JASON'S BEST: The Ten Best Films of 2015 (Return to Jason's Best Main Page)
THE TEN BEST FILMS OF 2015
Click Above to Listen to Jason's BlogTalkRadio Show
Discussing 2015 Movies And His Choices For The Year's Best Films
as well as Garney Johnson's and Jamey Duvall's, originally broadcast January 18, 2016
It was a year where we witnessed stunning new chapters in some of our most beloved and successful film franchises ... from a whole new update of those
Jurassic dinosaurs, to a film which brought the Rocky saga back to its true roots, to a blazing new Mad Max, and of course, to the movie that made us
feel like kids again by putting a Star Wars film on screen that we thought we'd never see. It was a year where a filmmaker embraced the
techniques of old to tell a new story, and in the process, delivered a 70mm roadshow experience that made one ache for more movies of such quality that
took such care about their presentation. In the styles of some of the truly great films this year, some of the great films of the past were echoed.
And it was a year of some truly unique films, whether it was some eye opening and powerful documentaries, dramas of powerful magnitude with actors at
the top of their games, or even an animated film that made me cry like no other. In short, 2015 was a year to be really proud and excited of this
art form we call the motion picture. And after so many years of observing the transfer to digital film, it was heartening to note that some 100 major
movies were still shot on film in 2015, including many of the best films of the year that made my list. It's amazing how we're quick to embrace the future,
but thankfully, never truly give up on film's origins. I hope in future years that the memorable experiences I had watching some of these movies can
be replicated with movies just as exciting as these, because the "experience" of seeing them was just as meaningful as the movies themselves.
1) INSIDE OUT
In a very difficult and close decision with so many great movies this year, in the end I had to finally agree that for the first time in the history of
me compiling year end best film lists, an animated film was indeed the very best film of 2015. In a year where the experiences of seeing the great
movies was just as meaningful as the movies themselves, Inside Out was just as memorable an experience. No movie, even a live action movie,
has had me in tears more times than this film managed to do. I know that's a testament to how much I can relate to the film, being the father of a now
17 year old girl who grew up way too fast, and so many of the moments in this film that tell the story of a young girl growing up and dealing with the
difficulties of life reached me in a very profound way. But it's also a testament to the incredibly creativity and originality when Disney+Pixar at firing
on all cylinders. Just as they did so masterfully making entire worlds out of the monsters in our closet, the world of ants and bugs, the world that our
toys live in, life under the sea, and so many others, here they came up with one of the most unique concepts ever, visualizing the world inside each of us.
Our five key emotions become characters in this film, and we see how they work and interact together inside one particular girl. In this film, it's the
story of Riley, who is uprooted from her comfortable life in the Midwest with her two parents to the complete opposite in San Francisco. What Pixar manages
to do so well when they conjure up characters and worlds in places like this, is to make things we are so familiar with make sense in a fictionalized world.
That ends up creating so many moments of laughter alongside the tears. For example, when Joy and Sadness end up displaced from their main control center in
Riley's brain, we see so many other functions of the brain, including memory storage, where old memories are discarded
(no wonder we can't remember some things!), and even how a dumb song can come back into our mind at the strangest of times. From the dream factory that
makes dreams like they're a Hollywood movie each night, to the sub-conscious where some of our greatest fears can reside, and even to where our imaginary
friends now reside after we've grown too old (oh, Bing Bong, you made me cry too), the film is so inventive and smart with every step it takes. The Pixar
formula has always amazed me, how they can come up with so much originality in their best of films, and make it appealing to kids and adults alike.
Kids will definitely enjoy the antics of Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger as they decide how to process emotions during everything Riley goes through,
but I was profoundly moved by just how much this film reached me as a parent myself. In seeing how Riley's emotions conflict, there's so much for parents to
see in a different light (and hilarious comedy, when we even get glimpses into the control panels of both the parents, and in one of the most hilarious
endings ever, inside animals as well). Pete Docter, who directed and co-wrote the script, did such an incredible job, also assembling some of the best
voice talent, all perfectly cast to their characters. From Amy Poehler as Joy, Phyllis Smith as Sadness, Bill Hader as Fear, Mindy Kaling as Disgust,
and who was more perfect as Anger than Lewis Black. It's one of Pixar's most ambitious films, and thankfully, it succeeded on such a profound level.
From Goofball Island being destroyed (the loss of childhood innocence and fun), to childhood memories being replayed, and to the incredibly complex idea
that our emotions become much more complicated as we grow older (in a brilliant scene where Sadness recognizes that she actually has a purpose grander than
just being sad about everything), I was astounded by how many honest tears fell from experiencing parenting and childhood from an animated perspective.
The film is a reminder of so many things that I hope filmmakers take from 2015 ... that original ideas will always be better than remakes, sequels, and
repeats (Pixar needs to listen to that too!), and that no matter what the format or style (animation, live action, feature length, short, on film, on digital,
on an iPhone) ... it all comes down to a great story, well drawn characters, originality and boundless creativity. Inside Out had all those elements
working perfectly. May the films of the future be just as bountiful in those elements.
FAVORITE MOMENT: The touching moment when Riley's imaginary friend Bing Bong sacrifices himself so Joy can make it back to the control room
One of the things I've been on a continual search for in American movies are films which present HONEST love stories. Movies that present love in its true
nature -- messy, complex, unresolved -- instead of the usual treatment that 90% of movies do. Love and relationships can never be fully understood, and
sometimes by the people in them. It's no surprise that that theme of complex relationships shows up time and again in my own film work, but it also explains
why I respond so strongly when I see authentic love stories presented on screen. And Carol was absolutely one of those rare, precious movies that managed
to do it. Much as he did in his previous film Far from Heaven, director Todd Haynes does a masterful job of presenting this story in a 1950's setting, and
even more so this time, capturing the period in ways both subtle and obvious. The always great Cate Blanchett plays Carol of the film's title, an incredibly
complex woman who can't even truly figure out herself. One of the best quotes in the film is when she is asked if she knows what she's doing, and she says
"I never did." One day while shopping, Carol meets Therese Belivet, played by Rooney Mara, in what for me is truly the best performance given by an actress
in all of 2015 (and it's a LEAD performance, not supporting ... just saying). Their chemistry is immediate, and in particular through Therese, we see very
quickly how Carol is the only one who can bring her out of her shell, and truly open her up into her true nature. Of course, with the times being like they were
in the 50's, the idea of two women in love is not accepted, but thankfully, Haynes doesn't make that a huge focus in the film. It's addressed just enough
in one of the film's most powerful and moving sequences, when Carol and her husband (played by Kyle Chandler) are trying to work out the issues of their
divorce and he tries to force her to admit that what she's doing with Therese is wrong. But she won't deny what happened, just as she knows she risks losing
custody of her children. In that one sequence alone, Cate Blanchett demonstrates yet again how she's one of our greatest living actresses. While the character
of Carol remains very much an enigma in a lot of ways, and remains open to a lot of interpretation, Rooney Mara's Therese represents a perspective that
almost all of us can relate to. That powerful moment of feeling you have truly connected to someone like never before, and how you end up wrapping yourself
up so utterly and completely in that one person ... only to face the absolute heartache and confusion when that love is lost. And throughout all of that,
Mara delivers a performance of quiet longing and pain ... she's one of our most gifted and talented actresses for how much she can reveal just in her eyes
and facial expressions. If this film only had this rich story and their two incredible performances, it would be enough to recommend it. But Haynes goes
many steps further than that. In another of the great film experiences this year, Haynes shot the movie in Super 16mm with his brilliant cinematographer,
Ed Lachman. It presented a look in a major movie that we haven't seen in a long time, actually inspired by the photography of Vivian Maier and Saul Leiter
(fitting in well since Therese in the film is fascinated by photography). Haynes also frames so many shots in ways most audiences probably haven't seen,
often from a distance or keeping one character hidden or off to the side of the frame, creating such a unique perspective that elevates the film even more.
And that music score by Carter Burwell! What a perfect choice, and it's clearly one of the year's best. And without giving too much away, all of those
elements combine in the final sequence to create one of the most beautiful scenes of longing, love, understanding, confusion, mutual connection, and the
unknown of the future that I've seen in a very long time. And in such a simple scene too. No dialogue required, just two incredible actresses looking at
each other, a filmmaker making just the right stylistic choices, a music score hitting every emotional note just perfectly. And after that incredibly honest
and emotional ending, we are left with one of the greatest movies ever made about the longing for another person, the connections to another person that we
can't fully understand or comprehend, how those connections are most often messy and difficult to navigate ... but how they are also one of the most beautiful
things you'll ever witness as a human being.
FAVORITE MOMENT: Therese and Carol looking at each other in the restaurant at the end
3) THE BIG SHORT
Every time I hear the terms "credit default swap", "mortgage backed security", or any other financial term for that matter, two things happen. 1) My eyes immediately gloss over with boredom, and 2) I get incredibly frustrated that some people have found ways to complicate things so much to not only make a fortune on things that basically don't exist, and because of the overcomplication, they get away with it. Any film that manages to actually explain those terms and what happened to our financial system in 2008 is a solid achievement, but to actually make it entertaining and that is able to make us laugh and get angry at the same time is nothing short of a masterpiece. Adam McKay's film seemingly came out of nowhere and was one of the absolute delights of 2015. And McKay does what I wish more directors would do ... he breaks the rules. As he tells this story about a few individuals who saw a disaster coming in the housing market and decided to actually bet on that failure (and thereby basically hoping to profit from the failure of the banks which would lead to a disastrous recession), McKay actually finds multiple ways to present the moral conflicts, the ruthlessness to make money that is the only driver for some people, and even the people most affected by the crisis. That's a lot for one film to try to achieve, and McKay does it by stopping the action to have characters address the audience (breaking the fourth wall as they call it), and even ridiculing the audience in a way, by having celebrities in ridiculous sequences explaining in "dumbed down" terms what these financial terms are (like Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, figuring that's the only way some people will pay attention). It is such an incredibly smart film to take those chances, as it manages to keep us engrossed in the story, and even though we end up horrified by what a few people were able to see and profit from, it's not just a financial lesson or straight drama. It's the best edited film of the year, incredibly stylized, and to top off all that, it's a first rate cast as well. Ryan Gosling plays the unreliable narrator, someone who we think we should trust to lead us through the story, but eventually we find out is one of the most ruthless of them all (and he provides a great deal of the comedy through his character's overzealous love for more and more money). Steve Carell is very good here as a man who went along with betting that the banks would fail as he truly discovers the ramifications of what is about to happen, his moral quandary is fascinating to watch. Christian Bale is also really really good in this film, playing an incredibly eccentric man who was the first to really foresee what would happen when all these mortgages got bundled into entities that didn't even make sense anymore. You watch Bale's character in fascination at the ability to foresee something that broke our whole system. The saddest part are the statistics at the end, and the realization that very little has changed after going through the recession, and no one has been prosecuted for some of the worst crimes imaginable, which resulted in numerous lives being destroyed. McKay found a brilliant way into this kind of complex story and material, forcing the audience to truly think more deeply about something that so many just choose to ignore. And by the end, I still sit in wonder at how some people have managed to make money just on speculation and call that actual business. How many films will it take for people to truly open their eyes and make real change?
FAVORITE MOMENT: Ryan Gosling selling Steve Carell on mortgage securities by comparing them to a game of Jenga
4) THE REVENANT
In an era when the secrets behind filmmaking are becoming much more widely known, and when it seems like less and less filmmakers actually try to break new ground never chartered before in film, it's such a breath of fresh air when you encounter a film that is truly revolutionary, from a filmmaker who is determined to consistently challenge himself and create memorable film work. Alejandro G. Iñárritu is precisely that type of filmmaker, and it's still astonishing to think that he created something so revolutionary like this film just one year after creating the incredible masterpiece that was Birdman. Iñárritu this time found remote locations where no movie had ever filmed before, insisted on shooting in natural light, and made a film so "real", it leaves you wondering how on earth they achieved so many of the remarkable sequences. At its core, the film is a human endurance story centered around revenge, based on the real life frontiersman Hugh Glass, who during a fur trading expedition in the 1820's ends up being left for dead after narrowly surviving a bear attack. The bear attack in this film is truly a filmmaking marvel. Whereas most bear attacks are achieved through quick editing, Iñárritu instead films it mostly in one long take, allowing the viciousness of the scene to truly hit you, and even knowing it is achieved through visual effects, it certainly doesn't look like it. Leonardo DiCaprio gives an incredible performance, much different than a lot of his usual work, where he has to rely on much less dialogue, thereby creating a fascinating character of a decent man whose life is torn apart, not only by the bear, but by the actions of fellow fur trader John Fitzgerald (another brilliant performance by Tom Hardy) whose attempt to save himself ends up costing Glass the loss of his son. As Glass works his way across the cold landscapes, escaping possible death at every turn, the filmmaking only continues to remain a marvel, showing not only how talented everyone in this cast and behind the camera is, but that Emmanuel Lubezki is one of our very best cinematographers. The Revenant becomes a primal examination of the base natures of man, the continually dueling conflicts of man against each other, against nature, against our own internal conflicts, all presented so incredibly well, with visual moments of such stark beauty and vicious savagery. They are images which I'll never get out of my head. It's definitely not the easiest film to watch, but it sure is one you should.
FAVORITE MOMENT: The vicious bear attack on Hugh Glass
In a year which saw so many strong female characters, one of the ones that unfortunately hasn't been getting much notice is Emily Blunt, who delivered a very powerful and authentic performance in this beautifully crafted film about an FBI agent who receives a new assignment to join a task force responsible for trying to crush drug cartels in and across the U.S./Mexico border. What makes this film unique is how it so brilliantly tells its story, as we get to see everything from Kate Macer's (Emily Blunt) perspective, and how (as typically happens), she sees the system she believes in having to make compromises and operate in very gray areas in order to try to stop the "bad" guys. She quickly learns how difficult wars truly are, and how we differentiate the U.S. methods as the supposed "right" ones. One scene after another is brilliantly executed to show this kind of internal conflict to do what's right that sits alongside every actual external conflict. And the external conflicts are filmed, edited, and scored in stunning detail, raising the tension with a realism unlike many other films are able to achieve. These moments almost end up feeling documentary like, as if they actually happened. Director Denis Villeneuve, working with the remarkably gifted cinematographer Roger Deakins, present a visual masterpiece and editing style that helps to make all that tension and realism possible. And one other key ingredient to that success is the stunning score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, which is truly revolutionary ... at times, it's bombastic and pulsing, other times filled with a haunting ode to Mexican influences. Emily Blunt is surrounded by a cast of characters who make this mission all the more difficult to navigate for someone with a strong moral code like she has, and the film is so much stronger because of them. Benicio Del Toro (who also should have been nominated for an Oscar along with Blunt) is particularly strong playing a mysterious man who seems to be fighting alongside Blunt and the others, but quickly takes a very deeply moving turn into his true nature. Josh Brolin is also good and entertaining as the government official who recruits Blunt to this task force, and he's just as mysterious as anyone else. The breadth of this film is considerable, as we not only see the murky areas that the U.S. team wades through, but also how the violence in Mexico centered around the drug cartels affects the people living there, as we follow one man and his family from inside Mexico who very slowly ends up in the crosshairs of these colliding worlds. This film is the rare crime thriller that dares to ask the tougher questions. How far is too far? To fight such terrible evil, is it necessary to become evil ourselves? As in life, this movie has no easy answers, and its closing moments leave you haunted and thinking about those troubling questions for a long time after you see it.
FAVORITE MOMENT: Benecio Del Toro and Emily Blunt's final looks at each other towards the end
6) STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
I have to admit, properly reviewing a new Star Wars film like this one is very difficult for me. The very first movie I ever saw was the original film in
1977, and I grew up on Star Wars. Those movies and everything connected to them inspired me as a child, were the adventures and characters that inspired my
imagination, and it's what made me fall in love with movies in the first place. And in a year where I've been talking about how wonderful the experiences
have been seeing some of these movies, there was none that could really compare to the excitement buildup and ultimate payoff that came when J.J. Abrams's
film finally arrived. Because of that personal connection to Star Wars, I found myself so wrapped up once again in that universe and I absolutely loved
about 90% of the choices that Abrams and company made in making a film that frankly I thought we'd never see. I thought we'd never see the characters we
fell in love with ... Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker ... ever again, so from the opening crawl, I immediately felt that this was
a true extension of the universe presented so well in the original trilogy. I cannot imagine how daunting it was to Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan in figuring
out how to tell a story that takes place 30 years after the events in "Return of the Jedi", but they made one great choice after another. Instead of
focusing on just the "older" characters, Abrams throws us right into a universe already in action, just as George Lucas did so well in the original Star Wars.
We don't know everything that has happened, and by film's end, we end up with more questions than we even started with (and that's a really good thing).
One of the biggest challenges was to make us fall in love with a whole new group of characters, but that's exactly what Abrams did, and he put together
a wonderful new group of three. John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and in particular, Daisy Ridley, actually deliver strong performances (making this the most well
acted Star Wars film ever), and their new storyline (even as it parallels the original 1977 film), seems fresh and exciting, yet very much of the Star Wars
universe. We have a new robot, BB-8, which we immediately fell in love with, and that (gasp!) we may love even a little more than R2-D2. Another great choice
was in the villain, Kylo Ren. Adam Driver was so perfectly cast, and I loved how our expectations were thwarted about a new villain in a mask. The only 10%
that I didn't like were the CGI character that Lupita N'yongo voiced (I thought her character could have been even more interesting in a practical performance,
I didn't see the need to have that character be CGI), particularly since one of the biggest successes of this film is that it was trying to stay away from
CGI affects as much as possible in favor of practical effects. And of course, there's plot holes so big that you could pilot a thousand Millenium Falcons
through (like how Han and Chewie just so happen to be traveling at the right place and the right time to hook up with Ridley and Boyega in the Falcon),
but to focus on those plot holes would be to miss the point. Star Wars is a reminder of the magic and fun that great movie making on a grand scale can be.
This new film helped us forget about the disappointing prequels and created such a rich new story, that now we feel like kids again waiting in anticipation
for the next chapter so we can get our new questions answered. Unlike the disappointing update of Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford really shines returning as
Han Solo, where you truly believe that he is the Han of old ... now older. And we get just enough of Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill to bridge the past with
the future. John Williams continues to show how he's one of the most genius film composers who's ever lived, creating a new score which echoes the past just
enough, but forges new themes that fit perfectly with the past. The real revelation for me in this film was Daisy Ridley's character of Rey, how much of a
wonderful breath of fresh air she is in a series that very much needed a strong female character, and she is the absolute star and anchor of this film
(when she picks up that lightsaber to battle Kylo Ren at the end, I wanted to jump out of my seat in applause for how exciting that moment was). One last
thing that I loved about the experience of this film ... it was a rare cultural event that had so many of us so excited to go to the movies, some who don't
even go that often. People stood in long lines, and even obeyed requests to avoid spoilers, so that everyone could enjoy the magic once again. The Star Wars
universe is indeed in good hands, and I can't wait to be a kid again and again with each new adventure to come.
FAVORITE MOMENT: The opening crawl, every returning character who made me cry, the lightsaber duel in the snow, basically everything
7) THE HATEFUL EIGHT
This was a year where some of the greatest movies also were accompanied by absolutely memorable experiences of actually seeing them. And one of the greatest film experiences I had this year was watching the 70mm roadshow edition of Quentin Tarantino's newest film. What an incredibly rare experience in today's cinema to actually have a projector showing one of the widest film formats there is, with no previews before the movie, an overture, an intermission, and a colorful program talking about the film. It made attending the movie an event, just like movies used to be back in the golden age of Hollywood. If it had just been about that experience, it might not have been worth as much, but thankfully, Tarantino created another wonderfully conceived and executed film, this time confining his characters in Minnie's Haberdashery during a raging blizzard. The gorgeous widescreen cinematography is used to expected great effect in the beginning as the main characters arrive, which include Kurt Russell's bounty hunter bringing a handcuffed Jennifer Jason Leigh to Red Rock to be hanged, and two of the travelers they pick up, including Samuel L. Jackson's Major Marquis Warren and Walter Goggins's Sheriff Chris Mannix. Tarantino takes his time in building up the suspense, the story, and the characters, and while I didn't think the Tarantino dialogue here was as good as some of his other exceptional films, it's still pretty good. As the tension rises, we have all kinds of expectations as to how the violence will play out, but as his usual norm, Tarantino surprises us during a crackling second half with one unexpected event after another. The film ends up becoming an incredible showcase especially for Samuel L. Jackson, delivering one of his best performances, as does Jennifer Jason Leigh as the wonderfully named Daisy Domergue, who may end up being the most hateful of all these characters. Tarantino brings together a great mix of some actors who have worked with him in several movies (including Tim Roth and Michael Madsen) and some great new actors to the Tarantino universe. Even though there's no one who really comes out a hero in this blood soaked tale, you can't help but smile at the unique characters and Tarantino's continued love for cinema that embraces the styles of the past with his own absurdly conceived situations. It's not a completely perfect Tarantino film, but it's a lot better than a lot of other cinema out there. And after past films where he used portions of the great composer Ennio Morricone's music, he actually got Morricone to create a new original score for this film, and it's one of the year's best, as it cloaks the film in a creepy sounding western horror kind of theme that becomes the last remaining element to delivering one of the film experiences of this year that I'll never forget.
FAVORITE MOMENT: The entire second half of this film, which is classic Tarantino and ends completely unexpectedly
8) EX MACHINA
Remember when movies used to be about great and complex ideas, ones that would leave you thinking about the movie and those ideas days and even months after seeing the movies instead of the mindless movies that you forget about about 24 hours after seeing them? They seem to be rarer and rarer to find in today's films, but thankfully when they do, they're usually extraordinary masterpieces. And such was the case with Alex Garland's profoundly haunting film about a reclusive millionaire (Oscar Isaac) who creates a robot (Alicia Vikander) and then brings in one of his brightest employees (Domhnall Gleeson) to interact with her and study some of the ramifications of artificial intelligence. The dangers of A.I. have certainly been tackled in science fiction films before, but this film defies our expectations of the kind of movie we expect when it begins. All 3 of these actors give exceptional performances, particularly Vikander (who should have been nominated for this performance instead), who convinces us so completely that she's a construction of engineering yet brings a very haunting beauty and yearning to discover more about her existence. As Caleb (the young programmer) and Nathan (the one who created Ava) discover more and more about each other and face off in wonderfully written dialogue pieces that provide so much of the thought of this film, you end up having no idea which direction this film will go, and the ending is truly thrilling and thankfully, incredibly surprising. Garland blends in everything so well, with the electronica-infused dramatic score, to the unexpected comedy (I'll never be able to get Oscar Isaac's dance in the film out of my head or how much I laughed unexpectedly when that moment hit), and to the incredible display of ideas about technology and the very nature of humanity that make this an absolute gem.
FAVORITE MOMENT: Oscar Isaac tearing up the dance floor
9) STEVE JOBS
I've said it before and I'll say it again ... I wish Aaron Sorkin scripted all of life. How great it would be to always speak in Sorkin's incredible dialogue. And Sorkin was the perfect writer to bring to the screen (finally!) a portrait of the incredibly inventive yet difficult to work with Steve Jobs that finally can get to the core of who he was. Michael Fassbender continues to show , in one performance after another, how he is truly one of our greatest contemporary actors, and he does so again here, portraying Jobs in three different time periods of his life, all revealing crucial details at different times, while also showing that while he strived for perfection in the creation of various technology, he lacked the ability to do so in his personal life. Director Danny Boyle and writer Sorkin choose a wonderfully unique structure for the film, choosing three different product launch events at different times, and throwing every major character and moment in Jobs's life into the leadup to those launches. Boyle even films each section in a style suited to that time, which ends up giving the film such a unique look and feel, and truly captures each time period so well. Just as David Fincher did in bringing Mark Zuckerberg's story to the screen in the superior film "The Social Network", Boyle does an incredible job of making a genius's creation of computer technology into an absolutely riveting piece of cinema. And he surrounds Fassbender with a first rate cast, especially Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels, who end up challenging Jobs the most in dialogue exchanges that absolute sizzle in both writing and performance. And in a film filled with such great writing and acting, it's one simple line that sums up Steve Jobs, and unfortunately, a lot of us who struggle to create and innovate. When challenged by his estranged daughter years later as to why he failed as a father, he finally takes stock of himself and says "I'm poorly made." That moment hits so powerfully, and makes this film an incredibly profound experience. It usually is tortured souls and imperfect beings that end up producing the art that moves us, and in the case of Steve Jobs, to conceive the technology that changes the world. It usually takes people that don't fit in, don't feel a part of convention, to make the changes that become the norm later. And to be able to see the human being at the heart of that kind of struggle is what a successful team of filmmakers managed to do with this incredible film ... that needs to be seen by many more people.
FAVORITE MOMENT: Steve Jobs delivering the best quote of the year to his daughter, "I'm poorly made"
2015 was such a great year for movies that broke free from so many of the usual Hollywood conventions and hearkened back to film styles from the past. And such was the case for Spotlight. Perhaps compared unfavorably to one of the greatest films ever made, All The President's Men, it is still nevertheless very much in the style of that classic film, presenting an important story being covered by a newspaper, and showing the actual process of investigative journalism through its often long and torturous journey to finally making headlines. Tom McCarthy's brilliant film tells the true life story of the Boston Globe's Spotlight team, and the moment in 2001 when new editor Marty Baron got that team to look deeper into allegations against John Geoghan, a Catholic priest who had been accused of molesting more than 80 boys. In one of the best ensemble casts of the year, Michael Keaton leads the team through all the difficulties and hardships as they uncover a problem far larger than just accusations against one priest. Their investigation would hauntingly reveal a pattern of abuse by multiple priests, and a Catholic heirachy working so hard to keep it covered up. What I loved so much about this film, besides the 70's-like feel to making investigative journalism thrilling again to watch, is how we see just how easily huge crimes can be covered up once organizations get ever larger, and it comes in one simple yet powerful scene when Michael Keaton is talking to someone who is encouraging him to leave this issue alone. He says "This is how it happens, isn't it? One guy leans on another guy, and it gets swept under the rug." As their investigation grows, this film joins a proud history of movies that show how difficult it is to expose the crimes of large organizations, corporations, or governments, but how absolutely vital it is to our humanity to take them on, no matter how large or respected. This is a smartly written, deeply engaging, and important film, with first rate performances from everyone, including Oscar nominees Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d'Arcy James, and Stanley Tucci.
FAVORITE MOMENT: The dialogue between Michael Keaton and Paul Guilfoyle, when Keaton says "this is how it happens, one guy leans another guy"
And the next ten:
11) KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK
In a year filled with some really powerful documentaries, I thought the best of the year was this, which also happens to be one of the very best documentaries I've ever seen about a musician. Much like the very successful documentary "Amy", this one even more successfully digs incredibly deep into the psyche of Kurt Cobain, to not only see the demons that plagued him his entire life, but also the genius of his art, and how he produced so much incredible music, eventually leading to the success of his band Nirvana. What makes this documentary so unique and so powerful is how director Brett Morgen put this film together. He presents some of the more horrifying moments of Cobain's childhood through bleak yet stunning animation. He presents writings from Cobain by not just showing a piece of paper he wrote on, but recreates the writing as it happens in front of us. He layers powerful Nirvana music over key moments in the film, picking just the right pieces to truly place us in Kurt Cobain's mind. I've never truly felt so deeply in the mind of another troubled artist quite like this film did. But that's not all. We also get to see rare home movies made of Cobain later in his life when he was married to Courtney Love, and this provides an insight that we couldn't have gotten with some kind of recreated footage or still photos. In one particularly haunting home movie, we see a moment with Kurt as he holds his baby daughter Frances Bean, and you see him zone out while he's holding her, from all the drugs he had been doing. Then you see him recover to try to do his best to be a father. You see in that moment how much the demons were tearing away at him, as much as he still tried his best to be a good husband and father. The film leaves an amazingly strong impression, particularly as you witness so much incredible music that he created, in which so much of today's music can't even compare. The last performance that is included in the film is from an MTV Unplugged performance of Nirvana performing "Where Did You Sleep Last Night", where we simply get to watch Kurt performing, allowing us to remember the incredible genius of his talent, and the pain that often accompanies such great art.
In a year which saw some truly magnificent new movies which brought back a nostalgia for movies of the past, one of the most amazing success stories was definitely Ryan Coogler's new film, which managed to bring the legacy of one of cinema's most iconic characters, Rocky Balboa, back to his roots, and in so doing, delivered Sylvester Stallone an Oscar nomination (and likely win) 40 years after being nominated for playing the character for the first time. How often have we seen a film character who has dominated his own movie series for so long take a supporting role in a new film? But that's exactly what Stallone did here. Coogler approached Stallone about making this film, and Sly was hesitant at first, but he saw what Coogler was wanting to do, and what resulted was a remarkable film that managed to treat the Rocky saga with a great deal of respect while also forging a brand new story, which stands on its own as a very successful boxing story. Coogler, in working with Michael B. Jordan again, showed why these two both deserve Oscars one of these days. Michael B. Jordan, who was so good in their previous film together, Fruitvale Station, delivers another solid performance as Adonis Johnson, who we slowly learn is the son of the late champion Apollo Creed. Adonis wants to forge his own boxing legacy instead of using the name of Creed, and ends up traveling to Philadelphia to try to convince his father's one time foe and long time friend Rocky Balboa to train him. And what results ends up being a very powerful story of generations old and new, and Stallone shows how wonderful an actor he can really be, delivering a performance unlike any we have seen in the Rocky series, except for perhaps the first film. And just when we thought we saw every possible way for a boxing movie to tell its story, this one adds in a fight about midway through the film all shot in a single take, an astonishing achievement to see. If there's one moment I'm now looking forward to the most on Oscar Night, it's for Stallone to deservedly win an Oscar for not only the deeply moving performance he gives in this film, but for the creation of this character 40 years ago, and his fight and tenacity to bring that character and the story to life, thereby achieving his own dreams. The character of Rocky has inspired so many, and it will be a truly special moment to see that character get one last great honor as thanks.
13) I SMILE BACK
In a year which saw so many remarkably strong female characters, one of the bravest and riskiest acting choices was made by someone we usually associate with comedy, and as a result, she ended up delivering one of the most haunting and criminally overlooked performances of 2015. You have never seen Sarah Silverman like you do in this film. In a story that rings very true to her own personal life and her own struggles with depression, Silverman plays Laney Brooks, a married mother of two who is about to have a complete meltdown. Suffering through depression, she is doing everything possible to self medicate, taking drugs, drinking heavily, and behaving in harrowing ways around her own children that we've rarely seen in a film (one scene in particular that takes place in her children's bedroom at night is truly one of the most painful scenes to watch in any recent movie). Knowing that Silverman had such a deep connection to the themes of this movie makes this performance all the more harrowing, but it's not just that. This is acting of the absolute highest order ... she digs into this character so deeply, and bares so much (both figuratively and literally), that at times we feel like we should look away, as if a camera has captured something we probably shouldn't watch. Movies like these are tough to get made, and director Adam Salky made this movie for only $500,000, and as such, it didn't get the kind of release and notice that it truly should have. Silverman deservedly was nominated for a SAG Award, but not the Oscar for Best Actress, which this performance so clearly deserves. Movies like these may be tough to watch, but the value of the truth of humanity that it shows us is so vitally important and so worth being seen.
14) 45 YEARS
It's one of the most powerful and emotionally truthful and resonant movies you're likely to ever see about marriage, and whether it's ever possible if we can truly know one another, even in a four decades long marriage. Tom Courtenay and Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling are so incredibly accomplished in these roles, practicing the true art of inhabiting a role and not just playing a part. Rampling in particular is a revelation in this film, as the woman who discovers one day late into their marriage that her husband had a passionate marriage and a promising future with another woman just a year before he met her. As the past unravels, Rampling leads us through one incredibly honest emotion after another, particularly in one of the film's best sequences, when she goes into the attic as part of her investigations into the past and finds an old projector. When she starts to go through all the images, the camera stays on Rampling's face for a long period of time, as she cycles through emotions of discovery that are so truthful, it truly breaks your heart. As the sequence goes on, we're left to wonder what she's looking at, until we finally get the reveal that hits you so incredibly hard. You won't find many movies like this nowadays, particularly on a level of human emotion and honesty like this one, so when they come along, they need to be cherished and seen ... so that more films like it can be made.
There were a lot of really good documentaries in 2015, but the two most powerful of the year in my opinion just so happened to be about incredibly talented musicians who we lost way too soon. Asif Kapadia's documentary about Amy Winehouse is able to show us so much, giving us a glimpse into the troubled life that Amy led, but also in a very profound way, showing we as the public and the insatiable appetite for publicity that also contributed to her downfall. I was blown away by some of the incredible actual footage that existed of Amy Winehouse that's in the film, particularly the footage of the actual recording session of one of her greatest songs, "Back to Black." You can see so much about the true Amy Winehouse in that recording session alone, and I love how Kapadia edits that sequence with the song and Amy's actual solo voice performance (where you can see what a truly talented and gifted singer she was). It's such a sad fact that some of our greatest artistic talents have to suffer from so many horrible personal demons, and in the case of way too many, it leads to their deaths. This documentary encapsulates all of that, including a much needed examination of celebrity fan culture, and how hopefully that might change someday to not claim someone's humanity like it so often does. It also is an important film to examine the continually needed enhanced understanding about addiction that is so needed right now. It's an incredibly important film, and certainly one of the film experiences of 2015 I won't forget.
I've always enjoyed the films of David O. Russell's, particularly his most recent films The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle. His movies are such great character studies of people in extraordinary situations, and while "Joy" doesn't succeed on quite the same level as those past 3 films of Russell's, it's still a really well made film, and it's particularly due to the wonderful performance delivered by Jennifer Lawrence, who clearly has such a great working partnership with Russell, appearing in his third film with him. In a year with so many strong female characters, Lawrence plays the real life Joy Mangano, a struggling single mom who finally finds her calling and her love of inventing things to take a risk on inventing what would become known as the Miracle Mop. What I loved most about the film was not just Lawrence's performance of a strong woman who has to endure one hardship after another but continues to persevere, but also how the film details the hard work necessary to capture a dream. Russell surrounds Lawrence with a memorable supporting cast ... I'm not sure of her family was this "unique" in real life, but they were certainly memorable in the film. Robert De Niro plays her father in a performance that goes a little over the top at times, but it's one you certainly remember. Bradley Cooper, always so good, plays the head of the QVC shopping network that helps to finally make Joy a success, and prior to seeing this film, I had no idea that the QVC headquarters were in Amish country! (And who says we don't learn anything from movies!) But the relationship I most remember from the film is the one with her ex-husband, who you first think might be a complete loser, but he ultimately becomes her manager and still is to this day, and it demonstrates how you wish most divorced couples would be to one another. It wasn't as great as we thought it might be, but it's still better than a lot of other films out there.
One of the most visually beautiful and nostaglic films of the year, this was an incredibly sharp and involving story of an immigrant from Ireland moving to New York, who ends up not only having to balance those two very different existences, but the love and affection from two different men as well. I haven't seen such gorgeous period detail in a film in quite some time, and while this film could have fallen into the trappings of a fairly routine romance, it deftly manages to stay above that, and that's especially due to the skilled direction and the wonderful performance by Saoirse Ronan. Rarely have I seen a film that presents that longing for home quite like this film managed to do, and in a year which saw some truly magnificent films which recaptured the style of films of the past, this one did too. Elegant and moving, it presents a wonderful fable about the idea of happiness, while being a truly heartwarming coming-of-age story as well.
18) LOVE & MERCY
There have been so many biopics about musicians, and as such, they tend to contain a lot of the same elements, formula, and structure in movie after movie. But when a musical biopic comes along that breaks those trends, it's so refreshing. And that was the case with this wonderful biopic about the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. One of the biggest ways that it shakes up the usual formula is by having two different actors playing Brian Wilson to represent different phases of his life. Paul Dano is particularly effective in a performance which should have brought him an Oscar nomination, and John Cusack also does an incredible job in bringing us through Wilson's personal and professional demons to where we truly feel that we are experiencing what he went through. Director Bill Pohlad was able to find a different and unique way to present his musician biopic, and surrounded Dano and Cusack with an incredibly talented group of supporting actors as well, including another wonderful performance by Paul Giamatti. So by the end, we realize that the reason this musical biopic is so successful is because it isn't a musical biopic.
19) THE MARTIAN
Ridley Scott has always been a wonderfully visionary director, and while this film doesn't rank with some of his best works (and I think has been a bit overpraised), it's still an enjoyable science fiction adventure film that follows what happens when an astronaut (played very well by Matt Damon) is accidentally left behind on Mars when the rest of his team has to depart quickly. The most successful part of the film is Matt Damon's story of survival, and how he goes about extending his food and supplies on the planet until he figures a rescue mission can return to save him. Damon acts alone during several sequences, and it's fun to watch him figure out ways to make a greenhouse that can actually grow food on a planet where nothing can grow, and how he's able to find new ways to extend his life on the planet as he is beset by accidents and of course the idea of being in complete solitude for a very long time. But the film is uneven at times, dipping into comedy quite a bit, and jumping back and forth to the less successful scenes back on Earth at NASA, that one doesn't feel the kind of desperation that Damon's character really needs. I never really felt a sense of true desperation and hopelessness when those brief moments came in the film. But despite that unevenness, Scott still succeeds in creating one of the more entertaining films of the year, with enough quality moments to make it one of the year's better movies.
20) WHERE TO INVADE NEXT
In a year of some truly powerful documentaries, one of the most well known documentarians of all time, Michael Moore, made a film which was surprisingly different from the movie we might have expected, and created a film that I hope a lot of people see. By the title, you would think this was going to be another examination of America similar to Moore's incendiary Fahrenheit 9/11, but instead, it has Moore traveling around the world in the attempt to actually build America up, utilizing ideas that are actually working in other countries around the world. And before those opposed to Moore say that it's typical liberal ideas from America's most well known leftist filmmaker, you're in for a surprise when you realize that many of these ideas from other countries originated right here in the USA. I wish I could list all of the common sense ideas that Moore presents in his typical style of relating important issues in very relatable terms, but instead, I hope people on both sides give this film a chance, because in what Moore is attempting here, almost more than any other film he has made, he has made one of the most patriotic U.S. films ever.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Straight Outta Compton
Mad Max: Fury Road