The Most Surprising(ly Good) Movies – 2015

1. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials The first Maze Runner movie played so much like a parody of Young Adult novel movie-izations that even my compulsion to leave no cinematic stone unturned (no matter how heavy) could easily have slackened enough to let this sequel pass by. I didn’t even (yet) see the second installment of such a series that got on this list last year (Divergent.)


Unless a long hallway counts, this Maze Runner has no mazes. It has no made up names for dumb things that don’t exist. It really has very little to do with anything that happened in the first one, as if it knew how bad it was and would sooner have you forget it ever happened.


The expendable group of diversity that serves the main Maze Runner’s cause is difficult to take sometimes, as if this was making fun of racist action movies of yore. But like those action movies, it doesn’t rest enough to let you stew on it very long. A prison break and a zombie movie get intertwined with a conspiracy gauntlet and a regular old revolution and it never lets up.



2. Everest The IMAX documentary on the same expedition bored me to death when it wasn’t actively making me angry that someone thought I should feel sorry for a bunch of dummies who died doing the thing they had to sign multiple documents about dying in order to do. So it was mostly begrudging obligation to see everything (and the presence of Emily Watson) that got me to this early enough to see it in IMAX all it’s own (except it wasn’t really IMAX, just AMC’s facsimile thereof.)


And so even knowing a lot about the ending and nothing else being terribly unpredictable to begin with, there didn’t seem to be much room for this to not be annoying. But then, that left a lot of room for it to be better than expected. What I was not prepared for was the spectacle of it. In IMAX 3D at least, this movie puts you on the mountain in a way even an IMAX science center special whose only reason for existence is to do just that could not accomplish.


Perhaps most shocking though, was never being annoyed that these people were even doing this. And maybe caring about whether they gave up or didn’t, even whether they got down alive or didn’t.



3. Paddington – Nobody wanted this. A fan of Paddington Bear was probably furious it was happening and a kid with no idea what a Paddington was wasn’t going to be impressed by a soft spoken bear in a peacoat. And those of us with no allegiance or age-appropriateness would be put off by the nonsense of an animated animal surfing down some stairs on a clawtooth tub. There are Alvin And The Chipmunks movies for that sort of thing.


But Paddington isn’t nearly as soft as the material might suggest, nor is it as dumb and pandering as most kids movies are at this point. Paddington makes a real impact on everyone around him and is in actual danger at times, which shouldn’t have to be praised, but does.


Above and beyond anybody’s expectation, there is cinematography and production design being employed here that would make a casual observer wonder if maybe Wes Anderson had sold out to the studios. With an amazing cast, not the least of which is Ben Whishaw’s brilliant voicing of Paddington, this movie may be more sophisticated than the kids movie it was advertised as, but that seems like a terrible reason to keep it away from yours.



4. The Age Of Adaline Blake Lively is worse than she’s ever been, robotically moving through time being nice to everyone. Even the guy who will not leave her alone no matter how politely clear she is that he should. Throw in a flowery narrator and really there’s not a whole lot more this movie could do to be bad.


And yet, here we are.


It’s a fantastical Benjamin Button type premise with more pseudo-science explanation than anyone ever would have asked for. It’s convenient and coincidental and the ending is kind of gross if you give it any kind of independent thought.


And yet, here we are.


I can only go on about what isn’t good about Age Of Adaline, and yet I will always end up back at that refrain. It defies explanation.


Oh, but Harrison Ford should be nominated for Best Supporting Actor for it. Like absolutely, no kidding.


And yet, here we are.



5. Max I am definitely not a sucker for dog movies, but maybe now that there is one, I might be a sucker for movies about kids who don’t want a dog, but have one forced upon them.


However, I definitely am a sucker for any movie with two independent villains, especially when neither is treated like a joke. Which might be the most surprisingly good thing about Max. That despite being a movie about a kid and a dog, the danger is always real, whether it is that dog or a gun or just falling off of something, it is always presented with appropriate deference.


It is a movie about a dog in the end though, so while it does some things that make you question its voracity, it’s never preternatural the way that often can be. The boy and dog relationship has a progression even, one that doesn’t feel forced or even inevitable. Which is something even movies without dogs have trouble doing.





Danny Collins I even had some warning for this one, but it was not nearly enough. Bobby Cannavale does Al Pacino while Al Pacino does somebody else for once.


San Andreas Almost every day I think about the scene where The Rock gets the boat over the tsunami while all the other ones fall down behind him. I don’t know why. It’s not even the best thing in this relentless ride.


Self/less Not nearly as visually arresting as you’d hope a Tarsem Singh action movie would be, but even sleepwalking to a paycheck, he can be better than most. Plus he doesn’t care enough about the story to mess it up with his esoteric inclinations.


The Gift If not for one of the most aggravating endings in memory, this might have been one of the best movies of the year.


Sisters It was pretty cynical and stupid of me to let the trailer for this turn me against it, but come on, you saw it, it looked really bad.


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