As the Academy Award nominations are going to be announced tomorrow, I thought it was finally time to unveil my top 10 movies of the last year. I saw over a hundred movies on the big screen in 2015, and I found it to be a good, not great, year for film.
There are a number of notable films I haven’t seen yet, but, of course, you can never see ‘em all. So let’s get right to my favorite motion picture picks of ’15, in descending order:
10. ROOM (Dir. Lenny Abrahamson)
Like I said in my review last fall, if Brie Larson doesn’t get a Oscar nomination for her harrowing role as a woman who’s been held captive in a backyard shed for five years taking care of her five-year old son (the result of a rape by her abductor), I’ll be very offended. The kid (Jason Tremblay) was pretty “on” too.
7. THE HATEFUL EIGHT
(Dir. Quentin Tarantino)
The “Eighth Film by Quentin Tarantino,” as it’s identified in its opening credits (who else does that?), is his most divisive work for sure, but its bloody Western mix of THE THING with RESERVOIR DOGS, with a splash of Agatha Christie, really entertained the bejesus out of me. Here’s why.
A stop-motion emotional masterpiece from the guy who brought you BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION, and SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK. And it’s the second film on my top 10 that has Jennifer Jason Leigh in it! My review of this delightful yet unnerving piece of high art will be posted when it opens in my area later this month.
Todd Haynes’ film follow-up to one of my favorites of 2007 (I’M NOT THERE) is a sophisticated, complicated, and immaculately artful look at a lesbian love affair in the oppressive era of 1950s New York City. The performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are as pitch perfect as their setting. Read my review.
4. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
(Dir. George Miller)
As I wrote in my review last May, George Miller’s fourth entry in the MAD MAX series is a “brutally brilliant blast”; “an orgy of fire-breathing cars, pole-swingers, chainsaws, steampunk thugs, and gas fire explosions all given a heavy metal soundtrack by a masked musician with a flame-throwing electric guitar atop a vehicle piled with amplifiers.” And it’s even more awesome than that sounds.
As modern action movies go, as much as I loved MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, this superbly dark cartel counterinsurgency thriller got to me more. The terrifically intense turns by Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro have a lot to do with that. My review.
2. THE REVENANT
(Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Leonardo DiCaprio deserves (and will probably get) the Oscar for what he went through in the punishing wild here, but I predictTom Hardy will at least get a nomination too for his supporting part. The film itself, as well as Iñárritu, may also get nods, but coming after last year’s win for BIRDMAN, I wouldn’t bet on it. My review.
Tom McCarthy’s fifth film, his follow-up to last year’s infamous Adam Sandler flop THE COBBLER (WTF?), which focuses on the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team into the scandal of child molestation and systematic cover-up within the Catholic Church, is a clean, precise procedural about a extremely messy, and unsettling subject.
The perfect storm of an excellent cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and Liev Schreiber; a sharp, involving screenplay, along with its top notch editing, score, and Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography all collide together to make this my #1 movie of 2015. I’ll be shocked if the Academy doesn’t reward multiple categories for this one. My review.
Spillover: In no particular order, here’s a bunch of other 2015 favorites:
LOVE & MERCY (Dir. Bill Pohlad)
THE BIG SHORT (Dir. Adam McKay)
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (F. Gary Gray)
AMY (Dir. Asif Kapadia)
THE END OF THE TOUR (Dir. James Ponsoldt)
Legacyquel Tie: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (Dir. J.J. Abrams) / CREED (Dir. Ryan Coogler)
STEVE JOBS (Dir. Danny Boyle)
THE WALK (Dir. Robert Zemeckis)
EX MACHINA (Dir. Alex Garland)
THE SALT OF THE EARTH
(Dirs. Juliano Ribeiro Salgado & Wim Wenders)
WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (Dir. Noah Baumbach)
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (Dir. Christopher McQuarrie) – Hey, it’s a lot better than SPECTRE!
So, those are my picks for 2015. Let’s see what Oscar has to say about it tomorrow morning.
Now playing at both multiplexes and indie art houses:
ROOM (Dir. Lenny Abrahamson, 2015)
Brie Larson’s sturdy performance in SHORT TERM 12 is considered by critics to be her breakthrough, but it’s her powerful work in ROOM, Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s award-winning 2010 novel, that should make the actress a household name.
Larson plays Joy Newsome, a young woman living under horrifying conditions. For the last seven years Joy has been trapped in a sound-proofed, concrete garden shed in the backyard of the house of her abductor only known as Old Nick (Sean Bridges).
With Joy is her son, five-year-old Jack (first-time child actor Jacob Tremblay), the result of one of many rapes that Joy has suffered over the years. To Jack, the small, filthy space they live in is their entire world. Joy has maintained this illusion by telling Jack that there is nothing beyond the four walls of “room” except outer space, and that what he sees on their crappy beat-up TV is make believe.
However, the day has come for Joy to tell Jack the truth, because she’s devised a desperate plan for escape. Joy fakes Jack’s death, and rolls him up in a rug for Old Nick to take away in his pick-up truck. Joy instructs Jack to wriggle out, jump from the bed of the truck and run for help.
The plan is successful and Jack is able to direct the police to the shed, and mother and son are finally free. Jack is astounded at how big and limitless the real world outside the room is, while Joy struggles with rehabilitation.
Joy discovers that her parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy) have divorced, and that her mother has a new boyfriend (Tom McCamus). Without spelling it out, Macy conveys how uncomfortable he is with having a grandson who is a product of rape.
Needing financial help, Joy agrees to do a prime time interview, but it doesn’t go well because of the glibly insensitive questions posed by the show’s host (Wendy Crewson).
This leads to Joy spiraling down into depression, and attempting suicide. Jack, still wide-eyed at his surroundings, gets his long hair, which he calls his “strong,” cut by his grandmother, and sends his ponytail to his mother in the hospital. This gesture helps in Joy’s recovery, and we see that once again Jack has saved his mother.
Abrahamson, whose film FRANK (the one with Michael Fassbender as a musician who wears a giant papier-mache head) was one of my favorite films of last year, handles this material with great poise. Every scene seems to have profound purpose, especially one late in the film where Joy and Jack revisit room for closure, though composer Stephen Rennick’s score lays it on a bit too thick at times.
I was incredibly moved by ROOM. It’s a durable drama that has moments of gripping suspense – i.e. the escape sequence – but it is its tender concern for its characters that will stay with me the most. It’s largely due to the stellar acting of the mother-son duo.
Tremblay puts in an impressive naturalistic performance for a 5-year old, although his voice-over narration, a totally unnecessary device here, gets a little icky.
Larson, who may be best known to mainstream movie-goers as Amy Schumer’s sister in TRAINWRECK, excels as Joy. One can feel her strained pain in her every expression, and all of her interactions with Tremblay shine with authenticity.
It’s flawless work, a career best, and if she doesn’t get nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, I’ll be very offended.