In order from 10 to 1, here they are: the movies that showed up most frequently and highest in our personal rankings for the year. Another year with CHUD is always a good year. Your comments and your sharing have kept this place feeling lively. Utmost thanks to you, Chewers. We wish you a happy 2016.
Drew Dietsch on Kingsman: The Secret Service
When a goofy riff of James Bond is better than an actual James Bond movie that came out in the same year, I think that says something. Kingsman was an incredible mash-up of classic Bond staples and modern day debauchery, refuting the parodies Austin Powers inflicted upon the entire super-spy genre and embracing the silliness as part of the fun. With a strong and committed cast anchoring such a juvenile endeavor, Kingsman gets to be as wacky as it wants without ever losing its earnestness. And any film that successfully utilizes “Free Bird” deserves ample praise, especially in Kingsman‘s case. We’ll be applauding that church scene for years to come.
Andrew Hawkins on Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau
Lost Soul is a documentary that shines a harsh light on the disaster that became Richard Stanley’s interpretation of H. G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. Now after nearly 20 years, we see just what the hell happened during the making of this troubled production that resulted in one of the most chaotic box office flops in film history. The documentary features interviews and first-hand accounts from director Richard Stanley, stars Fairuza Balk and Marco Hofschneider, New Line Cinema’s Bob Shaye and plenty of production team, cast and crew members. The story of how this film fell apart is captivating and jaw dropping. Fantastically assembled and utterly fascinating, Lost Soul is a must-see.
Travis Newton on Crimson Peak
Though slow and stiff it may be, Crimson Peak is still a knockout; a true technical marvel. Guillermo del Toro’s more European sensibilities take over, wrapping a tragic romance in a bloody horror shell. The romance may be a bit mushy for the horror diehards, and the shocking violence might not sit well with the romantics. But somewhere in between, in a largely unoccupied niche, Crimson Peak will flourish. It may ultimately be remembered for its extravagant gothic sets and hideous red ghosts, but Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston support the massive weight of this film beautifully. I can’t wait to see it again.
Drew Dietsch on Sicario
The drug war has never felt more like a horror film than in Sicario. Director Denis Villeneuve cultivates unceasing dread in this unflinching chunk of ugliness that has more in common with the existential terror of Apocalypse Now than it does the heightened gangster deification of Scarface. A trio of incredible performances anchors this depressing tale; a tough-but-unprepared Emily Blunt, a maliciously cynical Josh Brolin, and Benicio del Toro’s emotionless monster that gives 2015 one of its most chilling scenes of revenge. There’s a dark lyricism at play in Sicario that elevates it from most cops vs. robbers type stories, and it’s that mood and attitude that make Sicario something special. Not to mention a street shootout that rivals Michael Mann’s Heat in terms of tension and excitement. It’s a difficult and unforgiving film that can seem morally impenetrable at first, but upon repeat viewings it shines like a polished piece of obsidian.
Andrew Hawkins on Inside Out
Easily one of the best animated feature films of the year, Pixar’s Inside Out is clever, imaginative and genuinely touching. Featuring fantastic performances from a great ensemble, this story of what happens inside a young girl’s head when she deals with some of life’s early hardships hits home for anyone who has dealt with depression, loss or overwhelming sadness. The themes touched on in the film are presented in a way that helps acknowledge how negative emotions can be helpful and are ultimately important in forming who people are. There are plenty of jokes that work well for kids and adults alike, and the whole presentation is entertaining and immersive. This is one of the better Pixar works in recent years, and it might well go down as being one of their most impactful films so far.
Travis Newton on Ex Machina
No sci-fi film in recent memory has examined our simultaneous acceptance and fear of technology as fiercely Ex Machina. What makes it all the more interesting (and intelligent) is the way Garland uses this A.I. framework to make pointed and stinging observations about men like Nathan (an outstanding Oscar Isaac) and Caleb and what they really think about women. Speaking of women, Alicia Vikander delivers a chilling yet oddly endearing turn in her breakout role. Garland’s feature directorial debut is disturbing, sexy, and sumptuously made. Its visual effects are the most convincing and elegant I’ve seen all year. This is a film to churn your guts and spin your gears, and it is one of my favorite sci-fi films of the last decade — perhaps more.
Ryan Covey on Bone Tomahawk
The Western genre has flirted with Horror for a long time, occasionally going on full-blown dalliances via the direct-to-video market with mixed results. Bone Tomahawk is the first movie to actually capture the spirit and strengths of both genres in equal measure by crafting a western so bleak and filled with tragically human characters that by the time we reach the horror element we’re already too scared to see what happens. Had this film simply been the actuality of its The Searchers meets The Hills Have Eyes premise then it still would have been pretty good, but Bone Tomahawk goes so much farther creating an experience that feels more like a Larry McMurtry novel than a Wes Craven movie. Desolate, grotesque, literary, and strangely beautiful, Bone Tomahawk is a strong debut from an excellent film-maker and I’m eager to see what S. Craig Zahler can do with a bigger budget and more time.
Travis Newton on It Follows
I think there’s been a yearning, particularly from critics, for smarter and scarier horror. We want something less pop-fueled, less shrill; something written with fewer exclamation points. It Follows is a prime example of what critics were looking for: a beautiful, challenging, almost listlessly paced art film. A film where dream logic trumps “rules” — an idea that baffled many viewers, including Quentin Tarantino. But what is more frightening: a monster who follows the rules, or an unpredictable one? It Follows makes no effort to explain its stranger choices, and that was the right decision. It makes no excuses for itself. It is the year’s best horror film, and it just so happens to have the year’s best non-orchestral score.
Shannon Hubbell on The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film (depending on how you’re counting) and second western (again, depending on how you’re counting) is a story about horrible people doing horrible things to each other. It’s also a gorgeous, pulpy blast of a movie that’s unexpectedly relevant to our current culture. Underneath all the hilarity and brutality, Tarantino’s playing around with a lot of interesting things in terms of race and identity; vengeance and extrajudicial justice. “Hateful” is in the title for a reason. The movie’s been compared to a stage play, and that’s fair enough, but Tarantino uses that luxurious 70 mm frame to bring energy to his dialogue-heavy script and confined setting. In the digital age it’s rare for the presentation of a film to serve it so dramatically, and his choice of format never feels like an exercise in nostalgia. The Hateful Eight is Tarantino being as Tarantino as hell, but it never feels stale. It’s a beautiful and blood-soaked piece of western filmmaking.
Drew Dietsch on Mad Max: Fury Road
There may genuinely be better films that came out in 2015 than Mad Max: Fury Road, but I defy any argument that says there was a better time at the movies last year. Mad Max: Fury Road is what summer blockbusters should be striving for: intricate and contextualized world-building, thrilling action, confident pacing, well-drawn characters, a hearty dose of risk-taking, and good ol’ fashioned fun. The fact that Fury Road manages to excel in all these areas while also being utterly deranged AND showcasing the kind of strong but non-abrasive feminism we need more of in our mainstream cinema is nothing short of miraculous. George Miller reestablished himself as the fierce visionary we all knew he was, and he has impacted the pop culture in the greatest ways possible. Fury Road will be some future filmmaker’s Jaws; a film that will inspire an entire generation to reach for the big leagues and to let their imaginations run wild. As far as I’m concerned, 2015 belonged to the mad.