I dun goofed and been taking forever with making any video about film in 2015 while exhausting between all the stuff on my plate and waiting for more 2015 releases to slowcrawl to Miami and IT IS HALFWAY THROUGH FEBRUARY ALREADY. I might eventually be able to make a video for it by the end of March talking about all the films that were even CONSIDERED for this most arbitrary and harrowing of lists and have some friends join me in my gushing. In the meantime, I gotta bite the bullet and make my top ten already.
So, in a nutshell: 2015 was… not as great a year as 2014. For one, we didn’t receive any films nearly as transformative as Goodbye to Language. It was largely a year of movie events – the new Star Wars, the new Jurassic Park, the new Avengers, all just big budget box office breaking crowdpleasers and sleepy disasters like Fantastic Four and Seventh Son (and, though I’ll defend them in a knife fight, Jupiter Ascending and Blackhat). It was a commercial year (and 2016 itself promises to be even more commercial).
And yet, there turned out to be a virtue in my patience nonetheless, as the later months of the year turned out to reveal a backload of some really enjoyable works within the moments in the theaters. Nothing revelatory in the end, a lot of it just classicism adopted from olden playbooks that proved successful (some more obvious than others), but my what impressive brilliance. Especially a lot of genre play between romances, horror, and science fiction in my eyes.
In the end, it means the year wasn’t a total wash and I also take great relish in the fact that 4 of my top 5 have Oscar nominations (nominations that all but one are certain to lose, but still).
The eligibility for this list is obviously based on Oscar eligibility in the strictest sense (meaning even foreign films and documentaries follow along) in being released in America in limited or wide release between 1 January 2015 to 31 December 2015.
Before I begin, I want to make a couple of acknowledgements:
Movies I Couldn’t See in Time:
I’m still not an entirely patient person and so I regret to state that I missed out on Son of Saul and The Tribe. The former is still playing in Miami, so if I see it sometime in March and find out it was worthy of my top ten I will be very disappointed in myself. The latter is more alarming since I discovered it was playing at Cannes 2014 while I was there and yet I didn’t even know about its existence. Now it’s flooring critics and I slept on it. Serves me right for wanting to see How to Train Your Dragon 2 and The Rover when they were just months away from coming to America.
Eden only got one showing in Miami. Not even one theater playing it for a few days, ONE. SHOWING. Do you believe that? So of course I missed it, because sometimes distributors won’t let you catch a good thing.
Apologies to both The Duke of Burgundy and Queen of Earth on my Netflix queue as I ran out of time. My allergy of Noah Baumbach has kept me from exploring Mistress America. My allergy of Marlon Brando has kept me from checking out Listen to Me Marlon.
In addition, my general allergy for young adults movies has kept me from actually sitting down to check out Dope, Girlhood, and The Diary of an Teenage Girl and I’m just sorry I feel that way. Especially since Dope‘s usage of a Kendrick Lamar song – if I didn’t shut up about Mad Max, I’m still not shutting up about Kendrick – still couldn’t attract me to it enough. I tried for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and I simply walked away when it started feeling like The Fault in Our Stars by way of Stan Brakhage. Maybe I’m just becoming a crotchety ol’ man with them damn kids. But if I am, shit, I’m only 23, what’s wrong with me?
Finally so many people whose opinions I trust have recommended Victoria to me that I can’t not be sorry I missed it, even if I keep forgetting it exists.
Movie I’m Going to Remove from this List Simply Because I Already Put It in Last Year’s List Pre-Emptively:
I dun goofed again, y’all. You know I’ve talked up Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu to be a painfully gorgeous work of social commentary in a city smothered by religion to its dying breaths, only to discover it technically did not come to America until 2015. Still I accidentally put it in my Top 10 of 2014, like an idiot, but now I can make things right. It would be unfair to list it this year (and rest assured, it would be Top Ten for me AGAIN) when I qualified for the wrong year already. So screw it, I’m going to just go ahead and leave it out of the discussion, only nudging to its brilliance and telling y’all to go see it if you haven’t (and yell at The Academy for giving Ida the Oscar instead of… ok, Ida was fantastic, but it’s no Timbuktu).
Movies I Slept on Listing in 2014 Because I am a Goof:
I can’t say if I’d truly have put Maps to the Stars, Song of the Sea, or Over the Garden Wall in my top ten of 2014, but they would have certainly been in my mind while putting it together. Maps to the Stars was a movie I was under the impression was going to come to America in 2015 and then SURPRISE! LIMITED RELEASE 2014. Besides which I wasn’t really certain that I loved it when I saw it in Cannes, I needed the time to warm up to it like I did Cosmopolis. So the gap is entirely in its favor between my first viewing and my last.
As for Song of the Sea, it simply didn’t come to Miami until the Oscars ended. By then, I barely caught it before it left. Shame on me, because it was a visual (and musical) beaut, based in calming blues and round soft shapes moving all around the eye in a delight. After watching it, my sister wouldn’t stop hounding me until I was able to get her to see it too. GKIDS is the real MVP.
As for Over the Garden Wall, OK, I’m not normally a fan of Cartoon Network so I avoided the gloriously Halloween-esque treat. So this is what I get for not being a fan of Cartoon Network. Likewise, I’m going to suffer this by having to go through Gravity Falls only AFTER it ended, because I’m a prejudiced man.
And now without further ado…
10. 45 Years (dir. Andrew Haigh, UK/USA)
The fact that Haigh is disciplined enough not to take attention away from his two leads externally struggling with the resurfacing of old ghosts and internally with their old age and what it means to their marriage is not a show of weakness in his direction and storytelling at all. Indeed, what he does is provide a lived-in four-walled stage for Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay to turn the scenario into more and more of a crisis because of the simple mistake of not seeing certain things the same way. It’s human in a most agonizing way and able to take advantage of that in such a short runtime.
9. Black Coal, Thin Ice (dir. Diao Yinan, China)
It is a film noir. I am in the bag for film noirs with little exception. But of course, it is also in its greatest favor that it’s shot in such a wide variety of color choices while stick hearkening to the old-fashioned shadowplay that the genre is known for. In the meantime, it’s your old-fashioned detective murder yarn with not much room for complexity. But did I not just say I am totally in the bag for that genre and don’t care if it tries to be anything more than it is?
8. Taxi (dir. Jafar Panahi, Iran)
Jafar Panahi is a miracle of defiant cinema, the fact that the guy keeps rolling in spite of his sentence illustrates how impossible it is to silence artistic voices. That doesn’t automatically make any of his films masterworks – Closed Curtain wasn’t anything I could really enjoy, and truth be told, even Taxi is no This Is Not a Film. And yet every bit of it – from the limitations of the DSLRs mounted around the car to Panahi integrating himself as a character and conversing with all the amateur actors that pass off their – just bursts of humanity that results in making this little cramped production feel so much looser and freer than it has any right to be.
7. Carol (dir. Todd Haynes, UK/USA)
The aesthetic is Douglar Sirkian on a design level, but Haynes and company do something really sneaky with this romantic drama and completely temper the colors down until its just a blotty sort of dark. I’ll be damned if that’s an accident, because as a result, the movie feels at once more stately towards its tragic central romance and yields itself entirely to how well Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett’s not-even-close-to-similar performance styles give the film a true richness in various personalities interacting with each other (especially aided by a phenomenal cast that simply gets overshadowed by these two women). Here’s the rub: it’s not something brand new. In fact, the movie really reminds of Brokeback Mountain in many ways (not simply because they both focus on homosexual relationships), and even THAT wasn’t anything new. But, like Brokeback Mountain, it is perfect and if it comes off as chilly to anyone, it’s not a flaw on the movie’s part as far as I am concerned.
6. The Assassin (dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Taiwan/China/Hong Kong)
It seems inevitable that every worthwhile China-based filmmaker make a wuxia picture, but what I feel we have here is anti-wuxia picture. Instead of the broad emotional strokes of love and life, desire and duty, that the genre usually tries to put its protagonists through, we have something that demands we have to piece together what our heroine is going through, even when she’s entirely sure of it herself. And what results is not just an extremely engaging piece of character study, but a meditation on what makes and breaks someone’s identity. It’s a complicated film that takes its time to piece itself together as a whole story and Hou’s decision to make what should have been a mainstream affair into a much more-rewarding two hours.
5. World of Tomorrow (dir. Don Hertzfeldt, USA)
Does Hertzfeldt lose some of his characteristic messiness in finally making the shift to digital animation? Of course. But the trade-off is perfect for a film dedicated to portraying a loss in human connection with anyone and everything in the fruitless quest to evolve and be better. Besides which it’s not all depressing when we have such an adorable leading performance in Winona Mae’s voice or such dazzling use of shapes and colors to make such paradoxically alienating eye candy.
If you ever want the rug pulled right the hell out of from under you, Miguel Gomes is just the guy to do it. He did it with Tabu and he does it again with this three-part brilliance. At heart, Arabian Nights is about an artist (ostensibly Gomes) trapped like Scheherazade in between the stories he must tell and the stories he wants to tell. It turns to structuring itself messily and excitedly into collages of tales that methodically adopt novel fableism to pointedly comment on the political atmosphere of Portugal at the time and sneaks in real people commenting on their own living circumstances, without ever ruining any of the energy that makes such an ambitiously imbalanced project leave me feeling so much more learned about a country I’ve never once set foot in and a gigantic grin on my face at how the storyteller is never satisfied with just one angle of a segment, so “we must switch it around to another” or “hey, I don’t think this is proper way to tell this story, why don’t we try this method?” all right in the thick of things.
Y’know what? I guess we do have at least one transformative film in 2015. Shit, I can’t believe I was that dumb to think all was lost and I’m not even on number one yet.
3. Boy and the World (dir. Ale Abreau, Brazil)
If there is one thing I really have to steel myself for, it’s the certainty that Boy and the World is going to lose the Best Animated Feature Oscar (even if the movie it loses to is on my honorable mentions coming up). At least I can tell that my number one is not the type of movie people will feel good about voting for, but Boy and the World has no reason not to be more popular with audiences than it is. It is a glorious kaleidoscope of colors with only the wonderfully vibrant score to split into the visuals rather than any intelligible dialogue and yet it knows when to tone things down into immense simplicity for the more sobering elements of the film’s attempts to show its target audience of children that the world is a totally destructive and scary place but it can also still be a beautiful one, while telling adults that children do have an idea of the grim truth of the world but that doesn’t mean they must relinquish their optimism by any means.
Seriously, if there is a single film I’d say you need to walk away from this post and go watch as soon as you can, it is this one.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller, Australia/USA)
Because I’m super basic and you all know how much I love the film. I’ve seen it six times by now (the latest being in an astonishing 35mm screening I had to see to believe thanks to the Secret Celluloid Society – and I wonder if it’s because Juan Barquin and I wouldn’t shut up about the movie at the time) and it hasn’t been hurt in the slightest by seeing it so many times in such a small span of time. I’m just thrilled by it, no matter what. I cannot say any more about this film that I haven’t already said. What do you want? Something something speed! Something something adrenaline! Something something totally sensory in spite of a limited palette of colors and a sparseness in landscape! It doesn’t matter – George Miller’s ambition does not care. It’s high-octane visionary cinema in all the ways we forget movies aren’t made anymore like this.
And before I get to my final number one pick…
- 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets (dir. Marc Silver, USA)
- The Alchemist’s Letter (dir. Carlos Stevens, USA)
- Coming Home (dir. Zhang Yimou, China)
- Creed (dir. Ryan Coogler, USA)
- Democrats (dir. Camilla Niellson, Denmark)
- Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland, UK)
- In Jackson Heights (dir. Frederick Wiseman, USA)
- Inside Out (dir. Pete Docter, USA)
- It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell, USA) – Full Review
- James White (dir. Josh Mond, USA)
- Krampus (dir. Michael Dougherty, USA)
- Li’l Quinquin (dir. Bruno Dumont, France)
- Mommy (dir. Xavier Dolan, Canada) – Full Review
- Of Horses and Men (dir. Benedikt Erlingsson, Iceland)
- Phoenix (dir. Christian Petzold, Germany)
- Sicario (dir. Denis Villeneuve, USA)
- Spring (dir. Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, USA)
- Tokyo Tribe (dir. Sono Shion, Japan)
- What We Do in the Shadows (dir. Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement, New Zealand)
All of these are movies that at one point or another entered my mind after watching them as possibly being part of my Top Ten. Some were closer than others, others were shaken quickly out of mind, but if all these movies had arms, I’d tell them to pat themselves on the back and recommend them to anybody.
And now my number one film of 2015…
1. The Look of Silence (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark)
Sure, it is not as singular as a picture ought to be with its companion The Act of Killing sticking around behind it. And it may be largely because of my attachment to the former picture that I am so willing to hold its equal to higher esteem. But I think it’s because the knowledge of what occurred in Indonesia by the end of The Act of Killing informs the slow boil in The Look of Silence and how the perspective has shifted upon a victim now, bringing us a documentary about his personal confrontation with his brother’s murderers. The Look of Silence becomes an astonishingly meditative yet shaking picture of frustrated patience in that context, and only brings more urgency to the visible damage that people refuse to answer for. Only to be all the more heartbreaking when the man we follow the entire movie is just resigned to never being able to receive any honest answers about why he’ll never meet his closest relative.
And with that, save for the Motors coming up and hopefully time to make a video encompassing all these films I’ve named, it’s a wrap on 2015. Let’s get a movie on, Salim.