Based upon the movies I’ve seen this year, and I have not seen the full slate of all 2015 movies released in the U.S., I think Steve Jobs is the best picture, though I can think of six other motion pictures that arguably deserve to be called the year’s best movie: Aloha, Carol, Cinderella, Spotlight, Brooklyn and The Walk. (Click or touch bold type movie titles, as ever on this blog, to read my reviews of each movie).
I’m categorizing this year’s movies, most of which I reviewed, in three sections: Excellent, good or very good and not good. Generally, as most readers know, I try to see pictures that I have reason to believe I might enjoy. I avoid films, though there are exceptions, that I have reason to think I might find repulsive, such as horror, Tarantino or mob/thug/gang movies. That said, here’s a breakdown of this year’s films.
Macbeth is a curiosity driven more by an apparent desire to revise or reconfigure Shakespeare’s classic play. Monkey Kingdom has too little to do with monkeys. Avengers: Age of Ultron is obnoxious and overblown. Mad Max: Fury Road is blood pornography posing as meaningful. Tomorrowland bastardized Walt Disney’s Disneyland as The Peanuts Movie bastardized the comic strip by Charles M. Schulz and Mr. Holmes bastardized Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Inside Out is jumbled, manic and confused. I did find aspects about each of these movies to appreciate. But these are some of what I think are 2015’s worst films.
Good or Very Good
In the upper mid-range, and measurably better, are several movies, three of which I did not review. The taut Sicario is engrossing though it’s not my type of movie. Grandma feels revolutionary, and, even though it isn’t, it is an astute social commentary with strong performances and a radical idea at the center. Suffragette stands out for its depiction of woman as activist and touches of great storytelling in Abi Morgan’s screenplay, complemented by Alexandre Desplat‘s musical score. I thoroughly enjoyed Disney’s The Good Dinosaur and want to see it again. The Martian is every bit as gripping and life-affirming as has been advertised. Truth and Bridge of Spies are very well made and the former should not be dismissed while the latter must be judged more seriously for its omissions. The Intern with Robert De Niro is predictable and enjoyable, as predictable movies often are, and it’s a decent, wholesome movie which is also thoughtful, as Nancy Meyers movies usually are. McFarland USA with Kevin Costner is all over the map yet still positive. San Andreas is both thrilling and over the top and it is redeemed by its family-themed story of strength in the face of disaster. Love & Mercy is brilliant but dark. So is the expressive documentary Amy, which ought to be seen by anyone affected by addiction. Ant-Man is a pleasant and diversionary Marvel Entertainment surprise. She’s Funny That Way is a flawed but welcome return for filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, whom I tried every which way to interview about the movie without success. No Escape with Owen Wilson is also flawed but it’s a thoroughly exciting and timely thriller about an American family caught in a foreign land under an attack by savages with hatred for Westerners. The Outrageous Sophie Tucker is perfectly fabulous documentary; audiences will learn and be entertained. Ex Machina, like Her, is a thoughtful examination in science fiction. And this weekend’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a nice piece of escapism.
Among the year’s best pictures, Cameron Crowe’s maligned Aloha is insightful and simply not obvious. I found this movie, which needs no defense against mindless, baseless attacks, very moving and not in a Hollywood way. I like how Mr. Crowe integrates classic and modern ideas and pivots around each main character to create the central theme, which is conveyed in its title. This is a refreshing movie, yet it challenges the audience to think. The wistful, rational Aloha makes me want to see every Cameron Crowe movie all over again. Carol is also insightful amid its twists and subtle plot points. Both leading actresses are excellent and its lesbianism, its forbidden love, is universally themed in the hands of Todd Haynes, who depicts the script intelligently. This is an easy movie to notice for its production values and striking designs. But every shade of lipstick, every erotic shot, every fold of each costume serves a distinctive purpose to dramatize what it’s like to have to hide in modern times. Whether you’re a lesbian, but especially if you’re gay, unusual or some type of infidel, it’s like watching moving postcards from a subversive road map to happiness.
Until the fall and winter season, which Harvey Weinstein rightly observed is post-loaded with adult-themed films as awards bait, I couldn’t stop raving about Disney’s lush, romantic and glamorous Cinderella, which director Kenneth Branagh seemed to ditch and dismiss as light and unimportant in the wake of feminist controversy. Maybe it is light, and I think it’s sad that light and serious are considered incompatible, but some of the best movies are (see the 1940s) and this movie is striking, thanks also to the musical score. Also read my review of the movie’s Blu-Ray edition.
These last four films are 2015’s essentials. These and the forementioned make 2015 a year like 2005 and other outstanding years such as 1939, 1945 and 1967, that marks a great time in motion pictures. Spotlight is excellent because, while it is a movie about rationality expressed through a depiction of journalism, rather than romanticize today’s journalist, it judges, scolds and holds him accountable to the facts of reality. It is being praised by some in my quarters as though its reporters and editors are heroes and there’s a sense in which they are. But there’s a sense in which it is too late for them to be heroes; they are and chose to be complicit and awaken only when the boss, an outsider, simply asks them to do their jobs. Spotlight operates on a small scale, not on a grand scale, which puts its greatness in focused perspective.
On the other hand, Brooklyn and The Walk are unabashedly large, grand and distinctly American. That they both depict newcomers, too, specifically an Irishwoman and a Frenchman, who very matter-of-factly and selfishly wish to pursue happiness in New York City, is fitting for 2015’s best pictures. Brooklyn has a jarring middle if you think too much about it, which I did, though it’s probably less jarring than it was for me. But it is rooted in the character’s, and the 20th century immigrant’s, perspective and it powers the movie’s remarkably satisfying conclusion. The more I think about Brooklyn, and I do think about Brooklyn, the more I think its brilliance lies in its individualism with a woman, for a change, as the individualist. Whatever the title, whatever the romance, this picture skillfully dramatizes a person who is alone in every sense and comes to stand and walk mightily on her own.
So does The Walk, which is also for the individualist. I really can’t add more to my review but I will say that this movie is the most exhilarating cinematic experience I’ve ever had. In a nation which once stood for individualism, The Walk dares the audience to think, stand and walk alone, to risk everything for, in Kipling’s verse, one turn of pitch and toss, but only after exercising great thought and precision and with an aim to live large—larger than life itself. That it recreates the World Trade Center, and resurrects the world’s tallest skyline, makes The Walk more breathtaking.
But Steve Jobs is 2015’s best movie because it succeeds and thrills on every level and rises to match the intellect of its subject, who was a genius. In three powerful acts, this misunderstood movie, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle, depicts the great mind in all its glory. Somehow, some people mistake this for showing a hero with feet of clay. I dissent. Part of its ingeniousness is in daring to show the whole man, as conceived by the filmmakers, not as conceived by the biographer whose book is the film’s basis, which requires a certain approach that telescopes his life and career. It’s a mistake to think that this precludes an admiring portrait of Steve Jobs (read what I wrote when he died here if you doubt my admiration) just because it doesn’t depict his happiest years. On the contrary, without spoiling the movie, it ends with an upward arc, with the new beginning, not the end. To place this man in the context of these three product introductions, with these three outcomes, and in the scope of this single life, is to grasp what it means to live in accordance with reality. Steve Jobs is an empowering movie because, like Steve Jobs, it represents man at his best; one who chooses to think for himself, fusing form with function and who, whatever his mistakes and messes, strives to see both sides and be whole while he never lets go.