Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Reel Opinion: The Best & Worst Films of 2015 - Part 2

The Year in Film 2015 was a great one; perhaps one of the best of the millennium. It was a year where box office records fell (more than once), nostalgia was a great sell, and where a return to basic elemental filmmaking proved to be effective.

It was a year of triumphs but also a year of loss. Outside of the theatre, we said goodbye to screen-legends such as Robert Loggia, Gunnar Hansen, Fred Thompson, Maureen O’Hara, Alex Rocco, Omar Sharif, Dick Van Patten, Rod Taylor, Leonard Nimoy, and Christopher Lee.

Back in the theatre, this Blogger screened over 50 films in 2015, and whittling the list down to just ten is never easy. It’s fair to mention films that just missed the Top 10; BRIDGE OF SPIES, THE MARTIAN, STEVE JOBS, ANOMALISA, THE GOOD DINOSAUR, THE DANISH GIRL, Z FOR ZACHARIA, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, IT FOLLOWS, THE BIG SHORT (if you could understand it), and the 40th anniversary big-screen re-release of JAWS…all providing wonderful experiences at the theatre.

Now to the list…

10. MR. HOLMES – When the book is closed on the career of the great Ian McKellen, the roles likely to be recalled first will be his recurring appearances as a good wizard and a super-villain. And the role that deserves to be in the same conversation is the performance Sir Ian put in as a 90-year old Sherlock Holmes in Bill Condon’s MR. HOLMES. Playing a version of Holmes who is facing his greatest challenge; the loss of his memory, Condon weaves an intimate tale of human loss and endurance, while painting a picture of the old generation connecting with the new. MR. HOLMES was the most heartbreakingly sweet film of 2015.

9. SICARIO – The lines between cops and robbers aren’t as clear as they were in the old days, and that is the basis for Denis Villeneuve’s look at the U.S. government’s ongoing war against Mexican drug lords. Beautifully shot by master cinematographer Roger Deakins, SICARIO builds a great amount of mystery around who is right and who is wrong with gut-punching reveals coming in big doses. Action sequences are built-up brilliantly and then executed with heart-pounding intensity, and the performances by Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio del Toro are top-notch. Cops and robbers haven’t had this much respect on the big-screen in years.

8. CREED – The first spinoff of the beloved yet up-and-down ROCKY franchise was an absolute triumph of movie-making. Not just because it told a good story, but also because it was saturated in a comfortable and welcoming nostalgia without hanging its hat, or gloves on it…and was able to forge its own identity as a bona-fide underdog sports film. Sylvester Stallone puts in the performance of a lifetime, and Michael B. Jordan establishes himself as a powerhouse actor.

7. THE HATEFUL EIGHT – Quentin Tarantino’s closed-quarters paranoia tale set in the Old West may borrow from many films in the past (even his own), but like CREED, doesn’t hang its ten-gallon hat on it. Tarantino writes and directs a film with a constant feeling of uneasiness for the characters and the audience as the mystery folds and unfolds, and the outstanding photography in glorious 70mm is a sight to behold. This was an event film which needed to be experienced on the big screen, and is a pleasing throwback to the simpler and grander days of the old movie house.

6. INSIDE OUT – When our emotions take over, they control our mind and our actions…and that is the basis of Pixar’s latest brilliant animated marvel. In this film, emotions are actual characters existing in a little girl’s head and guide her through her life, making for a multi-layered film which is mind-blowing for adults and educational for kids. The longevity of the film may already be well-established; child psychologists are using the film as a way to communicate with kids…to determine which emotion is in charge at any given moment. That makes INSIDE OUT one of the most important movies ever made.

5. SPOTLIGHT – In 1976, the now-classic film ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN examined the role of journalism in a national scandal. In 2015 this generation got its own version in the form of Thomas McCarthy’s SPOTLIGHT. Focused on the Boston Globe’s role in blowing the lid off the Catholic Church sex scandal, SPOTLIGHT is a masterful procedural; going through the steps of an investigation while never forgetting about the human beings who have to make it happen. The film is packed with great performances and is the ensemble powerhouse of 2015.

4. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD – George Miller’s latest entry into his own MAD MAX franchise, launched over 30 years ago, is a thunderous rampage across the desert filled with bodies, blood, crashing metal, throwing flames, flying bodies and fuck-all-and-embrace-wreckage action. Simple in plot, and using minimal dialogue, there is a tremendous amount of energy and visual power which squished audiences into their seats. FURY ROAD is a prime example of the power of visual storytelling. Chaplin would be proud.

3. EX MACHINA – There have been many landmarks in the history of visual effects; from giant apes to roaring dinosaurs to Gollum to Optimus Prime…and the next name on the list belongs to Ava the robot. Beautifully acted by Alicia Vikander, Ava is a miracle in visual effects in its realism…but on top of that, director Alex Garland creates an atmosphere which is absolutely hypnotic. A thought-provoking look at what it is to be human, this is the one film of 2015 which turned wheels, stopped breaths, and froze eyes…an absolutely fascinating experience.

2. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS – Thanks to Disney and director J.J. Abrams, STAR WARS returns to greatness in its 7th episode. Similar to CREED, there are a lot of throwbacks to enjoy, but still has time to be its own adventure; marvelously introducing great new characters while dusting off the old beloved ones. The spirit of adventure, magic, and whimsy was fully embraced; making for many laughs, cheers, and tear. For many people of the old and young generation, this was the most emotional trip to the movies, and the cinematic event of 2015.

1. THE REVENANT – In many ways, Alejandro Inarritu’s newest film is the anti-STAR WARS. Where STAR WARS is magical and fun and loaded with the newest tech, THE REVENANT is gritty and tough, and for the most part stays far, far away from any hi-tech visual effects wizardry. Shot in some of the most desolate and coldest places using only natural light, Inarritu’s tale of man vs. man vs. the wilderness is a simple one, but it’s done in a way that we’ve never seen before…making for one of the most amazing theatre experiences ever. Famed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki photographs the most stunning images ever put to screen, and Inarritu stages elaborate scenes that have to be seen to be believed. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy look frozen and miserable because they really are frozen and miserable, and both actors put on performances of their careers. It is a simple but grand film, and is a true example of how amazing cinema can be.





3.       EX MACHINA


5.       SPOTLIGHT

6.       INSIDE OUT


8.       CREED

9.       SICARIO

10.   MR. HOLMES




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