Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Top-Ten Favorite 2015 Films

I'll repeat my comment from last year's top-ten that this is not a Best-Of list, because I think it's silly to rank art. These are just the films I watched and liked most, and that I felt were fine exemplars of their respective genres. Some are life-changing works of art. Some are fluffier bits of entertainment. So it goes.

I make no assurances of nor apologies for the moral content of these films. That's a conversation for another day and another person, and I don't feel like arguing about it with you. Do your research, and to thine own conscience be true. 

2015 Favorites:

10. The Lobster
9. Seymour: An Introduction
8. The Martian
7. White God
6. People Places Things
5. Call me Lucky
4. The End of the Tour
3. Room
2. Spotlight
1. The Big Short


Some Non-Spoilery Reasons You Should Watch These Films:

The Lobster is a weird, weird movie about a dystopian world where single people are taken to a hotel and given forty-five days to find a romantic partner, on pain of being turned into the animal of their choosing. This film won't just stick with you, it'll force you to think about the very arbitrary nature of romantic relationships and mate selection, and to laugh at some of the absurdities of gender.

Seymour: An Introduction is a documentary narrated and directed by Ethan Hawke that explores the life and work of concert-pianist-turned-teacher Seymour Bernstein. It's a lovely little meditation on the nature of Art-making and fame, and is worth watching not just for Bernstein's wisdom-nuggets, but also for the way the famous director/actor ties in his own struggles with the fame/money beast. 

The Martian tells the story of a manned mission to Mars that goes wrong and blah-blah-blah, I'm sure you've heard all about it and probably even seen it. I just thought it was wildly entertaining all the way through. Funny, human, gripping—all those things. And redemption, perhaps, for the last three films that Ridley Scott directed and that I didn't enjoy (Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Counselor, and Prometheus). Proof, perhaps, that moviegoers should pay more attention to the writers of films than to the directors ;-)


White God is an achievement, and not just because they trained two hundred stray dogs to act. This Hungarian film about a  thirteen year old girl fighting to protect her dog is not really about a thirteen year old girl fighting to protect her dog. It's about the inhumanity in how humans treat animals. And about totalitarian regimes. And about love. Because all great films are about love, and all great films have lots of layers. 

People Places Things hits me extra-personally, since it's about the struggles of an artist named Will (played by Jemaine Clement) as he deals with life as a single-dad, following a divorce that was the last thing he ever wanted. It's a comedy and it's hilarious, but the kind of hilarious with tears thrown in. It's also easily one of the very best things I've ever seen at a film festival.

Call Me Lucky is the second artist-documentary on my list. It tells the story of comedian Barry Crimmins, a guy who makes me happy because of the way he speaks the Truth to Power. A gruff, troubled dude, Crimmins has a history that's only gradually revealed throughout the film (so I won't spoil it, here), but which forms the emotional core of a picture that will make you uncomfortable, then angry, then happy that Truth can still be spoken to good effect.

The End of the Tour further confirms what you might already have noticed about my art-consumption—that I'm fond of art that talks about meeeeee! I really, really enjoyed this biopic about one of my favorite writers, Mr. David Foster Wallace. Although it doesn't shy away from what's become one of the defining points of DFW's story (that he ended his own life), it shows him for what his writing always reveals him to have been: a good-natured, complicated, crusty, wise, and self-effacing person. In the process, it explores the sort of existential wrestling-for-significance that every writer and person has to face.


Room has the sort of premise seemingly designed to make you not want to watch it: it's a drama about a young woman and her son being kept captive by some psychopath in his backyard shed. Although the trailer and the website reveal that they escape, this isn't an end-of-the-picture redemption thing, where they cathartically smash the psychopath's head in with a toilet lid. They escape mid-picture... and things stay pretty awful. Now that I've downered you all on it, I will add that this is a beautiful, funny, poetic film that just drips with human truth. Easily one of the very best films of the year. Oscar-bound.

Spotlight fulfills, again, my deep love of art that tells Truth-to-Power, especially the sort of Truth that's more often obfuscated with a lot of fancy verbiage (see what I did, there). Spotlight makes me want to become a Catholic, just so I can renounce my Catholicism. As fond as I am of the New Pope and as aware as I am that there are thousands and thousands of clergymen out there who minister with kindness, compassion, and a great deal of integrity... I can't help but feel that there is something inherently toxic about the very idea of an institutionany institution. Something that in a certain sort of person just fertilizes the heck out of their most ugly inner selves.

The Big Short probably only makes it as my number one film of the year because I watched it most recently, but it really is rather delicious. Cinematically innovative, it manages to take the origins of the global financial crisis of 2008 (about which I was previously-clueless, beyond a general belief that people are nasty and selfish and that money makes them worse) and explains it in a way that is interesting, makes sense, and says something about human nature. It also proves that the apocalypse is nigh, that we're all doomed, and that injustice rules the world with cruelty and violence. Also, it's funny. 

- - -

Other 2015 Films that I reckon are worth your time:

The Revenant
The Keeping Room
Z for Zachariah
Ex Machina
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
Creed
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

2015 Films I haven't watched yet, but am excited to:

Schneider vs. Bax
Steve Jobs
Anomalisa
Beasts of No Nation
The Assassin

Films from 2014 that I got around to watching and quite enjoyed:

Selma
'71
Wild Tales
Locke
She's Funny That Way
Birdman

Films from previous years that I watched and quite enjoyed:

Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party
Galaxy Quest
Precious
The Graduate

*A Note on "The Graduate." If you watched that movie and felt it was a bit morally vacuous... I challenge you to watch it again and pay extremely close to the final shot of the film. A brilliant piece of nonverbal acting that completely flips the entire movie on its head. Wonderful

4 comments:

  1. Good list Josh - several I haven't seen, so nice to have a list to work through.

    Some that I've seen this year that I loved but maybe you haven't seen (or have and didn't like)

    La Sapienza
    Clouds of Sils Maria
    Force Majeure
    Two days, One night
    When Marnie was there
    The Second Mother

    Loved these ones and loved Spotlight and The Big Short as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've only seen a couple of those. Thanks for the recommendations, cuz!

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  2. Oh please. Come on with this: "I can't help but feel that there is something inherently toxic about the very idea of an institution—any institution." You can't really believe that. Go make a film as a democracy and let me know how that works for you. The essence of institution, is at the essence of everything you do. It's part of human nature. That's one point. The other is this: most all lack of understanding regarding complex topics like this have to do with a failure to make important distinctions. In this case, the difference between the essence of an institution and it's members. An institution, like Catholicism, is not it's members. It's members can do all types of things that oppose the will or spirit of the institution and that does not make the institution any less for them doing so. It simply means the people are not living up to the demands of the institution.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep, yep, yep. I really do believe that if you get enough people together, bad things inevitably start to happen. And I'm allowed to be both eternally suspicious about the motives and actions of institutions, and eternally hopeful about their prospects for betterment.

      I'll tell you this, though, I don't really believe in the "essence of an institution." At least, not that it's likely it could be quantified by those embroiled in its machinations. And I DO think an institution IS its members, and that their actions CAN diminish the institution. What is the institution, other than the sum total of its actions? You can talk about some platonic institutional "essence," but that's the sort of thinking that whitewashes a mountain of sin.

      And film-making IS a democracy. Sort of. I reckon it's also too small and too temporary a democracy to be called an institution.

      Also... perhaps you should consider appending your name to your online opinions. It's very liberating.

      Delete

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