Sunday, January 3, 2016

Sunday Best: Catholic Skywalker Awards - Movies 2015

With 2015 coming to a close, it is time for us to choose what the best entertainment of the year was.  And just as the Academy Awards have their "Oscars", so too the Catholic Skywalker Awards have their "Kal-El's"

 I have gone through as many movies as possible this year. There were several that I missed and so was unable to place. 

Below are a list of movies that are NOT on this awards page because I had not gotten a chance to see them

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
Taken 3
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
Bridge of Spies
Fantastic Four
McFarland, USA
A Walk in the Woods
Black or White
Steve Jobs
Mr. Holmes
The 33
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Little Boy
Danny Collins
The Good Dinosaur
The Big Short

So of the movies  I've seen this year, here are the winners:

(My appreciation and judgment of a film should not be taken as a recommendation. Choosing to watch any of these films is the reader's responsibility)


Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

This has been a movie over 32 years in the making.  And it did not disappoint.  This movie stands head and shoulders above most of the movies that have come out this year.  It was a bold space epic with excellent acting and some truly powerful emotional moments.  As with all Star Wars films, the movie transports you to exciting and spectacular vistas.  The charisma, talent, and chemistry of the cast sparkles on the screen, especially in up and comers John Boyega and Daisy Ridley as well as a standout performance by legendary Harrison Ford.  And those who have seen the movie know the moments of genuine heartbreak, chills, and wonder that are found in it.  It is worthy to be a part of the great tradition of Star Wars.  I know it may seem cliche for Catholic Skywalker to choose a Star Wars film as the best (and to be fair only The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones are the only Star Wars films not the best in their year), but The Force Awakens is well deserving of this accolade.  It is a wonderful thing to be not only a populist crowd-pleaser while at the same time be a film of excellent quality.  And this is such a timely movie in terms of its themes.  We live in a world that is becoming increasingly more cynical and jaded.  The solution is not to turn to new and edgy ideologies that promise some personal utopia.  This movie is about reclaiming the traditions that we have lost.  When we don't know our own history, we are lost.  And that is what this movie captures and delivers so effectively in cinematic terms.  But above all watching this movie is a joy.  As of this writing I've seen it three times in the theater and each time has been better as I've melted away and lost myself in that galaxy far, far away.

Mission:Impossible - Rogue Nation
Mad Max: Fury Road
Jurassic World

George Miller - Mad Max: Fury Road
I was very reluctant to see this movie, seeing as how I cannot stand the other Mad Max movies.  But I was blown away by the visceral and visual power of director George Miller's vision.  As I wrote in my review: "Much has been already written about the epic car stunts in this film and they are not hyperbolic.  Much of the film was done with practical effects rather than CGI, which gives the action a rawness and weight and visceral punch.  You can feel the pressure of acceleration and you feel rocked with each crash.  This is a film of a young and hungry director, which is what impresses me so much about 70-year-old George Miller's fast and furious spectacle."  There is much to be said about witty dialogue and subtle understatement.  But movies are primarily a visual art and Miller understands that like few directors working now.


JJ Abrams - Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Christopher McQuarrie - Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Colin Treverrow - Jurassic World
Pete Doctor, Ronnie Del Carmen - Inside/Out

Johnny Depp - Black Mass
As I wrote in my review: "Depp should get another Oscar nomination.  He truly looks ghoulish and he exudes menace.  There is one particularly harrowing scene where is he "checking on the health" of Connolly's wife (Julianne Nicholson) that is so filled with threatening subtext that it is difficult to breathe while watching it."  The movie itself is lacking in sophisticated textures.  In the hands of a lesser actor, the character of Whitey as written would be too caricatured.  But even with this uneven script, Depp makes a fantastically charismatic and terrifying character whose eyes pierce you like a predator stalking its prey.  That steely believability makes this the best actor performance of the year.

John Boyega - Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Tom Hardy - Mad Max: Fury Road
Samuel L. Jackson - The Hateful Eight
Domhall Gleeson - Ex Machina

Daisy Ridley - Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Actors love playing villains because it allows them to chew scenery and unbridle the darker side of their emotions.  That is why playing "goodness" is such a challenge.  But Daisy Ridley did a fantastic job as the star of the new Star Wars, Rey.  Not only is she incredibly charismatic onscreen with an effortless chemistry with whomever she appears, but she grants genuine emotion and pathos to her character.  In a movie where an actor can drown in the special effects, Ridley gave the movie a strong emotional core and she made earnest goodness incredibly interesting to watch.  Watch all of the interior action going in inside her as she struggles with her past and her future while maintaining an excellent physically powerful presence without losing any of her femininity.  Her emotional journey was the real highlight of this already great film.

Jennifer Jason Leigh - The Hateful Eight
Rebecca Hall - The Gift
Charlize Theron - Mad Max: Fury Road
Jennifer Lawrence - Joy

Harrison Ford - Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

This is the best Harrison Ford performance in a long time and it is his best performance as Han Solo.  As the years have gone on, the wild spark that made Ford a star began to dwindle.  But it was all there in the aged body.  Ford didn't try to play Han like a young man.  Han is old now and with an unseen history longer than what we saw in the original trilogy.  He has been through unimaginable emotional peaks and valleys that we never see.  But Ford shows us with every sad, resolved look.  It feels as though Ford reconnected to Solo on an emotional level that he had not had the chance to do before.  That doesn't mean that he has lost any of his vibrant masculinity.  This is not a fluffier Han Solo.  What we see on screen is and is not the same Han Solo.  Ford gave all Star Wars fans, and movie fans in general, a great gift with this performance.

Oscar Isaac- Ex Machina
Joel Edgerton - The Gift
Kurt Russell - The Hateful Eight
Adam Driver - Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Alicia Vikander - Ex Machina

This was a mesmerizing performance.  Ex Machina is the story of a man who has to apply the Turring Test to determine whether a robot has achieved full consciousness.  Vikander plays the robot named Eva.  Throughout the film she shares one on one sessions with Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) in which it appears that she is not only fully conscious but is falling for Caleb.  But is it all an act or is it genuine?  Is she genuinely alive and in love or is she a machine that has been programed to survive at all costs, even seduction.  Vikander is both expressive and inscrutable.  She has to give a soulful performance that could also be looked at as soul-less.  She understands how understatement allows the audience (along with Caleb) to project their own hopes or fears upon her.  And by the time the film is completed, you can see how every action she performed was completely in keeping with what is revealed.  

Emma Stone - Aloha
Rachel McAdams - Aloha
Rebecca Ferguson- Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Cate Blanchette - Cinderella

Pete Doctor, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley – Inside/Out

World-building and creativity are the hallmarks of most PIXAR films.  But what Docter and the others also understand is that you can create the most fascinating world and it will count for nothing if you do not get the audiences to connect emotionally.  And in a movie about emotions, that is not as easy at is sounds.  The main emotional characters are designed to be flat and one note.  How do you create dimension out of pure Joy and pure Sadness?  And yet the remarkable feat is that they did just that without betraying the central nature of each character.  All the while, the script is funny, thrilling, and heartbreaking.

Alex Garland- Ex Machina
Christopher McQuarrie -  Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris - Mad Max: Fury Road
Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams, Michael Arndt- Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Mad Max - Fury Road

The utter ugly insanity of what Miller put on screen is part of what makes this film have such a tangible impact.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Black Mass
Ex Machina


Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

JJ Abrams did a superb job of mixing the practical effects with the CGI to make a movie of fantastic fun and imagination

Jurassic World
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Martian

John Williams – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

While it is the least of the Star War scores, John Williams work is always head and shoulders above all other.

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Jurassic World
Ex Machina


"Flaslight" - Pitch Perfect 2

It is not a great song, but it is the best movie song this year.


Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

I absolutely love the costume design of this film, with all of its creativity and personality.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Mad Max: Fury Road

Below are the list of all the films of 2015 that I have seen, ranked in order of excellence:

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Inside Out
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Mad Max: Fury Road
Jurassic World
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Martian
The Intern
The Walk
Cinderella (2015)
Ted 2
The Gift (2015)
Ex Machina
Black Mass
Hateful 8
The Wedding Ringer
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Pitch Perfect 2
Terminator: Genisys


  1. I was wondering how much of the Star Wars 7 being the best movie of 2015 was due to its recent release, but even after a second viewing, I still walked away loving it, so I'm thinking this may be a modern classic. Also, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on Mr. Holmes if you ever watch it.

    1. I thought very much about the freshness of the movie's release as well. This is one of the reasons that the "important" films come out at this time of year, close to the Oscars. But having seen it three times, I can say that it still holds up each time and actually gets better. And it completely washed away the filth of viewing The Hateful Eight.

  2. Crimson Peak you cinematic heathen!

    What Tarantino does for genre film with breakneck fanboy exuberance; de Toro does with sheer artistic mastery.

    Actually I'm in a three way tie.

    The best is not simply movies I have enjoyed, but IMnsHO have added to the History of Film.

    Ex Machina

    Fury Road

    Crimson Peak

    The Force Awakens gets grandfathered in as part of the Star Wars franchise, which transcends the category as a cultural phenomenon.

    A nod to Uncle Marty from Frame by Frame