This article will be a little different. Although today is Throwback Thursday, I’m not going back that far. Today, I’m recapping the 7 movies of 2015 that I saw. I don’t really get out to the movies that often, mainly because I don’t drive yet, although I plan on learning to drive within the next year or two. Despite that, though, I did manage to see several movies this year, mainly because my brother drove me to theaters to see most of them, sometimes with me and sometimes not. I saw 7 different movies this year, and I would now like to offer up my thoughts on what I liked about them. Although these are my opinions and this is an editorial, they aren’t quite reviews. Consider them more of a look into what I find appealing in a movie.
The first movie of 2015 that I saw was Kingsman: The Secret Service. I had seen a trailer for it when attending a showing of “The Equalizer” in 2014. It looked interesting, but as it had a protagonist in his early 20s (Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton), I was thinking it might be rated PG-13, as many movies looking to get a younger audience tend to be. It was revealed to be an R rating, though, and I feel that was to the movie’s benefit. What I liked about the movie is that it had the funny, camp qualities of the Roger Moore James Bond movies fused with the violence of the Timothy Dalton Bond movies, but at a higher level of bloodshed. The idea of dozens of world leaders being in on a plot to cause destruction may have a tinge of the real world to it, but an ending sequence loaded with explosions gives the movie a sort of Looney Tunes quality. It also made an interesting use of several older songs, including “Slave To Love” by Bryan Ferry and “Give It Up” by KC And The Sunshine Band, used to illustrate a sequence of riots happening all over the world.
The world of secret agents figured into the second movie of 2015 that I saw, the Melissa McCarthy action comedy Spy. I’ve been a fan of Ms. McCarthy’s films ever since I saw The Heat, which I found to be one of the best movies of 2013. In that movie, McCarthy shared the screen with Sandra Bullock as the star of the movie. Here, McCarthy was the big wheel in this movie as Susan Cooper, an analyst who volunteers to become an agent when an agent she’s helping dies…Or so she thinks.
What appealed to me about this movie was the idea of someone who has been doing something relatively normal going off on a big adventure. I can relate to that because my paying job is as a retail worker, and writing for this site is my hobby. I may not be a jet-setting secret agent like McCarthy’s Cooper is in this movie, but I do mingle in the circles of the rich and famous with the interviews I do and the conventions I attend.
Spy had something else that was special, and that was the theme song “Who Can You Trust” by Ivy Levan. I saw the music video for the song before I saw the movie itself, and I fell in love with the track immediately. Earlier this year, I wrote an article about my favorite James Bond themes, and for me, I would consider “Who Can You Trust” an honorary Bond theme. It has brass, strings, a powerful vocal and lyrics that, even though the movie is a comedy, are very serious. I like it a lot better than this year’s official James Bond theme, Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On The Wall” from SPECTRE. I’m predicting a nomination for Best Original Song at the Oscars next year for “Who Can You Trust”. It’s that good, in my opinion.
About a week or two after the release of Spy, I saw the first of Pixar’s two releases this year, Inside Out. I found the movie to be a very creative view on how the mind operates. For me, the message that it’s okay to be sad or angry or scared or disgusted at times. I can relate to that because I was told for years by people like my mom that they didn’t like me talking about the problems I was dealing with.
My mom’s anger was obviously controlling her in 2010 when I was talking about some personal problems I was having, and she decided to pull a knife on me and scream for me to kill myself and put myself out of my misery because I was making her miserable. I sometimes wonder about, if she hadn’t died from cancer, whether or not seeing this movie might have been able to explain the emotions of our family. I’m proud to say now that all my emotions have a say in my life. I’m very happy now, although I still have my moments of sadness, anger, fear and disgust at times.
In the middle of Summer, I saw my third movie about spies this year, a film entitled American Ultra. The idea of sleeper agents has been used in a variety of interesting movies, from the Charles Bronson cold war thriller Telefon to the classic 80s comedy The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad. American Ultra plays the idea of the sleeper agent for both comedy and drama with the characters of Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) and Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), a Southern stoner boyfriend and girlfriend who, in actuality, are a CIA agent and his handler.
When Mike is activated again, all Hell breaks loose in their town. In a way, it’s similar to Spy, in that Mike works a menial job, his being in a convenience store, but he’s capable of much more than that. In their own ways, movies like Kingsman, Spy and American Ultra are inspirational, the message they all share being “you’re capable of more than you can imagine”. I think that’s a nice message to have.
Near the end of September, I saw my 5th movie of the year. For some, it might be an unusual choice, but not for me. I’ve been a fan of Lily Tomlin’s work ever since I saw her frequent appearances on Sesame Street in the 80s and 90s. I’ve become more familiar with her work as the years have gone on, but Grandma was the first movie of Tomlin’s I saw in a theater. In the movie, Tomlin plays Elle Reid, a former college professor whose granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) needs money for an abortion. The quest to get the money leads Elle and Sage on a trip around California that was reminiscent of Scorcese’s After Hours, but in the daytime.
As Elle, Lily expresses a wide range of emotions, and portrays the kind of grandmother we all wish we could have, someone loving yet forging her own path in an uncertain world. It was also nice to see several other actresses I like, including Marcia Gay Harden, Colleen Camp and the late Elizabeth Pena, in one of her final roles before her death last year. I would love to interview Lily Tomlin, Marcia Gay Harden and Colleen Camp someday, and I would tell all of them what an excellent movie this was.
In October, I went down to Georgia to attend a friend’s wedding. On one of the days before the wedding, I took a taxi to a theater and saw Black Mass, the biopic with Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger. I had initially planned on seeing Sicario, but the movie had started by the time I got to the theater. I wasn’t quite sure that I’d like Black Mass, mainly because I don’t really watch movies based on true stories. When I saw it, though, I thought it was very interesting getting a look at the Boston crime scene of the late 20th century.
There were even some moments that made you feel sorry for Bulger, despite his criminal behavior. In particular, the scene where his son dies is sad to watch. It’s reminiscent of the trope Even Bad Men Love Their Mommas, only it would be Even Bad Men Love Their Children. The moments where you sympathize with nasty characters tend to be rather unusual. You don’t want to be seen as condoning their behavior, but you see something of yourself in them. Movies have the gift of empathy, even if it’s an uneasy one.
Finally, my filmgoing year ended last month when I saw the second Pixar release of the year, The Good Dinosaur. The movie was a very troubled production, going through multiple voice-over talents and two directors, but in my opinion, the end result was, if not the emotional wallop (forgive the pun) of Inside Out, then a solid fantasy-western. The genre of fantasy western hasn’t exactly been a big success, with movies like R.I.P.D and Cowboys And Aliens getting poor receptions. Perhaps the key to it is to make it animated.
The Westerns that I have seen, mainly those of Clint Eastwood’s, I’ve enjoyed, and to me, The Good Dinosaur follows in that tradition. With its’ tale of a young dinosaur trying to make his way home, it may seem a little like The Land Before Time, but the characters are like those in a Western. You have wild bandits in the form of pterodactyls, rustlers in the form of Velociraptors, and a father and his children, in the form of Tyrannosaurus, looking to herd their animals. The Tyrannosaurus father is even voiced by Western veteran Sam Elliott (who, coincidentally, also appeared in Grandma as Karl, an ex-lover of Tomlin’s Elle). If you’re looking to introduce your children to the Western genre, in my opinion, this movie is a creative way to do that.
So that was Johnny Caps’ 2015 at the movies. Next year, when I learn to drive, I plan on going out to the movies a lot more, but in the meantime, the Oscar nominations will be announced in a few weeks, and I’ll tell you that if I were an Oscar voter, I would vote for Lily Tomlin as Best Actress, “Inside Out” as Best Animated Feature and “The Good Dinosaur” for Best Original Score.
What will 2016 bring us? Stay tuned.