By Zach Reifschneider
(Note: The film GETT: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem was released internationally in 2014 but to the US in 2015, therefore constituting as a 2015 film.)
- Straight Outta Compton
Straight Outta Compton is a biographical film that chronicles the upstart, the success and the legacy of the Compton, California-based rap group N.W.A. and the lives of its members. As someone who is a fan of N.W.A. and the genre of rap, this is a film I found myself captivated in. It is a powerful look at the lives of the average man in the crime-riddled city of Compton. It is a powerful testament to the roots of rap and rap culture along with a personal, detailed view into the personal lives and struggles of the men who changed the genre of hip-hop.
- GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem is an Israeli-French drama about a woman (Ronit Elkabetz) trying to get a divorce from her manipulative and cruel husband (Simon Ebkarian) ; however, in Israel, marriages may only be officiated or dissolved by a rabbi and with the husband’s consent. What ensues is an interesting look at the weariness of Viviane who is determined to get her way. Though it can be slightly boring at times, it is an emotional and suspenseful look at a woman with courage that transcends cultures and Israeli culture today. Elkabetz is a powerful actor and her performance is something of greatness.
- Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road is without a doubt the most exhilarating and fun movie of 2015. Veteran director George Miller, the director of the Mad Max trilogy (1979-1985) that made Mel Gibson a star, is at his best here in terms of cinematography, writing and directing. Tom Hardy was a perfect choice for the titular and kick-ass role of the road warrior Mad Max. Miller’s absolute over-the-top and explosive (literally) revival to his 30 year old series was a perfect way to bring new fans in and I hope to see if he can top himself with his next mad Max film. This easily became my favorite film in the series.
Amonalisa is a film that was not even on my radar until I was told about it by a friend. As someone who has only seen one film by Charlie Kaufman, Being John Malkovich, I wasn’t sure about this one, but after seeing it, I can say that this is surely one of the best animated films I’ve seen in recent years. The story follows a motivational speaker (David Thewlis) who meets a woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who shakes up his monotonous life. For an animated film, it feels surprisingly real. The story is very realistic and relatable; these characters are as real as many I’ve seen on screen all year. The animation style is different from other films, but is nonetheless pleasing to the eyes. While not everyone will like it as much as others, it is definitely worth seeing.
- It Follows
Fans of horror and suspense alike will have a field day with It Follows. It Follows is without a doubt the most suspenseful and best horror movie of 2015. The story follows a girl who finds herself experiencing visions and the sense that something is after her after having a strange sexual encounter. This is a horror film that is both original and inspired; it uses devices to build fear and suspense as one might see in a John Carpenter film, yet takes the feeling of someone following them to a new level of terror; the homage to multiple classic horror films is respectful and works for the film. It is a must watch for horror fans.
- Son of Saul
Son of Saul is a Hungarian film about a concentration camp worker (Geza Rohrig) in Auschwitz who finds his son and tries to find a rabbi who will bury his dying son. Through the powerful and close viewing of Auschwitz in an almost first-person way, director Lazlo Nemes takes us through the grittiness and raw emotion of a concentration camp and with the people in it. I have not seen such a powerful film about concentration camps and the people within its walls since Schindler’s List. Anyone who is a fan of historical films will enjoy Son of Saul.
Spotlight is a biography on the Boston Globe uncovering a series of cover-ups done by the Catholic Church to hide any proof of sexual abuse of children in 2001. As a journalist and someone interested in stories of journalists, I found Spotlight extremely captivating and respectful in terms of coverage; it was fair towards all parties and told the story in detail and in truth. The performances of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber were all great portrayals and played as great journalists. The story itself might make the audience feel uncomfortable; however, this story does not hold back and will give every detail, much like how a reporter should. Each character on this small team of reporters on the story was very layered and given plenty of development so you could really get into their heads and get what they’re feeling.
- The Revenant
There was a lot of hype built around The Revenant, and for good reason. Alejandro González Iñárritu, director of Birdman, was directing the project; the main characters would be played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy; the cinematography would be done by Emmanuel Lubezki. It sounds like a modern masterpiece. The end result turned out to be one of the most popular films of 2015 and won 3 Oscars, including DiCaprio’s first Oscar win. The Revenant takes place in 1823 when frontiersman Hugh Glass is injured by a bear and left for dead by his own hunting team. Fueled by anger, Glass attempts to track down his team while returning to civilization. DiCaprio really shows off his talent in a film with little dialogue and tons of action. The realism is also something to admire; the bear attack looks extremely gritty and violent, yet so real at the same time. The cinematography is stunning and beautiful as ever; there are many times in the film where I thought, “How did they achieve this shot?” or “How did they execute this?” One thing to admire about the film is Inarritu chose to go with practical locations instead of CGI; though the cast was not fond of being in the cold, Inarritu wanted it to look both real and good; and good it looked. This is a must-watch, and while some parts may be slightly unrealistic and is hard to watch multiple times, it is nonetheless a great film and deserved every award it was given.
- Ex Machina
There are many definitive science fiction movies: 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, Alien, Children of Men, Sunshine, The Fifth Element and A Clockwork Orange are just a few. I would go as few as to say that Ex Machina belongs on the list of the greatest sci-fi movies of our time. Ex Machina chronicles Alex (Domhall Gleeson), a computer programmer, who wins a contest to spend a week at the estate of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), an eccentric yet genius CEO for a computer firm who creates a robot with extremely humanlike actions and thoughts (Alicia Vikander). What follows is an awe-inspiring look into what it means to be human and the possibilities of science in our modern world. Ex Machina is an intelligent yet simple film with a lot to say about society and humanity as a whole. I continue to think about this film to this day and wonder “What does it mean to be human?” This film is visually stunning with some of the best special effects I have ever seen. The score of Ex Machina is haunting yet beautiful, mixing synth with brass and keyboard to provide an electronic yet ambient feel to it. Every character differs to the other: Gleeson as an awkward, introverted, by the book man; Isaac as an eccentric yet unorthodox risk taker; Vikander as an innocent yet humanlike robot. Each play their parts extremely well but Isaac was the shining star in this film. This is an absolute must-watch for sci-fi fans.
I am not one to cry during movies. Before I saw Room, The only movie I’ve found myself getting teary-eyed during was Schindler’s List. Room is a movie that will that break your heart many times over throughout its roller coaster of emotions shown and portrayed. Room is the story of a boy (Jacob Tremblay) and his Ma (Brie Larson) being held captive in a small shed and them eventually gaining their freedom. Larson’s performance is nothing less than powerful; the emotions she is able to show throughout the film is stunning and her struggle to survive and raise her son in these conditions and ultimately breaking free from captivity will leave you heartbroken. The realism in the events that unfold is shocking. Everything about the film, from the score to the tone, is powerful and arresting. It is a must see.