The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Ten Best Films of 2015

This was a great year for movies. Seriously. Hollywood studios turned out some A+ mainstream entertainment, while the indie world provided more than a few innovative, challenging stories. I found myself raving about a lot of films in 2015. Now is the time of year when I look back on the finest of the fine. My Ten Best list this year is a little different, because it actually contains eleven entries. You'll see what I mean when we get there.

A few notes: Just missing my top ten is Anomalisa, a stunning stop-motion animated film from Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson. I have a feeling that it gets even better with repeated viewings, and I may someday regret that it narrowly missed this list. The next title after that is Straight Outta Compton, another serious contender. Also, a special Merit of Recognition must go to Roar, which is technically from 1981, but didn't get a release until this year. There is nothing else like it, and I hope you will seek this crazy little movie out.

Finally, the rankings for my top four movies are all solid. Everything from #5 to #10 is more or less equal in my eyes, so don't give too much weight to what slot a particular movie falls into. I fully admit that final placement was sometimes determined by the desire to not put two types of the same film next to each other. They're all great and all worthy of your time, which is what matters.

So now, here are my picks for the Ten Best Films of 2015:

10. Steve Jobs - There have been too many films about Steve Jobs already, including several documentaries, a TV movie, and that thing with Ashton Kutcher. This one directed by Danny Boyle from a masterful Aaron Sorkin script is the best. Consolidating all the drama of his personal and professional lives into the moments before three crucial product launches is a stroke of genius, as is the casting of Michael Fassbender in the lead role. Steve Jobs was notoriously kind of a jerk, and the film doesn't shy away from that. It does, however, make the case that brilliant people kind of have to be jerks in order to bring their visions to reality.

9. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter - A depressed young Japanese woman (Rinko Kikuchi) finds a VHS copy of Fargo, thinks it's a true story, and treks all the way to Minnesota in search of the money Steve Buscemi's character buries in the snow at the end. Various people she encounters along the way try to explain that Fargo is fictional, to no avail. You can look at this movie as being a tragedy about a deluded person on a mission of folly, or you can look at it as I do, as an examination of how any kind of optimism can be a lifeline during difficult times. Either way, Kumiko is both funny and heartbreaking.

8. The Revenant - Leonardo DiCaprio stars in one of the most harrowing survival stories ever to grace the screen. About twenty minutes in, his character is viciously mauled by a bear. That's just the first of many perils he faces. Director Alejandro G. Inarritu has made a brutal movie about brutal people enduring brutal situations. The end result is a motion picture experience that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go.

7. The Big Short / 99 Homes (tie) - I absolutely abhor ties on ten best lists, but I'm making an exception because these films are two sides of the same coin. Both deal with the burst of the housing bubble. The first is a whip-smart comedy about the money men who saw disaster coming and bet against the system. The other is an emotionally devastating drama about a guy (superbly played by Andrew Garfield) who loses his house as a result of the bad mortgage loans that were handed out like candy. Both pictures make a complex subject understandable and engrossing.

6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens - No, it's not perfect, and yes, there are moments that feel a little too imitative of the original trilogy. But who cares? The Force Awakens is non-stop, ecstatic fun that captures a big chunk of the magic that has made Star Wars an obsession for so many people. What more could you want?

5. Carol - Adapting Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt, director Todd Haynes and writer Phyllis Nagy craft a touching romance that also looks at the psychology of how same-sex relationships were viewed in the 1950s, by both the couples themselves and society in general. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara do deep character work that brings the story to life in the most vivid manner possible.

4. Mad Max: Fury Road - Not just the best action picture of 2015, George Miller's long-awaited reboot of his own franchise is one of the best action pictures ever. It's a genuine game-changer that sets the bar for what movies in this genre can and should be going forward. Charlize Theron plays the year's most badass character, male or female.

3. Spotlight - That the Catholic Church covered up decades of child molestation by a number of its priests is shocking. How can an organization that considers itself pious and holy not recognize the abject sinfulness of that behavior? Tom McCarthy's film about the Boston Globe reporters who broke the story asks that question and many others. It argues passionately for uncovering the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, no matter how badly it might rock the boat. Led by a stellar cast including Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight stands firmly alongside All the President's Men as one of the best journalism movies ever made.

2. Room - Rarely does a film put you through the emotional wringer the way Lenny Abrahamson's adaptation of the Emma Donoghue bestseller does. Brie Larson gives yet another outstanding performance (following Short Term 12) as a young mother held captive in a cramped shed with her five-year-old son. As the boy, Jacob Tremblay is a total revelation, expertly conveying a range of difficult feelings far beyond his years. Room is a shattering look at the lengths a parent will go to protect a child, as well as a haunting exploration of the impact of abuse. I don't think I'll ever forget this movie.

And my choice for the Best Film of 2015 is:

The Ten Best Films of 2015

1. Inside Out - As a piece of family entertainment, Pixar's summer hit is as satisfying as anything they've ever done. As an out-and-out film, it's the best thing they've ever done. A surprisingly deep and poignant look at the emotions of a child, Inside Out asserts that, while unpleasant, a little sadness is important in life, because it reminds us of how good the best things are. The movie also examines with psychological accuracy the way emotions are expressed, the role memories and experiences play in their formation, and the manner in which they sometimes blend together in combinations that cause cognitive dissonance. That's hefty material for a family picture, but Inside Out makes it accessible enough for children and affecting enough for adults. This is a masterpiece, animated or otherwise, that will undoubtedly stand the test of time.

Other Runners-up: Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Ex Machina, The Gift, It Follows, The Overnight, Queen of Earth, Sicario, Trainwreck, The Walk, Wild Tales

Check out the Ten Worst Films of 2015.

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