Friday, February 26, 2016


“…if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”
--“Mitch Garabedian,” SPOTLIGHT

Halfway through SPOTLIGHT, Tom McCarthy’s terrific film (co-written with Josh Singer) about the uncovering of a decades-long abuse scandal at the Catholic Church, lawyer Mitch Garabedian makes the above statement to Boston Globe reporter Mike Rezendes.  Those words haunt the film and many of the other great films of 2015.  Who should be held responsible for a particular crime or social ill?  Even if we can point the figure at this person or that thing, are we no less to blame if we tacitly allowed the crime to happen, if we said or did nothing while the social ill took hold?  If we witness or suspect wrongdoing but turn away out of convenience or discomfort, are we no less complicit?

Adam McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph take a less direct, but no less effective, approach in THE BIG SHORT, their adaptation of Michael Lewis’ examination of the 2008 housing financial crisis.  They go for laughs, at least initially, until the world economy becomes the butt of the joke.  Who to blame, who to blame?  The mortgage lenders for approving toxic loans?  The borrowers for accepting loans they could never pay back?  The fund raters for handing out AAA ratings because, if they don’t, the toxic fund peddlers will just go to their competitor?  Can we really wag our fingers as a society when we balk at funding needed social programs and necessary infrastructure but freely spend money on lottery tickets in the hopes of making something for next to nothing?

In THE LOOK OF SILENCE we follow an Indonesian man trying to learn the truth about the brutal killing of his brother in the political massacres 50 years before.  No one wants to bring up the atrocities of the past.  The perpetrators don’t out of fear of losing political power.  The victims’ families won’t out of fear of reprisal.  And these people are neighbors to each other.  It takes a village indeed.

In MAD MAX: FURY ROAD we have a two hour chase in which our protagonists realize that they cannot run away from their past but must return to their village to create a better future.  In CAROL we have two women in the 1950s who are asked by society to be something they’re not.  Is that an edict society should make?  Or as a village should we endeavor to be more accepting and inclusive?

Some questions have more obvious answers than others, but most seem to be on the minds of many filmmakers this year.  I suspect they’re on a lot of people’s minds.  Below are a list of my favorite movies from 2015 and in some cases a brief explanation of what draws me to those films.  It goes without saying I recommend them all.  There is not one film on this list that left me unchanged.  And that is the most one can hope for.

There are many people to thank, but I won’t bore you with all that here.  If you’re reading this, please accept my thanks.  I’m grateful to all of you for different reasons and in different ways.  But I can safely say that your presence in my life has not left me unchanged.  I mean that in a good way.

Finally, thanks to my supportive family.  I’m lucky to have you.

Brian Pope
February 26, 2016

(in alphabetical order)
THE LOOK OF SILENCE  This stunning companion documentary to THE ACT OF KILLING (2013) follows Adi Rukun, the brother of a victim of the brutal Indonesian massacres of the mid-1960s, as he questions and confronts surviving collaborators, perpetrators (some of whom are still in power) and their families in a personal quest for truth and reconciliation.  Heartbreaking, horrifying and bracing, Joshua Oppenheimer’s film examines the terror of silence and the courageous power of seeing the past and present with clear and open eyes.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD  Thirty years after the iconic road warrior last graced the big screen, director George Miller brings him back with a vengeance and makes the last three decades of action movies look like weak tea.  Miller drops us into a fully-realized post-apocalyptic wasteland and sends its denizens (and us) barreling through it at full throttle.  Much has been made of the film’s feminism (most of the women are as tough as or tougher than the men), but it is the film’s humanism that lingers after the memory of the harrowing stunts and explosions fade.
SPOTLIGHT  In an era where cable news has dumbed down journalism to the point of near irrelevance, it is easy to forget the awesome power of the press.  In 2001 the investigate wing of The Boston Globe dug into past reporting of pedophile priests in the Catholic Church and, with tireless research and dogged follow up, uncovered system wide abuse and a decades long cover up by the institutional hierarchy.  Director Tom McCarthy relies on simplicity and clarity to give his drama all the suspense and indignation of the best political thrillers of the 1970s.
(in alphabetical order)
THE BIG SHORT  Adam McKay’s hilarious and infuriating film makes us, at least for two hours, complicit bystanders in the financial catastrophe of 2008, as we hope for comeuppance but realize the jokes is on us.
BRIDGE OF SPIES  This elegant, thoughtful argument for diplomacy and constructive engagement boasts restrained direction by Steven Spielberg and topnotch performances from Tom Hanks and Mark Ryland.
CAROL  Todd Haynes explores the dangers of sexual and emotional repression in the 1950s as we watch a suburban housewife and department store clerk (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara -- both excellent) fall in love.
EX MACHINA  The mad scientist monster movie gets a 21st Century cyber twist in writer/director Alex Garland’s thought-provoking, claustrophobic thriller about an android who may be smarter than her maker.
INSIDE OUT  Using clever personifications of Fear, Joy, Anger and Sadness, this animated gem from Pixar follows a young girl as she learns how to deal with difficult emotions in this sparkling, wistful comedy.
ROOM  Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are heart-wrenching in this harrowing and exhilarating drama about physical and emotional survival.  Lenny Abrahamson sensitively directs Emma Donoghue’s beautiful script.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON  A spirited, muscular history of the iconic rap group N.W.A. that provides context and gives respect to the most influential and maligned musical movement of the last twenty-five years.
Runners-Up of 2015
(in alphabetical order)
THE LAMEST of 2015
(in alphabetical order)
THE DANISH GIRL  Director Tom Hooper’s latest Oscar® bait features a mannered performance by Eddie Redmayne but is nearly salvaged by the grounded Alicia Vikander.
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL  A precious piece of sentimental pap masquerading as ironic quirk.  But for Ronald Cyler II (as Earl) and Olivia Cooke (as The Dying Girl) the cast is poorly used.
TOMORROWLAND  The usually reliable Brad Bird goes “full Disney,” and the results are overproduced and ingratiating.  Raffey Cassidy (as Athena) is a find, but everyone else is trying way too hard.

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