My Top Ten Films of 2015

Originally published on http://www.Santanerozine.com – February 2016

For many of you out there in social media land, this year’s Academy Awards will fall on deaf ears. The controversy resulting from the lack of minorities in the four acting categories has caused many to boycott this year’s awards. I will not be one of those people. I love film and the Oscars are a celebration of some of the best films of the past year, and this year is no different, despite some worthy omissions. I will be watching and rooting for Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu who is the front runner to win his 2nd Oscar in a row and become the 3rd Mexican director to win the award in succession. I will also be rooting for Mexican Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, nominated for his 8th Academy Award and more than likely about to win his 3rd Oscar in a row. But I guess only the acting categories matter right?

 

Anyway, every year on Oscar weekend I compile my top ten films of the prior year. As always, I do this for my own self-gratification. I like making lists, especially when they involve movies. So, if you want to hear my opinion of what films deserved recognition this year, then read on. Some of my selections coincide with the Academy’s picks, some do not.  Unfortunately, there was no film in my top ten with a leading Asian American actor. But since no one seems to care about Asian Americans in the media, I guess I won’t be branded a racist.

 

  1. Dope

Malcolm is a geek, intelligent and obsessed with 1990s hip hop music culture. Malcom and his fellow geek friends live in a tough neighborhood in Inglewood trying to get by their high school years without getting into too much trouble. He wants to get into Harvard, but his counselor warns him that his straight As and high SAT scores might not be enough. Soon, trouble finds Malcolm as he is forced into the drug business pushing a new drug on the streets.

 

The film, in essence, is a coming of age film. While the concept is not new, the perspective taken from a black teenager in a rough neighborhood certainly gives a unique take on the genre that John Hughes made famous in the 1980s.  Newcomer, Shameik Moore, shines as the lead. The supporting cast of Tony Revolori, and Kiersey Clemons, as his two best friends (Jib and Diggy), provide the comic relief as we watch the three teenagers outsmart their way out of their predicament. Writer/director, Rick Famuyiwa, has made a smart and funny film that manages to take a familiar plot and give us just enough innovation to entertain us from start to finish.

 

  1. Black Mass

The film is another fine addition to the already crowded genre of crime drama. Johnny Depp plays infamous Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger. The film follows the story of Bulger and his time as an informant for the FBI. Bulger and his childhood friend, John Connelly, now an FBI agent, cut a deal to take down the leaders of the rival Italian mob. However, once his rivals are captured, Whitey, with his new found FBI protection, begins to take full control of South Boston’s crime circuit.

 

Johnny Depp is wonderful as Whitey, giving a sinister and disturbing performance. He carries the film. The rest of the cast is nothing to laugh at either. Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch put on fine performances of their own as Connolly and Bulger’s brother, Senator Billy Bulger, respectively. While you will not find anything surprising about this film, it will keep you engulfed and interested for its two hours running time.

 

  1. Trumbo

This film is all Bryan Cranston. His performance is more than worthy of winning the Academy Award, if only Leo had not eaten all that raw bison liver. In the late 1940s, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters. His career, however, takes a downturn when him and other fellow screenwriters are jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs. We follow Trumbo, as he attempts to survive and continue working under pseudonyms, writing two Academy Award winning scripts in the process.

 

John McNamara and Bruce Cook have penned an excellent script, writing dialogue any actor would love to perform. In addition to Cranston’s Oscar nominated performance, Helen Mirren and Lewis CK provide praise-worthy supporting roles. The film’s intrigue is in its exceptional storytelling. Trumbo’s eccentric personality, and his fight to keep working through political intolerance, makes for an entertaining tale.

 

  1. The Martian

Ridley Scott directs this sci-fi epic based on the best-selling book of the same name. A thoroughly entertaining film, it follows Mark Watney (Matt Damon), an astronaut left for dead on Mars, as he sciences the shit out of his predicament to try and survive long enough for a rescue mission to reach him. This is Matt Damon’s Cast Away. He more than deserves his Oscar nomination. He works alone, keeping us engaged and laughing for the majority of the film. Ridley Scott, as he is known to do, presents yet another beautifully shot film. The cinematography here is fantastic, especially during Watney’s travels through the Martian landscape. Although the dialogue at time falls a bit flat during many of the NASA scenes, the writing more than makes up for it when Watney is on screen. I guess they decided to leave all the best lines for Matt Damon.

 

  1. Room

This is a tragic and yet ultimately hopeful film. Emma Donoghue has written an inspiring story of sacrifice and struggle. Jacob Tremblay is Jack, born in Room and living there all of his short life with his Ma, played by Brie Larson. For 5 years, all he has known are the four walls of Room. Ignorant of the truth of his situation, his Ma finally decides that Jack is old enough to know what is outside and conceives of a plan to escape their cage. Once out, we follow the two as they adjust to living in the outside world.

 

Brie Larson is fabulous as Ma, and more than deserves the Oscar she will most likely win come Sunday.  Little Jacob does well as the confused and innocent Jack. There is no other way to put it here. This film will pull at your heart strings and will keep your emotions occupied as you take a journey through the mind of a child discovering the world for the first time.

 

  1. Beasts of No Nation

Agu is a child living in an unnamed country in Western Africa. He lives in a small village with his parents and siblings. War is breaking out all around them and it soon reaches their village. During an attack, Agu is left orphaned and is picked up by a group of rebel soldiers. Trained to fight with the rebel army, we follow Agu’s story as he is forced to live a life of war.

 

Beasts of No Nation is a powerful film. It is not for the faint of heart. It pulls no punches in its realism and violence. The film is beautifully shot. Director, Cary Joji Fukunaga, has made a stunning picture that will stick with you long after the first watch. Idris Elba plays the commandant, who spares little Agu and thrusts him into the horrible world of perpetual war.  If there was any black actor that most certainly deserved a nomination this year, it was him. Just as impressive though is the lead, Abraham Attah, who is way too young to be exhibiting such emotional strength in his performance. He has a bright future in front him if he keeps this quality.

 

  1. The Hateful Eight

I have to admit that I may be a bit biased when it comes to Tarantino films. I just love his work. Since I began making these lists, every Tarantino movie that has been released has made my top ten. The Hateful Eight may not beat his most recent films, Django Unchained or Inglourious Basterds, but it certainly does not fail to deliver to fans such as myself. The story is a simple one. Bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is travelling through the Wyoming wilderness to get known gangster and murderer Daisy Domergue hanged for her crimes at a town called Red Rock. On the way, they meet fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren and Sherriff Chris Mannix. When a blizzard forces them to shack up at Minnie’s Haberdashery, they are met by group of suspicious men. What ensues is nothing but pure Tarantino gold.

 

I saw this in glorious 70mm film complete with its own orchestral overture and intermission. Legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone, known for his work on Spaghetti Westerns like The Good , the Bad, and the Ugly, and A Fistful of Dollars, will most likely win his first Oscar for this film. The cinematography by Robert Richardson is superb. The acting is top notch and Tarantino writes monologues like a God.         

 

  1. The Big Short

The housing crisis of the mid 2000’s still haunts the country to this day. The Big Short tells the story of how it all went down and how a handful of people managed to get rich betting against the US economy. The Big Short is directed and co-written by Adam McKay, who is more known for his comedic films like Anchorman, Step Brothers, and Talladega Nights. In this work, he brings his comedic wit to tell a complicated story that not only informs but fully entertains delivering big laughs at the most unsuspecting moments. The writing is clever and is my pick for best adapted screenplay. Christian Bale is fantastic as the hedge fund manager, Michael Burry, who figures it all out before anyone else. Steve Carell is hilarious as the eccentric Mark Baum. It’s really an all-star cast with Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, plus a handful of fun cameos sprinkled throughout. If you’re looking for a good time and want to learn something in the process, this is the movie of the year.

 

  1. The Revenant

I can’t say more about Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu that I have not said already. The man is a genius. Like Tarantino, this guy has made no bad films. This is yet another gem in his repertoire. It is a beautiful movie to look at that needs to be enjoyed in all its glory on a big screen. Plot wise, there is not much to it. Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), are aiding a band of pelt hunters working for a trading company. After Hugh Glass is attacked by a bear, fellow hunter, John Fitzgerald kills Glass’ son and leaves Glass for dead buried alive in a shallow grave. Glass manages to recuperate and embarks on an epic journey to get his revenge against Fitzgerald. What ensues is a lovely piece of suffering for two plus hours. One thing is for sure, Leo knows how to suffer. Hugh Glass fights through blizzards, hostile Native Americans, rival hunters, and pretty much everything else nature has to throw at him. Iñarritu shows us everything of nature’s beauty and violent indiscrimination. Since my number 1 film was not nominated, The Revenant is my pick to win Best Picture and hopefully it gets it.

 

  1. Ex Machina

Nathan Bates (Oscar Isaac) is a reclusive genius who has chosen Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to participate in a unique experiment. Caleb is given the task to interact with an artificially intelligent android named Ava, played brilliantly by Alicia Vikander. The purpose of their interaction is to study Ava and conclude whether her AI is that of human level.

 

Writer/director, Alex Garland, has authored a thought provoking and uniquely suspenseful film. Tackling familiar philosophical issues such self-identity, agency, and morality. We are engrossed in their task to figure out what exactly makes one human. Make no mistake. This is not some sci-fi action thriller. The film is essentially a series of conversations, but there is no boredom to be had. Brilliantly written, visually stunning, wonderfully acted, and a story to keep you guessing, this is my top movie of 2015. I was sad not to see it be nominated for Best Picture. I can only infer that it must have been racism. What other logical explanation could there be? It must have been that Japanese actress (Sonoya Mizuno) that turned them off. Still, the Academy was nice enough to bestow it a well-deserved Best Original Screenplay nod and I hope it takes it down.

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