Monday, January 25, 2016
Movies I Liked Best in 2015
We regularly go to the movies on Friday nights, and after each outing I give the movie a letter grade and place it in a rank-ordered list with past movies we’ve seen during the year. This is sort of obsessive, but I like to keep track of stuff. Here are my big screen favorites for 2015, along with runners-up, less favorites, and unfavorites.
My Top Twelve
(1) Trumbo. Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane. In 1947 Hollywood’s top screenwriter is jailed and blacklisted for his leftwing political beliefs. Bryan Cranston fully deserves his Oscar nomination in a film that reminds us that there were even worse times than the present in American politics. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%; Blog: A.
(2) Spotlight. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton. The Boston Globe’s investigation of priestly pedophilia has all the feel of a mystery thriller. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%; Blog: A.
(3) The Danish Girl. Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander. Einar and Gerda’s marriage and work evolve as they navigate transgender pioneer Einar’s transformation into Lili. Eddie Redmayne does a powerhouse job in a moving psychological study. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%; Blog: A.
(4) The Revenant. Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy. A frontiersman in the 1820s struggles for survival in the wilderness after being mauled by a bear. The beauty and perils of nature, along with a gripping tale which taps into basic truths of the human condition. Rotten Tomatoes: 80%; Blog: A.
(5) Brooklyn. Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson. A young Irish immigrant navigates her way through 1950s Brooklyn, but her new life is disrupted by her past and she must choose between two worlds. This tugs at one’s heartstrings and brings back my young adult conviction that love is pain. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%; Blog: A-.
(6) Bridge of Spies. Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance. An American attorney negotiates the release of a U-2 spy plane pilot shot down over Russia at the height of the Cold War. A suspenseful thriller with excellent acting and cinematography. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%; Blog: A-.
(7) Selma. David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery. Despite criticisms of the accuracy of LBJ’s portrayal, this is a stirring movie which impresses the audience with the bravery and deeply felt mission of King and his associates and followers. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%; Blog: A-.
(8) Carol. Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara. An aspiring photographer develops an intimate relationship with an older woman. A slow-moving, ethereal romance, though Cate Blanchett is a force of nature. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%; Blog: A-.
(9) Mr. Turner. Timothy Spall, Roger Ashton-Griffiths. An exploration of the last quarter century of the great, if eccentric, British painter J.M.W. Turner's life. A remarkable portrayal of a churlish genius, fine-tuned to Masterpiece Theater perfection. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%; Blog: A-.
(10) Joy. Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro. A young woman rises to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty. Jennifer Lawrence stirs one’s heart as an inexperienced, gritty young woman pursuing her dreams in a rocky business world filled with hazards and no-goodniks. Rotten Tomatoes: 60%; Blog: A.
(11) Room. Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay. After a 5-year-old boy and his mother escape from the room in which they’ve been imprisoned by a predator, the boy experiences all the joy, fear. and astonishment that the outside world brings. Jacob Tremblay does an amazing acting job, and the treatment of the mother and son’s post-captivity psychological struggles is engrossing and sometimes painful. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%; Blog: A-.
(12) Clouds of Sils Maria. Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart. A veteran actress agrees to take part in a revival of the play that launched her career 20 years earlier. An intelligent if esoteric discourse on aging, womanhood, generations, and the theater. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%; Blog: A-.
(13) Cinderella. Lily James. Disney still knows how to do a fairy tale. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%; Blog: A-.
(14) American Sniper. Bradley Cooper. War’s destructive effects on family life. Rotten Tomatoes: 74%; Blog: A-.
(15) Far From the Madding Crowd. Juno Temple. A BBC-style romantic melodrama set in Victorian England. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%; Blog: A-.
(16) Grandma. Lily Tomlin. Sometimes comic disturbed family relationships across three generations of women. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%; Blog: A-.
(17) The Wrecking Crew. Brian Wilson. A heartfelt tribute to an amazing group of musicians. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%; Blog: B+.
(18) A Most Violent Year. Oscar Isaac. An ambitious immigrant protects his business and family against violence in 1980’s NYC. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%; Blog: B+.
(19) Still Alice. Julianne Moore. Alice’s descent into Alzheimer’s elicits a lot of tears. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%; Blog: B+.
(20) Phoenix. Nina Hoss. A disfigured concentration camp survivor searches for the husband who might have betrayed her. Rotten Tomatoes: 99%; Blog: B+.
(21) Creed. Michael B. Jordan. Former champ Rocky Balboa serves as trainer and mentor to Apollo Creed’s son. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%; Blog: B+.
(22) Seymour: An Introduction. Seymour Bernstein. A beloved pianist and teacher shares insights about music and life. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%; Blog: B.
(23) Jurassic World. Chris Pratt. The dinosaurs — the best ever — had Katja grabbing at my arm from start to finish. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%; Blog: B.
(24) Iris. Iris Apfel. Fashion icon Iris Apfel offers optimism about life in one’s 90’s. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%; Blog: B.
(25) Ricki and the Flash. Meryl Streep. Meryl rocks. Rotten Tomatoes: 59%; Blog: B.
(26) Jimmy's Hall. Barry Ward. On being a Communist in 1930’s Ireland. Rotten Tomatoes: 77%; Blog: B.
(27) In the Heart of the Sea. Chris Hemsworth. Old-timey story, brand new oceanic special effects. Rotten Tomatoes: 51%; Blog: B.
(28) Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation. Tom Cruise. The TV series occurred fifty years ago and this revival often feels like it. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%; Blog: B-.
(29) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Martin Freeman. Phenomenal on battles and monsters, not so much on story line or dialogue. Rotten Tomatoes: 61%; Blog: B-.
(30) Mr. Holmes. Ian McKellen. Sherlock is old and doddering but gets the job done. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%; Blog: B-.
(31) A Little Chaos. Kate Winslet. Romance while building a garden in King Louis XIV's palace at Versailles (not for everybody). Rotten Tomatoes: 39%; Blog: B-.
(32) Woman in Gold. Helen Mirren. An elderly Jewish woman sets out to retrieve family possessions seized by the Nazis. Rotten Tomatoes: 54%; Blog: C+.
(33) The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Judi Dench, Maggie Smith. Lots of oldies acting sweet and cute. Rotten Tomatoes: 73%; Blog: C+.
(34) Spectre. Daniel Craig. James Bond returns but doesn’t bring much new with him. Rotten Tomatoes: 64%; Blog: C+.
(35) Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Daisy Ridley. Fine for pre-teens but not so good after age twenty or so. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%; Blog: C+.
(36) Taken 3. Liam Neeson. We learn that it’s appropriate for loving family men to destroy a few dozen people, so long as they’re Russians and ugly. Rotten Tomatoes: 21%; Blog: C+.
(37) Trainwreck. Amy Schumer. I’m admittedly out of the mainstream since I didn’t find Amy funny. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%; Blog: C.
(38) While We're Young. Amanda Seyfried. I couldn’t connect with the married couples’ peccadilloes and dilemmas. Rotten Tomatoes: 85%; Blog: C.
(39) Irrational Man. Joaquin Phoenix. I almost always enjoy Woody Allen, but this offering was talky, implausible, and sometimes unpleasant. Rotten Tomatoes: 40%; Blog: C.
(40) The Big Short. Christian Bale. I appreciate the intent but I’d rather read about the economics of the housing bubble in the New York Times. Rotten Tomatoes: 87%; Blog: C.
(41) Mad Max: Fury Road. Charlize Theron. Can a movie with no plot, dialogue, or character development be nominated for Best Picture? Apparently so. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%; Blog: C-.
(42) The Martian. Matt Damon. I thought a high point was growing potatoes in human waste on the surface of Mars, but the rest of it seemed sort of outer-spacey to me. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%; Blog: C-.
(43 The Water Diviner. Russell Crowe. The title sounds boring and it describes the movie. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%; Blog: C-.
(44) The Connection. Jean Dujardin. A stylish 70's Marseilles crime thriller which does its best to be unthrilling. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%; Blog: C-.
(45) White God. Zsofia Psotta. (Hungarian) When her father sets her dog free on the streets, 13 year old Lili sets out to save him. We don’t know whether to pity or be horrified by the roaming pack of dogs. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%; Blog: C-.
(46) Pixels. Adam Sandler. I usually like dumb Adam Sandler movies, but this one about aliens attacking earth via video games is beyond the pale. Rotten Tomatoes: 18%; Blog: D-.
I do notice that I’ve categorized three of the Academy’s “Best Picture” nominees among my least favorite movies of the year, i.e, The Big Short, Mad Max, and The Martian. Perhaps this calls my judgment into question, but I’m going to stick with my choices. Here are my personal favorites among the Academy’s nominees: Best Picture: Spotlight; Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl; Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Carol; Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Big Short; Best Supporting Actress, Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl; Best Cinematography, The Revenant; Best Directing, Spotlight; Best Visual Effects, Mad Max: Fury Road; Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Room; Best Writing (Original Screenplay): Spotlight.