By Charlie Storck
No 2015 film is better than this small, under seen indie film about a young woman and her son held in captivity in a small room for years. Brie Larson’s heart-wrenching performance as Ma is unparalleled and likely to win her an Oscar for Best Lead Actress. However, it’s Jacob Tremblay who is the reason the film is such a success. Tremblay plays Jack, a 5-year-old boy who knows nothing more than this small room he’s lived in since birth.
The best moment in the film (and of any film this year) occurs a little less than halfway through (slight spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t seen the trailer), and is part of the heart racing sequence in which Jack escapes. In this moment, Jack sees the world for the first time. Just through his face, Jacob Tremblay uncannily illustrates the juxtapositionof terror, amazement, and uncertainty Jack feels, making many audience members sob. “Room” is a harrowing and a significantly emotional film that deserves to be seen by all.
2. “Inside Out”
“Inside Out” is the second film on this list that takes the audience into the mind of a child. However, this film’s approach is much more literal. Yes, “Inside Out” is a
Pixar movie, so theoretically it’s for kids, but I’d argue that this movie speaks more to teenagers and parents. “Inside Out” deals with the terrifying process of growing up and the loss of childhood fantasies to adolescence. The film is as emotionally resonating as it is hilarious, and filled with a long line of moving scenes, including one heartbreaking sequence towards the end, involving a certain lovable imaginary friend (if you’ve seen it, you know which one I’m referencing). The movie would not be as effective without the terrific voice performance of Phyllis Smith (“The Office”), who plays Sadness, and the creative and imaginative screenplay.
What a bizarre movie. “Anomalisa” is not just an R-rated, animated film with a cast full of puppets, it’s also one of the most tragic and heartfelt films of the year. There are only three voice actors in “Anomalisa”. David Thewlis as Michael Stone, a hopeless public speaker on a business trip to Cincinnati, Jennifer Jason Leigh, as Lisa, the woman he becomes infatuated with, and Tom Noonan who voices “everyone else.” Not only do all the other characters share the same voice, they all seem to have the same face, and that is why Michael becomes so drawn to Lisa: she is the only distinct person. Despite all its absurdities and nightmarish qualities, “Anomalisa” somehow comes across as very true-to-life and rich with human emotions. Along the way, audiences are likely to forget they are watching puppets on the screen.
4. “Ex Machina”
In “Ex Machina,” first-time director Alex Garland manages to invoke a bleak and unsettling atmosphere that makes for a transporting experience. His screenplay is original and provocative, and the story is likely to stickwith you for a long time after seeing it. However, the film would not succeed without its three central actors: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander. Each have been working for quite some time but broke out in 2015, with bigger roles and bigger films (Oscar Isaac, especially, who stars as Poe Dameron in the new “Star Wars” movie). “Ex Machina” is especially essential viewing for any science fiction fan.
It’s difficult not to get spellbound by “Brooklyn,” a film about an Irish immigrant named Eilis (pronounced AY-lish), battling homesickness and searching for happiness in New York in the 1950s. Saoirse Ronan embodies Eilis so exquisitely that the story is largely told by her simple gazes and subtle facial expressions. The audience can sense Eilis’ ambivalence and longing without her having to say anything. Emory Cohen is lovable and terribly underrated as Tony, the Italian man she falls in love with. He plays the role with extreme authenticity and charm. Simply put, “Brooklyn” is a delight.
Much like “Brooklyn,” “Car-
ol” is a romance set in New York in the 1950s. Also like “Brooklyn,” much of “Carol” is told through the actors’ facial expressions. Director Todd Haynes and cinematographer Edward Lachman chose to film the two main actresses–– Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara (in a wonderful and understated performance)––through mirrors and windows and other reflections. By doing this they managed to highlight the secretive nature of these characters’ desires and emotions, a very appropriate choice for this film, which focuses on the romance that blooms between two women (a middle aged mother and wife, and a younger department store clerk). Unlike “Brooklyn,” however, the tone of “Carol” is cold and the romance is forbidden. Why this movie didn’t get a Best Picture nomination is beyond me.
7. “Love & Mercy”
“Love & Mercy” is centered on the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. The film tells two stories: the story of a young Brian Wilson in the 60s as he creates the genius, seminal album Pet Sounds, and the story of an older, mentally unstable Brian Wilson in the 80s. Paul Dano demonstrates a wide emotional range as the younger Brian Wilson, and Elizabeth Banks delivers a very commanding performance as Melissa Ledbetter, a possible romantic partner to the older Wilson. “Love & Mercy” easily could’ve fallen into the trap of being a conventional biopic, straightforward like other 2015 films (i.e. “The Danish Girl”). The film’s success stems from the nontraditional way it is told.
On paper, one could easily find “Spotlight”––2016’s possible Best Picture winner––boring. It is largely set in cramped offices and the entire movie is made up of people talking to each other. However, the dialogue is so gripping, the acting so precise, and the editing so clean, it feels like you’re watching nothing less than a thriller. Spotlight focuses on “Boston Globe” reporters who uncover reports of child molestation by Priests of the Catholic Church. The characters
somewhat take a backseat in this film, as most of the focus is on the story they’re trying to tell. Normally, I would have a slight issue with this, as I prefer movies to be more character driven, but most stories aren’t as engrossing and important as the one told in “Spotlight.”
9. “The Big Short”
“The Big Short,” directed by Adam McKay (known for directing movies such as “Anchorman” and “Step Brothers”) is perhaps the most fun and high energy movie on this list, which is surprising considering it’s about the stock market crash of 2008. The film follows four separate groups of outsiders in the finance world, who were the only ones to predict the crash. It’s told in the style of a documentary, with Ryan Gosling’s character Jared Vennett talking to the camera throughout the movie, serving as a narrator. Also featured are hilarious celebrity cameos, like Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez, who provide help to audience members confused about the financial terms used in the film. The best aspect of the film, however, is Christian Bale who plays Dr. Michael Burry, the socially awkward, heavy-metal loving man who was the first to predict the crash. The majority of the movie is upbeat and boisterous until the end when you remember whose money is being lost.
10. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”
While this movie is about a “dying girl,” like “The Big Short”, “Me and Earl” takes a dark subject and makes it an unquestionable comedy. This film is adapted from the novel by Jesse Andrews and tells the story of an awkward teen named Greg who is forced by his mother to spend time with Rachel, the titular “dying girl,” who, at the beginning of the movie, he barely knows. This movie isn’t as inventive or groundbreaking as others on this list, but it’s an enjoyable, powerful, and refreshing movie about friendship.
The Martian, Trainwreck, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Steve Jobs, Tangerine
Photo courtesy of imbd.com