For millions of geeks around the world, Christmas has already come with Star Wars: The Force Awakens now in theaters. Oh sure, the tree, family, and good cheer for your fellow man is important too, but knowing that the most recent Star Wars flick is not a prequel trainwreck surely puts a little spring in your step, and gives us all the ability to say hello to everyone we meet.
The seismic blockbuster capped off another year in genre and franchise entertainment where movies big and small shined brightly upon the geek. We saw, in addition to new Jedi, the return of InGen’s genetically spliced dinosaur theme park, Daniel Craig’s potentially final performance as James Bond 007, the Avengers assemble for the funniest Marvel superhero battle yet (at least until Ant-Man), and so much more.
Still, some of these films simply have risen above the rest. And having already given our picks for the 10 Best Movies of 2015, we’ve decided to throw some love to genre enthusiasts’ finest 2015 hours at the movies… enjoy!
12. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
The other major blockbuster of this holiday season is also one of 2015’s best franchise efforts. Offering a somber and shockingly downbeat conclusion to the popular Hunger Games saga, Mockingjay – Part 2 ends not with a triumphant rebel (or “resistance”) assault on the bad guys, but in a fog of moral ambiguity and wartime trauma.
At the center of this subversive finale is Jennifer Lawrence providing the finest of her four performances as Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire. And as the revolution scorches everything she ever touched or fought for, she will literally set aflame before she finally tries to end a cycle of violence via political assassination and a call to anarchy. It’s a tremendous moment that, along with Donald Sutherland’s haunting final cackle of manipulation as the wonderfully vile President Snow, elevates The Hunger Games franchise into one of the sharpest and most unsettling blockbuster entertainments ever to open in a multiplex.
11. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Forget about Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s childhood trolling of 007, because Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt by far had more fun in this straightforward and winning spy adventure. Like James, Ethan goes to battle with a secret organization that poses as a global threat, but unlike his MI6 counterpart, Hunt never forgets to let his audience enjoy the ride.
From shots of Cruise really hanging onto planes during take-off to a wonderfully taut and playful Night at the Opera sequence with Simon Pegg getting in on the action, everything about Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay and direction hits the mark, giving us the best Mission: Impossible film since 1996. And Rebecca Ferguson as Ethan’s Casablanca contact, Ilsa Faust, is worth far more than a hill of beans; in fact, she could carry her own spy movie after Rogue Nation, and we’d be all the happier for it.
10. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Yet, there was one other spy movie from 2015 that saved the world from the doldrums of early winter schlock while keeping its tongue firmly in its cheek. Proving once again that he is often the most underestimated genre director in any calendar year, Matthew Vaughn knocked moviegoers’ socks off with this gonzo and painfully English espionage action-comedy that dialed everything up to 11.
A throwback to the days when 007 had a Roger Moore twinkle in his eye, and a pun on his lips, Kingsman plays like an ultra-violent late ‘60s/1970s Bond film while also joyfully tipping its hat to The Avengers, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Ipcress File, and probably plenty more that I missed. Colin Firth has never looked so amused as he is as this droll, erudite, gentleman superspy that even in his death throes can still spare the world from what appeared to be about a hundred or so potential Trump voters in that church. This movie also marks the star-making turn for Taron Egerton.
Now this is how you make a cinematic martini!
9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Undoubtedly, placing this film anywhere lower than the number one spot on this list is sacrilege to some. But please consider for a moment how much higher this is than the prequels would have placed in their respective years, and all of a sudden it looks like stunning progress!
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is clearly the biggest film of the year and is in many respects a great success for director J.J. Abrams, who capitalized on a multigenerational sense of nostalgia to craft a rollicking throwback to adventure thrillers from a more innocent, earnest era in pop culture. He also superbly casts a new generation of characters with Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, and especially Adam Driver as Kylo Ren (the less said about Snoke, the better).
Yet, the film is perhaps fueled by too much nostalgia at times. In its attempts to recapture the magic of the original Star Wars, The Force Awakens often rushes and fumbles through the same narrative beats, particularly in the third act where an aerial fight to destroy a planet-sized not-a-Death-Star feels perfunctory, and the film ends not on the awe of grand mythmaking like the original trilogy, but on a TV scaled conflict with a final cliffhanger scene that would not be misplaced on Lost.
Nevertheless, despite its flaws, The Force Awakens is still a triumph of craftsmanship and transparent passion from all involved; it manifests a new cast of characters that are instantly endearing and rebuilds a galaxy that hasn’t seen a good cinematic adventure since 1983. It really is a moviegoing experience that can feel out-of-this-world.
Still, when perfectly executed, the old ways sometimes remain the best. In that vein, Creed is a standalone reboot that also just so happens to be the most enjoyable Rocky sequel ever made. Fresh off their career-making collaboration with the searing Fruitvale Station, director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan unexpectedly resurrect this boxing franchise for at least one more shot at the franchise championship title.
Jordan ensures his movie star bonafides in the role of Adonis “Creed” Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed who has something to prove to the world and to himself. And he does it by enlisting an aging Rocky Balboa. In the singular role that both made him a star and continues to prove his talent, Sylvester Stallone gives one of his finer turns as his lovable southpaw alter-ego. And the contrast between a Philly cruiser like Balboa and the well-off Adonis, who still has a chip on his shoulder, makes for an appropriately poignant and occasionally uplifting buddy film that goes the distance. It delivers nostalgia with a familiar formula while also standing on its own two feet.
7. The Martian
After the less than pleasing Prometheus, director Ridley Scott reclaims his title as the best science fiction director in the business by making space for The Martian on his genre mantelpiece next to Alien and Blade Runner. Indeed, this film’s screenplay by Drew Goddard offers a kinetic adaptation of the Andy Weir novel and presents a film where science is not only a force for good and profound wisdom—but it’s also fun!
Playing his second marooned astronaut in as many years, Matt Damon provides the perfect touch of pathos and levity as Mark Watney, creating an undeniable presence that overcomes his nightmare with cocksure charisma. Throw in some dazzlingly optimistic visuals and a huge supporting cast that includes great work from Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and all we’re missing is a grooving disco soundtrack to be in geek heaven. Oh wait…
6. It Follows
As the best ghost story in years, It Follows is that rare horror movie that follows you out of the theater, into the parking lot, and eventually takes up permanent residency in your dreams. Director David Robert Mitchell conjures the personification of Death as an unstoppable, silent figure that stalks you until its icy embrace almost seems like a comforting release.
Relying on a dreamlike quality that evokes a 1980s horror Never Never Land, complete with a gnarly John Carpenter-inspired score by Rich Vreeland, Mitchell imagines a vampiric, breathing STD that hunts Maika Monroe with the relentlessness of the truck in Duel. Beyond the sexual implications, however, lies a far more frightening sense of existential dread made immediate… as well as a horror movie made an instant cult classic.
5. The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film is a crackerjack of an entertainment for the right audience. A grand three-hour spectacle in presentation that’s best seen in 70mm (and with an intermission), The Hateful Eight is also surprisingly low-key in its intimacy. Essentially a play between eight figures trapped in a mountain pass lodging during a blizzard, the picture moves like Stagecoach meets Reservoir Dogs when its disparate post-Civil War personalities come together… and then proceed to cast suspicion and death on one another as the murders pile up.
Perhaps the culmination of the “dialogue thriller” moments in recent Tarantino films like Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, Hateful Eight is a three-hour extension of their most suspenseful sequences that are created by way of amiable chitchat. But don’t worry, the coming bloodbath is sure to be as inescapable as that falling snow.
4. The Revenant
Alejandro González Iñárritu has given us what might be the most brutal and original Western in recent memory. While the story of Hugh Glass, a particular favorite among survivalists, has been adapted to the screen before, never has it been something so hauntingly graceful or nightmarishly ferocious. Leonardo DiCaprio once again turns in a strong performance, but the real achievement here is that he conveys so much terror and righteous fury without hardly saying a word.
Silent for large swaths of its running time, The Revenant is a panoramic fantasia of the American West reimagined as a primordial Garden of snowy Eden—one that’s untrodden by civilization, humanity, or all those damn shopping malls. In fact, the central conflict of the film—Hugh Glass nursing himself back to health after a grizzly bear mauling and seeking revenge on the man who left him for dead (Tom Hardy)—is the first wisp of our pettiness distilling this world’s lethal beauty. And it is quite the hypnotic landscape indeed, even when it conjures a two-ton grizzly to slice away at DiCaprio in the most gruesome scene of the year.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
Seventy-year-old George Miller shows off here by indicating that he’s better than most action movie directors half his age. Mad Max: Fury Road is a work of art that that proves even explosions and car collisions can be a creative medium unto themselves, particularly when they’re executed in-camera.
The biggest Mad Max film to date, Fury Road is all the more remarkable since Max is a supporting character to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, a kickass heroine on the same level as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor. Truly, this movie is so shiny and chrome that it wouldn’t surprise me if Immortan Joe himself one day carries it through the gates of Valhalla.
2. Ex Machina
Alex Garland has written some of our favorite genre screenplays in recent years—28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd—so it is extremely gratifying to see him effortlessly transition to directing with this freshman effort that completely delivers. By revisiting the familiar concept of an AI “Singularity” being our undoing, Garland is able to mine a mainstay in science fiction tropes to encode a riveting contemplation about why that might not be such a bad thing.
Featuring a star-making turn by Alicia Vikander as Ava, a synthetic femme fatale, and some alpha scene-stealing work from Oscar Isaac as her Dr. Frankenstein styled creator, Ex Machina is a deep dive into the realm of techno-ethics, human self-awareness, sexual politics, and even neo noir nihilism. At times a possible feature length version of the Turing test opener from Blade Runner, this thing has cult classic written all over it.
1. Inside Out
After spending several years in the wilderness, Pixar reemerged into its default position of dominance in American animation with Inside Out, a monument to emotional manipulation. Indeed, Pixar cuts out the middleman by quantifying universal emotions in their purest form—such as they are found in a young girl’s head when she is on the precipice of self-awareness.
The result is a staggering achievement and one of the year’s very best films that is destined to be passed on for generations to come. Inside Out works wholly on two separate levels: one that requires the imagination of a child to appreciate it, and the other needing an adult’s sophistication and sense of loss to be fully understood. This film also allows Peter Docter to make a memorial for the childhoods we all forget, as well as a hilarious and witty romp about the balance of comedy and tragedy in one’s life. It even articulates concepts like depression and isolation in a way all ages can comprehend.
No matter your demographic, Inside Out is a film that works on all levels and can be celebrated by all moviegoing stripes, including the geeks.
So there is the list of the year’s best geek movies. Agree? Disagree? Confident that we overlooked something marvelous? Let us know in the comment section below!