REEL BRIEF’s Top 20 Films of 2015

20.  Woman in Gold

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Academy Award winner Helen Mirren (2006’s “Queen”) follows up her stellar work in last year’s delightful “The Hundred-Foot Journey” with another charming and impeccable performance. As the now older Maria Altmann, Mirren’s flashbacks to her childhood in Vienna, Austria describe the gold leaf portrait of her Aunt Adele by artist Gustav Klimt. A family heirloom, the “Woman in Gold” is plundered by Nazi’s in 1938, as Austria was annexed by Hitler’s Germany.

19.  McFarland USA

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McFarland USA” is a motivational true story of endurance and challenging one’s assumptions. It radiates guts, determination and pushing well beyond a person’s threshold of pain and physical limitations. An extraordinary cast brings a heartfelt and triumphant message of culture, family and hard work. Misguided stereotypes are broken with an unorthodox coach and a well-conditioned and tenacious handful of runners. Altogether, the film brings us full-circle to a place that feels like no other…home.

18.  The Gift

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When a film is able to shock, surprise and keep movie-goers guessing until the final scene, a true cinema feat has been achieved and deserves to be applauded. Joel Edgerton writes, directs and stars in this tense conundrum, playing Gordo—an awkward creeper to a young couple moving into their new house. Nicknamed “Weirdo Gordo” back in high school, Edgerton’s character enters into the married life of Simon (Justin Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) after a random chance encounter that escalates quickly into troublesome meddling. The Gift this year’s mind-blowing Gone Girl offering. And in a time when movies are becoming more and more predictable, that’s saying a lot.

17.  Ant-Man

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The banter and charisma exuded by Rudd’s Scott Lang character is easily comparable to the likes of funnymen Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark’s Iron Man or Chris Pratt’s space adventurer Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy. Yes, Rudd’s performance is that uplifting and strong. Nearly as refreshing to the audience is the significant, heavy-lifting Michael Douglas does to move the whole Ant-Man narrative along the big-screen. Any existing symptoms of viewer fatigue to the Avenger collection will undoubtedly subside if future films are as entertaining and well explained as this gem.

16.  Ex Machina

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The cerebral dog-fighting in “Ex Machina” makes this movie one of the best in 2015.  The human species hasn’t been this challenged by evolutionary creatures on film since Charlton Heston’s spacecraft landed back on Earth in 1968’s “Planet of the Apes”. Between all the generated algorithms, programming languages and source codes rests a fight to be the dominant species. “Ex Machina” provokes an unusual and unique look into our soul through search engine results and robotics. Only later and off-screen, upon further reflection, does the film download another afterthought for viewers to contemplate; our society’s over-reliance on high-tech instruments for communication, information and the ability to function in today’s world.

15.  The Revenant

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The 41-year old Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio, is gritty, gangly and tough.  Very tough.This film’s opening scene is a nail-biter. Things come fast and furious–a la the start to “Saving Private Ryan” with the beach invasion at Normandy.  “The Revenant” ending, while somewhat anti-climatic on the adrenaline scale, is magnificently presented as an over-the-top bloody showdown…reminiscent of MTV’s gruesome claymation  Celebrity Deathmatch videos. The cinematography and snowy images are breathtaking, making this a must-see film to not only watch–but experience!

14.  The Intern

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The Intern” is a sure-fire hit for adults of all ages.  Offering plenty of laughs and smiles, the film tosses in several heavy doses of reality and sadness—all mixed into an otherwise straight-forward storyline. Robert De Niro brings the calmness and demeanor of a James Bond around an office water cooler. His charisma and gentle manners takes us back to a slower, more enjoyable life and pace that can still work in today’s nonstop world. The always delightful Anne Hathaway captivates us with her wide-range of acting tools.  Together, the team of Hathaway and De Niro combine to give audiences an extremely enjoyable and warm big-screen experience.

13.  Southpaw

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Between songs from rapper Eminem, Southpaw takes us on a powerful journey of a devoted husband and father who has risen to the top of the boxing profession only to face one personal struggle after another. Extraordinary performances bookend Gyllenhaal’s most challenging and successful acting masterpiece to date. HBO True Detective star Rachel McAdams plays the strong wife to Gyllenhaal and nurturing mother to their daughter, portrayed by Oona Laurence (from Netflix’s Orange is the New Black). Both McAdams and Laurence shine bright as firm influences upon Gyllenhaal’s intense Billy Hope character, delivering the realism to Southpaw’s moving storyline.

12.  Love & Mercy

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In 1961, just as a British band set out from Liverpool to begin their “Beatlemania” ascent into international stardom, across the Atlantic Ocean an American version, albeit from California, was formed. Love & Mercy is the gripping and powerful biopic story of Brian Wilson, the singer, songwriter and leader of The Beach Boys. With sensational dual performances by Paul Dano and John Cusack as the younger and older life versions of Wilson, both provide a chilling and fascinating peek into one of music’s most influential creative forces of all time.

11.  Concussion

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As Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who performed an autopsy on former NFL football player Mike Webster, the gifted Will Smith gives us an effort worthy of a Super Bowl ring. This is a film about a dedicated professional, not willing to compromise his beliefs or work ethic. “Concussion” is not a movie about the National Football League. Rather, it’s a story about a brilliant Nigerian immigrant, thankful for his many opportunities in America. His reverence towards our ideals and principles get tested by the very system he relishes.

Selections for 1-10 will be posted tomorrow.

*Carol was submitted in time for screening

© 2015, Patrick. All rights reserved.



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