Thursday, January 28, 2016

Top 10 Films of 2015 (Part II)


I have finally gotten around to finishing my write-up on the ten best films of 2015. I have already covered the first half of my list, and you can read about selections 10-6 here. Without any further delay, let's get into my top five films of 2015, starting with...

  • 5) "The Revenant" (Dir. Alejandro G. Inarritu)-

Alejandro G. Inarritu is nothing if not an ambitious filmmaker, but his pretentions often threaten to get the better of him. I felt this quality of his somewhat diminished his previous film, the otherwise terrific "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance". This dichotomy between his ambitions and his self-importance are ever present in "The Revenant", but here I found the ambition of the film rather awe-inspiring to an extent that overcame it's flaws. Many will be put off by the film due to its excessive running time (roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes) and its unrelenting bleakness, but I found myself so immersed in visceral experience of Hugh Glass' quest from hell and back that these issues bothered me very little. The central performance of Leonardo DiCaprio as Glass, likely to net him that elusive Oscar, has garnered most of the attention by the general public for this film. It is a performance of obvious merit, especially when considering the grueling physical commitment, but the true star of "The Revenant" is the cinematography, courtesy of the great Emmanuel Lubezki. A modern master of the art form behind such visually groundbreaking films as "Children of Men", "The Tree of Life", "Gravity" and the aforementioned "Birdman", Lubezki has somehow managed to outdo himself with what he has achieved. Much has been made of the fact that "The Revenant" was shot entirely with natural light, but equally as impressive is the dazzling camerawork, often sustaining long-takes that lend an immediacy to every scene. "The Revenant" is also just as much of an aural experience as it is a visual experience, and the immersive quality of the film owes a great deal of credit to the sound design, which also includes one of the best scores of the year. I would be remiss in not also mentioning the outstanding villainous supporting turn offered here by Tom Hardy, who plays the throughly loathsome John Fitzgerald with a gleeful sense of humor that's indispensable to a film lacking much in the way of levity. 

  • 4) "Spotlight" (Dir. Thomas McCarthy)-

We see a dozen biographical movies like "Spotlight" every year, especially in the context of awards season, but what makes "Spotlight" stand out is director Thomas McCarthy's deft and intelligent handling of the material. A film focusing predominantly on the day-to-day minutiae of investigative journalism doesn't scream out for a cinematic treatment, but "Spotlight" makes it work by maintaining the tricky balance of not sensationalizing the true story at hand but never letting it become too dry and insular either. Much of what makes "Spotlight" compelling, in spite of the potential dryness of the material at hand, is the impressive ensemble that McCarthy has amassed. This is a perfect exhibit of ensemble acting, in the truest sense of the word. Each and every actor, no matter how small or large the role, eschews any actorly showboating (barring one minor exception) and strives instead for authenticity. That minor exception is Mark Ruffalo, who I'm usually a big fan of, but here crafts a performance that occasionally feels mannered and ticky in a way that sticks out from the otherwise spotless ensemble. That being said, my critiques of Ruffalo's performance are nit-picky and his acting only suffers in comparison to the other, pitch-perfect performances amongst the ensemble. The consistently underrated Rachel McAdams earned a deserved and somewhat surprising Oscar nomination as s supporting actress for her subtle but grounded turn as Globe investigator Sasha Pfeiffer, but the true standout performance of "Spotlight" is that of Michael Keaton, very unfortunately not nominated for his role as Globe investigator Walter V. Robinson. After nearly winning an Oscar for "Birdman" last year, Keaton continues to build on his career resurgence here with another outstanding performance. He serves in many ways as the moral lynchpin of the film, and his restrained but commanding work might be the finest of his long career. 

  • 3) "Room" (Dir. Lenny Abrahamson)-
Right alongside "Inside Out", Lenny Abrahamson's "Room" was one of the most emotionally devastating film experiences I had in 2015. There have been many films to explore horrific circumstances through the filter of a child's worldview, but "Room" takes on this idea but approaches it with a greater nuance, eschewing any blunt sentimentality. This is a film that seeks the light in a harrowing circumstance, but never for a second downplays the emotional toll and impact such a circumstance has on its characters. The film could be viewed through three separate acts with each act operating as a different type of film, though that wouldn't reflect how organically Abrahamson pulls of each of the subtle shifts in style through each act. The first is essentially a two-hander between a mother and a son, both locked in a confined space. This part of the film deftly builds the relationship between these two characters and fills in the background of how they ended up in this titular confined space very sparingly. Then, the film takes a sudden shift and becomes an escape thriller, and the escape is all the more tense because it's grounded in real emotional stakes established in the first act. This middle sequence is as good as any filmmaking I saw this year and left me an emotional wreck throughout. The last part of the film deals with the aftermath and the characters now having to cope with everything that they've been through and readjust to the world. While this section of the film doesn't have the same climactic tension as the previous, it is again handled with a delicate humanism by Abrahamson. In spite of the somewhat high concept framework, "Room" is really a film about the bond between a mother and her child, and that relationship is the core that holds the film together. Jacob Tremblay (9 years old) has to do a lot of dramatic heavy-lifting for such a young actor, but he's such a natural in the role that you forget he's even acting at all. Though Brie Larson was not the obvious choice for the much sought-after role of Ma, it's nearly impossible to imagine another actress playing such a complicated role to the degree of perfection that she does. It's one of the finest performances of the year and the breakthrough role of what will looks to be a very promising career.

It is entirely by accident, but the only films on this list that I wrote full length reviews of just happen to be my top two films of 2015. For those selections, I will simply include a link to those reviews so as to not become redundant.

  • 2) "The Martian" (Dir. Ridley Scott)-

My full-length review here. But I would like to use this opportunity to again single Drew Goddard out for the extraordinary screenplay he wrote here, bringing a disarming levity and wit to the proceedings. 

And, My number one film of 2015 is...

  • 1) "Steve Jobs" (Dir. Danny Boyle)-

My full-length review here. And again, I want to take the opportunity to single out the achievement writer Aaron Sorkin pulled off here (with much help from Danny Boyle's masterful direction). This script is incredibly dense and packs so much information into every line without ever slowing down so the audience can catch a breath. It's in many ways as exhilarating and exasperating a film as "Mad Max: Fury Road", but only replacing car chases with rapid-fire dialogue. 

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