My Top Films of 2015

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road

Since childhood, the Road Warrior series has existed in the same realm of mythic action blockbusters as the Star Wars original trilogy, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, etc… even though they were so totally different in texture and genre. Nonetheless, it felt like director George Miller was operating on the same level of world-making albeit on a far smaller budget and with a more punk rock, dangerous feel.

Flash forward 30+ years, past his strange but even more successful journey in to the “Babe” and “Happy Feet” series, and George Miller proves again that he has more energy, creativity, and action blockbuster adreneline running in his 70 year old veins than all of the younger blockbuster directors half his age (yes, JJ Abrahms and Joss Whedon included).

Mad Max: Fury Road
What drugs was George Miller taking when he dreamt up this insane shot, almost all practicals shot in-lens? What was the reaction of his crew (and poor Tom Hardy) when he showed them what he wanted?

There are “films” and there are “movies” and Fury Road distinctly falls in the second category, gliding effortless like some crazy, distilled, freebased movie drug working it’s chemicals in every sensory nerve. I understand many people might be turned off by the excess spectacle, but I prefer to celebrate this directorial masterpiece as the absolute peak of movie-making – visions, rhythm, and choreography that demand multiple viewings on the big silver screen.

Mad Max: Fury Road
The movie gave us the best action heroine since Ripley in “Aliens”. Miller knows that the best action spectacle and operatic melodrama can operate in the same plane of existence.

I’m disappointed that Miller didn’t receive Best Director at the Oscars this year.

2. Room

Room Poster

The less you know about this film, the better. If you haven’t heard or seen this film, I would advise stopping here and watching it with as little knowledge as possible.

That being said, I’ll say that this film is just ambitious as “Mad Max: Fury Road”. It’s also as ambitious as “Boyhood”, my favorite film from 2014.

Room
How do you tell a wrenching story of abuse and kidnapping from the subjective point-of-view of a five year old boy? How do you communicate the kid’s “rebirth” in a new world?

The film has been marketed with a high-concept: mainly that a mother and kid are locked in a room with almost no contact with the outside world for years on end. Certainly most of the attention had been paid on the first third of the film and how much thought has been paid towards the concept of a kid who has never seen the outside of the same four walls. Much has also been said about the amazing Brie Larson.

However, what really stood out for me was the subtle finesse and grace in the second part of the film when we break out into the greater world and see the ripple effects of the original crime. The film does a great job of portraying the viewpoint of five-year old Jack as he ventures outside for the first time. I loved the complex details of each of the supporting characters – the grandparents. the step-grandfather, the doctor, etc. In particular, a gripping scene in the middle of the film when a bit of excellent police work by a small supporting character leads to possibly the biggest applause moment of 2015.

Both “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Room” lead as my favorite films of 2015 because they speak the special language of film so well and in such an ambitious, but different ways and couldn’t be done by any other medium.

3. Creed

Creed

“Creed”, unlike the prior two movies, doesn’t quite have such an ambitious agenda. It’s an out-and-out crowdpleaser that happens to contain some performances and characters that are far better than expected for this kind of movie.

 

I’m already a huge Michael B. Jordan fan since “Friday Night Lights” and his seeming inevitable climb to being one of Hollywood’s greatest new stars is cemented by this performance. He’s always charismatic and a standout in all if his performances, but his portrayal in this film as an upper-middle class African American fighter with a chipmon his shoulder in a typically lower class sport is so specific that I feel like I’ve met and grew up with this character. This specificity extends through other performances.

Director Ryan Coogler knows just how to get the best from Stallone, letting the elder boxing trainer with one foot out the door into the next life play for maximum sentiment. Something tells me that Coogler is a big “Cosby Show” fan. Of course, there is the awesome Phyllisa Rashad delivering her usual classy motherly performance with inner strength. However, I was also getting a strong vibe from Tamara Robinson as the love interest. Most definitely we haven’t had enough big film on-screen portrayals of upper-middle class African Americans that everything devolved to a comparison to a TV show from 30 years ago.

creed_02
Tamara Robinson in the love interest role adds texture and characterization to her role as id there is a whole other film to be made with just her.

 

4. Brooklyn

brooklyn_poster

This is the feel-good, lovingly shot film that you can take your mother to (like I did). Like other films released in the late part of the year, the costuming is gorgeous, the characters tastefully acted, and it hits all of the right beats. Usually, I would question such Oscar bait-y  films. Yet, there are many things to love about this film. Saoirse Ronan is an unlikely lead, but shines through in this star-making performance and will definitely be seen in many future roles. The camera loves her wide eyed, expressive face. Nick Hornby screen writes and finally does away with his witty but occasionally overbearing tendency for unnecessary voiceover and lets the actors do their acting work. The film is populated with a dozen lively supporting roles that each have their own complexities. I was happy to watch the film twice and can safely recommend it for just about everyone.

brooklyn_01

5. The Martian

It was really tough to choose between Spotlight and The Martian for the last spot in the Top Five, but ultimately I have to go with the film that I feel like I’ll probably be re-watching (I’ve already watched it twice). I don’t think I need to go on further about how humorous and fun and awesome the movie makes science doing science-y work feel like. I will say that this is Ridley Scott returning to portraying interesting characters working together in an interesting team dynamic. Usually, his brother Tony Scott gets more recognized for this kind of “men being men in the military” kind of film, but Sir Ridley occasionally also excels when he reaches into this territory (or in this case, men and women being awesome together).

martian_poster

6. Spotlight

A great procedural drama… Everyone talks about Mark Ruffalo’s climax speech (something which inevitably play eventually in his “In Memoriam” clip), but I didn’t really grok to his performance — it seemed more like mimicry and took me out of the film. Instead, I really appreciated a lot of the smaller supporting performances: Liev Schreiber’s super-understated character with some fascinating choices. The handful of adult molestation victims were essentially cameo roles, but really were some of the best performances of the year. These were the things that stood out for me rather than the procedural flow of the film.

spotlight_poster

7. Spy

spy_poster

Comedies never get enough recognition come awards season, but there was ONE spy movie this year that excelled and it certainly didn’t have 007 in it.

8. Ex Machina

ex_machina_poster

Cool, sleek, and with an fascinating performance choice by Oscar Isaacs. It didn’t quite hit me quite as much as Her, but certainly had enough interesting points to it.

9. Paddington

paddington_poster

Released at the very beginning of 2015, this film had a horrible trailer but turned out to be a quirky, loving, and surprisingly good kids movie.

10. The Revenant

revenant_poster

I feel like Innaritu’s films are getting more and more about the spectacle and less about character. I’m placing this on my list just because of Emmanuel Lubezki’s miraculous cinematography and not because I especially liked the film or Leo’s performance.

Honorable Mentions

Ant Man antman_poster   Star Wars: The Force Awakens star_wars_poster Inside Out inside_out_poster Sicario sicario_poster Steve Jobs steve_jobs_poster The Big Short big_short_poster

Dishonorable Mention

Jurassic World: In a year with amazing female performances and characters (Furiosa in Mad Max, Brie Larson in Room, Melissa McCarthy in Spy, etc.) this movie seemed hopelessly out-of-date with it’s “women in peril” themes.

 

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BarCamp Beijing: “Growth Hacker” presentation

I recently delivered an impromptu talk on “Growth Hacking”. Rather than speaking of specific, current tactics, I decided to give it a more long-term strategic views on how to approach product marketing from a “hacker’s” perspective. Rather than just talking about “viral loops”, I wanted to take a look at a broader perspective of how to take advantage of dominant distribution channels and to use them in under-utilized or unintended ways to grow your own product. I’m not a growth hacking expert (see the experts who I link to at the end of the presentation, but I think it’s relevant to everyone who is launching a new product whether online or not.

BarCamp Beijing: Growth Hacker

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Launch of alive.cn

It’s been a fast three months since we first came across the idea of launching a new addition to our company. To tell the truth, while we’re going to keep alivenotdead.com up-and-running, the launch of alive.cn means that we’re transitioning the company to a slightly new model. I say “slightly” because, in reality, it’s an expansion of something that we were doing already with alivenotdead.com — helping connect brands with celebrities to do endorsements, events, etc.

The big change for me, however, is that it also means that my alivenotdead team mates Raffi and Patrick will be spending a majority of their time in Beijing with me and that we will be adding on a handful of new teammates as well.

Check out the new site and I hope to bring more good news soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday July 31, 2007

This is our first of what we hope to be many giveaway opportunities to bring our [alive not dead] fans in touch with our artists.

Also, we’ve made some important improvements to the contest, so those of you who have already entered should continue reading below.

We want to bring a lucky winner to Hawaii with us in October for the Hawaii International Film Festival. At the festival, you’ll get to meet directors Daniel Wu and Justin Lin and be ushered into the VIP screenings and after-parties … all in beautiful Hawaii! It’s the perfect vacation getaway and it’s completely free to enter the contest.


You could be this lightbulb…

Or you could be spotted on a Hawaiian beach getting a tan like hot Chinese-American actor, Roger Fan

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to enter the contest now. You receive one entry when you enter the contest. Additionally, you’ll improve your chances to win by inviting the rest of your friends to become an [alive not dead] member. Just invite them using the various methods provided in the Find/Invite Friends page. Winners of the Hawaii trip must be prepared with a proper passport and visa documents — for those who aren’t able to travel, we will award them with one of our great second place prizes (personalized, autographed t-shirts, hats, posters, and DVDs) and find another qualified Hawaii trip winner.


Newly added to the contest: Personalized, autographed t-shirts, DVDs, posted, and hats

We hope to be able to offer alot more opportunities like this to our community coming down the road, so please help us grow our community by inviting your friends on-board. Post about the contest to your Myspace, QQ, MSN Spaces, Facebook, Friendster, messageboards, etc… Use the Invitation URL included at the top of the Find/Invite Friends page to link back to the site and you’ll receive a another entry for anyone who registers using the URL. It might be YOU sipping a mai tai with the “Heavenly Kings” and “Finishing the Game” guys in Honolulu.

NOTE: If you used the Find/Invite Friends page to email invitations to your friends last weekend (Friday, July 27-Sunday, July 29), we encourage you to email invitations to your friends again. A problem with our service provider’s email servers caused alot of those invitation emails to not be sent. The problem has been fixed, but we’ll need you to invite your friends again. Also, many of you were unhappily suprised that you were automatically subscribed to the profiles of the cast/crew of “The Heavenly Kings” and “Finishing the Game”. At the request of several users, we’ve changed the entry procedure so that you can specify which profiles you with to become a fan of.

REPLY WITH YOUR REASON FOR WANTING TO GO TO HAWAII!

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Wednesday June 13, 2007

Web Programmer (PHP/Mysql)

NOTE: Students and recent graduates are invited to apply for the position. We’re looking for enthusiastic people who have spent time not just programming for classwork, but for also their own personal projects. Full-time positions and summer paid internships are both available immediately based on the applicant’s qualifications and availability.

 

About AliveNotDead
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AliveNotDead (alivenotdead.com) is an online community of artists (musicians, filmmakers, and more) centered around Asia and located in Hong Kong. Our goal is to allow artists of all levels to find and communicate directly with their fans and to help fans find new great artists as well as communicate and connect with other fans. We are building a social community similar to MySpace featuring artist profiles, blogs, photos, music downloads, and other communication tools with direct involvement by many artists. Our efforts are targeted at here in Asia but we aim to help our artists find fans abroad by offering both English and Chinese language versions of the site.alive not dead)k%y ?j,@j
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AliveNotDead.com is the creation of the founders of Rotten Tomatoes (rottentomatoes.com), a leading movie web site and now a part of Fox Interactive Media (also the parent of MySpace) in partnership with various Hong Kong local artists. The team has a proven track record of developing and selling great Internet companies and is building another great Internet company with the new AliveNotDead web site.alive not dead| K”N4Rkj+Z
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More about the founders
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Patrick Lee:alive not dead:qKp2bo9^


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http://www.alivenotdead.com/?rottendoubt


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Stephen Wang:alive not dead~!Zh#pv-g+\7o.h
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Senior Web Programmer (PHP/Mysql), AliveNotDead.comalive not deadplm#O2a[email protected]!w
Be the third full-time engineer in our small web-building team. We’re looking for an all-star programmer who is enthusiastic and knowledgable about social communities.alive not dead6n0g0C4A&jKT
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  • Work in a small team (two programmers and one designer) to help continue building the new AliveNotDead online community.
  • Be a vital voice in defining the featureset and roadmap of the web site in the coming years.
  • A minimum of two years experience programming in a LAMP (Linux, Apache, Mysql, PHP) environment. You don’t necessarily need a Computer Science or Electrical Engineering degree, but you need to show us your abilties and drive by showing us both your job programming experience and your personal programming projects.
  • An independent, resourceful problem-solver who knows how to find the solution to anything. You might not know how to get something done at the beginning, but you’re confident enough in your abilities to find a way of getting it done by the end.


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  • This is not a 9-to-5 job (which hopefully you aren’t searching for anyways). This is a mission to build something of long-lasting value that will eventually make you a star amongst your circle of friends. We’ll all be working non-traditional hours and team members.
  • You will be required to put in the time necessary to get the work done.
  • You must completely obsessed with the online world and online communities. Do you spend more time online on social worlds like MySpace, World of Warcraft, Facebook, Gaia Online and others than in the “real world”? Do most of your conversations with friends (online, of course) usually start with “Do you know what REALLY bugs me with <insert online community of your choice>?” This is a good starting point for fitting in with our team. Don’t bother to apply if you’re not prepared to show us your rigorously updated blog and or a frequent particiapant in online forums.
  • You must also have a deep and abiding love for music and movies. We’re building an online community centered around music and movie artists. All of the founders are big movie and music fans and a big part of our lives away from work involve watching movies and seeing concerts, so this will greatly help you perform your role and feel a part of the team.
  • This position is located in Hong Kong. You must be able to speak either English or Mandarin Chinese. The ability to speak both is a plus. The ability speak Cantonese is a BIG plus. The ability to read and type Chinese is a BIG plus. If you are not currently located in Hong Kong, you must be willing to relocate.
  • We’re looking for nice, ethical, smart people. We will keep the team small for as long as we need to so we need to know that we can trust our first few team members and enjoy working together for the long-term.

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Compensation
‘Ne’n2| x,N&N4We are a small team looking to do BIG things so we provide an ample and flexible sliding salary/equity scale. Also, we are willing to provide a relocation allowance to help you move to
Hong Kong.

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Interested? Please email jobs =at= alivenotdead.com.



  

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Wednesday May 16, 2007

Alive Not Dead (http://www.alivenotdead.com) is an online artistic community for artists and fans to share their artistic creations and get to know each other better.  We hope that our users will communicate with our featured artists regarding their craft and share their own creations with us as well.  AliveNotDead is a space where artists and fans have the opportunity to grow together; a space where artists from different regions can get to know one another and cross-collaborate.  Those of you who come to AliveNotDead to follow a particular artist will also have the chance to learn about many other artists.

HOW CAN I SUPPORT ALIVENOTDEAD?
* Register for free on AliveNotDead.com and create a profile

* Invite your friends to visit your profile on AliveNotDead.com, register, and “Add You As A Friend”

* Become a fan of the emerging musicians, filmmakers and other artists in the Artists section

* Let the everyone know about your Alive Not Dead profile and also about your favorite Alive Not Dead artists by posting about them in your Xanga.

* Join the Alivenotdead groups on Facebook and Myspace!

Thanks for your support! Our community of artists will only succeed through the support of our great members.

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Saturday May 12, 2007

Hi everyone!

A year and a half ago, I wrote all of my friends letting them know that I was leaving the helm of Rotten Tomatoes and moving to Asia to pursue new challenges.

At the beginning of this year, I moved to Hong Kong to start a new venture, a social networking web site aimed at providing community tools for artists (filmmakers, musicians, performing artists) and their fans. After four intense months of development, the site was launched and now I’m asking all of my friends to take some time to visit the site:

http://www.alivenotdead.com

If you register on the web site, add me as a friend using my Gmail email address.

Stephen’s profile:
http://www.alivenotdead.com/?stephen

A community web site relies on the participation and support of its members, so by registering you’ll be helping us develop a nurturing environment for emerging artists. You could say that this is a continuation of our efforts at Rotten Tomatoes to help moviegoers figure out what great stuff to watch, except, this time, I’m working more directly with the filmmakers and musicians.

If you’ve already registered on the site and have added me as a friend, another way to help support [alive not dead] is by letting your friends know about the site and adding them to your network of friends. The site is made more enjoyable as more of your friends come on-board and contribute. Post about the site on your blog, Facebook, Myspace, etc…. Send your profile link to your friends.

Thanks to all of my friends over the years in helping to make Design Reactor and Rotten Tomatoes successes. Through your support, we hope to make [alive not dead] a success as well.

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Thursday December 21, 2006

I’m recruiting web developers for a new project in Hong Kong

MOOD: Excited


I’m sorry to my friends who might be getting this two or three times, but I really need to get the word out there. Patrick, Mark and I are starting a new venture in Hong Kong with Terence called AliveNotDead. Right now, the web site is the official site for “Alive”, the Hong Kong band, but our plans are to convert it into something really, really cool. We’re already in mid-development but I’m looking for two more qualified team members so I’d appreciate it if you guys could help out by recommending your qualified friends.

On a personal side note, as with Mark and Patrick, I’ll be relocating to Hong Kong from Xiamen. I’ll probably still be spending 25% of my time in Xiamen to help out with Xiaban.com, but right now our friends Jimmy and Asics are running the site and doing a good job developing a good stream of ad revenue for it. In the meanwhile, I’ll be spending most of my energies launching AliveNotDead early next year.

=================================

AliveNotDead.com is seeking two founding team members

  • Head Graphic/UI Web Designer
  • Senior Web Programmer (PHP/Mysql)

Positions are located in Hong Kong, but we can help you relocate if necessary.

About AliveNotDead
AliveNotDead (alivenotdead.com) is an online community of artists (musicians, filmmakers, and more) centered around Hong Kong and Taiwan and located in Hong Kong. Our goal is to allow artists of all levels to find and communicate directly with their fans and to help fans find new great artists as well as communicate and connect with other fans. We are building a social community similar to MySpace featuring artist profiles, blogs, photos, music downloads, and other communication tools with direct involvement by many Hong Kong and Taiwanese artists. Our efforts are targeted at here in Asia but we aim to help our artists find fans abroad by offering both English and Chinese language versions of the site.

AliveNotDead.com is the creation of the founders of Rotten Tomatoes (rottentomatoes.com), a leading movie web site and now a part of Fox Interactive Media (also the parent of MySpace) in partnership with various Hong Kong local celebrities. The team has a proven track record of developing and selling great Internet companies and intends to build another great Internet company with the new AliveNotDead web site.

More about the founders
Patrick Lee: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/1/347/823

Stephen Wang: http://www.linkedin.com/in/swang75

This is the chance to be employee number five and six for the founding team of a great new online community.

Head Graphic/UI Web Designer
Be the one-and-only designer of the AliveNotDead.com web site and all marketing materials.

  • Work in a small team (two programmers and one designer) to program and launch the new AliveNotDead online community.
  • Define the look-and-feel of the new version of the AliveNotDead.com online community
  • Create unique-and-original designs for the official online profiles of dozens of Hong Kong and Taiwanese artists and celebrities. You must have a distinct graphic design voice but also be able to provide great designs using other styles.
  • Establish a new identiy for AliveNotDead with new branding and marketing materials.
  • You must have proven experience developing interfaces for other web sites.
  • Advanced photography skills are a BIG plus.

Senior Web Programmer (PHP/Mysql), AliveNotDead.com
Be the first hired programmer for the new AliveNotDead team.

  • Work in a small team (two programmers and one designer) to program and launch the new AliveNotDead online community.
  • Be a vital voice in defining the featureset and roadmap of the web site in the coming years.
  • Good experience programming in a LAMP (Linux, Apache, Mysql, PHP) environment. You don’t necessarily need a Computer Science or Electrical Engineering degree, but you need to show us your abilties and drive by showing us both your job programming experience and your personal programming projects.
  • An independent, resourceful problem-solver who knows how to find the solution to anything. You might not know how to get something done at the beginning, but you’re confident enough in your abilities to find a way of getting it done by the end.

Criteria

  • This is not a 9-to-5 job (which hopefully you aren’t searching for anyways). This is a mission to build something of long-lasting value that will eventually make you a star amongst your circle of friends. We’ll all be working non-traditional hours and team members

    will be required to put in the time necessary to get the work done.

  • You must completely obsessed with the online world and online communities. Do you spend more time online on social worlds like MySpace, World of Warcraft, Facebook, Gaia Online and others than in the “real world”? Do most of your conversations with friends (online, of course) usually start with “Do you know what REALLY bugs me with <insert online community of your choice>?” This is a good starting point for fitting in with our team. Don’t bother to apply if you’re not prepared to show us your rigorously updated blog and or a frequent particiapant in online forums.
  • You must also have a deep and abiding love for music and movies. We’re building an online community centered around music and movie artists. All of the founders are big movie and music fans and a big part of our lives away from work involve watching movies and seeing concerts, so this will greatly help you perform your role and feel a part of the team.
  • This position is located in Hong Kong. You must be able to speak either English or Mandarin Chinese. The ability to speak both is a plus. The ability speak Cantonese is a BIG plus. The ability to read and type Chinese is a BIG plus. If you are not currently located in Hong Kong, you must be willing to relocate by February (at our expense).
  • We’re looking for nice, ethical, smart people. We will keep the team small for as long as we need to so we need to know that we can trust our first few team members and enjoy working together for the long-term.

Compensation
We are a small team looking to do BIG things so we provide an ample salary and generous equity to our few star players. Also, we are willing to provide a relocation allowance to help you move to Hong Kong.

Interested? Please email Stephen Wang at swang75 =at= gmail.com.

We’d really appreciate it if you could also help us out by sending this out to your qualified friends. Thanks!

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