2015 delivered a wide variety of cinematic milestones, from continuing sagas with The Avengers: Age of Ultron to new installments of classic franchises including Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It also gave us deeply powerful introspective pieces about people coping with the reality of their lives and deciding what, if anything they could change about it, including Carol, Room, and 45 Years.
Amid the franchise flash and fury, and beyond the internal personal struggle, however, 2015 slowly and steadily unfolded an inquiry into the human condition itself – for better and worse.
Here we find stories of what makes human beings tick, and how those around them (and society itself) choose to respond. What do we do when we learn the truth of our reality? Do we fight for the right, or do we cut and run – and just what is right, anyway? Is it objectively quantifiable, or is there only what is right for us? Can we change, or are we driven by a fallen human nature?
Here are ten of 2015’s best that explore these questions, offering answers of their own and leaving plenty of room for us to ponder!
First up we have Slow West, posing for us the question, “What makes life meaningful?” Is love and connection just a fool’s fancy for the soft, or does it actually offer something that makes letting our guard down worth it – or even safe? Authentic, multi-layered, and as effortlessly gritty as its times, Slow West packs a deceptively poetic punch.
Next up we find the mighty Sicario, forcing us to consider the same question in modern times, with far more serious consequences to the answer. Are justice and nobility just a fool’s fancy for the idealistic, or do they actually mean something in today’s world? And what does one do with one’s answer?
Mandatory and magnificent, Spotlight is a celebration of teamwork and professional excellence (both in subject matter and filmmaking), as well as a stark reminder of the purpose and need for a free, independent, and long-form fourth estate (a term, it’s worth mentioning, coined by Edmund Burke, who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”)
Themes: Assertiveness, Betrayal, Duty, Ethics, Evil, Justice, Legacy, Loyalty, Perseverance, Person vs. Person, Restoration, Social Concern and Change, Spirituality, Suffering, Teamwork, Time, Trust || Go to the Post »
Unnerved by the depravity in this world and driven to understand how ordinary German people came to willingly carry out Nazi atrocities, Experimenter brings us the man who found the answer to that (as well as brought us the six degrees of separation, as it happens). Experimenter is Iñárritu-meets-Malick and required viewing for every human. (Not to mention, it’s one of the most creatively crafted pieces to come down the pike in quite some time.)
Themes: Awe, Balance, Boundaries, Courage, Curiosity, Empathy, Ethics, Evil, Fear, Justice, Mercy, Person vs. Self, Perspective, Self-Control, Self-Respect, Social Concern and Change, Willingness || Go to the Post »
Now that we’ve looked at what makes humans tick, we turn our attention to what makes artificially intelligent individuals tick – especially when they’re made by humans! Can our progeny transcend our human frailty, or will they reflect their maker? College ethics professors will have a heyday with this one, and highest honors to Alex Garland in his directorial debut.
Themes: Ambition, Awe, Balance, Betrayal, Creativity, Curiosity, Empathy, Ethics, Freedom, Hubris, Initiation (Innocence vs. Experience), Justice, Kindness, Legacy, Person vs. Person, Perspective, Prejudice, Social Concern and Change, Wisdom || Go to the Post »
The Big Short
Here we meet another flavor of organized greed and some of the worst humanity has to offer. It was sheer genius that comedians made this one, because not only was it insanely enjoyable, we might otherwise swan-dive into our self-medication of choice and succumb to oblivion. Here we stare headlong into the abyss with our heroes, and join them on their anti-heroic quest to battle the banks.
Themes: Ambition, Competence, Creativity, Empathy, Ethics, Evil, Fairness, Justice, Nobility, Person vs. Person, Perspective, Restoration, Social Concern and Change, Suffering, Temptation, Time, Vision || Go to the Post »
So what does the ordinary person do in the face of such overwhelming force? (If you’ve watched Experimenter, you know one answer to that already!) Here we examine that soft zone, the nexus at which self-care in the face of reality begins to overlap a turn to the Dark Side. How does one know one’s footing? Garfield is perfection in casting, Shannon will no doubt be tapped for Supporting, and their first major scene together is nothing short of excruciating. At some point one either gives in or takes a stand…
Themes: Awe, Balance, Ethics, Initiation (Innocence vs. Experience), Justice, Mercy, Person vs. Person, Perspective, Restoration, Self-Acceptance, Self-Care, Self-Control, Self-Respect, Social Concern and Change, Suffering, Temptation, Time, Trauma || Go to the Post »
Bridge of Spies
As we’ve seen with several of our characters so far, nobility is no mere construct, and actual people do, in fact, live according to its call. Here we meet a soft-spoken spy whose integrity lit a candle that changed the world and turned conflict and cynicism on its ear. Pure symphony and mandatory viewing, it’s a testament to the Standing Man who deserves all the honor, told with enough gentleness to be suitable for youngsters old enough to handle the wartime context, and enough tension to rivet the rest of us. And all hail Mark Rylance!
The personal nobility found in human nature reaches its heights when joined with others in the spirit of excellence and teamwork. Here we see the best that humanity has to offer, both on its own and with its fellows. Simply spectacular on every possible level, The Martian could be the one that gets every kid in America jazzed about STEM, and shows what brains can do when not busy obsessing over what the Kardashians just did.
Themes: Awe, Competence, Creativity, Death and Dying, Duty, Endurance, Flexibility, Friendship, Humor and Human Comedy, Loyalty, Optimism, Perseverance, Playfulness, Resilience, Self-Confidence, Teamwork, Time || Go to the Post »
And finally we come full circle, returning to the question, “What makes life meaningful?” Despite all promotion to the contrary, Youth contemplates far, far more than chronological age. It waxes poetic on devotion, talent, legacy, artistry, and beauty in all its forms, to be found in every form. And how do we reach it? By reaching into it with our souls, our passions, and our heart – with the things that make us human.