Every year I try to watch movies I don’t think will be on anyone else’s list. I watch under appreciated dramas, foreign films and documentaries, but rarely do these pan out. Meaning, most of my favorite films of 2015 were yet again some of the most popular. You might see one “outsider” pick, but not much else you haven’t already seen on a dozen other top ten lists. 2015 was Not a bad year by any means, but certainly not one with as much variety as I would have liked.
A gritty, 70 mm epic about angry cowboys? Ennio Morricone’s first western score in forty years? Yes, please. The Hateful Eight is through the roof with style points. It has a throwback musical score to some awe inspiring cinematography from Robert Richardson. Though the content, which is mostly talking, is equally engrossing. It’s a treat to see older stars like Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell in such meaty roles. Samuel L. Jackson’s monologue about a “certain act between two gentlemen” should have nabbed him an Oscar nomination. Give me a cup of extra strong cowboy coffee and I could have sat through another three hours.
Imagine if Fault in Our Stars wasn’t bad? It’s so rare we get to see young adult stories told with a voice in touch with its generation—As if I would know—and characters who lack pretension. Adapted for the screen by Jesse Andrews from his own book, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is funny, moving, and poignant without being preachy. I love the trio of stars; Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, and especially RJ Cyler (soon to be the Blue Power Ranger) with his recurring line of, “You gonna play with them tittes?” Also, as a someone who spent most of high school making bad movies, I can identify with Greg and Earl’s love for homemade Criterion spoofs. This is a coming of age film for all ages.
I’m going to say it, Leo does not deserve an Oscar. All he does is breathe heavily and crawl around. Literally any actor could do what he does in this film. Don’t believe the hype. This being said I enjoyed the film. By now you’ve heard how beautiful it looks, meaning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki will likely win his third consecutive Oscar, which he 100% deserves. The narrative and characters feel a little thin, but the scenarios they are put through are always thrilling. Remember when Leo accidentally runs a horse off a cliff? The fight between him and Tom Hardy? Jesus. If Jaws made people afraid to go back into the water, The Revenant will make you afraid to go back into the woods… and the snow… and rivers… Basically, anywhere that’s not your house.
What first appears to be a mundane story about a man facing a mid-life crisis, turns into another psychological experiment from the mind of Charlie Kaufman. Imagine if your world was so boring everyone sounded the same? Imagine if everyone in it was a puppet? Kaufman’s films are memorable not only for their surrealism, but because they strike cords with people. Kaufman taps into real emotions and fears and always finds a new, exciting way to present them to us. This is a film people will be talking about for a long time.
If you haven’t heard of this film, let me briefly say its a dystopian black comedy about people looking for love and being turned into animals. My go-to comparison for The Lobster has been, “Nightmare Wes Anderson.” The film is crafted and shot with a fine tooth and comb, the character’s have a blunt cadence, and the use of narration makes the story feel like a novel. The film is like a nightmare because of its use of things like torture, backward ideologies, and cold, cold people. Not everyone is going to respond to this twisted vision from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, though I think there’s a definite beauty to what he does. In the end, this is a film about finding love. It’s a shame what lengths we have to take to get it sometimes.
Guitar with a flamethrower. Need I say more?
It’s not easy confining your characters and story to a small space. To make this work you have to tap into what makes these characters tick and what there world is. Luckily, Lenny Abrahamson taps into this by getting the best possible performances out of his leads, Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Emma Donnoghue’s script, adapted from her own novel, captures both the crushing lows and highs of a mother and son relationship and we’re up close with them the whole way. The film can be sad sometimes, even scary, but its worth entering.
Here’s the man who should win best actor: Michael Fassbender. How could so many ignore a Danny Boyle film with an Aaron Sorkin script, starring Michael Fassbender? The answer: timing. If this film had come out right after Steve Jobs’ death it would have done much better. Maybe it would have been a more significant Oscar contender. Sadly, it’s been swept under the rug by mainstream America. This despite its incredible insight into the tech world of Steve Jobs. The play-like structure was a brilliant move and I couldn’t take my eyes off Fassbender and Kate Winslet. Where so many biopics stumble by spending too much time on the personal lives or problems of their subjects, this film reminds us why its subject became such an icon. Steve Jobs was an innovator, and this movie couldn’t be more innovative.
Alex Garland is making a strong case for being the best sci-fi screenwriter of his time, maybe any time. Ex Machina also shows Garland’s visual flare as a first-time director. The way the logic and science is broken down in this film shows Garland has done his homework. The technical aspects are believable, and the philosophical implications give you plenty to chew on. I can’t wait for his next project, an adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 thrilling sci-fi novel Annihilation.
What impresses me about Spotlight is my appreciation for it was an uphill battle. When I first heard about the film I wasn’t interested. I never saw a trailer and sat down in the theater with no expectations. What followed was a captivating foray into something I had not a shred of knowledge about. We all hear the stupid jokes about Catholic priests and young boys, but I had no idea it was actually this real, that it was this relevant and that it went this deep. Watching this film was like watching a good documentary or a good book, but with the addition of great performances. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, John Slattery and Liev Schreiber might be the best ensemble of the year. To see these events through the eyes of the Spotlight team helped hit the message home. This film has changed how I see a part of the world. Anytime a film has the power to do that, it’s worth remembering.