Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Top Ten Films of 2015.

I think there's something in my blind spot.

The Oscars are Sunday and thus, I return to you. I actually made it an entire year without writing a single word, which coincides with my realization in November that I'd only seen a handful of 2015 films. I kept waiting for the barrage of theatrical must-sees. Then I realized that essential Hollywood was largely taking the back half of the year off. Don't let my pessimism get you down though, because I made up for lost time and saw a lot of good films in 2015. I'm just crabby because I liked 2014 too much, and nothing in 2015 blew me away like The Guest did. Before we get to my arbitrary ratings, let's hit some honorable mentions and talk about the movie I feel required to mention—even though I really don't want to.


You've all heard the criticisms, so I'll save you the rehash and just say that I don't get the overwhelmingly positive response. I understand that it's not the travesty that was Episode II, and that you're all pleased of the general lack of Jar Jar Binks; but even forgiving any and all arguable negatives, I think the film's only real strength is that it left us with the promise that future Star Wars films might be interesting. On its own, I don't think The Force Awakens was any better than Jupiter Ascending (which everybody hated), and I personally preferred Ant Man and even Chappie. On a scale from The Incredible Four to Mad Max: Fury Road, I give it an Avengers: Age of Ultron. For those of you keeping track, that's basically a Jurassic World, although the T-Rex gave me more feels than the Millennium Falcon did.

THE TRIBE - Honorable Mention

The Tribe was a few narrative choices away from greatness, but it's understandably difficult to convey an articulate narrative through non-subtitled sign language. The main characters of the film attend a Ukrainian school for the deaf, and they spend their evenings pimping their female classmates at a nearby truck stop and mugging the local townsfolk. The lack of audible voices works well from a visual perspective: Most of the film is in long shot, and utilizes long takes that demand your attention. And although some scenes drag and others seem unnecessary, the banality of the day-to-day makes the tribe's sudden bouts of the ol' ultra-violence mesmerizing in comparison. I'd argue that if subtitles were added, the film wouldn't work; and that this claim highlights The Tribe's strengths as well as its weakness.

The MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E - Honorable Mention

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a silly spy movie set in the 1960's in which a Russian and an America spy team up to prevent a nuclear crisis. It's basically a really white Rush Hour. The film never takes itself seriously and focuses more on one-liners and dad jokes than its plot; which is fine by me since the narrative is nothing to write home about. Still, it's an amusing film that I didn't see coming, and I'd rather watch this again than bother with Spectre.

And now for our annual countdown...

10. The Forbidden Room
Most of you can probably skip this one—and you are forgiven—but I love the delightfully insane, and Guy Maddin never disappoints in that respect. The film is a collection of small stories interspersed, opening on the instructional video "How to take a Bath" and quickly moving to an underwater submarine whose inhabitants consume flapjacks in order to conserve air (They have air pockets, you see). The narrative careens through various stories including skeletons who commit insurance fraud, a man who lives in an elevator, and a young boy who inherits his dead father's mustache. The film uses intertitles gratuitously, although many of the characters' lines are spoken; and the film crackles, burns, and pops as though it has been damaged over time. It becomes less exhilarating towards the end, but if it had maintained the momentum of the first hour it would have been number one on this list. If it's not on your radar yet, I assume you'll never see it, but please just watch this scene. You're welcome.

9. Wild Tales
Wild Tales is a collection of six short stories about people who take justice into their own hands. None of the stories are intertwined (they're only linked thematically), but they all showcase an individual delightfully pushed to his/her limits. Some are darker or funnier than the others; but they're all well written, silly on occasion, and fun to watch. There's a waitress who is serving the gangster who ruined her family's life, a demolition expert whose car keeps getting towed no matter where he parks it, and a bride who discovers—at her own reception, no less—that her husband has cheated on her with one of the guests. Live vicariously through these folks as they lash out at their enemies; that's what cinema is for. I may like this film because I over-empathize with vigilantes—and I'm not sure if that's something I should tell people or not.

8. It Follows
Children are the scariest real-life STD, but It Follows one-ups even the horrors of parenthood. After sleeping with her boyfriend for the first time, Jay finds out she's come down with a sexually transmitted curse: a shape-shifting supernatural force in the form of a person that will slowly walk towards her until it catches up—and kills her. The only way to get rid of it is to pass it on to someone else, a duty that the neighborhood boys will volunteer for even though they know the consequence. It Follows succeeds not because it abandons the familiar horror tropes, but because it tweaks them just enough to keep things interesting. Modern horror tends to feel the need to explain its monsters, but Jay and her friends spend the film evading theirs rather than trying to understand its origin. It's also more terrifying to have a monster that slowly staggers through the background, than a barely seen creature that pops up occasionally (with an obnoxious sound effect, mostly likely) only to quickly disappear. I know I normally hate horror films, but that's usually because they are bad; and It Follows is the important exception, as it reminds us that if we have sex, we will get pregnant. And die.

7. The Revenant
The Revenant is basically The Grey—except it has better cinematography, and less interesting characters. It's probably the best movie from this year that I'll never watch a second time. I did enjoy it, I just really don't think that Leonardo DiCaprio crawling around the woods counts as essential cinema. That being said, I don't mind if it wins Best Picture. My only Best Picture hope is that Spotlight doesn't win because, while it's not a boring film, it's a boring piece of film-making. In fact, I consider all of the nominees to be good films, which I don't think has happened since the early 2000's when there were only five nominees. If you haven't noticed yet, this is the film in the list that we pause to talk about Best Picture nominees, because the movie was good but it's not interesting to talk about. Tom Hardy was good. All right, we're done.

6. What We Do in the Shadows
This is the only film throughout 2015 that I knew would end up on this list, and it was the first 2015 film I saw. It's a vampire mockumentary from the creators of Flight of the Conchords and it exists in the same vein as Spinal Tap. It focuses on a group of vampire flat mates who graciously invite us into their homes and show us how they divide chores, where they go out, and who they choose to eat. A new roommate moves in and stirs up trouble, but thankfully, he has a delightful human friend whom everyone gets along with. It's a story of vampires without the romanticized, Gothic glamour of traditional vampire stories, and it's rather enjoyable to watch as they take their bumbling bloodlust up to eleven. There are vampire hunters, werewolves trying not to curse (Werewolves, not Swearwolves), and eventually a meeting with the dreaded Beast. It's all quite delightful, and easy to recommend to just about anyone.

5. Dope
Dope is a breath of fresh air for a number of reasons. First of all, it's really good. It's also a teen comedy that's not about cancer, sex, hating your parents or endless love. It's a movie about being yourself—and diggin' it. Malcolm and his two best friends are growing up in a tough neighborhood and are repeatedly picked on for liking "white things" like skateboards, Donald Glover, and getting good grades. Eventually, the geek world and the gangster world collide, and after a party interrupted by rival gangs, Malcolm finds his backpack filled with drugs, and the plot escalates from there. When confronted with the challenge of ridding themselves of this contraband, they do so in the dorkiest way possible: using their brains.

4. Mad Max: Fury Road
High-quality action movies usually fly under the radar (Ong Bak, The Raid, Dredd, to name a few) and more recently, the popular action films tend to be more attributable to other genres: Science fiction in the case of Edge of Tomorrow, spy thriller in the case of Spectre or Mission Impossible, or any number of superhero movies which are basically a genre of their own at this point. And Mad Max undoubtedly exists in a world of science fiction, but it is an action movie through and through. In fact, almost the entire movie is one long car chase; but it's a large-scale, exciting and wondrous car chase, complete with flamethrower guitar players. And it's the most critically acclaimed film of the year. There's nothing more to explain here, you know exactly what you're getting into.

3. The Big Short
If you were only able to see one movie from 2015, it should be this one. If you still don't understand the institutional incompetence that caused the financial crisis, this is the movie to explain it to you. Rather, celebrities will explain it to you. While it follows the characters who figured out the housing bubble and bet against it before it collapsed, the film's real goal is to educate you in an entertaining way. Anthony Bourdain shows up to explain C.D.O.'s (they're three-day-old fish), Selena Gomez teaches us all about synthetic C.D.O.'s and Margot Robbie shows up in a bubble bath to explain something else (I was distracted). The film interrupts itself multiple times to clarify truths and to occasionally tell you when it's modifying the truth for a narrative effect, and that is absolutely delightful. The characters are more of a means to driving the narrative, but they do curse at each other quite a bit, which is always fun. This film probably should be number one on this list, but I would have felt guilty since it's basically a documentary. And as we all know, documentaries are ineligible.

2. Brooklyn
Brooklyn may be the bravest movie of the year. I say that because there's no violence, no nudity, and it's a period piece in which no one gets tricked into becoming a prostitute or joining an army. Seriously, I kept waiting for the melodramatic shoe to drop. But, by golly, it never did. Instead, we get a delightfully chaste tale about a young Irish girl who comes to America and meets a nice Italian boy. It may make me you cry, but it's realism not melodrama. It's a film about moving on, and having split loyalties: leaving behind old loved ones for new ones, and the guilt in having to make that choice. It's well shot, well acted, and above all else, Joaquin Phoenix is nowhere to be found... I really hated The Immigrant.

1. Chi-Raq
Let me begin by saying that, if we look at Chi-Raq objectively, it's clearly not the best film of the year. It's drastically uneven, both thematically and in respects to the narrative. It bounces between comedy, melodrama, documentary and musical. Characters move in and out of it quickly; some are satirical, some are deadly serious, and a lot of them are paper thin. There are a few scenes that don't fit quite right, and one that is just blatantly bad. All that being said, I really enjoyed this ambitious mess.

Chi-Raq is an adaptation of the Greek play Lysistrata, in which the women of ancient Greece go on a sex strike in protest of the Peloponnesian war. In Chi-Raq, Ancient Greece is replaced by modern-day Chicago, and the Peloponnesian war is replaced by gang violence in the south side. Like it's source material, Chi-Raq is written largely in verse, but it's all phrased in a modern vernacular and chock full of cultural references. To simplify things, it's mostly slam poetry about guns and sex. The dialogue is smart and sharp, often making use of pop culture, current events and ridiculous metaphors. And while the film is incredibly funny, it's also incredibly serious about gang violence. The focal point of the film is the death of a seven-year-old girl shot dead by a stray bullet. There's legitimate dramatic impact as we see a mother scrubbing her daughter's blood from the sidewalk, and while some of the dramatic moments are borderline farcical, there are others that make an impression.

Unfortunately—and understandably, some of you will be put off by the film's politics. It is, after all, a satirical and simplified narrative pertaining to a very complex problem. Sometimes it preaches, sometimes it doesn't say enough. The film begins and ends with the message, "This is an emergency." And while a sex strike isn't the real solution, the film certainly provokes a dialogue; and that's all we need cinema to do.



The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - I confused this with The Kingsman until 30 minutes in.
Ex Machina - This has also been my experience with women.
The Gift - Unexpectedly good, even with the predictable ending.
Room - If they were in the room any longer, I would have lost it.
The Martian - Matt Damon's stand-up comedy show.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence - Delightfully strange.
The Tribe - Every ginger gets his day.
Appropriate Behavior - Trainwreck for Middle Eastern lesbians.
Youth - A delightful film about nothing and everything. But it's still not The Great Beauty.
White God - #DogLivesMatter. That is seriously the gist of the movie. Pictured at the top of the post.
Sicario - Can we give Benicio Del Toro Best Supporting actor? What is this Stallone nonsense?
Trumbo - Another film to make you mad at the government. There were a lot this year.
The Duke of Burgundy - 50 Shades of Gay. Lesbians who like moths and masochism.
Steve Jobs - No one cares about Steve Jobs. Why was this made and why was it good?


Crimson Peak - It was a good horror film that developed into a weak mystery.
Bridge of Spies - Tom Hanks just doin' Tom Hanks things.
Beasts of No Nation - I liked it until it turned into Apocalypse Now.
Creed - This was a good Rocky movie. But it's still just a Rocky movie.
Far From the Madding Crowd - Another period piece I didn't hate. The woman made the men feel bad for a change, thank God.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl - Eric Northman has a mustache. Alert the media.
Victoria - This was actually filmed in one take. Take that, Birdman.
Carol - The Duke of Burgundy without the moths or the cinematography.
The End of the Tour - Jason Segal is the man I hope to become.
Pitch Perfect 2 - A sequel that had no business being good, but was anyway.
Paper Towns - This was top ten worthy until the third act.
45 Years - Old people being mad at each other.
Sleeping With Other People - Your Romantic Comedy of the Year.
Ant Man - Even the minor superhero movies are going to wear out their welcome soon.
Inside Out - Better than Frozen. Still overrated.
Bone Tomahawk - The hills have eyes. And throat whistles.
Mississippi Grind - Ryan Reynolds and an old guy play poker.
Infinitely Polar Bear - Mark Ruffalo is bi-polar and his kids call it polar bear. Stupid kids.
Maggie - Arnold Schwarzenegger watches his daughter die. She wants to eat him.
Truth - This is why journalism barely exists now.
Spotlight - Engaging, but it takes no risks and the ending is too tidy.
Slow West - Slow walk. There's a really bad visual joke at the end that made me giggle.
Clouds of Sils Maria - Woman is sad she's getting old. Other woman gets sick of hearing about it.
Song One - Short-haired Anne Hathaway meets a cute boy because her brother is in a coma.
The Overnight - This is surprisingly dark, creepy, and good.


Mistress America - Noah Baumbach misses. Also, I'm still not sold on Greta Gerwig.
Predestination - So bad, but so good. Gattaca meets Inception and has a sex change before meeting Back to the Future.
While We're Young - Old people idolize young people and then realize that they're actually dumb.
Mommy - This is why you don't have kids.
Sisters - I'm still holding out that adult parties will revert to this.
Trainwreck - Someone get Lebron James an Oscar.
Chappie - I'll watch Die Antwoord do whatever. Better than Elysium no matter what you say.
Results - Another amusing dark comedy for you.
Tokyo Tribe - A ludicrous musical that I enjoyed, but I expect more from Shion Sono.
Avengers: Age of Ultron - The first one was enough.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - I would watch all these kids' home movies, but not this movie.
Jurassic World - The story of Hollywood. Bigger, faster, meaner, and completely lacking characters.
I'll See you In My Dreams - Old people get sad.
The Hateful Eight - The Painful Wait...for the movie to get good. It did eventually.
Welcome to Me - A weirdo wins the lottery and becomes Oprah.
The Last Five Years - A random musical that was decidedly Meh.
Jupiter Ascending - Channing Tatum flies through space.
Office - A Chinese musical that needed to be campier.
Love - The romantic Nymphomaniac.
The Danish Girl - Not as bad as Theory of Everything. That's still not praise.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens - Better than Episode 2. Maybe 1.
Irrational Man - I need another Midnight in Paris from Woody Allen before he dies.
The D Train - James Marsden sleeps with whomever he wants.
Anomalisa - Baby's first Kaufman movie. I liked the concept, not the execution.
Queen of Earth - Elizabeth Moss having a mental breakdown is not entertainment.
Straight Outta Compton - The first hour was good. Then the screenplay turned into Ice Cube and Dre tooting their own horns and trying to make themselves look like the good guys.


Manglehorn - Al Pacino does some old guy things and no one cares.
Southpaw - Jake Gyllenhaal mumbles some stuff.
Legend - I thought two Tom Hardys would guarantee success. Not even close.
Joy - Or the absence of it. Jennifer Lawrence is surrounded by horrible human beings.
Fifty Shades of Grey - It wasn't even funny. Just really bad.
Tangerine - Stupid people yelling at each other in a donut shop.
The Ridiculous 6 - Everyone involved in this should be ashamed and leave the entertainment business for good.

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