In compiling my list I observed that this year I have most gravitated to films that generated creative and original content. My priorities were an interesting composition and a message that contributes to the cultural conversation in helpful and provocative ways.
1. The Big Short – This is my #1 pick because I think it is the most creative film of the year and unpacks a complex topic in an extremely engaging way. I loved the characters and I went with them on the emotional rollercoaster that was the financial boom and crisis. The device of using pop culture icons to explain the most confusing elements was a brilliant way to raise a mirror up to American culture and reveal what holds our attention most often.
2. Creed – A close contender for #1, beautifully written, acted, and directed. Coogler expertly paid homage to the original Rocky while taking the franchise in a fresh direction that was poignant and inspiring. I particularly appreciated the way women were portrayed in the film which was respectful and honoring.
3. Spotlight – Well made, terrific performances, handled a very difficult topic with sensitivity as well as scrutiny. It made me thankful for Pope Francis and the rebuilding of shattered communities.
4. The Walk – I LOVE this story, and the film comes at a time when our iconic public spaces are marked by more fear than enjoyment. Philippe Petit in his zany French artistry invites us to reimagine our monuments and common life to see beauty and whimsy that is unfettered by fear. Visually stunning, historically accurate, we “dance at the top of the world” together.
5. The End of the Tour – Both Segel and Eisenberg deliver vulnerable and unaffected performances. They help us explore the person of David Foster Wallace but also our fears of rejection and inauthenticity, and questions of what it means to create and connect in the 21st century.
6. Inside Out – Wonderfully inventive and insightful, Pixar gives us some great original content to help children and adults navigate the complexities of our world. And Bing-Bong made me cry.
7. The Visit – I’m a little biased because I love M. Night Shyamalan and I’m always rooting for him to succeed. In this film I think he’s returning to what he does best: using suspense and horror to reveal our deeper fears and unsympathetic hearts. The Visit taps into childhood fears as well as our societal anxieties over growing old and of the elderly as reminders of our eventual deterioration. (Disclaimer: this film contains several scenes of suspense and multiple scenes of violence.)
8. Steve Jobs – Using creative plot devices to explore Jobs’ relationship to the things he has made, we eavesdrop on 3 pivotal moments in his life. With Steve we explore identity and how we are shaped by what we do.
9. Straight Outta Compton – The strength of this film is the story itself. NWA brought the conversation of race in America to the cultural mainstream in a way that is still relevant. It’s not the best made film of the year and contains some degrading treatment of women, but the success of the movie reveals a nerve that we need to continue engaging.
10. Brooklyn – While it’s not a particularly original story, it’s beautifully acted and comes at a time when America and the world are struggling to make decisions about immigrants and their place in our societies. Brooklyn aroused empathy for how difficult it is to leave everything you’ve known behind and become a stranger in a strange land. Timely and important for us to consider America’s immigrant history and what it looks like today.
What We do in the Shadows – A little bloody, but overall hysterical and perfectly acted in the mock-umentary style
Me Earl and the Dying Girl – Thoughtful, funny, a heartfelt look at youth and mortality. Filmed in Pittsburgh, so it must be good!
Tomorrowland – In the fear and doom over climate change, a call for optimism to focus on solutions rather than problems.
See Ivan’s Top 10 list, we chose only 5 of the same films