Top 10 Films of 2015

Here are the REEL BRIEF Top 10 Films of 2015.

10.  The Big Short

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Four bold investors see the writing on the bank industry walls–and turn modern banking upside down.  A “☆☆☆☆☆” cast features Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. Using equal investments of superb casting and unique storytelling, Director Adam McKay’s latest film unabashedly describes the true story behind America’s fraudulent home loans pushed by greedy banks.  This foursome of heavyweight investors witness Wall Street’s version of the Titanic plowing full-steam ahead towards impending financial disaster. A phenomenal cast, writing and cinematography educates us on shady banking practices concerning a very serious topic—money. Our money.

9.  Straight Outta Compton

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The gravity of this narrative is not mine to tell. Nor should it be left up to the media to report. No, this film’s shocking story belongs to those who lived it and survived it…Ice Cube (played by his real-life son O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr.Dre (6-time Grammy Award winner) and Eazy-E’s widow, Tomica Wright—all producers on this true life gem. What the rest of us can take away from the movie is a better understanding of our cross cultures that can’t be captured in 10-second soundbites or three-minute news stories. “Straight Outta Compton” pulls no punches and should expect the same in return from moviegoers. Between the constant use of the N-word, graphic sex and violence, and ruthless subject matter from these rappers’ music, this film warrants viewer caution. Lots of caution. From the 1988 album that this film is titled after, comes this group’s warning; “Parental Discretion Iz Advised” (sic). For those able to keep an open mind with a willingness to see and hear other points of view, you’ll gain fascinating knowledge of a music period that still influences our lives on the radio and television today. And knowledge is power.

8. Brooklyn

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The year’s most romantic movie!  “Brooklyn” is the land-based film version of “Titanic”. Two young people, from widely different backgrounds, brought together by adventure and happenstance. Their unlikely match marked by tragedy, heartbreak and love. In the film’s beginning we find a meek, soft-spoken and unpolished young Eilis having homesickness and difficulty adjusting to her new job in New York City. A precise script carefully matures the courageous and determined Eilis from mere adventurer into an independent thinker and strong woman. When people doubt Eilis’s abilities, she grows stronger and more successful. When people object to her decisions, Eilis only gets smarter and more attuned to her feelings. Enjoyable for its quick wits, top-notch performances and fascinating look at an Era long pasted, “Brooklyn” shines bright. Very bright. An authentic and exceptional cast combines with a splendid screenplay for a timeless—yet somewhat predictable–underdog bout. Saoirse Ronan’s stellar portrayal of the head-strong fighter, Eilis, should garner an Oscar nomination.

7.  Room

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A fascinating drama about a teenage girl abducted and held captive with her son, this movie combines daunting societal isolation with the need for long-term coping mechanisms. The young mother, Joy “Ma” Newsome, raises her 5-year old son Jack in captivity until the time comes to try an escape attempt. “Room” is an engrossing film that gets stronger and more compelling with each passing minute. Brie Larson, as Ma, achieves her most profound film endeavor to date—easily the best female lead performance in 2015. Additionally, there’s no drop-off in talent from the supporting cast members. Matching Larson’s exceptional effort is the work of costar, Jacob Tremblay, who magnificently portrays her 5-year old son, Jack. Look for “Room” to be both Larson’s and Tremblay’s career ground-breaking moment. Supporting firepower is provided by Academy Award nominees Joan Allen and William H. Macy–both playing Jack’s grandparents. A movie not to miss.

6.  The Danish Girl

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“The Danish Girl” is a brave and groundbreaking masterpiece!  Movie fans mesmerized last year by Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar-winning portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” will find the young actor’s latest role perhaps even more impressive. Based upon true events and David Ebershoff’s novel in 2000 by the same name, “The Danish Girl” stars Redmayne as successful artist Einar Wegener in 1927 Copenhagen. Redmayne’s Einar character battles a life-long struggle as a woman born inside a man’s body. This year’s hottest female movie star, Alicia Vikander, plays Redmayne’s wife of six years–and gives a screen performance of a lifetime. Vikander’s stunning work as the bewildered wife caught losing her husband and the life she knows, makes this film a must-see. Redmayne and Vikander will both get well deserved Oscar nods in a couple of weeks.  A sensational film with extraordinary performances takes on a difficult subject matter—and excels through forgiveness, love and understanding!

5.  The Martian

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“The Martian” is one small step for food rationing, one giant leap for botany science. A fascinating Petri dish study into one’s will to survive.  The nucleus to this sci-fi journey is the combing of the Red Planet of Mars for anything to extend life and hope to one astronaut left behind. “The Martian” is an intense, powerful scientific story told from 90 million miles away using a complex blend of state-of-the-art technology, archaic means of communications and orbiting remote satellites. It’s a jaw-dropping study on human ingenuity and brilliance that doesn’t end with Matt Damon’s character, Astronaut Mark Watney.  This endurance test expands the entire 4-year distance between survivor and help, pushing the human mental and physical limits of even Earth’s smartest minds. The film exults Damon’s survivalist instincts and his inner fight to seek victory over loneliness.  Viewers see how far improvising of supplies, keeping a positive attitude through humor and planning for the long haul can make the difference between life and death. Inspiring!

4.  Sicario

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2015’s most eye-opening and raw suspense story. “Sicario” is a two-hour adrenaline rush that will invoke a fight or flight response from most viewers.  This drug cartel story isn’t just ripped from today’s headlines.  No, it’s bigger than that.  Much bigger. “Sicario” is an electrifying action thriller that enlightens and educates us on the violent crime that already exists—and operates—inside our southern border. A gripping and intense stand-off, Emily Blunt (“Edge of Tomorrow”) stars as a naïve FBI agent supporting by a superb cast that includes Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro (“Traffic”, 2000) as a government consultant, and Oscar-nominated Josh Brolin (for 2008’s “Milk”) as the leader of a U.S. clandestine unit.  The trio meet along the blurred desert borders of corruption, deception and hitmen to fight drug lords and a jurisdiction system that still tilts in favor of the criminal minds. A heart-pounding film experience on the frontlines where rules get thrown aside without apology or trepidation.  “Sicario” is not about curbing the drug war by the time the credits roll. It’s about savvy street smarts and keen instincts necessary in a dangerous environment where nothing is as it appears to be. Talk about trust issues.

3.  Inside Out

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Pixar’s most stunning, cogent production to date!  “Inside Out” pries and probes diligently—elevating this movie from just a compilation of one-liners into a mind-blowing study on human nature. Leaving behind her closest friends, familiar school and beloved sport of hockey, twelve year-old Riley experiences all the range of emotions, feelings and past memories one associates with a life that’s turned upside down. Those core feelings of emotions, coupled with her long and short-range memories, are the issues Riley must acknowledge, deal with, and ultimately, find coping mechanisms for. It’s there, in Riley’s head, where viewers find themselves in this captivating, funny and powerful film that touches every moviegoers’ emotional spirit–regardless of age.

This exceptional and thought-provoking film gives us more than just endless laughs with an astute plot-line. It give us much, much more. Behind Riley’s thoughts and actions we find a brilliant script delivered perfectly by an extraordinary ensemble of loveable voices. Never has the human consciousness been as exposed and explained in such lucid and understandable ways for all ages. Viewers are armed with a better understanding of how and why we feel, and react the way we do.

2.  Spotlight

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“★★★★★” Some viewers will characterize “Spotlight” as the true story of a cover-up by the Boston archdiocese of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests over several decades. But to simplify this stellar film down to only its end result misses the means by which text-book journalism triumphed in the name of public safety.

The spectacular “Spotlight” is less about the disgusting crimes committed by the Catholic Church and more about the lost art of journalism. “Spotlight” depicts a news organization where facts are followed–allowing the story to tell itself. The newspaper’s editor confidently willing to put fresh eyes on an old lead. Where the reporters aren’t the story, but rather the conduit to truth.

Writer-Director Thomas McCarthy (“Up” 2009) provides keen insight into a covert newsroom, with less than a handful of reporters, who are given the time to get the big story right. After all, being first to report news that’s wrong only leaves the public misinformed, not enlightened. Its emphasis on uncovering horrific patterns of abuse by those in powerful positions highlights the need for robust journalism that prides itself on fair, unbiased and truthful stories. The caliber of on-screen talent (Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams) and powerful storyline make “Spotlight” the Oscar front-runner for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay. The most electrifying film of 2015.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Some movie reviewers will shy away from selecting “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” as a Top 10 entry for 2015.  Larger numbers of voters will be even more reluctant to pull the trigger and name this 7th installation of the sci-fi classic as its “Movie of the Year”. Why?  Pressure.  Excuses of a “simplistic plot” that’s been “seen before” (38 years ago) will get thrown around to explain a columnist’s safer movie choice.  But playing things safe, or making the easy call, is not doing the right thing or giving credit to others, when credit is due.

Success can be tied to taking risks, being open-minded and listening to your internal Spidey senses (such as a person’s inside voice, feeling or hunch).  Think back to how you felt before, during and after seeing “The Force Awakens”.

☆☆

“The Force Awakens” made “Star Wars” cool once again.  There, I said it.  That’s the bottom line.  The reason kids, adults (young and old) are flocking to see this film is because it’s fun, exciting and a great time. There are very few movies this year that I’ve wanted to immediately make a 180-degree turn and go back inside the theater to see again.  “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is one of them.

No director in the last 10 to 15 years has had more pressure placed upon his visionary shoulders than J.J. Abrams. In a time of re-boots and films based upon true stories or best-sellers, movies have found it difficult (to say the least) meeting growing expectations of movie-goers from sequels and prequels. Make the re-boot about one of the most successful and iconic movies in film history, and the pressure on Abrams was elevated by tenfold. And we’re not talking about just loyal fans…like from the Marvel collection. We’re talking about the most rabid fan followers in the galaxy–and Abrams has now very successfully, satisfied the appetites of two massive fan bases–“Star Trek” and “Star Wars”.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” will be the largest grossing film of all-time (sorry “Avatar” fans). It is the biggest film opening not only of 2015, but in recent memory–shattering “Jurassic World” and its impressive summer numbers. “Harry Potter”? Destroyed. “Titanic”?  Sunk, again.  After its first 10 days, it broke the record for the best first and second weekend at the box office.

This exciting, funny and action-packed movie can be enjoyed by audience members of various ages–young to old–both appreciating either an intro to the sci-fi classic or rekindling that feeling from the original in 1977. Overwhelmingly, movie-goers have approved of “The Force Awakens”. In fact, many are going back again and again to watch this saga “for the record books” unfold for a second, third or fourth viewing

As the first film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, “The Force Awakens” perfectly blends a new dynamic and energetic cast with the original’s legendary stars. With three generations of Star Wars lineage covered in this movie, Abrams masterfully juggles the exciting new actors in with the older characters and droids—all of them vital to the exhilarating story. Make no mistake…there are no token cameo appearances by these Galactic veterans…from Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker to General Leia. Each and every one play a significant role in the immediate action or to the overall narrative.

Likewise, Abrams takes deliberate care to mold the new franchise faces into compelling, and funny, action-driven space warriors…a feat that most re-boots or sequels can never handle gracefully, let alone master.

Non-stop adventure permeates throughout this galactic hit. “The Force Awakens” operates at one action speed–and one speed only–full-throttle!  With the best composer in the business (John Williams), fans not only see and hear the Force, but can feel it reverberate throughout the theater.

This film’s overwhelming success is due to Abrams’ willingness to take risks and yet remain faithful to the Star Wars’ product DNA. By not playing it safe, moviegoers are never sure which direction events or characters will break in the end.  The same should be expected from film critics and awards voters.

The Force is back…big time! And stronger than ever! And if you don’t believe me, check out the box office numbers.

☆☆☆

 

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