The time has once again come to either go out and party or sit inside like a hermit and write about what the past year had to offer in terms of movies. Predictably, I am here to do the latter.

I should as per tradition point out that this is simply my personal recap of the past year’s most enjoyable film experiences, so if there are films “missing” from the list, it’s either because I didn’t go to a screening of those or I just didn’t like them as much as everyone else. I recently viewed some of the “Best of the year” lists by YouTube critic YourMovieSucksDotOrg, who has repeatedly made the case that you can’t very well make a “Best of the year list” just because the end of the year is here, when you haven’t seen a supposedly sufficient amount. Since I partially agree with that but still want to do a recap of the past year in movies, mainly because I enjoy doing it, I’ve decided to make a “Favorites” list instead. I would consider making a legitimate “Best of” list in the future when I’ve seen more movies, but YMS does such a good job of that himself that I scarcely think I need to.

Also, I know that several YourMovieSucks fans will accuse me of only caring about views and money because I’ve chosen to still post my list at the end of the year as usual, instead of waiting to see some more movies. I wish those criticisms held water because that would imply that I’m making money off of this blog and that would kick some serious ass.

Now that all the disclaimers are out of the way and I’ve politely told everyone to fuck off, let’s look at the some of the good movies I saw in the theaters this year. Remember, some of these are 2014 films that got a Swedish release much later than their initial ones, meaning I didn’t get to see them at the cinema until this year.


Honorable mention. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

katnissidaI don’t know what people thought of the final Hunger Games film, but I know that the series ended pretty much exactly the way I’d hoped. There’s no “real” happy ending, the love triangle oft mentioned amongst the teen girl fanbase is barely focused upon, and it’s basically just more brutal and mature than you’d expect from something that normally gets lumped together with Twilight or the Divergent series.

We return for the final time to the futuristic world of Panem. Jennifer Lawrence is once again stupendous in the role of rebellion-symbol Katniss Everdeen, who more than ever wants to end the reign of those more priveleged and well off than those from districts like hers. She is surrounded by other great actors (Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final film role, Jena Malone, Sutherland, Willow Shields etc.) and I find myself with the feeling that I’ll miss seeing these characters and their interactions once per year. It’s been nice to have a book adaptation franchise to follow as I was never big on Harry Potter and, *ahem*, not verily a fan of what was done to Lord of the Rings.

Mockingjay – Part 2 is exciting (barring a somewhat slow start), skillfully suspenseful, wonderfully dark, beautifully scored (thanks again James Newton Howard), bold in its choice of imagery considering recent events, well-made in terms of effects, and all-in-all a note on which I’m glad this franchise ended. It might just be my favorite Hunger Games film.

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10. Astérix: Le domaine des dieux

AsterixI didn’t write a review for this film when I first saw it, but I will try to summarize my thoughts here best I can. And really, only one sentence is required: Astérix is finally back! Properly!

This energetic French comedy is the first Astérix film since 2006’s Astérix and the Vikings (which was flawed but entertaining) not to be made in live-action. Furthermore, none of the live-action films (sans Mission Cleopatra) are especially great, nor has any of the more recent Astérix films captured the spirit and humour of their source material. This one does. And by Toutatis, it is a tasty refreshment.

The plot centers around the same old: Roman emperor Julius Caesar wishing to conquer the land of Gaul, only for his troops to always get effortlessly disposed of by the small village of Astérix (Roger Carel) and his friends, who are all given immense power by a magical potion stirred by the amazingly bearded druid Getafix. This excludes the massive Obélix, who fell into the potion as a child and his now stronger than any man or woman on Earth, but at least twice as dim-witted. Caesar’s new plan, however, is to construct an entire city filled with civilians around the village, meaning Astérix and co. can no longer in good conscience beat up Romans that come to their land, and gradually his friends and fellow warriors begin to give up and adapt to a wholesome life amongst the Romans. It is, somehow, much more hilarious and interesting than it sounds.

This film is filled to the brim with great characters (all of them true to the source material), engaging animtion (the bump from 2D to 3D was done FAR better than expected), spot-on voice work (I saw the original French dub, thankfully), great humour (most of it timeless but with the occasional reference that doesn’t annoy too much), and many things more. Looking forward to the sequel already!

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9. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

star warssssI was skeptic for years, I became hopeful when the trailers emerged, and I was treated to the comeback I was promised when I entered the cinema. Yes, it is heavy on the same type of fanservice that George Lucas thought would redeem his Star Wars prequel trilogy, but it still gets right so many of the things that said prequels did not, and by the beard of Obi-Wan was it a wonder to behold.

The look, the tone, the sounds, and the special effects in The Force Awakens all evoke the Star Wars most of us grew up with, and I’ve come to like all the new characters (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, BB-8) at least as much as I’ve loved the returning old ones (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, plus the likes of Peter Mayhew and Anthony Daniels in the same old Chewbacca and C-3PO outfits). I may have desired a more intimidating villain than Sith wannabe Kylo Ren but I did appreciate the route they went with him and I’m glad he inspired the creation of a certain Twitter parody account.

I will also agree with the complaint that it follows the beats of A New Hope a little too closely at certain times, right down to having a lesser copy of its climax, although I once again don’t find this a huge drawback. But it is worth thinking about, okay Abrams?

At the end of the day, The Force Awakens has achieved what it needed to. It has spent less time on three-dimensional digital effects and more time on three-dimensional character writing and adventure, as well as using the more convincing option of practical effects for scenes where a less knowing filmmaker would have shoved in more digital visuals because he believes it to be more “cool”. I never thought I’d say this but goddammit, Star Wars is Star Wars again, and the new episode has definitely earned its spot on my list.

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8. The Theory of Everything

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Yes, this is one of the movies us Swedes got to saw this year whilst many others got to see it last year. I’m going to go by its Swedish release date because, hey, this is my list. I make the rules, sucker! The Theory of Everything is a British biography that recounts the life of Professor Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), at least as told by his ex-wife Jane (played in the film by Felicity Jones) in her book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.

Because of this, its larger focus is on the ups-and-downs within the relationship of her and Stephen, and how Hawking’s dwindling health, mobility and ability to talk affected it, as opposed to his research about the creation of the Universe. His research does, however, play into the conflict in his relationship with Jane, who is a strict believer in that the Universe has the much simpler origin story of “God did it”.

The movie is nonetheless a touching and inspiring tale, as well as a fascinating one (if not always historically accurate) for those of us who have been long-time fan’s of Hawking’s work. The thing that makes this film what it is would of course be Eddie Redmayne, whose talents we cannot deny in spite of certain other movies listed much further down in this post. Not only does he eerily resemble Hawking, but the way he uses his body language to emulate each solitary stage of the ALS disease is absolutely astounding. There were parts towards the end where he might have moved his head a little too much but this is not a heavy complaint.

Stephen Hawking himself is credited in the film’s cast list, since the exact same computerized voice that real-life Stephen speaks through is used in the movie when he reaches that point in his illness. A scene where he plays with his kids, riding around in his wheelchair and using the voice equalizer to repeatedly exclaim “EXTERMINATE!”, should perfectly summarize why we all love Hawking so.

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7. Ex Machina

ExmessThere’s something about the tone throughout Ex Machina that feels exactly right to me. A scene in which Oscar Isaac‘s character leaves the character of Domhnall Gleeson in a state of confusion by breaking out into a random dance number is funny, but there’s still something so unnerving and off-putting about the whole scenario that makes it fit in perfectly with what’s otherwise a thoroughly disturbing film.

I can’t pin-point precisely how writer-director Alex Garland pulled it off, but the way the film is shot and scored is probably one of its highest strongpoints. Best of all, however, is the performance given by Isaac as the founder/C.E.O. of totally-not-a-Google-clone, who invites one of his less privileged workers to his secluded mansion for an important task: he needs him to perform a Turing test on his latest creation, that creation being an android that looks and talks at least 99% like a human (Alicia Vikander). Gleeson’s character agrees to sit with the A.I. and ask her questions, but it takes him a while to suspect the true, sinister nature of the experiment and Isaac’s motives.

Isaac keeps straddling a line between “friendly but a little cocky” and “completely threatening”; it’s captivating to behold his performance, never knowing for sure when his character is going to snap. It becomes especially relatable for those as awkward and asocial as the protagonist, who himself isn’t sure how he’d handle this man if he were to show his true colors. I also applaud the performance of Vikander, who made me care more about a machine than I am used to.

One of the major faults of Ex Machina, admittedly, is that its conclusion makes very little sense and seemingly just sets out to be as cruel and unfair as possible. While I somewhat appreciate what Garland was going for with such an anti-happy ending, I’d have placed this film higher if it was a little smarter.

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6. The Martian

oiiIt’s about time we learned our lesson, fellow movie fans. Here is a thrilling science fiction film by Ridley Scott that knows how to create a feeling of genuine danger without the use of over-the-top action or CGI orcs, and instead gives us characters we care about and relate to as they face even the most otherworldly of struggles; something far more powerful than even the most fast-paced of Hobbit-related action scenes.

Based on a terrific book by Andy Weir, the initial premise of The Martian is simple: Matt Damon is marooned on Mars and he is quite literally fucked. The way the book’s sense of humor, escalating tension and endearing main character have been translated to film is good enough as it is. But the movie is also a visual marvel, where the VFX are more focused on giving the world (that world being Mars) realism and depth than on making the action as exciting as possible, which instead is achieved through realistic character writing, brilliant acting, scientifically accurate situations (mostly), and even a little bit of music – some of it from the 70’s.

The Martian also has quite the star power. Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Michael Peña and some Norwegian dude are part the Ares III crew who leave Damon behind (on accident in the belief that he’s dead), and back on Earth we see the likes of Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, “Childish Gambino”, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mackenzie Davis. I praised the film sufficiently in my review so I’ll just briefly say “check it out”! You’re likely to love it.

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5. Whiplash

whipleshAs I was saying: a movie needs not weird monsters, big battles, or jumpy action moments to be one of the most intense thrillers in recent memory. Whiplash, as it were, contains even less special effects than The Martian.

It is, very simply, about a boy learning how to play the drums under the training of a psychologically abusive and seemingly psychotic instructor. The latter is played by J.K. Simmons in what has now become one of my favorite performances from any actor I’ve ever seen on the big screen – no exaggeration.

The real star of the movie is technically Miles Teller and even if Simmons steals the thunder of both him and everyone else in the film, it wouldn’t be as great as it is if Teller wasn’t also extremely powerful. The tension of the film comes primarily from how these two great actors work off of one another and how their characters interact through the course of the story. There’s an admirable sense of realism to it, and as reprehensible as Simmons appears, he will remind us of equally cruel teachers/bosses/whatever else we’ve come across in our lives. His largely improvised lines also make him somewhat hilarious, even if you’ll feel bad about laughing at his cruelty in hindsight.

Whiplash is a splendid film with excellent performances, enthralling musical scenes, and thrills that move you on such a psychological and emotional level that its lack of flashy action should bother no one. Some scenes feel like padding, but sometimes even the best of us don’t know when we’re rushing or dragging.

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4. Kingsman: The Secret Service

KingsI don’t care what anyone says or thinks – Matthew Vaughn‘s Kingsman is one of the funniest, sickest and most solidly entertaining pieces of 2015. Yes, it has all the clichés of the older gentleman spy films, but it celebrates and plays with these clichés in such a fun way that I know not why this would be anyone’s complaint.

Colin Firth plays a member of British secret agency known as Kingsman, as he takes a young and unfortunate “chav” (Taron Egerton) under his wing to make him a new member, like his father once was. Needless to say, he has a hard time becoming much of a gentleman spy, and his bumpy transformation gets several laughs. While this occurs, Samuel L. Jackson appears as a lisping celebrity with a devious plan that involves mind control and worldwide chaos, meaning Kingsman need to take him down. The film also features Michael Caine, Mark Strong, and newcomer Sophie Cookson, whom I theorize will have a promising career along with Egerton. Also, there’s a cameo from a certain Swedish actor but most of you know how it goes.

The movie has almost everything. Hilarious comedy, amusingly creative spy gadgets, charmful references, and memorable characters all around. And yes, I’ll say it again: a certain scene where a church full of bigoted Christians gets brutally massacred to the tune of Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Free Bird” is still my favorite scene of any movie I’ve seen all year. So there’s that.

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3. Mad Max: Fury Road

mad max

Has there ever before been a film as thoroughly fun and exhilerating as Mad Max: Fury Road? Even if it is a possibility, what Mad Max has that those hypothetical films probably do not is an admirably strong collection of female stars. It’s not an especially big deal within the universe of the film; the girls just get to do more of the things that guys usually do, and there is definitely an issue of toxic masculinity involved. It has, however, been made a big deal in real life, perhaps moreso than it actually is.

Like previous Mad Max movies, Fury Road is set in a post-apocaluptic future. In this particular future, most humans are insane and drive around in awesomely ridiculous vehicles in the desert, either searching for a more pleasant place to live or just hunting each other down. The actors – Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas HoultZoë KravitzRosie Huntington-Whiteley, Hugh Keays-Byrne – are all strong, but the main star here is the action. And no, it’s not just tiresome CGI like in the Transformers films or those movies where Vin Diesel and friends drive cars. Director George Miller made the brilliant choice of having 99% of the movie be done with practical effects. All of the cars, explosions, stunts and fight scenes are completely real and it is an absolute riot to watch.

On top of all this, the film is aesthetically flawless, stylistically gorgeous and not once boring. I could have used more story for the sake of immersion but what are you gonna do?

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2. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

BirdI feel such pity for people who went to see Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s Birdman thinking it was going to be another superhero action movie (many viewers of Watchmen have made a similar mistake). I don’t know how many of them were expecting a film that enters the mind of a broken man trying to make a comeback in Broadway after once being known as the star of famous superhero movies. The fact that he is played by Michael Keaton says it all.

Birdman is, firstly, a neatly made film in how it wants you to believe that it was filmed in one continuous shot. It wasn’t, of course, but many long scenes are filmed without cuts and the actors all do a seamless job in spite of rarely getting a break, which brings to mind how extra difficult it must be for actors who perform on a stage as opposed to inside a studio. In any case, the way the film is edited is unique and clever, and I look forward to seeing a film with almost zero cuts in it on Blu-ray (I bought it for my mom this Christmas and I plan on stealing the disc soon).

Birdman is a unique, darkly comical, poignant (in terms of its commentary on both Hollywood and the world of critics), endlessly layered, and grippingly surreal story. Its superb lead actor is surrounded by equally superb supporting ones; including Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, and Zach Galifianakis. If I were you, I would follow in my footsteps and purchase it post-haste.

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1. The Look of Silence

LOOKofSil

An early scene in The Look of Silence features an Indonesian man looking at interview footage of one of the persons who carried out the  Indonesian killings of 1965–66, acting with glee and pride as he retells what he did to his victims. The Indonesian asks the camera man, Joshua Oppenheimer, if the man on the video is perhaps trying to hide his guilt.

The Look of Silence is a Danish documentary produced by the kings of the genre, Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, and directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, who made it as a successor/companion piece to The Act of Killing, which also concerned the subject matter of the Indonesian killings. The Look of Silence features a family that survived the event, confronting the men who carried out the murders and cost them many a loved one. One of the killers’ collaborators, we learn, is the young Indonesian man’s own uncle. Watching this film expose a side we don’t often see of horrible, blood-thirsty human beings is too powerful to do justice.

Most crewmembers and “actors” involved in this project are unidentified and credited as “anonymous”, out of fear that death-squad killers will seek them out and exact revenge. A smart choice on Oppenheimer’s part, and I’d say he’s also created another documentary masterpiece with this one. It’s thought-provikingly powerful to watch, it is wondrously shot, and it reminds us a thing or two about what mankind can be like.

This isn’t a theme of mine, I swear. It just so happens that the best film I saw both this year and last year was in documentary form (my favorite from 2014 being Life Itself), solidifying that sometimes the greatest dramas and tragedies are those that take place in real life. I haven’t had time to write my full review yet, but I did want to give this movie the mention it deserves. However, in a way, I think my “real” number 1 would have to be:

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?. Kung Fury

maxresdefaultI gave this one a “special” spot because, well, it’s not long enough to qualify as a feature-length film. And honestly, I don’t need to give as detailed a description of this film as the others because saying this is enough:

Kung Fury is a crowd-funded Swedish short film that features kung-fu, Nazis, viking babes with guns, dinosaurs that shoot lazers, cop movie clichés, 80’s nostalgia, time travel, and David Hasselhoff. Seriously, guys. Just fucking see it, okay? Here’s the link.

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Runners-up:

  1. The Imitation Game
  2. Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation
  3. Ant-Man
  4. Chappie
  5. Black Mass

Unexpected delights (films that weren’t great but better than expected):

WORST films of the year:

  1. Fifty Shades of Grey
  2. The Visit
  3. Jupiter Ascending
  4. Pixels
  5. Stonewall
  6. Smosh: The Movie
  7. Fant4stic

I have no fucking idea:

And last but not least: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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