On this week’s episode of The Big Screen, Chris Vognar and I talk about the excellent year in local film festivals. And we had so much fun, we actually kinda ran out of time before we could get to our personal best-of lists. Be sure to check out his list; mine is as follows:
- Spotlight – Director Tom McCarthy’s thoughtful film starts as a look into the Boston Globe’s investigation of pedophile priests. Along the way, it explores the dangers of unchecked power and offers a nuanced look into how a city’s institutions (media, city hall, the church) function while at odds with one another. Plus, it’s a spot-on depiction of what a newsroom looks like and how it functions.
- The Big Short – Speaking of unchecked power … Adam McKay – best known as Will Ferrell’s frequent collaborator – puts his comic instincts to good use in this look at the 2008 credit and housing bubble collapse. I’d be lying if I said I could explain how everything happened, but I definitely have a much better understanding after viewing the tidal wave through the eyes of those who saw it coming.
- Inside Out – It’s maybe a lot to ask of kids to wrap their minds around five main characters who represent the emotions inside a young girl’s head. Still, the way these emotions are represented visually is both innovative and fun. And the insight “Inside Out” offers into how these emotions can combine to form new feelings definitely sticks with adults in the audience.
- Ex Machina – This was the film that had everyone buzzing in Austin during SXSW. Still, a story of an eccentric billionaire trying to build a realistic lady robot didn’t sound all that interesting to me. Boy, was I wrong. This one will leave you thinking about the possibilities of artificial intelligence, cloning and the other ways in which we try to game the human experience.
- The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu stands a serious chance of winning back-to-back best director Oscars – a feat not accomplished since Joseph Mankiewicz did it in 1949-50 for “A Letter to Three Wives” and “All About Eve.” The stars of this show, though, are Leonardo DiCaprio as a revenge-fueled fur trapper and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. His languid, vivid shots of snowy woods and icy ravines could win him his third consecutive Oscar. Take that, Alejandro!
- Trumbo – Dalton Trumbo and his fellow black-listed screenwriters make ends meet during their exile from Hollywood. Who knew a bunch of Communists had so much to say about the Constitution.
- The Walk – Even if you never saw the Oscar-winning documentary “Man on Wire,” daredevil Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tells you at the beginning of “The Walk” that he successfully completes his tight-rope walk between the Twin Towers. That doesn’t mean your palms won’t be sweaty the first time he steps foot on the wire.
- Amy – Director Asif Kapadia’s use of home movies to tell the story of Amy Winehouse’s rise and fall makes the standard talking-heads documentary format seem static and boring. “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” is a worthwhile companion piece.
- Best of Enemies – William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal go toe-to-toe on during the 1968 presidential conventions and usher in the era of divisive television punditry in the process.
- Love & Mercy – The mind of Brian Wilson is alternatingly scary and exhilarating. Paul Dano captures both extremes as the young Wilson. The scene of him working with the bang-up roster of early ‘60s L.A. studio musicians is one of the best displays of the creative process coming to life on film.
Honorable mentions: Brooklyn, Concussion, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Raiders!, The Hateful Eight, Joy, Steve Jobs, Straight Outta Compton