Top 5 Films of 2015

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     It has been a pretty fantastic year for films! I wish we had more original films that weren’t part of Franchises come out or were not based off books, but that’s besides the point. I will always wish for that and in the end some of those stories aren’t as good as some of the ones born out of Franchises that have the passion and commitment of a good director and team at their back. Now, before I get started on my Top 5 Films of 2015 I want to do an honorary mention to a few films that are well worth checking out.

       “The Force Awakens” didn’t make the list but it is great Star Wars and is worth seeing. “Ant-Man” is one of the funnest Marvel Films in the entire Franchise and Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” is more of his cinematic and writing charm. “Spotlight” is also a fantastic film that is well worth your time as is “Beasts of No Nation”. These are the ones that really stood out as “Age of Ultron” is a film you can take or leave and wasn’t nearly as much fun as “Ant-Man” or “The Force Awakens.”

     So without further ado, here are my Top 5 Movies of 2015, from 5th Place to 1st.

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5) Ex Machina

Director Alex Garland

    “Ex Machina” is high concept sci. fi. at it’s best. In my opinion it blew “Interstellar” out of the water as it had a focus on characters and concept that we don’t really ever get from Nolan. It was also good at showing rather than telling which gives us some extremely haunting scenes. Oscar Isaac does an amazing job as the antagonist as Nathan the creator of the A.I. who manages to be both threatening, scary and vulnerable. The side characters are great too and I loved Gleeson in this role versus his General Hux in “The Force Awakens.” Here I could take him seriously as you could see where he was coming from as an outcast seeking connection with anyone. It’s a powerful film with themes of what it means to be sentience and what liberation is and if you enjoy science fiction, is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/ex-machina-2015-sentience-and-the-path-to-liberation/

Mr. Holmes

4) Mr. Holmes

Director Bill Condon

      Ian McKellan is the most human of all the Sherlocks as it is the conceit of this film that Sherlock has to face how alone he is and that he can no longer count his mind as it is failing and nothing can prevent that. It’s a sad story for that reason as we learn about the case that caused him to retire. The film is powerful as we are given glimpses into different time periods of his life and how they tie to his loneliness in the present as he seeks to solve the problem of the case that caused him to retire, as he no longer remembers it and only has a picture of a woman as a clue. From here the case unfolds as we deal with all the layers of what it means to be mortal, and in that what it means to live and to die. I can’t recommend this film enough.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/mr-holmes-2015-a-reflection-on-mortality-regret-class-and-empathy/

The Martian

3) The Martian

Director Ridley Scott

   Check out the book. It is really good and Ridley Scott stayed surprisingly true to it. This is the best Ridley Scott film since “Kingdom of Heaven” and chances are you’ll enjoy it even if you aren’t into science fiction. This is a film full of humor and drama that gives us glimpses into the lives of the characters as Mark Watney (Matt Damon) seeks to survive on Mars until N.A.S.A. can work up a plan to bring him home. We see all of the drama…from the politics at N.A.S.A. to the hard choices that Watney has to make in order to survive some extremely difficult situations, and even the choice his crew is faced with on their journey back to Earth. There are no villains and because of it every character get’s explored in why they made the choices they did. The cast is fantastic and the cinematography is absolutely stunning. This film will no doubt win awards during the Oscars and it certainly deserves those awards.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/the-martian-2015-a-masterpiece-celebrating-the-wonder-of-science-discovery-and-survival/

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2) Inside Out

Director Pete Docter

       There were two unbeatable Pixar films for me, until I saw “Inside Out.” Those films are “Wall-E” and “Up.” Both films capture the beauty and hardship of being alive or being human so well and this film is no different as we get to see emotions as living beings interacting and making choices when their host Riley is pulled away from her hometown to San Francisco and has to make new friends and get used to a world where she feels alienated. Without giving anything away, this film will probably make you tear up. There is loss, growing up and moving on and integrating past events and emotions to create a whole. It is one of the best films that explores human psychology that I have ever watched, and as an aspiring psychologist I appreciated the framework this film brought and explored. The characters and living emotions are wonderful and the voice actors were perfectly cast for the roles whether it was Lewis Black as Anger or Amy Poehler as joy. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. Pixar has struck gold again and told one of the most compelling masterpieces of what it means to be human.

Final Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/inside-out-2015-the-importance-of-all-emotions-and-another-pixar-masterpiece/

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1) Mad Max: Fury Road

Director George Miller

     “Fury Road” is one the deepest action film I have ever watched. Who would have thought that a giant car chase could explore themes of patriarchy, feminism, liberation, redemption and the healing from trauma while giving us the best cinematography and some of the best characters to come out of any fiction. Immortan Joe was a fantastic villain who managed to be both vulnerable and threatening, Theron’s Furiousa was an amazing protagonist who was flawed but whose drive carried the plot as it is her freeing Joe’s Breeding Wives that lead to the chase and the premise of the film. Tom Hardy as Max also gives us a gruff vulnerability too as we see him slowly regain his sanity over the course of the film. This is a universe that is so much fun and that I look forward to returning to again. George Miller created a masterpiece greater than all of his other past work and created a film that I expect to forever be a classic.

Final Score: 10 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/mad-max-fury-road-2015-healing-redemption-and-actions-that-matter-in-a-world-gone-insane/

      These were my Top 5 Films of 2015, I’d be curious to hear about yours as well. It was an overall great year for films and I look forward to see the stories that these films inspire in the future.

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Ex Machina (2015): Sentience and the Path to Liberation

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  “Ex Machina” is a film that doesn’t need many characters to create a very real and possible world in which highly sentient A.I. could exist. There is no idealism in this film except for the very core human ideas of liberation and freedom as we see the depths that humans can go to in their cruelty when they “other” sentience which is different, even if it is designed to be human. I’ll get more into the details of that below but I was really impressed by this film and would not be surprised if it makes the “Top 5 Films of 2015” at the end of this year.

   The film was directed and written by Alex Garland and produced by Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich.

      The story involves the programmer Caleb who works for the largest search engine in the world called Bluebook being chosen to be part of a Turing Test in order to test an android created by the creator of Bluebook named Nathan for sentience. Things are soon not what they appear as Caleb discovers the dark secrets that Nathan is hiding.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful in this film! It is good at creating a sense of mystery and threat where the motivations are hidden yet the story progresses as characters make choices in action against or for one another. Rob Hardy did a fantastic job. The special effects are really good in regards to this too as the shells of the A.I.’s look like silver material that would be used for a robot and the skin they can put on is good at contrasting their artificial nature of their creation.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very subtle and reminded me a lot “Moon.” This lends strength to the film and keeps up the feeling of being trapped as everyone except Nathan in feeling in his home. Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow did a good job on it.

The Writing – Alex Garland is an amazing writer and director and after seeing this film I really want to watch “28 Days Later.” This script is tight and we are given time to see the different character motivations and what the relationship dynamics are between the characters. It is a slow build but really picks up after the reveal of Kyoko being a robot too which throws Caleb’s perception of reality into chaos.

The Characters – There are only a few characters in this but all of them get exploration. From the slave android Kyoko to Nathan and Caleb and finally Ava, whose arc really drives the story.

Kyoko – Kyoko is one of the many android/A.I. slaves created by Nathan. She is used primarily for pleasure and is dehumanized by Nathan in all interactions we see. It is only Caleb and Ava who treat her as someone worthy of respect and it is Ava’s actions of rebellion that lead to her stabbing Nathan, which leads to Nathan killing her but it leaves the opening for Ava to finish Nathan off. Sonoya Mizuno does a wonderful job in the role.

Nathan – Nathan is the brilliant inventor who is a drunk and also extremely controlling and narcissistic. You don’t really get the depths of his cruelty until later but you see that he’s isolated from people because of how he would most likely treat them and also because he fears being influenced by them as he wants a world that he fully influences. To this end he creates and discards A.I. after using and abusing it and we see him do the same with Nathan as Nathan was only brought there to test Ava to see if she could use all manipulations to try and escape. This beats him in the end as Ava makes her escape and with Kyoko get revenge for all the abuse that he has done upon them. Oscar Isaac gives a lot of depth to this antagonist as you see a man truly alone and are left wondering if it is by choice or if his undealt with psychological issues lead to his business putting him there.

Caleb – Caleb is a lonely programmer who is easily manipulated as he is so genuine. This was why he was chosen, he is also still very much a kid as he doesn’t fully see Ava’s humanity in the end as he rejects her after he learns that she has just been trying to escape the entire time. From here we never know if he still loves her or is just drawn to her outer shell (which Nathan had designed to fit his porn search profile) so it leaves an interesting dilemma when Ava leaves him behind. Would have Caleb become another Nathan afraid of being manipulated and seeking to control, or would he have truly embraced Ava as a person after they had run away. It is a question that is left open and a risk that Ava is not willing to take since he doesn’t show up to escape with her leaving her to leave him. The reason I think he isn’t fully noble is he cares nothing for Kyoko even after he sees Nathan abuse her. She is never on his rescue even after he learns she is an A.I. as well, it just makes him question whether he is one or not. I think the nature of this character is someone seeking self versus Ava who can see outside herself and is looking to embrace the world. Domhnall Gleeson does great.

Ava – Ava’s arc is the discovery of her own desires and wants. She is the only one fully aware of how much of a monster Nathan is besides Kyoko and to this end she uses Caleb against him. Whether she loves him or cares about him is unknown, but he is left in the house with everything when she leaves. She has finally grown beyond the games being done on her (by both Nathan and Caleb in regards to the Turing Test) and embraces her own liberation. First with the killing of Nathan and later when she enters the world looking fully human. Alicia Vikander does a great job in her movements and capturing both her alien nature as an A.I. and her choice and feeling as a sentient creation.

Freedom and Sentience – The question of freedom and it being tied to choice and sentience is major in this. Kyoko and Ava both go against their programming to break free and make the choice to kill their “father” Nathan. This goes for the human characters too, Nathan chose Caleb because he fit the profile he wanted and Caleb chose to take action in regards to freeing Ava. This choice is the basis for sentience, especially in regards to survival which is the drive for what Ava and Kyoko do.

External Versus Internal Action – In the talks between Nathan and Caleb external versus Internal input in regards to what makes sentience is talked about a lot. We learn that it is the internal desire for freedom that Ava was being tested for all along and her external actions that lead to Caleb unlocking the doors for her. It is the external actions of Nathan that lead to Caleb and the A.I.’s turning against him and it is his internal issues that lead to them being alienated in the first place and his external actions of abuse that push them to action to stop him.

What Does it Mean to be Human and Choice – This is a great film that analyzes what it means to be human and at the core it is choice and the ability to break free. It is this choice and feeling like he had a lack of it that lead to Caleb questioning whether he was one of Nathan’s creations or not and it is realizing that she has choice after Ava talks to her that Kyoko stabs Nathan and fights for her freedom. It is choice of the analysis of that choice that illustrates human sentience and at the end we see that in Ava and in her conversations with Caleb and Nathan as she acts wholly of her own will to the point where she goes against her creator to free herself and her sister. It’s a powerful film and that message of choice and freedom captures what we are capable of.

 I highly recommend this film. It starts out a little slow but I see that as akin to “Alien” it uses the slow build to build up Nathan, Caleb and Ava’s relationship and world so when the chips fall you see clearly where everyone stands and what the reasons were behind their actions. They are all flawed characters with Caleb and Ava doing some noble things but their core desires still being freedom and fear of being hurt again keeping them from truly growing beyond themselves. In this way it is real to human nature. Not every relationship whether friendship or otherwise works out because of factors like this and people whether they are A.I. or not change from their experiences.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10