Although I love writing about all of the major Academy Awards categories, my favorite part of this blog is revealing my favorite films from the past year. Over the next few weeks, I will announce each of the movies on my “Top 15 Films of 2015” list; however, today I start by announcing my “Honorable Mentions.” Therefore, I present you with the five films that just missed out on making my list of the Top 15 Films of 2015:
No. 16 – Legend
Legend is a British crime thriller written and directed by Brian Helgeland. The film tells the true-life story of Reggie and Ronald Kray, identical twin brothers who headed the preeminent organized-crime gang in London’s East End in the 1950s and 60s. Full disclosure: the story and direction as a whole lose focus two-thirds through the film, which is what prevents this movie from being much higher on my list of 2015’s best films. However, Legend still stands tall as a worthy leader of my Honorable Mentions because of Tom Hardy and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Dick Pope. Tom Hardy plays Reggie Kray. Tom Hardy plays Ronald Kray. That’s right—the most talented actor in world cinema leads the film in both main roles. His acting alone is reason to see this movie. Reggie can be violent and dangerous, but he has a softer, more romantic side. Ronald, on the other hand, is the walking example of mental instability, and his violent side is worn much more openly on his sleeves. Hardy’s performance is one of the more amazing things I have ever witnessed in film. You truly forget early on that Hardy is playing both roles—you connect with these characters on a completely individualized basis, as if two actors pulled this off. This visceral exposition was inherently complex, and Dick Pope deserves mounds of credit for making it happen from a cinematography perspective. I highly recommend this movie because of Tom Hardy alone, and it is additionally worth your time to read this article about how, technically, the double-performance by Hardy was created.
No. 17 – Southpaw
Southpaw is a boxing drama directed by Antoine Fuqua, with a screenplay by Kurt Sutter. The film follows world champion boxer Billy Hope as he attempts to get his career back on track after seemingly losing everything in life: his wife is killed in a tragic shooting, and his daughter is stripped from Billy’s care by Child Protective Services. I only saw Southpaw recently, and since I saw Creed beforehand, my expectations for Gyllenhaal’s boxing movie were not high—I mean, how could there be TWO great boxing movies in one year? Boy, was I wrong. Creed (which will come up much later on my blog…wink, wink) and Southpaw are vastly different films, each with its own identity.
Gyllenhaal nailed his leading role, even if the character appeared a bit too dark for me at times. Sutter’s story was fantastic and hard-hitting, which comes as no surprise after I found out that he created FX’s critically acclaimed Sons of Anarchy. I have been incredibly disappointed with Antoine Fuqua’s directorial efforts since Training Day (a top-20 film for me of all time), so I am thrilled to see him back to making remarkable movies. Although I wish I could have seen Eminem in the lead role (the story was based on his life and the rapper was attached to the film for years), I was glad he still crept into the finished product: one of the best scenes features Gyllenhaal training while Eminem’s “Phenomenal” blasts through the speakers—it was glorious!
No. 18 – The Gift
The Gift is a psychological thriller written, directed, and produced by Joel Edgerton. The film follows a married couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), as their lives are turned upside down with the introduction of Gordo (Joel Edgerton), a mysterious acquaintance from Simon’s past. This movie went decently under the radar throughout its limited release towards the end of summer, and I was lucky to have come across it—it was one of the more surprising film experiences of 2015 for me. I have always enjoyed Edgerton as an actor, but my respect for his acting abilities has wildly intensified after seeing this movie. The character evokes the epitome of creepy-crawly emotions, and Edgerton nailed every nuanced look and gesture. What really surprised me was how impressive Edgerton is as a filmmaker—plus, this is his directorial debut. Wow, what a way to start off with a bang! I have seen The Gift twice at this point (once in theaters, once at home), and with a second view, the thrills and chills were still aplenty. Need a good Redbox suggestion? Here you go. You’re welcome!
No. 19 – Black Mass
Black Mass is a crime drama directed by Scott Cooper, with a screenplay by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk. The film follows the true-life events surrounding one of the most notorious American mobsters: Boston-native James “Whitey” Bulger. If you like gangster movies, then this is a must-see; Cooper has created a worthy entry into one of film’s best genres. The direction is great, the story is well crafted, and the movie is thrilling, but the standout feature of Black Mass is the ensemble cast (and the performances that flow therefrom). As I pointed out in my Fall Preview in August, Johnny Depp is (despite his many flaws) at his core an incredibly talented performer—all of that talent is on full display in this movie. There are also wonderful supporting performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Scott, Dakota Johnson, and Corey Stoll. However, my favorite part of the film was Joel Edgerton as FBI agent John Connolly. Edgerton’s character had by far the biggest character arc, and Edgerton knocked every aspect of that journey out of the park. For that performance alone, Black Mass is one you need to check out.
No. 20 – Bridge of Spies
Bridge of Spies is a Cold War drama directed by Steven Spielberg, with a screenplay written by Matt Charman and the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan). The film follows the true-life story of James Donavon (Tom Hanks), an American attorney tasked with defending Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Additionally, Donavon helps the CIA negotiate for and assist in the exchange of Rudolf Abel for Francis Gary Powers, an American spy-plane pilot captured by the Soviets. No one is happier than I am to see a Spielberg movie among the ranks of my favorite films from the past year. Movies like Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Catch Me If You Can are incredible, absolutely incredible. However, recent films like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, War Horse, and Lincoln forced me into a state of lost hope for Spiely as a filmmaker. I included Bridge of Spies on my Fall Preview because I had high hopes for the movie, considering Spielberg employed the Coen brothers to write the script. The Coen brothers are some of the most masterful screenwriters in the industry, and they brought their A-game to this movie. With a superb script, vintage directing, and skilled acting by Hanks and Rylance, Bridge of Spies turned out to be one of the year’s best—obviously the Academy agreed, as it nominated the film for six Oscars, including Best Picture.