We now enter part two of our week-long quest through the very best films of last year, and my return to the lucrative world of movie blogging. You can read yesterday’s first installment right here. In this post, we get started on the top 20. Let’s begin.
There have been plenty of films—documentary and otherwise—that have explored the lives of major artists who died young, but Amy is one of the most genuinely enlightening (and enraging). On top of the usual material showing Amy Winehouse’s rise to fame and subsequent struggles, director Asif Kapadia makes a strong and heartbreaking argument that this particular tragedy was wholly preventable. Fame and fortune are powerful things, and they can have a damaging effect when thrust upon someone unprepared for the side effects. Kapadia is also sure to spread the blame around; Winehouse’s friends, family and the media are all presented as unhelpful at best and enablers at worst.
19. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
There were equal reasons to be skeptical and excited about J.J. Abrams’ revival of George Lucas’ mammoth space adventure series, but few could have expected a film this satisfying. It is familiar, sure, and it spends more time setting up dominoes than knocking them down, but what was accomplished here on a macro level is fairly extraordinary. The Force Awakens expertly interweaves the old and the new, and this is represented best in Harrison Ford’s surprisingly terrific return to the role of Han Solo. It is there the film finds its emotional impact, and beyond being a triumphant return for the Star Wars universe, it’s one of the best blockbuster entertainments to come out in 2015.
Paolo Sorrentino is the definition of a mileage-may-vary filmmaker, and Youth is a film destined to appeal to about 15 percent of the people that watch it. Luckily, #IAmThe15Percent. Unlike his previous effort The Great Beauty, this film is fairly modest in ambition, and it becomes clear after a while it doesn’t mean a whole lot. However, I enjoy getting wrapped up in Sorrentino’s unique style, which finds transcendent moments in the “story” of a couple old men (Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel) cooped up at a resort in the Alps. If you submit yourself to his brand of nonsense, Youth is an easy film to get lost in.
17. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Ever since its third installment, the Mission: Impossible franchise has established itself as one of the best major film series going, and much of the credit for that can go to the star, Tom Cruise. The formula is very simple: create a vague villainous plot, think up and execute a few thrilling action setpieces, and let Cruise do his thing. The one thing that makes Rogue Nation feel fresh is the addition of Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust, and she steals just about every scene she enters. There are rumors that she will return in Mission: Impossible 6, and that is welcome news indeed.
16. Ex Machina
Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is a simple but unusually intelligent science fiction film that explores lofty ideas about artificial intelligence while also maintaining a modest scope. In addition, it has one of the most interesting ensembles of the year. Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander are three of the best rising actors going, and throwing them all against each other in a film like this pays dividends right away. Plenty of movies have examined artificial intelligence before, even this year—Chappie, anyone?—but rarely has it been done this well… and this simply, for that matter.
Two down, three to go! See you back here tomorrow. Same time, same place.