Top 10 lists are a dime a dozen. Here's my list of the 5 most interesting movie pairings of 2015.
5) Spectre/Kingsman: I could list a dozen movies this year that I enjoyed more than Spectre, but I think it's a fascinating misfire. While Casino Royale is thought of as the reboot, it's not until the closing scene of Skyfall that we've got Moneypenny, M, Q, and Bond all back together, ready to set off on new adventures and freed from obligations to past continuity. And with all that freedom to tell any stories they want, they made an aggressively stupid film that demolishes all the goodwill earned over the past three movies. It's like they wanted to rebuild Bond so they could make an entire film showing us how horrible James Bond movies are once you start scratching the surface. If it appeared even slightly intentional I'd be singing its praises from the rooftops.
Kingsman, on the other hand, wears its clear and deliberate intent on its sleeve - that we're way too quick to confuse class with, well, class. Nobility with being a person who acts in a noble fashion. And it does so while being ferociously entertaining and refusing to let the audience off the hook, particularly when it doesn't back away from some of the nastier Bond tropes we've become accustomed to. It'll cleanse your palate.
4) Spotlight/Best Of Enemies: If you enjoyed Season 5 of The Wire and its focus on reporters at The Baltimore Sun, you'll get a lot out of Spotlight. Perfectly cast and acted, the film follows the story of the reporters investigating sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Boston. Fascinating for journalism nerds like me. The closing shot will stick with you for a long time.
Looking at a different kind of journalism, Best Of Enemies is a documentary on a series of debates between Gore Vidal and William Buckley during the 1968 presidential race. For better or worse, these guys laid the groundwork for so much of what you see today in cable news. There's something wonderful in watching two people, both very intelligent, both absolutely certain their point of view is correct, and both convinced that to stray from their view is to court disaster, arguing out their ideas on national television. It makes the current batch of commentators look like buffoons.
3) The Big Short/Where To Invade Next: Far too many people don't entirely grasp what happened during the 2008 economic collapse. It's not THAT complicated, but there's enough layers, and players involved that really don't want the general public to know, that it just never got the full airing it should have. And The Big Short offers a very entertaining airing of the crisis, the causes that led to it, and how little accountability the people responsible faced for their actions. You'll laugh, you'll rage, you'll learn. There's no downside.
After The Big Short, you might feel a little hopeless. Michael Moore's Where To Invade Next should help mightily. The film is a travelogue of Moore visiting different countries to steal their ideas in the hope of improving America. It's gentler than Moore's past work. The central conceit feels a bit forced at times. However, there's a lot to chew on about all the bad practices we blindly accept without asking if things could be done better, practices we really ought to move on from, and as the film's closing scene demonstrates, practices we absolutely can move on from if we can find the will to make it happen.
2) Ex Machina/Mad Max Fury Road: Two very different movies featuring capable female characters kicking all kinds of ass. The former is a thought-provoking drama on the subject of artificially created life and our responsibilities to it. Is owning a self-aware robot slavery? Is creating an intelligence that exceeds our own possible? Ex Machina features the most seamless visual effects work of the year, gorgeous production design, and great performances. The ending left me just a little sour, but that's not to say it's wrong - I just didn't entirely agree with it, and that's not something any piece of art is obligated to.
Mad Max Fury Road is... where do I even begin. The editing? The characters? The acrobatics, the explosions, the ridiculous and instantly-quotable dialogue, Furiosa, the guitar/flamethrower, the world-building, just... everything about this movie is pretty much perfect entertainment and doesn't require you to turn your brain off. I loved loved loved this one. Who cares if Max isn't really the main character?
1) Inside Out/Anomalisa: Do you ever feel stifled in your life? Like you're just going through the motions, knowing in the back of your head that you ought to be doing something else, something more meaningful? So you start that thing in your spare time, and it's going great. You're happy, genuinely happy, and then you hit a wall, or an obstacle, and you fight. You know this is a good thing. You know it's worth putting in the work. But when it's so tiring, and going through the motions isn't without its miserable comforts... way too many of us choose to regress.
That's just a sliver of the thoughts I had walking out of Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa. Offering neither tidy resolution nor impenetrable complexity, I think everyone who sees it is going to have their own unique takeaways and insights. It's also really funny. Make it a double-feature with Inside Out, which is Pixar's best in a long time, and stock up on tissues for when you realize blending two emotions is just the tip of the iceberg.
Anyway, that's my 10 for the year, split into 5 double-features. If you want a movie I liked better than Spectre to make it a proper 10, the Argentinean flick Wild Tales is absolutely great, but it didn't quite fit the format I was going for.