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When Ten Isn't Enough: The 12 Best Films of 2015 - Part I

First, let me say right off the bat that I'm sorry it has take me this long to put out anything for this site. To be honest, I was bummed out.

I'm bummed out that the Oscars decided to go all-white for the second straight year and having being reminded that stories about minorities don't really matter all that much.

I'm bummed by the realization that whoever walks away with gold on February 28th, I'll have no dog in this year's hunt.

I'm aggravated with the Bernie Bros and Clintonistas going at each other's throats, completely forgetting that they're on the same side.

I'm frightened that Donlad Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are currently vying for the title of most reactionary candidate I'll ever seen in my lifetime.

I'm nearly apathetic and tired of the continuing saga of will my Chargers remain the San Diego Chargers.

I  (constantly) worry that I'll never be able to get out of my own head and try to live, laugh and fall in love.

To put it plainly: I just totally felt burnt out by many things surrounding me. But I'm back now, and ready to embrace what is to come over the next 10 months at the movies. But before I can do that, I need to put a capper on 2015, and this year, I've decided to do something special.

As the title suggests, sometimes, a top ten list of the best films one has seen in the space of a year simply isn't enough. It usually isn't, but you have to pick and choose which movies you loved, and which ones you have to leave off. This year, I've decided to expand my roster of 2015's finest from the traditional 10 to 12, because I feel the quality of films warrants it. In a year filled with crusading journalists searching for truth, emotions figuring out what's best for a young girl, superheroes vs. advanced technology, and mad women trying to overthrow the system, these are the dirty dozen that stood out for me.

12 (tie). Truth Spotlight - Okay, I'm cheating by putting these two films on here, but both character dramas centered in the world of investigative journalism could act as an engrossing double-billing of give 'em hell filmmaking, albeit done in different ways. Writer/director James Vanderbilt's docudrama on the 60 Minutes Wednesday controversy regarding Bush Jr's service in the National Guard is angry; it's brimming with righteous fury over the (mis)treatment of producer Mary Mapes (a never-better Cate Blanchett) and legendary news anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) at the hands of CBS president Andrew Heyward (Bruce Greenwood) the moment the shit hit the fan, which cost the pair their careers. In contrast to Vanderbilt mourning men and women doing a public service by bringing light to the darkness, director and co-writer Tom McCarthy celebrates that very aspect by telling the story of the Boston Globe's "spotlight" team exposing Catholic priests sexually abusing young children and covering up their crimes. Unlike Truth, where Blanchett is the standout as Mary Mapes, there's brilliant and controlled performances by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams as Walter Robinson, Michael Rezendes and Sacha Pfeiffer, respectively, as the real-life reporters who put themselves on the line to break the silence about the Catholic faith abusing their power in the Boston community.Both films, however, ultimately say that we need dogged and fearless reporters like a Rezendes, a Rather, a Pfeiffer and a Mapes to be the watchdog for the city, or the entire country, in order to keep the powerful from doing whatever the want, regardless of who gets hurt or the consequences of their actions.

11. Suffragette - This period piece detailing the Suffrage Movement in Britain circa 1912 isn't easy to sit though. Part of it is due to the content: director Sarah Gavron doesn't skimp over what these women went through - arrests, beatings by the police and being shunned in nearly all facets of society; and part of it is due to how these women were willing to forfeit their own lives in lieu of an outcome they knew they might not see, but hoping other women in the future could. Carey Mulligan has put together an impressive resume of one terrific performance after another (An Education in 2009, Never Let Me Go in 2010, and the duo of Drive and Shame in 2011); here, she's never been better as a laundress who loses her family, but gains a cause as member of the Suffragettes. Watching her slowly transform from quiet and subversive housewife/factory worker to a steely-eyed, weary advocate for women's rights who continues to be a thorn in the side of Inspector Steed (Brendon Gleeson) is one of the most complete and fully-fleshed out performances in 2015. Despite the strides made in the fight for gender equality, such as the 29th Amendment outlawing discrimination in the voting booth because of gender in 1920, the right to have an abortion in 1973 and the Lily Lebetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, to name a few, we're reminded at the end of this civil rights drama that we still have a ways to go to. 

10. Sicario - Not since Michael Mann's Collateral in 2004 and Joel & Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men in 2007 have I seen a more raw, hypnotic, bleak and exhilarating crime-thriller than director Denis Villeneuve's and first-time screenwriter Taylor Sheridan's take on the War on Drugs. From the firefight in Juarez, Mexico with Federal Agent Kate Marcer (Emily Blunt) and CIA black ops Agents Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) & Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) going up against foot soldiers for drug kingpin Manuel Diaz, to the explosive third act in the nighttime desert of Mexico, this is both first-rate entertainment and a sobering tale of the results of merging with monsters. Blunt does her best work to date as the straight-arrow FBI Agent Marcer who's constantly coming into conflict with how Graver and his division are carrying out their orders, while Brolin is fantastic as a shadowy black-ops leader with no qualms getting his hands dirty to produce results. But it's del Toro who reigns over as Gillick, an operative with his own agenda. Seeing his true nature revealed, and telling Marcer that she's a sheep "in a land of wolves" brilliantly sums up the film in a nutshell.

9. Inside Out - After a few years making subpar work (Cars 2, Brave, Monsters University), Pixar returns to form, and do it by crafting their most original and unique animated film since 2008's WALL-E, by taking us into the head of a pre-teen girl's emotions. As usual, the animation wizards take a bizarre premise and make it work thanks to a nuanced and lovely script (Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley and Pete Docter, take a bow) which never makes a false step or treats kids as if they're dumb, boasting gorgeous and imaginative animation as directors Docter & Ronnie del Carmen show us the inner-workings of Riley's head, and thanks to terrific voice acting by Amy Poheler as Joy, Phyllis Smith as Sadness, and Richard Kind as Bing Bong, a forgotten imaginary friend from Riley's younger days; as well as spot-on comedic timing by Mindy Kaling as Disgust, Bill Hader as Fear and Lewis Black as Anger. What makes this whimsical, touching and achingly imaginative piece of filmmaking all the more special is how much it gets right about what it's like to be a fish out of water in a new setting: missing old friends, making new ones, and trying to start a new life and form a new identity for yourself. Well done, and welcome back, Pixar.

8. Straight Outta Compton - Not only is director F. Gary Gary's musical biopic an entertaining and compelling late-80's-early 90's version of Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights in dealing with the rise and fall of the N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitude), it also works as a parable of how the reality of five young black men shaped the art they would produce; as a commentary of youth having too much, too soon in the spotlight; and as a somber reminder of the strained relationship between the black community and local law enforcement that harass and instigate, instead of serving and protecting the whole. O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins and the reliable Paul Giamatti all give fantastic performances as Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Jerry Heller, the manager of the group, respectively, but it's Jason Mitchell as Eric Wright, aka "Easy E", who steals the show as the young man who puts the group together, but takes the hardest tumble as he aligns fiercely with Heller as the manager tears the band apart. It's a film that captures the time and the place of the movement where arguments over race relations were about to boil over, where drug use was as much as a casualty as gang violence and police brutality, and where five young men exploded the truth about the plight of urban living to Americans during the Reagan/Bush era.

7.  Beasts of No Nation - This is one of those movies I can only watch once in a blue moon. Not because the level of skill is lacking, or that the film is terrible - it wouldn't be on this list if otherwise. Rather, this is a film that grabs you by the throat and drags you to the heart of darkness, to a place where the worst of man rules over, leaving a trail of bloodshed and horror in its wake. Director, writer and cinematographer Cary Joji Fukunaga's tale of Agu, a young boy living in wartime West Africa, who loses his family and becomes indoctrinated into a rebel militia, led by Idris Elba's charming and sadistic Commandant, is gripping from the first frame to the last. Newcomer Abraham Atta is a revelation, capturing in real time, the death of his innocence as he is consumed by drugs, the pull of avenging his family's death, this new makeshift family with his youth-in-arms, and with the monster he is slowly becoming. And Elba gives a career best as the Commandant, a general who acts as warlord, cult-leader and bizarre father figure to a group of lost boys with guns - sometimes, all at once. It's a tale that shows that in war, the demons come from everywhere.

I'll have Part II up and running by the end of next week, perhaps sooner. Stay tuned, and it's great to be back.


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