All week long, Sharp’s editors will be wrapping up 2015 by celebrating the very best of virtually everything that passed through our filters this year: the movies and shows we watched, the clothes we wore, the music we listened to and the gear we used.
Today, we’re kicking things off with a look back at the films that moved us most, running the gamut from hard-hitting, Oscar-baiting prestige dramas to stunt-heavy, popcorn-ready spectacles.
There are no hair-raising moments in Spotlight. Not once does a reporter stand in a room with a murder suspect, or receive information from a mysterious source in a darkened parking garage. All The President’s Men this is not — and that’s exactly what makes Spotlight so effective. Director Tom McCarthy calmly, meticulously and powerfully traces the work of intrepid Boston Globe journalists who, in 2002, exposed the systematic cover-up of child sex-abuse in the local Catholic Church. This is the straight story behind the story, told through the lenses of the journalists themselves: Michael Keaton as head of the Globe’s investigative team; Liv Schreiber as the paper’s new editor; Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams as the frontline reporters. The dream ensemble cast shines without showing off — not a scintilla of Hollywood bullshit here, just tons of meetings, phone calls and legwork.
Having worked briefly for a major Canadian daily, I can attest to how accurately this movie captures newsroom life. Haggard, pasty people in pleated khakis and baggy shirts gather under shitty fluorescent lights to discuss whether to dig deeper or stop completely. There’s a power structure (which interestingly mirrors the church they investigate). There are months of chasing down court documents and knocking on doors, fuelled only by the growing conviction that you’re onto something huge. Eventually, there’s a moment when you’re sitting with a victim who’s painfully spilling their guts to you, and you’ve got to stop them and say, “We need specific language.” Spotlight falls short of making its protagonists heroes; they’re just dogged, principled individuals doing their damn job. And because of this, the film actually honours journalists in the best possible way: it gets the facts right.
— Alex Nino Gheciu
Surely, there is a more appropriate pick for an editor at a men’s magazine than Inside Out. In 2015, we had a Bond movie, a Rocky sequel and any number of other films that were simultaneously critically acclaimed and manly, at least in the traditional sense. And yet, Pixar’s story about the internal emotional struggle of an 11-year-old girl stands as the most important, satisfying film of the year.
It’s not only that Inside Out wrecks you emotionally — I defy anyone to remain unmoved by the fate of Bing Bong, and it’s implication — it’s that it goes beyond giving viewers something to think about; it changes how you think. About your memories, decisions, your whole identity. The story is about two anthropomorphized emotions set adrift in the mind of a young girl named Riley, as they try to make it back to the control centre where they direct her actions and how she interprets the world. It’s high concept, inventive and utterly original. Emotionally resonant without being manipulative. And, I imagine, an incredibly useful tool to help parents communicate with their children.
Plus, for a kid who, I don’t know, used to weep whenever his mom sang all the verses of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” it just might be the saddest movie ever made. But that’s appropriate, I suppose. Because growing up is pretty damn sad, too.
— Greg Hudson
History will not be kind to The Martian. It’s already the other deep space blockbuster of 2015, lost in the interstellar shadow of record-breaking box office numbers and unbridled space nerd fervour. And that’s fine, because the truth is, The Martian is basically a forgettable movie. Except, of course, for Matt Damon.
We’ve known about Damon’s considerable talents for the better part of two decades now; he’s resided safely in the pantheon of all-time great leading men for at least half that time. But in The Martian, a movie in which Damon holds the screen almost entirely by himself, he showed us exactly why he’s so good. The movie is a lesson in charisma, a textbook clinic in self-deprecating good humour and charm. It should be taught in acting classes for years to come. Matt Damon proves just how likable a modern American actor can be — and how likability alone can carry a movie all by itself. And that’s a hell of a lot more than can be said of anyone in you know what.
— Peter Saltsman
Nobody knows what they’re doing in Sicario, Denis Villeneuve’s thriller about the war on drugs ravaging the U.S.-Mexico border; some characters are just better at faking it than others.
The worst faker, hands down, is our protagonist, bewildered FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) — a role so unlike the badass feminist heroes that movies like The Hunger Games have conditioned us to expect it feels almost retrograde. Kate is wrong about literally everything in Sicario, but that’s only offensive if you believe that the shadowy, but more composed, government figures played by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are, by contrast, right about everything. And one of the best things about Sicario is how thoroughly it calls bullshit on that binary: The tactics required to “win” the drug war might be worse than the effects of “losing.” Maybe Kate is right to be wrong.
But that’s all subtext. Viewers looking to enjoy Sicario on a surface level will not have to work hard. The movie is gorgeous and suspenseful, and just thinking about two scenes in particular — a border-crossing traffic jam and a descent into a web of drug-smuggling tunnels — still makes my chest tight three months after first exposure. It’s not the best film of 2015, but it’s the one that most got under my skin. War is hell.
— Tim Kennedy
Straight Outta Compton
Rumour has it that, to get into character for their roles in F. Gary Gray’s N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, the cast re-recorded the group’s seminal 1988 album of the same name in its entirety. Apparently not made for release, it’s currently locked away in a vault somewhere. “So there’s a shitty version of Straight Outta Compton out there, then?” a friend of mine asked when I informed him of this likely apocryphal tale.
That’s one way of looking at it, I suppose. But if the remade record does actually exist, then I’d prefer to applaud it as a worthwhile acting exercise, as it clearly garnered the desired result: the film does a bang-up job of translating the mythos behind the legendary crew to the big screen. O’Shea Jackson delivers an eerily accurate imitation of his father, Ice Cube, but it’s the complicated relationship between manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) and Eazy E (Jason Mitchell) that dives deepest and steals the show. I wouldn’t exactly call it classic cinema, but it was immensely enjoyable — and really, given some of the hip-hop films that preceded it, that’s far more than we could’ve hoped for.
— Evan Sue-Ping
Mad Max: Fury Road
Nothing about Mad Max: Fury Road should work. It’s the fourth installment in a cult series of dystopian sci-fi flicks, the third of which was released way back in 1985 — long enough ago that Mel Gibson was just emerging as a marketable star. Its director’s last three projects were Happy Feet, Happy Feet Two and Babe: Pig in the City. And it relegates the titular hero — played here by a mumbly, disaffected Tom Hardy — largely to the background, allowing the action to be enacted and initiated almost entirely by new, unfamiliar characters.
And yet, for all the obstacles that would cripple a lesser film, Fury Road not only works — it’s an explosive high-wire act that soars and screams and scorches. At once a relentless action exhibition and an incisive feminist creed, it’s propelled by a visionary freshness that courses through everything from the costuming to the visual framing. More than any other movie this year, it’s a reminder of the sheer spectacle and grandiosity and clout the cinema can command; an argument for the continued necessity of leaving your home, shelling out $13, sitting quietly in a dark room and handing yourself over to the magic on the screen before you.
— Yang-Yi Goh
While Jurassic World sure as hell won’t be taking home any major awards, it nailed all the criteria necessary from a summer blockbuster: death-defying thrills, impressive special effects, a few hardy belly laughs and a healthy dose of nostalgia.
Sure, the movie doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel — the plot is essentially a self-aware carbon copy of Jurassic Park, except with Chris Pratt and an infamously high-heel-clad Bryce Dallas Howard subbed in for Sam Neill and Laura Dern. But it does deliver a scene-stealing performance from Vincent D’Onofrio in full-on, over-the-top villainous mode, which is always a win in our book.
— Bianca Teixeira
Ask Elon Musk what keeps him up at night, and he’ll answer without hesitation: artificial intelligence. If you think that’s a joke, you need to watch Ex Machina.
Directed by filmmaking rookie Alex Garland, the psychological thriller is a haunting portrait of our changing relationship with technology. Unlike other failed attempts at exploring A.I. on film (Johnny Depp’s disastrous Transcendence comes to mind), Ex Machina succeeds thanks in large part to its limited scope. It’s a tight and personal narrative with little mind for world building or sweeping societal statements; the movie is essentially a bottle episode set in a beautiful, modern mountain retreat. And it’s this narrow focus — coupled with brilliant, nuanced performances by Domnhall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander — that lets the overall conceit play out to harrowing effect.
We don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say we’re willing to bet you’ll have a chilling appreciation of Musk’s sleepless fears by movie’s end. It’s not exactly the most re-watchable flick of 2015 — its tense, ominous tones make sure of that — but it might just be the most important.
— Colin Rabyniuk
Did we skip your favourite movie of the year? Let us know by tweeting at @SharpMagazine. And don’t forget to check back in tomorrow to read our picks for 2015’s best albums, songs and musical moments.