The Conversation Starter


We knew 2015 was going to be an embarrassment of riches for movies. It’s pretty telling that the goods were still great even when one of the most hotly anticipated films turned out to be a thunderous dud (sorry, Avengers: Age of Ultron fans, you know it’s true). So if you couldn’t find anything to your tastes at either the local multiplex or art house theater, than maybe it’s time for you to grab your food storage and guns and go off the grid. Here’s what kept the folks at Penna Powers from running for the hills:

Inside Out – Pixar strikes again with this tale of the emotional world inside an emerging adolescent girl. As always, Pixar makes movies for both kids and adults, without having to drop annoying pop culture references to keep the parents engaged. This tale was sweet and entertaining on the surface while supplying the depth needed for satisfying repeat viewings. And Amy Poehler and Tina Fey seem to be in a see-saw match to win the movie-star-who-could-also-be-your-best-friend award.


The Martian – This could have been an over-the-top sci-fi action spectacular but surprisingly, director Ridley Scott went with a more low-key approach combined with spare, but amazing visuals. We liked the way the film economically showcases how a problem gets solved by a team of professionals – less flash, more problem-solving, which is typically how we work as well, though we’re not usually tasked with getting a stranded astronaut home from Mars.


Room – Based on the book of the same name, this film from director Lenny Abrahamson (who also helmed the very strange but interesting Frank), is simply sublime. Given the pitch black subject matter, that would seem a near-impossible task. But Room manages to transcend the lurid nature of its premise with very strong performances from little Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson.


Ex Machina – This is the year of Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, who seemed to star in everything.  And all her performances were memorable, especially this one, where she plays an artificial intelligence creation. Poe Dameron from Star Wars plays the arrogant creator and General Hux plays the audience stand-in who “wins” an opportunity to play the human component in a Turing test. And what a test this turns out to be.


Mad Max: Fury Road – We’re all familiar with the sub-genre of film known as the “road movie”, where a protagonist or two go on a road trip and through a series of often zany adventures, find something about themselves in the process. Well, take that concept and stir in an unholy concoction of cocaine, adrenaline and amphetamines and you get this insanely kinetic road trip across an apocalyptic wasteland brilliant enough to make us forget all about Tina Turner and the Thunderdome. Oh what a lovely day!


Jurassic World – We’re obligated to include a Chris Pratt movie in our year-end listings and this one just barely beat out Jem and the Holograms.  Jurassic World was on top of the world box office until a certain space movie came out. Ironically, this little film earned director Colin Trevorrow the right to helm Episode 9 in the Star Wars canon. See you in 2019!


What We Do in the Shadows – Hilarious faux-documentary/found footage of a secret vampire society.  Fortunately, they’re led by the always reliably funny Jermaine Clement.


Ant-Man – We were quite underwhelmed by the trailers for Marvel’s almost forgotten Avenger. Fortunately, the movie turned out to pretty dang good, with the best ever cinematic use of Thomas the Tank Engine.


The Hateful Eight – Like Chris Pratt, we are also under contract to sing the praises of Quentin Tarantino, because he doesn’t do that himself enough. Most of us haven’t seen this one, but of course, the universe wouldn’t be right if a Tarantino flick wasn’t on a top ten list.  We’ve heard Samuel L. Jackson is at his most Samuel L. Jacksonion in this one – not sure how he can top Pulp Fiction or Snakes on a Plane, but we’ll buy a ticket to find out.


Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Thanks for scrolling through this blog post to find out what you already know to be true.  Penna Powers loves Star Wars!  I mean, we almost have an unlawful infatuation with it. We’ve already made J.J. Abrams an honorary partner of the agency – he actually has a key and can stop by whenever he wants. Mr. Abrams now has the reputation of being the go-to franchise realignment specialist. Witness how he rescued the Mission Impossible franchise from John Woo’s slow-motion dove fetish, Star Trek from the clutches of film formaldehyde and Star Wars from George Lucas himself. Abrams made both a modern and nostalgic sequel that zings and swings and features real actors’ real faces that are actually connected to their real bodies.

Honorable Mentions: Beasts of No Nation, Cinderella, Spy, Black Mass, Bridge of Spies, The Revenant, The Shaun the Sheep Movie, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Slow West, Infini, Advantageous, Chappie, Kingsmen: Secret Service, Vacation, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

What do you think we missed? Let us know what you liked in 2015 in the comments below. And be sure to check out the Penna Powers Picks: Best Movies of 2014.

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