Malachi Rowswell is SpiritLive’s resident movie buff. He’ll be reviewing all kinds of films — from current flicks to old-time favourites — for our readers’ pleasure. Think of this as a “Movie Lover’s Guide To The Industry.”
Top Ten Films Of 2015
Wait, what — it’s March 2016? How did that happen?!
Looking back, 2015 was a pretty great year for film, even if it did see the release of its fair share of duds — like Fifty Shades of Grey, a terrible Fantastic Four reboot and Terminator Genesis (sorry, Genysis).
But this list is all about the flicks I really loved from the past year. And now that we know which movies were the big winners at The Academy Awards, let’s see how my picks measure up.
Regardless, the following films deserve a watch in the near future — they’re great.
10. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
I’ve already talked in length about my feelings for the latest instalment in the Star Wars franchise, so let me just sum up why it’s on my list. While I would’ve preferred a completely original story, I can’t deny that The Force Awakens made me feel the way a Star Wars fan should feel. I was transported to a fantastic universe where sci-fi magic is possible. While there were a few flaws, the film was a wondrous spectacle combining amazing acting, writing (dialogue — not story) and special effects. J.J Abrams brought the franchise back in a big way and has left me thirsty for more — unless Episode VIII is a rehash of Empire Strikes Back. Then I’ll just be annoyed. Also, if the Death Star is positioned as a major plot point again, I’m going to throw a chair.
I’m a huge fan of Judd Apatow’s comedies, including The 40 year Old Virgin and Knocked Up — Trainwreck is no exception. But while Apatow may have directed this intelligent comedy, it’s clearly Amy Schumer’s masterpiece. Schumer wrote and starred in this gem, and that’s the main reason it worked so well on screen. Her charm — both as an actress and as a screenwriter — is what tied everything together. Although incredibly raunchy, it still remains a smart satire on the current state of modern romance. Even more surprising? The film is also a heartfelt character study, featuring emotional scenes from both Schumer and co-star Bill Hader. The film might disappoint some who were hoping to see a “typical” Judd Apatow movie, but this is a comedic collaboration that definitely works.
8. Thank You For Bombing
The second film I saw at TIFF this year was about three war correspondents in Afghanistan. It featured three interconnected plotlines, each following a different journalist. The amazing thing about this screenplay is that each individual story works well both as a portion of the whole feature, or as a fantastic stand-alone short. Because each section focuses on one particular character, audiences grow to understand and care for each one — until a blast of an ending changes everything. We have Barbara Eder’s intensely bold direction to thank. A lengthy — and according the director, improvised — rape scene also made the final cut of the film. While scenes like this are hard to watch, their inclusion within films centred around real life events are important, as they shed light on the dark aspects of humanity. Moreover, this sequence raises awareness to the way women have been treated in times of war.
7. Embrace Of The Serpent
Another one of my favourite films from TIFF 2015, Embrace of the Serpent is an epic drama which takes place in the Amazon. The film is about an Amazonian shaman — the last of his tribe — who, as a young man, leads a German explorer in search of a sacred plant containing amazing healing properties. He then leads an American man on the same quest 30 years later. The result is an interesting piece that is best described as a spiritual journey, and a cross between Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Serpent boasts a unique setting and style, and it admirably tackles different themes — being the last of one’s kind and the power of nature. It also has an awesomely trippy ending; better than 2001’s in my opinion. It was also nominated for “Best Foreign Picture” at the Oscars, so I encourage you all to check it out.
6. Me And Earl And The Dying Girl
While there’s been a surge of teen cancer dramas lately, this is one worth your time. I didn’t see The Fault in our Stars, but I almost finished the book (I felt as though John Green was trying his best to make me miserable; I’m assuming the film is very similar). It’s hard to spend all of that time investing in characters, only to have them taken away. I prefer Me And Earl And The Dying Girl because (SPOILER) while someone does die, the film allows for both the main characters and viewers to have some kind of catharsis to make up for the loss. The filmmakers handle this extremely well, as the ending is crafted in such a way that we feel the character is still with us — even in death. I was also impressed by the cinematography, acting and writing. All of these elements work together to create a blend of the angsty romance from your favourite teen drama, and the quirky charm of a Wes Anderson film. By the way, the last 15 minutes will leave you a weeping mess on the floor — I can attest to that.
5. The Hateful Eight
For some reason, critics and fans alike haven’t been too impressed by Quentin Tarantino’s latest. I was recently discussing the film with a friend, and she said she probably wouldn’t see it due to its mixed reviews. For me though, The Hateful Eight makes not only this Top 10 list, but it also falls within my Top 5 Tarantino movies of all time. I understand why some might not like it; the movie definitely has a slow build, but Tarantino and his crew are able to carry the film almost entirely on dialogue and acting chops alone. So when the fighting does (eventually) start, there is a sublime satisfaction. Way better than The Revenant, but that’s a story for another day (shameless plug for my first YouTube video of this series — coming soon).
This year’s “Best Picture” winner is nothing short of brilliant. For those of you who haven’t heard, Spotlight is based on the true story about a team of investigative journalists from The Boston Globe, who helped expose the molestation scandal within the Roman Catholic Church. This film is not only important due to the nature of its subject matter, but also in the way it depicts journalism. We’ve seen a decline in newspaper dramas as of late, and we need them now more than ever as the industry seems to be on the decline. Spotlight plays out in a logical sequence — viewers are introduced to these bad ass journalists with one goal in mind, and the plot is set up like a series of puzzles they have to solve. Because the movie unfolds this way, one might think it would alienate audiences who are looking for some emotional depth. That’s where the actors come in. Every single actor featured in this film is at the top of their game. Pay special attention to Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo; they both play characters that seem to lack complexity, but end up providing the emotional core that drives the story.
3. The Martian
Here’s another movie that plays out sequentially. You have Matt Damon — starring in the third instalment of the “Spend a LOT of Money to bring Matt Damon Home Trilogy” — stuck on Mars, NASA on Earth trying their best to get him home, and the rest of his team in space going back to rescue him. The film answers a series of questions, such as “How do I find water and food on Mars?” and “How do I communicate with NASA?” — all of which are answered through science, so the film ends up being extraordinarily accurate. It’s also genuinely funny, so I didn’t mind that it won for “Best Comedy or Musical” at this year’s Golden Globes.
2. Inside Out
Pixar has been in a bit of a rut since 2010. Following the excellent Toy Story 3, the powerhouse animation studio released a string of lackluster films including Cars 2, Brave, and Monster’s University. Inside Out saw Pixar recapture its brand of intellectual, emotional and humorous entertainment. This movie is packed with enough wonder for children to marvel at, but it also provides a lot of satisfaction for adult viewers. The film blends actual psychology and imagination in a way that’s both fun in its creative presentation, and intellectually stimulating in the way it interweaves fact with fiction. To top it off, this is one of the very few kid’s movies that tackles the issue of depression in a respectful and emotionally-fulfilling way. If you need any more convincing, remember how you cried during the first ten minutes of Up? That will be you throughout this entire movie.
1. Steve Jobs
WHY, OH WHY IS THIS MOVIE SO UNDERRATED?? Man oh man, is this a masterpiece. I would go so far as to say that it is transcendent, and that’s largely due to Aaron Sorkin’s (The Social Network, House of Cards) screenplay. Sorkin structures the film in a way that is both fitting of the titular character and satisfying for viewers. The film looks at three important product launches throughout Jobs’ career: the original Macintosh, the NeXT Computer and the iMac. The film however does not show Jobs giving his iconic speeches; it only focuses on his preparations for the events backstage. Each segment of the film shows Jobs interacting with the same group of key supporting players, including characters played by Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels — all outstanding performances. Not only is the script competently unconventional, it’s innovative for the biopic genre in general.
Hollywood really likes biopics, and while most of them are amazing, they all usually share the same formula. Lately, certain films — like the Bob Dylan flick I’m Not There, and the upcoming Miles Davis film Miles Ahead — have been playing with new techniques, including non-linear storytelling and multiple actors portraying one character in various life stages. Steve Jobs innovates by not trying to cover too much ground. Sorkin and director Danny Boyle picked the highlights from Walter Isaacson’s MASSIVE book on Jobs to tell an extremely satisfying story. The other thing that’s great about this film is the portrayal of Jobs. A lot of people griped about the casting of Michael Fassbender, but it is very clear from his performance that the crew made the right choice. Fassbender presents us with all of the best and worst parts of Steve Jobs, culminating in a anti-hero who is still somehow so infectiously likeable.. The fact that it didn’t receive a “Best Adapted Screenplay” nomination for this film is bogus. Aaron Sorkin is literally a dialogue wizard.
Well that’s it for my list, but I would hate to leave you without mentioning some runner-ups. Honourable mentions include:
- Melissa Mccarthy’s Spy, which includes the actresses’ most grounded work to date — as well as some impressive improv from Jason Statham.
- It Follows; if you want an in-depth review, check out my indie horror movies piece.
- Furious 7; a surprising amount of entertainingly-dumb fun, with wonderfully hammy performances from Vin Diesel and Kurt Russell. It’s also a beautiful tribute to the late Paul Walker.
- Mad Max: Fury Road for its sheer ballsy filmmaking. Some people love it, and some hate it, but I respect George Miller’s incredible risk-taking; it resulted in commercial success, and yet another complete reinvention of the action-adventure genre.
So, there you go! Lots of great movies to check out. Look for my first-ever filmed Malachi at the Movies review, in which I’ll be comparing The Revenant and The Hateful Eight. See you soon!
By: Malachi Rowswell
This movie blog will focus on reviews, actor profiles, etc. with the hopes of transforming content into a YouTube series. Please let me know what you think about this review! You can contact me on Twitter (@malachirowswell) or on Facebook. I would appreciate any general feedback, as well as any additional suggestions for future posts.