Whoaaaaa 2015 is over, huh? Quick overview – It was a memorable year with a few films that belong in the decade’s top 10 so far. The zeitgeist was 100% kickass females while men were being big dummies. Every good blockbuster was completely stolen by a great female character(s). The indie circuit was loaded with incredible female roles as well (Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, The Duke of Burgundy, Tangerine etc.).
I made a top 25 montage video that I think turned out quite well. The video’s order is a bit different because of editing/music synchronization reasons, but lists are arbitrary so really it doesn’t matter. The video is more of a celebration of 2015 cinema. But again, I must mention that the top 2 are undoubtedly the two masterpieces of the year and among the centuries elite cinematic achievements. You can watch the video here https://vimeo.com/153137165
However, this written list is my official ranking of 2015’s films. I saw nearly 100 films this year so I have quite a few Honorable Mentions: Mistress America is sooooooo great when it’s focused on Lola Kirke. Love the score. While ungainly, The Revenant deserves a mention for its cinematography and lofty ambition. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is the most overlooked film of the highest quality. Blackhat Blackhats so hard. Me and Earl and The Dying Girl was the best sundancy film that almost got me to tear up. Almost. The Mend! It’s on Netflix! Watch The Mend! Spotlight is a good ‘ol cup of coffee. Aesthetically ugly, but it’s efficient and the key to getting through the day and I could keep watching/drinking it for hours. Ex-Machina is philosophically hollow, but it’s a fun chess match between two dudes who have a crush on a robot. Phoenix initially disappointed me because of my Vertigo expectations, but I’ve found myself wanting to return to it’s Berlin nightclub atmosphere and the desperate need to find answers in a time of destruction. Room is a realistic ‘Alice in Wonderland’ that works as a tribute to a mother’s love and a child’s wonder. “Life affirming,” as they say. If I counted short films I’d put World of Tomorrow in the top 15.
Notable films I did not get around to seeing: Hard To Be A God, Timbuktu, Horse Money, Girlhood, Listen to Me Marlon
The Top 25
25. The Wolfpack – Movies are cool.
24. The Forbidden Room – Guy Maddin is insane.
23. The Big Short – edited like an MTV music video with fun performances and an inexplicable ability to settle down and pull on the heart strings. Sure, it almost mockingly guides the audience but c’mon, most of us are idiots!
22. 45 Years – like if Kubrick made a movie about marriage. Not like Eyes Wide Shut (I worship Eyes Wide Shut) but, like, a normal marriage movie. Also, Charlotte Rampling really needs a timeout.
21. Eden – It has electronic dance music in Paris and it’s about director Mia Hansen-Love’s brother. A personal sonic letter.
20. Creed – Stylistically, Coogler’s creation is more inspired by Ali and Raging Bull, but the first Rocky‘s spirit flows through it’s veins. Personal touches are its knockout punch: an image of Rocky reading the paper in a cemetery. A boy staring into an adults eyes asking for help. The final use of the Rocky theme is a masterclass in build up. Best Rocky sequel? Maybe.
19. Mustang – Agreed with everyone else. It’s a Turkish The Virgin Suicides. Ahhhhhh if only every movie was as good as The Virgin Suicides.
18. Inside Out – Just stop for a second and think about how amazing it is that such an audacious concept could be comprehended by children. Also, this movie really just pandered to me with the dreams as Hollywood sets and a Chinatown joke that only me and one other guy in the theater got. #RIPBingBong.
17. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – Initially I had issues with this film’s stitched plot, but a rewatch revealed it’s not concerned with plot mechanics. McQuarrie has made a Brian De Palma film, and De Palma of course was influenced by Hitchcock. The action scenes are crafted like fuses ready to go boom! The opera scene is an all timer. Rebecca Ferguson is a masterpiece.
16. Jauja – Another ‘Alice in Wonderland’ adventure. Viggo Mortensen treks into the desert searching for his daughter and encounters a cave of dreams, hallucinations(?) and never ending landscapes that suggest his search is futile. It channels Tarkovsky better than that other man in the wilderness film.
15. The Duke of Burgundy – A dirty and luxurious swwoooooonnnn that introduced me to “human toilets.” As a fusion of music and image, it’s a gorgeous dive through lust, jealousy, and longing that feels like it’s consuming you in a world you didn’t know existed.
14. Clouds of Sils Maria – Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart duel in a meta act off and we’re the winners.
13. Tangerine – Yes, it was amazingly shot an iPhone, but I’m more amazed that it accelerates to being as energized as a Spike Lee film. The dialogue and performances are sizzling and the aesthetic creates not just a sense of lived-in place, but of real lives. I await Sean Baker’s next movie.
12. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Pop grandeur funneled through a memory of what Star Wars was and then soaked in 21st century post-modernism. Superficially a rehash of Star Wars, but step back and look at in a larger context to see that this movie is ABOUT Star Wars. The first 30 minutes are quiet, mythic storytelling and the best stretch of filmmaking that Abrams has ever done. He’s created a jukebox of Star Wars that comments on itself by playing us covers of the greatest hits before finally releasing a new single. A rip-roaring adventure through space that’s about stumbling into the footprints of myth and then turning around only to realize you’ve become that myth.
11. Amy – Shocking that this footage exists and that we get to see it. A film of home videos, news, and iPhone footage that collides together like a crime scene.
The Top 10 – Any of those last 15 are worthy of fitting in here, but when I think back on the year, these are the ones that have cemented themselves as 2015’s elite.
10. Bridge of Spies – Snow, rain, and amoeba like shadows suggest a murky morality floating in the air, yet much of the dialogue and actions of people ignore this obvious cancer. A little detective work reveals this to be a film about language, and because of Spielberg’s delicate craft, film language. Small details and Spielberg continuing to push his new obsession with ordinary father figures doing extraordinary feats makes Bridge of Spies sneakily good and a worthy entry in his recent catalogue. Sewn together in this cat and mouse plot is an adventure film, a spy thriller, a Rylance showcase, a courtroom drama, a cold war battle, and suburbia. Only Spielberg’s magic touch could bring it all together. In the latter half, conversations are staged so masterfully that within a single cut they feel like the most important conversation in the world—and they are. Behind the curtain of the cold war, communication becomes the key to solving the riddle of morality opposing national security. After the climax, and out of nowhere, I felt the waterworks building up and Spielberg had done it again.
9. It Follows – Teenagers run for their lives from an unknown entity while adults seem extinct. David Robert Mitchell’s film gets tangled up in its own mythology but the idea and atmosphere is so great that it’s easy to overlook. Existing outside of time and place, this Twilight Zone episode is a solipsistic tour through a teenage apocalypse. A cousin to Donnie Darko and Halloween where “adulthood” is the other.
8. Brooklyn – An immigrant tale with 1950’s cotton candy aesthetic, good old fashioned storytelling and a bubble gum tone. I love all of the Irish accents. I love 50’s New York. I love the earnestness. I love Saoirse Ronan. I love its nostalgic storytelling as though it’s being told from the POV of your grandmother. One of those rare films where an entire family could go to the theater and everyone would be equally moved. Plus, 1950’s diners are where it’s at folks. Ronan will be one of the greats.
7. Anomalisa – Charlie Kaufman makes the mundane meaningful but also devastatingly sad in his almost revelatory understanding of simple human emotions. Here he has another sad sack who is unfaithful, alcoholic, overweight, and rich, but Kaufman makes us relate to him. Then Jennifer Jason Leigh shows up and sings ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ and it’s like the most goddamn beautiful thing ever. Even as a puppet she’s. just. the. best. About 3/4ths of the way through I was going nuts for the Kafka stuff but the usual Kaufman trickery seemed absent from this film. I got it, I thought, and then towards the end, Kaufman lightly pulls the rug out and makes a devastatingly simple point that reverberates through the entire piece, launching a missile of melancholy right into the audience. Damn you, Charlie.
6. Magic Mike XXL – Bruh, what if there was a movie where everybody loved each other and wanted everyone they met to be happy and they just hung out and had fun and laughed and laughed and laughed. There is. It’s this film. You’re either laughing right now or throwing your arms up to the heavens and thrusting in agreement. Obviously, the former haven’t seen it. It pirouettes and thrusts it’s way into your heart with the DNA of a 50’s MGM musical. Soderbergh shoots and edits this with a great spirit reminiscent of 80’s adult dramas like Working Girl. The girl in the beginning that runs around in a motorcycle helmet head butting everybody is a masterpiece and something out of an Altman film’s background. And this to me feels like it’s blood related to Nashville. The lights/shadows envelop the bodies of everyone (big, small, tall, thin, man, woman etc.) to create a single organism of pure happiness. Is there anything more gleefully amazing than the gas station scene? No. Magic Mike XXL is a film that’s 100% dedicated to showing everyone is equal, making it the most progressive film of the year.
5. Steve Jobs – Fluidly rolls out quote worthy dialogue with epileptic editing and then pauses for quick moments of almost ethereal revelation. Not a huge fan of his, but this is Danny Boyle’s best film. Motifs of Geometry and shape mirror the film’s form and content. The characters themselves are machines spewing dialogue and walking robotically, making the Blade Runner inspired score a thematic driving force. Sorkin’s systematic dialogue and structure melts into Boyle’s melodic direction and the brilliant use of 16mm/35mm/Digital. In The Social Network, Zuckerberg talked and thought with the icy processing of a robot, only for him to be left longing to be a human while dragging everyone into his programmed abyss. Here Sorkin has reversed that by making Jobs a robot whose creation aims to bring humanity to his technology (he wanted his computers to be warm/human) but really what he’s doing is trying to create an illusion for himself. That illusion is his technology reflects himself so a world that accepted his art, accepted him. Throughout this machine of a film, the form nearly shatters when Jobs has an emotional discovery as the pulsing score morphs into a computer’s heartbeat with the echo of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
4. The Look of Silence – Joshua Oppenheimer’s dynamic doc duo are the best documentaries of the decade and use the form on the level of Herzog (he’s an exec. producer). The Act of Killing was a sprawling overview of the aftermath of the Indonesian genocide focusing on the killers and the political structure/mob rule that’s still in power. It didn’t particularly zoom in on those personally affected and this is the central topic in The Look of Silence. A terrifyingly intimate doc that uncovers personal profundities like it’s turning pages in a diary of those whose families killers still walk freely. Disturbingly beautiful in its surgical exactness of the human condition and utterly sad in it’s ability to probe the hidden horrors of history. I’m no expert on documentaries; I’m lucky to see over 5 a year, but to me, this and The Act of Killing are the best of the decade.
— And now we enter masterpiece country —
3. The Hateful Eight – A 1960’s western TV serial with the production value of a David Lean epic and the bloody horror of Evil Dead 2. Only Quentin Tarantino would/could do that. For the first time in his work, there’s no moral center, so it’s Tarantino as the film’s godlike presence (he even goes as far as breaking the fourth wall) moving his chess pieces across the board with a Morricone score that foreshadows bloodshed. Agatha Christie mysteries, The Thing, and a dash of Italian Giallo inform this angered vengefest epic. Uncomfortably laugh out loud hilarious, exuberant, and also deadly serious in its confrontations of race that have passed their way through history and back into this movie. Jennifer Jason Leigh gives a godly performance that should immediately be ushered to the top of Tarantino’s catalogue. This is Quentin, angry and driven, to create a biblical fable intended to infuriate, confuse, and enlighten. He’s concocted a methodical mystery where racism and lies become the keys to unlocking an unsettling American truth. Thematically it’s his most ambitious film and reaches Sam Peckinpah levels of subversive morality. Morricone’s score is one of his best, which of course means it’s one of the best of all time. The final shot is one for the ages. Mary Todd’s calling. Cue Roy Orbison.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road – 70 year old George Miller’s surreal, expressionistic genre landmark took over a decade to get made, including over 4 years to film and edit. Maybe once a year I walk out of a film and say “Wow, well I’ve never seen THAT before.” I loudly said it when I walked out of Mad Max: Fury Road. As a kid, The Road Warrior was like an ancient text that I had heard legends of. Max Rockatansky wanders the wasteland like a ghost, a mythic being on an endless quest. In this film he plays co-op Mario Kart with Charlize Theron’s Furiosa. She gives us the best heroine since Ripley, and while the title has Max’s name, this is 100% Furiosa’s film. Throughout, Miller orchestrates truck chases, car crashes, spear grenades, motorcycles jumping of cliffs, ghosts, chainsaws, fistfights, face painted warriors who worship V8 engines and spray chrome paint on their teeth. Miller somehow manages to simultaneously connect action, story, character, and theme with just images and minimal dialogue. I can’t even believe that this exists. A bloody molotov cocktail of cinema in its purest form. All hail George Miller. Mad Max: Fury Road belongs on action cinema’s Mount Rushmore.
1. Carol – A sensory experience of love that blossoms through the form of film. Todd Haynes and co. created a world so rich, tangible and full of ache that the screen encompasses the audience in a melancholic snow globe where we yearn to escape just as much as our star crossed lovers, Therese and Carol. Cinematographer Ed Lachman conjures the spell of love in New York with Christmas lights/candy cane cinematography on tantalizing 16MM film. Lachman’s camera rhythmically moves its way through New York City. Shots linger voyeuristically from afar and tease us before moving into intimate spaces, and moments of devastating stares. Blanchett and Mara beam with movie star legend and shine like reincarnations of Monica Vitti and Audrey Hepburn. Aesthetically and thematically it’s all so palpable that you feel you could jump in and breathe the dreamy atmosphere. Haynes uses a language of touches and stares, glazed by Carter Burwell’s swelling score, to find a nexus between the melancholy of existence and the ephemeral moments of transcending one’s self. Carol is a film about communicating to another person without saying anything; about fulfilling that primal yearning for belonging and the need to be known. Emotionally and visually it’s a stained glass painting of love in it’s many iterations: excitement, ache, vulnerability, yearning. Haynes keeps catharsis at arms length for the audience before he shatters his glass painting and lets the emotion pour out in the most emotionally cinematic moment of the year. Carol is an all-time masterpiece, and the best film of 2015.
If you endured reading all of that then you deserve a pat on the back. Thanks!
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