Best and Worst films

2015 has been a really good year for Science Fiction movies, which is splendid since it’s our favorite genre. There’ve also been some clunkers released, not just those dubious low-budget direct-to-Syfy sort of films, but films that made it into the movie theater at a cineplex near you. And then there’s the usual question of whether a movie with some fantasy elements should be considered as also fitting into the genre of science fiction or not. So I’ve just decided for you in creating this list!

BEST:

‘The Martian’:

Science fiction that’s actually based around science, and shows the value of human ingenuity? This story first surfaced as a wonderful book and Ridley Scott did a splendid job of turning it into a gripping and quite entertaining movie about a guy stuck on Mars and trying to survive by his wits and some inventive utilization of various resources. Possibly the best sci-fi film of 2015.

 

‘Ant-Man’:

Between the big screen and the smaller television screen, you can’t escape the Marvel universe, but with the tremendous success of the first ‘Avengers’ movie, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ and the popularity of ‘Daredevil‘ on Netflix, the odds of diminutive superhero Scott Lang being a winner on screen seemed middling, at best. Which is why ‘Ant-Man‘ proved such a surprise, a fun, entertaining comic book action movie that surprised everyone with its success in the theater.

 

‘Jurassic World’:

After the huge success of the original ‘Jurassic Park‘, there have been plenty of movies featuring dinosaurs, but most have been dull and uninspired. Until director Colin Trevorrow tried his hand at rebooting the franchise and hitting a home run. One of the most successful films of the year, it features Chris Pratt in yet another wise-cracking role, playing against the uptight Bryce Dallas Howard. Not a great film, but a really good, really entertaining one quite suited for the big screen.

 

‘Tomorrowland’

I know, you’re saying “Whaaaat?” for this one. Most critics were disappointed with the expensive ‘Tomorrowland,’ even with the star power of George Clooney, Britt Robertson and a splendid Raffey Cassidy. What I really liked about this movie was that it was optimistic about the future in a way that we rarely see in science fiction — or in the movie theater. Nonetheless, there’s no question the film’s too long and has a bit too much preaching about the environment. Still, I think it’s great fun and beautifully produced.

 

‘Time Lapse’:

This is smart horror/sci-fi film that explores time travel in an ingenious way: a camera that takes photos 24-hours in the future. It’s fixed and bolted to the ground so the pictures are only of another apartment’s living room, but once the residents realize what’s going on, they start to use it in predictably greedy and selfish ways. Things spin out of control and while it’s not a great ending, it’s a provocative storyline and a  very good popcorn flick.

 

‘Ex Machina’:

An update of the Frankenstein story for our Siri and Cortana world and a meaningful sequel-of-sorts to the underrated ‘Her,’ ‘Ex Machina‘ explores the relationship between the beautiful AI Ava (Alicia Vikander) and a young geek programmer who predictably falls in love with the android. But does she love him or has she just calculated that befriending him is her best avenue for escape from the sadistic box that inventor Nathan (Oscar Isaac) is keeping her in? Or is it sadistic at all if Ava’s just an android in the first place? A very good movie with a satisfying ending.

WORST:

‘San Andreas’:

I really like Dwayne Johnson, but even his formidable on-screen charm can’t save this disaster porn turkey. It’s the kind of film where the special effects are beautiful, but they just don’t mask the idiocy of the storyline, the poor pacing of the story, and the banal predictability of it all. And then there’s the illogic of the disasters (yes, there’s more than one) too. They might as well have just had some dinosaurs crawl up from deep in the San Andreas Fault. That might have salvaged this disaster of a movie.

 

‘Jupiter Ascending’:

Try as they might, the Wachowski siblings just can’t seem to duplicate the remarkable success of ‘The Matrix.’ ‘Cloud Atlas‘ was close, based on a wonderfully complex book by David Mitchell, but ‘Jupiter Ascending‘? Somewhere on a whiteboard in Hollywood is a version that makes sense and is entertaining, but that’s not what ended up on screen. The cinematic release is just a mess, with incoherent sequences, an intergalactic backstory that’s completely daft and a hero who decides at the end of the movie (spoiler alert!) that she’s content being an underpaid housecleaner even though she now owns the entire Earth and has vast power and riches. Because cleaning toilets is, um, satisfying?

 

‘Vice’:

A private resort for very rich people that’s populated by robots and where it’s perfectly acceptable to rape, torture and even murder the inhabitants. Except something goes horribly wrong and it’s up to everyone’s favorite cranky, cynical cop Bruce Willis to figure out what’s really going on. Pro tip: ‘Westworld‘ did this story way, way better. ‘Vice’ is more like a cheesy porno film that won’t even make late night on Cinemax. Skip it.

 

‘Fantastic Four’:

Marvel’s got a good track record with getting its heroes onto the big screen, but there’s something about the team of Sue and Reed Richards, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm that dooms film after film. This time, it’s played as a young adult thriller and starts out well with an interesting backstory that revolves around troubled kids, a science fair and street racing, but once the gang transport to a strange and alien dimension the film falls apart and never recovers. No worries if you like the F4, however, I’m sure there’s another reboot coming in a year or two.

 

‘Pixels’:

Aliens invade the Earth but take the form of video game characters from popular 80s arcade games. Based on a really slick YouTube short, the concept just didn’t expand into a watchable film. The story is whimsical but amusing enough and the visual effects are very well rendered, but there’s too much Adam Sandler, with his trademark crass humor. Maybe someone will rewrite the story as an indie production but this version’s just not good at all.

 

MEH:

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’:

A lot of people really liked this post-apocalyptic film, a sort-of remake of the original Aussie indie sci-fi movie that introduced Mel Gibson to the industry, but this version is a muddled mess of a story and Max (Tom Hardy) barely has a role in the film, completely eclipsed by Charlize Theron’s one-dimensional Imperator Furiosa. The cinematography is stunning and there are some really provocative scenes, but there’s too much incoherent in this film for this critic, even if I know many of you are going to argue about this one with it’s 8.2 rating on IMDb.

 

‘Chappie’:

I loved ‘District 9,’ the first film from director Neill Blomkamp, but since then he’s sputtered with mediocre movies like ‘Elysium‘ and, now, ‘Chappie.’ It’s a weird sort of ‘Robocop‘ world where cities are kept safe by robot cops, until one of the robots is stolen and reprogrammed by a group of thugs as a criminal. But Chappie is now self-aware and wonders whether it’s doing the proper thing. Cute but ultimately a sloppy film that needed a tighter script and smarter ending.

 

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’:

I have to say it, I was bored by this film after the splendid adventure of the original ‘Avengers’ movie. Compared to last year’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ or this year’s ‘Ant-Man,’ ‘Age of Ultron‘ suffers from being overly long, having too many irrelevant subplots and a story that seems an excuse to tie a bunch of special effects together, not tell a coherent tale. I own the first ‘Avengers’ film, but I’ll skip buying this one for my library.

 

‘Self/less’:

What if you could transfer your consciousness from your old, dying body into a healthy new body? A story that’s been explored may times in cinema, most effectively in the smart 1966 film Seconds, ‘Self/less‘ has the visual effects of modern sci-fi, but he story just falls apart even as it’s incredibly predictable. This could have been a made-for-TV movie, perhaps, but as a big budget cinematic release? Not so much.

So that’s my list of best and worst films of 2015. Oh, and there’s this space-themed movie from J.J. Abrams and George Lucas coming later this week that seems likely to end up on the final version of this list. I dunno, it’s a reach…