Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What I Watched in 2015

This last five best list is the hardest one. All of the movies listed below are terrific. The next two movies I didn’t include on this list are also pretty great. Yet, I think there is a virtue in ordering experiences and with that in mind, Mad Max beats out competitors. I’m not sure if this is a better movie than Spotlight or Ex Machina, but it certainly occupied more of my attention this year.  
  1. Mad Max: Fury Road. To be clear, this is an action film. A well-made, sincerely wrought exercise in mayhem to be sure, but ultimately this is a long car-chase. But there is something about Fury Road that, for me, goes beyond a good movie and enters the realm of myth-making. This movie didn’t work on all of my friends and I’ve seen very detailed break-downs on how Imperator Furiosa is not a new-wave feminist icon, or how the plot has major holes, or this and that. But in the end, this film stands unmarked by carping. It found a way to make action movies cool again, sketching in 120 minutes a world entire while leaving plenty of alluring blank spaces.
  2. Star Wars: The Force Awakened. After my second watching I think I have a better handle of what this film is and isn’t. Whether or not this film entertained you or sent you into rapturous heights of fandom depends on how much faith you have that the sequels will answer the questions of Episode Seven. For me, I entered this film wanting to be convinced I wasn’t wasting my time and I left exhilarated by what comes next.
  3. Ex Machina. This movie wants you to underestimate it. It wants you to think of it as a rip-off of half-dozen other “androids amok” movies. To a certain degree, its plot depends on you making such mistakes. Because what this movie really is about only becomes apparent in the final reel. Because what this movie is really about is information and how it’s used against us.
  4. Spotlight. If Ex Machina paints the downside of of knowing too much, this movie effectively describes how the opposite. With strong acting, a brilliant script, and determination not to turn the drama of the story behind the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal into melodrama, this story focuses on one thing - truth and its consequences.
  5. Inside/Out: This year had two Pixar movies but only one that I’ve seen. Funny, poignant, and thought-provoking, In/Out continues Pixar’s exploration of secret lives. Here, we see the inside of one girl’s mind, as personified by five disparate emotions. Similar to the other movies I’ve listed above, as fine as the movie itself is, the part that kept me thinking about it were the layers of invention and imagination glimpsed around the edges.

Then, of course there was television. “Game of Thrones” seemed to lose its way before giving us its best set-piece yet. The second season of “Leftovers" became a completely different show that somehow said all the same things as the first season, only better. Marvel’s small screen was far more interesting than its tent-pole movies (Agent Carter, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and the constantly improving Agents of Shield). I binge watched the first four episodes of “The Expanse,” pretty sure I found the next Battlestar Galactica. 
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