Friday, January 1, 2016

The Best of 2015 So Far

Now that 2015 has closed, it's time for one of those Best/Worst of 2015 columns.  Here is my contribution to this endeavor.

Officially, I've reviewed 33 films for the year, though I have 35 films on my list (two of which I've been rather lazy to write).  I have seen more than 35 films, but some (for example, Terminator: Genisys) I didn't review (in that case, I wanted to look over all the Terminator films before tackling that one).   Also, as I watch more 2015 films, this list will change.  This is why I always add 'So Far', because as more films are included, and as I rethink some films, there will be shifts.

Well, let's get going.

Num. 10

I've been a consistent critic of the Kendrick Brothers and their clumsy mix of theology and filmmaking.  This is why War Room is a genuine shock: a film that actually works as a film as opposed to a live-action sermon. I think it also helped that the Kendricks decided that there were black people in America.  This willingness to be more inclusive, to focus on one story rather than hundreds, and to acknowledge, ever so slightly, the sin they preach about elevated War Room to not just their finest film, but their most polished production.

Num. 9
I didn't think Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials was better than The Maze Runner, but I also think the drubbing it got is unfair.  It gave fans what I think they wanted: lots of action and relative faithfulness to the novel (which I guess at since I have yet to read the books).  One thing I enjoyed about The Maze Runner series is that we aren't getting bogged down by sappy love stories, which separates it from the other young adult dystopian series (Divergent and The Hunger Games).  I for one am looking forward to seeing the story come to a satisfying conclusion.

Num. 8
I tend to be wary of those 'based on a true story' films, worrying that things get exaggerated.  However, McFarland USA was inspirational in a good way.  Of particular note is the portrayal of the Hispanic characters, who weren't monolithic stereotypes but fully-rounded individuals.  I also related to the family humor in the film.  Of particular note is when the mother keeps piling on enchiladas on the Anglo coach, then ends with giving him a Tupperware full of them.  "For the family," she tells him.  Quickly tapping the Tupperware, she then scolds him with, "Don't forget to bring back".  That is SO my mother.

Num. 7
I again don't get the dislike for The Age of Adaline.  By no means great, the film works for what it aims: an elegant, soft love story.  It gives Blake Lively a chance to actually act, which is a nice chang of pace for someone not fully embraced as an actual actress.  I enjoyed it for what it was, and the fact it didn't pretend to be anything else elevated the film for me.

NUM. 6
Despite all the furor Sicario caused in the border town of Juarez (from which my home is mere miles away), the film doesn't focus much on the chaos of the bloody drug war that lead to such horrors as headless bodies hanging from bridges or car bombings.  Sicario really is about the morality of war, of just what is right and wrong, of just how far one has to go, and who suffers: the innocent along with the guilty.

NUM. 5
Another biopic, this time of 2015 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees NWA, Straight Outta Compton may be disingenuous regarding certain things (particularly with the members' relationship with women, both personally and lyrically).  However, the film is not just about this rap group filled with rage about the world they live in.  It's about three friends who find themselves at war when the Benjamins start rolling in.  I say three because Straight Outta Compton is focused on the triumvirate of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy-E, with MC Ren and DJ Yella all but forgotten (as if they were cameos).  Still, who knew the cuddly star of Are We There Yet? was once the ultimate in hardcore gangsta?  

NUM. 4

For me, Ant-Man was this year's Guardians of the Galaxy: a film I expected to be a disaster that instead turned into a sheer delight.  Ant-Man, in its lightness, self-awareness, and actual warmth, was the antithesis of its Marvel rival The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  It was packed with action, with humor, with all-around great performances (especially Michael Pena, who lent the film some of its funniest moments), and was unapologetically fun.

NUM. 3
Mr. Holmes is the best fiction film I've seen so far, primarily due to Sir Ian McKellen's brilliant performance as Sherlock Holmes in his final years...and diminishing power.  As a side note, this performance will probably be forgotten come Oscar time, the calculated artifice of Eddie Redmayne's drag show being rewarded in its place.  The case itself is not up to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's finest work, but Mr. Holmes isn't about the case itself.  Rather, it is an exploration of the Great Detective himself, one who finds himself alone, all those he cared about gone.  He is the last survivor, and now his mind, that which defined him, is slowly slipping away.  This Holmes now wrestles with his legend, with the idea of human warmth and love, and that his greatest mystery is himself.

NUM. 2

The first of two documentaries to make my list, Best of Enemies will delight political junkies (which I'm a bit of).  The lifelong enmity between conservative intellectual William F. Buckley and liberal enfant terrible Gore Vidal reached its zenith (or nadir) in their debates during the 1968 Presidential election.  Seeing these two well-read, posh men tear at each other like alley cats is amusing and sad, and from it sprung the Age of Pundits, where shouting at your opponent and speaking only to those who agree with you (FOX and MSNBC being the masters of this).

NUM. 1
Amy Winehouse was an extraordinary talent.  She was also hopelessly self-destructive, alcohol and drugs and a passionate love for someone who led her to greater ruin killing her long before her time.  We all saw it, yet no one close to Winehouse could or would stop what we knew was coming.  It's sadder still to realize that Winehouse died when things looked like up, when she was on the upswing. Amy gives us a fascinating portrait of a beautiful woman, beautiful in spirit, who could be funny, kind, optimistic, wildly talented, wildly troubled, and ultimately tragic. Amy is more than a cautionary tale.  It's a portrait of a talent, who perhaps in time will be better remembered for her music than for her shambles of a life.

Next time, the Ten Worst of 2015 So Far.

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