2015 Leaman Awards - The Part-Time Critic

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2015 Leaman Awards

*Last Updated: 8/5/2022

2015 Films Seen: 76
Number of Films with 'A' or 'A+': 5
Key Films Still to See: n/a

Brief Summary: Looking back on the year, it kind of feels like the slate of films that came out in 2015 were carefully tuned to my personal tastes. This has to be one of my favorite film years of all-time; the Top 25 has 22 films with a B+ or higher! It's all so subjective, which is why I don't think I'd ever claim a film year was objectively better over another, but this is certainly one of my personal favorites. Classic dramas, animated films, and action films abound here.


Not a "best of" list or a "favorite" list - but a list of the films and sequences (action, drama, comedy, & musical) that I think represent the best the year had to offer. So think of it as a strange mixture of favorite, best, and defining. Once you get to the top ten films, it definitely becomes more defined as a Top Ten list of the year. The number one film is my favorite of the year. 

Honorable Mentions: Amy, Concussion, Focus, I am Chris Farley, Spy

25. Avengers: Age of Ultron (B)
24. The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (B)
23. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (B)
22. Beasts of No Nation (B+)
21. Shaun the Sheep (B+)
20. Mr. Holmes (B+)
19. 13 Minutes (B+)
18. Bridge of Spies (B+)
17. Son of Saul (B+)
16. Creed (B+)
15. The Gift (B+)
14. Woman in Gold (B+)
13. Paddington (B+)
12. Ex Machina (B+)
11. The Room (A-)

THE TOP TEN
10. The Martian (A-): A solid popcorn science fiction film with adult sensibilities. Matt Damon puts on a star performance and the script provides plenty of smart and fun moments in trying to use science to survive Mars alone. I just wish it found a way to keep that balance between grounded science and Hollywood action all the way through to the final sequence.

9. Steve Jobs (A-): I’m not sure why this film did so poorly at the box office and has been all but forgotten since because it’s a real joy to watch this ensemble perform such an engrossing introspection on the humanity, and inhumanity, of a brilliant man.

8. Land of Mine (A-): The Germans buried over 2.2 million land mines along the Danish coastline during World War II. Once the war was over, German POWS, many of them just teen boys, were used to clear the land mines. Dane actor Roland Moller plays a Danish Sergeant overseeing a squad of Germans who are assigned a stretch of the coast line to complete. Once they clear their stretch, they are free to go home, until then, they are prisoners under the harsh eye of the Sergeant. At first, the Sergeant is filled with hatred and bitterness towards the POWs. It's clear that he could care less if any POW lost their life while defusing the bombs. I really loved this film and the way it so simply and organically challenges the viewer to go on a transformative journey with the Danish Sergeant by its end. Don't miss out on it. For more of my review of this film and other important World War II aftermath films, click HERE.

7. The Big Short (A-): Remarkably similar to Spotlight: educational, filled w/ righteous outrage & yet introspective at every level involved. So many ambitious narrative swings here that all end up working. Lots of great performances. Margin Call, The Wolf of Wall Street & The Big Short are the primary ways I have learned about the nature of Wall Street & the 2008 crash. I think The Big Short is probably the best of the bunch.

6. Brooklyn (A-) My minor quibbles were swept away in the intimate & insightful story, strong direction, & Ronan's career defining performance.

5. The Revenant (A-): We often forget the role of the explorers and traders in opening up and settling the west. From that group of people come a load of crazy survival stories, none as crazy as the story of Hugh Glass which The Revenant is loosely based on. The explorer and frontiersman Glass was mauled by a bear and left by his group for dead. He struggled over 200 miles on his own back to civilization. This part brutal survival story, part revenge tale, & part insightful spiritual mediation really connected with me. It felt to me like a perfect mix of Michael Mann's eye for visceral action, the historical verisimilitude of The Last of The Mohicans, Terrance Malick's visual/spiritual meditations in Tree of Life, the fever dream psychology of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, and the complex moral dialogues of Inarritu's own Biutiful. In other words, it has a lot going for it beyond being just a superbly crafted tale of surviving the elements (in a standout performance from Leonardo DiCaprio) of the wilderness and getting revenge. In the final moments of the film (in the picture seen above), DiCaprio's Hugh Glass ponders and reflects on his journey to revenge. The final taunts of his nemesis John Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hardy) take hold of Glass and took hold of me as well, "You came all this way just for your revenge, huh? Did you enjoy it, Glass?... 'Cause there ain't nothin' gon' bring your boy back." If you'd like to read about my favorite Western films, you can click HERE.

4. Sicario (A): Written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Denis Villeneuve, Sicario engages the viewer from the first shot to the last. It’s one of those movies that kicks protected, middle-class, suburban people (like me) in their gut and forces them to see unpleasant things we’d like to forget exists outside our bubble. The lawless frontier space of the usual Western is replaced here with the lawless border area and the drug trade. Sheridan's screenplay explores the question of how civilized, protected, and sophisticated people should react to the seemingly purposeless violence that comes with the drug trade. Does turning a cheek work? What happens when the wolves are able to bypass the fence and the laws? Are you willing to turn into a wolf yourself? Incredible stuff here.

3. Inside Out (A): A first-class example of how cinema can combine the best of sound, image, and story to create something far greater than its parts. Inside Out is imaginative, funny, insightful, and quietly mournful acknowledging the place of sadness and grief in our lives. It contains several moments of genuinely moving movie magic that've stuck with me since my first viewing. Classic. In the running for my favorite animated film of all-time.


2. Mad Max: Fury Road (A): Beyond the incredible craft, efficient screenplay, and kinetic direction, this action classic tells a strong and meaningful story about the relationship and roles between men and women.


1. Spotlight (A+): A phenomenal tale of shoe leather journalism. I’m so grateful and proud to have filmmakers tell this difficult story with such excellence, intelligence, and maturity. As the years have gone by and I've watched this film over and over, it's become an all-time favorite. I look forward to writing a full review of it in the near future.


FAVORITE ACTION SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
The Very Good:
  • "Adonis' "One Shot" First Fight Introduction to the World" -Creed
  • "Chased by Mutts in the Sewers" -The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
  • "Fight to Finish Off a Glass of Guinness" -Kingsmen: The Secret Service
  • "Kung Fu Killer vs. Sword Master Ends with Box Cutter" -Kung Fu Killer (Commentary)
  • "Deal to Cut Through Mountain Pass Fails" -Mad Max: Fury Road
  • "Finale: Glass & Fitzgerald Faceoff in the Snow" -The Revenant (Commentary)
  • "Fighting Russian Thugs in a Convenience Store" -Taken 3
The Great:
  • "Hulk vs. Hulk Buster" -Avengers: Age of Ultron (Commentary)
  • "Church Mayhem" -Kingsmen: The Secret Service
  • "Street Showdown Finale: Donnie Yen vs Wang Baoqiang" -Kung Fu Killer (Commentary)
  • "First Chase Ends with a Super Sandstorm" -Mad Max: Fury Road
  • "Group Fight for a Gun while Chained" -Mad Max: Fury Road
  • "Vienna Opera House Assassination Goes Sideways" -Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (Commentary)
  • "Chasing Ilsa in Morrocco: Cars & Motorcycles" -Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (Commentary)
  • "Finale: Master Chen Takes On the Masters in an Alley" -The Final Master
  • "Opening: Indians Ambush a Fur Trading Camp" -The Revenant (Commentary)
The Best: "Final Race to Cut Off the Pass and Make it Home" -Mad Max: Fury Road
Commentary:


FAVORITE DRAMATIC SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
The Very Good:
  • "Army Moves In and Kills his Family" -Beasts of No Nation
  • "Agu is Forced to Kill a Prisoner" -Beasts of No Nation
  • "Baum Finally Decides to Sell his Swaps" -The Big Short
  • "Waiting to see what the Russians do at the Bridge of Spies" -Bridge of Spies
  • "Standing up to Miss Kelly, Saying Goodbye to Mom, and Meeting her Husband" –Brooklyn
  • "Dr. Omalu Speaks to the Players Association and Sees Mike Webster" -Concussion
  • "Running and Walking up the Museum Steps" –Creed
  • "Rocky Explains he Won’t Fight His Illness" –Creed
  • "Rocky and Adonis Agree to Both Fight" –Creed
  • "Ava Asks for Help During a Power Outage" –Ex Machina
  • "Ava Leaves her Helper to Die" –Ex Machina
  • "Betting on Jersey Numbers in the Suite" –Focus
  • "Losing his Job, his Wife, and Possibly his Child all in Succession" -The Gift
  • "Bing Bong helps Joy Rocket from the Pit" –Inside Out
  • "Joy Ice Skates Along with the Memory" -Inside Out
  • "Working through the Bureaucracy of the Verse" –Jupiter Ascending
  • "Mad Max gives Blood to Furiosa" - Mad Max: Fury Road
  • "Watney Prepares to Lift off Mars" –The Martian
  • "Recalling the Deduction that Sent him into Retirement" –Mr. Holmes
  • "Revenge is Finally Taken, but So is Glass" -The Revenant
  • "Meeting a Dog" -Room
  • "A Family Assassination" –Sicario
  • "Opening Death House Raid" –Sicario
  • "Deciding to Hold Back the Story" –Spotlight
  • "Walking the Trade Center Wire" -The Walk
The Great:
  • "Mark Baum Learns of CDO’s at a Dinner" -The Big Short
  • "Joy Discovers the Place of Sadness in Memories” –Inside Out
  • "Day Off: Water, Soccer, and a Sad Ending" -Land of Mine
  • "Opening: Ethan Hunt Hangs Outside a Plane" –Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
  • "Attacked by a Bear" -The Revenant
  • "Escaping the Room and Explaining to the Cops" -Room
  • "Finale: This is the Land of Wolves Now" -Sicario
  • "Stuck at the Border with a Hot Package" –Sicario
  • "Final Words Between Jobs and Woz in Front of Everyone" -Steve Jobs
  • "Revealing the Globe Bears Responsibility as Well" –Spotlight
  • "Finale: Walking Through Her Old Home" -The Woman in Gold
The Best: "Joy Lets Sadness Take Over and Riley Opens Up to Her Family" –Inside Out
Commentary: 


FAVORITE COMEDIC SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
*Didn't keep great track of this category initially

The Very Good:
  • n/a

The Great:
  •  n/a

The Best: n/a 
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE MUSICAL SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
*No major musicals viewed this year
The Very Good:
  • "Tearing Up the Dance Floor" -Ex Machina 

The Great:
  • n/a 

The Best: n/a
Commentary: n/a

BEST DIRECTOR
Nominees:
  • Pete Doctor and Ronaldo Del Carmen Inside Out
  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu The Revenant
  • George Miller Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Tom McCarthy Spotlight
  • Denis Villeneuve Sicario
Commentary: Picking a "Best" director this year is an insane task. 


FAVORITE FILM ENSEMBLES
Nominees:
  • The Big Short
  • Brooklyn
  • Ex Machina
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Land of Mine
  • Steve Jobs
  • Sicario
  • Spotlight
  • Woman in Gold
Commentary: 


FAVORITE MALE PERFORMANCES
Nominees:
  • Steve Carell The Big Short
  • Matt Damon The Martian
  • Leonardo DiCaprio The Revenant
  • Michael Fassbender Steve Jobs
  • Tom Hardy The Revenant
  • Oscar Isaac Ex Machina
  • Burghart Klausner The People vs. Fritz Bauer
  • Ian McKellen Mr. Holmes
  • Mark Ruffalo Spotlight
  • Sylvester Stallone Creed
  • Jacob Tremblay Room
Commentary: 


FAVORITE FEMALE PERFORMANCES
Nominees:
  • Joan Allen Room
  • Emily Blunt Sicario
  • Brie Larson Room
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh The Hateful Eight
  • Laura Linney Mr. Holmes
  • Helen Mirren The Woman in Gold
  • Amy Poehler Inside Out
  • Margot Robbie Focus
  • Saoirse Ronan Brooklyn
  • Charlize Theron Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Kate Winslet Steve Jobs
Commentary: 


FAVORITE SCREENPLAYS
(original or adapted)
Nominees:
  • 13 Minutes
  • The Big Short
  • Brooklyn
  • Ex Machina
  • The Gift
  • Inside Out
  • The Martian
  • Room
  • Sicario
  • Spotlight
  • Steve Jobs
Commentary: 


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Nominees:
  • Amy
  • I Am Chris Farley
  • Meru
Commentary: n/a


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Nominees:
  • Inside Out
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
  • The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
Commentary: 
BEST FILM EDITING
Nominees:
  • The Big Short
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Sicario
  • Spotlight
Commentary: 


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Nominees:
  • Brooklyn
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
  • The Revenant
  • Sicario
Commentary: 


BEST ART DIRECTION
Nominees:
  • Ex Machina
  • The Gift
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
Commentary: 


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Nominees:
  • Ant-Man
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Ex Machina
  • Furios 7
  • The Martian
  • Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Commentary: 


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Nominees:
  • Brooklyn
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Inside Out
  • Mr. Holmes
  • Paddington
  • Spotlight
Commentary: 


BEST SOUND DESIGN
Nominees:
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Room
  • Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Commentary


BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Nominees:
  • The Big Short
  • Brooklyn
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Revenant
Commentary: 


BEST MAKE-UP & HAIR DESIGN
Nominees:
  • Ex Machina
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Revenant
Commentary: 

BIGGEST GUILTY PLEASURE


Nominees:
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Kung Fu Killer
  • Skin Trade
Commentary: Although neither are very good films, Kung Fu Killer and Skin Trade represent the best action work both Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa have had in years.


MOST SURPRISING FILM
Nominees:
  • The Big Short
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
  • The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
Commentary: I’d never seen an episode of the cartoon before and to be honest, it always seemed (from the outside) a bit cheap and dumb. To my surprise, although it certainly goes for some cheap gags (that I found funny), it was also very witty and clever.


MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM
Nominees:
  • Blackhat
  • Furious 7
  • Spectre
Commentary: This award goes to one half of the film. Sam Mendes' follow-up to Skyfall starts off strong with an incredible sequence in Mexico and then keeps the plot humming with interest. The first act engaged me and got my hopes up, but sometime during the second act (perhaps the airplane chase?) the film proceeded to get worse and worse with each subsequent scene, save a strong train fight. By the time Blofield is revealed and the finale happens, I couldn't wait for the film to end.


MOST UNDERRATED FILM
Nominees:
  • Bridge of Spies
  • Focus
  • Paddington
Commentary: This charming story seems to have been underestimated and unfairly neglected in film discussions. If this had been a Christmas release I wonder if the quality production values and heartwarming message would have been better remembered and received. Thankfully the improved sequel saw the franchise receive much needed love.


MOST OVERRATED FILM
Nominees:
  • It Follows
  • Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl
  • Trainwreck
Commentary: It Follows received a huge amount of critical praise as a thoughtful persons horror film, but I didn't think it was that thoughtful at all. There's one or two nice jump scares, but the subtext is obvious, the story drags, and it never really amounts to much. I love the concept, but think the execution here would have been better in the hands of a big studio perhaps.


WORST FILM
Nominees:
  • Daddy's Home
  • Minions
  • San Andreas
  • Trainwreck 
Commentary: Perhaps I should just name this my Judd Apatow or Seth Rogen Comedy award as every year I am baffled by the critical and popular reception their comedies get. This one is no different. I had not seen any of Amy Schumer's work before watching Trainwreck, but she's a perfect match for director Judd Apatow’s have his cake and eat it too sexual shtick. I'm surprised people still haven't caught on to it yet.


BEST COMPILATION OF WORK

Performances/Accomplishments (that I saw anyways):
  • Oscar Isaac: Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Commentary:  


ERIC BANA AWARD
*Given for the best performance in a bad film (See 2004's Troy)

Nominees:
  • Val Kilmer Tombstone 
Commentary:  


THE END!


"God…Are you watching what we are doing?" – Beasts of No Nation


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