While this blog is primarily concerned with music, I am just as big a fan of movies and television. So this week I’ll look back at the year in visual entertainment before moving on to my favorite songs of 2015.
I’m way behind on my movie watching this year. I haven’t (yet) seen holiday releases The Hateful Eight, The Big Short, Joy, The Revenant or Concussion, and I still have a lot of catching up to do on releases from earlier in the year as well. Among those are Brooklyn, Trumbo, Carol, Bridge of Spies, Tangerine, Amy, Straight Outta Compton, Sicario and Room.
I’m sure there’s a pretty good top ten list to be had from those titles alone. So my own list is decidedly incomplete.
Even given the light slate of films I’ve seen in 2015, I’m impressed with the overall quality of the year.
On the action front, sequels Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron were enjoyable if unmemorable. More impressive were Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, another stellar entry in that great series, and Furious 7, the latest installment in the most improbably great film franchise going. Who could have guessed that a gear-head knock-off of Point Break would evolve into a blue collar masterpiece of action acrobatics and surprising emotional resonance?
The year’s best action film, though, was the unlikely sequel Mad Max: Fury Road, which director George Miller turned into a relentless ballet of desert mayhem. Charlize Theron portrayed the film’s true hero, Furiosa, while Tom Hardy was content to play second fiddle. The film was an early indication that 2015 would be a great year for feminism on film.
We got a top tier entry from Pixar — Inside Out — making up for a string of so-so films from the once infallible studio. I haven’t caught The Good Dinosaur, but reviews suggest they were wise to quietly dump it later in the same year, allowing 2015 to be the year of Inside Out.
Amy Poehler was an animated delight in that film, while the live action Amy Schumer and Melissa McCarthy made it a great year for funny women with Trainwreck and Spy, respectively. Dope and Paddington, two very different comedies, also found a spot in my top ten.
A pair of well-crafted sci-fi films landed near the top of my list. Ridley Scott’s The Martian was a populist blast, one of the best times I had in a theater this year. And Alex Garland’s Ex Machina was a chilling exploration of artificial intelligence, expertly acted by its trio of stars (more on them later this week).
Finally, my top three films of 2015 (reserving the right to revisit this list after seeing the titles listed above):
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – It would be very difficult for me to approach this film as an unbiased critic, so I won’t bother. I’m sure it has problems (I’ve read complaints about how closely the plot mirrors A New Hope, for example) but I don’t care. It’s a new Star Wars film, with all of the wit, charm and excitement of the original trilogy and none of the plastic inanity of the prequels. How could it not be one of the very best movie experiences of the year? It’s a blast to see Han Solo, Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker again, and new characters Poe Dameron, Finn and (especially) Rey are worthy torch-bearers as we wait for Episode VIII. It’s the Star Wars my kids deserve, and one that makes me feel like a kid again myself.
2. Creed – I wouldn’t have predicted that the seventh Rocky film would be easily one of the most satisfying and well-crafted dramas of the year. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler (all of 29 years old!) gets terrific performances from Michael B. Jordan as Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis, and Sylvester Stallone, doing career best work in the role he was born to play. Creed is both a rousing underdog yarn and a touching meditation on the relentlessness of time. And it had the most emotionally powerful ending of any film I saw this year.
1. Spotlight – The rare film that lived up to sky-high expectations. As a journalist myself, I was dying to see Spotlight since I first heard it existed. And attending a panel of screenwriter Josh Singer and the real-life reporters and editors depicted in the film only got me more geeked out. Director Tom McCarthy and his phenomenal cast delivered the best film about the newspaper business I’ve ever seen, and one of the most compelling modern dramas in years. The film works as both a tribute to shoe-leather investigative journalism and an indictment of the Catholic Church. The set and costume design perfectly capture a modern newsroom, and I can’t say enough about the acting. This is a true ensemble, with no performance carrying more weight than any other and every actor disappearing into his or her part. You don’t see filmmaking this confident, smart and seamless very often, and that’s why Spotlight is my #1 film of 2015.