Friday, December 11, 2015

The Ten Best Movies of 2015: It Was a Very Good Year (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

The Ten Best Movies of 2015:  It Was a Very Good Year
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Film Critic, Key West Citizen

Yes, it’s that time of year when bespectacled and brainy film critics release their lists of The Ten Best Movies of the Year. I’d have to look it up, but I think this ritual is required by some obscure rule in The Official Film Critics’ Manual.

So in proper compliance, here are the Ten Best Movies I saw this year:

10. “Listen to Me Marlon.” Turns out, actor Marlon Brando made audiotapes throughout his life, recording his thoughts, opinions, and observations. To our great delight, filmmaker Stevan Riley assembled them – along with photos, interviews, film clips, and a weird animated life mask –  into this remarkable documentary. It not only maps Brando’s tortured psyche, it’s a priceless commentary on the art of acting. Better still, it’s told in Brando’s own words.

9. “Tangerine.” Director Sean Baker used an iPhone 5s to shoot this funny little comedy about two transgender prostitutes. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor play the best friends, gals looking for love on the seamy side of Los Angeles. You’ll laugh but there may be a catch in your throat.

8. “Meru.” A breathtaking documentary about three experienced climbers (Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk) attempting to scale the Shark’s Fin on 21,000-foot-high Mount Meru in Northern India. But this true story comes off with all the nail-biting excitement of a feature film, with twists and turns and character development and cinematography that will take your breath away.

7. “Chi-raq.” Spike Lee offers a loose adaptation of Aristophanes’s “Lysistrata,” the Greek play about women withholding sex to end war. Set amid Chicago’s gangs, here a modern-day Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) leads the “No Peace, No Piece” campaign. As usual, Spike Lee is a bit heavy-handed storytelling, but you gotta admit it’s good theater.

6. “Phoenix.” A WWII concentration-camp survivor (Nina Hoss) returns to Berlin to search for her husband (Ronald Zehrfeld), but he doesn’t recognize her due to extensive facial reconstruction surgery. Just as well when she discovers that he may be the one who betrayed her to the Nazis. Director Christian Petzold delivers an unusual noir romance that speaks of a historical era in new ways.

5. “Room.” Director Lenny Abrahamson rips this story from the headlines, so to speak, a tale of a kidnapped woman being held as a sex slave. Born in captivity, five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) doesn’t realize the world extends beyond the ten-by-ten-foot shed where he lives with his Ma (Brie Larson). As horrifying as the circumstances may be, Abrahamson manages to transform the film into a kind of thoughtful fairy tale.

4. “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Director George Miller returns to his earlier creation, Mad Max, a scruffy hero surviving in a post apocalyptic wasteland. Forget about Mel Gibson, Tom Hardy is the new Max Rockatansky – teamed up with Charlize Theron as the kick-ass Imperator Furiosa. Sure, it’s one long non-stop chase scene replete with earth-shaking explosions, blasting gun battles, belching fire, leaping motorcycles, and roaring trucks as ISIS-like marauders try to catch Max and Immortan Joe’s stolen wives. You’ll agree this new entry in the Mad Max canon was worth the 30-year wait. It’s easily the most thrilling action film of the year.

3. “Ex Machina.” One of my three favorite science fiction movies of all time (“Metropolis” and “Blade Runner,” being the other two). Here, a bright young computer programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) is tapped by his reclusive boss (Oscar Isaac) to apply the Turing Test to an android prototype named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Is she real or Memorex? This seductive non-human demonstrates that Dr. Stephen Hawking was right to warn us about the dangers of artificial intelligence. Writer-director Alex Garland has invented the most intellectual sci-fi movie you’ll likely ever see.

2. “Carol.” Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel “The Price of Salt,” director Todd Haynes has delivered an exquisite period piece about two women who fall in love in 1950s New York City. A refined society lady (Cate Blanchett) seduces a naïve shopclerk (Rooney Mara) at the risk of her marriage and child.  The performances are superb in this sophisticated gay-themed movie. Even if you’re straight, you’ll feel the ache.

 1. “Spotlight.” With echoes of “All the President’s Men,” this parallel newspapering movie follows the Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative team as they unravel sexual abuses within the Catholic church. The stark Boston landscape and realistic city room provides a proper backdrop for director Tom McCarthy’s step-by-step procedural drama. The ensemble performances of John Slattery, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams et al. are outstanding. You can expect to see a couple of Oscar nods here – and maybe a Best Picture golden statuette.

Among my Honorable Mentions are “Janis: Little Girl Blue,” “Steve Jobs,” and “Inside Out.”

As the words of the old Frank Sinatra song, it was a very good year.

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