Lakenheath Old Boys

We are all former students at Lakenheath High School and other public schools in East Anglia. We were in school in the 70s and 80s and drank deeply from the well of British culture of those decades - the pints, the telly, and of course the footie!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Movies of 2015

The movie industry continues to confuse me. On Christmas Day, I saw “Carol” at the AMC Shirlington, an ultra swanky theater with five screens in the DC suburb of Arlington, VA. Each of the movies showing there - along with “Carol” was “The Danish Girl,” “Spotlight,” “Trumbo,” and “Joy” and “Brooklyn” were all big studio films made by celebrated directors such as Todd Haynes and David O. Russell. All are based on big, serious topics. All are destined to be Oscar nominees and showered with awards in the next few months. Yet, all of them are difficult for average Americans to see, as they are categorized as “limited releases” and are only screened in big cities such as NYC, LA and DC in a few art house cinemas. Meanwhile, the big multiplexes across the country are showing the likes of the Alvin and Chipmunks sequel, a cheap horror film based on the Krampus character and of course Star Wars on multiple screens. None of those movies will win awards in the spring and yet Hollywood is forcing Americans who love the experience of going to the theater instead of streaming their movies on tiny devices to choose from one lousy option or another. Despite this, I still had the chance to see some great movies this year, even though I had to go out of my way to see them. Here are my favorites: 

1. Love and Mercy - This Brian Wilson biopic used two actors - a volcanic Paul Dano and an understated John Cusack - to show the messy but brilliant life of the Beach Boys front-man at different stages of his life. The scenes that depict Wilson in the studio directing The Wrecking Crew during the recording of the backing tracks for what will become “Pet Sounds” are so incredible that they alone elevate this one to the top of my 2015 list.
2. Brooklyn - A lovely adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel of Irish immigration, featuring Saoirse Ronan as a young Irish girl trying to make her way in a new country. The film shows the pull of the old country and the promise of the new in profound detail.
3. What Happened, Miss Simone? - Nina Simone is a largely forgotten figure now, some years after her death; however, this documentary should change that. Using never before seen archival footage of Simone performing, it brings her artistry to life. Of course, the film gets dark in places when it deals with her rocky marriage and bipolarity. Yet, that doesn’t detract from the main subject.
4. Trainwreck - Judd Apatow returns to form in this Amy Schumer vehicle. It’s a delight to see Apatow using a female lead - and Schumer shines throughout. Bill Hader is effective as an understated male counterpart but LeBron James really steals the show as Hader’s sidekick. Of course this is well-traveled rom-com material and we’ve all seen Apatow’s “start dirty and finish romantic and sweet” routine, but this is the only movie I saw this year that actually made me laugh out loud.
5. Carol - Todd Haynes crafted a drama of manners set in the 1950s so rich in nuance that it was almost impossible not to sympathize with all of the major characters, but especially with Rooney Mara, who - as Therese - glimmered like Audrey Hepburn.
6. I’ll See You in My Dreams - If there were any justice in Hollywood, Blythe Danner would be nominated for several awards for this lovely and well-drawn drama about a widow who befriends her pool boy and begins a new phrase of her life. Her romance with Sam Elliott is particularly charming.
7. Far from the Madding Crowd - A faithful and pretty adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel with Carey Mulligan as the heroine Everdeen and a new German actor as her obvious love interest. Michael Sheen and others contribute is a fine film, which is only marred by the slightly choppy editing.
8. While We Were Young – Noah Baumbach’s new film will have people talking for hours after they see it. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a childless couple in their forties who, by chance, meet an intriguing twenty something couple. At first this connection inspires them but gradually it begins to take on a more sinister character. This is what American film should be all about.
9. The Wrecking Crew - Ever since I saw a clip of this at the Opera House, I was dying to see this one. As with the Motown backing band, “The Wrecking Crew” was responsible for some of the most indelible music, including most of Phil Spector’s biggest hits and the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” album. This is a fitting tribute to a brilliant group of musicians.
10. Woman in Gold – Helen Mirren stars as an Austrian Holocaust survivor who sues the Austrian government in order to retrieve a priceless Klimt painting that had hung on the walls of her family’s home until the Anschluss. A terrific story, well told.
Notable Others

* Burnt 
* Glen Campbell: I’ll be Me
* The Hunting Ground
* Joy
* Keith Richards - Under the Influence
* The Second Best Majestic Hotel 
* Sleeping with Other People
Those I Haven’t Seen Yet: 

* Amy
* The Big Short
* The Danish Girl
* The End of the Tour
* Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
* Mistress America
* Spotlight
* Trumbo
Disappointment: 

• A Walk in the Woods - Some 20 years after Bill Bryson’s book - my favorite of his - was published, we have this new adaptation by Robert Redford. Redford plays Bryson sans beard, while an incredibly grizzled Nick Nolte plays his sidekick on his walk along the Appalachian Mountain Trail. The film offers some spectacular views, particularly of the Smokies, but it’s somewhat flat and uninspired in the end.
I’d love to hear what films you enjoyed this year.

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