By Dr. David C. Simmons
With awards season upon us—as well as the deluge of crap that Hollywood unloads on movie screens this time of year—we’re happy to share Dr. Simmons’ picks for the best films of 2015.
1. The Danish Girl (Directed by Tom Hooper). The best film of 2015 is also the most moving. Eddie Redmayne (who won the Best Actor Oscar last year for The Theory of Everything) has become the defining actor of this generation. His portrayal of Lili Elbe, one of the first to attempt sex reassignment surgery, is filled with deep waters of surprise, terror, confusion, relief, joy, and ultimately heartbreak. Alicia Vikander is right behind him in her poignant depiction of Gerda Wegener, who was married to Lili’s first incarnation, Einer Wegener. Hooper infuses sensuality and longing into the very way the camera identifies with Lili’s birth, growth and development.
2. Spotlight (Directed by Tom McCarthy). This gripping film depicts the Boston Globe’s uncovering of the Catholic child abuse scandal and the people and systems that enabled it through their loyalty and silence. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Brian d’Arcy James and Stanley Tucci lead one of the sharpest ensembles in years, guided by the sublime craft of director McCarthy. This is likely to win the Best Picture Oscar.
3. Carol (Directed by Todd Haynes). Watching Cate Blanchett play Carol is like watching a piano virtuoso at the top of her career play extraordinarily complex passages with sublime musicality. She can deliver a level of sheer elegance, masking a level of rabid insecurity, on top of a level of eager longing for love. Mousy Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) gets swept up in Carol’s charm and refinement. But can such a relationship flower in the homophobic desert of America in the 1950s? Carol also has my favorite scene of the year—the breathtakingly perfect final shot of Carol in a restaurant.
4. Room (Directed by Lenny Abrahamson). Seven-year-old Jacob Tremblay (playing five-year-old Jack) and Brie Larson (Ma) give two of the most jaw-dropping performances of the year. Emma Donoghue adapts her own novel, the mesmerizing story of how Jack and his mother escape from a small enclosure and the ensuing consequences, as told through Jack’s very tight point of view. Jack is the personification of the slave in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, who suddenly is faced with a new reality he’s never known: the outside world. This film wrestles with the question of how we move forward after walking through unknowable pain.
5. He Named Me Malala (Documentary, directed by David Guggenheim). The most important film you can see this year. Malala Yousafzai was a 16-year-old Pakistani teenage girl when the Taliban boarded her school bus and shot her in the face, along with her friends, for attending school as females. Yet Malala forgives them and continues to advocate for female education.
6. Trumbo (Directed by Jay Roach). A snappy film about how the mob mentality of a majority destroyed the lives of the blacklisted Hollywood 10. Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), who wrote such Hollywood screenplays as Roman Holiday and Spartacus, struggles to keep writing in a system that gives in to fear and othering.
7. Ex Machina (Directed by Alex Garland). This is the year’s sci-fi film for the thinking person. CEO Nathan (Oscar Isaac) has built an A.I. named Ava (the astounding Alicia Vikander) who may have consciousness. He brings in one of his top coders, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to observe and confirm this. But who is observing whom in this intelligent cat-and-mouse game?
8. Beasts of No Nation (Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga). A harrowing, violent, gorgeous film about the devastation wreaked on Agu (15-year-old Abraham Attah), a child soldier in a horrific West African war. Idris Elba plays the brutal commandant.
9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Directed by J.J. Abrams). The force is strong with this one. Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote the two best Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), joins J.J. Abrams—from an original treatment by Michael Arndt—to give us a script many Bothan spies would have died to deliver: one with witty dialogue, mythic reverberations, and above all, a sense of humanity.
10. The Martian (Directed by Ridley Scott). Scott is rescued after being trapped for 548 sols on the deserted planet of humdrum moviemaking. This is a science-fiction film that delights in the science!
Honorable Mention: The Revenant, Sicario, The Walk, The Big Short, Inside Out, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Clouds of Sils Maria, Timbuktu, Steve Jobs, Bridge of Spies, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Chi-raq, Spectre, Creed and The Gift.
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