Top 10 of 2015
2015 was a solid year for movies. There were stories about women, stories from the LGBTQ community, stories featuring diverse casts and stories that are as timeless as the art of filmmaking itself. Although lacking in the kind of masterpiece work that has been crowned in years past, it was a varied year with quality stories from all corners.
Here is a quick look at my Top 10 for 2015 (more or less in this order):
Tangerine--Black transgender prostitutes working the streets of Los Angeles. You know, just like every other movie Hollywood puts out (tongue planted firmly in cheek). The magic of this movie is that it spins these fresh faces (played by newcomers Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and novel situations into a universal tale. This is a raucous and ratchet affair through and through. The lead-up to the Donut Time showdown was the second most intense sequence I saw this year.
Room--Tangerine's buildup to its crescendo is second only to that of Room. Jack's efforts to escape caused my heart to beat faster than any movie moment I can remember. Brie Larson received a great deal of well-deserved praise for her turn as "Ma," but the real star is Jacob Tremblay, who turned in what I consider easily the best male performance of the year. I watched in amazement as he showed emotions and nuance on screen that were overwhelmingly impressive for any actor, let alone one who was only 8 years old. This is one of a very few on this list that I would recommend to literally anyone (of suitable age and maturity). Should be universally loved and adored by nearly any audience.
Brooklyn--I consider it high praise to say this movie could have been so much worse in less capable hands. John Crowley crafted a familiar love triangle that feels fresh and new. This could have easily been the equivalent of a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Instead, Saoirse Ronan turns in the best female performance of the year. Subtle in moments and perfect throughout. She headlines a cast that is solid from top to bottom. This probably is not a film I would recommend to everyone, but it certainly has the magic of somehow being much more than the sum of its parts.
Creed--So many articles about #oscarssowhite focused on Straight Outta Compton, which while fine, was nowhere near as deserving of Oscar love as Creed. It is a shame Warner Bros. did not know what it had when it decided to push Black Mass instead of the fine work by all involved here, but that is a discussion for another day. Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson turned in wonderfully layered performances that were as criminally underrated as the film. And Sylvester Stallone offers touching work few probably thought he was capable of after decades of lackluster performances. This seventh entry into the Rocky franchise is arguably the best of the lot.
Mad Max: Fury Road--This movie is a miracle. It is a miracle it was made with this scale, scope and vision. It is a miracle it was loved by critics to the degree it was. It is a miracle that it was as loved within the industry to the tune of six Academy Awards. The film is essentially a two-hour chase sequence with very few opportunities to catch one's breath. This thing is a ride and a half, with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron's performances helping to elevate it from the usual action genre film. But it is George Miller's singular vision of a dystopian future that will stick with you long after viewing.
Spotlight--Rarely is the Best Picture winner complete garbage, but rarely is it this good as well. Tom McCarthy's film chronicles The Boston Globe's unearthing of the Catholic Church's abuses and coverups. It is tightly crafted and moves at a deliberate pace. Its engaging ensemble cast makes the audience feel the gravity of the revelations. Each performance is pretty much spot-on, with Stanley Tucci perhaps giving the best performance in a smaller role. There is no excess fat here and the result is an impactful drama that unfolds as you might expect, but in a very satisfactory fashion.
Inside Out--Pixar does it again. A few sour notes aside, this studio consistently puts out quality content that engages all ages. Inside Out, the story of one girl's emotions told from the point of view of those emotions, seems almost universal. As an adult male of a different race, I could still identify with the conflicts she experienced between her past and future, the new and the longed for, and the everlasting uncertain. This is another film with wide appeal that can be enjoyed by audiences across the spectrum.
45 Years--Slow burn. That's the best way to describe this. It's the story of an aging couple planning a party for their 45th wedding anniversary when unexpected news changes the mood. Two masterfully understated performances from Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling are the reason this movie works. Every frame of Rampling's face puts her grief in sharp relief, as we learn of each new revelation with her. The final shot is the only of the year I can still clearly remember.
Amy--The year's best documentary. It chronicles the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse, along with the roles various relationships played in her life and demise. I loved Amy Winehouse's music and that is the real star of this film. The rich lyrics and contemporary appreciation of her genius make the gravity of her fate even more sobering. This is a devastating look at the results of excess and a reflection on loss.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens--I am not a Star Wars fan. I actually only recently watched the original trilogy in an effort to prepare for The Force Awakens. Unlike most, I was ambivalent toward all of the throwbacks to pre-existing characters. However, I found the new characters to be fresh, original and intriguing. I want to see more of where this story goes and it has little to do with what came before. Instead, Rey, Finn and Poe create a fresh face for a storied franchise and this is before mentioning the most nuanced villain I have seen thus far in the series. JJ Abrams has given fans, new and old, reason to stay tuned for this new trilogy.
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