direction makes for one thoroughly entertaining and unsettling experience.

4) Ex Machina (A, ★★★½)
Former Danny Boyle screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine) turns in an impressive directorial debut with this small but thought-provoking sci-fi film that tackles the premise of artificial intelligence. It’s made all the more impressive by three excellent performances from Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and a star-making turn from Alicia Vikander. Artificial intelligence may be an overused device but Garland’s handles it so well with a combination of compelling moral dilemmas and a strong sense of mood and atmosphere, one that never quite comes to an explosive head but just simmers at enough of a slow burn pace to always keep us on edge.

3) What We Do in the Shadows (A, ★★★½)
Thankfully both Spy and this wonderfully hysterical indie comedy were enough to convince me I shouldn’t be on anti-depressants this year. Brought to us from the creators of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows takes two beaten to death genres, vampire and mockumentary films, and breathes new life into both of them. Many vampire folklore elements are satirized to great effect, and instead of focusing on the vampires’ barbarity (though effective gross-out gags are used occasionally) the comedy is mined from the mundane routines of their nightly lives. It’s also refreshing to get an R-rated comedy that not only isn’t mean-spirited or about upping the raunch factor in any way, but also has a bromance bond between the vampires and their human friend Stu that is much more endearing than you’d expect.

2) Mad Max: Fury Road (A+, ★★★★)
Knowing how long its been since the last Mad Max film and the number of production issues that kept delaying this film for well over a decade, everything could’ve wound up going up horribly wrong with Mad Max: Fury Road. Yet this ends up being not only the best action film of the year, it’s one of the best action films of the 21st century. From the spectacularly choreographed action sequences to the award-level cinematography that combines long fluid tracking shots with a lively and gorgeous color palette, this is adrenaline-pumping, pedal to the metal, exhilarating action that’s given a much-needed dose of depth from both Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron’s performances. But, no surprise, though the cast is great, the real star here is franchise creator George Miller who even in his seventh decade of living is still able to show how it’s done and make the other big action filmmakers feel like they belong at the little kids table.

1) Inside Out (A+, ★★★★)
Earning a top spot in the canon of all things Pixar, Inside Out is an imaginative and beautifully animated cartoon that contains more heart, emotion and depth in just one scene than any live-action film we’ve gotten so far this year. Brought to life through the enthusiastic voice performances of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black and Mindy Kaling, little ones will eat up the zany animated antics, but in true Pixar fashion, the deeper themes of what is was like growing up during that complicated time that’s called the cusp of childhood and adolescence will resonate greatly with the older audiences. It’s that universal appeal Pixar does best, and it’s one of the very best they’ve done at capturing that spirit of transcending all viewer ages.

So there you go, readers. The good and a little of the bad that we’ve gotten for the first half of this year. We got a big holiday coming up in a couple days, so you got some recommendations here if you and your family are looking to go out and see a movie together this weekend. The first six months may have been rougher than normal, but hopefully the worst is behind us. Here’s to a much better second-half of the 2015 film year!

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