For this, the first installment of my annual four part Savage Scorecard series, I bring you the Honor Roll, a collection of films that received the three and a half star rating from me, the films that I felt to be strong entries released in the year and more than worthy of your time. As always, these are just my opinions and should just be taken as such as I did not see every film released in '15. All films are listed in alphabetical order and I will also direct you to where you can find the original, full reviews upon this site as well.
Let's get rolling!
1. "AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON" Directed by Joss Whedon
Probing psychologically deeper and becoming more intimate and surprisingly humane while simultaneously delivering the bombastic comic book goods and the some, Joss Whedon's sequel comes just this close to matching the spectacular heights of his first "Avengers" feature in 2012. But this adventure is a decidedly darker affair as Tony Stark's (now Robert Downey Jr's signature role) deepest fears and unquestionable hubris give rise to the film's titular villain, malevolently played by James Spader (sort of making this film a "Less Than Zero" reunion/rematch--ha ha). With greater emotional stakes, multiple storylines and an ever expanding cast of costumed characters, you can feel Whedon beginning to buckle under the strain of trying to keep so many plates spinning in mid air. Even so, "Avengers: Age Of Ultron" remained mighty enough to keep me engaged for the upcoming changes and conflicts within the Marvel cinematic universe.
(Originally reviewed May 2015)
2. "THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY-PART 2" Directed by Francis Lawrence
After a wheel-spinning third installment, "The Hunger Games" series draws to a rightfully grim and bleak close with our heroine Katniss Everdeen engulfed in the grueling war in Panem inch-by-treacherous-inch. Jennifer Lawrence again elicits a performance of depth and command within a film that is much more thoughtful and reverential than it has any need to be. Director Francis Lawrence (no relation) could have easily made the series and this film in particular a mindless thrill ride. But, wisely, he adheres closely to the dark themes of Suzanne Collins' original novels as entrusts us to think seriously about the concepts and consequences of war, totalitarianism, rebellion, revolution, fascism and even the costs necessary to obtain any sense of peace. The tragedy contains potent weight and the end result is powerfully sobering.
(Originally reviewed January 2016)
3. "JOY" Directed by David O. Russell
Re-teaming with Director David O. Russell for the third time, Jennifer Lawrence again commands the screen in this sprawling comedy-drama loosely based upon the life of Miracle Mop inventor/entrepreneur Joy Mangano. While there are stretches that perhaps meander and drag more than necessary, "Joy" does ultimately deliver a well earned emotional payoff as we regard the titular character on her road to independence and empowerment via an odyssey that packs in twists, pitfalls and struggles as if she is trapped inside of a personal soap opera.
(Originally reviewed January 2016)
4. "THE MARTIAN" Directed by Ridley Scott
This was one of the films I saw this year that I admired more than I liked or loved. In fact, I do think the film is a tad over-rated. That being said, Director Ridley Scott has created one of the most entertaining films of his long career and additionally, for a film that contains so much isolation, it is also surprisingly inclusive as it embraced a poignant display of humanity and what can be achieved by working together. Matt Damon delivered an excellent leading performance as the astronaut trapped and possibly doomed to die on Mars unless he is able to "Science" his way out of his dire predicament. And that is where I felt that Scott's film succeeded best, as this was a film that emphatically exclaimed that "Science Is Real!" and the drama of the piece did to arrive from how many items were demolished but through the process of thinking, problem solving and collaborating in order to achieve a common goal.
(Originally reviewed October 2015)
5. "SPOTLIGHT" Directed by Tom McCarthy
This was another film that I felt to be a highly noble effort but one that I admired and appreciated more than I liked. I also felt this film to be more than a tad over-rated as well. but that being said, Director Tom McCarthy has made a strong, smart adult film, with across the board solid performances, that exists as a solemn ode to journalism as well as a lament for the victims of systematic abuse within the Catholic church. Yes, this film exists as more of a procedural where we are allowed a glimpse into a time when the importance of investigative journalism involved getting all of the details right as opposed to releasing the information first. And I did also greatly appreciate that McCarthy never allowed his film to fall into any sense of histrionics or false melodrama. Even so, the entire film felt to be a bit dry to me and it lacked a sense of palpable urgency that I felt was inherent to the overall subject matter, therefore undercutting the film's overall power and weight. Otherwise, a solid effort.
(Originally reviewed November 2015)
6. "TRAINWRECK" Directed by Judd Apatow
(Originally reviewed July 2015)
STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO: "NUMBER 11"!!