LISTFUL THINKING: Top 10 of 2015 (Individuals and Institutions)

31 12 2015

The end of the year has arrived once again in its typical fashion – surprising, jarring yet oddly welcome. On this occasion, per usual, it is time to celebrate 2015 in cinema. Thanks to a number of festivals as well as generous assistance from studio and regional publicists, I was able to see more movies than ever before. This year, the tally of 2015 releases alone soared to over 200. (I came so close to reviewing them all … but would rather provide well-considered commentary instead of rushing to meet an arbitrarily imposed deadline.)

When I sat down to pen my first top 10 list back in 2009, I doubt I had even seen 100 films, so the list represented roughly the top 10% of my year. With 2015’s edition showcasing less than 5%, I feel obliged to at least mention 10 other films that left an indelible mark on me this year but, for whatever reason, fell outside the upper echelon. These, too, are worthy of your time and attention. In alphabetical order, they are:

But the ten films that stood out above the rest this year all had one thing in common: they looked beyond their characters and plots towards larger, more difficult concepts to capture. Each in their own way spotlighted (pun fully intended) an institution or a system that guides, influences and even inhibits the actions that take place. I make no secret that my two fields of study in college were film studies and sociology, and to have such an exciting slate of movies that evinces how the former can shed light on the latter was a source of great joy (again, pun fully intended) throughout 2015.

Remarkably, each work never lost sight of the individual personalities that power our emotional engagement. The human element never detracts from the issues at hand, instead providing an entry point to ponder impersonal or intangible forces. In an era where television provides a depth of coverage that has become tough to rival, these films found power in a concentrated bursts of content where every second was carefully and wonderfully calibrated.

So, without further ado, here are my ten favorite films of 2015 along with the individuals and institutions featured within them.

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11 07 2015

AmySince our shallow society can scarcely handle complexity, a rather traditional narrative gets slapped onto the life and death of Amy Winehouse. Unfortunately, her membership to the “27 Club” alongside Joplin, Hendrix, and Morrison lent itself to vast overgeneralization.  People tend to cast her as a talented but troubled artist haunted by personal demons, substance addictions, and public pressure.

Asif Kapadia’s documentary “Amy,” pieced together solely from personal videos and archival performance footage of the singer/songwriter, steals the story back for two hours to correct mistaken notions and fill in a few holes of knowledge.  In many ways, public perception of Winehouse’s downward-spiraling trajectory was spot-on.  But thanks to Kapadia, the familiarity of her struggle does not make her journey conventional.  It makes the tale even more tragic.

Be it a jazzy rendition of “Happy Birthday” at 14, a record label sitting room in her late teens, or packed outdoor arenas in the UK by her early twenties, Amy Winehouse knew how to captivate any audience with her singing voice and fiery personality.  She began writing songs because there was, as she put it, “nothing new that represented me.”  Winehouse’s words and melodies come from a place of authenticity, informed by the real pain of traumatic childhood events like a divorce and a diagnosis of depression.

For many years, people like me were content to consume Amy Winehouse’s albums while merely considering her as a figure, not a person.  To produce music that resonates on such a personal level by confronting inner darkness, she had to face her fair share of issues.  Throughout “Amy,” the songs weave naturally into the storyline, a brilliant editorial choice since the words flowed so directly from her life.  Kapadia usually opts to superimpose the words over Winehouse singing live, allowing an appreciation of her talents as both a lyricist and a performer.

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