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TOP 9 1/2 MOVIES OF 2015
LOVE AND MERCY   There's a viral video going around these days from the BBC, launching something
called BBC MUSIC.  Don't know what it is, but the video is a who's who of artists from Brian Wilson and
Elton John to Sam Smith and One Direction covering the Beach Boys'
God Only Knows.  (It's lovely.  Check
it out.)  Sir Paul McCartney has said that it's the greatest song of all time.  He's welcome to his opinion, but
I'm not even sure it's in my top five favorite songs of the Beach Boys.  (How can anything be better than
Wouldn't It Be Nice?)  Love and Mercy is a biopic of Wilson, based on his wife's authorized
biography--which would have been swell were it not for the fact that Wilson's life was a lot more interesting
before he met her.  The movie-makers must have sensed this as well because the movie itself is essentially
two stories--the more interesting one set in the 60's when the Brian and his brothers and cousins were
creating their iconic sound; and the second in the 80's when Wilson was struggling back to life after a couple
of decades of over-medication by both himself and an evil psychologist played here by Paul Giamatti.  Paul
Dano is wondrous as the young Brian Wilson who can't understand his own talent and dreads losing it.  John
Cusack does what he can as the older Wilson trying to make any kind of connection he can with the world.  
As you can probably guess, I would have liked to have seen more from the early days and less from the later
days, but that's really not what the movie is about.  Too bad.  
Good Vibrations, yes; but it's not all Fun, Fun,
.  (6/13/2015)

McFARLAND, USA   If Kevin Costner didn't exist, somebody would have to make him up. In his younger
days, he was great at playing the ex-jock.  Now that he's getting older, he's taking on the "ex-ex-jock", i. e.
coach roles. Which is fine. Here, he's washed out of a number of better coaching jobs, and the best gig he
can find is at a high school in the Central Valley of California where the Mexican-American students have
better things to do than play football.  After school, they're off to pick cabbage, almonds or whatever needs
picking at any given time. Noticing that some of the kids run really fast (They have to. They don't have cars,
and they've got places to go.), he organizes a cross country track team. Over the next two hours, all of the
clichés of the traditional underdog story are observed, and Kevin and his family (including the wonderful
Maria Bello) are slowly absorbed into the local culture. The movie carefully steps around the issue of whether
the students are actually citizens or not and goes to work on your softer side by showing that McFarland is
where Kevin and his family need to be and that he's made a difference in the lives of the students he
coaches--and even restored pride to the community. During the credits, we're shown current photos of the
original seven runners and told that they all went to college and are living productive lives--mostly around
McFarland. Being a half-full kind of guy, I choose to ignore the blatant manipulation the movie-makers are
using on me, and I think it's pretty wonderful.  (2/22/2015)

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS   There's an article in today's Los Angeles Times about how this movie
Beyond the Lights have the potential to become the movies that we ignored at the time, but will look back
on and remember as two of the memorable movies of 2014.  (Think
The Shawshank Redemption.)  I don't
know about that, but I can tell you that I did enjoy this tale of twenty-first century vampires in the Greater
Wellington, New Zealand area.  It's not something to aspire to.  As the movie opens, four vampires sharing a
house are having a house meeting to complain to one of their number about shirking with his household
responsibilities.  Barry hasn't washed dishes in the past five years.  His excuse: "I'm a vampire!  Vampires
don't wash dishes."  And they're off. One of the housemates has managed to enslave a human and has forced
her to bring victims to dinner at the house.  Things go badly, and one of the guests gets turned into a
vampire--and promptly discovers that being a vampire kind of sucks.  (Pun not intended.) He still hangs
around with his human friend Stu, a clueless software engineer, who by virtue of being the least oblivious
person around becomes the most compelling character in the movie.  (Even though he seldom says more
than, "My name is Stu," and "I'm a software engineer.")  "Who's going to kill and eat Stu first?" becomes the
movie's overriding question.  The movie's kind of a loopy mess, but not in a bad way.  If the prediction of the
Times is correct, you'll have lots of opportunities to catch this movie on TBS in the decades ahead.  (3/8/2015)

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION   begs the question, "Do you think that Tom Cruise is so
dedicated to being one of the greatest movie stars of all time that he would actually kill himself to create a
memorable movie scene?"  He appears to be attempting to do just that in several scenes in the
MI movie.  
Sure, hanging on to an Airbus as it takes off is one thing, but the diving and motorcycle scenes that follow it
would have taken me out.  I half-expected him to address the theater audience at the end of the movie and
ask, "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?"  Anybody who says no might as well give up on movies because
this one is like a giant $200 million puppy that only wants to be loved.  The settings in Vienna, Morocco and
London are stunning, and the story has complexity and humor to keep you interested, when something's not
blowing up or getting shot.  With
Jurassic World still stalking the cineplexes, this summer has been blessed to
have two excellent blockbuster thrillers to take our minds off the heat.  (8/2/2015)

JURASSIC WORLD   Has it really been 22 years?  I saw the original Jurassic Park on tv last week, and it
looks as fresh now as it did in 1993.  Watching the original spooked me about going to see what is essentially
Number 4 in the series, regardless of how much the promoters tell you about how
Jurassics Two and Three
don't really count.  Much of my concern for the new movie had to do with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas
Howard in the lead roles.  Pratt is as amiable a soul that has ever graced the large or small screen, but let's
face it, he's no Sam Neill.  I just didn't think he had the gravitas to pull off something like this.  Likewise, Ms.
Howard was a fine Jackson, Mississippi Junior League Bitch in
The Help, but that's a long way from being
the center of attention in what will probably be the biggest movie in the world. But to my surprise, both of
them pulled it off.  They weren't asked to do as much as the leads in the earlier movies, so we didn't feel as if
we were stuck with them on the amusement park ride for two hours.  Elsewhere, there were a couple of
young actors who did fine as the awful teenagers, and Vincent D'Onofrio was suitably sinister as a baddy
whose name in the credits might as well have been "Dinosaur Snack."  I have to say that this is may be the
best-looking movie I've ever seen.  (I saw it in 3D and IMAX.)  The 3D didn't have that weird hollow effect
you sometimes get when things (in this case, dinosaurs) are moving, and every shot looked spectacular.  A
lot of folks are carping about the product placement in the movie, but frankly, I think it works here.  If you
were going to build the world's most spectacular resort, wouldn't you expect to see Hilton, Margaritaville and
Coca-Cola?  Of course.  Jurassic World is terrific--and nobody's more surprised than I am.  (6/14/2015)

THE WALK   There's a lot more going on in this movie than you might imagine.  Clearly, Director Robert
Zemekis identifies with Phillippe Petit, the "underground" artist of the early 70's who shocked the world by
tight-rope walking between the towers of the newly-built World Trade Center in New York.  Petit, who'd
recently pulled a similar stunt with the towers of Notre Dame de Paris, called his performances "coups", and I
suspect that Zemekis, who's been revolutionizing movies since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? feels similarly.  
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit narrates the movie from the torch of the Statue of Liberty because--well,
because it's there.  He speaks in a ridiculous French accent because that's what a showman would do. Petit
does ridiculous acts in this movie just because they look great in IMAX 3D.  Last and certainly not least is
that regardless of how great Gordon-Levitt is (and he is pretty great), the star of the movie are the
newly-minted gleaming stainless steel towers of the World Trade Center.  From Dino de Laurentis's
to Oliver Stone's World Trade Center, these have been towers where people (and apes) came to die. In
The Walk, people come to the WTC to delight and amaze--and they do.  (10/1/2015)  

WOMAN IN GOLD  So many critics have dumped on this movie that it's Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer
score of 54, which is inexplicable to me.  So I went out and read a couple of the bad reviews, and the
objections seem mostly to have to do with the presence of Ryan Reynolds and Katie Holmes in key roles.  Is
this reverse discrimination?  The Australians have a term for it called the "tall poppy syndrome," whereby
someone who excels at what they do needs to be whacked down to size.  My advice is to ignore any other
review of this movie that you see and listen to me.  Go see it.  Helen Mirren is wondrous.  Reynold, Holmes
and Daniel Bruhl as an Austrian journalist are equally fine in supporting roles.  Mirren plays Maria Altmann, an
aging Austrian Jew in Los Angeles who abandoned her artistic household in Vienna just ahead of the Nazis.  
She left her family behind--including her Aunt Adela, who'd been immortalized in Gustave Klimt's painting,
Woman in Gold, which this Nazis spirited off to the Belvedere Gallery shortly after the Anschluss.  When the
Austrian government began a program of restoring looted art to its rightful owners in the 1990's, Maria and
her neophyte lawyer (Reynolds) went after the family's prized possession.  The movie is wonderful.  Don't
listen to the others.  They don't love you like I do.  (4/13/2015)

THE MARTIAN  So Matt Damon is lost, and Tom Hanks is sent out into Normandy to look for him. Oops,
wrong movie.  Matt Damon is lost, and Matthew McConaghey, Anne Hathaway have to travel through a
wormhole in space to find him.  Nope, that's
Interstellar.  Let's try this.  Matt Damon is lost and Joan Allen
and Julia Stiles are...Has it ever occurred to you that the entire history of the movies is about Matt Damon
being lost somewhere?  Well, so it goes in
The Martian--which I assume is a nod to the Ray Bradbury about
the family who's stranded on Mars.  After they realize they're stuck there forever, the father takes them to a
lake (I guess Mars had lakes in Ray Bradbury's world.) and asks them if they want to see some real
Martians.  When they say yes, he points to their reflection in the water.  But I digress.  Matt Damon is stuck
on Mars and has to figure out ways to generate: 1) air; 2) water; 3) food and 4) a way to get home.  How he
does each of those things is rather brilliant--as is the movie that Ridley Scott builds around him.  Considering
that Damon is alone for most of the movie, we never feel a sense of claustrophobia because in addition to
thoughtfully explaining to us how he is staying alive, he's developing a Matt Damon-based theology of Mars
that comically makes himself the first and best at
everything on Mars.  Considering how dire the
circumstances are, a lot of the movie is fairly hilarious.  This could be the best movie of the year.  

AMY   I wasn't a fan of Amy Winehouse's music, and I certainly didn't much care for the lifestyle she
projected to the world.  But after watching this documentary--drawn to a great extent from video of her early
life taken by family and friends--it's impossible to feel anything but regret that such a person could be eaten
alive by her own fame.  With the exception of a couple of childhood friends who seem to be the heroes of the
piece, EVERYBODY wanted something from her--and nobody more so than her own father.  It's was
heartbreaking to see how she craved his affection while he saw her as his ticket to the corner of Easy Street
and Got It Made Avenue.  It's not coincidental that he originally supported this documentary (probably
because he thought he could get something out of it), but withdrew his support after he saw an early version
which made it quite clear that he wasn't going to be let off the hook for what happened to his daughter.  It
wasn't entirely his fault, but he did nothing to help.  
Amy will break your heart and make you listen to her
music in a new way. Whether you think that is a good thing or not is up to you.  (7/12/2015)

SICARIO   Sicario means "hit man" in Spanish, so you can probably figure out where this movie is going.
But if you're going to see only one movie about the sorry state of America's border protection this year, make
Sicario. It's violent, bloody, smart, depressing--and it's got Emily Blunt.  She plays an FBI agent in Phoenix
who volunteers for a federal task force to take down a Mexican drug cartel--unaware that she's being played
for a fool--or worse--by representatives of unnamed agencies.  Blunt is brilliant and will certainly be
nominated for an Oscar, although I don't think the movie's writing quite gives her character the oomph she
needs to win the prize.  Don't even think about taking a child to this movie.  (10/9/2015)
Regardless of what anybody tells you about how 2015 might have been the best year ever for the movie business ($18.50 to see The
Danish Girl
?  Really?), it cannot be said that it was the best year ever for movies.  

As always, I do not claim that any of the movies on this list is one of the "best" movies of 2015.  They are merely the ones I liked
best.  And in the process of assembling the list, it occurred to me that a nice visitor to this page like yourself might look at these list of
favorite and least favorite movies and decide that I'm some kind of right-wing blowhole.  You may be right, but frankly, if you look
just to your left, you'll see that my favorite movie of 2014 was CITIZENFOUR.  I defy anyone to tell me that it was right-wing
propaganda.  And frankly, I defy anyone to tell me that they enjoyed left-wing agit-prop like
Chi-Raq and Grandma more than
right-wing darlings,
McFarland, USA and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.

While admitting that "only" saw about sixty movies during the year, I was hard-pressed to find enough movies to fill out a respectable
top-ten list at the end of it.  As a result, I now share with you the first
Top Nine-and-a-Half Movies of 2015.

Regardless of what ANYBODY says are the top movies of the year,
I think that the only two that most people will remember are
Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  And there's a
pretty good reason for this--they were both excellent movies.  
Curiously, both of them were enormously successful because they
resembled the first movies in their respective franchises more
closely than the less-successful later movies.  The Force Awakens
was practically a public apology for Episodes 1-3, and Jurassic
World was the most entertaining installment in that franchise since
Sam Neill got out alive.

I love these movies--but not quite enough to put them in the top ten.
In the past, I've put in an opinion on who I thought gave the best performances of the year.  This year, I don't really have strong
opinions on the subject, but having said that, I think it would be a shame if Emily Blunt and Helen Mirren were not honored for their
outstanding work in
Sicario and Woman in Gold.  But Hollywood being what it is, they'll probably give the Best Actress Oscar to Eddie

Among the men, was there really anything else to watch in
The Martian besides Matt Damon?

And on that cynical note, here's my

It's hard to call something one of the "worst" movies of the year.

There are movies that disappoint your expectations, movies that make you feel dirty for succumbing to their hype, movies,
movies that irritate you because they twist reality beyond recognition to score political points and then there's
which falls into all three categories. I honestly don't recall ever anticipating a movie so much and being so disappointed by
what's on the screen.  

I'll certainly give
Vacation pride of place as "worst of the worst", but beyond that, I'll just put my least favorites in the order
in which I saw them.  And because I'm a nice guy, I'll just list the nine worst and not drag an innocent bad movie onto the list
just to get to a round number

VACATION   As the promotional materials for this movie are anxious to assure you, this is not a remake of National Lampoon's
, directed by John Hughes in 1983.  The earlier movie was--well, funny.  This one is many things.  On rare occasions it is
funny, but mostly it's just crude.  You know what's coming when you see the Griswolds' trip laid out on a map on Rusty's tablet.  
Why in the world would anybody go through Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas to get from Chicago to California?  Because that's
where the cheapest laughs are.  In Tennessee, there's a pointless excursion to a sorority house, which even in the middle of
summer, is brimming with drunk, half-dressed college girls.  In Arkansas, there are troglodytes who direct the family to a toxic
waste pit and then rob them of their belongings while they're away from the car.  In Texas, there's Chris Hemsworth as a
conservative weather man who's somehow accumulated enough assets to purchase a large cattle ranch in--of all places--Plano.  
The reputations of these states might have suffered more if the movie makers hadn't been so inept.  As it is, unfortunate viewers
lust look at the screen and wonder if we can go someplace next that's actually funny.  Such a place, alas, is not San Francisco,
where the movie's biggest downers await.   I'm sure that Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo were well-compensated for whatever
cache they brought to this movie, but seeing them on the screen is macabre.  Bloated Chase appears to have been swallowed whole
by Uncle Fester; D'Angelo, a stunningly beautiful woman--usually--looks as if she's been attacked by an entire team of
Botox-wielding plastic surgeons.  After everything that's gone before, you just think, "No, I don't want to see this part, either."  
When the family finally gets to Walley World, more grimness follows.  Sorry folks.  The movie stinks.  The moose out front
should've told ya.   (7/29/2015)

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY   Congratulations to Bernardo Bertolucci.  Your Last Tango in Paris is still the worst movie about sex
it's been my fate to encounter.  The image of Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando in the tub still has the power to creep me out. I
came this close to giving
Grey a pass because based on the evidence, if you're a chick working in a hardware store who fantasizes
about a handsome billionaire stalking you
because you're just so special, this is definitely your thing. I've been told that the movie is
much better written than the book. All I know is that I laughed inappropriately in most of the wrong places. But at least I wasn't
alone--the 98 percent of the audience that was female got a hoot out of finding that Dakota Johnson apparently doesn't shave her
legs.  (Not a big turn on for me.)  Because Ms. Johnson--daughter of Melanie Griffith--reminds me so much of her mother (in a
good way), I spent the first half of the movie trying to think of some way to link this movie to
Working Girl. But other than the
mother/daughter link and the female empowerment theme, there wasn't a lot to work with. Ms. Johnson is the star here. I predict
big things for her in the future. As for Jamie Dornan, who plays Grey, it should be enough that he's a Calvin Klein underwear
Please don't let there be a sequel.  (2/14/2015)

BUZZARD   is the kind of movie that makes old people like me think that young people are so stupid that I should be doing more to
take advantage of them.  Joel Potrykus (promoted as the "Buster Keaton for the 99%") has written, directed and acted in a movie
Office Space on crack!") that claims to feature a "21st century version of Travis Bickle."  Joshua Burge plays a slacker/temp/idiot
in Greater Detroit who gets by scamming everybody from Office Depot to Hot Pockets to his unfortunate employer. His last scam
evolves from an imperfect understanding of banking regulations that leads him to believe that he can cash checks made out to other
people without anybody noticing.  He was a paranoid loner long before the movie started, but when he has to go off the grid to
avoid his employer and the police, his bad decisions multiply.  If your idea of a good time is watching a not-at-all clever young man
(usually from behind) sitting on a couch and playing video games, ordering room service and eating a plate of spaghetti that's more
disturbing than comical, or breaking into hotel rooms, this could be a movie for you.  Otherwise, move along.  (3/9/2015)

MERCHANTS OF DOUBT  is a documentary about spin doctors.  The most remarkable thing about the movie is that it hoists
itself on its own petard.  (I've been waiting to use that saying for fifteen years.)  It accuses spin doctors of using half-truths and
innuendo to advance points of view that are either, untrue, misrepresented or unpopular.  And it uses the same tactics to smear
those who practice those tactics.  I felt dirty just watching it.  (4/112015)

THE LONGEST RIDE  Another night, another movie about artistic Jews who escape Vienna just ahead of the Nazis.  You're
probably thinking, "But I thought this was the movie about the hot rodeo guy?"  Well, yeah.  In violation of several state and local
regulations, I'm not going to comment on how good-looking Clint Eastwood's son Scott is.  It should be fairly evident.  (However,
I will say this: He has the biggest Adam's Apple I've ever seen.  When he's shown in profile, it looks like he has a goiter.  But I
digress.)  Nicolas Sparks is at it again.  If you liked
The Notebook--or any other of the gazillions of movies he's written, you'll like
this.  I didn't, so I was in agony as one unlikely scenario after another unfolded on the screen before me.  Eastwood is half of a
younger couple who fight to "find each other" as the story of an older couple is told from letters the young woman reads to Alan
Alda in his hospital bed after he's been pulled from an automobile accident and later at home.  Think James Garner reading
to Gena Rowland, and you've got it.  The recent movie that this one most reminds me of is Fifty Shades of Grey (not
good) in which the only mystery is when are the stars going to drop their pants. (4/14/2015)

ALOHA   Most of the time, I either like or dislike a movie--or I really don't think about it much at all.  This is the first time in as
long as I can remember that I actually
resent a movie.  I was looking forward to seeing this movie as much or more than any I'd
see this summer.  It's got Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bradley Cooper, Bill Murray, etc. and it's set in Hawaii.  It's GOT to be
good, right? Wrong.  Right off the bat, you sense that the movie was shot underwater.  It's dark, fuzzy and seemingly out of focus
most of the time.  Forget about Stone, McAdams, Cooper et al, this movie can't even make Hawaii look good!  As you're still
absorbing this disappointment, you begin to notice that the plot is full of--let's say poi.  We're expected to believe that: a) Bill
Murray is a billionaire who wants to put atomic weapons in space; and 2) Emma Stone is an F-22 pilot.  And after setting us up
with these two ridiculous premises, the movie wants to tug at our heartstrings with stories of heartbreak, abandonment and
discovery centered around Cooper, McAdams and Stone.  Sorry.  Not buying it. There are a few things about
Aloha that are
actually pretty terrific--chief among them a dance between Bill Murray and Emma Stone that is reminiscent of John Travolta and
Uma Thurman in
Pulp Fiction--and you can almost see them dancing through the movie's murk.  But there's a lot of crap--mainly
an inane subplot about the Hawaiian separatist movement that goes nowhere.  (QUESTION:  How come libs in Hollywood (rightly)
condemn separatists when they're hiding out with militias in Montana, but just
love them when they're sporting "Hawaiian by Birth,
American by Force" t-shirts.  Just wondering.)  
Aloha is not only a mess; it should be your response to it.  (5/29/2015)

PITCH PERFECT 2   jumps the shark. It probably won't be challenging Buzzard for the title of the worst movie I've seen this year,
but it's down there. Everything that had been fresh and interesting about
Pitch Perfect is tossed into the trash compactor and baled
into an unsightly mess.  If I didn't know better, I'd say that whoever wrote this movie--to the extent that it can be said to have been
written--realized that all the good ideas had been used up in the first movie, and now they just had to fill ninety minutes of screen
time to cash a paycheck.  The plot is almost identical to the first one--and that's really the best thing I can say about it.  The music
is worse--it's not even a capella anymore; the jokes are contemptible; and the characters are flat as a pancake. In a move that will
almost assure that we won't have to deal with a
Pitch Perfect 3, the characters in the movie trash the fans that made them
successful in the first place. It eats its young. Aca-yuck.  (6/1/2015)   

GRANDMA   I pity the fool who goes to this movie thinking it's a comedy.  It's really anything but.  Lily Tomlin gives an excellent
performance as--Lily Tomlin.  Even the guy who wrote the movie said he wrote it thinking of Lily as the main character.  Even
having said that, I would think that the real Lily Tomlin makes people smile from time to time in her real life.  Her alter ego Elle is
just a pill at every level. I suppose we're supposed to admire her tenacity and loyalty, but those qualities don't always make for an
enjoyable movie--and they really don't in this case.  (9/20/2015)

CHI-RAQ   The latest Spike Lee Joint (does he still call them joints?) wants to be loved for its good intentions, despite the brutality
it inflicts on truth, common sense and the laws of economics.  Loosely--very, very loosely--based on the Greek tragedy of
Lysistrata (in which Greek women withheld sex from their men until they stopped fighting) with occasional flashes of Foxy Brown
Shaft, Chi-Raq throws all sorts of things at the refrigerator with the hope that something will stick.  Not much does--except
that maybe it's time for John Cusack to hire somebody to start reading scripts for him so that he might some time have a chance of
sticking out of his movies like a sore thumb.  One thing that does stick with the moviegoer is
Chi-Raq's breathtaking hypocrisy.  
For a movie that claims to serve "truth", it presents both the Mayor of Chicago and the President of the United States as white
Republicans with the implication that if only black Democrats ever held those jobs, things would be so much better.  Despite the
mess that it found itself knee-deep in, you can see that this movie probably started as a good idea.  If Lee had followed
Aristophanes's plot to its conclusion,
Chi-Raq would have been a much better movie.  However, that would have robbed the
director of the opportunity to hurl gratuitous insults at Condoleeza Rice and Dr. Ben Carson. Sadly,
Chi-Raq is much too frail to
support all of Mr. Lee's talking points.  (12/7/2015)
Click here to see all movie reviews for 2015