Wow, I saw a ton of movies this year! And like everyone on the internet, I’ve got rankings of them! But this is no mere mortal top ten! Not on your life! This is…







So strap yourselves in and prepare to rage, as I surely rank one of your favorites way too low or I deify something you wouldn’t wipe your ass with!



You cannot overstate the greatness of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Action-driven characterization, brilliantly realized thematic cipher characters, a pulse-pounding yet contemplative score, worldbuilding through suggestion, top tier actors at the top of their game, car chases, explosions, fight scenes, “OH WHAT A LOVELY DAY!” FURY ROAD is brilliantly in the moment, capturing the ethos of 2015: from the inequality and sexualization of women across the globe, to the suffering of the masses at the hands of the few, to the chains of capitalism, to the shackles of religion, to the horrors of war and conscription, all so a few can get a little fatter. FURY ROAD challenges us to acknowledge that it is allegorical and it demands us to take action. It challenges Hollywood, too, to recognize its own complacency in endlessly casting white leads, in endlessly rebooting and playing it safe. FURY ROAD subverts on every level and is an unspeakably good blockbuster to boot. With action sequences so perfectly executed and SO FUCKING POWERFUL, the group I saw it with still had an adrenaline high hours later. This is why we go to the movies.


Is she human? This question embodies everything about EX MACHINA. Its tense psychological thriller about Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb trying to determine if Alicia Vikander’s Ava, a robot, can pass for human gives way to biting themes of patriarchy, feminism, neutrality, reciprocity, agency, and social structure. Oscar Isaacs’ Nathan terrifies as a brutally masculine robotic engineer and Alicia Vikander is nothing short of mesmerizing. With only her face visible, Vikander carries a myriad of complex emotions so, robot or no, you’re instantly on her side. MANY arguments can be made about whether or not EX MACHINA’s plot are at odds with its themes –which debatably take over in the third act, but EX MACHINA is absolutely the feminist movie for our times. It forces all of us to examine just what role we play in upholding rape culture, The Glass Ceiling, and the countless other social constructions that hold women back.


Disney-Pixar knows how to approach real, deep issues by way of anthropomorphism and structure. BIG HERO 6 did it with the 5 Stages of Grief, and INSIDE OUT does it with Psychology 101. While the human story relates to the young Riley coming to grips with moving to a new town with her family, the larger story is interior and concerns her key emotional states –Fear, Disgust, Anger, and especially Joy and Sadness. What begins as a simple bad day in their office leads to an adventure to save Riley’s psyche from total collapse, framing the dissolution of her youthful innocence as an apocalypse. Understandable. Growing up feels like that. As Joy and Sadness race to save Riley from the brink, they explore her entire psyche, from her memory, to her consciousness, to even the depths of her subconscious. It posits that while emotional and psychological complexity can be hard, it’s absolutely essential to the human experience. An intellectual but accessible charming tearjerker, INSIDE OUT is an absolute must-see.


Writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s IT FOLLOWS is an instant classic, taking a relatable concept like venereal disease, and turning it into something (even more) hellish. Something is always following you. If it ever catches you, it kills you. The only way to get rid of it is to pass it on to someone else via sex. But if it ever catches them, it chases you again. In this way, ‘The Monster’ is more than an STI allegory, but a metaphor for the omnipresence of death and how many cope with that understanding. Shot in the urban ruin of Detroit, this is all the clearer. Beyond the mere concept, Mitchell’s expert and often experimental cinematography grips you in paranoia, making you try to spot the Monster before the characters do. It’s surreal, nightmarish, and conveyed expertly by the cast –especially Maika Monroe’s Jay, whose youthful indiscretion warps into existential torment, self-examination, and even cultural examination. What’s more, it was shot in my home state on a shoestring budget! It’s the first time I’ve been able to say, without a drop of sarcasm, “Pure Michigan.”


CREED is what happens when a master class director understands what makes a franchise great and uses its mythology to tell a similar story within its universe. An inverse of Rocky, Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed (who disappeared into the role, btw) has inherited the wealth of his illegitimate father, Apollo Creed, but wants none of it. His journey to become a boxing champion is one of self-worth and self discovery; he’s absolutely determined to prove that he’s more than an accident. That he is a valid person. Heartwrenching, to say the least. Writer/director Ryan Coogler inflects the story with a voice that’s unmistakably black and modern. Adonis’ voice and his interactions with his girlfriend Tessa Thompson’s Bianca could be nothing other than black. Given all that’s gone wrong with America in the past two years, giving the black community a pioneering spirit and true hero to rally behind is of utmost importance. Rocky was an underdog from the slums; Creed is an underdog of the mind, and his value is instantly legendary.


Forget Superman; PADDINGTON is the true immigrant story. Paddington himself is an accident-prone Peruvian bear who is adopted by an English family and undergoes constant culture shock while trying to get naturalized. Knowing that he’s a nuisance to his adoptive family, he attempts to return to Peru, all while a Nicole Kidman’s Millicent Clyde, a maniac taxidermist, is after his pelt. PADDINGTON comes to us at a time of maximum xenophobia in the world from threats at all angles. For immigrants, this is especially challenging as integrating into English-speaking white culture can be daunting, morally compromising, and even hostile. Paddington epitomizes this in the form of a sweet child of a bear, who makes mistakes in his ignorance and naiveté, but showers his adoptive family and country with his gratitude and love. It’s sincere, poignant, funny, adventurous, and optimistic, and, putting us the audience squarely in Paddington’s perspective, it’s all so very personal. I cried more times during this sweet little movie than any other movie of the year.



I’ve been describing this as “NATIONAL LAMPOON’S FAMILY CHRISTMAS meets GREMLINS,” and there really is no better comparison. A troubled upper-middle class family deals with blue collar in-laws enduring the worst family Christmas ever… until Krampus, the shadow of St. Nicolas arrives to punish them all. Featuring nightmarish monsters and in some of the most mindblowing horror setpieces ever (Jesus God Christ, the attic scene. Hell, the climax in the street…), Krampus is all about perverting Christmas iconography… every bit as much as it is about preserving them, surprisingly. It’s a testament to KRAMPUS’ script and ideology that you’ll begin the story loathing the characters, and end it hoping they’ll survive against the odds. It’s easy to dismiss these as stock characters, but each of them, like the story itself, subverts expectations to reveal unexpected depth, duality, cynicism, and hope. Gimmick slasher movies? Here’s your new gold standard.


This is pure cinematic joy. THE MAN FROM UNCLE filters the Cold War posturing masculinity, sexual rivalry, and barely repressed homoerotic tension –traits typical of Guy Richie movies. It’s the kind of instant classic movie that we used to die for: snappy dialogue rife with double entendres; experimental, joyful action sequences; brutal tension; sexy comedy; a wicked toe-tapping score; and standout performances from Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, and Alicia Vikander. The Cold War was a dick waving contest, and while THE MAN FROM UNCLE is a few decades too late, it makes this point hilariously clear. It’s an unforgettable work of genius, and I say, no bullshit: This was 2015’s best Bond movie.


I wish there were more movies like WITCH –utterly unfraid to chart new genres, settings, periods, characters, themes, and ideas. Set in mid-late 1600s, a Puritan family in colonial America takes to the woods after exile from their community. There, their infant son goes missing, and they begin to suspect a witch is cursing them from the woods… if not, their daughter. Spoken entirely old English, WITCH represents the forces of regression and traditionalism as anchors and seed to our superstitions, generalizations, and scapegoating. It’s at once a horror thriller as much as it is a family drama. What’s more, it’s a textbook about gender politics, family, growing up, sexual rivalries, and religion. The only reason it wasn’t higher on the list was because I honestly didn’t think it was as scary as it could’ve been.


KINGSMAN is an on-the-nose pastiche of James Bond-esque spy thrillers –even to the point of name-dropping and trope-stealing directly, but it’s a pointed deconstruction. It’s a hyper-masculine fantasy tearing down one of the longest lived hyper-masculine fantasy franchises in all of cinema. Teenaged English Chav Eggsy (Taron Egerton) gets recruited to the KINGSMAN spy agency, where he competes against and triumphs over the privileged class, which is only a small facet of the script’s class warfare text. Hell, Sam Jackson’s Richmond Valentine’s evil plan is to murder all the lower classes out of sheer fucking spite. More tangibly, KINGSMAN is a watertight script with slick action, gut-busting dirty humor, some imaginative setpieces, and the single greatest uses of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” ever. There’s a discussion to be had about the trope reward sex by the movie’s defacto Bond girl, but that discussion is largely pointed at the institutionalized sexual objectification that we, as a people, regularly ignore.


This is everything I love about Marvel movies; human & simple. On the surface, Peyton Reed’s ANT-MAN is a heist movie about a guy who can shrink –and while that’s imaginative, beautiful, exciting, and laugh out loud funny—it’s thematically a story about parents and children. Love, regret, fears, insecurities, bitterness, and forgiveness. EVERYTHING in ANT-MAN revolves around these kind of relationships, and between Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym and Evangeline Lily’s Hope Van Dyne, they’re especially poignant. I wrote about Hope Van Dyne, thinking her sidelining deeply unfair, but when I realized that Peyton Reed created these scenes to directly address former Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter’s overbearing misogyny on the MCU, it’s clear how elegant it is. OF COURSE it’s unfair that women don’t get to be protagonists, even when they deserve it. And THAT was the manifesto of 2015 at the movies.


We don’t get many submarine thrillers, and in today’s increasingly blockbuster-soaked landscape, it’s easy to understand why. They’re about waiting. Tension. Survival. Character. Things only a movie that knows how to take its time can do well. BLACK SEA is that movie. A joint English & Russian illegal salvaging mission in the Black Sea for Nazi gold, tensions mount in the rusting sub over nationality, paranoia, greed, and sheer mania. Jude Law gives a stirring performance as Robinson, a world-weary, blue-collar salvager with nothing to lose and nothing to live for. Suspenseful doesn’t begin to cover it. By the time this white knuckle descent into hell was over, my fingers had dug holes in the armrests.


Ostensibly a structural remake of the first movie, ROGUE NATION’s strength can be summed up in two words: Ilsa Faust. Rebecca Ferguson’s Faust is an incredible spy who brings true intricacy and depth to a movie that might be a little paint by numbers without her. Just as FURY ROAD is a baton pass from Max to Furiosa, so is ROGUE NATION one from Tom Cruise’s Ethan to Ilsa. Seriously, I can’t say enough good about her. Featuring incredible sequences like the opera sniper duel and a cross-desert motorcycle chase (I wasn’t wowed by the plane-hanging or the water tank dive), and the interesting employment of seemingly stock characters, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION is definitely one to see.


The strength of SICARIO is in its duplicity. Every shot highlights a dichotomy that’s often thematic, but just as often social, which is the heart of its HEART OF DARKNESS-esque journey through the complexities of the Mexican drug trade. Emily Blunt’s FBI Agent Kate Macer is our lens into a brutal and amoral world policed by CIA sociopaths like Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver and by psychopaths like Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro Gillick. It’s impossible deny the potent undertones of double-standards and sexual violence, and to that end, the movie is brilliantly crafted. My lingering question is just how relevant those ideas are.


As much of my list will begin to show, 2015 was the year of indulgence at the box office. “You can have candy for dinner” said the movies, “But they’ll probably give you a tummyache.” FURIOUS 7 is no tummyache. Campy, proud, exciting, sexy (for a cismale perspective), and hilarious, it expertly achieves its goals of ensemble blockbuster mayhem. What was your favorite part? Vin Diesel jumping a car between three skyscrapers? The Rock tackling a drone with an ambulance? Jason Statham’s death mobile? Vin Diesel swordfighting with car parts? Nathalie Emmanuel in a bikini? FURIOUS 7 is the kind of cinematic bliss that comes from taking your camp seriously and giving the audience what they don’t know they want, even if it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. It’s nonsense, but damned satisfying nonsense.



“I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.” Made firmly in the moment making the language of millennials accessible to other generations, THE MARTIAN combines the cinematography de jour of Matt Damon’s Mark Watney’s reality-style confessional booth interviews with the grandeur of prestige cinema in photographing the surreal landscapes of Mars. Plausible science fiction, it’s as creative as it is fun, and centered in humanity and optimism. Despite all this (and its all-star cast!) THE MARTIAN is still a fairly toothless experience, with nothing feeling as desperate, dangerous, or pulse-pounding as its various elements want you to feel. It’s forgettable, but you can’t help but think about it with a warm feeling in your heart.


Don’t get me wrong; Tarantino’s a great director and this is still a great movie, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Enough cannot be said about Ennio Morricone’s haunting score, pitch perfect over the frozen wastes. Prior to the intermission, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a fantastic little character piece, exploring everyone’s dark and complex history, juxtaposed against how they like to imagine themselves. You have typical great Tarantino dialogue, tension, blocking, and acting, and a fantastic monologue flashback, but the story takes awhile to present itself. When it does after the intermission, we’re treated to a rushed closed-door mystery with a cheated solution, a tonally dissonant flashback, and a sudden realization that only five of eight characters were as deep as you thought they’d be, and they weren’t even THAT deep. Thematically addressing a brevy of unfortunately still relevant topics such as institutionalized racism, sexism, hegemony, and more, THE HATEFUL EIGHT IS vital and I can’t recommend seeing it enough… I just wish it was structured to better support that.


I wanted to love AGE OF ULTRON way more than I did, but it’s a classic example of forcing a story. This isn’t about Hawkeye’s family; it’s about Tony Stark’s hubris in creating Ultron and his relationship to it. Acting under a desire to minimize Tony Stark’s role in a story that is ostensibly his, Whedon’s disparate themes and actions without consequences leads to a third act that feels like an entirely different movie. The classic snappy Whedon dialogue and emotional stakes & consequences are still here… they’re just diluted by all the poor structure. It doesn’t help that the movie was edited to death and was forced to pointedly “set up” (a blight of modern cinema) CIVIL WAR and INFINITY WAR. Despite all that AND that that many threads had no explanation or consequences, it speaks volumes to Whedon’s skill and to Marvel’s production philosophy that it was still super fun.


A divisive choice, considering its Oscar push, but SPOTLIGHT felt to me like a tepid ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. While the story of the Boston Globe revealing the Catholic priests molestation scandal pandemic  was vital and interesting, the human drama was rendered almost entirely in exposition (a huge detraction from my personal investment), nobody felt personally invested in the investigation until seemingly very late in the movie, and the stakes of publishing the story felt very nebulous at times. I know people who love this movie and felt the tension that I did not, but it just wasn’t my speed. Live Schreiber rocked in it, though.


A phenomenal performance by Bryan Cranston as the titular blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, this is a historical drama detailing his blacklisting from Hollywood during the communist scare, his stint in jail, and his slow clawing back to success. Much of it falls emotionally flat because the story can’t stay on a story beat long enough for us to get invested. Featuring strong, if typical performances by John Goodman, Alan Tudyk, Diane Lane, C.K. Louis, and Elle Fanning, TRUMBO is enormously competent, but without much to say beyond “the Hollywood blacklist was bad.” Quality filmmaking, albeit forgettable.


Do you like Spongebob? Would you like to see four original episodes of Spongebob stitched together, each with a different genre and goals? Here’s your movie. Your mileage on Spongebob may vary. I find him intermittently fun, but mostly insufferable. I guess that makes me a Squidward.


Using a beautiful, tactile animation technique, PEANUTS has a real and present texture, making you feel like you could reach out and pull it apart with your hands. Effortlessly charming, PEANUTS the movie feels like a year’s worth of the comic strips seamlessly stitched together, with every character as you might remember from A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS. Snoopy’s WWI antics with the Red Baron provide the greatest comedy beats and the most blockbustery action setpieces in what’s otherwise a lighthearted character piece of Charlie Brown trying to befriend his crush, the Little Red Head Girl. While Charlie Brown’s misadventures are meant to highlight his goodness and compassion, the movie suffers from having little to offer subtextually and from regressive plot devices such as the Maiden in Distress and two Women as Rewards. Youthfully innocent, but it’s still a male entitlement fantasy.


This is a spy thriller that is not a thriller, per say, and it is a courtroom drama that is not a courtroom drama, either. With great actors in a few decent roles, BRIDGE OF SPIES is family-safe on all fronts. Its condemnation of American provinciality arcs to a triumph of American perseverance and ethics; its vision of the Cold War is bloodless, save for a chilling moment at the Berlin Wall; and it has enough “good people” to root for. There are just too many characters in too scattershot a structure with too-long of a first act to feel anything more than relative passing interest.


In a world of Disney and Pixar animated masterpieces that bring so much more to the table than mere text, along comes MINIONS to basically entertain kids for a few hours. The Minions still make for great comedy, even in a solo venture, but when they’ve got to do double duty as semi-serious protagonists, they lose a bit of that off the cuff magic. While Jon Hamm and Sandra Bullock provide great voicing to the movie’s villains, they just don’t inhabit a world that’s interesting enough for investment. Everything about the movie –and especially those characters- is vapid posturing and joke-explaining. I’m not wild about DESPICABLE ME’s humor, but at least it was never this obvous.


Buckle down for the most metal sword and sorcery opening sequence ever, featuring vikings getting THE FUCK magicked out of them— Then slouch as it dissolves into a tepid urban fantasy movie. To its credit, LAST WITCH HUNTER has some impressive creature design and CGI… but that’s a low bar for success these days. Vin Diesel is typically growly, but atypically uninteresting; Elijah Wood doesn’t get enough to do; Michael Caine is an afterthought; and it utterly misuses GAME OF THRONES’ Rose Leslie. Mediocre and uninteresting, two massive points against the sadly under-represented action/horror genre.


I forgot I saw this. Branaugh’s CINDERELLA has incredible mis en scene, one of the single greatest dresses I’ve seen in movie history (aesthetically AND thematically perfect!), and fantastic performances by Cate Blanchett and Lily James… but it’s utterly paint by numbers with absolutely no surprises and even less to say. In a world where MALEFICENT (2014) offered a credo on women’s relationships in a world dominated by the Patriarchy, CINDERELLA represents a missed opportunity to condemn female in-fighting and rivalry. Without a single song to its credit, CINDERELLA is a pale shadow of the animated masterpiece it adapted.


Another controversial choice, but while Abrams’ love letter to the Original Trilogy may have nailed its tone while bringing a more diverse (and talented!) cast and staging a couple great fist-pumping moments, it’s script is way more miss than hit. Sure, there are great exchanges between certain characters and individual scenes work in a vacuum, but as a whole, nothing gels the way it should. It’s a greatest hits of the Original Trilogy without understand how or why any of it worked the first time. My feelings were so complex on this one, I pretty much dissected it entirely. For me, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is about as good as the prequels; there are a few great standout moments, but not enough to redeem it from its numerous flaws. In some ways, the prequels are its superior; they are at least original.


I wanted to rate this higher, and there are many who will argue with me, but del Toro’s gothic horror/romance epic fails to work as a script. You couldn’t ask for a greater mis en scene of the slowly sinking Allerdale Hall, or a more perfect cast than Mia Wasikowska as the silver tongued writer and romantic, Tom Hiddleston as her ominous suitor and lonely baron, and Jessica Chastain as his venomous sister with ever-increasingly rivalry… but the story just doesn’t know what it is. Is it a mystery? Is it a horror movie? Is it a romance? CRIMSON PEAK can’t decide, resulting in a movie that’s a tepid and painfully obvious. It may be a 1:1 recreation of all the strengths and weaknesses of a Hammer horror film, but it could’ve been so much more.


SPECTRE’s opening long shot tells you everything you need to know about the movie: surface-level style with an emphasis on mood, padding between beats, and gritty realism. The ensuing helicopter fight offers little in the way of real tension or excitement, and so the movie continues, jadedly hitting all the bullet points of “A JAMES BOND MOVIE,” without any real care or understanding for how they work. Christoph Waltz’ Blofeld hams it up as a Bond villain nearly reaching Dr. Evil heights. The lighting alternates between impenetrably dark and blasting white for the villain’s base. I’d call this a wash if not for the side story of Q, M, and Moneypenny, who are engaged in a Le Carre’-esque spy thriller more about the organization of spy organizations than the spy work itself. It’s clear that director Sam Mendes cares much more about these politics than he does about James Bond, which is why the “Bond story” feels so tacked on and rote. This was a snooze. …but I kind of loved Sam Smith’s “Writing on the Wall.” Sorry, rest of the world.


Controversial for not being lower on the list, TERMINATOR: GENISYS attempts to ride on nostalgia for a property that’s long since burned up all its goodwill. It’s every bit as mismashed, fanservicy, predictable, and unoriginal as THE FORCE AWAKENS and JURASSIC WORLD, but at least it’s tonally unified with plenty of standout beats acting as callbacks to Terminator 1 & 2. The best way to think of it is an event comic where your mind is supposed to be blown because Bruce Wayne died instead of his parents, Uncle Ben didn’t die, or whatever. Action-packed, character-driven, and with a surprisingly touching father-daughter relationship between Sarah Connor (Clarke) and her personal T-800 Terminator (Schwarzenegger), TERMINATOR GENYSIS succeeded on its own terms. Too bad for it that nobody cared. Have you seen Matt Smith’s scenes in it, though? Textbook unintentional comedy.


I like that director Josh Trank tried to make a Cronenbergian body horror aimed at millennials. With better structure, it could’ve been that and more. Instead, last-minute budget cuts and executive interference from FOX took this self-serious, gritty coming-of-age sci-fi movie, and forced it into a self-serious, self-conscious superhero movie that was embarrassed to be in its own skin. With an overlong first act, an out of place second act, and a preposterously rushed third act, it’s a superhero movie straight out of the 2000s: no idea how to best execute its ideas, and summarily misses the point of all of them. Miles Teller, Jaime Bell, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Toby Kebbell give it all they’ve got, and for a brief moment, you can see the mad genius this all could’ve been.


Were it not for my uncle, I would’ve been alone in the theater. It’s obvious why. A turgid rebootquel of a poorly received video game movie from 2007 featuring none of the same cast, its most interesting feature was that it was one of several baton passes from a male star to a female star. Rupert Friend’s Agent 47 trains Hannah Ware’s Katia to be the next-greatest super-assassin. There are moments of genius in this lackluster affair -Exotic deaths and hints of a brother-sister rapport- but it’s all lost in its tedious, exposition-driven mythology and in its drivel action scenes. Someone in casting thought Zachary Quinto would make a perfect Wolverine. With liquid metal under his skin, we watched this super assassin “die” multiple times. You’d think that’d be entertaining. It wasn’t.



Nostalgia is all apologists have to defend this mess. “John Williams’ score! An operational park! Dinosaurs!” they cry, realizing there’s nothing else to defend. The characters all seem to operate independently of one another in different movies with disparate moods, stakes, goals, and arcs. Even scene-to-scene, the movie cannot decide on a tone. Is it a sulky understated divorce drama between brothers? A snarky science thriller between researchers? A violent dino-on-man survival horror? Or a comedy between gatekeepers calmly watching oncoming, bloodthirsty pterodactyls? It’s everything and all of it abominably executed. By the time the movie was over, I didn’t feel bad for laughing at it so hard. If this is the best Colin Trevorrow can do with a beloved sci-fi franchise, I’m horrified to think what he’ll do to STAR WARS EPISODE IX.


Holy fuck this was bad. Cool, it’s space Cinderella. Too bad it’s embarrassingly bad. Mila Kunis walks doe-eyed from one scene to the next making weird, bestiality-ridden comments about wolf-man Channing Tatum. Sean Bean tries to sell being a bee-hybrid as best he can with laugh-out-loud bad dialogue. Eddie Redmayne is the only man on Earth who knows what he was playing in JUPITER ASCENDING, randomly alternating between whispering effeminately and yelling like his balls were in a vise. Give the man credit, he made something out of the role, but that something wasn’t pretty. In the movie’s defense, there’s a bizarre moment dead in the middle where Mila Kunis must go through Gilliam-esque space accounting to truly become a space princess, a sequence capped by Terry Gilliam himself wearing something straight out of BRAZIL. I dunno why the fuck it was there or necessary, but at least it distracted me from the movie’s godawful structure and painfully imagined sci-fi universe. The space dogfights were so overblown and particle-ridden, it made the TRANSFORMER movies look restrained. Next time, let the grown-ups write your script, Wachowskies.


Holy fuck, this was worse. Coupled with ELYSIUM, CHAPPIE was the one-two punch that killed Neil Blomkamp’s chances of directing an ALIEN movie and thank fucking God for that. CHAPPIE’s got an interesting premise: what if a sentiment machine chose the ghetto lifestyle rather than the generic white mentality we usually see in such films. The problem is, there’s absolutely no internal logic in the movie as Dev Patel and the members of Die Antwoord give Chappie conflicting advice resulting in actions that never seem appropriate or cause and effects that have even less logic. At one point, Hugh Jackman’s I’M A BAD GUY character pulls a gun on Patel’s I’M A GOOD GUY character in the middle of a crowded office then passes it off as a joke. Nobody bats an eye. Die Antwoord are Chappie’s unlikable caretakers and, apart from one comedic scene where they trick Chappie into stealing cars for them, they are abominable. The movie climaxes in separate sequences of urban warfare desperately aping –and pissing on- ROBOCOP, culminating in Chappie fighting a robot with a name that that Sigourney-fucking-Weaver has to sell credibly: “THE MOOSE!” Unoriginal, tone deaf, hateful, unintelligent, structureless, illogical, indulgent, pandering, and soulless, it is the absolute wrong way to make a movie about finding what makes us human. It’s an extra kick in the nuts because I LOVE transcendence stories.

So concludes my list for this year. My 2016 resolution? More indie and foreign movies!

Thanks for reading, you starved-for-something-better-to-do-masochists, you!




Like all of nerdom I’ve been excited about the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron. (2015). I’ve been watching super hero movies from the early 2000s –back when Raimi’s Spider-Man movies ruled the world- and a trend leapt out at me. I’m not sure what to do with it and, interestingly, it’s a trend that’s become a backbone of the MCU:

Marvel’s breakout female characters are ALL Sexy Spy/Assassins.


Sure, the Marvel-franchise movies and the MCU (The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Movies specifically produced by Marvel to be part of a shared film continuity, for those who don’t know) have a wide variety of female characters, none more varied perhaps than in the X-Men franchise, but the high-profile characters? The ones that garner cult followings and become screen favorites? All Sexy Spy-Assassins.

-After the 2000s X-Men movies, Mystique, a shapeshifter known for infiltration, assassination, and sabotage, reached infamy and got her own comics series. She couldn’t do this in the movies without being nude, and for becoming other various sexualized women. This fan interest resurged after her appearance in X-Men: First Class (2011), when her portraying actress, Jennifer Lawrence came into the height of her popularity.

-With her Alias (2001- 2006) fame and Daredevil’s (2003) modest success at the box office, Jennifer Garner got to reprise her role as the unrequited lover and resurrected assassin Elektra in the 2004 movie of the same name. During the 2000s, she Marvel comics’ most popular female character. Daredevil (2003) kept her in a low-cut top and the theatrical version included her in a gratuitous sex scene.

-Black Widow got popular after her appearance in Iron Man 2 (2010) as the titular character’s sexpot secretary and undercover secret agent. Her popularity reached a fever pitch after her role in Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) and only increased after her appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). She is set to be the core of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and now has a dedicated monthly comic series. She was introduced in Iron Man 2 as a sex object whose combat prowess was shocking and her first scene in Avengers featured her tied to a chair in lingerie.

-Agent Peggy Carter was the internet’s big takeaway from Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), in which she served as Captain America’s tough as nails commanding officer and lover. Her popularity launched the spin-off miniseries Agent Carter (2015), where she worked for a homeland security agency, investigating a massive attack happening right under her noses. She was a ranking officer who wished to be taken serious. The pilot episode had her go undercover as a busty blonde bombshell and use the old knockout lipstick cliché.

While they’re far less popular, we should also mention…

X-Men: First Class‘ Moira Taggart is a top CIA agent who finds herself entrenched in the secret world of mutantkind. Mere moments after her introduction, she strips down to her bra and panties to infiltrate a New Vegas Club.

-Sharon Carter is Captain America’s attractive blonde neighbor in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, who is revealed to be an agent of SHIELD tasked with monitoring and flirting with him.

-Mariah Hill, an agent of SHIELD, and appearing in The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and poised to appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron, is a prominent member of SHIELD from the comics, but an as-of-now minor character in the MCU. While she’s not been sexualized, the internet seems to like her, probably because her actress, Cobie Smulders, was big on How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014)

-Gamora is an assassin and primary team member of the Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Despite apparently being among the most lethal assassins in the galaxy, the camera lingers on her ass during Star-Lord’s joke about his sexual exploits, and Drax calls her a whore. Strange, considering that Drax is a literalist and that Gamora’s shown no outward sexual tendencies around him. She’ll soon receive her own dedicated comic series.

-Agent May on Agents of SHIELD, team mom and stone cold assassin, was largely considered the best and most interesting character of the first season. She’s not been extensively sexualized.

-Dottie was the alias of one of Agent Carter‘s primary antagonist, who was a nameless Russian spy/assassin who used the guise of a naive, simple woman to complete her missions.


Being a sex-positive feminist, I’ve got absolutely no problem with empowerment in all the forms it can take, and that includes women kicking ass. As far as I’m considered, a person is allowed to identify in any manner they choose and to live the life they see fit.

Similarly, I’m not criticizing any of these female characters, nor the movies in which they appear. I recognize that in a few cases, their sexualization is intended to be deconstructive of preconceptions or to address the prevailing sexism of their generation (Looking right at you, Agent Peggy Carter).

In broad terms, there is NOTHING wrong with any of these characters. All I’m doing is identifying trends.

Sure, there are similar trends among the other Marvel movies. Female side characters tend to be Romantic Science-Savy Assistants (Jean Grey in the X-Men franchise; Karen in Blade; Susan Storm, the Invisible Woman in the Fantastic Four franchise; Betty Ross in the Hulk franchise; Pepper Potts in the Iron Man franchise; Jane Forester AND Darcy Lewis in the Thor franchise; and soon Hope Van Dyne in Ant-Man). This is another form of limited representation. Sure, it can be empowering, but it’s an issue typical of a patriarchal-focused cinema. These women are meant only to aid in the man’s journey. To support the journey, not share in it.

Anyway, it’s just strange that in a host of movies by the same parent comic book company, all playing to different genre, scale, tone, structure, and with no limit to who could have what powers and abilities, there’s such a limited range of representation.

It’s cool. She got to briefly wear clothes in X-Men: First Class.


In the broadest possible terms, I think it boils down to the sexy/dangerous dichotomy dating back to the Femme Fatale trope in Noir fiction. The idea is that stalwart men can only be undone by their sexuality and that women with questionable morals knowingly exploit that. Regardless of the characterization, the codification is that sex is a weapon and that female sexuality is inherently dangerous and deceitful.

Contrast this with male spy/assassins. The key assets of a tropic female spy/assassin are sexuality and misdirection; for a male spy/assassin, violence and domination. James Bond is a whole ‘nother conversation about sexual politics.

The Femme Fatale is an old and storied trope throughout cinematic history, and seemingly a comfort zone for shorthanding powerful/villainous female characters.

It’s interesting to note that apart from Mystique, few of Marvel’s Sexy Spy/Assassins aren’t villainous Femme Fatales. Either they’re ‘good guys’ or willing to side with the heroes to advance their own agenda (even Mystique, as the X-series continues!). There’s an argument to be made that this just makes them glorified support characters in a man’s story. You could counter by stating that the story’s not about them, but seriously, why can’t it be equally their story? The ‘buddy cop’ formula in films like Lethal Weapon (1987), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), etc. works WONDERS for dual protagonists.


It’s an incredibly complicated question. Mystique gained popularity from X-franchise because she’s consistently been THE most interesting female character. Sure, Storm and Jean Grey are great characters, but their movie portrayals have been vanilla, especially juxtaposed to Mystique taunting opponents with their preconceptions, her struggle for equality, and weaponizing her sexuality. Unlike Rogue, who wishes to erase her identity, Mystique fights for her identity to be accepted.

Spider-Man’s (2002) Mary Jane was just “protagonist’s girlfriend,” allowing Elektra to take off in Daredevil. She wasn’t fantastically portrayed, but she didn’t need to be; she needed to be a “Kickass Female Character” (another interesting trope) for an audience dying to see their gender as more than side characters.

After that, it’s hard to say if the proliferation of these kinds of characters is coincidental, spurred by audience reactions, or because outside of teams, Marvel has few female heroes not based on male heroes.


Hard to say. Women are at least getting SOME representation by strong characters, but as sidekicks, lovers, victims, and sometimes outright objects.

Yes, Black Widow’s about-face in Iron Man 2 and in the Avengers is intended to be deconstructive of objectification and power dynamics, but both movies utilize it in a way that’s shocking for the audience and surrounding characters. Iron Man 2 flat objectifies her. It feels very “I can play with the boys too!” instead of her character just being capable in her environment like Peggy Carter in Captain America and in Agent Carter. It’s the difference of suggesting that superheroing is a boy’s stage where women may be allowed to enter and superheroing just being a stage.

Similarly, it’s weird that the idea of a female-led superhero movie is risky move. It’s like saying that 30-something white male is tabula rasa and that anything else is exotic. That’s an issue endemic to modern blockbuster cinema and to comic books and it IS deeply, DEEPLY problematic and limiting.

Ultimately, Marvel’s Sexy Spy/Assassins and their situations are constructed by their writing teams. None of these characters have to express their sexuality in such on-the-nose ways. Seriously, Mystique is nude throughout the X-movies. Hell, Winter Soldier was the first movie in three appearances to prove that Black Widow didn’t need skimpy outfits to be an unstoppable undercover agent.

Things like this can make it feel like the Sexy Spy-Assassin is a popular trope because it allows women to feel empowered in a way that gratifies and appeals to the heterosexual male ego. That because she’s a deliberately sexualized side-character, she doesn’t have to be taken as seriously. That in many ways, no matter how much she’s characterized… She’s still an object in the eyes of the audience.


I applaud the X-Men franchise for showing a wide range of female characters and abilities and question why the MCU can’t match it. The widespread success of The Hunger Games, Maleficent, and Frozen shows that audiences are starving for relatable female characters. There’s no legitimate reason why a female-lead movie couldn’t have been made.

So how about some elevator pitches?

America would go nuts for Captain Marvel, a gutsy soldier from the Midwest, who learns to lead with her newfound cosmic powers –even when they make her the target of an alien assault.

Why not Ms. Marvel? A Muslim girl from Jersey struggles with her identity when becoming an Inhuman and fighting monstrous bad guys makes that even harder. She’s so popular, that images of her are being used to counter Islamophobia.

Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver could’ve had a great story about rival siblings on the run from superpowered mad scientists.

How about a Thunderbolts movie, about a pack of criminals masquerading as Avengers-ripoffs superheroes and lead by the cunning Songbird, who’s out of her element when she has to lead them in a death-defying mission to save the country?

Ant-Man could’ve been The Wasp, about a plucky size-changing thief and her misadventure to redemption and greatness!

Seriously. Space Grim Reaper.

Guardians of the Galaxy has a myriad of fascinating female characters like Mantis, a martial artist who can predict the future; Phyla-Vell, Space Grim Reaper; Starhawk, a transsexual Superman; Moondragon, a psychic were-dragon; and more! What, are we saving all the cool characters for the sequel?

Hell, I STILL think that Black Widow should’ve gotten a METAL GEAR SOLID-inspired movie.

I just don’t buy Marvel’s line that there’s a “perfect time” to release X kind of movie. Sure, we as a culture like to see certain kinds of movies at certain times of the year, and things wax and wane in popularity all the time in the cultural zeitgeist, but if you ONLY ascribe to that philosophy, you’re not creating culture; you’re following.

The movies that blow our minds? The ones we pile into the theater to see? More often than not, it’s because they were expertly-crafted stories with fantastic characters who made us feel something real, not because they happened at the precise moment in time. Those are the movies that create culture. The ones that ignite trends, fads, and imitations. They are the Star Warses, the Lords of the Rings, the Batmans, the Iron Mans, and the Avengers

Marvel is one of, if not THE foremost creator of culture in America as of 2015. Hell, they were that in 2012 when the Avengers hit theaters. They could’ve released anything and pushed any protagonist with any race or gender, any set of skills, any set of powers, and with any worldview. I’ll never say they did wrong… but perhaps they could’ve done more.


As I’ve said before, I’ve got nothing against the Sexy Spy/Assassin trope, sex-positive lifestyles, or assuming whatever identity you choose. Even calling out the Sex Spy/Assassin trend, I wouldn’t say that any of these characters are, on their own, regressive, or that sympathizing with them, reading their comics, or cosplaying them is wrong. If a character gives you comfort, good for them and good for you for finding them!

Hundreds of women have latched onto these characters and have been empowered by them. That counts for something.

It just doesn’t seem fair to me that as a straight white male, I have a variety of protagonists to identify with -a super soldier, a space Viking, a rage monster, an archer, a guy in a robot suit, and countless others- while women have to settle for the Sexy Spy/Assassin or the Romantic Science-Savy Assistant.

Our world is becoming ever more aware of its diversity. It’s about time we start making movies to reflect that. I hope that Scarlet Witch’s modern-day sorcery will capture the imaginations of Age of Ultron audiences. I’m crossing my fingers that the MCU Spider-Man will be cast black, both for what nuance that could bring to the character and so black audiences will have greater representation than “BFF of White Hero.”

Seriously, we have to wait until maybe 2017 for the Luke Cage Netflix series and until 2018 for the Black Panther movie. We really couldn’t have had one non-white Avenger?

Progress is good. It makes us better, and it makes society better. We need to start asking more of our entertainment.