With a flood of award-bait movies behind us, and The Oscars directly ahead, we find ourselves firmly entrenched in the shlock filled month of January. But fret not, 2015 left us with a lot of great films to catch up on. Here’s a top ten list to help you pick something good.
10. “The Big Short:” Educational, witty, and wildly entertaining. A dramatization of the housing crisis of 2008 shouldn’t be any of those things, but in the hands of Adam McKay, that’s what we get. Thanks to a great ensemble cast led by the likes of Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling, this movie runs along with a vibrant energy, but the facts might leave you wondering if this is the scariest movie of the year.
9. “45 Years:” I would never have thought that a film about the week leading up to a couple’s forty-fifth wedding anniversary could be so tense. Charlotte Rampling delivers the best performance of the year, regardless of gender; she’ll leave you devastated. The script is entirely truthful, and Andrew Haigh’s direction rewards patience. “45 Years” is a brisk hour and a half, so if you’re willing to invest in a small, quiet film, look no further.
8. “Mad Max: Fury Road:” Leave it to septuagenarian George Miller to create the most lively, thrilling action film of the year. A non-stop, pedal to the metal film, where even the down beats might leave you feeling exhilarated, “Fury Road” gives you everything you want in a summer blockbuster: beautiful explosions, gritty fistfights, and impressive stunts. It might not be revolutionary, but it is formula filmmaking at its finest.
7. “The End of the Tour:” If David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” ever intrigued you, but the massive page count intimidated you, here’s your portal into the man’s mind. Like the best Woody Allen films of the ‘80s, there’s enormous truth, humor, and melancholy in this not so conventional road trip movie. Jason Segel nails Wallace’s wit and subtle charm, while Jesse Eisenberg counters with an equally impressive performance as the jealous David Lipsky. Enjoy this feature length film version of the deepest all-night conversation you ever had.
6. “Creed:” While I don’t like to get swept up in the #OscarsSoWhite movement, there’s one man I’d like to stand up for. Ryan Coogler, who directed and helped write the screenplay for this film, is absolutely deserving of Academy recognition. His control over the camera is awe inspiring, and the performances he’s able to coax out of his actors, especially a never better Sylvester Stallone, are top notch. Creed is the best soft reboot this year, “Force Awakens” be damned.
5. “Steve Jobs:” Scripts written by Aaron Sorkin are tough to handle, but when put in the mouths of the right actors, like Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen, and put in the hands of the right director, like Danny Boyle, you get something great. Whip-smart, taut, and totally compelling, this film is a biopic done right. A delight for Apple and Microsoft fans alike.
4. “Love & Mercy:” Another unconventional biopic, “Love & Mercy” is about the life of troubled Beach Boys frontman and songwriter Brian Wilson. Paul Dano and John Cusack both play Wilson at different times in his life, and both turn in different, yet equally honest portrayals of the man. Paul Giamatti is also remarkable as the deranged doctor Eugene Landy and if you don’t leave the theater whistling “Good Vibrations,” you might need to check your pulse.
3. “Inside Out:” After three consecutive subpar Pixar releases, I went into “Inside Out” skeptically, but boy, if this movie doesn’t win you over in the end. The story is pinpoint specific and wholly universal, accessible for children, and engaging for adults. Like the best Pixar films, “Inside Out” will pull at your heartstrings, in between fits of laughter, all interwoven into a thoughtful, emotionally fascinating story. The movie deserves its seat next to the likes of “Up” and the “Toy Story” trilogy.
2. “Ex Machina:” The best science-fiction film of the decade, “Ex Machina” is about a Turing test that takes place over the course of a week. Sounds bland, but it couldn’t be more thrilling. Writer/director Alex Garland creates a gorgeous flick that’s just as packed beneath the surface as it is above, and “Force Awakens” cast mates Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac are stellar. The real star of the show, though, is Alicia Vikander. Sexy, mysterious and vaguely creepy, she is the real driving force behind this breathtaking film.
1. “Son of Saul:” With the most ancillary of plots, Son of Saul is the most overwhelming film I’ve ever seen.
Creator László Nemes dares the audience to shuffle along with our protagonist as he faces two average days during the holocaust. Speaking of faces, for the most part, the movie focuses entirely on Géza Röhrig’s face, and the rookie actor more than lives up to the task, articulating a sense of sheer confusion and emotional wreckage, all while exuding an indescribably captivating energy. “Son of Saul” isn’t a fun film, but it is an important film.