Seasons of change on the telly

Seasons of change on the telly

second take

Seasons of change on the telly

This is a round-up of all the notable movies and TV shows of 2015 that could not make it to my list of the best of 2015. Just as I had suspected, right after I submitted my piece on this year’s best films, several other candidates emerged quickly. Many of them were late-December releases, but there were a few released earlier that I saw only now.

Room, for instance, is a terrific movie. It has only two characters in the entire movie — a woman and a child. Brie Larson’s performance here has already been highly praised.

Then there’s the new release, The Big Short, another story on the Wall Street scandal, but this is done as comedy. It’s based on Michael Lewis’s book about a bunch of characters who knew the collapse would take place, but just watched it happen.

The Pixar movie Inside Out has earned rave reviews too, with its unusual and fascinating premise of taking you inside the mind of a young woman, personifying her emotions as characters with the voices of Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler and Lewis Black. The new Rocky reboot, Creed, is (critics are telling us) not another Rocky sequel and is far from the former in its ambitions. Creed is about how ‘black lives matter’, and it goes beyond a boxing thriller to make a wrenching statement on racism.

And then there are all those foreign language films, from Jafar Panahi’s Taxi to Timbuktu to Son of Saul — all top-class art films giving Hollywood movies a run for their money.

They say this is the golden age of television. They say that TV has become the more fertile ground for artistic exploration than movies. And the best TV shows from 2015 hold this up to be true again. Fargo, in its second season, has been more entertaining than most movies this year, Homeland’s fifth season, set in Berlin, makes a refreshing change from its Middle Eastern and South Asian plot settings. And, for the first time, the series seems not as ambiguously racist. On the other hand, the second season of The Affair is richer than the first.

HBO’s Show Me a Hero from co-creator David Simon is the best thing they’ve done this year. It’s about politics of a different kind — it’s one man’s crusade (Oscar Isaac in a terrific performance) in a neighbourhood where a housing project is about to come up. Television programming seems to go where cinema fears to go: expansive storytelling, in-depth exploration of themes and characters, intimate and neglected subjects, audacious acting. In cinema, an actor doesn’t have the time to grow subtly and shockingly into character.

The most interesting new TV series is without a doubt Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. Aziz, the young, famous American stand-up comic with South Asian roots, has written and acted in a series that looks at 21st century relationships in America in the context of race, colour and diversity.

Starting out as an actor, Aziz often wondered why there are so few parts or roles for non-white actors in movies and television, particularly South Asian roles. That’s something he takes on here wittily and brilliantly. He also looks at immigrant parents, life in relationships and the difficulty of choosing when you have many options.

In a recent article, Aziz Ansari wrote, “These days, Indian people, real Indian people, pop up way more in (American) film and television, but fake Indians are still around more than you think. I loved The Social Network, but I have a hard time understanding why the Indian-American Harvard student Divya Narendra was played by Max Minghella, a half-Chinese, half-Italian British actor. More recently, The Martian was based on a novel with an Indian character named Venkat Kapoor, who in the film became Vincent, a character portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a British actor of Nigerian origin.”

I’m eagerly looking forward to the second season of Master of None: you sense that Aziz Ansari will go deeper and come out with an even better follow-up.  

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