Tuesday, January 5, 2016
The Top Ten Films of 2015: Honorable Mentions
Before revealing each of my top ten films of 2015, here are two titles that just missed a spot on my list:
Billy Ray’s nearly scene-for-scene remake of Juan Campanella’s Argentine Oscar winner “The Secret in Their Eyes” (my choice for the best film of 2010) stars a soulful Chiwetel Ejiofor as a dogged prosecutor, a strong Nicole Kidman as his D.A., and a brave Julia Roberts (who allows herself to look, in the words of a colleague, “a million years old”) as an investigator whose own daughter’s murder has remained unsolved for thirteen years, in one of the richest and most consistently surprising stories in all of cinema.
Michael Shannon, rightly being mentioned as an Oscar contender for “99 Homes,” also appears in a supporting role in Peter Sollett’s overlooked “Freeheld,” as Ocean City, N.J. detective Dane Wells, whose partner, Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), is a closeted-at-work lesbian who aspires to be the town’s first female lieutenant. Laurel meets tomboyish Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) at a volleyball game, where the smitten Stacie goes easy on her less experienced opponent. Well, as the old joke goes, what do lesbians do on the second date? Move in. Before you know it, Laurel has bought them a fixer-upper (Stacie does the fixing up) and they’re the couple next door, complete with dog.
“Freeheld,” though, is too honest to leave it at that. Laurel sees herself as a cop first and foremost, and when three yo-yos threaten them for smooching on a park bench, Laurel pulls out her revolver and scares them off (Stacie: “Do you always carry a gun?” Laurel: “Usually.” Stacie: “On a date?”). And when Stacie answers Laurel’s phone while she’s in the shower, Laurel tells Dane, “Oh, yeah, my sister’s in town,” before chastising Stacie never to take her calls. Their relationship – including Stacie’s acceptance of Laurel’s terms, and Laurel’s eventual softening – carries the ring of truth. And here a word must be said about Ellen Page. We know what we’re going to get from Julianne Moore: perfection. She’s one of the small handful of premier film actresses of our time. And yet it is Page whose performance here left me almost giddy. From scene to scene, with powerful quietude, she shows both self-effacement (her retreat perceptible physically and vocally) and self-assertion, demanding only a few things but insisting on them. When I’m watching a scene with Julianne Moore and find my eyes glued to the other actor, wow – that’s a hell of a compliment.
Laurel and Stacie have been in their new home only a few months when Laurel goes to the doctor for what she thinks is a pulled muscle and comes back with a diagnosis of late-stage lung cancer. She wants her police pension to go to Stacie when she dies – Stacie doesn’t have a pot to piss in, and would surely lose the house without it – but the county Board of Freeholders, claiming not to have the authority to vary the terms of their contract with the police union, denies her petition. That’s when Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell), a flamboyant gay Jewish lawyer from New York, unleashes his faggy fury on Ocean City, importing activists, planting seeds with the town paper’s lead reporter, and taking over the Board’s meetings. Dane, who’d been nursing a crush on Laurel but now knows the truth (and knows she’d do the same for him), works his fellow cops, slowly bringing them over to the righteous cause. I’m ready for some movies where Julianne Moore doesn’t die, but I won’t soon forget the sight of her near the end, her breath coming at pains, softly and without anger telling the freeholders, “Time is of the essence.”
“Freeheld” is a true story, and an inspirational one; a tearjerker, and an effective one. (I’m not ashamed to admit the water works were flowing freely.) My 3.5 star rating was probably overly generous – it doesn’t exactly break new cinematic ground – but perhaps you can forgive me. When you love a movie, you want to share it.