By Milan Paurich
I guess it was only fitting in The Year of Trump that the films topping my best (The Big Short) and worst (San Andreas) lists were both disaster movies. But disasters of wholly different stripes.
The Big Short brought us up close and personal to the criminal malfeasence and chicanery that resulted in the economic crash of 2008. San Andreas just destroyed a good chunk of (mostly northern) California.
The year 2015 was surprisingly strong for movies overall, arguably the best since 2007. While Hollywood still came up short with too many damn comic book non-events (Age of Ultron; Ant-Man), uninspired reboots (Jurassic World; Terminator Genisys; Point Break) and dreary sequels (7Furious 7; Minions; Ted 2), there were still enough quality films to make compiling my top ten more difficult than any year in recent memory. And, for maybe the first time ever, there isn’t a single foreign-language title on my list. Who said that America (and American movies) weren’t already great?
THE TEN BEST
(1) The Big Short Adam McKay — previously known as Will Ferrell’s Dennis Dugan — stepped up to the big leagues with the year’s best and arguably most essential film. If some of the financial jargon sails over your head, just relax and go with the flow. (Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain help explain some of the more arcane terminology to us laymen.) This is the movie The Wolf of Wall Street only wanted to be. Who would have guessed that Martin Scorsese would get served by the director of Anchorman?
(2) Trainwreck Amy Schumer is the most original comic voice to emerge since Richard Pryor, and Judd Apatow’s brilliant showcase for Schumer’s genius was the decade’s most exhilarating romantic comedy. Come for the laughs, stay for the tears.
(3) Brooklyn The immigrant experience in North America has never been depicted as beautifully or touchingly than it was in John Crowley’s pitch-perfect 1950’s-set romance. Plus, Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen made the year’s most adorable couple.
(4) Creed Director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) performed something of a miracle by making Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone and “Rocky” matter again. If all reboots were this good, maybe that oft-abused term wouldn’t have as poisonous a connotation as prequel.
(5) Bridge of Spies A crackling good true-life spy yarn from master director Steven Spielberg. Tom Hanks (dependably strong) is a lawyer recruited by the CIA to help negotiate the release of U-2 pilot Francis Powers during the Cold War. Complicating matters is the Soviet spy (a superb Mark Rylance of Wolf Hall fame) arrested for espionage on American soil. Joel and Ethan Coen cowrote the script, and it’s full of sly Coen-esque touches that will warm the cockles of any buff’s heart. Classical Hollywood filmmaking at its finest.
(6) Joy No, it isn’t the perfect movie that Silver Linings Playbook was, or as clever and ingeniously structured as American Hustle. But David O. Russell’s fractured fairy tale about Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano is still pretty darn wonderful and completely irresistible. It also confirmed that Jennifer Lawrence is indeed the finest actress under 30 working in films today. Watching Edgar Ramirez play Fredo to Lawrence’s Michael Corleone was one of the year’s most unexpected delights.
(7) Sicario The drug war between the U.S. and Mexico gets really, really messy in director Denis Villeneuve’s gripping, expertly played modern-day western. As a badass F.B.I. agent, Emily Blunt is fierceness personified, and juicy supporting turns from Josh Brolin and, particularly, Benicio Del Toro are icing on the cake. In fact, there are already plans to spin Del Toro’s character off into a standalone vehicle. I can’t wait.
(8) Spotlight Director Tom McCarthy’s spellbinding account of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer-winning investigation into the Catholic Church’s pedophile scandal is the best newspaper procedural since All the President’s Men. A beyond-stellar cast (including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber and Rachel McAdams) delivers ensemble acting of the highest caliber. No wonder it’s widely considered to be the frontrunner in this year’s hotly contested Oscar race.
(9) Tangerine It’s Christmas Eve on Hollywood Boulevard, and transexual prostitute Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is desperately trying to locate her two-timing pimp (James Ransone). Shot entirely on iPhone5s by wildly gifted indie writer-director Sean (“Starlet”) Baker, this is one of the year’s most unlikely and subversive triumphs. The performances by trans actors Rodriguez and Mya Taylor as Sin-Dee’s prostitute pal Alexandra are hilarious, touching and altogether unforgettable. Baker’s film has all the earmarks of an instant Yuletide classic.
(10) Anomalisa The first adults-only puppet movie since Team America: World Police is another poetic, meta- and very funny Charlie Kaufman riff on identity, love and loss. Hard to describe; even harder to forget.