December 31, 2015

A Year at the Movies: 2015

Depending on whom you ask, movies are either alive and well or dying an agonizing death. For me, it depends on when you ask. (I'm liable to join the death knell camp during the summer months.) I've stopped worrying, and continue to hold out hope that whatever is unfolding before my eyes will be fresh and entertaining. Sometimes that hope is all we movie-lovers have, and when something comes along that surprises us, it's almost miraculous. So whatever the state of movies today (the answer is probably both good and bad), I'm always excited to look back and remember with pleasure the movies that I loved seeing. So, without further ado, my top 11 favorite movies of 2015. (The order isn't all that official, except for #1 and #2.)

11. I'll See You in My Dreams. Blythe Danner's fine performance is reason enough to see this charming romantic comedy. But what's striking about this movie is how it uses the conventional rom-com genre to explore some fascinating relationships. And the directions it takes are often surprising.

10. Tangerine. Shot with iPhones, Sean Baker's breakthrough film pulsates with vitality, much of which comes from its two stars, trans women Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor. 

9. Dope. Set in Inglewood, California, this charming comedy about a black nerd from the hood who wants to go to Harvard was truly the antidote of summer movies. It's funny and insightful, and features winning performances from its three leads.

8. Spy. Melissa McCarthy finally found a vehicle that didn't have to run her over repeatedly, and she found some wonderful counterparts in Rose Byrne (delivering a fantastically wicked performance as the chief villain) and Jason Statham (making fun of himself).

7. The Hateful Eight. It may be a lesser and invariably nasty Tarantino effort, but it's still a fabulous entertainment, brandishing style and vigor with ease, and featuring a lot of really funny performances from Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, et al.

6. Love & Mercy. A refreshing biopic about the Beach Boys, refreshing because it isn't weighed down by its own importance. Those scenes of Paul Dano--playing a young Brian Wilson--directing the recordings of Pet Sounds are truly enthralling. And Elizabeth Banks? Terrific.

5. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Guy Ritchie surprises with a chic, clever, thrilling spy-comedy based on the 1960s TV show. The banter between Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer makes this movie, and all the stylish clothes and exciting locations and incredibly well-staged action scenes are just gravy. Lushly entertaining.

4. Phoenix. A slow build-up to the greatest finale 2015 ever saw. Nina Hoss plays a German Jew who survived the Holocaust, but with a disfigured face. She emerges from plastic surgery with a new identity, and tracks down the husband who betrayed her. Unforgettable.

3. Brooklyn. Saoirse Ronan gives one of the year's best performances as an Irish immigrant making her way in 1950s New York. It's a moving and beautifully made film that earns its sentimental moments.

2. Chi-Raq. Spike Lee returns to form with this angry, funny, audacious masterpiece, based loosely on the Greek play Lysistrata. 

1. Spotlight. A fascinating, heart-breaking good yarn about the Boston Globe's investigation of the Catholic Church's long and sordid history of abuse. Probably the most important film of 2015, and a reminder that we need good journalism.

Honorable Mentions: The Big Short, Ex Machina, Maps to the Stars, The MartianThe Second Mother, SpectreSteve JobsThe Visit

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