Monday, February 1, 2016

25 Best Films Of 2015 (I-T, Best Movie Of The Year): Part Two

And now, the remaining 14 films in examination of my 25 Best Films Of 2015. 13 of these 14 films are looked at in alphabetical order, while the final feature discussed here is my ultimate favorite feature of 2015.

And now, onto part two!

Inside Out
After a few off years creatively (Monsters University was a lot of fun though), PIXAR came roaring back to life with this feature film from director Pete Doctor, one of the best filmmakers to emerge from the studio. Placing a story within the mind of an 11 year old girl allows for numerous opportunities for excellent visuals, but the most astonishing part of this entire movie may simply be its introspective attitude towards growing up and the more somber moments that come with such a process. Plus, Phyllis Smith is just about perfect as Sadness, ditto for voice over turns from Amy Poehler and Richard Kind.

It Follows
A dire year for American horror cinema did manage to produce one gem, one diamond in the rough, a little film called It Follows. This horror films refreshingly simple threat (an entity that'll follow an individual and destroy them no matter where they are) provided fodder for some immensely terrifying situations. Plus, director David Robert Mitchell demonstrates a keen visual eye for scaring the audience not with gimmicky jump scares but rather memorable shots and unsettling imagery. Bonus point for Maika Monroe in an excellent lead turn as Jay Height, who tries to evade the presence of that monster out to get here no matter the cost.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Eight months after its release, Mad Max: Fury Road has cemented itself as one of the influential films of 2015, with aspects of the film (namely, The Doof Warrior and his flamethrower guitar) already encasing themselves as some of the most iconic visuals from any piece of pop culture last year. That's what happens, though, when you've got the most glorious production design in recent memory working for you, and some incredibly realized characters working in tandem with the luscious backdrop. We've all been talking about this movie endlessly for eight months now, and it ain't gonna stop anytime soon. Hell, I'll even go for broke on the hyperbole here and predict that Charlize Theron as Furiosa will be looked back on as of the most iconic film characters of this decade.

The Martian
The Martian is a perfectly executed thrill ride, Drew Goddards screenplay bringing in crackling dialogue for the characters to exchange, Ridley Scotts eyes for visuals being a key ingredient in why every moment of intensity works so well, the editing from Pietro Scalia keeping scenes at a perfect length of time (not too long, not too short) to ensure this remains an engaging affair. And, of course, you've got a murderers row of a cast bringing their A-game, and doing a wonderful job solidifying The Martians relentless and endearing sense of endless optimism.

We put so much stock into our physical appearance, with much of our own identity being comprised of how we perceive our own outer attributes. This universal tendency is a prominent theme in Phoenix, which concerns a severely physically and mentally damaged Holocaust survivor named Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) who has undergone facial reconstruction surgery. After the procedure is completed, she attempts to reconnect with her husband, Lene (Nina Kuzendorf), who doesn't recognize her post-surgery. Much of the film solely centers around their interactions, and the smaller scale helps keep the struggle of Nelly and her trying to find herself after all she has gone through. It's a beautiful character piece, with a gangbusters ending that'll leave you speechless.

A bond of love between a mother and son is what tethers the harrowing story of Room into some semblance of peace, as a woman simply named Ma (Brie Larson) attempts to survive being held captive with her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Their connection provides the only glimmer of joy as they're held against their will in a small shack by a monster of a human being. Larson and Tremblay turn in incredibly engrossing performances, while the script makes their time spent in captivity, as well as Jack adjusting to reality, riveting. Oh, and good luck trying to not be on the edge of your seat in the sequence where Jack attempts to escape the shack and get help for him and his mother.

The complex morality emerging from the War On Drugs comes simmering to the surface in Sicario, a film as full of heart-pounding action scenes as it is with contemplative dialogue exchanges and character interactions that gives viewers a glimpse into the depravity occurring just south of the border in an endless conflict. Emily Blunt and particularly Benicio Del Toro are remarkable here, while the features commitment to depicting the darker underbelly of its characters actions (just look at the lengths Del Toro goes to avenge his own personal demons in a beautifully understated final sequence) is truly tremendous if at times (uber appropriately) hard to stomach.

Slow West
It's been said that the Western has gone extinct in Hollywood, but 2015 certainly had a number of films that demonstrated why this genre of storytelling continues to endure. The Hateful Eight is one such feature, and ditto for Slow West, a little seen but high in quality motion picture that has Kodi-Smit McPhee off on a mission to find a woman he's in love with in the old West. In an environment he's unaccustomed to, he must pair up with Michael Fassbender to survive, which makes for a most entertaining duo to spend 90 minutes. Along the way, they encounter a par for the course enjoyable antagonistic Ben Mendelsohn and some gorgeous scenery. What an incredibly well-made film, especially in its tragedy imbued climax.

Tom McCarthy, whose other 2015 contributions included directing The Cobbler and playing a character named Michael The Robot in Pixels, makes one of the years most terrifying features in Spotlight. McCarthy shows real chops as a writer and a director in his work here, while an ensemble cast full of actors well-versed in delivering commanding performances deliver fine work. The best of the bunch acting-wise though is Mark Ruffalo, playing a determined reporter who becomes all the more tenacious once he realizes the scope of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal.

In a year where American comedic features were so anemic that Will Ferrell starred in two (count 'em, TWO) turkeys, it was nice to see Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig team up for one of the more inventive features I saw in the past 12 months. Instead of treating the main character of this feature, Susan Cooper, as a buffoon,  Cooper is a more nuanced human being more than capable of handling herself in the field of spy combat. Watching her defy the odds and proving her superiors wrong is a most enjoyable act, especially considering McCarthy is obviously having a ball as Cooper. Oh, and ya also get Jason Statham proving comedy may be his acting forte, especially with the way he delivers lines of dialogue dealing with him being immune to 179 different kinds of poison (his character has ingested them all at once, naturally).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
J.J. did it. He turned one of the most anticipated films in history and actually directed a feature that lived up to its hype. How was that possible? Thanks the fact that The Force Awakens does a great job at providing some new and engaging characters living in a galaxy far far away for audiences to get wrapped up in. It's such an enjoyable thrill ride, one that handily improves on succeeding viewings, but perhaps its best asset is its excellent cast. Franchise newbies Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver all bring such distinctive personalities to the table that are impossible to ignore, and their fleshed out personal journey's help make the sequences driven by big explosions and spectacle all the more engaging to watch.
Steve Jobs
Trying to condense the life of a man as influential and well known as Steve Jobs sounds like a fool's errand, but I'll be damned if Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin and crew don't pull it off. Michael Fassbender turns in one of my favorite performances of the year as the titular individual, proving intensity and terrific deliveries of Aaron Sorkin penned monologues to spare. Speaking of Sorkin, his writing is incredible at not holding back on showing Jobs as a man incredibly difficult to get along with, there's no sugarcoating his more negative tendencies to be found here. But there's also an element of tragedy creeping in here (I love the story Jobs tells about running into his biological father and not talking to him) that lends real humanity to a man whose become iconic, for good and for bad reasons.

A search for romantic vengeance on Christmas Eve for Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), with her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) being dragged along, serves as a chance for director/writer/cinematographer/editor Sean Baker to gaze at the everyday folks of Hollywood and paint them as fully functional human beings with pain, strife and ambitions to call their own. Beautifully shot and containing star-making performances from Rodriguez and Taylor, Tangerine is a great film chock full of humor as well as some truly impressively powerful downtrodden sequences, namely a denouement montage depicting all of the primary characters of the feature in moments of subdued reflection as the bright colors and decorations of Christmas Eve dance ever onward in the background.

And so, now we come to my favorite movie of the year. I should note I danced back and forth between what movie to put here, with Creed and The Diary Of A Teenage Girl being the two that very nearly got put into this very slot. That being, the the motion picture from 2015 that I consider to be the best of last year is....

Every frame of Carol is so freaking beautiful to look at. Yeah, I could write that thought into a more academic manner, but sometimes, the most succinct way to describe something is in a more basic manner. Because, yes, Carol is indeed "so freaking beautiful to look at" in a visual manner, but it's also a beautiful feature in the way it depicts the romance between Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett), two individuals seeking a fulfilling human connection in a world refusing to accept them. The two actors have such rich chemistry, scenes of them engaging in nothing more than small talk become insanely compelling. Here are two fictional figures as richly developed as the breathtakingly gorgeous sets they inhabit. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen so palpable was the emotional ride this motion picture put me through.

Carol is a movie filled with human beings, not walking/talking archetypes, Carol is a dearly devoted mother (oh God, every scene where Carol is trying to comfort her daughter just gets me a little teary eyed just thinking about them) whose relationship with her husband is, well, estranged is putting it gently. Therese feels isolated from those around her, it feels like a "well, duh" moment when she finally starts bonding with Carol, whose demeanor is so very different from everyone else she's encountered. That slavish devotion to treating the characters with nuance continues into the climax, which doesn't tie up everything in a neat little bow, but does allow for some definitive happiness to seep into the lives of Therese and Carol.

As Charles Dickens once said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Our main duo in Carol experience plenty of "worst of times" in the course of this story, but by the end, it also shows how those "best of times" can make like so worthwhile. It's those "best of times" that can help shape us into being the very best version of us we can be.

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