Select­ed by Paul Stathakis | Feb­ru­ary 26, 2016

 

SPOTLIGHT

No oth­er film in 2015 was as bold as “Spot­light.” It fea­tures won­drous per­for­mances from its all-star cast which includes Mark Ruf­fa­lo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slat­tery, Liev Schreiber, and Stan­ley Tuc­ci. Based on the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize win­ning inves­ti­ga­tion that exposed child abuse with­in the Catholic Church. The sub­ject mat­ter is sen­si­tive but it’s del­i­cate­ly han­dled under the direc­tion of Tom McCarthy. “Spot­light” is an arrest­ing film that reminds us about the impor­tance of sound jour­nal­ism. To watch pro­fes­sion­als at work (doing their job very well) for two hours is aston­ish­ing. The truth hurts but “Spot­light” makes the case that it’s always been and remains nec­es­sary. 

 

BRIDGE-OF-SPIES

 

Leave it to Steven Spiel­berg to direct a grip­ping Cold War dra­ma. It stars Tom Han­ks as an insur­ance lawyer who quick­ly becomes the man in charge of facil­i­tat­ing an exchange between a Russ­ian oper­a­tive and two Amer­i­cans. “Bridge of Spies” is won­der­ful­ly shot by Spiel­berg who returns to form here. The film was also co-writ­ten by the Ethan and Joel Coen. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the dia­logue is wit­ty. Mark Rylance and Tom Han­ks shine in their respec­tive roles but it’s Rylance who steals the show in his sup­port­ing role as the Russ­ian spy with a blank expres­sion and pup­py eyes. 

 

SOUTHPAW

 

It dances like a but­ter­fly but stings like a bee. You can’t help but admire the main char­ac­ter played with grace by Jake Gyl­len­haal. He endures a lot of pain both in the ring and out­side. It’s easy to cheer him on when his true rea­sons for fight­ing become clear. “Creed” may have received a great deal of praise but “South­paw” was undoubt­ed­ly the most win­ning and heart­warm­ing box­ing film of the year. It also fea­tures great per­for­mances from Rachel McAdams, Cur­tis Jack­son, and For­est Whitak­er.

 

THE-MARTIAN

 

On Mars, no one can hear you scream. Left for dead on the red plan­et, astro­naut Mark Wat­ney (Matt Damon) must find a way to remain alive long enough to com­mu­ni­cate with earth. Giv­en his sit­u­a­tion, the odds are against him. He has a lim­it­ed sup­ply of oxy­gen and food. To make mat­ters worse, his space sta­tion is slow­ly dete­ri­o­rat­ing. Direc­tor Rid­ley Scott proves he hasn’t lost his flare for direct­ing grip­ping sci­ence fic­tion pic­tures. “The Mar­t­ian” is both thrilling and fun. This is Matt Damon’s finest per­for­mance and he car­ries the entire film on his shoul­ders. It is impos­si­ble to talk about “The Mar­t­ian” with­out men­tion­ing the sound­track which is a col­lec­tion of clas­sic Dis­co tunes. It real­ly adds to the charm of this pul­sat­ing film.

 

BEST-OF-ENEMIES

 

2015 was a fine year for doc­u­men­taries. The birth of sen­sa­tion­al­ism hap­pened in 1968 when lib­er­al Gore Vidal and con­ser­v­a­tive William F. Buck­ley agreed to par­tic­i­pate in ten tele­vised debates. In terms of rat­ings, it was the best thing that ever hap­pened to ABC. But it would also go on to for­ev­er change tele­vi­sion as we knew it. Peo­ple were fol­low­ing these debates close­ly to see who would have bet­ter argu­ments and rebut­tals. Like two box­ers in a fierce fight, each man land­ed hard punch­es on the oth­er debate after debate while remain­ing calm and com­posed on air. That would all change in the ninth debate when one of the two men would no longer be able to con­ceal his frus­tra­tion. If you know the sto­ry, then you sure­ly know which of the two ‘m refer­ring to. If not, and I sus­pect many won’t, then you must watch this engag­ing doc­u­men­tary to find out. 

 

BROOKLYN

 

Brook­lyn” is a gen­tle and roman­tic film that shines in due part because of the chem­istry between its stars, Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen. Ronan stars as Eilis, a young Irish woman who immi­grates to Brook­lyn in 1952. There she quick­ly falls in love with Tony (Cohen). But soon after, cir­cum­stances force Eilis to return to her home­land where anoth­er man hopes to win and retain her heart. This is a sim­ple film that doesn’t demand much from view­ers but says a great about the pow­er of love, tak­ing risks, and embrac­ing new begin­nings. From start to fin­ish, I loved every bit of “Brook­lyn” and cared deeply about its cen­tral char­ac­ters.

 

BURNT

 

Burnt” was immense­ly under­rat­ed. It was dis­missed by crit­ics alike for being a culi­nary film with no real pur­pose or plot. But that is not the case. “Burnt” is an excel­lent dra­ma about one chef’s quest (played by Bradley Coop­er) for per­fec­tion and redemp­tion.  If you under­stand ear­ly on the val­ue of a Miche­lin star in the culi­nary world, then you won’t have a hard time root­ing for Cooper’s char­ac­ter as he works tire­less­ly to earn his third. Coop­er is con­vinc­ing in the role of a pas­sion­ate but tem­pered chef.  It also fea­tures the best edit­ing work I’ve seen in a film in 2015. And it isn’t the kind of film that needs to sur­prise view­ers but it still man­ages to serve up a delight­ful twist at the end — one that I nev­er saw com­ing. An incred­i­bly sat­is­fy­ing end­ing. 

 

99-HOMES

 

Ramin Bahrani is a direc­tor with a promis­ing future. He was once named direc­tor of the decade by crit­ic Roger Ebert. “99 Homes” is one of those vis­cer­al dra­mas that nev­er lets view­ers quite catch their breath. It’s also one of the hard­est films to watch because its sub­ject mat­ter, the col­lapse of the hous­ing mar­ket in 2008, is recre­at­ed with great real­ism. To achieve such nat­u­ral­ness, Bahrani used both actors and real peo­ple in many scenes, pri­mar­i­ly those where res­i­dents are being evict­ed from their homes.  Bahrani even took things a step fur­ther by not let­ting actor Andrew Garfield know who was act­ing and who wasn’t. The results are aston­ish­ing and each evic­tion, crush­ing. Michael Shan­non com­mands the screen once again as a ruth­less real estate agent with an agen­da of his own. Look no fur­ther for com­mit­ted actors and a direc­tor who can get the best out of them. The per­for­mances are siz­zling and the film includes one of my favorite shots of the year. Andrew Garfield is seen lay­ing on the ground in a house while the reflec­tion of a pool makes him appear as though he’s rest­ing under­wa­ter. It’s a shot that arrives at a cru­cial point in the sto­ry. Pur­pose­ful super­im­po­si­tion.

 

LOVE-AND-MERCY

 

Love & Mer­cy” is a biopic about Bri­an Wil­son, the co-cre­ator and lead singer of The Beach Boys. This is one of the most inven­tive biopics we’ve seen in a long while. Noth­ing about it sug­gests Wil­son had an easy life. Instead, it shows us the artist work­ing from with­in. The film per­fect­ly shifts between a younger Wil­son, played by Paul Dano, and his old­er self, played by John Cusack. Eliz­a­beth Banks is mes­mer­iz­ing in the role of Wilson’s girl­friend and even­tu­al wife. Paul Gia­mat­ti is at his most eccen­tric in the role of Wilson’s psy­chi­a­trist. The Beach Boys, like the Bea­t­les, remain a phe­nom­e­non of pop­u­lar music. “Love & Mer­cy” offers a glimpse into their world but also takes the nec­es­sary time to focus on Wilson’s per­son­al strug­gles. I loved both the look and style of this movie, and I want­ed to revis­it the band’s discog­ra­phy as the film’s end cred­its began to roll. “Love & Mer­cy” is a fas­ci­nat­ing por­trait of a bril­liant but tor­ment­ed musi­cian.

 

THE-LOOK-OF-SILENCE

 

Joshua Oppenheimer’s fol­low-up doc­u­men­tary to “The Act of Killing” was one of 2015’s most dif­fi­cult films to watch. The doc­u­men­tary takes place in Indone­sia where a man con­fronts for­mer death squad lead­ers who were respon­si­ble for the death of sev­er­al com­mu­nists in 1965, par­tic­u­lar­ly the main subject’s broth­er. Very few expe­ri­ences com­pare to “The Look of Silence.” It’s a coura­geous project, emo­tion­al, and fuelled by anger. In his assess­ment of the film, Tom Long from the Detroit News explained it best: “‘The Look of Silence’ is so dis­turb­ing because so few peo­ple in it seem dis­turbed.” Indeed, these for­mer lead­ers seem unmoved by their past crimes. One of the men even con­de­scend­ing­ly warns the inter­view­er that these vio­lent killings could occur again some­day. These crimes were despi­ca­ble, inhu­man, and wrong. And yet, those respon­si­ble remain free and with­out any regret. Oppen­heimer and his main sub­ject seem to be on the search for at least one man to acknowl­edge his wrong­do­ings, to apol­o­gize, and ask for for­give­ness. But these lead­ers remain proud of their immoral past and can’t see the wrong in any of it. We do, how­ev­er, have to admire both the film­mak­er and the inter­view­er for being brave enough to try.

 

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