BY ROGER THOMAS
Before I get to my best films of 2015, allow me to offer a few titles that did not make the list but easily could have. These are 14 films worth seeking out, even if they do not rate a special spot on my Top Ten list: “45 Years,” “99 Homes,” “Batkid Begins,” “Brooklyn,” “Finders Keepers,” “Good Night Mommy,” “The Hateful Eight,” “Joy,” “The Martian,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “The Peanuts Movie,” “The Revenant,” “Steve Jobs” and “Truth.”
10. “The Gift” No other thriller this year engaged me the way this film did. A simple plot: a man bumps into an old acquaintance that soon comes baring a gift. This film turns and twists and ultimately becomes something completely different than one expects. There are some jarring scares, but the twists and the climax are what will stay with you long after a viewing.
9. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” I have debated where to place this film on the list because, as I wrote in my original review, this film is simply fun from start to finish. I recently went back to see it a second time, and as with the original film almost 40 years ago, repeat viewings only make it better. My hope is that two years from now, I will be placing another Star Wars film on my Top Ten list of 2017.
8. “Mr. Holmes” Yes, it is a Sherlock Holmes mystery, but it is also a film about a great many heavy subjects such as grief, regret, aging and death. These are all subjects to which anyone with a little age can relate. Besides there are three outstanding performances: Ian McKellen in the title role, Laura Linney as Holmes’ housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s young son Roger, played by Milo Parker. Parker gives the second best juvenile performance of 2015.
7. “Trumbo” I have written much about my fascination with the whole “blacklisting” or “McCarthyism” era. It is such a dark time in our nation’s history. I think I understand the fear, however I am still appalled whenever I think of all the rights and freedoms that were trampled. “Trumbo” offers a great glimpse into that era from the perspective of Hollywood. It also offers volumes of humor, wit and wisdom. May we always remember history, so that we will never be forced to repeat such an intrusion on anyone’s freedom.
6. “Spotlight” A more recent scandal and injustice is exposed in “Spotlight.” Once again the question is: Will the Academy finally award a film about those who seek to reveal the truth in the printed word of a newspaper? It has never happened before, but most pundits have been predicting that “Spotlight” will be the big winner on Feb. 28, Oscar night. I am not so sure this film will win, since I have five films that I think are better. But make no mistake; “Spotlight” is a truly outstanding and important film.
5. “Bridge of Spies” This is not one of Steven Spielberg’s most successful films, but ultimately a film that everyone should see. There is plenty of history here. There is a gripping true story. However, the most important elements are found in the dialogue, not the plot. There is a conversation between Tom Hanks character, James B. Donovan, and his spouse at the dinner table. There is another conversation between Donovan and a gentleman in a bar. Like “Trumbo,” “Bridge of Spies” is a very thought-provoking and patriotic film. And the climax is one of the five best single scenes of the year.
4. “The Walk” If “Star Wars” rates the list because it is so much fun, “The Walk” makes the list because it is so creative. Anyone who knows anything about the film knows the plot, based on a true story, is leading up to a huge event. What I find most remarkable about Robert Zemeckis’ film is he made every scene something special. Yes, the climax is dazzling, especially in 3-D. However, I find the life that Phillippe Petit lived leading up to his amazing walk, at least as depicted on the screen, to be equally thrilling. I loved all the special effects, drama, humor, and every single element. The sad truth, however, is that not many people saw this brilliant film. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.
3. “Inside Out” I have truly struggled about these last three films. Each is the best of their genre and the cream of the crop of 2015. On any given day, if you asked me, I might offer a different place for each of the three. For those who have avoided “Inside Out” because it is an animated film, you are missing one of the most thought-provoking emotional films Pixar Studios has ever produced, and that is saying a whole lot. When I originally saw the trailer, I dismissed it as silly. I can admit I was wrong. No film in 2015 speaks so boldly about the human condition, and the things that drive us. I really need to watch this film for a third time, and my teenage daughter needs to see it for the first time.
2. “Room” No film moved me more than “Room” this year. I recently watched it a second time, and it was an even more intensely emotional experience. The first half of the film is all intensity. I kept wondering how the filmmakers could follow up the first act with anything even close. They did it. The second act of “Room” is uniquely special and completely compliments the first half while it expands the lead characters’ experiences and ends with a perfect finale. My great hope is that Brie Larson and Joseph Tremblay both get Oscar nominations.
1. “The Big Short” The final decision was difficult. I picked “Short” for three simple reasons. First, the film is incredibly creative. In my original review, I commented on how the filmmakers presented complicated information in simple terms for those of us who do not understand the world of high finance. The film works because someone, or several people, decided they could use inventive modes to educate the audience. Second, I would have never thought they could make a film about the financial collapse of 2008 that would ultimately work as an inspired comedy. I laughed often. However, I did not laugh always. “The Big Short” is a film about a financial tragedy that happened because a great many people were driven by greed. I like the creativity. I like the humor. But most of all, I like the lesson of “The Big Short.” I would like to hope that it lessens the greed in our nation and the world, but that is doubtful. Whether it does or not, for the effort of the filmmakers, it is my pick for “Best Film of 2015.”
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.