As movie critic for Rewire Me, I’m delighted to offer the list of the films of 2015 that I found most inspiring; the ones about people looking for authenticity, or that touch on compassion, caring for each other and the world. I’ve always thought that choosing only 10 films on such lists is too restrictive—it’s arbitrary and makes the appreciation of beauty more like mathematics. So there are 12 films on my list, and I love them all.
Lily Tomlin’s wonderful summation of her art: playing the titular character crotchety and affectionate in equal measure. Most important is her ability to hold space in which a vulnerable person can feel safe to speak their painful truth, and be cared for. A perfect little film of big ideas and enormous heart.
One of the most surprising experiences of 2015 is this Rocky sequel: a multiplex blockbuster which takes universally recognizable (and frequently caricatured) iconography and turns it into an artfully realized invocation for personal dignity and racial reconciliation. A great young director (Ryan Coogler) and star (Michael B Jordan) are here; and Sylvester Stallone’s subtle performance is pure humane sensitivity.
A gorgeous dive into the Irish immigrant experience of the 1950s that may resonate with anyone who has ever left home for a new life. Saoirse Ronan brilliantly evokes what it means to leave behind that which we have always known, in exchange for the opportunity of becoming someone new at the expense of uncertainty. It’s a spiritual journey too.
The magnificent mystic German artist Wim Wenders and the filmmaker Juliano Ribeiro Salgado pay tribute to Salgado’s father Sebastião in this documentary. The elder Salgado, one of the most distinguished contemporary photographers, has made a life of service to the marginalized peoples of the world by documenting their stories. Lately he turned his camera to the erosion of ecological balance; and eventually created a reforestation preserve in Brazil, literally reversing the destruction of nature. This film is an invitation to heal yourself by gifting something to others.
An exquisitely mounted drama of love in a dangerous time. Two women (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, both living these roles as if born into them) fall in love in 1950s New York, and refuse to let social mores and the projections of others stop them. The pain of sacrificing for the sake of love is evident, but not made into melodrama; writer Phyllis Nagy and director Todd Haynes also know that it’s time we saw a mainstream film about same-sex love that doesn’t end tragically.
It’s really difficult to take well-worn genre clichés (such as friendship among teenagers, one of who is seriously ill), contain them in a knowingly hipster vessel (the teenagers make pastiche versions of well-known art films), and not either produce a sentimental mishmash or something smarter-than-thou. But Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, working from Jesse Andrews’ adaptation of his own novel has a rare enlightened touch. I cried more at this than any other movie this year, tears of empathy for folk living through sorrow; and the laughter of recognizing our universal stumbling on the way to becoming true friends.
Brie Larson stars in Lenny Abrahamson and Emma Donoghue’s film about a woman kidnapped, raising her child in a shed, which may sound like a bleak premise indeed. But Room is a thriller that takes parenting as seriously as suspense; a drama that understands the impact of traumatic experience, but forgoes vengeance; and a horror film that fully affirms life and love.
The best film about journalism since All the President’s Men, and an important contribution to encouraging those who work in the media to champion their highest calling: to find and reveal the truth, in a way that can promote the common good.
Love and Mercy
In telling the story of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, Love and Mercy manages to advance two different genres—the music biopic, and the portrayal of mental illness. It’s a mind-expanding, heart-lifting exploration of the interaction between creativity and madness, and the need for affirmation from community.
Shaun the Sheep
As rip-roaringly entertaining as the greatest films of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin; with a critique of celebrity culture that is also self-deprecating; and a good guy versus bad guy story in which the bad guy actually gets the chance to learn his lesson rather than simply be destroyed. Timeless, perfect cinema that understands the possibilities of visual movement and complex story.
If I had to pick just one, this is perhaps my favorite of the year. A unique work of crafted nonfiction, in which the personal audio journals of Marlon Brando are presented alongside clips from his work and archive footage from his life. The Quaker writer Parker Palmer suggests that authentic lives are lived “from the inside out;” and Brando, in this telling, invites us into his private search. It’s profoundly moving to see someone whose work is so familiar be reintroduced as a person who ached and yearned for love and meaning. Stevan Riley’s film is a mirror, a breathtaking film, asking us to look inward, and listen to ourselves.
PIXAR’s finest; a magnificently designed adventure in exploring emotional maturity. It’s not just delicious entertainment, but elevating storytelling, not merely smart but wise.