As the awards begin for the best movies of 2015, “The Schumies” honor the achievements of the movie year!

 

Piece de Resistance: Spotlight

Every day, across the media, journalists help people discover, absorb and react to truth. While some news can be difficult to consider, and some challenging to absorb, most of what reporters prepare is essential to understanding the world. Spotlight delivers the best on-screen tribute to investigative journalists since Robert Redford explored Watergate in All the President’s Men almost 40 years ago. Director Tom McCarthy celebrates the persistence, commitment and craft the best reporters bring to their work. Even with changes in how people receive news, the film makes us believe that a newspaper’s commitment to truth will prevail.

 

Baked to Perfection: Carol

As he did with Far From Heaven in 2002, director Todd Haynes explores the shadows of forbidden relationships in the beautifully crafted Carol. While the earlier piece revisits the late 1950s – in the lush style of director Douglas Sirk – this film creates a darker view of the early years of the decade in a darkened Manhattan trying to find its rhythm after the tension of World War II. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara – as women trying to reach beyond the conventional views of a relationship – soar in Haynes’ stark environment where people search for ways to connect while the world anxiously observes.

 

Proof is in the Pudding: The Revenant

How a director chooses to use a camera can define how a narrative evolves. A familiar environment can look and feel one way if a camera is static or another if it freely moves. While Alejandro González Iñárritu is not the first director to explore the wilderness, his journey through a brutal landscape presents a unique view. The Oscar-winning director of Birdman makes us believe we experience, first hand, what one man will do to try to save his life. And Leonardo di Caprio delivers a career-capping performance as a man who believes in protecting his soul no matter the cost.

 

Food for Thought: Steve Jobs

Thrilling movies emerge when great filmmakers take significant risks. In this excellent film, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin pushes the boundaries of a conventional biopic to explore what happens backstage in the life of a man who loves the spotlight. While a predictable approach to Jobs’ story might survey the milestones of a landmark career, Sorkin chooses to examine three pivotal days in Jobs’ life. Through this piercing lens, Sorkin lets us see behind the curtain of a life that has changed life so for so many people as he projects the isolation that professional success can create.

 

Music to the Ears: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

For those who love what Star Wars means to the movies, this new edition delivers an ideal gift for the holidays. Writer/director J. J. Abrams successfully walks a creative tightrope to achieve the impossible: make a new film that satisfies the expectations of fans, and the potential of the story, without compromising integrity or innovation. By carefully paying tribute to why we love these movies, Abrams satisfies our hungry while whetting our appetites for more. And he gives us hope that we will get to watch worthwhile Star Wars films for many years to come.

 

Cooking with Gas: Brooklyn

Like a reunion with a close friend, Brooklyn touches the heart with warmth, reaches the mind with humanity, and inspires us to revisit the meaning of home. With the delicacy of a watercolor landscape, director John Crowley translates Colm Toibin’s novel into a movie of grace, wonder and depth. Instead of looking at the time period through a contemporary lens, or judging from today’s perspective, he gives us permission to fall in love with a movie that is so aware of what it is that it welcomes its audience with open arms, just like the America it recreates.

 

Fallen Soufflé: Jurassic World

The world has changed since 1993 when the original Jurassic Park hit the screen. Steven Spielberg’s original film introduced a collection of personal conflicts to frame the thrills. Always a master storyteller, he carefully disguised the craft behind the clarity. But Jurassic World doesn’t know how to handle subtlety. Granted, the dialogue is “disaster-movie silly” but the movie fails to embrace obvious opportunities to make characters or situations feel as real as an artificial adventure can offer. The film may not frighten. But it does reveal what can be scary about movies today.

 

As the awards begin for the best movies of 2015, here are more “Schumies” from The Reel Dad!, online exclusively.

 

Prime Cut: The Big Short

While the economic meltdown of 2008 was no laughing matter, this comedy chuckles at the impact of the event and the absurdity of its secrets. As if dissecting the layers of disease, the film dares to explore what can happen when greed overwhelms common sense. Because the movie never takes itself too seriously, while respecting the subject matter, it makes the realities of the situation quite frightening. While the screenplay contains enough factual information to fill an economics class, writer/director Adam McKay fills the film with so much entertaining energy that we don’t realize how much we learn.

 

Fallen Soufflé: Irrational Man

Woody Allen makes three kinds of movies: special films we can’t wait to see (like Annie Hall and Bullets Over Broadway), movies we enjoy at the time (Midnight in Paris and Everyone Says I Love You) and, sadly, flicks we wish we had skipped. Like this one. There’s no reason to sit through the long 90 minutes of Irrational Man unless you like movie popcorn or try to see every Joaquin Phoenix movie. Allen’s latest entry is pointless, sour and uninspired. His punch lines are less observant, the characters less developed and the production values rather skimpy. Ultimately, the film seems less a movie than an afterthought.

 

Bursting With Flavor: Room

As parents, we do anything for our children. Without second thoughts we rearrange schedules, sacrifice needs, postpone priorities. We realize, when we begin this experience, that being a parent is a lifetime commitment. In this film, a mother’s devotion to her son is challenged in ways the rest of us can only imagine. For years – since she was kidnapped and gave birth to her son – the two live in a room that measures 11 feet by 11 feet. Everything they imagine, question, fear and adore exists within these walls. Although the film can be difficult to watch, it captures how, as parents, we overlook the painful moments to savor the joyful ones.

 

Surprisingly Memorable: Bridge of Spies

As the 1960s began, Americans feared the potential of nuclear attack. Director Steven Spielberg perfectly recreates this sensation through simple scenes of young students who fear the sounds of sirens, contemplate what to place in shelters and practice how to duck and cover. Spielberg makes this statement – of the potential for people to overcome political differences – without forcing a point of view. Gone are a young director’s heavy habits to over emphasize instead of trust the subtleties of narrative and character. The result is one of Spielberg’s most satisfying films simply because it feels effortless.

 

Food for Thought: Grandma

If you savor the chance to experience a master class in screen acting, Grandma offers a touching, compelling experience about a woman confronting the consequences of her choices. The inimitable Lily Tomlin, at the top of her craft at age 75, portrays a woman who starts her day ending a relationship before she tries to help her granddaughter through a personal challenge and attempts to reconnect with a past love. When too many movies promise more than they deliver, Grandma gives us more than it advertises. And memories of Lily’s performance will last a long time.

 

Overcooked Recipe: Ricki and the Flash

On screen, Meryl Streep can do just about anything. For almost 40 years she has demonstrated her ability to master accents, play musical instruments and discover the nuance of any character she plays. She is today’s best reason to go to the movies. What Streep can’t do is magically make a weak script into something strong. While the concept for Ricki and the Flash may have looked good on paper, on screen its only value is what Meryl can do with the poorly developed character and exaggerated situations. She is quite good in a film that simply doesn’t work.

 

Slice of Life: The Wolfpack

Movies inform and inspire, encourage and educate. They open doors to worlds of people, places and events. And, for six Angulo brothers in lower Manhattan, the films they watch became lifelines to the streets they are prohibited from experiencing firsthand. Crystal Moselle’s moving documentary explores the dynamics that prompt parents to raise children in unconventional ways as well as the movies that teach the boys how to act in places they may not visit. Without judging the parent’s actions – while candidly focusing on the impact of their decisions – Moselle reveals the potential young men bring to a world they hardly know after years of isolation.

 

Tasty Treat: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Those awkward, challenging and meaningful days of high school – filled with dreams, fears and resolutions – come to life in this lovely film about learning to reach beyond ourselves to support the people we treasure. With a simple yet compelling narrative, the film offers a thoughtful study of how people can find it difficult to reveal themselves, how slowly trust can begin, and how meaningful new friendships can be. Even when someone’s future is uncertain, authentic human connections can make a difference to each. And the people we learn to treasure can become lifelines we cherish.

 

What a satisfying year at the movies. And, hopefully, we’ll feel the same way a year from now. See you at the theater!

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