Film

The Best and Worst Films of Spring 2015

January through April is a time typically made up of award season leftovers, pre-summer spectacle, and more than a few throwaways. Here are PopMatters' choices for the best and worst of the last four months.

In case you haven't noticed, the summer movie season is upon us. In fact, many would argue that, with its stranglehold on the box office over the last four weeks, Furious 7 began what traditionally occurred between May and August of every year. Of course, when money talks, no one connected to the studio system walks; they run to the nearest script doctor and demand their piece of the plentiful pot.

This makes the months between spring and fall a free for all of repeats, remakes, sequels, serializations, copycats, and crap. The times both before and after those periods are dumping grounds, places for pictures that don't have an easy selling point, an obvious (or appreciative) demographic, or enjoy a contractual obligation regarding a release, and/or any old write-off sitting up on the shelf.

Indeed, winter 2015 had its fair share of noble failures (Jupiter Ascending), pure financial pandering (Disney's Cinderella), and unusual indies (The Voices). There was also a plethora of excellent documentaries, including looks at rape on campus (The Hunting Ground), the horrors at Penn State (Happy Valley), and a telling take on Scientology (Going Clear). We also witnessed some flawed family films (Strange Magic), the continuation of a YA property audiences no longer care about (Insurgent), a safe sex version of a famed soccer mom erotica novel (Fifty Shades of Grey), and what should be the final installments in Liam Neeson's middle-aged action hero streak (Run All Night, Taken 3).

Out of all this aesthetic turmoil, we've come up with our choices for the five best and worst offerings of the last four month. We've even thrown in an extra title on each side as a Dishonorable/Honorable mention.

The Worst

 
Dishonorable Mention: Blackhat
We include this otherwise well-made movie among the worst of 2015 for a couple of reasons. First, it's from Michael Mann, a director we expect a lot more from than a sloppy, silly cyberthriller; and second, it's a timely subject treated without an ounce of intelligence or style. Part of the problem comes in hiring Chris Hemsworth -- Thor himself -- as the lead. You could dip him in a vat of tech knowledge and award him a collection of legitimate PhDs and you'd still have some hunky dude talking incredulous techno-speak to you. While this film was anticipated, Blackhat undermined any of those feelings with a single sentence from Hemsworth's lips.

 
5. Unfinished Business
If it wasn't for Dave Franco giving one of the best clueless innocent performances ever, this entire movie would be a misfire. Instead, it's a wholly unlikeable excuse for ugly Americans to prove their title while corporate ethics are thrown out the window for a plethora of sex jokes. We are supposed to care about Vince Vaughn and his ongoing business rivalry with Sienna Miller, but the film offers no real reason to care except for the requirements of the three act format. An entire film about Franco's character, from his group home to his casual carnal encounters with women around the world, would have been preferable.

 
4. Get Hard
Otherwise known as "Fear of a Gay Planet". Will Ferrell can argue all he wants that this is a comedy, and that the rampant homophobia is nothing but "jokes", but how does one defend the sequence where his uptight white character is facially assaulted by a phallus? If jokes about the Johnson were gold, this movie would be Ft. Knox. It's also not a very likeable comedy when it comes to people of color. Instead of finding a satiric way around the obvious stereotypes being discussed, the soggy script and added improvisation only reinforces them. The pairing of Farrell and Kevin Hart has a lot of potential, but Get Hard pissed it all away.

 
3. The Boy Next Door
Jennifer Lopez takes a break from rating barely capable TV talent to make an erotic thriller than can't even get its literary references right (when, exactly, was The Iliad written, and how did you get a "first edition?"), even though her character is supposedly a teacher of the subject. Of course, the minute she sees the luscious abs and come-hither stare of her 19 year old next door neighbor (played by 27 year old Ryan Guzman), she slips up. It's all downhill from there, as she can't control her throbbing urges and he has a secret -- he's a killer, duh.

 
2. Hot Tub Time Machine 2
When this movie was screened for critics, yours truly watched the first ten minutes and wondered, "Did they put the right reel up on the screen?" So bereft of jokes, humor, and/or purpose, this sequel to the highly successful original forgot to pack punchlines when it moved on to franchise Phase II. And the odd thing is that it was made by the same people responsible for the original revisionist '80s era spoof. John Cusack can claim a victory of sorts; he decided not to return for the sequel, and only he survives with his dignity intact. Everyone else in this unfunny disaster are only in it for a paycheck.

 
1. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
When you consider the first film managed to exceed expectations and pull down some significant box office numbers both domestically and internationally, the desire for a sequel was/is a no-brainer -- and so is the resulting follow-up. The biggest mistake made here is taking a reasonable loveable fat jolly dude and turning him into an acerbic, whiny tool. Our titular hero is now such an out-and-out jerk that his only hope for romance is a script-forced tryst with a hotel manager who is clearly out of the character's league. In fact, she's not even a possible fantasy team pick. This disaster is proof that relying on gags about overweight people isn't inherently funny.

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