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The Decade Decathlon: 2015

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Franchises galore!

Welcome back to the Decade Decathlon, where we're taking an extended look back at the past decade of filmmaking to see what worked, what didn't, and what stories we can learn from the past.

If there’s one word I can use to define 2015, it would be landmark. Living in the moment, 2015 felt like a year that was going to go down in history as being one of the most important years of the decade. 2014 may have been a wasteland of quality films, but 2015 was chock full of high profile releases that made 2014 look like the hollow year it was. Avengers: Age of Ultron, two Pixar movies, a new Jurassic Park movie, a new Rocky movie, a new Tarantino, Fast & the Furious, James Bond, and a Hunger Games movie just to name a few. You name it and 2015 had it. The scope of 2015 was grand and there was almost always a highly anticipated release coming out every week, whether it was from a legacy franchise or an original film that was getting significant attention from the Indie scene.

While I’m sure that 2019 will go down as the year that multi-media franchises from Disney enveloped the world of pop culture, 2015 was the last bastion of huge mega franchises from other corporations. It wasn’t just Disney raking in all of the money, though they did when Star Wars: The Force Awakens released. Universal had several mega hits. Same as Sony, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and even Lionsgate. The film industry has become much more homogenized in recent years, so it’s both strange and thrilling to see a year where so many different companies were all vying against each other in healthy competition before getting to the near cultural monopoly that we have today.

But did any of that matter? In 2019, we know how these franchise wars played out and we know who the winner was. Most of the franchises that were popular in 2015 may still be around, but the entries that came in in 2015 aren't exactly the most beloved entries in their franchises. Even the original movies of 2015 seemed to be more flash in the pan successes than true revolutionaries, much to the Academy’s chagrin. So what really mattered at the end of 2015? What can we possibly learn from a year that felt so important to live in?

Now let's get ready to go.

Most Decorated Movie: The Revenant
Director: Alejandro Inarritu
Total Awards: 12
Oscar's Best Picture Winner?: No

You know, when I first started this category, I could have sworn that these award season darlings would have some kind of an impact on the shape of cinema. If these movies were the best of the best in their respective years, then they should have had some kind of a perfunctory change on the medium. But as I continue to write more and more Most Decorated category entries, all I can see are movies that were the definition of ephemeral. With the exception of Gravity and its technical achievements, none of these movies have really mattered in the grand scheme of things.

Sure, The Revenant helped Leonardo DiCaprio finally get an Oscar for Best Actor and it helped highlight how wonderful of a director Alejandro Inarritu is, but I’ve seen movies like The Revenant dozens of times before. It functions as more of a mood piece than anything else, with wonderful landscape shots throughout the movie with just as good moments by DiCaprio. Even then, as an acting vehicle for DiCaprio, there’s a healthy amount to criticize here. It’s been argued that all that DiCaprio does in this movie is look exhausted and yell and the only reason he got his Oscar was for eating raw Buffalo meat. There’s some truth to that as the script really doesn’t give him much to work with, though his performance at least merits a symbolic award for how many times the actor was nominated.

But my biggest concern with The Revenant was just how little I cared while watching it. I couldn’t even make the argument that I was appreciating it as a piece of art because Hollywood has a system where it can release movies that will be highly talked about and discussed for two months and never be heard from again. All you need to do is look at the other major award releases from 2015 to see how little impact these movies really had. Spotlight was a film that focused on the Boston Globe revealing scandals inside the Catholic Church, but hardly anyone remembered or talked about it. Sicario was a brutal depiction of the drug and cartel violence that only film buffs will praise with general audiences ignoring it. The impact of these films are insular, only being used to inflate the egos of the film snobs who follow this stuff religiously.

Fittingly, this was also at the peak of the Academy’s disconnect from modern audiences thanks to the creation of the hashtag #Oscarssowhite. The tag was created in criticism of the Academy’s unfortunate decision to keep nominating white actors for major awards while ignoring actors of other races and ethnicities. Straight Outta Compton was snubbed and Creed, which still stands as one of the best Rocky movies, got no acting nominations for Michael B. Jordan, but instead gave Sylvestor Stallone a nomination for legacy more than anything else. At its core, the Academy was running with a narrative that wasn't lining up with general audiences. The Oscars, and most major award shows, have been dealing with falling ratings for years, mostly due to the nominees for these various programs being increasingly niche to the point of obscurity. There needed to be a major change in how the Academy, as well as most major film awards group, curated their nominees and find out what audiences really thought were the best movies of their year. The Revenant isn’t a poster child for this criticism, but it does seem to fulfill all of the negative aspects of awards culture at this time.


Worst Movie: Fantastic Four
Director: Josh Trank
Razzie Wins: 3
Were the Razzies right?: Yes

It’s movies like Fantastic Four, stylized here as Fant4stic for some moronic reason, that make it easy to see why Fox’s output of superhero movies was so pitiful for most of the 2010's. It’s been a running joke for decades that the Fantastic Four have never had a good movie and that couldn’t be more true here. Fant4stic is just terrible, but in a way that’s so inept that the viewer feels a mix of pity for Trank as well as rage for being so completely incompetent.

Presenting a bog-standard plot with little to distinguish it from others, most of this origin story is a dark and unpleasant look into what a modern day Fantastic Four would look like. On the surface, I like the body horror approach Trank took for showing how the group first got their powers, but none of it works due to just how poor the acting is. I’ve had a long lasting theory that Fant4stic killed the careers of most of the stars that starred in it. Ask yourself, when was the last time you heard of Miles Teller in a starring role? What about Kate Mara? Or Toby Kebbell? Do those ring any bells? The one major exception to this is Michael B. Jordan, but the only reason he’s still relevant and celebrated today is because only a few short months later, Creed landed in theaters. If there was no Creed, I guarantee you that Jordan would have been left in the dust like the rest of the cast.

The technical failures of this movie should be well know at this point. It went way over budget and needed numerous reshoots that resulted in a disjointed and visibly flawed movie. Hairstyles and facial hair changes not just from scene to scene, but from shot to shot. Continuity between shots in non-existent and that’s not even getting into the changes made for the movie. Doctor Doom is a neckbeard basement dweller at the start of the movie. Also, do you know why Ben Grimm, aka The Thing, says “It’s clobbering time?” That’s because that’s what his older brother said to him before he beat him. Fant4stic everyone!

Was there anything good about this movie? Honestly, no. I know that I said back in 2011 that Jack & Jill was annoyingly bad and is most likely one of the worst movies of the decade, but at least that movie didn’t piss me off. At least I wasn’t frustrated while watching it and got the impressive that that filmmakers didn’t care. At least there was some pride from the cast and crew in Jack & Jill, misguided as it was. Here, it’s cleared no one enjoyed what they were doing and it clearly shows in a lazy, slapdashed product that reeks of studio mandates with no heart or soul. Absolutely awful.

Worst Movie: Fifty Shades of Grey
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Razzie Wins: 5
Were the Razzies right?: DEAR GOD YES

Hold up… I just did a Worst Picture entry. It went to Fant4stic. Why is Fifty Shades of Grey here? That category concluded. Let me talk about Star Wars already.

…OH GODDAMN IT THERE WERE TWO RAZZIE WINNERS THIS YEAR.

Yes, in a shocking twist, 2015 had not one, but two movies that were apparently so bad that not even the Razzies could decide which movie should be their ceremonial punching bag for the year. No, they had to choose two movies to dishonor, making my life sooooooooo much more fun. Thank you Razzies for immortalizing not just one, but two pieces of crap this year that I now have to sit through.

I vividly remember watching Fifty Shades of Grey in theaters. My friend and I went went to see it out of morbid curiosity and hopefully to riff on it in an empty theater. There were some people in there that were actually getting into the movie to an uncomfortable degree. After we left the theater, not only did I stomp on a pile of snow because I needed some release, but I asked my friend to let me borrow her lighter so I could light my ticket on fire. Needless to say, I don't like this movie. 

So far, I haven't seen any bad movies that I would say send out any bad messages. Some of the early Twilight movies had some very uncomfortable subtext, but by the end the directors more or less gave up on trying to be a serious love story. Here, the uncomfortable subtext is now text. Anastasia Steele is in an abusive relationship with a man who stalks her and is incredibly possessive of her, but he's rich, so it's okay. While I've seen movies that have made me uncomfortable before, never before has a movie with such a disturbing message received such a wide release. Make no mistake, Fifty Shades of Grey was a box office hit. Audiences went to go see this weak sauce, mom porn, BDSM fantasy -- don't you dare say that this is an accurate representation of the BDSM community. I may not be involved in the community, but even I know that the content shown here is incorrect, unhealthy, and just plain false. 

My only consolidation that I can think of for such a vile movie is that the cast absolutely hated being in it. If you go back and watch promotional interviews for the movie, stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are physically uncomfortable just being in the same room as each other. They're both clearly miserable and at least I can rest easy knowing they hated it too. Oh, and the ending is a non-ending that is one of the most bullshit conclusions to any piece of media I have ever seen.

Now I can see why the Razzies had such a hard time choosing between these two movies. They're both awful in their own unique ways and even though I had to do a double feature to watch both of these disasters back to back, I'm at least happy that everyone knows they're disasters. Makes my job easier.

Highest Grossing Movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Director: J.J Abrams
Total Gross: $2,068,223,624

This was one of those events that you just had to have been there for. One of those movies that really defined a generation. Millions of Star Wars fans came out on December 17th to see if J.J. Abrams could actually deliver a Star Wars movie to wash away the bitter taste of the prequel trilogy. Fans were salivating for months thanks to trailers that were cryptic, yet engaging. Sure, it was more of Abrams “Mystery Box” tactics, but they worked for a movie like The Force Awakens because fans had both high and no expectations for it.

Opinions on “the sequel trilogy” has fluctuated over recent years thanks to the reception of The Last Jedi (we’ll get to that later) and Disney’s milking of the franchise, but The Force Awakens still stands on its own as a solid Star Wars movie. Yes, it retreads themes/ideas/plot points from previous movies, but one could argue that that’s exactly what fans needed. The prequel trilogy strayed too far from “the roots” of what Star Wars was, whatever that means, so a familiar movie was the safest bet to make. Can you imagine if instead of The Force Awakens, if the first movie in the sequel trilogy took the same risks that The Last Jedi took? Fans would have gone absolutely ballistic. I mean, more so than they are now. The safer, more familiar approach was the smartest and safest decision that Lucasfilm and Kathleen Kennedy could have taken.

Star Wars as a franchise never truly went away, but there was a good amount of time in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s where the franchise wasn’t as dominant as it is now. The MCU filled the mega franchise vacuum left by Star Wars and Harry Potter once they reached their then final entries, so the loss of Star Wars wasn’t that big of a loss from the pop culture spectrum. That doesn’t mean the fans went away though. They were always there, longing for a chance to see the magic once more. And that’s the operative word here; magic.

Star Wars is one of those rare family franchises where its fans span over multiple generations. You could conceivably have three generations of Star Wars fans sitting next to each other at a screening for The Force Awakens, all united by their love for the franchise. Back then there wasn’t hate in the Star Wars community, and if there was it certainly wasn’t to the level it would become. The Force Awakens was just that brief little moment in pop culture where everyone came together in pure excitement and joy over a new installment in one of the most beloved series of all time. That alone is worth making it one of the most important moments of the past decade.

Biggest Bomb: Pan
Director: Joe Wright
Budget: $150 million
Gross: $120-$130 million

Well this existed. 

I find it hard to talk about anything noteworthy about Pan because there's hardly anything to discuss about it. You should know the beats by now. Universal threw a lot of money into this reboot of Peter Pan hoping that it could start another YA franchise, only they grossly overestimated how much people cared about Peter Pan. That's not to say I don't like Peter Pan as a character, but if you're going to do a unique spin on the character, then it actually has to be unique like how Hook was, casting Robin Williams as an older Peter.

Instead we got a really lame and frankly bizarre take on the character. It's an origin story that makes Peter into a generic chosen one Christ figure where he goes to Neverland to find his mom and become a real hero. Sounds boring, and it is, but then you have him teaming up with Captain Hook and becoming friends with him, giant musical numbers to rock songs, white washing Tiger Lilly by having her played by Rooney Mara because that would create a, to quote director Joe Wright, "very intentional and multi-racial" world. Then you have some CGI that is almost on the level of Mars Needs Moms and you have a complete mess with no punch behind it. I can get behind a modern origin for Peter Pan, but it at least needs to feel like a Peter Pan movie and not a generic coming of age story we've seen a million times before. 

So of course the movie bombed, doing absolutely awful domestically and not even making all of its money back. The overall costs were too high and it doesn't take a genius to see that why it failed. So far, there are two kinds of bombs that have appeared on this series. There are movies where the studio throw too much money at a project to the point where it has no hope of recouping it, or the movie is plain terrible and was mauled by critics upon release, effectively canning any chance of it making back its budget. Pan is both of these categories. 


Most Underrated: Crimson Peak
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%

Papa Totoro is one of the best filmmakers in Hollywood. Del Toro has directed some of the most well regarded genre films not just of the past decade, but arguably of all time. The Hellboy series has a fervent fanbase, The Shape of Water was a critical darling that somehow, against all odds, won the Best Picture award at the Oscars in 2017, and Pan’s Labyrinth is just a straight up masterpiece. Yet no one talks about Crimson Peak.

Crimson Peak is a bit of an odd movie not just in del Toro’s library, but in the horror genre all together. It’s a ghost story on the surface and a disturbed love story underneath that. There are key elements of romanticism as well as some scenes that feel like they were taken out of a classic horror novel, and I mean classic in the true definition. Not like a classic as in Stephen King, but High Victorian Gothic horror in the same vein as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

For novels, that style isn’t that uncommon. For movies, it can lead to a huge problem, one that Crimson Peak had to face. No one knew how to market the movie. Is it a ghost story? A bloody thriller? A love story? Crimson Peak is all of those things, but conveying that to an audience isn’t easy. The marketing seemed to hitch itself on the ghost wagon, but people that went into the movie expecting a grizzly ghost story were sorely disappointed. Marketing is pivotal in making sure that a movie can find its audience, but with a lack of focus and a busy season that included releases like The Martian and Spectre, both of which had very easy to understand marketing. Crimson Peak? Not so much.

Which is a shame too, because the movie is actually pretty refreshing to watch. It’s a movie that prioritizes mood and atmosphere over horror. Even the ghosts, which look positively gruesome, all tie in to the world established in the movie. It isn’t a perfect movie though, taking more of a jack of all trades, master of none approach to the genres it plays with. It’s not a truly engaging horror film, nor is it a particularly effective love story. It’s good enough though to warrant a watch, especially given that this entry of the Decade Decathlon is falling in October by coincidence. Consider it my unofficial Halloween recommendation.  

Favorite Movie: Mad Max: Fury Road
Director: George Miller
Why?: Jaw-dropping action, beautiful cinematography, wonderful sound design, want me to keep going?

Mad Max: Fury Road is a goddamn masterpiece of cinema. When people ask me for recommendations on movies to watch, I recommend Fury Road. If someone were to ask me why I started to take a personal interest in studying cinematography and sound design, I point to Fury Road. When I went balls to the wall action that still leaves me reeling in the best way possible, I'm watching Fury Road.

While most action blockbusters have fallen by the wayside, Fury Road is still historic for just how visceral of a ride it is. It's unrelenting in its action and worldbuilding, trusting that its audience is smart enough to follow along with it. Everything is explained if you're paying attention and even if you're not, you're still going to be greeted with some of the most technically impressive and beautiful practical action effects I have ever seen. Ever since it originally released I've been looking for an action movie to top the sheer joy I get from watching Fury Road's euphoric carnage. Some have come close, but none have topped it. 

And I'm not the only person to think so. In a shocking turn of events, Fury Road was actually a contender for being the Most Decorated movie of 2015 with 11 major award wins. No joke, Fury Road was witnessed by Immortan Oscar and could have rode to the gates of Valhalla, but it wasn't meant to be. Plus, it had a sizeable box office haul, raking in over $400 million making it a slight box office hit (it's budget was pretty hefty). By all accounts, Fury Road was the recipe of meeting the criteria for one of the best movies of the decade. It was universally acclaimed, is worth examining and studying on a technical level, received legitimate awards praise from critics, and still has a strong fan following to this day. 

When the Decade Decathlon reaches its end, we'll be doing a decade wrap up post where I'll be doing an awards show approach to which movies, actors, directors, or trends were truly the best and worst for the decade. Honestly, Mad Max: Fury Road is a front runner for being the best movie of the decade, sharing its spot with only two other movies. The best part is that I wouldn't feel ashamed giving it the award. When I wouldn't hesitate for a split-second calling Mad Max: Fury Road the best movie of the decade, you know it's amazing. 

Was 2015 a good year for movies?

On the whole, I would say there were more hits than misses. 2015 had a lot of hype going into it, but looking at it with the benefit of hindsight, it's also easy to see that a lot of that hype was unjustified. Most of the best movies of the year weren't franchise entries with most of the major franchises that had installments in 2015 either laying low in future years or having entries that were middling at best. Be honest with yourself MCU fans, how many of you guys would call Age of Ultron one of the best MCU movies? Or would James Bond fans really call Spectre one of the franchises best entries?

In truth, the movies that did well critically and stood the test of time were movies where it didn't matter if they were from legacy franchises or not. Shock of all shocks, if you make a good movie, franchise or not, people will still talk about it. The best movies of 2015 were mostly original experiences not mired by continuity that weren't afraid to tell unique and bold stories. I can assure you that 2015 had a strong surge of creativity and passion based solely on the movies that released in those 365 days. On the flipside, those movies tend to be forgotten to time now with the big franchises being the only ones people talk about. 

No one talks about Crimson Peak or The Revenant anymore. Instead, people are more willing to talk about The Force Awakens or Ant-Man just because they're a part of major series. 2015, in my opinion, had the best lineup of original titles that were buried underneath all of the hype for major franchises to the point where those original movies are now lost to time. More than nay other year, I highly encourage you to look at the list down below for some hidden gems of 2015 that you may not have heard of because I guarantee you that there's bound to be at least one movie below that will impress you and make you feel a love for cinema that you haven't felt in a long time. 

Movies from 2015 you should still see: Ex Machina, Cinderella, The Lobster, Inside Out, Sicario, Southpaw, Ant-Man, The Gift, Straight Outta Compton, American Ultra, Anomalisa, The Danish Girl, The Martian, The Peanuts Movie, Krampus, The Hateful Eight

Past Years Completed:

2010
2011
2012
2013
2014

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