It is time for my favorite time of year: the movie theaters are playing the films that studios hope will have a shot at an Oscar come next February. And, oh, the most anticipated movie of the last few years, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, premieres on December 18th. In compiling my list of favorite movies of the year, I am pleased to note that half of them are targeted to a female audience. It was a good year for women in movies. Feel free to peruse my favorite movies from 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.
Spy. In a perfect world, Melissa McCarthy would star in a comedy every summer. But only if it were a good movie- she needs the right vehicle. One that allows her to use her gift for physical comedy, which means not only falling all over herself, but also using her face and small gestures to convey humor in small moments. Notice the scene where she attends a dinner with her work crush, played with over the top smarm by Jude Law. Her romantic disappointment is palpable, and funny. “Spy” is a fast-paced action movie that just happens to be a really funny comedy as well. Bonus points for featuring Rose Byrne as the villain.
Magic Mike XXL. Along with “Spy” and “Trainwreck”, “Magic Mike XXL” was part of this summer’s trifecta of films proving the power of the female audience. Though not starring a woman, but rather a quintet of studs, “Magic Mike XXL” was a strong feminist movie. The hunky strippers at the heart of the story make their way through the southern U.S., making various women’s wildest dreams come true- not by being gigolos, but by paying close attention to them, listening to them, treating them as perhaps no other man ever has. A highlight of the movie for me was watching the men woo a gaggle of middle-aged divorcees in the living room of a southern belle played by Andie MacDowell. That was a highlight, along with the sight of Michael Strahan and Donald Glover performing at a private club in Savannah. It’s a fun way to spend two hours. And it’s all for you, lady.
Trainwreck. If the Comedy Central show “Inside Amy Schumer” is like an intro course into the comedy and worldview of Amy Schumer, “Trainwreck” is her thesis, her dissertation. In it we learn how Amy came to have such a blasé attitude toward men-her jaded father, played by the perfectly cast Colin Quinn. Trainwreck expertly weaves vulgar comedy with genuine romance- romance as experienced by two real, very flawed individuals. The supporting cast is great, notably LeBron James and John Cena.
The Martian– The best sci-fi film of the year (although admittedly, I haven’t seen Ex-Machina), “The Martian” continues a trend from the last few years of survival stories set against a stark, outerspace backdrop (Interstellar from 2014, Gravity from 2013). The struggle is mostly man against nature, as a botanist played by Matt Damon fights to stay alive in a harsh environment, knowing he may not have contact with other humans for years. The movie produces the same optimism and faith in human ingenuity seen in “Apollo 13”. The extended cast is stellar, from Jessica Chastain to Chiwetel Ejiofor to…Donald Glover, his second appearance on this list. One of Ridley Scott’s best films in years.
Bridge of Spies. Going into awards season, it doesn’t seem like “Bridge of Spies” will earn much acclaim, despite the involvement of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Perhaps it is due to its delicate subject matter: that foreign agents held in U.S. detention must be accorded the same rights that we would want given to American agents abroad. It’s a Cold War tale with much to say about current conflicts and how to handle them. Mark Rylance, an actor I had never seen before, does a wonderful job as the accused Soviet spy. The suspense in the film’s third act is expertly filmed, and the movie gets bonus points for featuring German actor Sebastian Koch, who I would watch read the phone book. In German.
Spectre. I was particularly anxious to see this movie, since I was in Mexico City during filming, and recall the excitement of seeing the filming of a helicopter over the Zocalo with a stuntman dangling out. I was excited to see my city as part of the glamorous Bond universe. While Mexico City fades away as the opening credits begin, the rest of the movie is a rip-roaring action film. For one thing, it is not as morose as “Skyfall”. And we get to see the best European acting talent do their thing- Lea Seydoux, Monica Bellucci, Naomi Harris. And of course, the creepy Christoph Waltz. It’s sensual, it’s exciting, it’s thrilling. It’s so good.