9.Room is a movie that’ll probably make you uncomfortable for a good portion of its runtime. But it really earns that discomfort through powerful performances, nail-biting suspense, and a profound story of escape and discovery. Based on the book by Emma Donoghue and told through the eyes of Jack played by Jacob Tremblay, we’re introduced to a dark and dirty room where Jack and his mother Joy played by Brie Larson have been held hostage for Jack’s entire life (seven years for Joy) by someone called Old Nick. The film chronicles their daring escape and Jack’s introduction to the real world which he always thought was a fantasy. Talk about gripping, this film is really intense even after the characters are free due to the attention they receive from family and the media, and the conflicting emotions of the aftermath. And of course the claustrophobic room is just really unpleasant. But both Larson and Tremblay turn out Oscar-calibre performances conveying the desperation of their situation and really earning your investment. It’s a tough watch, but worth it. ...And don’t confuse it for Tommy Wiseau’s masterpiece of awfulness THE Room -completely different movie.
8.The Little Prince I was shocked wasn’t nominated for Best Animated Picture. But maybe I shouldn’t have been. Because of an American-centric Academy rule, films aren’t eligible if they haven’t opened in the U.S. during the year, and though this film was released in Europe last year it only opens on this side of the Atlantic in March. Nonetheless I’m still counting it on this list. The French (but English language) film is partially based on the classic book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The Aviator of the book, now an old man delights a disillusioned young girl with the story, and together they plan to meet the Little Prince by flying the Aviator’s old plane to his asteroid. The film is directed by Mark Osborne who also directed Kung Fu Panda, and like that film the animation is wonderful. The 3D is beautifully rendered too alongside exquisite stop-motion animation. The fantastical plot and endearing character relationships feels like the perfect marriage of Pixar and Miyazaki, and unless this year gives us three Frozens, a Bambi, and a Spirited Away, I expect this film to be up for an Oscar next February.
7.The Peanuts Movie is still surprising to me in how remarkable it is. In an age when Hollywood reboots of classic cartoons are pretty horrendous (just the trailer for the last Chipmunks movie made me feel sick), Blue Sky Studios of all people actually managed to give us a Peanuts movie that stayed true to the spirit of Charles Schulz’s classic strip and characters. But it also managed to feel fresh and new, and most of all adorable. Taking place between winter and spring, the story follows Charlie Brown trying to get the attention of the new Little Red Haired Girl. His loyal but mischievous dog Snoopy also has a storyline imagining himself as a World War I flying ace engaged in frequent dogfights with the Red Baron. The animation unbelievably captures the hand-drawn nature of the strip and specials while still being 3D. It pays fan service but also connects with a new audience thanks to a wonderful heart and tone, important morals, and instantly endearing characters. It’s also funnier than the strip was half the time. It renewed my interest in the classic stories and characters, and I certainly think it will do the same for many. Check out my full review of The Peanuts Movie here: http://returnofthebosch.blogspot.ca/2015/11/you-excelled-expectations-charlie-brown.html
6.Macbeth kinda went unnoticed in its release last year which is a shame. Maybe it’s like The Little Prince in that I’m not sure it ever came out in North America, but to me its the most unfortunate absence from the Academy Awards. This latest version of the classic Shakespearean tragedy is superbly acted with a gritty and intoxicating atmosphere. Michael Fassbender proves he’s one of the best actors working today and can pull of Shakespeare terrifically. It’s one of my favourite performances of the year and to me is up there with Leo in The Revenant. He’s not alone though with Marion Cotillard turning out a really good Lady Macbeth and Sean Harris as an exceptional Macduff. Director Justin Kurzel does a great job with setting the mood and the production design is incredible. There are a few choices particularly in slow motion sequences that I didn’t quite like, but the delivery of the dialogue is as great as you’d expect with these actors. It’s one of the best experiences with cinematic Shakespeare you can get and it’s making me really excited for Kurzel, Fassbender, and Cotillard to team up again for Assassin’s Creed.
5.Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the highest grossing movie last year so why not put it on this list? Well according to some corners of the internet, a lot of reasons. But as for me, though it had its flaws, I thought it was great! Set thirty years after the original trilogy, we’re introduced to lost scavenger Rey played by Daisy Ridley and disillusioned stormtrooper Finn played by John Boyega, who wind up involved with the Resistance against the First Order, a fragment of the old Empire, and the villainous Kylo Ren played by Adam Driver. Along the way they meet Han Solo (once again Harrison Ford) and work to destroy the evil Order’s Starkiller base and set about finding the missing Luke Skywalker. Though the film follows the first Star Wars’ formula fairly closely, it really sets up some promising stories and gives us really enjoyable new characters in addition to already enjoyable old ones. Rey and Finn are more interesting and likeable protagonists after one film than Anakin and Padme were after three. And I can’t wait to see them again and where their journeys are headed. Kylo Ren too is a fascinating and very human antagonist. With engaging new characters, the return of beloved old ones, promising ideas for building the universe, and just the right amount of fan service, this latest Star Wars film captures the tone and wonder forgotten by the prequels and acts as a great springboard for future movies. Check out my full review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens here: http://returnofthebosch.blogspot.ca/2015/12/the-force-is-strong-with-this-one.html
4.Spotlight is the true story of the exposure of systematic widespread sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church, and yeah, you thought Room was uncomfortable? This film is that but infuriating too. When the new editor of the Boston Globe encourages the paper’s “spotlight” team of investigative journalists to follow up a story of child sexual abuse allegations in a local Catholic church, the team uncovers an unbelievably large pattern of cases throughout the diocese and evidence of a larger national, even global cover-up. The performances are all great but subdued from the likes of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams. The actors playing the victims are really exceptional making for some tough scenes as they recount their stories. There’s a lot of tension as the characters discover more and more. The tone is grim but earned from it’s incredibly disturbing opening scene to the ultimate scandal when the story breaks. I also really admire how the film doesn’t vilify the Catholic church as would have been so easy, and focuses on the institution and people in power rather than the religion itself. Executed wonderfully by director Tom McCarthy, it may be the most important film of the year. Check out my full review of Spotlight here:
3.Ex Machina had so much talent behind it, it was bound to be good! The directing debut of Alex Garland the screenwriter of 28 Days Later and Dredd, it’s a marvellously original science fiction thriller that’s aided by some terrific performances and disturbing ideas. Coding programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a trip to the isolated home of the eccentric and reclusive CEO of his company Nathan (Oscar Isaac) where he administers the Turing test to Nathan’s A.I. Ava (Alicia Vikander) from whom he learns some unsettling secrets. Between Taron Egerton in Kingsman, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in Star Wars, and Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson in just about everything including this, it’s been a really good year for breakout stars! Gleeson and Isaac are at their best here. And even better is Vikander who ought to have gotten an Oscar nomination for this over The Danish Girl as she’s absolutely mesmerizing in every scene. There’s a dark tone throughout and it’s intelligent script really keeps you guessing. It’s mood and editing remind me a lot of Kubrick which is never a bad thing. An ingenious thriller of speculative science fiction, some of the best creativity, tension, and visual effects of 2015 are on display here and you’re really missing out by missing this! Check out my full review of Ex Machina here: http://returnofthebosch.blogspot.ca/2015/08/deus-ex-machina.html
2.The Martian is that great Ridley Scott movie we’ve been waiting for since Gladiator. A sci-fi survival story that feels very plausible while also being gripping, educational, and triumphantly uplifting! Based on the novel by Andy Weir, The Martian is the story of Mark Watney played by Matt Damon who at some point in the near future is stranded on Mars after his team is forced to evacuate in a storm. Watney is forced to survive on his own for the time it will take to send a rescue mission which means somehow growing food as well as recalibrating the technology of the base and other equipment. Meanwhile we see the efforts of both NASA and Watney’s crew to launch a rescue mission before he dies on the alien planet. This film is so well written and acted that you really believe it’s a true story. The depiction of the Martian environment, the technology, and the science behind his survival is so accurate to what we know. There are great dramatic stakes both in his survival through the application of real science, and the effort to bring him home. Damon’s performance isn’t transformative at all but his character’s real sense of humour and dialogue as he communicates with us through his webcam logs makes him so enjoyable and relatable. It’s a film with gorgeous cinematography, terrific visual effects, and altogether stands as a great celebration of human endurance. Check out my full review of The Martian here: http://returnofthebosch.blogspot.ca/2015/10/the-story-of-martian-whos-not-marvin.html
1. Inside Out is a film that if asked today, I’d probably include as one of the best animated films ever made. It’s more intelligent, creative, touching, and thought-provoking than any animated movie, or hell any movie in years! The story if you missed it, is about the personified emotions inside the head of a pre-teen girl called Riley, trying to keep her emotional state balanced as she deals with moving to a new city. When Joy and Sadness get lost in long-term memory, Riley’s emotions and judgement are thrown into turmoil. This film understands the complexity a kid’s emotions go through during such a life-changing transition and relates it perfectly for all the kids watching. With Inside Out they suddenly have something to point to, to identify the state of their feelings. It’s brilliant from this deep emotional level but also how it characterizes concepts and ideas like memories and the subconscious so inventively. There’s heart to the movie as Pixar does best, and a couple really touching scenes. All of these are written to compliment the story and characters ingeniously; the characters who despite being concepts are genuinely entertaining and interesting. Though I’m glad it has a few other Oscar nominations apart from the given Best Animated Feature, I believe it should be a Best Picture nominee at the least. Because no other movie that came out this year is an instant classic the way Inside Out is. Check out my full review of Inside Out here: http://returnofthebosch.blogspot.ca/2015/06/inside-out-pixars-triumphant-comeback.html
Runner-ups are Carol, Beasts of No Nation, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight, and Mad Max: Fury Road.