To film aficionados, the year 1939 was tops in terms of quality. The studio system owned the theaters, had stars under contract, and hired novelists to write films—not that I wish for the system back, but the control proved useful that year. For the year 1939, we had such greats as Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights, Gunga Din, Dark Victory, Goodbye Mr. Chips, and many more.
Here at the end of 2015, I’m in awe. I can’t remember a year where nearly every movie I went to was great. Of course, I chose well, but the fact there’s so many to choose from astounds me. I've seen many gripping films in the last two months: Room, Sicario, Brooklyn, The Revenant, Spotlight, Carol, and The Martian. In fact, after I saw Brooklyn, for a few days I did not want to see another film because that one, about a young Irish woman moving to Brooklyn in 1959, was just so subtle and powerful, I did not want it diluted by an inferior film.
Add to that, some stellar movies I caught earlier in the year: Mad Max: Fury Road, Ex Machina, The End of the Tour, Steve Jobs, The Walk (Frenchman on a high wire between the twin towers), and Woody Allen’s Irrational Man. While Allen’s film was far from perfect, the ending was so damn good, it made up for everything.
This is all at a time when the blockbuster is king. We’re witnessing Star Wars: The Force Awakens now, and add to that the mostly summer superhero films and various action films such as Fast and Furious. There’s an audience for action and superheroes. (Is that what people see in Donald Trump?) Aside from Mad Max, how do these smaller films not only get made, but get seen? This gives me hope—that people want to witness and consider the human condition. Maybe they’ll bring their down-to-earth attitude to the polling booth in 2016.
Part of me thinks such quality films are propelled in part with the enormous offering of quality television, and filmmakers have to match that or be better. My wife Ann and I are watching an incredible six-part series on Netflix called River, about an older British police detective who has recently lost his partner on the force, a middle-aged woman named Stevie. Like a schizophrenic, Detective River still sees Stevie and talks to her, but others witness him talking to the thin air—and that he’s going crazy. Yet he has to find Stevie’s killer. He’s OCD about it while convincing others he’s fit to work.
I just finished watching the second season of the FX series Fargo—a near perfect series as there can be. It has the same Coen Brother sense of the dark and absurd, and it’s gripping. This year, we also binge-watched Rectify, about a man wrongly convicted at nineteen for raping and killing his girlfriend. Now after nineteen years on death row, having his execution stayed three times, he’s let out and has no tools for living. It’s on Netflix and Amazon.
We also enjoyed on Netflix all seasons of The Killing and Bloodline. I know we’re missing many other great series and movies, but there only so many hours in the day. Besides, I’m OCDing on my own novel, The Chords of War.
Still, I wouldn’t mind getting to another few films in the next few weeks. Any recommendations? I heard Trumbo, The Big Short, and 45 Years are special.
Note: If you're a short story fan, my award-winning collection, Months and Seasons, is only 99 cents as an eBook for a short while. Click here for Kindle. Click here for all other platforms on Smashwords.
Before I wrote novels and plays, I was a journalist and reviewer (plays and books). I blogged on Red Room for five years before moving here.