Ivan’s Top Ten Movies of 2015

Well 2015 is in the past and I do feel like it was a good year for movies. It was at least the most financially successful year to date with a combined box office haul of over $11 billion. So here are my top ten movies of the year. The ones that I enjoyed the most, was affected by the most, or I thought were most important. But first, to ease your mind, here are the movies we didn’t get to see this year.

We Didnt See 2015

10. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

When tragedy strikes, people create mechanisms in their lives to make sense of it all. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl created an authentic and entertaining voice to this meaning-making process of struggle and grief. The characters were likable but flawed, they were relatable but unique. Overall, it was a fun and cathartic movie as the audience tries to make sense of the world through the lens of these somewhat bratty, creative, loveable emerging adults.

Dope

Dope (2015)

9. Dope

We all have categories or boxes that people put us into and we all put others into categories and boxes. It’s what we do as people. What I love about Dope is that it deals with characters that are wildly complex. I am a huge fan of writer, director, producer Rick Famuyiwa and, especially, one his earlier works, The Wood. Famuyiwa brought a similar tone and authenticity to Dope while asking questions about his characters and the world they live in that perhaps we should all be asking. And not just asking them of ourselves, but also in how we view others. I will say, even as I write this, I stand conflicted about this movie because there are a few sexually explicit and potentially exploitative scenes in the film. Hopefully, in a few years you can catch an edited for TV version of Dope so you can get the thematic weight without the, perhaps, unnecessary raunch.

8. Ex Machina

Where Dope asks questions of what does it mean to be categorized and stereotyped, Ex Machina asks what does it mean to be human all together. This movie is gripping and intense. As the tension builds, and as I wrestled with these larger questions of existence, I felt my heart beating and pulse pounding as if the film was trying to tell me that I was indeed alive. You can read more about Ex Machina in my review here: Artificial Intelligence and Isolation through the Looking Glass 

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7. Inside Out

Emotions can be scary. They can be misleading, they can drive us to tears, some of us feel like they have complete control over us. It’s intimidating and humbling. Then Pixar sprinkled their magic on emotions and makes them personable and fun. What I love most about Inside Out is that it teaches us that our emotions are ok and they are part of what makes us human. A lesson children desperately need to learn…and adults too. Go deeper into Inside Out with my review here: From the Inside Out

6. The End of the Tour

I wish The End of the Tour was getting more awards attention. This film almost convinced me to read David Foster Wallace’s 1000+ page master work, Infinite Jest. That is saying something as I am rarely ever compelled to read anything. Not only that, Jason Segal’s portrayal of the author had me attentively fixed on him during the entire movie waiting for what he would say next, hoping that answers to life’s bigger questions would come. If Segal’s take on Wallace was at all correct, than he was an absolute genius tormented by an internal war between what he knows about the world and a desire to not act like he knows everything. It left me feeling like in Wallace, who was gripped by depression, we lost a potentially great truth teller that our world could definitely use. Here was his take in the late 1990’s on the growing porn industry:

“You’re having a fantasy relationship with somebody who is not real… strictly to stimulate a neurological response. So as the Internet grows in the next 10, 15 years… and virtual reality pornography becomes a reality, we’re gonna have to develop some real machinery inside our guts… to turn off pure, unalloyed pleasure. Or, I don’t know about you, I’m gonna have to leave the planet. ‘Cause the technology is just gonna get better and better. And it’s gonna get easier and easier… and more and more convenient and more and more pleasurable… to sit alone with images on a screen… given to us by people who do not love us but want our money. And that’s fine in low doses, but if it’s the basic main staple of your diet, you’re gonna die.”

5. Steve Jobs

A lot has been said and documented about the life and business of Steve Jobs, but this film chose to limit our interactions with him to three intense, impactful moments in his career. This was a choice that I loved and as Michael Fassbender’s performance carries you through the film, I felt like we got a new, creative, and interesting take on a man many of us feel like we already know because we have his life’s work buzzing around in our pockets and purses.

4. Creed

I still can’t believe how much I loved Creed. I can’t believe how smart, sensitive, and engaging a film in the Rocky series can be after the pitfalls of the latter installments. I can’t believe writer, director Ryan Coogler is 29 years old. I can’t believe this young man went to Sylvester Stallone and pitched the idea for this movie, got it made, and inspired one of Stallone’s best performances in years. It’s all hard to believe but when that familiar Rocky score hits and his beautiful film is built up to it’s climax, you will believe.

THE BIG SHORT

The Big Short (2015)

3. The Big Short

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby came out when I was in college and like any young, college male I found it hilarious. Oh to be young again. So when I heard it’s writer and director was making a film about the economic crash of 2008, I did what Adam McKay had trained me to do at his work…laugh. Then I watched the movie and I laughed and cried and got angry and lamented. The Big Short is deceptively brilliant because McKay approached the film humbly out his own ignorance of the topic and desire to help anyone understand what happened. Match that humility with career performances from Steve Carell and Christian Bale and you get a huge payoff.

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars is back, people! Weeks after I’ve seen the movie it still dominates my thoughts and conversations. I loved The Force Awakens so much but I will reserve the number one spot and a high grade for the movie because I believe and hope that there is still room to grow in this new trilogy. So I expect to love the next installments even more and I won’t let my fanboy emotions eclipse my number one movie that may have affected me on a different level. The Force Awakens is my favorite movie of the year, but that didn’t necessarily mean it was the best movie of the year. Read my spoilery thoughts on my favorite new character and the hope I have for the galaxy here: Star Wars: A Rey of Hope 

Mark Ruffalo

Mark Ruffalo totally retweeted me. Not why I put Spotlight at #1.

1. Spotlight

On our honeymoon, Heather and I, looking to relax for a couple hours after walking around Portland, ME’s hills and bay front, walked into a theater and watched Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station. I left the theater less than relaxed. I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually wrecked by that movie and this year that same feeling happened again as I watched Spotlight. The film is about the journalists that investigated and brought to light the Catholic priest child molestation scandal of the early 2000’s. As I watched this very tense film, filled with great performances, I felt the weight of an entire city all questioning their faith at once. It was convicting, haunting, and authentic. I left the theater weighed down by the sin of men I didn’t know, but ultimately lifted up by a force that isn’t afraid to bring such darkness into the light.

Here are our combined 2015 Top Ten Lists! Find Heather’s here!

Our Top Tens 2015

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Heather’s Top 10 Films of 2015

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 ShortThis 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.

Creed-Movie-Poster

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.

The Walk

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.

The-Visit-trailer

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.

Brooklyn

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.

Honorable Mentions

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

Our Top Tens 2015

From the “Inside Out”

The moment when a captive Mr. Incredible hears his super family fall over the radio and he loses his will to live. Our innocent romantic, Wall-E reaches out and finally holds Eve’s sleek blade of a hand. Facing the furnace of their demise, Andy’s favorite toys join hands to ride into the sunset together. Carl, tickets to their grand adventure in hand, watches Ellie struggle up their favorite hill only to fall to her knees. Over the years, Disney/Pixar has always brought the feels. So it’s only fitting that their newest offering is a story all about emotion, Inside Out.

Riley's Emotions

How do our modern day master minstrels of heart strings do with a movie all about our emotional insides? It’s complicated. And by that I mean Inside Out is perfect because it’s as complicated as our emotions tend to be. Our heroine is Riley, a pre-teen rink rat from Minnesota, right on the verge of an emotional awakening. To this point in her life, her emotions have been simple, sorted into five distinct categories. The movie is her journey towards a higher plain of self actualization.

Riley and her best friend

We join Riley shortly before a pivotal event in her life, an event that is hard for her to understand. Her emotions, though, have an even harder time placing this event into their normal categories. This sends Joy, voiced energetically by Amy Poehler, into overdrive trying to make sure Riley has “perfect days” to get her through this life transition. This puts her in direct competition with Sadness for control of Riley. Providing the melancholy melody of Sadness is the outstandingly cast, Phyllis Smith, who most will know from NBC’s The Office.

Naturally, their tug of war over Riley’s behaviors ends with both of them being launched into the deepest parts of Riley’s consciousness needing to fight their way back to her emotional control room. The movie is fun and will more than likely supply teaching clips for Psychology 101 professors across the nation for years to come. I laughed, I cried, I gasped coming face to face with my own full spectrum of emotions as I related to Riley. Most of us will. Most of us have faced times in our lives when we fail to reconcile our feelings.

Joy and Sadness

It is only after reminiscing about our favorite jokes that the conviction of the film really set in. Are we afraid to feel our feelings? Joy is given incentive to take control when Riley’s mom affirms her for being her “happy girl” through this trying time. How can she even let Sadness in a little bit after that? Isn’t that so true to life, particularly the Christian life?

You are the light of the world. If you believe what we believe how can you possibly ever show a single tear to those around you? How are you sharing the best news in the world with those around you if you can’t even hold it together? So we try to push it down and as we do this pieces of our personality, of who we are and what we feel fade away. We are afraid to let our sadness diminish our witness. But God is not afraid nor is he surprised by our emotions.

Fear!

Throughout the Bible we see God get emotional. He shows us how to express righteous anger, he gives us space to weep. We have a communal shoulder to cry on atop the Body of Christ. When released into community, our emotions can draw others to us. They invite God to draw near to us as well.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy hill. – Psalm 3:3-4

Inside Out is, perhaps, the story of Riley’s first lament, the layered expression that acts as the main character of the majority of the Psalms. Lament is a frantic mixture of grief, anger, sadness, fear, disgust, and every variation of the lot. This is a story not just for own emotional health, helping us think of the times we hid or stifled our emotions in a moment of deep distress, but it can also shed light on how we relate to those around us. In your church, small group, Bible study, ministry, do you provide space for your community to feel?

Riley Holding Back

As we watch the events in Charleston, SC unfold, as churches all over the country fall to their knees to share the lament of Emanuel AME, our hope is that their grief will fade, that our cries will open the door for God’s peace to come, a peace that passes all understanding, a peace born out of steadfast love, a peace that is everlasting.

Everlasting, your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending, your glory goes beyond all fame
And the cry of my heart is to bring you praise
From the inside out
Lord my soul cries out