Wednesday, January 6, 2016


The inimitable Iris: no expiration date
Fact-based tales top my fave films of 2015

Fact trumped fiction at the movies in 2015—at least in the majority of my favorite films. There's often more truthiness than strict historical fact in anything calling itself a "true story" onscreen, but a lot of entries in my Top Ten had a least a nodding acquaintance with historical reality. Stream these for a happy new year!

TRUMBO Bryan Cranston plays blacklisted real-life Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, with edgy, raging wit, in Jay Roach's entertaining plunge into the dark heart of anti-Communist witch-hunting in Hollywood during the 1940s and '50s.

A movie for anyone interested in backstage Hollywood stories, the craft and business of screenwriting, or the (belated) triumph of reason over fear-mongering.

Cranston as Trumbo: type-cast

SONG OF THE SEA Anyone who loves seals, ancient Celtic folklore, or mythology will be charmed by Tomm Moore's ravishing, hand-drawn, Irish animated feature, combining traditional selkie tales with a stunning visual palette, and an endearing tale of a young girl and her destiny.

COMING HOME Oceans of feeling roil beneath the surface in Zhang Yimou's spare, resonant story whose characters will break your heart. At the end of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, a schoolteacher and her teenage daughter await the return of her husband from a labor camp, but when he arrives, his amnesiac wife no longer recognizes him. A chamber piece for three voices, full of small, exquisite notes to be savored.

IRIS A fixture on the New York City design scene for over sixty years, 93-year-old Iris Apfel proves that fashion has no expiration date. With her wry wit, and easy laugh, she's a beguiling subject for this lively doc by legendary Albert Maysles.

Song of the Sea: ravishing

DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL A 15-year-old girl navigates the tightrope between child and adult in Marielle Heller's adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner's graphic novel. It's a fresh, poignant female coming-of-age drama set in 1976 San Francisco, a liberating, yet dangerous world of almost no taboos. Star Bel Powley makes an impressive debut.

LOVE & MERCY Paul Dano is terrific as Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson in the 1960s, at the height of his creative genius, in Bill Pohlad's generally absorbing fiction film. John Cusack is effective as the '80s-model Brian, and it's all connected by a fabulous, gluttonous feast of Wilson music, from surf tunes to Smile.

INSIDE OUT In the mission control center of the brain, where five key emotions constantly jockey for position, a foul-up in the control booth temporarily disconnects an 11-year-old from her personality. A trek through the adolescent brain is needed to set things right—a journey both hilarious and moving in Peter Docter's smart, animated Pixar movie.
Good vibe: Dano as Wilson, Love & Mercy

THE DANISH GIRL In the 1920s, real-life Danish painter Einar Wegener was one of the first people to have sexual reassignment surgery, transitioning into a woman, Lili Elbe. Tom Hooper tells the larger story of the evolving relationship between Wegener and his wife. Nuanced performances from Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander highlight this compassionate portrait of love and identity.

TESTAMENT OF YOUTH Vera Brittain's WWI memoir inspires James Kent's searing, heartfelt drama. Maintaining Brittain's focus on the minutiae of women's daily lives, and the encroachment of war that leaves no aspect of those lives unscathed, the film paints a broad canvas in delicate strokes of all that is lost in the brutality of war.

Vikander in Youth: Woman of the Year
STEVE JOBS Leave it to scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin to come up with a punchy way to distill the complex story of the visionary who invented Apple computers. Sorkin's sharp script, and the propulsive energy of Danny Boyle's direction makes for an entertaining biographical drama. This was probably the most unfairly maligned movie of the year, so don't believe what you've heard and go check it out!


THE BIG SHORT (which I didn't see before writing this article)

Most Egregious Misfire: Pan Oh, please.

The Force Awakens: a girl and her droid

Guilty Pleasure: A Little Chaos Snape (Alan Rickman, who also directs) as Louis XIV. Kate Winslet as a female landscape designer at Versailles. Plausible? Not remotely, but still loads of fun.

Comeback Kid: The Star Wars franchise. J. J. Abrams' The Force Awakens recaptures the spirit of the 1977 original—by replicating all the original elements: desert planet, lost droid, cantina scene, Storm Troopers, space pilots, ominous father-son relations. With a few fun twists, like a female protagonist, and a chance to see our favorite characters 30+ years on.

Woman of the Year: Alicia Vikander in three great movies: Ex Machina, Testament of Youth, and The Danish Girl.

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