Airport (1970; dir. George Seaton)
I got into a bit of a disaster film phase earlier in the year and watched a handful of classics in the genre, including all four entries in the Airport series. The first one is a real bang up of a motion picture with about 17 different storylines going on - some of them funny, some of them serious and a whole slew of great actors that I love. Dean Martin, George Kennedy, Helen Hayes, Maureen Stapleton...and even good ol' Gary Collins show up in this nail biter about an evening at an airport where just about everything goes wrong. It was really cool to see how much the beloved Airplane! (1980) borrowed from Airport in terms of style, pacing and some of the situations and characters. This is a really good movie, it won Best Picture for the year it came out. If you can handle the slower paced action films of the early 70's, this one certainly holds up and I highly recommend it.
Bad Words (2013; dir. Jason Bateman)
Jason Bateman finds a loophole in the National Spelling Bee's rules that allows him to enter as an adult and get revenge on the system that made him a looser in his childhood. Painfully funny and fantastic script, this is one of the few films that lays out a really solid story while never forgetting to be laugh out loud hilarious.
Cinderella (2015; dir. Kenneth Branagh)
Kenneth Branagh makes awesome high culture Shakespeare pictures and he is an absolute master at making fantastic popcorn movies. This live-action translation of Disney's beloved animated Cinderella (1950) is both luxurious and playful. So many modern updates of fairytales and cartoons try to deviate from the original source material. Branagh's Cinderella delights in bringing the memories of the cartoon movie to life while filling in some holes and offering alternate vantage points on some of the key story elements. The result is a fresh take on an old tale that is every bit and magical and Disney as the animated film we all grew up with.
Gone Girl (2014; dir. David Fincher)
Every year, one or two Oscar-worthy films make it into my DVD player. Gone Girl was just an intense thriller with twists and turns and surprises all over the place. A really well made movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was also cool to see supporting players Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry and Casey Wilson in such a high caliber dramatic production.
Inside Out (2015; dirs. Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen)
Inside Out is Pixar running full throttle and doing everything right. Hysterical, touching and wildly creative, this film has everything going for it. There's also perfect cartoon casting with Amy Poehler as the optimistic Joy, The Office's Phyllis Smith as Sadness and even Mindy Kaling (who I usually cant stand) was really good as Disgust. Lewis Black as the fiery haired Anger is one of those rare moments when a comic's physical and creative voice are matched perfectly with an animated character. As with any really good animated film, this one plays equally to children and adults.
Jurassic World (2105; dir. Colin Trevorrow)
I was never really a fan of the original Jurassic Park but something about this movie looked like it would be a fun Summer afternoon with my kids and boy was I right. I really liked how they completely fleshed out the idea of a theme park this time, showing how a real working tourist attraction with living dinosaurs might actually work out. The performances are great, not only Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard but the really solid comedic pairing of Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus as well.
On The Town (1949; dirs. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly)
Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and some other dude are sailors with 24 hours of shore leave in New York City. They step off the boat and then just go at it singing and dancing and chasing girls for two solid hours of entertainment. Unrelenting in it's energy, this was one of the first musicals to be shot on location and it's packed with great shots documenting what The Big Apple looked like in the late 40's. Man, I just enjoyed the hell out of every minute of this film.
The Peanuts Movie (2015; dir. Steve Martino)
This was my Facebook post the night I saw The Peanuts Movie: "When they announced years ago that they were making a computer animated Charlie Brown movie, I immediately thought of all the ways they were going to screw it up - like making them look like real kids and farting and crude humor. And then the teaser and eventually the trailer came out....and they relieved my worries somewhat but I still had no faith that a modern movie was going to do justice to a group of friends that have been so near and dear to my heart my entire life. I went into The Peanuts Movie tonight with very high expectations and very little confidence that I would be satisfied. I'm happy to report that every single frame of The Peanuts Movie is wonderful and magical. My boys (who have also grown up with these characters) laughed and giggled with glee throughout the entire movie. I was really proud that my kids loved a movie so simple and wholesome and that somebody created a movie worthy of the legacy of Charles Schulz."
Road to Bali (1952; dir. Hal Walker)
This is the year I discovered "the Road pictures," a series of seven super lightweight comedies made between 1940 and 1962. The films don't have much to do with each other but all star Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorthy Lamour. Hope and Crosby always play some sort of scam artists, Lamour is always a beautiful woman they run into somewhere along the way who helps them out of a pickle. The boys always come to blows over the heart of Lamour, there is always singing and dancing and there is never too much of a story. But if I had seen these movies when I was younger, my head would have exploded! There's ad-libbing, breaking the fourth wall, jokes about the movie studio, insults lobbed at each other, super corny bits and gags...they are all just great fun! I managed to track down 6 of the 7 films this past year. They were all really fun, but Bali is the one I saw first so it took me by surprise the most.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015; dir. J.J. Abrams)
The new Star Wars did so many things perfectly. It took key ingredients from the first film, reshuffled them and dealt them out with a deck of new ingredients which resulted in a movie which serves as a nice souvenir of all our childhood Star Wars memories and paves the way for new adventures (and merchandising) to come. Force Awakens needed to do about 50 things to live up to it's own hype and serve as a worthy sequel to what is easily the most loved film of all time. It delivered on all 50 of those points, added in another 30 things you didn't even realize you were looking for and then topped it off with about 50 things that made itself a unique and entertaining movie all it's own. Not only has Star Wars: The Force Awakens become the highest grossing movie of all time, it has set the stage for a new wave of nostalgia films that will pay homage to film franchises of the past while attempting to move forward with new chapters. The ripples of the film go far beyond the box office numbers and toy isle sales.
Honorable Mentions/Almost Made The List: Let's Be Cops (2014) was nothing new, but it was just about the laugh out loud, gut busting, funniest movie I've seen in a long time! Tina Fey narrating the Disneynature documentary Monkey Kingdom (2015) is an inspired idea that accompanies a compelling and fascinating story about a group of monkeys in Asia. Another documentary, I Am Big Bird: The Carol Spinney Story (2014) traces the amazingly cool life of the guy inside the Big Bird suit. And while at 58 minutes it's hardly a movie, but of course I ate up every minute of The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age Smackdown (2015) even if professional wresting wouldn't by first choice of subject matter for the first new piece of Flintstones animation in 14 years.
What were your favorites that you saw in 2015?