Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Slackers' Top 15 Films of 2015

Even though none of us really have the time anymore to make this site what we (parts of us, anyway) would want it to be, I'm glad that something of a tradition has formed where we at least come back every year to share our best-of-the-year lists, and maybe a few Top 5 Movie Guides while we're at it. Really, that's enough to get us through the year. It's a good outlet for sharing some of our feelings on the year in film.

Over the last five days, each writer on this year's panel has unveiled their individual Top 15 Films of 2015 lists. As I've said many times before, what's great about our site is that we do have five different writers active at the same time providing their own perspectives on film. This not only gives five separate views on film and gives you, the reader, more chances to connect with certain voices and opinions, but it gives us all kinds of data to then build into composite lists. And really, that's what we want to give: each of our personal opinions, but at the end of the day, a group of films that we, as a collective, most appreciated and enjoyed. It's two very different but equally important views on the matter. And what's nice about having the individual lists first is we don't have to have any discussion for our group list - we simply plug in the titles each of us selected, give weight (point values) to higher picks, and let the formula do the rest. There's no debate or arguing over what we want to showcase - the rankings are what they are.

Last year, we only provided our Top 10 in this post because picks were all over the place. The year was so scattered that when we put the data in, after the first ten titles or so, everything was pretty similar. This year, the separation from the pack by the top 15 titles (top 16, actually - sorry "Sicario") was significant enough that it was worth providing the full list and keeping in theme with our 15 selections. And it really is a great, diverse collection of films; I'm quite proud of us, as a group, for coming up with these 15 as our favorites from 2015. The film that ended up in the #1 spot is slightly surprising, but I don't think any of us have any complaints about it.

One last note before we jump in: no explanations are provided in this post because everything on this list was featured on multiple individual lists over the last week. If you're interested in more information on each film, check out the last five posts on this site.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Elisabeth's Top 15 Films of 2015

As a whole, 2015 doesn't really stand out to me movie-wise. But when I start breaking it down, I realize that we got Jurassic World and Star Wars and those combined are enough for me to feel like it was a really fun and nostalgic year. I didn't go to the theater as much as I normally would have liked due to work and just, well, life. But that allowed me to be a little more discerning when it came to what I chose to see, making me never walk out of the theater disappointed at any point last year, at least not that I can remember.

I've never been super into reading about films and I've never read any film critics regularly (I rely on my husband Derek to fill me in on all the details); I just want to watch them and talk about them with friends. And that's exactly what writing here has felt like. It was a lot fun for me to be able to make a list like this to really think about and reminisce on all that I saw, but to do it in a casual, conversational way. Many of these films I saw only once, and writing about them now has made me want to go back and re-watch most of them. I want to thank my new (to me) fellow Slackers for the opportunity to be included in the blog this year – Alex, Nathan, Derek and Andy, I've had a blast. I look forward to more years to come!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Andy's Top 15 Films of 2015

We keep hearing time and time again that this year was a low year for film. Maybe that's the truth, but ultimately I feel that it's a representation of where we, as Slackers, are in our lives. As we grow and shift our interests we become less attuned to the industry surrounding us.

When I look at all the movies that came out I find no lack of subject of interest; nor do I find any particular glaring examples in lack of quality. What I do find, though, is that we age. Every year as we get a year older and leave our childhoods behind us, we enter into a realm less filled with fantasy and mysticism and more filled with bills and salaries. I remember a small handful of years back where all of us Slackers were discussing some of our favorite movies and titles like "Star Wars" and "Superman Returns" were spoken amongst of highly. If you asked our group how many times we watched "Superman Returns" this year I guarantee you'd get a single digit answer from the lot of us. We don't, as a group, seem to dedicate the same kind of wonder or passion that we used to have. I look over the titles from this past year and see things like Star Wars and Jurassic Park, then realize that the only one of us to put both of them in his top three is the guy who's favorite movie is the version of Peter Pan where he accidentally grows up; clearly something has changed. The titles that used to have us talking for days on end are now fringe selections on our lists. So, I bring up once more: has this year truly been a low year for movies or have we simply raised our expectations of what kind of experience we should get out of a movie? I feel the magic is leaving and it pains me, but I must carry on and hope that something out there; some release or some past film I have yet to catch sparks that fantasy in me, in us, once more.

Until then, and without much more yapping about the ails of growing up, here is the list you've all been waiting for...

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Nathan's Top 15 Films of 2015

I was worried for the majority of the year that 2015 was going to end up as one of the weakest years in recent memory. I'd say it took a good nine months for me to really start putting together a list that seemed respectable. But once that started happening, it was like the floodgates opened. Film after film kept jockeying for a top spot. Part of that was due to seeing a couple notable films well after they were released, but mostly it boiled down to a continuing trend over the last five years or so of the post-summer lineups matching up with my interests.

That was another notable observation I made in 2015: I'm just not into most summer blockbusters anymore. Fewer and fewer summer tent poles have shown up on my end-of-the-year list over the last several years, but this was the first year where I really had trouble even mustering up the energy to see the majority of the them in theaters. A good reason to point to would be the stranglehold that superhero films have on the middle of the calendar. That, my friends, is a fad that I have mostly grown tired of. Superhero films have just gotten too damn goofy for me to get into them at this stage in my life. That's not to say I don't like goofy movies - you'll find a good chunk of them on my list below - but there's a time and a place for goofy and superhero films doesn't seem like the best spot. When so many superhero films center around the fate of the world being at risk, would there really be so many jokes being thrown around? If I'm watching the world being threatened in a film, I want it to be more than a rumor that things might go bad. Yet that is something Marvel - who dominates the market at the moment - has totally lost their grip on. How can I think of the characters of these films as heroes if it never feels like they're in danger?

But enough about the films that don't do anything for me, I'm here to tell you about the films that hit the mark - and there were a great number of them. You'll find a pretty good split between well-known titles and under-the-radar gems. Hit the jump to get started!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Derek's Top 15 Films of 2015

I’ve come to accept that the responsibilities of adulthood make it so I can’t watch as many movies as I used to. Last year, this lack of free time jaded me a bit towards movies. Fitting movies into adult-ness felt like a chore. It was a major life adjustment. I’ve now come to grips and the stresses have melted. First world problems, amirite? 

It may be the acceptance of limited time coursing through my body, but I enjoyed this year of movies quite a bit. Interestingly, I think the most impressive thing about this year is how many great “Part 7s” there were. There’s no way that’s normal.

As usual, the following list is more a reflection of my favorite movies than what I feel was the best of the year. However, there is a blending of those two ideas when making any subjective movie list. Through my comments I think you will be able to find if my view is more subjective or objective for each individual film. Have a look below!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Alex's Top 15 Films of 2015

This post really got away from me this year. With a job that requires much more of my time, just getting those weekly Top 5 Movie Guides up in time felt like a significant task - I can't believe there was a period where we posted 6-8 times a week; that feels impossible now. I think another problem with my list this year (and my eagerness to put it together) had to do with the fact that I felt like it was an overall down year. But I originally remember feeling that about 2014, as well, and that turned out to be a great year - so who knows; maybe I'll feel that way about 2015 after I let it settle for a while, too. Who knows. But right now, I feel that my interests in the overall field was as muted as ever I can recall.

That all being said, there were still some really fun and well-made films that we got a chance to see in 2015. They might not have been all-timers, but there were some great selections. And as our site focuses more on the praise than the criticism of film, I want to make sure we're doing that here. I still enjoyed plenty of films, there just weren't any that really hit me hard and made me think they could be around for a long time. But that's OK. Not every film has to be one of the greatest ever to be good - sometimes it just has to be fun. Or thrilling. Or unique. There are plenty of reasons to appreciate all kinds of film; I'll make the case for 15 of them below.

So now that I've flopped around for two paragraphs on why I apparently love and hate movies, let's dig into my favorites from 2015!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Top 5 Movie Guide: Michael Fassbender

We wind down this year's Top 5 Movie Guide series with an actor who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in 2015's "Steve Jobs", Michael Fassbender. Fassbender was born in 1977 in Germany, though mostly raised in Ireland. After appearing in plays in high school, he knew he wanted to be an actor. He continued pursuing that passion over the next few years, ultimately attending Drama Centre London for guidance. Once there, however, he did not feel it was for him and shortly after dropped out. While there, one of his classmates, Tom Hardy, said Fassbender was easily the best actor in the school. That assessment might have been pretty accurate.

Fassbender started his professional career splitting time between London and Los Angeles. He worked mostly on the stage in London while grabbing television roles in America. He continued with this pattern until 2006 when he landed his first film role in "300". Smaller film roles continued from there until 2011, when he broke out in a big way. In that year alone he appeared in "A Dangerous Method", 'Haywire", "X-Men: First Class", "Jane Eyre", and "Shame". And he hasn't stopped since. 2013 earned him his first Academy Award nomination for his role in "12 Years a Slave", which was also his third collaboration with good friend and director, Steve McQueen.

He hasn't yet appeared in 30 films for his career, but his upcoming slate looks ever-more promising and exciting. He's regarded as one of the strongest "new" (he's almost 40) actors working today, and probably one of the best we're seeing on film right now. In a few years I'm sure Fassbender's list will be one worth revisiting, but for now...

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Alex's Top 15 Over-Looked & Under-Appreciated Films of 2015

Now in year two of this surprisingly annual post, I’m quite pleased that I decided to start writing it. As I mentioned in last year’s inaugural installment, it provides a nice opportunity to showcase a few films from the year that I really enjoyed but that realistically (for the most part, anyway) aren’t making most peoples’ best-of-the-year lists. I love having a space to showcase films that may have come and gone so quickly that you never even had the opportunity to give them a watch.

In review of the films on this year's list, it seems that last year’s list contained a few more genre films than this year’s, though my love of horror and horror-comedies again shines through strongly. That genre has - and will always have - a soft spot in my heart (I already can’t wait to see some of what 2016 has in store: “The Witch”, “Nina Forever”, “The Invitation”, etc.). But there was definitely a bit more balance this year with a good number of dramas making the cut.

We’ll get to this year's films in just a second, but there are a few things I want to make sure to reiterate before we get there. First, think of the rankings more as block sections - they aren't random, but outside of grouping them into tiers, they are fairly arbitrary. I enjoy ranked lists, so that's why I will continue to do so, but after the first few, they're all pretty similar - I just want you to watch all of these films! Second, this also isn't a straight "favorites" list - I tried putting weight both into how enjoyable they were PLUS how accessible I felt they were. Even calling it an inexact science would be giving the system too much credit. Third, to that last point, I realize that determining which films I felt were under-appreciated was such a personal matter of perspective - I can't know what you were more exposed to than I; this was mostly best-guess. And there are obviously still small films out there that even I didn't get to that are surely better than some of these. But it's a start, and still all of the films below have something great to offer. If even just one person watches one film on this list that they weren’t otherwise familiar with, it did its job.

All of that out of the way, let’s take a look at what stood out to me (but in a very under-the-radar way) in 2015.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Top 5 Movie Guide: Jennifer Lawrence

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, we continue our series with another actress nominated this year for an Academy Award, Jennifer Lawrence, star of 2015's "Joy". Lawrence was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and lived a life like any other kid. She didn't do any acting and frankly didn't have an interest in it. But as fate would have it, at age 14 (2005), a trip to New York with her mother changed everything. While visiting, she had a chance encounter with a photographer, which led to a meeting with an agent who asked her to read - she did it cold and her mother was told it was one of the best cold-reads they'd ever seen. The agent convinced her to remain in New York that summer and continue to audition.In that summer, she booked a variety of commercials and bit film roles. Shortly thereafter, she moved with her family to Los Angeles to further pursue her newfound talent.

In 2007 she was cast in "The Bill Engvall Show", which provided her national exposure. Momentum continued to build with small film roles until her eventual breakout role in 2010's "Winter's Bone". Her first starring role earned her an Academy Award nomination, and led to roles in two prominent franchises: Mystique in "X-Men: First Class" and Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games". Since then, her legacy has only continued to grow. In a now six-year span as a Hollywood star, she's already earned four Oscar nominations, winning one in 2013 for her role in "Silver Linings Playbook". She's the youngest actress to ever receive two such nominations (or three, or four), and the second-youngest to ever win one.

Lawrence's career is still so new that she hasn't had a lot of time to make mistakes or have regrets. She did audition for the role of Bella Swan of 2008's "Twilight", but ultimately lost out to Kristen Stewart. She still ended up getting her tween franchise a few years later, and I think most would agree that's an outcome that worked much to the benefit of Lawrence and her career.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Top 5 Movie Guild: "Best Original Song" Oscar Winners

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide we decided to take a look at some of our favorite winners of the Academy's Best Original Song category. We were originally going to stick to our four actor-specific posts, but a recent discussion about this year's nominees generated interest in this specific list - one that none of us could believe we never looked to do in the past. I won't get into specifics about the conversations we had, and I definitely don't want to speak for all of the writers associated with this post, but in general I don't think any of us are too happy that Sam Smith's James Bond theme, Writing's On the Wall, got a nomination and is considered by some to be the front-runner to win the award. It's not a great look for the category and for the Academy as a whole for a few different reasons. But in this section, we'll leave it at that. If you're curious about our more specific thoughts, sound off in the comments section and I'm sure most will be happy to chime in.

That aside, let's dig into some history on this award. It was first introduced at the 7th Academy Awards, recognizing the best in film from 1934. While most of the rules have been tweaked over the years, the general guidelines to be considered for the award are this: the song has to be written specifically for the film (not released prior), can't be remixed from previous compositions, and can't be a song adapted from a musical. Today, if your song meets those requirements, it goes to the committee to vote for their favorites, which then become the nominees. Up until 2012 there was a really terrible points system method for selecting the nominees - basically, if the voters all selected the same couple of songs at the top of their ballots, only those few songs would get a nomination. This process really showed its flaws in 2011 when only two songs were nominated for the award amid dozens of quality entries. After that year, the system was changed. Now, though still possible, it's almost assured that five nominations will be given each year.

Of all the nominees in previous years, Sammy Cahn is the most prestigious. Doing most of his work in the 1950's and 1960's, Cahn has been nominated for 26 Academy Awards and won four. That is by far the most total nominations by one person ever in this category and tied for the most wins. Alan Mankin, who's tied Cahn with four wins in this category, has probably been the most influential to our generation. He's been nominated for this award 14 times and some of his credits include "Little Shop of Horrors", "The Little Mermaid", "Beauty and the Beast", "Aladdin", "Pocahontas", "Hercules", and "Tangled". I would venture to guess that his songs will be well represented below.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Top 5 Movie Guide: Mark Ruffalo

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, we again focus our attentions on a star of "Spotlight", this time Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo was born and raised in Wisconsin but moved to California with his family after high school, eventually settling in Los Angeles. Once there, he got interested in theatre and decided to take a few classes at Stella Adler Conservatory. He took to it so strongly that he soon after co-founded the Orpheus Theatre Company, where he not only got experience acting, but also with writing, directing, and producing. And even though this didn't pay the bills (he worked as a bartender while he tried to break in), it provided him a great opportunity to build his resume without having to bank on the incredibly fluky Hollywood casting process. Luckily, a chance encounter with filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan (writer: "Analyze This", "Gangs of New York") finally kickstarted the process.

After striking up a friendship with Lonergan, Ruffalo appeared in one of his plays, which then led to a starring role in his film "You Can Count on Me" (2000). The performance earned Ruffalo rave reviews and led to a variety of small but significant roles in the early-2000's. After a string of highly successful films in 2004, specifically, Ruffalo solidified himself as a staple in the Hollywood community. He's continued to churn out notable work over the last decade, picking up acclaim throughout. In total, he's earned three Academy Award nominations and appeared in more than 50 feature films.

Ruffalo doesn't have much of a missed-opportunity list (at least not publicly), but there is one notable role/film that I think most fans would have been curious to see. Ruffalo was originally cast for Joaquin Phoenix's role in "Signs" (2002), but had to drop out due to the discovery of a benign brain tumor that needed operation. He fully recovered without issue, but the procedure did require significant recovery time that forced him to drop out. Most would agree that Phoenix played the role incredibly well, but it's pretty easy to see Ruffalo in that role, as well - it's curious to wonder what his career might have looked like had he established himself in such a significant role that early in his career. Still, as an actor now known to be able to handle any type of role in any genre of film, it's safe to say his career has turned out just fine.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Top 5 Movie Guide: Rachel McAdams

Welcome! The Slackers are back together for another limited Top 5 Movie Guide series run, as well as to debut each of our Top 15 Films of 2015 lists next month. We'll be bringing you a collection of five total Top 5 Movie Guides (weekly Saturday lists as well as one Wednesday list squeezed in the middle), culminating in the release of our individual best-of-the-year lists the week before the Oscars. So stay tuned - there is plenty more to come!

We kick-off our 2016 series with Rachel McAdams, nominated for Best Supporting Actress this year for her work in "Spotlight". McAdams was born in Ontario, Canada, and had interest in film/theatre at a young age. As as teenager she attended a prestigious theatre camp, performing in various Shakespearean productions. She then went on to study at York University, where she graduated with a degree in Theatre Arts. After college, she went on to appear in a few different Canadian television shows, even winning a notable award for her role in 2003's "Slings and Arrows".

But it was her breakout film role in the following year's "Mean Girls" that brought her worldwide notoriety and a slew of Hollywood offers. She followed that performance up with roles in surprising hits "The Notebook" and "Wedding Crashers", both of which helped make McAdams a household name. Since then, she's continued her acting career with steady and quality work. She's appeared in at least 25 films to date and has worked with some of the best directors in the business (Woody Allen, Terrence Malick, Brian De Palma, Wes Craven (RIP), Antoine Fuqua, Cameron Crowe, and Guy Ritchie, just to name a few). Only now, with her first Oscar nomination for her role in "Spotlight", is she starting to get critical recognition for the work she's done.

Of the roles she's turned down or been considered for, there are a few notable ones. She was Jon Favreau's first choice to play Pepper Potts in 2008's "Iron Man", but turned down the role. She also turned down Anne Hathaway's roles in "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006) and "Get Smart" (2008). And while it's not clear if formal offers were ever made, she was considered for roles in 2005's "Fantastic Four" (Jessica Alba's character, Sue Storm) and 2006's "Casino Royale" (Eva Green's character, Vesper Lynd).

P.S. Before we jump in, I want to announce and thank our latest contributor, Elisabeth Clem (for those wondering, she is the wife of Derek Clem)! She will be participating in this series of Top 5 Movie Guides as well as unveiling her own Top 15 Films of 2015 in the coming month. We're very excited to have her on board and know she will make a great addition to the team - it's always nice when we can get a guest contributor to help class-up the joint a bit!