The middle ground between fantastic and deplorable was almost nonexistent in cinema this year. Here are my picks for the best and worst films of 2015.
1) “Spotlight” (Director: Tom McCarthy): Revealing and revolting all at the same time, “Spotlight” demonstrates that the search for truth is always led by those who dare took evil head on. Though the reporters at The Boston Globe may not be portrayed as heroes by the film, like good journalism, “Spotlight” allows the audience to view them as such without pushing them toward one direction or another.
2) “Beasts of No Nation” (Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga): Idris Elba and Abraham Attah gave the year’s best performances in this depressingly gritty coming-of-age film. The situation in Africa is a complex series of events that spans millennium after millennium, yet somehow the people of the continent find humanity in a cesspool of atrocity and evil. As in reality, there are no clear motivations or sides in the unnamed West African conflict, which captures Western emotions while excluding the stereotypes.
3) “Inside Out” (Director: Pete Docter): Pixar is one of the few studios that can turn a simple story about the emotions in a young girl’s mind into a touching animated adventure through growth. Classic Pixar is always funny, empathetic and uplifting; “Inside Out” fits into all three categories. The voice work of Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith are only two examples of one of the strongest voice casts for a film that has ever assembled. Truly a magnificent film.
4) “Chi-Raq” (Director: Spike Lee): The media and society has unanimously decided that 2015 is the year of violence. Director Spike Lee counters this decision by adapting Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata” and setting it in Chicago’s South Side. Though many have compared the film to Lee’s 1989 masterpiece “Do the Right Thing,” which is universally timeless, “Chi-Raq” stands on its own in its own time.
5) “Anomalisa” (Directors: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson): Since his debut screenplay “Being John Malkovich,” Charlie Kaufman has made cinema lovers worldwide rediscover the boundaries of human nature. The film is one of those rare examples of how animation can be more grounded in reality than live action. Filled with Kaufman’s distinct dry humor and philosophical rambling, “Anomalisa” is another addition to the writer’s acclaimed portfolio.
6) “Straight Outta Compton” (Director: F. Gary Gray): As police violence against African-Americans is shoved center stage, “Straight Outta Compton” is more relevant than ever. “Our music is a reflection of our environment,” says Ice Cube to a reporter who lacks the insight that perhaps he would not ask the same question if the group was white. Yet it is also a love letter to hip-hop and music. N.W.A. are true artists who paved the way for others to follow in their footsteps.
7) “Steve Jobs” (Director: Danny Boyle): Steve Jobs the man was a focused and driven individual whose goal was to change the world. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and actor Michael Fassbender portray Jobs as an Ayn Rand-like figure whose one true belief was that his way was the only way to stop total annihilation. Perfectly timed and performed by Fassbender, Seth Rogen (as Steve Wozniak) and Kate Winslet (as Joanna Hoffman), “Steve Jobs” brings to life the Jobs that America believed he was.
8) “Brooklyn” (Director: John Crowley): The fruit that immigration creates has never been portrayed as being so beautiful. After hurdling the struggle of homesickness, Irish immigrant Eilis has found her America in the love of an Italian boy. Even when home beckons her, she knows in her heart that Ireland is no longer her home. Her life in America defines her as a woman who knows love and beauty, and that life is more precious than her past one.
9) “The Revenant” (Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu): This film has the best composition of images from the century’s most daring filmmaker. Complete with a cast that can do no wrong, “The Revenant” redefines the American wilderness which has never been so wild. Its protagonist is the classic adventurer powered by revenge-come-hell or Momma Grizzly.
10) “Suffragette” (Director: Sarah Gavron): The story of how Britain’s women fought for the right to vote is brought to life in this excellent film. The patriarchy of Edwardian Britain is portrayed in the same light as the Jim Crow regimes of America’s Deep South, giving the events undiscovered emotional weight and importance, and supporting the statement that war is the only language that men will listen to.
• “The Danish Girl”
• “Welcome to Leith”
• “Cartel Land”
• “The True Cost”
• “Mad Max: Fury Road”
• “Son of Saul”
• “Boy and the World”
1) “No Escape” (Director: John Erick Dowdle): This film is so racist that its only saving grace is that it’s terrible. Its portrayal of South Asian people as a force of evil nature, while simultaneously elevating Westerners as the true victims of geopolitical greed, is evidence of John Erick Dowdle’s lack of both insight and a soul.
2) “Stonewall” (Director: Roland Emmerich): The film about the turning point in the LGBTQ+ community fails to portray the true leaders in order to tell an irrelevant coming-of-age story about a non-existent person. Prejudice by omission, this film should simply fade away from audiences’ minds.
3) “The Gallows” (Directors: Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing): This is the most anti-climactic film in the found footage genre. Somehow a haunted high school theater and a few spoiled, bored teenagers just don’t seem to click with audiences; perhaps they are worn out by the saturation in the genre.
4) “We Are Your Friends” (Director: Max Joseph): With a hyperbole-prone trailer, “We Are Your Friends” is the most self-important film ever shown on screen. The story and love triangle between Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, and Bentley’s girlfriend was at best uninteresting, and at worst a gratuitous excuse to have Efron take his shirt off.
5) “Bad Night” (Directors: Chris Riedell & Nick Riedell): It’s as if screenwriter Daniel Kinno has spent the majority of his life locked up in a windowless basement with nothing but a laptop and a few saltines. This film is so bad that it is shameful that such a great cast that includes June Diane Raphael and Matt Walsh was wasted.
6) “The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” (Director: Wes Ball): The obligatory second installment to the “Maze Runner” trilogy was so hastily made that plot holes occupy more space than actual plot. The talent-packed cast came off as being bored and uncaring of the project which made the film suffer further.
7) “Fifty Shades of Grey” (Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson): It’s not the fact that the book is based on a smutty “Twilight” fanfiction, it’s that it was incredibly boring that makes it a bad movie. The sex scenes were nowhere near as stylized as they could have been and the actors had the same chemistry as oil and vinegar. The clear inequality of the images of the genders is also unsettling.
8) “The Hateful Eight” (Director: Quentin Tarantino): No one can deny Quentin Tarantino’s talent, not even Quentin Tarantino. The auteur pushes the envelope too far with this sexist and over-stylized film. Not even viewing in “glorious 70mm” will change the uncomfortable violence.
9) “Aloha” (Director: Cameron Crowe): Crowe’s dialogue in all of his films is a treat for the ears, yet the confusing story and low stakes is where “Aloha” falters. Emma Stone’s casting as a half-Native Hawaiian and Chinese-American is racist by omission in the same way that a white man has always portrayed Charlie Chan. On a positive note, it had a cool soundtrack.
10) “Fantastic Four” (Director: Josh Trank): A stellar cast and popular franchise cannot salvage the latest reboot of the superhero team. It lacks all of the lovable aspects of a Marvel film as well as any sort of human nature. There are reports that there will be two more to make a trilogy. God have mercy.
• “The Loft”
• “Jupiter Ascending”
• “The Longest Ride”
• “American Ultra”
• “The Age of Adaline”
• “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”