Yesterday, we kicked off our extensive coverage of the Best Of 2015 by looking at the best posters of the last twelve months. So before we moved on to the actual movies themselves, we’d be remiss if we didn’t spend a little time first on that other crucial part of the movie marketing machine: the trailer.
A few minutes advertising coming attractions is virtually as old as cinema itself, but for better or worse (spoiler: for worse), the mania around trailers has reached a peak in recent years. AAA clips get countdowns, teasers for the trailers and starry launches on talk shows, and often receive more attention than entire movies do.
Yet there’s absolutely an art to the construction of great trailers, and for all the weariness they can cause, we get as excited about a terrific one as anyone else. So below you’ll find our 15 favorites from 2015. Any others you thought missed the cut? Let us know in the comments.
15. “Steve Jobs”
It might have underperformed at the box office, but you’d be hard pressed to blame the disappointing reception of “Steve Jobs” on its trailers, incredibly well cut bits of promo that sold the film’s theatrical structure, tour-de-force central performance and whip-smart dialogue. All the clips were strong, but the third, released a few weeks before release, might have been the best. Starting calmly before releasing a sort of thundering crescendo thanks to an instrumental version of SOHN”s “Lessons,” the trailer captures the relatively understated style that Danny Boyle brought to the movie, Sorkin’s rat-a-tat dialogue, the examplary performances, and its smart, raw take on its subject, all in barely two minutes.
14. “The Lobster”
It won’t go on U.S. release until 2016, but trust us when we say that the U.K. trailer for Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster” is more or less a perfect encapsulation of everything that makes the film so special. Somehow getting the movie’s ludicrous, brilliant premise across almost immediately, it sells the film’s baroquely funny, Bunuel-ian tone extremely effectively, shows the star power on display (Whishaw! Reilly! Colman! Keith from ‘The Office’!), as well as the film’s surprisingly tender romantic underbelly. If we had a complaint, it’s that it’s not quite as funny as the movie itself, but then, it’s actually keeping back many of the movie’s best gags, and that’s uncommonly pleasing for a comedy.
The second trailer for Ryan Coogler‘s “Rocky” spin-off is arguably even more emotive and punchy (pun intended), but it breaks the cardinal rule of trailers and gives away far too much of the film, so instead we choose to shout out the first. And since this was our first proper glimpse at a project that could have been really good or really really bad, it deserves props for moving “Creed” out of the category of “films we’re sort of wary of” (a “Rocky” spin-off? Really?) and straight into “films we’re actively looking forward to.” It doesn’t look like it reinvents the formula, but Coogler’s sincere direction, a convincing, sympathetic and bulked-up Michael B. Jordan and a Stallone role that looks to be much meatier than mere fan service cameo are all teased here, and who could ask for more than that from yet another “Rocky” sequel?
It is with immense reluctance and about a million caveats that we give “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” a spot on this list, but there’s no denying it’s an effective piece of marketing for one of the bigger post-“Star Wars” films of 2016. On the minus side, there’s some pretty ropy CGI, and we can’t help but notice that Henry Cavill once again doesn’t get to talk onscreen (it’s the same thing that happened with the also-excellent “Man of Steel” trailer in which the only problem was it trailed… “Man of Steel”). However, on the plus side we get an appropriately broody Ben Affleck for Batman, a neat reimagining of “Man of Steel”‘s climactic destruction scene from another point of view, welcome glimpses of Gal Gadot looking capable as Wonder Woman, and the supporting cast, from Laurence Fishburne to Jeremy Irons to Jesse Eisenberg, seem to be doing a great job of classing up the joint. So sure, it works great as a trailer, but we’ve been burned so often before by Zack Snyder that we’re keeping our expectations in check.
It looks like our collective love affair with Jennifer Lawrence (no, we’re not immune to the sheer force of her onscreen and offscreen charm either) is going to continue a little while longer, at least on the strength of this glimpse at her next collaboration with David O. Russell. This is a tantalizing taste of the range and wit that her portrayal of self-starting entrepreneur Joy Mangano should encompass, and there’s no doubt that the film seems to be as much the Jennifer Lawrence show as any she’s appeared in to date, even if stalwarts Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and Isabella Rossellini look to be strong in support. Really, it’s the Christmassy vibe given off here (we’re suckers for bells and snow) and the palpable sense of a terrific actress being given a meaty role that allows her to show various aspects of a complicated and interesting woman, coupled with that fluid, ever-so-slightly-zany tone that Russell has mastered, that kicks our anticipation for “Joy,” not a particularly easy sell of a movie, up several notches.
Having now seen and been spectacularly underwhelmed by the completed film, it’s hard to remember the level of excitement we felt for Paolo Sorrentino‘s “Youth” prior to its Cannes debut. But a look at this teaser trailer (and indeed any of the pre-release trailers) reminds us how we felt and possibly suggests that “Youth” works much better as a series of trailers than as the disjointed, uneven, borderline insufferable movie it turned out to be. On show here is the stunning cinematography (from regular Sorrentino DP Luca Bigazzo) and the kind of beautiful despairing decadence that Sorrentino had previously mined with “The Great Beauty.” And with the creaky dialogue kept to a minimum and composer David Lang‘s “Just (After Song of Songs)” providing the ethereal soundtrack, it’s a little sliver of something delicious —little did we know at the time that the full helping was going to be so unsatisfying.
9. “Love 3D”
Another example of the “great trailer, disappointing film” syndrome, Gaspar Noe‘s surprisingly soft-centered “Love” may have featured 3D ejaculations and plenty of clearly un-simulated sex, but its story was sadly lacking in any real edge or insight. So a trailer, in which story takes a back seat to mood and memorable images, might be the format most suited to it. The trailer’s highly NSFW nature also guaranteed the film an amount of notoriety, and while it masks Noe’s narrative uncertainty well, it also shows off his undeniable visual flair, and even in the comically goopy graphic treatment of the ending, promises a sense of humor that the resolutely self-serious film sadly never delivers on.
8. “Goodnight Mommy”
Establishing and maintaining the film’s exact tone of unease from the very beginning, the trailer for Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz‘s elegant German-language horror and Austria’s selection for the Foreign Film Oscar simply twangs with mystery and eeriness. But it is also clever for what it withholds: having seen the film, one of its most impressive achievements, unusually for this sort of chilly, intellectualized take on horror, is how it really follows through on its malevolent intent and commits to an unexpectedly upsetting finale. But the trailer wisely doesn’t give the nature of that climax away —instead, like the film does, it somewhat lulls you into the idea that if you negotiate the Ulrich Seidl-presented film’s twists and turns cleverly enough, you might get out unscathed. You will not.
One of the weirder but more interesting re-release stories of 2015 came courtesy of Drafthouse Pictures and the brief theatrical run for batshit 1981 movie “Roar,” starring Tippi Hedren, her daughter Melanie Griffith, and the lions and other wild animals they lived among for over a decade. With an awareness that the story of the film is just as interesting (probably more so) that the film itself, the trailer utilizes lengthy explanatory titles explaining the context, lists the main casts members by the type of injuries they received and also introduces one of 2015’s best taglines via “no animals were harmed…70 members of cast and crew were.” But the trailer shows actual footage from the film of course, which is every bit as astonishing as promised by the incredulous pullquotes: the maulings, stunts and animal attacks are full-on for real and look stupid dangerous.
Even when Justin Kurzel‘s “Macbeth” broods, it feels like it’s bellowing, and this portentous, heavy-hearted trailer captures that intensity brilliantly. It also showcases the film’s not-so-secret weapon —the outstanding cinematography from Adam Arkapaw,is perhaps is a little overreliant on extreme slow motion, but when the individual scenes are so immaculately framed and staged, sometimes extra time is needed to fully absorb the impact. Showing the film’s canny admixture of a very modern, almost experimental sensibility with a sense of classicism in the period, location and fidelity to the text, the trailer gives a great impression of the enormous strength and boldness of Kurzel’s fresh imagining of this archetypal, elemental story.
5. “Mad Max Fury Road”
It’s a bit of a cheat that the same film whose trailer was at number 1 of this list last year gets another entry in 2015, but maybe it’s just a mark of how much game the “Mad Max: Fury Road” trailer cutters continued to bring right up to the point of release. This final trailer before the film bowed brought as many of the eye-popping thrills as any prior (except maybe the awesome international trailer which played up the gonzo qualities even further). But it also significantly shifted the focus onto Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, preparing us for a film that was at least as much (if not more so) about her than Max himself. Amid all the desert chases and flamethrower guitars we already knew to expect, this was the first real taste we had of “Mad Mad: Fury Road” as not just a salute to an established icon, but the creation of a whole new one.
4. “The Revenant”
The first couple of times we watched this trailer (there have indeed been several such times), it was for the strikingly harsh gorgeousness of Emmanuel Lubezki‘s cinematography. Like “how does he do that?” —i.e. find seemingly entirely new ways to shoot things from one picture to the next? Even things we may have seen many times before? With a crispness and a widescreen swoop that belies the grungy down-and-dirty vibe (there are even moments when the camera lens is splashed with muck), this may be the most dramatic-looking snow western yet. But even beyond the look of it, “The Revenant” trailer gives us a peek at a deeply committed Leonardo DiCaprio, a visceral, convincingly terrifying bear attack and the kind of ornery, duplicitous Tom Hardy role that we could watch him play all night.
3. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Probably nothing was going to have quite the same impact as John Boyega‘s head popping up into frame in that first teaser trailer (which we featured in last year’s edition of this feature) —after all, it was the very first glimpse we got at the single most widely anticipated new film release of the last few decades. But as zero hour (Dec 18th) approaches, we’ve been given more comprehensive looks at the ‘Star Wars’ universe as imagined by JJ Abrams, and by and large it’s been very promising. This particular trailer was the first of this final round and gave us a lot of what we wanted (Chewbacca, R2D2, Han embracing Leia, Vader’s mask) while also introducing new elements. Chief among them is a seemingly more central role for Daisy Ridley, lots of new explosions, duels and spaceship fights and that great, very Abrams-esque swooping hand-off from Oscar Isaac to Boyega. But despite all it contained, the trailer (and subsequent cuts with different footage) was most chattered about for what was missing, inspiring much speculation and a whole “where’s Luke?” meme.
2. “Hail Caesar!”
This thing is just a blast. For anyone who counts themselves a Coens fan, anyone with even a passing affection for the Golden Age of the Hollywood studio system, or anyone who can basically get one eye open, the “Hail Caesar!” trailer is a giddy treat and a tonic. Featuring a mouthwatering, jaw-dropping cast in Josh Brolin (playing fixer Eddie Mannix), Scarlett Johansson as an Esther Williams-type starlet, George Clooney back apparently in dim-bulb form, Channing Tatum as a Gene Kelly-esque dancing star, Frances McDormand, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Alden Ehrenreich, Clancy Brown, and that’s before Tilda Swinton even shows up as Hedda Hopper! Also gifting us the immediately gif-able moment of Tatum’s sailor routine, the Coens appear to be following the Old Hollywood edict of giving the people what they want and have pretty much guaranteed that we’ll be first in line to see it next year.
1. “Queen of Earth”
Like the poster for Alex Ross Perry’s “Queen of Earth,” and indeed like the film itself, this trailer is brilliantly situated at the exact meeting point of parody of and homage to Perry’s various influences. Cutting together moments from the film that play up its melodramatic, Fassbinder-ian and psych-horror credentials, the real stroke of genius here is the overblown voiceover, delivered in urgent, gravelly tones and exhorts us to see “Elisabeth Moss… as you’ve never seen her before!” and even reads out the credit list at the end. Self-aware, unsettling and absolutely hilarious, it’s the year’s best trailer by quite some distance, because it doesn’t just trail the film —it becomes a little artifact all by itself.
There are fewer picks standing out here for us than in our posters list, in part because of how similar many trailers are to each other. That said, from the big studio world, “Suicide Squad” was worth it, if just for Margot Robbie, while “The Martian” had a confidence throughout that converted into giant box office. M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit” also had a very effective cilp, while the “Hateful Eight” trailers have been typically good.
We’re more than a little intrigued by the trailer for Jeff Nichols’ “Midnight Special” too. On a more indie-minded bent, the “Carol” trailers were gorgeous, particularly the second, while “Room,” “Victoria” and “Heaven Knows What” all stood out in a big way. Any others you loved? Let us know below.
Dishonorable Mention: We love Duncan Jones. We think the idea of a big action-fantasy told from two sides is fascinating. But we are very, very concerned by the “Warcraft” trailer. Years in the making, Jones’ video game adaptation (in promo form, anyway) looks messy and full of what seems to be cliched fantasy settings, weightless CGI and poor Paula Patton with a prosthetic underbite. Let’s hope it’s just been poorly cut, because few trailers this year were as disheartening as this one.