My Year in Cinema

According to the New York Times Magazine, 2015 was the year gender, race, sexuality and identity broke through as the central fact of our pop culture, remixed and reinterpreted in genre-defying music, TV series and breathless think pieces. And yet, some of our best filmmakers and one especially powerful British diva called in to remind us why sepia-toned, classical storytelling still has its place.

In that spirit, here are my favorite throwback moments in film this year:

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara became the year’s most enigmatic and sexy on-screen parings in Carol, Todd Hayne’s portrait of a forbidden 1950s love, the actresses swooning in swirling cigarette smoke, fur coats and diners as if a Hopper painting was brought to life. A beautifully crafted and acted film that captures the mystery of attraction and longing.

In an age of breakneck viral deadlines, Spotlight is a tribute to slow-burn journalism. In 2002 the Boston Globe’s investigative team broke the story of institutional sex abuse in the Catholic Church. As a film written and created in consultation with those real journalists, Spotlight reminds us what’s possible when the mundane task of reporting is given the time, resources, and intelligence it deserves.

Romantic, old-fashioned, melodramatic….in my humble view, Brooklyn was the year’s best film. This deceptively simple story of a young Irish woman’s journey to America in the 1950s begins as a cliché bildungsroman but evolves into a transfixing, deeply moving meditation on the idea of home itself. It’s a love story for anyone who has ever left one place to begin life in another. There’s tremendous grace, warmth and goodness in every frame…and with a brilliant performance by the Irish actress Saorsie Ronan at its center, Brooklyn is an American story I will always cherish.

A bio-doc of the late soul singer Amy Winehouse could have been a routine celebrity profile but in director Asif Kapadia’s hands, Amy’s story becomes something far grander and more tragic. Amy is a cinematic masterpiece and a haunting showcase for a singer poised to define our generation. Fame, art, business and exploitation collide in the intimate footage of Winehouse before, during, and after her collapse. Raw, unforgiving and deeply unsettling, this is a film that exposes the demons of creativity and modern celebrity better than anything I’ve ever seen… and it’s seamlessly woven together with the songs Amy left behind.

The Holocaust may not be the subject that deserves yet another film version, but the Hungarian film Son of Saul reminds us that great artists help us see things we’ve already seen in a new light. With searing, unflinching power, the director keeps the camera tightly focused on Saul, a prisoner at Auschwitz given the hellish task of cleaning and disposing the bodies of his fellow Jews. When he discovers a body he mistakes for his son, Saul sets out across hell itself to give his son one final act of human dignity…a proper burial. Son of Saul is a film of tremendous humanity and honesty and the visceral filmmaking reminds us how cinema can bring the past to life.

My last visit to the movies this year was to be awed by the singular, majestic and lavish world of Bollywood’s resident auteur, Sanjay Leela Bhansali. In a country obsessed with its globalized future, Bhansali throws back to Indian history and its majestic imperial heritage. His latest epic Bajirao Mastani is a tragic love triangle featuring three of Bollywood’s biggest stars in gilded palaces and costumes, a saga inspired by the true story of a Muslim princess who fell in love with an already married Hindu king. With stunning cinematography and music, this is a timely tribute to love across lines that deserves to be savored on the big screen.

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