15 Things I Picked Up from Watching 378 Movies in 2015

Is it too late to say Happy New Year? Well, this is where we are. Happy New Year!

I’m a student of the cinema. It isn’t something I learned about myself, just something I sort of always knew. I’ll watch anything and everything and pick up what I can. Even if a movie is complete garbage in my eyes, learning what doesn’t work for me means I didn’t waste two hours of my life. Way back in January 2015, I thought it would be fun to start a movie log and keep track of every movie I watch from start to finish and see where I ended up by December 31st.

My favorite movies leave a lasting impression on me. An intriguing premise or specific actor draws me in, but there’s no such thing as a guaranteed win. What wins me over is that gut feeling, that visceral, emotional reaction to the story or characters or mise-en-scène or technique and in some very special cases — all of the above. I also have so much love and respect for bold creative choices.

When I say a movie is a film and gorgeous and life-changing in the way it captivates, it’s just my opinion and if I say a movie is a popcorn movie is a box office grubbing heap of garbage with no substance beneath the one liners and excessive explosions, I fully expect people, strangers and those I love and respect, to disagree. That’s the beauty of the cinema, right? Subjectivity! It’s beautiful. How certain films and characters and tropes rip my heart apart and make me enjoy it, but someone else can just shrug it off. Absolutely maddening, but beautiful. Movies are magic in the way people react differently to seeing the same thing. It’s magic. Movies are magic and 2015 was a great year in the world of professional make-believe.

In 2015, I watched 378 movies. The original plan was to watch a movie a day, but life had other plans more often than not so if I was too busy to watch a movie one day I’d make up for it by watching two (or four) on a later day. It worked out, for the most part. Here are a few of those things I picked up along the way:

1. Don’t illegally download movies! Can’t stress it enough. Just don’t do it, kids.

2. My favorite movies released in 2015 look a little like this:  

IMG_8668-1

Mad Max: Fury Road has been my favorite movie all year and will be for the rest of my life, I’m sure. George Miller’s world building and the gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous cinematography gives me a thrill just thinking about it. This film goes full-throttle and, man, did I feel it. The drum beats of Joe’s war party give me chills and a jolt of anticipation no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Fury Road is all-consuming and forces you to just surrender, go along for the ride. Fun and badass and meaningful.

3. If Room doesn’t make you an emotional mess, you’re probably a robot. 

Movies don’t make me cry. Titanic? Nah, not at all. Then I saw Room and it ruined me. Devastatingly beautiful. Brie Larson is phenomenal. I’ve been a fan for years even if I couldn’t pinpoint why early on. It was always a gut-feeling that Brie was a young actor to look out her. Short Term 12 was a breakout role for her. It brought to light what’s, in my opinion, her greatest skill — being able to settle into the skin of a character and allow the character to show vulnerability in front of the camera. She really turned heads with Short Term 12 and now she’s solidified herself as an absolute force in the acting world with her performance in Room.

It’s often hit or miss with child actors for me. They’re young and understandably, their acting can feel like such, well, acting, simply reciting memorized dialogue, which can be annoying. Jacob Temblay isn’t annoying. On the contrary, he’s just instantly likable and there’s no point in the movie where it was obvious he was blatantly acting. He embodies the character, feels like Jack the entire time. It doesn’t hurt that he’s adorable.

Room is about an abduction survivor and a child essentially born in captivity. It’s done with such a delicate hand and doesn’t simply play out like an episode of Criminal Minds, but goes deeper and keeps a tight focus on the people. They don’t simply leave Room and cue the happily ever after, just a step in the right direction with many more lows and highs, some of which we get to see. All of this makes Room a must-see movie, for sure.

4. Nods to the original always get me.

I managed to watch every Rocky movie before seeing Creed in theaters the night before Thanksgiving. There isn’t a single point in the movie where I want things to be different. No I wish they did this instead or I wish they left that out. Creed is a completely satisfying experience. After the Tommy Gunn episode in Rocky V, it’s nice to see Rocky get it right as a mentor, teaching Adonis everything Mickey taught him. Adonis being Creed’s son is just the icing on top of the three-tier bromance cake. The classic chicken scene! The string! The turtles! When it comes to sequels and reboots, nods to the original never get old for me.

On the topics of big franchises making a comeback, I also really like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and saw A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back before hitting the theater to see the newest installment…twice. Is is just A New Hope, but beefed up? In a few ways, sure. Is it essentially a retro movie, what George Lucas didn’t want? Yes. And I love that decision and every bit of this movie. When the camera just holds on the stars gets me every single time! The iconic music! The lightsabers! The characters! I love the characters, the veterans and the new batch of kids. It’s full of parallels and little winks to the past. (I thought the garbage compactor line would get more laughs out of the audience, but not really the two times I saw it?) The Force Awakens is fun and sometimes that’s all you want when you go to the theater. Along with popcorn, of course.

5. Caring too much is the quickest path to disappointment.

I love Captain America. I love Black Widow. I love Thor. If you know me, you know I often curse the Russo brothers (who I’ve loved and believed in since they were directing episodes of Community and Happy Endings) for taking on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and proving they can do action with depth and character development in addition to comedy. Winter Soldier makes moves that changes everything, not just for S.H.I.E.L.D., but the larger, shared universe. I left the theater a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe where I only thought of them as popcorn movies and watched them for the spectacle before.

I love Captain America and Black Widow and Thor and what did they do in Avengers: Age of Ultron exactly? Besides fight robots because there were a lot of those. I saw every single one on the crowded movie poster. I enjoy the MCU and the intricate interconnectivity and that’s why it pains me that Age of Ultron falls so short. It could have been so much better! I like the bit where they try to lift Thor’s hammer and Steve’s vision and the visual embodiments of PTSD laced throughout, but everything else isn’t very good, far below the standard Winter Solider set.

Why don’t we see any repercussions from what happened in Winter Solider? Not even a mention? Nothing about Natasha leaking S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secrets onto the internet. And why show the massive, massive fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. just to have Fury ride in with New S.H.I.E.L.D. like nothing? Making S.H.I.E.L.D. so corrupt from the inside that it needed to be taken down is huge and bold and how does Age of Ultron just decide to not capitalize off of it?

Why make Ultron such a castrated villain? If Ultron has so much power, especially over the Internet (a perfect segue into S.H.E.I.L.D. secrets being online), why doesn’t he take advantage of the Avengers and the world’s reliance on technology, attack on both on the macro and micro level, cause worldwide panic and hysteria while personally messing with our heroes’ minds, making them feel small and helpless on every level? Why did Steve not care about Natasha being taken by Ultron? (Why was she even taken by Ultron? — to set up the “romantic” reunion with Banner, clearly — when did that relationship even happen when we haven’t seen it on screen whatsoever?) WHY?

This whole debacle makes me realize that had I not been so invested, I probably could have enjoyed the movie more in the way I can enjoy the Harry Potter and Star Wars movies. A removed, light sort of enjoyment. Damn you, Russos and Winter Soldier team, for making me care! I want to say Age of Ultron just serves to lower the bar for Captain America: Civil War, but with my level of involvement, we’ll just have to see.

6. They’re next. 

Rebecca Ferguson is next. And by next I mean, should be starring in everything in the upcoming years. Not only did she prove to be a badass in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have liked the movie as much if Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust wasn’t in it. She’s just pure, cool confidence on screen and I want to see more. Not only did she just finish filming a movie with Meryl Streep, she’s currently filming with Michael Fassbender, in the highly anticipated The Girl on the Train, starring Emily Blunt and just landed her first lead role in a sci-fi feature. Look out for this one.

As far as directors go, I’m curious to see what Denis Villeneuve does at the helm of the new Blade Runner movie. I’ve seen Prisoners and the intensity of it, how far it pushes boundaries is jarring. I saw Enemy early in 2015 and found it weird and weirdly enthralling. Lastly, I saw Sicario, which is essentially an action movie art house film hybrid. All of this adds to my curiousity. As a big Blade Runner fan, I’ll be here, impatiently waiting.

7.

deltoro

This. This explains why I unconsciously watch the same movies at least once a year even though most of them haven’t made waves during awards season.

This guy knows what he’s talking about. His tweets range from insightful to gushing over talent and ice cream. It’s obvious he’s a fan as much as he is a creator. The way he talks about genre and his work and the work of others, he’s a fan and a creator that wants to put his very best, his heart, forward. When del Toro wants a specific prop, even if it’s deemed too expensive by the studio, he’ll go as far as having the money taken out of his paycheck to get that single prop to make the scene complete. Talk about dedication to the art!

8. Rest in Peace, Maureen O’Hara!

Queen of Technicolor, Queen of the swashbuckling pirates! A great one left us, but she lives on through her movies and the joy she’s brought and will bring to audiences of all ages.

ohara

I especially love the interview she did with Robert Osborne. So sharp and witty and charming. Just a class act. Thank you for all you’ve given us, ma’am.

9. TCM is the greatest station on television.

I check the TV guide obsessively and fill up my DVR with absolute classics along with movies I’ve always wanted to watch, but are hard to come by. TCM doing the work of god for all of us film nerds out here.

10. Anime isn’t a “weird thing” the weird kids in high school were into.

It’s a mode of storytelling and a genre all its own. Mamoru Hosoda has been my favorite since I was nine-years-old and wanted a digimon of my own. He’s still my favorite after seeing a few of his more recent features. My favorite has to be Summer Wars. It’s a better AI movie than Avengers: Age of Ultron. It isn’t just about our dependence on technology and how it can easily backfire, but it’s largely about family. As with Hosoda’s Wolf Children, we’re given these matriarchs who may not fit the conventional look or idea of a “strong female character,” but they are and they lend their strength to their children and grandchildren and it’s just so beautiful.

3D animation always sweeps the awards, deservingly so (not only is Inside Out enjoyable and understandable for kids, but so complex on a neuropsychological level), but 2D animation is the equally as beautiful, artistic cousin who knows how to punch you right in the pathos. All animation deserves respect and I encourage any and every film fan to jump on it.

11. I love Netflix. 

So many good movies on Netflix and so much good garbage on Netflix, but there’s also just pure garbage. It’s always fun picking out a movie based on how enticing its premise is, watching and seeing what happens after hitting play.

11.5 Although I love Netflix, I do not trust the star ratings on there. No offense. I don’t trust the ratings on Red Box and IMDB either.  

12. Variety is necessary.

We need all kinds of different movies, different genres, different faces, different tones and atmospheres and worlds. If we only made movies to win awards and only did what award winning movies did, the entertainment industry would be so dull.

After seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the first time, which I loved, and Mad Max: Fury Road for the third time, which I still loved the third time around, I went to see Carol. Going from nonstop adventure filled with explosions to this stunning (those costumes and that color palette!) little movie that focuses on characters and the ups and downs of a budding relationship totally threw me. It was such a change of pace that felt good coming off those massive, action-packed blockbusters. I really enjoyed that sudden change-up and realize I need that change-up.

13. My weird thing for made-for-TV holiday movies is out of control, but only for 31 days a year.

Confession: I probably wouldn’t have reached and surpassed my goal to watch at least 365 movies in 2015 if I didn’t basically binge watch these terrible, terrible miniscule budget movies starring actors you probably thought were irrelevant or retired. Of the 35 holiday movies I watched, 30 of them were awful made-for-TV movies and 5 were classic Christmas musts — Elf, The Santa Clause, Scrooged, Home Alone 1 & 2.

But the funny thing about Christmas movies, especially the ones that are so bad it’s embarrassing to admit you watched them, is that, just like with holiday cookies and candy canes, the desire to consume every last morsel disappears by January 1st. It does and it’s a little sad. I love Christmas.

14. #MovieLogSoWhite 

Just scrolling down my movie log and looking at all the faces on all the movie posters makes that hashtag an appropriate one. I’m the type who’ll hunt to find a movie that interests me, but mostly, I watch movies I have easy access to. As a result, I’ve watched a lot of movies with a lot of white actors in starring roles. And I bet those actors worked hard to earn those roles and deserve credit and the paycheck and sometimes praise. But it does go to show that the conversations circulating about diversity and inclusion of underrepresented groups are important, necessary and long overdue.

Even more so with the Oscars nominating white performers in all twenty of the acting spots for the second year in a row and the Academy Board vowing to increase the number of women and minorities among new members and revoking voting rights for those no longer active in the industry. Ava DuVernay’s response to the Academy’s actions is one of my favorites:

“Change has to happen, it has to happen with the people who dictate who belongs,” DuVernay said. “It’s disconcerting to hear people say that shouldn’t change. That’s the very reason it should.”

15. It always amazes me that even with everything I’ve seen, there’s still so much more to see. The world of film is so large and vast and endless and I’m going to continue to consume as much as I possibly can. It isn’t a pastime. It’s a lifestyle. It’s one I look forward to continuing for as long as I can.

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