The last year was a fun year for movies for me. In the beginning of the year, Lisa and I got to spend time watching the Oscar nominated movies with two close friends whom we hadn’t seen in quite a while. I checked out a lot of movies from the library and watched a lot of great movies on Netflix. Blockbuster movies, indie films, documentaries… I love movies of all sorts.
I didn’t get a chance to watch a lot of the great movies that came out at the end of the year. I had wanted to watch Spotlight, Carol, The Revenant and The Danish Girl, but the holidays got too busy and there were too many friends to visit.
Here are my favorite movies of 2015.
TWINSTERS “Twinsters” is this wonderful documentary about a pair of identical twin sisters from Korea who were separated at birth and were adopted by parents in New Jersey and France. The two women did not know of the other’s existence until the friend of the French twin noticed an American actress in a youtube video looked exactly like her. The French women enlists the help of her friends in trying to find the identity of the American actress and finds that the actress is also an adoptee and was born on the same date and place. They eventually contact each other through Facebook, and take DNA tests to confirm they are sisters, and they and their friends and families meet in London. I love this movie because of the love of the sisters and the support that their friends and families show to these two special twins. I especially like how these sisters instantly bond and accept each other. As I’ve gotten older, family has become a lot more important to me. As my parents have gotten older and more frail, I’ve appreciated the rare times that my siblings and their children have been able to visit and my whole family has been able to get together. “Twinsters” captures that feeling of family and community that I feel whenever my family gets together, and I think that’s why I never get tired of watching this documentary.
SELMA Martin Luther King Jr. is one of my biggest heroes. So when I found out about “Selma”, I was very excited to see this movie. It didn’t not disappoint. “Selma” is not just the story of King, it gives due to the other great leaders of the Selma civil rights campaign, leaders like Coretta Scott KingDiane Nash, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, James Farmer, and many others. It also shows how much of a grassroots movement the 1965 Selma civil rights campaign, how the protests were very much the product of ordinary African Americans who had the courage to take a stand despite the consequences of the local white segregationists. I like how the movie depicted the humanity of Dr. King: his doubts, worries, mistakes and his flaws. It doesn’t detract from King’s courage and heroism, but it offers a more healthy view of a hero as someone who is able to transcend his or her flaws to do great things for their community and their country. In the past few years, Hollywood has produced many wonderful biographical films of great historical heroes like Lincoln, Mandela, Cesar Chavez, and Milk. It’s a wonderful way of teaching new generations of great heroes and the social movements that created them.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS “What We Do in the Shadows” is the funniest movie that I saw last year. A mockumentary about a group of vampires who share a flat, I watched this movie in an independent theater with my niece and the entire theater was filled with laughter at the antics of the vampires. The characters were very vulnerable, prideful and empathetic characters that had me caring about them even as they sucked the blood of innocent victims.
ETHEL I received “Ethel” as a Christmas gift in 2014 and instantly loved watching the DVD over and over. “Ethel” is a documentary by Rory Kenney about her mother Ethel Kennedy and her relationship with her husband Robert F. Kennedy. The story is told by Ethel and her children, and it gave a very personal view of the seminal events of the 1960s. I appreciated the very charming and gritty personality of Ethel Kennedy and I learned about Ethel’s own very considerable contributions in the area of civil rights. “Ethel” had that same feeling of family and community that “Twinsters” had, and I especially like seeing the love that the Kennedy children had for their mother.
EX MACHINA I checked out “Ex Machina” from the library hearing that it was a good movie but not knowing what else to expect. It’s one of the eeriest movies that I’ve seen, and one of the most thoughtful. It involves a man who is invited to an eccentric genius’s home in a far off place and is asked to interact with an android that the genius created to see how advanced artificial intelligence has progressed. The genius wants to know if the man can tell if the android is just a robot or whether the android has a conscience. My wife and I watched it with two friends who were philosophy majors and it was fun to listen to their insights about the film.
ANT-MAN When I heard that “Ant-Man” was being made into a movie, I was initially very skeptical. I thought Ant-Man’s powers were rather stupid and couldn’t figure out how they could make a good movie about a superhero who shrinks and has ants as allies. I’m glad that I turned out to be wrong. It turned out to be one of the most fun movies of the year.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS I don’t know what else to say about Star Wars, other than it was a great movie. I watched it on opening weekend with my wife and close friends and it was a great way to enjoy the holiday season. My two friends are great Star Wars fans, and they were going to move out of state because of rising rents in the San Francisco Bay Area, so as a farewell get together, we decided to watch Star Wars with them. We’ll miss them.
THE LAST DAYS OF VIETNAM Rory Kennedy’s documentary about the American personnel who tried to rescue the South Vietnamese who were trying to escape the Vietnamese communists that were about to overrun their country is one of the most poignant movies that I watched this year. I admired the compassion and bravery of the Americans who did everything they could to help their Vietnamese friends. I have a few close Vietnamese American friends who were part of that generation that escaped the country after the war, and I remember the stories that they told.
BIRDMAN I’ve never seen a movie like “Birdman”. Funny, frenetic, and a great ode to the actors and actresses who produce live theater, I especially was riveted by Michael Keaton’s performance. My wife and I watched this with two old friends whom we hadn’t seen in a long while, and that made watching this movie an even more fun experience. We decided to watch all the Oscar-nominated Best movies with them before we watched the Oscars with them over popcorn. One of the best moments of the past year.
AGE OF ADALINE I checked out this DVD not expecting much, but was instantly charmed by this fantasy romance. Blake Lively did a wonderful job as a woman who, through some weird quirk of nature, finds that she cannot age and discovers that it is more of a curse than a blessing. Because of her experience of seeing loved ones age and die, she tries to isolate herself to save herself from heartbreak. My wife and I watched this and were touched by this story about the importance of connecting with other human beings and being in relationship.
BOYHOOD “Boyhood” is another one of those sweet and wonderful movies of how a family changes and grows over time. It’s about a boy growing into a teen, and Ellar Coltrane did a wonderful job depicting the confusion and joy of growing up. But for me, I was especially entranced by watching the two parents grow into maturity.
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL I’ve always been a big fan of sensitive teen movies, ever since I watched “The Outsiders” and all those great John Hughes movies in high school. These past few years have produced some great teen movies like “The Spectacular Now”, “Let Me In”, “Easy A” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is another one in the list.
WHAT HAPPENED MISS SIMONE Before I watched this documentary I didn’t know anything about Nina Simone. I found Nina Simone to be both very heroic and very tragic. It was a documentary about a black woman who was a wonderful singer, a courageous fighter for civil rights and who struggled with mental illness.