EDITORIAL: The Best of 2015 (so far)
The end of June marks the halfway point of 2015. This website makes it a point each year to measure the calendar year's offerings so far of what has been the best with the goal of building a year-end "10 Best" list. The Hollywood calendar is always backloaded (see my long-term Oscar prognosis for 2015 list here) where the really good stuff is biding its time for the fall and winter holiday seasons. After the Oscars in February, I gathered a "16 to Watch for 2016" list. Most of those don't even have trailers or posters yet. Further, I'm nowhere close to starting my annual Awards Tracker data tallying. Still, this is as good a place as any to honor the fine efforts that have graced the screen this half-year.
Without further introduction, these are my "Best of 2015 (so far)" selections. I feel pretty confident in what I've seen so far. I have missed one notable films which could have the pedigree to crack this list. That is the Brian Wilson biopic "Love and Mercy," but it hasn't quite come close enough for me to see yet. This is a halfway group of five instead of the full ten and, in the tradition of this website, each is paired with its best life lesson. If you haven't seen these five films yet, seek them out and enjoy!
THE 5 BEST MOVIES OF 2015 (SO FAR)
2015 becomes the third year in a row where I find myself surprisingly choosing art over dazzle. Thomas Vinterberg's excellent Thomas Hardy novel adaptation from screenwriter David Nicholls follows "The Grand Budapest Hotel' in 2014 and the "The Place Beyond the Pines" in 2013 in accomplishing this artsy-fartsy feat to earn the top spot on these "So Far" lists in past years. I love what's behind it at #2, but I expected that film's greatness. I didn't foresee how much "Far from the Madding Crowd" was going to impress me and that lasting imprint won me over. The film is traditional, elegant, romantic, well-acted, and slowly captivating on multiple levels. It's been my top recommend to folks wanting something substantial and different from the usual Hollywood product.
ITS BEST LESSON: EARNING RESPECT AND EARNING LOVE GO HAND IN HAND-- For all of the talk of time period, this lesson rings true of courtship even today. Earning one's respect goes a long way towards earning their attraction and their heart. You can argue that a mutual respect should always come first in a relationship. Each partner should be willing to respect their significant other and what constitutes them, whether it's their profession, passion, beliefs, etc. Of the three potential suitors for Ms. Everdene, all quickly learn that to woo an independent woman such as her, you have to catch her eye first, her respect second, and her heart third. Each of the three men go about their respect in a different way which matters as to who wins Bathsheba's heart in the end.
2. "INSIDE OUT"
Here is the wealth of dazzle sitting behind the esteemed art. My recent 5-star review lauded this Pixar blockbuster as something truly special and it is just that. Brilliant in every technical and emotional way, "Inside Out" regains the perfection Pixar once had for that extra magic and poignancy that made them the best. The film has so much going on that you could watch it ten times and learn or see something new.
ITS BEST LESSON: THE FACTORS IN MANAGING YOUR EMOTIONS-- Branching off from the central desire to be happy, another piece of growing up and into the person we are meant or destined to become is managing our emotions. “Inside Out” shows that a child sees and reacts to things in predominantly singular ways when it comes to memories and labels. Things are black-and-white in terms of happy or sad, angry or calm, etc. They don't know gray area fully. For example, they don’t know what “happy tears” are the way adults do. That understanding evolves with age because the factors, both internal and external and some in our control and others that are not, that trigger those emotions change and we learn to handle them differently and more effectively. The ability to process and manage one’s emotions and attaining the grasp that our emotions can be more than singular in reaction and expression is a big step in growing up. This film tackles that visually and beautifully.
This double accolade winner (Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award) from the Sundance Film Festival hopes to be "The Little Engine That Could" for 2015 and follow the same path as last year's Sundance sweeper "Whiplash." "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" is not as impactful as "Whiplash," but it is just as smart and nonconformist in its perspective and narrative. Telling a young adult teen cancer story without any of the tropes and cliches of endless YA-lit or terminal illness movies, this film is refreshing, funny, and entirely commendable for leaping outside of every possible box and over every pitfall. This is the coming-of-age movie you need to see this year.
ITS BEST LESSON: ONE STEP TO FINDING MATURITY IS CARING ABOUT SOMEONE OTHER THAN YOURSELF-- Both Greg and Rachel (the "Me" and the "Dying Girl" from the title) start forced into a unwanted friendship. They won't admit it, but they both kind of need each other and welcome the new voice. It takes time, but, sure enough, friendship is just what they find out of their shared time. For Greg in particular, this is a colossal change. He has so little positive opinion of himself that friendship is even more beneath his emotional threshold at the beginning of the film. In gaining a true kindred spirit, he learns the letter of this lesson because, in Rachel and in a non-romantic way, he gets over his world being only about him and his self-perceived plight. Greg gains the maturity of moving past youthful self-love and finds himself caring for someone else.
Back in March, I labeled "'71" as the first great film of 2015 and I stand by that. This small film from overseas starring "Unbroken" discovery Jack O'Connell tells the harrowing one-wild-night true story of a British Army trooper left on his own behind the tenuous urban battle lines of the politically-motivated and religiously-charged street warfare of Belfast, Northern Ireland during the title year of last century. With a blistering pace and in-your-face point-of-view, "'71" something wholly different, non-traditional, and unpredictable by today's action standards. This is a hidden gem is worth your effort to discover and, yeah, it got ranked over "Avengers: Age of Ultron."
ITS BEST LESSON: THE BENEVOLENCE AND DECENCY OF STRANGERS-- When you strip the politics, doctrines, causes, and labels away, what you're really watching is an innocent kid in trouble that needs help to get home. Our main character Gary is not looking to start a fight, even if he's wearing a uniform that people judge as the provocateurs of the hate spilling into the streets. Some people show sympathy to him, care for him, and risk their own safety to protect him, even if they constitute being on the "other side." That's because, beyond the escalating conflict and side-choosing, there is a human decency and benevolence that is lost on some, but not by all in times of battle or war. War can bring out the worst in people, but, sometimes, it can bring out the best too.
Call me a geek and an easy mark, but "Avengers: Age of Ultron" met all of my expectation for a ginormous summer blockbuster. It delivered on the continuing and compelling blueprint the Marvel Cinematic Universe is building and I thought it held up next to the fanboy zeal of the first one. What made this sequel a worthy follow-up was the welcome character growth and depth woven in between the action that added to the high values the venerable main characters have already earned. This was an event picture that delivered the goods.
ITS BEST LESSON: WITS AND WILL TRUMP TECHNOLOGY AND FIREPOWER—Stark has provided the “Avengers” with all of the hot technology possible between costume modifications, a swanky headquarters, and endless resources. In the wrong kind of fight, none of that flashy stuff will help you. What powers you then is what’s in your gut and between your ears. Wit is different from intellect. Wit can discern and problem-solve past the plain logic of intelligence. Will is different from physicality. Strength of mind and strength of heart can beat muscles when used the right way.
I have written exactly five 5-star reviews so far and they make the list. Here are the nine 4-star films from this first half of 2015 listed in chronological order. All have their strong merits and recommendations from this website. All are very much worth your time and viewing.
When it comes to "Best of..." lists, I'll see you again in late December 2015 or early January 2016 to give you the official and final best. Let's see how many of these make the final cut at the end.