We come at last to the Wild Rides. This is where I highlight the funniest, scariest, most romantic, most fist-pumpingly awesome movies of 2015. Few (if any) of them may be listed among the year's greatest, but they still deserve recognition. So let's dive right in. Best Action Movie
Jurassic World was probably the most divisive film of the year. Personally, I thought that for better or worse, the film was primarily flawed by virtue of being a Jurassic Park movie. I enjoyed the film, but not enough that I'd want to stick my neck out for it. And anyway, why settle for CGI action when we've got so many great practical stunts to choose from?
This was the year when Spectre set the world record for the biggest explosion on film. (In your face, Michael Bay!) And of course, we've got all manner of practical stuntwork from professional lunatic Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation. But for me personally, the current standard bearer for over-the-top brainless action has got to be the Fast and Furious series. Granted, Furious 7 may have suffered from wonky camerawork, a protracted sendoff for Paul Walker (RIP) and the continuing plague of "comic relief" from Tyrese Gibson. Even so, we got Jason Statham at his over-the-top best, some great one-liners from Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel (the Corona plug notwithstanding), Kurt Russell joining the fray as a kick-ass spy, and some high-end cars getting chucked out of a goddamn plane. However flawed the film might be, that's some good shit right there.
Well, Crimson Peak wins the award for "Best Gothic Romance That Should Never Have Been Billed As Horror." Similarly, The Gift was never billed as a horror film, even though maybe it should have been.
But getting back to the category of actual horror films, I'm sorry to say that I was underwhelmed by Krampus. Too many of the scares were self-inflicted by the characters' stupidity, the visuals were often too dark for any atmosphere, and the CGI was pretty bad in places. Another prominent horror film in 2015 was It Follows, which had a spectacular dreamlike atmosphere and a masterful sense of dread throughout. I wasn't fond of the inconsistent rules and I think I'm one of only a handful who thought the score was dreck, but I'd gladly join the majority and call It Follows the year's best horror film.
...If only I hadn't seen Goodnight Mommy. It's not an exaggeration to say that every single individual frame of this movie is an impeccable work of art. More than that, it's a movie that keeps flipping around audience expectations, such that we're never sure what's going on or who's really turned into a homicidal maniac until it's too late. It's a simple, unnerving, demented story about a mother and her two boys, loaded to the brim with grotesque imagery and unspeakable acts of violence. If you're one of those who sang the praises of The Babadook last year, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
Best Spy Movie
It seems that in recent years, the marketplace has become positively oversaturated with spy action thrill rides. In 2015 alone, we got Spectre and Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation, not to mention the ill-fated The Man from U.N.C.L.E. And maybe Furious 7, if you'd care to count that.
While there's certainly nothing terribly wrong with the latest entries from Bond, IMF, or the Toretto gang, attention must be paid to the newcomers who are having some fun with the genre. A key example is Spy, which beautifully parodied and celebrated common super-spy tropes. But I'm giving this one to Kingsman: The Secret Service, which offered more brains, a bigger heart, far superior action, and a sense of fun that perfectly balanced campy with badass. The film also offered an impeccable cast, with delightful turns from established veterans (Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, etc.) and talented newcomers (Taron Egerton, Sofia Boutella, Sophie Cookson, etc.) alike. It's an unmistakably modern film that pays affectionate tribute to the spy films of yesteryear, and it's damned fun to watch.
I'm sorta torn on this category. On the one hand, I love Chi-Raq and The Big Short precisely because I'm a topical humor kinda guy who appreciates good satire. On the other hand, it's very tough to ignore Trainwreck, since this was a huge year for Amy Schumer and she's a very gifted comedian. And getting back to Spy, that was a very funny movie with some outstanding jokes from Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, and Rose Byrne.
Ultimately, however, this is the Wild Rides article. As such, if I have to choose between the film that made me think hardest and the film that made me laugh hardest, I figure that I should probably side with the latter. And if I had to choose the movie that had me laughing through the most screen time, the movie that most surprised me with how genuinely funny it was, I think I'd have to go with Spy.
Best Superhero Movie
If Avengers: Age of Ultron was a disappointment, it's primarily because the film was a victim of its own sky-high expectations. The film tried to cram in too much at once, and while the end result was hardly a bad movie, it still fell short of its predecessor's lofty heights. Conversely, Ant-Man turned out to be far better than anyone could have expected, given all the notorious troubles that went on behind the scenes. The film had some very notable flaws, particularly with regard to the female lead, but it was still a neatly inventive and funny picture that did a great job delivering on the concept of a superhero heist film. And the ants turned out to be the film's breakout stars, which is accomplishment enough.
But if I had to choose which of them was the best superhero film of 2015? Fuck it, I'm going with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Why not? The film is basically an origin story for the franchise's latest Jedi, and you tell me the difference between Jedi and superheroes. More than that, this was the first Star Wars movie in thirty years that brought a genuine sense of fun to the franchise, took us to a galaxy that felt tangible and lived-in, and renewed public faith in the franchise. That shouldn't have even been possible after all the damage George Lucas did, and yet here we are.
We've got quite a varied batch for this one, each with its own unique mix of strengths and flaws. I personally loved Cinderella (2015), even if the film's attempts at making the story relevant chaffed against the source material in some crucial places. Trainwreck might have been funny and poignant at times, but it's still little more than a formulaic romcom when all is said and done. Carol had a smoldering central romance, even if everything else around it had all the excitement of watching clouds. Last up is 5 to 7, which indisputably did the best job of depicting the vague and messy nature of progressive ideas of love in the 21st century. That said, the film had way too much padding and the "Gary Stu/wish fulfillment" factor was way too strong.
So instead of giving it to any of these films, I'm calling Crimson Peak the year's best romance. After all, there's no denying that the movie is positively overflowing with passion, Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston both turn in sublime work as the romantic leads, and you've got to give the movie points for creativity if nothing else. It's a dark romance that doubles as an atmospheric ghost story, and that's more than good enough for me.
Best Animated Film
Though it wasn't nearly the banner year for animation that 2014 was, we still got some pretty good animated films in 2015. Shaun the Sheep Movie was a delightfully sweet little picture, The Peanuts Movie exceeded all expectations in how funny and faithful it was, Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet was a beautiful work of poetry and artistry, and even The Good Dinosaur had some slick presentation if nothing else.
But I think we all know which one's the best, don't we?
I don't like to say this often, but there isn't a doubt in my mind that Inside Out is an instant classic. This is a movie that will be handed down through the generations, growing and maturing with its audience like only the best family pictures do. It's heartfelt, it's creative, it's colorful, it's hilarious... it's everything that made Pixar the gold standard in animation for so many years. This is a movie that's going to be a lot of help for a lot of people of all ages who are going through hard times, and that will be a gift that keeps on giving.
Best Wild Ride
It's already become a cliche to put this movie right at the top. I can't begin to count how many times I've seen it declared the #1 greatest film of the year. And there's a reason for that: Because it's fucking awesome!!!
There are so many reasons why Mad Max: Fury Road caught on like wildfire throughout pop culture this summer. The action scenes are wickedly inventive and positively throbbing with adrenaline. Every last detail of the production design was crafted with meticulous care and bugfuck insanity. The scale is nothing short of epic, with iconography and catch phrases that are instantly recognizable and so much fun to reference ("WE LIVE! WE DIE! WE LIVE AGAIN!"). And then of course we have the characters, most of whom are precisely the kind of nuanced, proactive, well-defined, kickass female characters that we've been begging to see onscreen for however many years.
The whole movie is like a car battery hooked up directly to the viewer's id. Even when the film doesn't make any sense, it's so impossibly cool and thrilling on such a visceral level that it's impossible not to have a good time. I know it's a cliche by now, but it's the truth: This is the level of creativity and effort that all big-budget spectacle filmmakers should be shooting for. The gauntlet has been thrown down.
So here's to 2016, and the great moments in cinema history waiting just over the horizon.