25. Tangerine [July 10]
Where did this film come from? Well, wherever it originated, it’s created a storm of buzzwords and hashtags. Tangerine is a lo-fi, crass talking cluster of mess and sass. It is a highly strung waltz in heels that dizzingly marches forwards clop after clop. It is mostly a comedy drunk on anger, but the ideas that are stronger than the original implications may be what give Tangerine staying power. Take for instance the infamous fellatio scene that takes place in a car wash, where the droplets being blown off of the windshield mimic sperm cells (and we don’t need to go into everything before that part). Look at the rock bottom ending that gave each character what they wanted, whether it be drama or exploration. No one ended this day truly happy, but we can hope that everyone became stronger from this moment on.
24. The Hateful Eight [December 25]
Everyone in this Agatha Christie shoot ’em up is ugly. No one should be rooted for as they are locked in a frozen haberdashery. For three hours, they are ours and the wilderness’. Let’s see who cracks first! Quentin Tarantino, even at his most passive, is still dynamic. We have a whodunit with eight creatures that are foul, offensive and crass. We have lead ups and a basket of clues to figure out something ourselves. With the roadshow presentation in lovely 70mm and with an intermission now wrapped up, the standard theatrical version is now the story most will see. Us lucky few have that signature version clenched in our hand like the infamous Lincoln letter. Yes, even at Tarantino’s slowest do we get something special.
23. Clouds of Sils Maria [April 10]
All About Eve was made when the golden age of Hollywood was being separated by method actors, young starlets and larger performances. We’ve seen many takes on that phenomena since, and here’s but another. Clouds of Sils Marie is a more contemporary approach. We see an actress of the past named Maria(Juliette Binoche), who dominates European cinema, being challenged on screen by a young American sweetheart (Chloë Moretz). Maria’s assistant (Kristen Stewart) is there to support, but she feels that there is a clear boundary between old and new. New cinema is loud, dangerous and dynamic. Old cinema had poise, subtlety and passion. In a story that escapes its own narrative via metaphysical expansion, Clouds of Sils Marie is an observation that is put to test cleverly, and it is a great take on the old vs new battle we’ve seen so often before.
22. The Gift [August 7th]
Joel Edgerton’s debut film as a director and writer is an honest effort about dishonest people. The Gift is full of twists and turns that circle around the singular subject at hand: What exactly is the specified gift? As far as we know, we see many presents within this movie. Well, the gift is life. We cannot control how we get this gift, but we can nurture it as best as we can. If we don’t, we may ruin the gift of life for others. This film cleverly injects revenge and betrayal into the sole idea that many of us treasure our own lives above others even though we’ve all been granted the same opportunity. Toss in creepy monkeys, the Flight of the Valkyries and koi fish and you get a great suspense film out of a smaller budget.
21. The Big Short [December 11]
The recession is never easy to talk about. Being in a state of debt and depression is a subject touchy enough to still make a film about anything of the sort tricky to toy with. So The Big Short makes it hilarious. It dives right in and makes the whole subject a riot. The way it makes itself all the more necessary is that it does not laugh at us, the viewers who face the changed society every day. It laughs at the business and the housing market. It takes jabs at banks. It’s made for people like us by people who want us to hear this important talk and not get bored. So director Adam McKay and writer Charles Randolph have teamed up to give us a sharp and blistering explosion of business babble that makes complete sense. We have key players that can tackle both drama and comedy (Bale, Carell, Pitt and Gosling) there to charm our socks off. We have a story that will make you laugh while the film as a whole will hug and console you. The Big Short is your smart friend that motivates you while you cry on its shoulder. This is the kind of film this topic needed.
20. Beasts of No Nation [October 16]
Beasts of No Nation has a great sense of dramatic irony throughout. We see children being excited for war, and the scenes are meant to be joyful for these kids. Of course, they are downright disturbing for us as viewers, but these characters in context are rejoicing as we curl up into balls and pray. These children did not automatically love fighting, though. They were conditioned and forced to carry weapons. This is a dangerous zone that absorbs young minds, including Agu (the film’s main character). As we see Agu get pulled and shoved between what is right and wrong, we cannot help but feel for everyone else that’s involved as well. We only see Agu’s side of things, and that’s the scariest part. If Agu’s life was hell up until this point, what happened to every other child there? Beasts of No Nation is horrifying, and yet you won’t be able to take your eyes away from it all. No child should ever look forward to killing, nor should they be conflicted on whether or not they should be happy about it.
19. 刺客聶隱娘 (The Assassin) [October 16]
The Assassin is a gripping story told peacefully. It could have easily been abrasive and in your face, but it instead carries on its vicious ways like a trained killer itself: Quietly and without a trace. The shots are gorgeous, with the landscapes and foregrounds acting as their own characters eavesdropping in on the action. Then you have the actual fighting which, in great martial arts fashion, is akin to choreographed dancing. Everything, including death, is done so elegantly here. This could be because of the inserted task of having to kill a loved one. When facing such an objective, anyone would take a number of steps back first. This is why The Assassin is as thrilling as it is. The film knowingly backs off to honour the subjects, refuse to glorify the deaths involved and give us space to truly take in the scope of what is happening. The Assassin talks with brevity, acts with wisdom and shows with experience. It certainly stands out despite its reservations.
18. Victoria [June 11]
Witness a young girl on her own. She is loving the night life. She is relishing in her leisure. She is whisked away by men. Witness her get into trouble as they all get involved in a robbery situation that turns very sour quite quickly. See all of this in one take. That’s right: Victoria is done in a single shot. Most of the lines are improvised, and the world interacting around this story is alive. Victoria takes a distressing concept and makes it all the more real because you yourself do not get a break from it all either. You are virtually watching a bright and spry life go downhill without being able to stop it from hitting the bottom. As great of a film as Victoria is, it is propelled to a whole different status when you watch how many specific things happen in the film and realize that this two and a half hour film was done without taking a break. They even added complicated piano playing just to somewhat bump the lamp a little bit. Victoria is a stellar film with a combination of things that will have you astounded as to how it all got pulled off.
17. Mustang [June 17]
Where does one begin with Mustang? It is a complete scramble of fear after fear piling on top of young girls that are not old enough to have the blissfulness of a non adult life stripped away. Five girls leave their school to return home after their inspirational teacher has left for good, and they return to a dangerous domestic environment. We have a number of prominent feminist films this year (Mad Max: Fury Road, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, etc), but Mustang may be the most blatantly so to be featured on this list. It is a struggle for survival that puts the face of innocence up against the tampering of stages of life, such as marriage and sexuality. Women are pressured into being maternal figures or wives, and Mustang is an earth shattering depiction of this incessant need. Mustang will charm you quickly, frighten you greatly and will have you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
16. Brooklyn [November 27]
We start this traveling tale transitioning from Ireland to New York. It’s uneasy and even nauseating. Why did young Eilis Lacey even go there? Once she gathers her bearings and her identity, New York is now beautiful and Ireland’s a thing of the past. That is until we migrate back and see Ireland now in stunning greens and pale blues. We are as torn as Eilis is about where we should stay. Brooklyn is simple but proud. It is a relatable story about homesickness and starting one’s life, but it creatively ends up being about a bit more through Eilis’s personal attributions (of which she discovers through her experiences and loves). You have no idea what this film truly is about until it ends in a full circle. Brooklyn thus becomes the instructions of the wise passed down to the young, and who couldn’t use a lesson this quaint and charming?
15. Phoenix [July 24]
How do you take advantage of the open ways of neo noir even more? You make the female role completely honest and not deceptive in any way. Phoenix lets us know who the leading woman is right away. Nelly survived both the Holocaust and a gun shot and has had to have surgery to fix her face. While her mind is still being put back together, she is rejected by her husband who doubts it is actually her. He abuses her likeliness, however, to abuse the connection he has to his (supposedly) late wife, and Nelly witnesses it all. She ends up being the instigator of the male’s weakness ala most noir films, and she did so by just being a decent human being. Phoenix completely shifts what you know about noir and psychological thrillers. Its appropriate name indicates a rebirthing of a genre that simply cannot die because of how solid its foundation is; Phoenix just happens to be one of the finer recent examples of it, though.
14. Room [October 16]
The descriptive, naive horror written by Emma Donoghue, is scary because of how little we know about what is going on as we read about terrors through the eyes of a developing child. This wouldn’t work as well in the film adaptation, where we can see what is actually going on and are not as confused. To make Room as a film work, a different approach was needed. Well, the movie is spectacular, so something must have worked. Maybe it reads as though the child Jack loves what is around him, and thus the hell hole of a home known as Room is even creepier. Part of the experience is seeing a kidnapped mother and her child (fathered by the man that entrapped her) stuck in an isolated garden shed. The other part is seeing how difficult it is to adjust in the real world. Either way, Room hits hard because of how resonating both the mother and child roles in this scenario are. The best selling book translated well, and Room is a frightening domestic thriller.
13. Saul Fia (Son of Saul) [June 11]
This Best Foreign Film short lister may very well take the prize on Oscar night. How could it not with its depiction of what makes a family? We see a man gripping to survive as he is stuck in Auschwitz without any future in sight ahead of him. He finally sees himself in a young boy who, too, doesn’t have much left in his life. Son of Saul finds a way to create a sense of family within a crisis. You see people suffering while they try to make their woes as light as possible. You witness people just begging to have a family, and you see this zoomed in to the backs of prisoners that are being abused. You are amidst everyone, either as a bystander or as a prisoner yourself. Either way, Son of Saul is up close and personal. You are here to find peace within sorrow while the film does the same, and you’ll be damned to say that the film doesn’t achieve this (even during its darkest moments).
12. دختری درشب تنها به خانه میرود (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) [April 20]
An Iranian spaghetti western neo noir horror; The labeling for this film is as long as the title. Nonetheless, this black and white mystical gem could be one of the most overlooked flicks of the year. It is bright in its depiction of feminism. We have a vampire who prowls the streets at night in a burqa and feeds on perverted men. She sucks out what little life they had left through their punctured necks. She comes home to a collage on her walls of western icons turned Persian (think a recreation of the self titled Madonna album). A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a statement on cinema, Iran and universal gender equality. It is spooky but a sight to behold. The soundtrack is one of the best of the year, and the visuals will stick in your head for days. Like the female protagonist, this movie somehow snuck under most radars but it didn’t escape mine. Don’t let it escape yours now, too.
11. Star Wars: The Force Awakens [December 18]
J.J. Abrams brought the force back into this series with full emphasis. The Force Awakens is not just a worthy successor, but it’s a captivating stand alone feature to boot. We have old characters coming back to life to meet new faces. We see nostalgic features (the intro crawl is back!) blending just nicely with the up to date effects. We have a diverse and highly worthy cast brining light to a new portion of the dark side. Admiral Ackbar may as well have been in every corner of this twisty story to warn us about the bumpy road ahead (who would have forseen THAT event that would change Star Wars permanently?). Yes, Star Wars came back and was so good that we will selfishly ask for more. We will ask for more after having dismissed the initial idea that another Star Wars would even exist. Well, The Force Awakens beat the odds and is also proof that such a distinctive idea will sit nicely with each new generation to experience it.
10. Ex Machina [January 21]
Alex Garland’s debut as a director is a home run. Of course, we have seen the subject of robots evolving into humans before, but Ex Machina is special when it comes to this inquiry. We don’t have robots taking over the world or interacting with the general populace. We just see Ava (Alicia Vikander) interacting with her maker (Oscar Isaac) and the man that will test her abilities (Domhnall Gleeson). We just have a contained environment with great minds challenging complex ideas. There is a genius thinker questioning his heart’s chase. The housing that this all takes place in is exquisite in such a way that it is also eerie to boot. Everything is lit up, but why does that make us uneasy? Is it because every wall is glass and there is no where to hide? Technology exposes faults both with humans and within itself. Ex Machina is a curiosity that will test you as it tests itself. It is a self aware film about self awareness. It’s almost too cunning, really.
9. Love and Mercy [June 5]
If you are tired of biopics that are too formulaic and read too heavily like a wikipedia page, Love and Mercy will reinstate your faith in the style. This harrowing depiction of songwriter Brian Wilson’s golden years coasting under his times of greater turmoil is refreshing. The magic of Wilson’s craft and the glory of The Beach Boys (session members or not) comes from the subject matter and Paul Dano’s performance. The crippling fears that plague his later years come from claustrophobic shots, John Cusack’s take on the older years of Brian Wilson and Elizabeth Banks’ exemplary supporting work. There aren’t strong, forceful cues to sway you. There’s just the story of genius, human decency and musical joy. Love and Mercy is a tough film, but it will be one of the most rewarding rides this year (if the fresh take on the biopic blueprints doesn’t seal the deal enough).
8. Steve Jobs [October 9]
This movie may not break the rules of the biopic category as much as Love and Mercy did, but it does toy with the requirements a bit. There are chronological plot points, and they happen to be real time moments before key speeches in Steve Jobs’ life. There is a biographical story, and it is told through the flurry of flustered business talk. There is one man keeping it all together, and it’s the same man receiving the bombardment in the first place. Steve Jobs was both a loved and highly controversial figure, and this peculiar biopic doesn’t shy away from the latter. Its a story about finding a heart in a machine the same way Jobs tried to with advertising computers. Jobs here is the robot, and both Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin nail their pitch when it comes to selling this idea. Steve Jobs is tense, riveting and explosive. When we thought we shouldn’t have a Steve Jobs film again because it failed once already, now we can say there shouldn’t be another as it won’t be as creative as this rendition.
7. Selma [January 9]
For almost a year now, Selma has stood its ground as a fighter. It had only two Academy Award nominations yet came out with a Best Original Song win that ended up being a staple of the evening. It got wide released in January but has left a lasting impact still. It dealt with a strong subject matter and it delivered tastefully. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy can speak for itself, but Selma is a noteworthy example of how a meaningful part of history can be retold with high relevance. What better time could there be to ask the world for unity and compassion? Ava DuVernay’s moving film documents the marches on Selma that ended in blood and hurt that rose to unity. It is well acted, shot and pieced together. Everyone involved loves the world and the late dr.’s message enough to bring everything they could to this project. We need universal love and we need it now. Selma is a great reminder of this, and it speaks as loudly now as it did when the events took place.
6. Mad Max: Fury Road [May 15]
I never expected to have an action film so high on any list of mine. Ever. I simply am not an action movie fan by any means, and I usually find the genre to be bloated and directionless in story. I heard a new Mad Max film was out, and I cared about as much as a goose cares about sticking around for winter. Once the acclaim for the film exploded, I figured to finally give the film a try. What a ride! Mad Max: Fury Road is the greatest action film in years. It has a strong story with animated characters. The thrill is constantly heading in the same direction at high speeds, and you can see all of it due to carefully selected frame rate specifications for each shot. Director George Miller has achieved the impossible by making a world that resonates visually, pacing wise and metaphorically; Who can’t identify with the thurst for recognition and reward in a struggling era? Spray yourself all shiny and chrome, beg to be witnessed, and dive into the best action film of our times.
5. Inside Out [June 19]
Welcome back, Pixar. We have surely missed your strength. There has been a joke image online that insinuates that Pixar makes films by giving objects or animals feelings. The punchline is that Inside Out is about feelings having, well, feelings. It may be a meme, but it’s onto something. Inside Out delicately makes a world inside of our brains with a system that makes a huge amount of sense. It focuses on a young girl’s mind, though, as we start to see the confused fusions of emotions we get when we first develop depression. It is gentle enough to be a fun filled adventure for kids. It is smart enough to mean something even greater to adults who have lived through it all and can see the younger generations coping with change. It is touching enough to move everyone. With a bright cast, colourful animation and a hugely imaginative story, Inside Out is not just a return for Pixar but one of it’s greatest successes to boot.
4. Carol [November 20]
If you ever wanted to see a living pastel illustration of a heart breaking sight, Carol would be that slow heartbeat. This gut wrenching winter tale of accidental lovers is certainly the most poetic film of the year. You have an older woman searching for freedom. You have a younger lady finding herself. They are both pressured to be within society’s confinements, with Carol having been within them most of her life and Therese only just facing this box now. They fit in nicely with our perceptions, and their love is normal in our era. Within the film’s context, they both struggle. We see both characters and hope for their love to blossom. Carol isn’t that easy, though, and it will be one of the surest chances of leaving your seat teary eyed this year.
3. The Revenant [December 25]
What an angry film. Think Tree of Life’s grace being pummeled by Antichrist’s anguish, and you’ll get Alejandro G Iñárittu’s latest triumph. This film is mean to its core, and it is a test in every sense. The true story and the book this film was based off of tell the tale of a bear-attack victim left for dead. The shooting of this film was a nine month haul that was shot only with natural lighting (sometimes for only 90 minutes a day just to slow the process) and in freezing temperatures. Actors and crew suffered during this, especially Leonardo Dicaprio, who put himself through hell to give his strongest performance (as he throws up after eating raw bison liver, freezes in a frigid river, hides in an animal carcass and, sadly, more). Finally, this is a task for many conventional viewers to sit through, considering how graphic and disturbing it is as it drones. All of this aside, it is a breathtaking result. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is unmatched and gorgeous with so many long takes dictating the scene. The pummeling music collaboration by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto and Bryce Dessner is enough to give you a heart attack. Iñárittu’s difficult directing pays off with his best work to date. The Revenant may have been close to production death, but all of its troubles come to life in this unbelievable film.
2. Spotlight [November 6]
We could sure use a great journalism film during a time where most of us are questioning yhe news that we read. We needed a story that showed that not every writer is corrupt, especially with a plot that deals with the other figures that try to squash a story before the world hears about it. The uncovering of pedophilia in the Catholic church was a big shock because of how common it ended up being, and any of us old enough to recall this will definitely remember this revelation making its rounds. Well, we now see the story behind it, and Tom McCarthy treated the subject with a nice and careful approach. We don’t quite see a villain here (as such a disgusting subject is too big to pin point), but we do see a few faces that don’t help stop this mess. We also have everyday heroes that aren’t overly dramatized. All of the tension comes from the content. Spotlight is slated to win the coveted Best Picture Oscar (rightfully so), and it will be nice to see a film that’s so grounded be awarded for its integrity.
1. Anomalisa [December 30]
For the very last moment of 2015, we will be blessed with the masterfully cynical animated feature Anomalisa. It has shaken the animation world since its festival rounds, and I can see why after having seen it at TIFF. The only film more catered to human emotions than the riveting Spotlight is this depressingly dark comedy. Charlie Kaufman has done it again, and with the help of claymation director Duke Johnson, Anomalisa brings dignity’s death to life.
Imagine a world where everything is gloomy, everyone looks and sounds the same and you cannot bear even yourself. Oh, wait. That’s a battle we have all faced. This is how Kaufman faced his, and it is a representation unlike any we have seen in cinema before. Puppets had to have been used for this to work. We all put on faces and emotions. We can identify with how predetermined our fates are. We can pin point just how awkward the moments of intimacy are. Without giving away the spine tingling moments that break into schizophrenic metaphysics, you won’t be able to imagine a telling of this story without puppets.
Anomalisa is this year’s best film because of how much we get from a concept so basic. This little film was given a heartbeat by a successful kickstarter campaign. The people behind this film worked for years to created a story with a pocket cast, minimal sets and a short running time of an hour and a half. All Anomalisa needed was the right podium, and God did it ever get it. It’s the funniest film this year and also one of the darkest (we can’t exactly dethrone The Revenant there). The animation is breathtaking, and you’ll forget that you’re watching years of painstaking work per second. Anomalisa is an enigma about everyday life, just like the title suggests. It is a breakthrough about menial self hatred. It simply is Anomalisa.
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