More so these days, I’m not on the same page as the Oscar nomination process; money doesn’t always equate to standard. Nonetheless, it was a good year for film and many on my list were frequently mentioned throughout the awards season. One exception is the German film, “Phoenix,” a gripping story of a woman, a disfigured concentration camp survivor, recovering from physical wounds and dealing with a new appearance, love and
betrayal, and my choice as best film of 2015.
#1: Phoenix (Christian Petzold)
Nelly Lenz, a former Jewish singer, is coping with deep physical and emotional scars as a concentration camp survivor, ones that require complete changes to her facial structure and appearance. Longing for her lost husband, she is told that he is still alive but betrayed her to the Nazi’s to gain his freedom and, assuming she is dead, is trying to gain access to her sizable inheritance. Still in love and in denial of her husbands intentions, she seeks him out working in a small bar, “Phoenix” and is quickly drawn into his plot. Nelly, artfully played by actress Nina Hoss, seems to be on an emotional roller coaster until, in my opinion, the most compelling final scene of any film I watched in 2015.
#2: “Room” (Lenny Abrahamson)
One of this year’s most moving films, “Room” tells the story of a young woman dealing with raising a son while imprisoned, first in a 10” X 10” shed and then by the post rescue emotional scars that changed her life forever. The success of the film required excellent performances by Brie Larson and 9-year old Jacob Tremblay and they both delivered. Larson’s character was courageous, devoted, creative and resilient, moving a difficult theme into a compelling film. Joan Allen delivered a very real performance as a mother dealing with loss and the painful side of discovery. Although it seems very dark, it is a very inspirational film that leaves you feeling good.
#3: “Spotlight” (Tom McCarthy)
A timely subject and a great ensemble cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber, “Spotlight” tells the gripping true story of a small group of investigative reporters from the Boston
Globe who broke the story of sexual abuse within the Catholic church. The style of the film is reminiscent of “All The President’s Men” as we see, up close, the personal edge of a story that first rocked a community, then the world. McAdams, following a successful role in the TV mini-series, “True Detective,” delivers a stand-out performance that should get some consideration for an Academy Award.
#4: “Youth” (Paolo Sorrentino)
Paolo Sorrentino’s delightfully abstract film, “Youth,” one that may require several
viewings, is nuanced with age and reflection as well as a reminder that new, good, important things are not always wasted on the youth. An astonishing ensemble of actors, including Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachael Weisz, Jane Fonda and Paul Dano, along with alluringly creative cinematography made this an engaging, yet fun film of 2015. Ask me about it after I’ve seen it again…and again.
#5: “The Revenant” (Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu)
One of the true stars of “The Revenant” is Glenn Ennis, who played the infamous bear. Dressed in “blue screen blue,” Ennis studied the aggressive moves of the bear and his
wrestling match with Leonardo DiCaprio became the memorable scene of the film. Of course the bear head and fur where digitally added later. Director Alejando Inarritu is on fire, DiCaprio and Tom Hardy add excellent performances as we journey into the dark, cruel realism of the American frontier, a study of one that returns.
#6: “Mustang” (Denize Gamze Erguven)
On the last day of school, some innocent play with boys at the beach leads to unnecessary
scandal and the lives of four sisters are forever changed. “Mustang,” from Turkish-French director, Denize Gamze Erguven, is a film about oppression of young women, so common in parts of the world, told through the story of four sisters, living in northern Turkey. Gossip and ignorance create fear of the potential family disgrace in not being able to present the girl as a virgin while arranging her marriage, something that is verified by a doctor before the contract is complete. Much of the story is seen through the youngest daughter who observes new bars on windows, school replaced with traditional homemaking skills and her older sisters married off, some to strangers. The film explores oppression and freedom and should be seen by as many people as possible.
#7: “The Danish Girl” (Tom Hopper)
Although Eddie Redmayne mastered another complex role and Alicia Vikander brings one of the years best
performances as artist Gerda Wegener, the true majesty of “The Danish Girl” is the stunning cinematography,
transporting the viewer into an art piece. What began as an evening’s game leads to Einar permanently assuming a female persona named Lili, an onerous journey in the 1920s. Vikander’s character displays the full gamet of emotion, from anguish to denial to support and unconditional love. Her performance carries the beautiful film and is worthy of Oscar consideration.
#8: “Ex Machina” (Alex Gordon)
Imagine you are a coder for the world’s largest internet company and chosen to spend a
week with the company’s recluse CEO at an extremely remote (very cool) location where you interact with an AI robot, played by the stunning Alicia Vikander. “Ex Machina” is filled with intelligent dialogue and certainly has one of the most intriguing plots of the year. Alicia Vikander has such a strong presence on-screen that you understand she is a robot,but can still be mesmerized. This film is best defined by the tagline: “There is nothing more human than the will to survive.”
#9: “Irrational Man” (Woody Allen)
Woody’s latest foray into the primal instincts of man leads to a bizarre epiphany for a disillusioned and hopelessly depressed college professor seamlessly played by disillusioned and hopelessly depressed Joaquin
Phoenix. His actions and the chaos that follows ironically serves as “Prozac” for the professor who re-discovers his “inner mojo” and begins to turn his life around. Everything is great except for one or maybe two little things that must be taken care of. Emma Stone seems to be comfortable with Woody’s style and shines on-screen, while Parker Posey’s performance as a sex-starved chemistry professor, metaphorically, plays a major role in Phoenix’s ups and downs.
#10: “Bridge of Spies” (Steven Spielberg)
As a 12-year old, I remember when the news reported that the Russians had shot down an American U2 spy plane
and captured pilot, Francis Gary Powers. However, the details were more recently revealed in the latest Spielberg/Hanks collaborative docudrama about a successful insurance attorney who was recruited to represent arrested Russian spy, Rudolf Abel, superbly played by Oscar nominee, Mark Rylance, who has been arrested for espionage. After the Power’s capture, Hank’s role evolves from legal representation to negotiating a delicate prisoner exchange. No explosions or gun fights, just a well told visual story.