When I think about individual scenes and moments from movies which really impacted me I want to know everything about it. I want to know what the director and actors were going through, and whether or not there was ever an alternative version. I want to know how they pulled it off, sort of like, “Okay. You got me. That scene just kicked my ass, emotionally. But how’d you do that?”
Here’s what I found out about 4 amazing movies moments of 2015, in continuation of a similar article I posted yesterday:
(The Standard Courtesy Spoiler Warning)
Pop culture in 2015 was defined by our increasing per-occupation with our past, and whether or not something which was once good (Poltergeist, Terminator, Mad Max, Rocky, Fantastic Four, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, etc.) can ever be as good again.
Perhaps the way to re-capture that magic from the original is to turn it into a deeply personal story for you. That’s what 29-year-old writer-director Ryan Coogler pulled off with Creed, which he made as a love letter to his dad, telling Deadline, “My father was a big Rocky fan. I’ve been watching these movies as long as I can remember, because he was obsessed with them. We would watch Rocky II and he would cry and stand up and cheer at the same spots, every time. As I got older and became an athlete, if I had a big football game or big basketball game, he would say ‘hey man, c’mon, we’ll take five minutes and watch this scene from Rocky so you can get fired up.’ Then we’d go off and I’d play.”
Coogler’s grandmother actually died when his father was only 18-years-old, and toward the end of her decade-long battle against breast cancer all she could do was lie in bed and watch TV. So, Coogler’s father and grandmother would watch Rocky II together a lot because it seemed to always be on cable. As a result, the Rocky films meant the world to Coogler’s dad, but then this happened:
“When I was finishing up film school and gearing up to make Fruitvale Station, my father, this big strong tough guy, he got sick. The doctors didn’t know what the deal was. He was basically dealing with a neuro-muscular condition where he was losing the use of his skeletal muscles. They were atrophied. They didn’t know if it was ALS, or if it was PMA, if was MS, all very serious diseases […] I would go home to work sometimes, but I couldn’t spend as much time around him as I would have liked. Every time I would go back to see him, the disease was progressing more and more. It was crazy to see this guy, who I knew as being so strong, lose his strength.”
Not to jump to the ending, but Coogler’s dad survived. The doctor’s addressed a vitamin deficiency in his system, and he should okay now although his lost muscle will never return.
Still, the experience directly informed one of Creed‘s most powerful moments, specifically when Adonis convinces Rocky to actually go through chemotherapy and fight against his recent cancer diagnosis instead of giving into it and withering away. It’s the “If you fight, I’ll fight” scene, and as cliched as it might sound on paper it translates to a tear-inducing sequence with surprisingly raw emotions. It seems so genuine because it’s inspired by Coogler’s own life, as he told Deadline:
[My father’s illness] really messed my head up, but it raised questions. What makes you a man? What’s the definition of masculinity? Is it the strength that my father had when I was a kid and I ran to him and he would pick me up with one arm? When that strength goes away, is he still that same person? What is the relationship between a father and a son? For so many years, he took care of me, but now, the tides turned and I’m the one helping him. And if we go out, I’m the one that’s got to watch his back. Isn’t time something strange? These are the questions I had when I came up with this idea of something similar happening to a hero in a relationship that mirrored the one I have with my dad. I looked at myself and I said, what if my dad had never been there, and what it he was this myth that I was chasing? What type of person would I be then? What if what’s happening to my dad now happened to a hero? That was kind of how I came up with this idea for Creed.
2. The Big Short
The Big Short is the story of a group of hedge fund managers and Wall Street traders who saw the economic collapse of 2008 coming and sought to profit off of it. In 2005, Christian Bale’s character analyzes all of the mortgage data and realizes the housing market is going to collapse in early 2007. Hhe’s the first to act on that intelligence, pursuing over a billion dollars worth of credit-default swaps to essentially bet against the market. Word of his bold move spreads throughout town, but only a handful realize that he’s right. They spend most of 2005 meeting in New York board rooms and restaurants discussing the looming collapse and making the necessary moves to profit from it. After a time jump to early 2007, we watch as all of the characters struggle to understand why their bets aren’t paying off, ultimately realizing the banks and ratings agencies are not actually acting in good faith.
That’s when the movie takes a turn. These outsiders were simply the trailblazers who saw that a bubble was about to burst. Instead, they discovered the system was far more broken than they realized, as perfectly laid out for Steve Carell’s character when he has dinner with the nation’s collaterlized debt obligation manager. He’s supposed to represent the interests of the investors, but as he brazenly admits he’s simply a middle-man for the banks who help give him a remarkably impressive net worth. Carell is there to peer into the belly of the beast, and he finds a Gordon Gecko-esque devil who’s more interested in engaging in a dick-measuring contest. As Carell realizes in that moment, we’re all fucked if that’s the type of person in power.
It’s a very tricky turn, as the director/co-writer Adam McKay told Deadline:
I always viewed the first half of the movie a little bit as a thriller, little bit of a satire. Yeah, it’s got some funny stuff. But it’s got a lot of energy. And then, after Vegas or during Vegas is when they really go, like, “Oh, my god, we’re alone on the other side of the room on this investment and the whole system has been compromised.” At that point it becomes a bit of a tragedy. I never read it one way or another, as a comedy, a thriller or a tragedy. The movie goes through two or three phases. Then, they see that they’re not just betting against these banks, they’re betting against themselves, they’re betting against the world and that everything has been compromised. To this day, when you meet the real people, they’re still just in shock. They really, truly believed that the market works. And when they found out that it was rotten to the core, it really upset them. A bunch have quit, and to this day they are just as mad as ever.
Brooklyn is an immigrant’s tale which brilliantly realizes the untapped drama in the following question: What happens when the Irish girl who makes a new life for herself in New York, even meeting and secretly marrying a lovely Italian man, is called back to Ireland and is tempted to never leave home again?
It’s the part of Brooklyn where you genuinely don’t know what Saoirse Ronan’s quietly compelling Eilis is going to do. It would be so much easier on everyone else if she simply stayed and pretended like her time in New York never happened. There’s the guilt since her mother has no other family to turn to if she’s not around. There’s the newfound financial security since in her short time back home she’s quickly recruited to take over her departed sister’s position as an accountant for a local factory. There’s also a potential romance and the promise of a lovely home since her new suitor is about to inherit a virtual castle to have all to himself.
It’s enough to make a girl forget why she left home in the first place. It takes a small-town gossip and threats of blackmail for Eilis to make her decision, triumphantly standing up for herself and declaring “I am Eilis Fiorello” before instantly booking the first boat trip back home to her husband. Sometimes you have to return home to realize you don’t have return home again, but escaping the gravitational pull of family and convenience isn’t easy.
It’s a sentiment which both the film’s star (Ronan) and director (John Crowley) could relate to. They are both Irish expats who’ve struggled with the various forces pulling them back home. At the time of her casting, Ronan had recently moved to London from Ireland, and Crowley’s experience went further back, as he told Variety:
When I moved to London, I was confused how weird it felt. And when I’d spend time in Ireland with my mates, it was: “Have I made a terrible mistake?” That’s what it feels like to emigrate, to be in exile. It’s the double-ness, when you go away and you come back. I had thought rather naively that you just travel and expand. It never dawned on me that there would be this other thing pulling you back. It made no sense to me until I read [Colm Toibin’s] book, years later. Colm took a hard look at the journey from there to here — and his genius stroke was to go from here to back home again. That’s the big leap in this piece of writing and I think Nick Hornby captured that in the script. Which seems to be what a lot of people are responding to.
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
2015 was the year of the legacy sequels and reboots/remakes (meh, pretty much every year will be from now on), but it was also the year where the on-going debate about women in film, both in front of and behind the camera, tipped over into an actual federal investigation. As Deadline recently profiled, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will soon conclude its sweeping look into Hollywood’s hiring practices, and we could very well see a massive lawsuit leveled against every film studio in town. There’s been a lot of talk on this issue, but precious little change over the past couple of years.
However, while women still struggle to crack the behind-the-scenes ranks of Hollywood filmmaking they seem to be finding ever more prominence in front of the screen. The new Mad Max movie turned out to be Charlize Theron’s time to add her character Furiosa to the list of all-time badass female heroines. The same weekend that movie came out is when the ladies of Pitch Perfect 2, which was directed by Elizabeth Banks, took #1 at the box office. The biggest animated movie of the year, Inside Out, actually takes place largely in the mind of a pre-teen girl, and the primary two characters are women voiced by Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith. A traditional live-action telling of the Cinderella story turned into one of the biggest box office surprises of the year.
And Star Wars: The Force Awakens, easily one of the biggest movies of all time, gave us a female jedi, with Daisy Ridley’s Rey using the force to draw Luke’s lightsaber to her instead of Kylo Ren during the climactic battle in the snow. She then proceeds to defeat Kylo, ending 2015 on one of the biggest girl power moments in recent blockbuster movie history.
J.J. Abrams didn’t talk specifically about that in a career-spanning interview with Buzzfeed, but he did address the early chatter over the fact that among the new characters he was introducing to the Star Wars universe was an African-American male, a Latin-American male and a British woman:
“We wrote these characters trying best as we could to tell a story that we would hope people would embrace. As the story we tell is hugely important, it’s also incredibly important that people see themselves in those stories. It was something that definitely was on my mind. It’s 2016 almost — it feels like what you need to do, what I’m compelled to do. It feels right. I want people to feel that this is an inclusive world. Because that’s what I felt when I saw Star Wars originally. The Force binds all living things together —not just white dudes.”