The two American Film Institute (AFI) juries, who vote on the top ten American films and television shows for the year, boast an unusual mix of industry players, including some Academy members, critics and academics. It’s been fun when I have served on that jury to see the varied ways people look at things. It’s far from homogenous and arguments pro and con can get tendentious. (Oscar observers should note that one year the AFI left off Martin Scorsese’s eventual Best-Picture winner “The Departed.”) The AFI pushed back the voting by a week this year to accommodate the late-breaking “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” which didn’t screen until Monday and did indeed make the cut.
This movie list is likely close to the list of films that the Guilds, Golden Globes and Oscars will be working with, with the exception of such European entries as “The Danish Girl,” “Macbeth,” and “45 Years,” which weren’t eligible. Interestingly, Fox Searchlight’s “Brooklyn” and A24’s Irish drama “Room” were deemed American enough to qualify, but only the latter landed on the Top Ten.
Among studio films boasting scale and scope, commercial hits on the AFI Movies of the Year list include Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies.” Moving up in awards contention is AFI Fest premiere “The Big Short, while late-screening westerns “The Revenant” and “The Hateful Eight” did not make it. Also omitted were Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs,” David O. Russell’s “Joy,” Ryan Coogler’s “Creed,” and Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation.” Pixar’s “Inside Out” made the top ten, but R-rated stop-motion feature “Anomalisa” did not.
Among the smaller films, Open Road’s “Spotlight” made the cut, along with Weinstein Co.’s gay romance “Carol” and hip hop biopic “Straight Outta Compton.” No films on the list were directed by women this year.
In addition to the 20 honorees of 2015, AFI also recognized concluded AMC series “Mad Men” with an AFI Special Award.
AFI MOVIES OF THE YEAR (alphabetical)
THE BIG SHORT
BRIDGE OF SPIES
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
AFI TV PROGRAMS OF THE YEAR (alphabetical)
BETTER CALL SAUL
GAME OF THRONES
MASTER OF NONE
AFI SPECIAL AWARD
This year’s juries were chaired by producers and AFI Board of Trustees Vice Chairs Tom Pollock (ex-Chairman of Universal Pictures) for film and Richard Frank (ex-Chairman of Walt Disney Television) for television. The juries featured Hollywood players Marshall Herskovitz, Michelle MacLaren, Bennett Miller, John Ridley, Renee Tajima-Peña, Emma Thomas and Matt William, as well as critics and scholars including Dr. Henry Gates, Jr., Molly Haskell, and Leonard Maltin, among others from the AFI Board of Trustees.
Honorees will gather to celebrate at the annual AFI AWARDS lunch on January 8, 2016 in Los Angeles, CA, an intimate event to which I always look forward.