From start to finish, many of 2015’s biggest news stories were centered around violence and terror threats and they showed a general sense of fear. The year began with a targeted terror strike in Paris and closed out with another planned attack in San Bernandino, California, proving that threats around the globe remain an issue for all.
However, much of the world found a place of solace at the theater amidst the fear and violence. 2015 featured a variety of films that showed the triumph of the spirit in the face of adversity, bigotry, and evil. Movies like: Southpaw, The Good Dinosaur, Joy, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Room, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Revenant, The Martian, Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Inside Out.
As fun and epic as the continuations of Mad Max, Star Wars, and Avengers were, there was not enough to set them apart and leave a lasting legacy. Leonardo Dicaprio deserved an Oscar for what Innaritu put him through in The Revenant, but the movie itself though stark and piercing didn’t create the effect in viewers that you expect from the best. The Martian was alternatively hilarious and harrowing, and Room ripped my heart out and slowly put it back together again, but there were a lot of really good movies in 2015. I keep coming back to three films from the year that will have some staying power. Here are my top 3 films of the year.
3rd – Inside Out
Pixar’s 15th feature is another landmark for the computer animation storytelling magicians. It raises the bar on what people think that animation can do. I was hoping that the Academy would see this and nominate Inside Out for Best Picture not simply Best Animated Feature (which it won). It definitely proves that live action doesn’t have dibs on cinematic art. Oh, did I say it was funny? It is, when you’re not brushing away a tear.
You wouldn’t think the story of an 11-year-old girl wrestling with the bickering emotions inside her head would be the fodder of a “kid’s” movie. However, director Pete Docter gets into our control centers as well as Riley’s. I think that Inside Out will forever change the way people think about the way people think.
2nd – The Big Short
Despite its ominous and (let’s be honest) boring subject matter. The film is so entertaining, I had to go back and see it a second time. It sports a star-studded cast (Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale) effortlessly operating at the top of their game. McKay uses a multitude of techniques to tell the story. There are plenty of fourth-wall breaking moments and monologues, my favorite being Anthony Bourdain using a cooking metaphor to explain the disgusting product that is a Collateralized Debt Obligation. There are jump cuts, slow motion, foreshadowing and flash backs.
The filmmakers use any and all tricks to explain a complicated mess of financial underhandedness in order to help the audience understand, because as our narrator tells us, “Mortgage backed securities, subprime loans, tranches… Pretty confusing right? Does it make you feel bored? Or stupid? Well, it’s supposed to. Wall Street loves to use confusing terms to make you think only they can do what they do. Or even better, for you to leave them the f*** alone.” The banks, mortgage brokers, the credit ratings agencies and the government manipulated people in the nation and world into investing in worthless packages of bonds, and it behooves the director and writer, Adam McKay, to use all cinematic tricks to explain and untangle the financial corruption. The miracle is that the film deciphers the economic melt-down well while entertaining its audience.
1st – Spotlight
Channeling great films like All The President’s Men and Network, Spotlight, written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, honors the account of events with their writing but never loses sight of the story they are telling. The writing is outstanding. They don’t have any agenda in this film except telling the story. I was afraid that as this subject was handled in film we would see a vilifying of the Catholic Church. On the flip side, it was also good that they didn’t try to make heroes out of the Boston Globe. It felt like they tried to be completely unbiased while writing the story. It could have been very easy for this film turn into a Lifetime or ABC Family movie and be a manipulative mess, but instead it became a polished and well-wrought film.
McCarthy, also the director, lets his actors and the shocking truth take center stage. Mark Ruffalo gives a fantastic performance as a highly driven investigative journalist and has really been knocking them out of the park lately. Michael Keaton also gives another awards season-worthy performance as the leader of the Spotlight team. Stanley Tucci was amazing, though I don’t think Tucci is capable of giving a bad performance. Also, Liev Schreiber gives one of the best performances of his career. His turn as Marty Baron was calm and understated, but he takes charge in every scene he’s in, which is saying something considering the caliber of the other actors and actresses with whom Schreiber shares the screen.
Spotlight has to be my winner. It is one of those movies that will stand the test of time and is really deserving of the awards that it received. I really enjoyed this film. Everything from the writing to the acting is amazing as it takes the time to deal with a heartbreaking story that needs to be told.