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Added by robertstackvoice on 11 Jul 2015 01:06
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Best Films of 2015

For the first time I was lucky enough to catch all the awards material. 2015 wasn't the greatest year for film, but that doesn't mean great films didn't come along all the same. The end of the year awards season certainly improved a dull summer and nearly forgettable spring. If you enjoy (or hate) my list you can check out my SIDE B list (www.listal.com/list/side-b-2015). Which are ten sort of honorable mentions.
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The first act of Joy felt slightly too quick while watching it. Once the rest kicked in I could see why. When the character interplay intensifies it's fast paced and engrossing. Jennifer Lawrence has done great stuff before and Joy is even more of that. It feels a bit more complete though than many of her previous roles. In Silver Linings and American Hustle her character's came with a degree of instability. But as Joy she stands in the middle of her incredibly unstable family holding things together. I wouldn't call it uplifting though. It's about 90% failure with obstacles consistently worsening, even after the story is done. Ultimately though its business, family and trust mixed together; pitting people against one another that was so interesting. Joy isn't Russell's very best work, but it's extremely entertaining and creatively assembled.
A really well written and acted loser story. Mendelsohn is a slumping gambling addict who crosses paths the gregarious Reynolds. The two start playing across the south after discovering they might be each others good luck charms. However luck doesn't last forever and one characters tall tales might be just that. This might be my favorite film written and directed by Anna Bolden & Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar and It's Kind of A Funny Story). The writing is sharp and surprising. Mendelsohn and Reynolds are actually great as team. Gambling movies are like submarine movies for me. They either click 100% or not at all. Thankfully Mississippi Grind (although not nearly as stylish) put me in the mindset of The Color of Money. Where gambling is just a bullet point and collective area to meet interesting characters, at their highest and lowest.
The last few years have brought a lot of great independent horror. Spring is something I'd pair with A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Kiss of the Damned and Big Bad Wolves as being really fresh. In the case of Spring it's the way the whole tale unfolds that's so fun. A warning though, this isn't scary, but it is a monster movie. A sort of Richard Linklater/Guillermo Del Toro crossover if you will. Spring gets it right by not trying so hard to feel like horror of yesteryears (like It Follows did). Instead its shot beautifully in Italy and often resembles more of a romance (which is also is). The few times we get to see the monster are fantastic. The design and it's backstory are quite original. However, you're dealing heavily with characters not horror and because they're so well defined and layered the story (romance, humor and horror) totally works.
Such a cool surprise. I was a bit late to the game with a few Sundance films this year. There is one more I'd say caught me even more off guard, but Dope is a special kind of crime story worth attention. One that's creative and comes from fresh eyes. There is a free welding style to it so you're never too serious or too goofy. We're not in Boyz N' the Hood or Menace II Society territory. More like the good kids getting caught up in the bad world. But it's worth discovering on its own. I think writer/director Rick Famuyiwa will be someone to watch over the next few years.
The Tribe is an experience. There are no subtitles and all the character use sign language. It doesn't take too long though till their actions speak volumes. It's set in a Ukrainian private school for the deaf and follows their ...outside activities. Think Skins cranked up a notch and directed by Michael Hanke.
Faults is a darkly comedic psychological thriller that side steps into horror. Leland Orser (Seven, The Guest) is a cult deprogrammer hired to kidnap a woman and undo a cults brainwashing. Mary Elizabeth Winstead kills it Claire. Its a ranged and eerie performance. I don't want to give away the twists, but it's available on streaming services right now. It's a great 90 minute thriller with endlessly interesting character interplay.
David Cronenberg throws his form of shade at the Hollywood system in Maps to the Stars. Julianne Moore plays an aging, off the radar actress trying to get back her star power. Unfortunately the only thing she's being offered is a remake of an old film her mother starred in. Mia Wasikowska (in a role that definitely boasts her in my book) plays a girl with severe burns and a mysterious past that befriends the actress. All the while trying to re-connect to her Hollywood family that isn't so happy to see her again. Maps to the Stars ranks about an 8 out of 10 on the Cronenberg weird-o-meter. While this isn't a body horror picture, it is still horrific. Both physically and especially psychologically. This is favorite piece of work I've seen from him since A History of Violence.
One thing I'd generally never call Ridley Scott's films is optimistic. So imagine my surprise that The Martian is very much that. Though not in a heavy handed manner. No, The Martian is about problem solving and perseverance. Matt Damon's charisma, a great script and a lot of possible real-ish science create a fresh vibe. The Martian manages to set itself apart from recent grounded science fiction tales (like Gravity and Interstellar) in that regard. There's a lot of humor and great looking tech. This was Ridley's forth science fiction film and an interesting juxtaposition to his darker future worlds of Alien and Blade Runner.
Based on the urban legend of an actual tragic suicide. But don't let that dissuade you. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter isn't mocking or exploitive. It's a creatively done comic mystery, adventure. Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Pacific Rim and The Brothers Bloom) plays an office assistant in Japan who is obsessed with classic Coen brother film Fargo. Having discovered it on a recorded VHS tape in a cave she believes the film's opening text, that it was a true story. Kumiko then travels to the American Midwest in search of the buried cash from the film. The REAL story is quite a bit different. It did involve an Asian woman, however she went to the Midwest area to commit suicide. This had to do with an American lover whom only was using her during his time aboard. The Fargo element stems from a conversation she and an officer had in a diner before her death. The officer tried to explain that Fargo was a fictional story, but she didn't quite believe him. This element is also in the film, but the rest is pure stylish fiction.
If you've seen the Rocky franchise then you'll appreciate Creed a lot more. Fruitville Station writer & director Ryan Coogler injects realism and cinematics back into the series. Michael B. Jordan is great and Stallone gives his best performance since Copland. For the first time (and I'd say better than even the original) the melodrama is engaging and well written. But just as impressive are the single take sequences throughout the film; including fight scenes. Creed soars because it uses that series legacy, but places real world logic into motivations and actions. As a stand alone film and sequel it's great.
Alex Garland's directorial debut lived up to praise from last years festival circuit. Garland has written some of best in the genre for year now, from 28 Days Later and Sunshine to Never Let Me Go and Dredd. Ex Machina feels like lessons learned working on those projects. It's an airtight sort of Kubrickian science fiction story, but not in the style per se. It is A.I. story, but one that's much more fun to watch because of its characters. Especially Oscar Isaac who steals a number of scenes.
During the summer with all the talk about Idris Elba should be James Bond and such, I couldn't help saying why. Why would a dude able to do so many great, ranged performances want to go where seven men have gone before him? And in a role that generally never changes! I'd rather watch Elba put out strong performances like this than regulate himself to the Bond trappings for a decade. Beasts of No Nation is a pretty fearless and sometime hypnotic war story. Adapted and directed by Cary Fukunaga (Jane Eyre, Sin Nombre and True Detective I) with patience and skill. Definitely the best of Netflix's original films.
Joshua Oppenheimer's companion piece to 2013's The Act of Killing (which was on my list for that year as well). If you saw the previous film then I can say Look of Silence is a straighter documentary, but no less shocking. We follow a local optometrist as he visits various older village residents trying to get them to discuss the events during the Indonesian genocide. Many say enough, but still live in fear. Probably because the men who did much of the slaughter are still living there today. Some are even neighbors. What remains so shocking though is the time spent with the killers. Even in their twilight years they still gleefully explain their crimes to the camera. While The Looks of Silence is more intimate in its focus, its scope is still quite large. Even briefly diving into America's aiding in events (and funds) that helped the genocide take place. Earlier in the year an official petition went out asking the U.S. government to finally acknowledge it's role in the massacre. Sadly despite how obsessed the public became with Serial, The Jinx and Making a Murderer it appears if it didn't happen here we just don't care. Luckily in its native land these two pictures have begun the dialogue about the truth of what happened in the 60s. As for if anyone will be held accountable, its very unclear.
Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs is not a bio pic. For some that will be a major issue as it marginalizes Jobs' character. As depicted in the film he is a megalomaniac who's genius at manipulation is only matched by how far he'll go to distance himself from his (94% as he points out) biological daughter. For me on the other hand Steve Jobs is the perfect film about him. Not because I necessarily believe THIS is the man. But because I care very little about Steve Jobs to begin with. In the years since his death there have been a dozen Jobs documentaries and feature films. I passively watched the Ashton Kutcher film Jobs when it Netflix and it did nothing for me.

This story is told between three acts, taking place minutes before three key note events for Jobs. From the 84' Mac launch to the 98' iMac reveal. The performances top to bottom are terrific. This is a group of performers who make Sorkin's dialogue sing. Under Danny Boyle's direction the 121 minutes of rapid fire conversations flow like water. Steve Jobs feels like a soulful sequel to David Fincher's The Social Network. Both stories centered around geniuses whose ambition out weighs their tact. They can get what they want if they're willing to be a little nasty to get it. The man Fassbender presents isn't redeeming. He has a moment of resolution, but one I personally feel isn't necessarily genuine. Which is far more fascinating to me.

Steve Jobs (the character) represents the thought process of the modern business youth as well. Innovation and theatricality at any cost. The person you display must me clever and upstanding whereas behind closed doors they are allowed to be as brash and neglecting as they want.
Maybe the biggest surprise of 2015. Shot on a couple of Iphones Tangerine follows two transgender prostitutes in West Hollywood over 24 hours. This isn't a documentary although there are points where you might not be too sure. Tangerine is 110% something you just have to take in. There's no easy way to explain it that expresses frenetic the energy. It's outrageous in the best ways before changing gears and becoming more contemplative. But there's far more madness and style going on than you'd expect from such a micro film. It's streaming on Netflix right now, so no excuses.
A lot of franchises returned in a big way last year. Obviously the biggest just came out a few weeks ago. While the Force Awakens was a fun remix, Fury Road is a goddamn titan of a theatrical experience. All while bringing us a new cinematic champion in Charlize Theron's Furiousa. Fury Road takes movies back to something basic; feelings more than facts. One of the complaints of films like this or Gravity is that you don't know these people. My counter is why do we need to? Why under every situation is it imperative to the enjoyment of something that we KNOW the characters. After all Marvel Studios gets away with having heroes for the sake of heroes that we accept as such because they're on the poster. What Miller and company do differently than most (aside from lengthy exposition), is they show us. Through spectacularly complex action scenes and brief quiet ones we understand their pretty simple motivations in a richly created, hostile world. Fury Road is edited to perfection with zero fat and a tempo that hold firmly from beginning to end. It's a film that can be studied for its visual mathematics, VFX and stunt integration and gender role interplay.
If Quentin Tarantino wanted to feel like a western filmmaker then mission accomplished. While The Hateful Eight isn't the in-your-face, wall to wall action flick I'm sure many would prefer (ala' Kill Bill and Django Unchained) it is nasty, funny, subtle and strangely classy. In fact I'd say it's his most mature within his style*. The eight are indeed hateful and for varied reasons. But the real story is the racial boundaries many have that paint their vision of the world post Civil War.

Despite the use of certain terminology throughout, you actually see the biggest impact of these issues in silent moments. Many of the characters have brief, but deliberate moments of stomaching the injustices of the world they live in. Whether its paranoia or animosity fueling the actions against them doesn't matter. On the forefront though is QT's love of cinema and western TV of the 1960s. Aside from the grandness of shooting on 70mm (which does look really nice and BETTER than IMAX) there are a variety of cinematic tricks used. The characters are rich, the violence is shocking (and very bloody). The suspense works really just the one time, but the repeat viewings take it moreso into old school meets new school western cinema. Ennio Morricone's score (along with a few pieces of his from Exorcist II and The Thing) is easily one of the best scores all year.

*I'd still say Jackie Brown is his most mature film overall. However JB isn't really done in his style. Still great though and bizarrely under seen.
Happily such an odd duck picture is getting so much love. Written and co-directed by Oscar winner Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine, Confessions of A Dangerous Mind, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) Anomalisa is another damn masterwork. It's a stop motion animated film about life... but told through the Kaufman prism. There are only three actors in the whole piece. David Thewlis is Michael Stone, a depressed business man staying at an overly nice hotel. Tom Noonan plays literally everyone else. His monotone voice fills Stone's life from the radio to strangers to his own wife. Until he meets Lisa voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh (who is as great here as she is in Hateful Eight). Once he hears her voice it reignites Stone's world. But maybe that's not the best thing. Anomalisa is very, very simple. What makes it stand out is its commitment to creativity. The stop motion use isn't the most technically wow inducing and thats something they use to their advantage. It's funny, equally sad and painfully honest.
The Revenant is brutal and beautiful. While the main plot is pretty simple, the world it takes place in is rich in historical skeletons. Both DiCaprio and Hardy are impressive here. DiCaprio as Hugh Glass doesn't have a lot dialogue. Much of his acting is him going through hell to get back to camp and kill the man who killed his son. From moment one Hardy is the bad guy, but there's a weird sympathy to him. He's fearful, ignorant and greedy. Those traits cause him to act in the way he does at a very key moment. But that won't save him from the guy who survives bear attacks, raids, being buried alive, waterfalls and cliff dives. The Revenant is Alejandro Inarritu in full blown adventure mode. Shot on an experimental 65mm digital camera (which will also be used on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) the film is massive and feels predominantly real. If there is a movie right now to see on the big screen this is it.
Sicario is the kind of film I wait all year for. One of the few that maps together everything I love in cinema perfectly. Character, dialogue, visionary directing and a plot focused on the fridges of our world. The drug war was once a hotly debated topic. One that's now faded into the backdrop of 24 hour news. Then again American doesn't like to talk about things we aren't excelling in. Sicario is our 'Heart of Darkness' into the drug war.

I've been a fan of Emily Blunt since probably The Adjustment Bureau. There was personality and intelligence visible in a character that could've been performed devoid of it. Since then each role I see her in is just more and more impressive. She's got the kind of measured range where she could do anything. Within Sicario we see all the events unfold as she sees them. About 90% of the film is from this perspective before switching to the great Benicio Del Toro's mysterious Alejandro for the tense final act.

However the real star of the show is legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. He shoots this film masterfully. As great as a lot of photography has been this year, I feel like THIS should finally net him his Oscar. Particularly the vistas of Mexico and entire tunnel sequence. So much of Sicario is about that balance of light and dark in the world. Deakins' photographer reflects that theme visually and naturally. Enemy, Prisoners and upcoming Blade Runner sequel director Denis Villenuve continues his stellar track record. Though it's probably gone from theaters now, if the chance arises absolutely see it on the big screen. The visuals, intensity, dark humor and shocking finale are best on the big screen.

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