Better late than never!
Although it is usually preferred to compile a "top ten" list at the end of a given year, I was simply unable to find ten movies which I believed were truly outstanding pieces of art. Admittedly, I had some "catch -up" to play and had to wait for various titles I missed in theatres to be released on DVD.
Now I feel much more comfortable creating a list of the best films of 2015.
I am generally known to complain about the quality of films released within a given year, I am also someone who complains about the quality of Hollywood filmmaking in general, yearning instead for the "good old days" of classic Hollywood cinema of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Lately though, when comprising my list of the best films of the year, I have not been as harsh. In fact, I praised recent years as providing audiences with choice films. Unfortunately I must go back to my old ways and say I found the films of 2015 to be disappointing overall. There were not as many quality films released in 2015 as there were in 2014, which proved to be a much better year, especially in hindsight.
Every year, when presenting my list of the best films of the year, I like to comment on common themes in the films released during the year and common themes found in the films which make my list. The most common theme found in the films of 2015 was the "Liberal agenda". Hollywood is usually considered a bastion of Liberal principles, so that statement is not too far-fetching for some, however not since the presidency of George W. Bush has Hollywood been so political.
Don't believe me? Lets look at the evidence. Hollywood released a movie about the big banks and the government bailout - "The Big Short" (2015) highlighting the corrupt system we live in and how no one was held accountable, this message being brought to us at a time when there is a candidate running for president - Sen. Bernie Sanders - who repeatedly discusses the government bailout and Wall Street corruption. During a time where there is a possibility America could elect the first female president there was the release of "Suffragette" (2015), a movie about the suffrage movement in the United Kingdom. A nice reminder to women illustrating how far they have come, from not being allowed to vote to perhaps voting for the first female president. Oddly enough the movie did not generate much critical support which translated to money at the box-office. The movie was even shut out at award season. Even stranger is the fact the movie is actually quite good and deserves an audience.
In an era of Caitlyn Jenner and liberals' defense of transgender rights, Hollywood gave us "The Danish Girl" (2015), based on a true story of one of the first reassignment surgeries in 1926 Copenhagen. The movie would receive much critical acclaim and win four Academy Award nominations, winning one award for its actress in a supporting role. There was also "Carol" (2015) dealing with the social repressive climate in 1950s America when it came to lesbians and gay right issues. It received six Academy Award nominations.
Hollywood heaped plenty of love at "Mad Max: Fury Road" (2015), which in some strange way gave us an environmental message, warning us about the depletion of natural resources such as water. And there was "Spotlight" (2015) which put a "spotlight" on the Catholic church, one of liberals favorite targets, while also celebrating the media, which is routinely championing liberal causes. And speaking of the media there was also "Truth" (2015) about the 60 Minutes report concerning former president George W. Bush's National Guard attendance record which aired during his 2004 re-election.
With the exception of one. none of these movies made my own top ten list, it had nothing to do with politics, if you must know I am in agreement with liberals on some of these issues, however I refuse to blind myself to the truth and pretend these messages aren't being thrown in the public's face by the media and Hollywood.
As for my own list, the movies which caught my attention and affection were the ones which stirred me. The ones which made me angry, excited me, showed me the world and everything wrong with it. They were damning documentaries exposing corruption, social / political satires and Hollywood rabble rousers. Were they political? Yep! It is getting so you can't watch any movie without it having a political slant, even superhero movies! One can even make the case all of these movies have contributed to the anger we see expressed by voters who have had enough of the political system as we know it and the "establishment".
Every year I make the case stating, movies are a reflection of the world we live in. As you look at my list of the best films of the year you know notice they are all about unrest. People are angry in these movies. The characters are socially aware. The documentaries I selected expose corruption in the government. We are in an election year where the two most popular candidates with the voters are Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, two people who speak out against the "establishment" and have capitalized on the public's anger. In these ten movies I have chosen you will see something was brewing long before they got in the picture.
Here are my choices for the ten best movies of 2015!
1. THE BIG SHORT (Dir. Adam McKay; U.S.) - Here is a movie, based on true events, which tells the story of the collapse of the housing bubble and how the United States economy crashed in 2008.
"The Big Short" goes through a lot of information. Information which the average person should have already known before they see this movie. We lived through this! However, "The Big Short" gives the audience names and faces. The movie tells of how a small group of people saw the housing crash coming and bet against the U.S. economy.
At its core the movie shows us how the U.S. economy, and to an extent our government, is rigged. It is a system based on greed. Individuals making decisions without thinking about the consequences of their actions because they are not concerned about how those decision will impact anyone else as long as they can make a dollar.
This is a story we should not forget. We should always remember what these people did. They will do it again. Remember, no one went to prison for what happened. There was no justice. Surprisingly the movie gets this information across by using humor, so as not to incite an audience with anger, but, it is difficult not to get angry when you see how everything works.
The movie scored multiple Academy Award nominations - five in total, and won one for its screenplay, which was based on the book "The Big Short" written by Michael Lewis.
2. THE LOOK OF SILENCE (Dir. Joshua Oppenheimer; U.S.) - Back in 2012 documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer released "The Act of Killing" a documentary about the 1965 Indonesian genocide, in which approximately one million people were murdered because they were accused of being communist by the military, which had over taken the government. It exposed the level of corruption in the government and the lack of public discourse, as those responsible have never been held accountable and are able to walk free in the towns they terrorized.
I was not a fan of "The Act of Killing", which was praised as a ground breaking, genre-defying documentary because, as with "Spotlight", I felt it followed the wrong story. "The Act of Killing" was not about the victims, it was about the murderers. It wanted to be clever and daring and instead lacked emotion and compassion.
In "The Look of Silence" Mr. Oppenheimer gets it right. Now we follow a family which was affected by these murders and hear their story as one of them confronts those responsible, putting their self at risk.
The documentary raises so many issues and exposes an amazing level of corruption as those responsible, in a not too subtle fashion, threaten history will repeat itself if people don't stop asking questions.
Exactly who is in charge of telling the history of one's country?
3. 99 HOMES (Dir. Ramin Bahrani; U.S.) - This deeply emotional, stirring drama is in some ways the flip side of "The Big Short". Both movies address the collapse of the U.S. economy due to the burst in the housing bubble. Where "The Big Short" mostly discusses Wall Street and the all around corruption of the system, "99 Homes" deals with the people who lost everything. The people who were evicted from their homes. The people that the characters in "The Big Short" were making money off of once everything crashed.
The movie stars Andrew Garfield as a young man who is evicted from his home along with his mother (Laura Dern) and his son (Noah Lomax). Desperate to retrieve his family home, the young man makes an almost Faustian bargain with the Realtor (Michael Shannon) who represents the bank responsible for the eviction.
Where "The Big Short" will make you angry "99 Homes" will break your heart. We know these people. We can relate to them. We see ourselves in them.
If there is one fault with the movie is it never points the finger directly at the real villains in this situation - the banks!
Still it is mind boggling that "99 Homes", which was critically praised, did not earn any Academy Award nominations, though Mr. Shannon's performance was nominated for a Golden Globe, and that the public never found the movie. This movie truly deserves a second chance.
4. YOUTH (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino; UK) - "Youth", nominated for the Palme d' Or at the Cannes Film Festival, is one of those movies the general public will complain "nothing ever happens". And, to an extent that is true in the sense the movie is motivated by ideas not plot conventions. Here is a movie about age, youth, the arts and self-meditation.
The filmmaker, Mr. Sorrentino, directed the Italian Academy Award winner, "The Great Beauty", which was also about an elderly man in a youthful world. I didn't like that movie as much as society told me I should and instead prefer this tale of a retired conductor (Michael Cain) and an aging filmmaker (Harvey Keitel) on a vacation in the Alps. The two must deal with the reality of the men they have become. A life that has passed them by. All that mattered to them was their art in their youth and today, besides memories of the past, what do they have to show for it? They are alone, distant from the world, trying to remain vital.
5. WILD TALES (Dir. Damian Szifron; Argentina) - In my review for this Academy Award nominated film I wrote "If "Wild Tales" is any reflection of Argentina or the world in general it would suggest some very dark and disturbing (to some) truths. The world presented in "Wild Tales" is one filled with people who are angry and hostile. Some feel abused by a bureaucratic system, which is nothing more than a money generating scheme, and a government which is complicit with it. Others are fueled by greed, even at the expense of their family's protection, while others are willing to commit murder in the name of family honor.
Still Mr. Szifron and his film try to end on a positive note, suggesting, yes, life is miserable. Lets not pretend it isn't. Terrible and unfair things happen in this world to innocent people. If people aren't hurting you, institutions like the government, are. however we need to learn to accept things as they are. Life is messy and we all need to learn to deal with it and not allow anger and hatred to dictate our actions. We all need to learn to take a deep breathe."
I wrote that review in March of 2015. Look at our political climate now. Go ahead and tell me I wasn't right about the world. I dare you!
6. BEST OF ENEMIES (Dirs. Robert Gordon / Morgan Neville; U.S.) - Political discourse is nothing new in our culture and neither is listening to opinionated idiots on television who have nothing original to say except for the talking points handed to them by either the DNC (Democratic National Committee) or the RNC (Republican National Committee).
This documentary follows Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley as they debated on television during the 1968 presidential campaign and their hatred for each which followed and the impact it had on our culture in the way politics is discussed.
7. LABYRINTH OF LIES (Dir. Giulio Ricciarelli; Germany) - I asked the question who is exactly in charge of telling the history of one's country. This critically acclaimed German movie, based on true events, shows us life post-WW2 and how the German government tried the sweep its country's role in the war under the rug and one man's attempt to hold all those responsible accountable.
8. THE GOOD DINOSAUR (Dir. Peter Sohn; U.S.) - Disney / Pixar released two movies in 2015 one was a universally praised film - "Inside Out" (2015), which lead many sheep (movie critics) to cite it was the best Pixar movie in years leaving "The Good Dinosaur" to be regulated to the status of "the other Pixar movie". Strangely enough "the other movie" was the one I preferred. It had much more heart and sentimentality and a quality grown-ups could enjoy as well.
9. MERCHANTS OF DOUBT (Dir. Robert Kenner; U.S.) - Political discourse. Lack of information. Opinionated idiots. If "Best of Enemies" was the beginning of the end for intelligent conversation and civil political debate the documentary "Merchants of Doubt" shows us where we are today.
All corporations want to control the media's message regarding them and / or their product. How do you do that? You send your own people out to write editorials in newspapers, have them appear on television and present them as "experts" in a given field. Then it is their job to plant the seeds of doubt on an issue. There's two sides to every story, right? Who knows what it truth?
Remember to always be aware of who is giving you information and what their motives are.
10. WHITE GOD (Dir. Kornel Mundruczo; Hungary) - There was another Hungarian movie released last year (can you imagine that! Two Hungarian movies released in America in a single year.) which garnered a lot of critical acclaim and even won Hungary's first Academy Award, in the best foreign language film category. since 1981, called "Son of Saul". That movie didn't appeal to me as much as I would have liked it to or as much as the sheep (movie critics) tried to influence our opinions. It was about a flawed, selfish man who didn't gain my sympathy.
Then there was "White God", a political allegory about revolt which featured a cast of dogs gone wild. In my review for the movie I stated "The tagline for the movie is "the unwanted will have their day". The "unwanted" it is referring to is not dogs or animals in general. It is referring to the downtrodden; the poor and working class, the homeless. The people society prefer to ignore. Society treats them like animals. If we keep mistreating people one day they aren't going to stand for it. They will become fed up. And when that happens, they will fight back. Remember, there are more poor and working class people in the world than there are rich."
Again, look at our political landscape and tell me I wasn't on to something. The public interest in Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump hadn't happened yet. Neither had declared their intentions to run for president when I wrote this review, but, anyone who doesn't live in a bubble could have seen the writing on the wall.
Remember readers, I'm Hungarian not stupid. There is a slight difference!