Scrambling like a maniac to get this post out before heading out the door to our favorite annual Oscar party where it’s my hope to once again win the pool as I managed to last year. I do this list each year, and as always, these are not my predictions, but rather my personal list of favorites from the previous year. This year lots of tips of the hat to a few really great documentaries, some disappointment that The Good Dinosaur didn’t get nominated, and some genuine befuddlement that The Martian got as much attention as it did…let’s not even get started on some of the most ridiculous science scenarios that I just could not get over.
#1 – Mad Max: Fury Road
Hands- down my favorite movie of the year. It should win every category that it’s nominated in, but will most likely only win in technical categories and potentially (hopefully) for costumes, production design and film editing as well. Effectively twenty years since the screen was first finished, this post- apocalyptic heavy-metal joy ride is true to the dystopian original, The Road Warrior, is so pumped up on high-octane angst and exhilaration, that we ride along in what I consider to be THE action movie of the new millennium. This film effectively delivers on the promise of everything we always hoped that Mad Max could ultimately be, and is perhaps among the most fulfilling film experiences I’ve had in years.
#2 – The Revenant
The film that will almost certainly land Leonardo DiCaprio his first Oscar is a remarkable feat of filmmaking. Beautifully shot, The Revenant is epic in scope. A brutal and grueling tale of fur trappers in the early nineteenth century in Montana and South Dakota, the film is a classic man against all odds story of survival, tenacity and sheer force of will. Seemingly impossible to fathom, the story is purportedly based on an actual account of one Hugh Glass who apparently endured all the grueling punishment that we watch in awe and horror as the spectacle of The Revenant unfolds. Alejandro G. Iñárritu has delivered one of the great films of his, and will likely win for the second year in a row, and while it is a remarkable film is deserving, it is still not Mad Max; Fury Road.
#3 – The Big Short
Ugh. Yes, it is that good. You could call it a horror story, only it all really happened and we all had the displeasure of having to live through it. The Big Short is a scathing indictment of the events that eventually led to the real-estate /financial meltdown that were the result of the deregulation of the financial industry during the Bush/Cheney regime. Complex schemes and the sheer voracity and greed of big business and Wall Street are handily explained in this page-turner of a movie. Great performances help propel The Big Short to greatness. Highly recommended to anyone who still feels confused about what the hell it was exactly that happened in America that created the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
#4 – Amy
Amy is the Music Documentary of the year as well as documentary of the year. I was pretty upset when the news hit that Amy Winehouse died. This film succeeds in telling the story of one of the more meteoritic rises to fame and the subsequent plunge into the ultimate demise. Amy strips away the entire tabloid manufactured perception of who we think she was and instead uncovers a sweet, passionate talent doing her best to navigate the choppy waters of the media juggernaut, of celebrity and wealth. Tons of unseen private footage gives us an unprecedented look into a young woman who has a great talent, but is simply trying to find her way through the pressure cooker of life under a microscope. Exhilarating and infuriating, v cuts through the false pretense and gives us a glimpse of a venerable and lovable life marred by the insatiable hunger of the cruel media world.
#5 – Lambert & Stamp
A very close second to Amy, Lambert & Stamp is an engrossing documentary that shows how a young couple of entrepreneurial young British men, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, with no prior managerial experience, effectively adopted a young band—The Who—and managed to propel them to the heights of global stardom during the ‘60s and ‘70s. This is a directorial first from Cinematographer James Cooper, and is utterly compelling. The film is about the Who, but is as the title suggests more about this odd-couple team, and is from beginning-to-end a fun and sometimes bittersweet account of two men who most of us were likely never even remotely aware of prior to the making of this film.
#6 – Ex Machina
While I expect Alecia Vikander to win for best supporting actress for her work in The Danish Girl, I preferred her in Ex Machina. I also preferred this film as well. Ex Machina seems like a David Fincher film, but it’s not. A sci-fi suspense flick, Ex Machina explores the extent to which Artificial Intelligence can cross over into the realm of the undetectable and becomes unsettling as we begin to wonder who it is that is ultimately being tricked and manipulated.
#7 – Room
Edge-of-your-seat, uncomfortable and deeply emotional, Room tells the dark story of a young woman held captive in a single room and her son, Jack who has never known anything outside of the four walls that is the entirety of this reality. While most of the attention has been (and my guess as well will be on Oscar night) on Brie Larson, I think the ultimate treat is young Jacob Tremblay, who plays her son, both inside and during the second half, when they manage to escape and Jack first experiences the world outside of the four walls of Room. There is a lot about this film to get unsettled about, but in the end, it is story about the enduring power of love and devotion, and is a film that packs a lot more emotional punch than you might expect from reading this or another random review.
#8 – Spotlight
Untangling the web of deceit and conspiracy within the Catholic Church, Spotlight tells the story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation that would rock the world when it uncovered. The systemic sexual abuse had been going on in the Catholic Church and the decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal, and government establishment. This is not exactly what you’d call a feel-good romp; you cannot help but to feel angry and disgusted our three heroes uncover layer upon layer of one pedophile priest after another.
#9 – What Happened, Miss Simone?
#3 best music documentary of the year. More to come when I have the time to finish.
#10 – Best of Enemies
Since I still have to shower before hitting the brown carpet, I will come back with my review of this later…either tonight or after work tomorrow night. Watch the trailer and just know that it’s great.