Monday, November 14, 2016

TOP TEN FILMS OF 2015! (I think you're used to me being this late by now, aren't you? No? Well, sorry again for being 11-months late on this.)

For those of you, who are new to my blog and patterns, and our only now getting used to some of my more eclectic eccentricities, you'll wonder why I am releasing a Top Ten List of 2015, now! In the middle of November of 2016! Well, that's when I finally get around to seeing all the major 2015 films, (or the latest I can reasonably go in the year before I basically have to do this, whichever comes first) and since I'm not a paid film critic who goes to premieres and screening, at least not paid enough to do that yet, (CLICK ON THE ADS EVERYONE!) or someone who works for a website or blog that doesn't have my own name in the title, I don't do this, until, after I've actually seen everything from that year, at least enough to make a list that isn't completely shit. I mean, I could do a Top Ten of 2016 in a couple months, but unless I get through about 175 films in the next 45 days, it wouldn't be that great, as you can see:

1. The Lobster
2. Eye in the Sky
3. Knight of Cups
4. Everybody Wants Some!!
5. Deadpool
6. Kung Fu Panda 3
7. Songs My Brothers Taught Me
8. Zootopia
9. Sweet Bean
10. The Witch
11. Marguerite
12. The Dark Horse

This is my actual current rankings of the films of 2016, all of the ones I've seen. And yeah, there's some really good films on here, but I seriously doubt "The Witch" is gonna hold up at number ten, unless this turns into a really shitty year, which, considering 2016 in general, would not surprise me. (It's starting to look like the next four years are gonna be complete shit too, thanks, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin morons who are angry for absolutely no legitimate reality-based reason! [Middle Finger, given sarcastically like it's a thumbs up]) So yeah, screw the calendar, I take my time and do it, when I've seen enough of the major films that I think I can legitimately make a list.

That said though, those who are familiar with my usual quirks, are probably looking forward to this post, because of my Top Ten Films of 2014 Post, which you can find in it's entirety by checking the Top Tens tab up above, and if you saw that, and have heard me talk about how I'm not one of those typical critics who truly believes that there is such a thing as a "Good Year" or a "Bad Year" for film; I mean, seriously that's such a ridiculous thing to say and nobody ever actually means that when they say such things, you know? There's always a lot of good and a lot of bad in every year, and trying to quantify a year in it's entirety like that, is just stupid and short-sighted and really pedestrian. So anyway, those readers among you, were probably a bit surprised when I said this last year, and I quote:

"THIS YEAR SUCKED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yeah, yeah, listen, I realize that I'm about to become the biggest hypocrite of all over the course of this introduction, but let me explain. I am not one of those people who believe making any kind of statement about a year in art, is at all valid. In fact, I think overall that's just stupid. For one thing, when somebody says that, "This year was so good" or "This year was terrible," or whatever, they're not actually looking over an entire year's worth of films, there's usually talking about, the supposed "Good films" of that year, not the actual amounts of all the theatrical released film in that year, and anybody tells you otherwise, including myself, they're completely bullshitting you. Yeah, any year looks good if you just look at the top films, and every year looks like absolute garbage if you look at the bottom. "Gus" came out in 1976, so that must be a bad year for film, right? Yeah, I'm sure if I go through all of 1939's American releases, I'll find that it wasn't all "Gone with the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz" either. There's always, ALWAYS, just as much crap as there is GREAT, ALWAYS!

That said, however....

This is the year, that I might've changed my mind about looking at films that way, 'cause I gotta tell you, this was a frustrating filmgoing year for me. For one thing, while I am going to go over the best films of the year, and there are a lot of good films, there weren't as many great ones as I think we all wish there were. There was a lot of Very Good and Good, not as many great. I've often seriously thought about as many as 50 films for the Top Ten in some years, but this year, this was the first time I seriously wondered if I even had a Top Ten. Like, I know, logically, I have to have a Top Ten, but, still, I wasn't completely sure I wanted to do ten this year. And the worst films... Well, normally I do a Top Ten Worst List as well, but I usually shove it onto the bottom of this blogpost and not spend more than a minute on it, 'cause why should I, but, I have some frustrations to get out this year, so yes, for the first time ever, I am doing a separate blog for the Worst Films of a Year. Congratulation, 2014, you did it. This year, was so bad, that I have to devote a whole blog about how horrible the bad films were."

Unqoute. (Deep breath) So, yeah, that was a sharp turn for me that most of my readers, probably didn't see coming, although I did leave more than a couple subtle hints sporadically warning that such a statement was coming. And a year later, I stand by it. Sure, there's a few films I missed from 2014 like "A Master Builder" that were quite good and would've made me feel a lot better about the year had I seen them before I did my list, but mostly, yeah, 2014 sucked. Top to bottom. I mean, let's see, "A Most Violent Year" made my Ten best List in 2014, that was a great film, worthy of it's place on the list; it'd still make my list, but I could probably live the rest of my life having never thought about that film again and I probably wouldn't miss it. (Although in a way, the fact that I wouldn't miss it, 'cause that is actually a really great film but still...) 2014, (Sigh) I really hate judging years this way, but yeah, it sucked; it was painful, overall. Looking at the entirety of films that year, especially.

We aren't talking 2014 however, we're talking 2015. So, now that I have, as always, the literal and figurative "Last Words" on the year in film, what was the film-viewing experience like for 2015. Well, after careful consideration, I've come to what I believe is a firm, solid, and accurate conclusion on the year 2015. (Clears throat)







Oh, thank Christ! 2015, was a really great year for film overall! I'm still gonna do a separate Top Ten Worst Films List from here on out, 'cause well-the-hell, I started the tradition, I might as well stick with it. (Besides, that's one less blog I have to think and conceive about writing from scratch every year.) I'm not gonna pretend everything was great, it wasn't, but there were lot of Great, Very Good and Good films, and even the crap was better. I recommended "Fifty Shades of Grey", sure it sucked, but it was an entertaining suck! 2014 was a lot of boring awful suck! The crap was better than 2014's crap! And I said, I barely could make out a Top Ten last year; I sooooooo, did not have that problem this year. I can legitimately see a pretty good argument, for people putting, as many as maybe 70 or 80 movies, maybe more, on a Top Ten List this year. It might not have made mine, per se, but I can see the argument for their choices. Watching movies, didn't become a chore for me anymore, and for that, I'm excited to dive into the Best Films of 2015, finally. So let's get to it now. As always, I have the last word...

We're counting down!


Number 10!

I have a few controversial choices on my list this year, I suspect, I can never really tell what's gonna freak somebody out or whatever, but yeah, I can see people going against me on this one, but I think it's too unique to not include.

10. Chi-Raq

I thought about not including Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq" there were definitely other films I could've put here, that were just as good and maybe were better, but not every movie made me go, "You gotta be kidding me!" this year, and in a good way. I could've thought of  many ways in which I'd imagine Spike Lee, taking a rare excursion outside of his New York base to make a movie about the gangland violence that currently perpetuates the streets of Chicago like no other city in the country right now, especially it's impact on the African-American community, but a re-imagining of "Lysistrata" was not one of them, and yet, that doesn't even begin to tell you how strange and over-the-top and balls-to-the-wall, or pussy-to-the-wall, really, this movie is.

Oh boy, this one's gonna take a lot of explanation. Man there's a lot to take in and I know the first reaction that I suspect many if not most will have is that Spike Lee has just completely lost his mind. I know he's a controversial director and I know some people who constantly dismiss or berate him, saying things like "He's a racist" or some shit like that, frankly I've just never understood. Yeah, he's not always gonna make a great movie and some of his movies are just strange and "Chi-Raq" belongs in the strange category, but I've always said I'll take a bad Spike Lee movie over a lot of people's good movies. Hell, I think I'm the only one that recommended his other film from this past year, "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus", and that was Spike Lee's erotic vampire thriller! No, correction it was Spike Lee's remake of an erotic vampire thriller!  And yes, even compared to that "Chi-Raq" is strange, but man is this film loaded....  In the last few years, there's been more young men killed by gunfire in Chicago then there has been in Iraq during the entire (Iraq) war, hence the title, Most of it, is because of the gang warfare that's been going on there, and the sad thing it's not just them killing each other, they're actually terrible shots and people, especially teenagers and younger kids, mostly African-American, are getting killed in the crossfires most of the time. So, it's no real surprise that Spike Lee would decide to explore aspect of modern-day Chicago, it's right up his alley, it's a message movie about the current gang culture, in the poorest African-American neighborhoods, a look at the human aspects of it, from multiple difficult complex perspectives, I mean, this is right up Spike Lee's alley, couldn't be more prime for him to come in, and basically shoot a documentary if he wanted and he's done work like that before. Um, well first of all, if you want a good documentary on this area of Chicago and the people trying to survive in this world of bloody sidewalks and wailing gunfire, check out Steve James's wonderful film, "The Interrupters", so he didn't need to do that, so what did he do instead? Oh boy, well,


Okay, I stopped the review here on purpose, because I wanted to go back and-, well, I don't recall if I read Aristophanes's "Lysistrata" before, I heard about it of course, but I went online to find a copy, and looks up some notes on it, and yes, "Chi-Raq" is an modern-day adaptation of the play, it's even written in verse. Yes, the dialogue is often in verse for most of the movie. But, I'm not even gonna get into that aspect, "Lysistrata" is an infamous Greek comedy, about the women withholding sex from their husbands in an attempt to stop the Peloponnesian War. It's graphic, it's sexual, and you can look up some pretty interesting modern theater interpretations on Youtube, and most theater companies have at some point done their own adaptation,...It wasn't tame even 2,000+ years ago, and now there's so many interpretations I guess something like this was inevitable. So, back to the movie, there's a long prologue and then, multiple shootings beginning with Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon, his rap/character name is Chi-Raq) is almost shot at one of his performances, because, I don't know, something to do with Twitter, and because he's the head of the Trojan and the Spartans, led by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes, who has one eye, yes) were angry, yes the rival gangs are Trojans and Spartans, they have colors and everything, fill in the two stand-in gangs you think they obviously represent, and turn it Greek. Her girlfriend, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) after a particularly violent night, after which ended with a little girl, murdered,... here's an all-star cast here, I'm not gonna be able to name everyone, although Samuel L. Jackson plays a familiar character for a Spike Lee movie; he's known as Dolmedes and basically acts like a Greek chorus, although it's probably more accurate to think of this as an extension of his role as the radio DJ in "Do the Right Thing". Now, this movie gets ridiculous, and surreal and it's just a wild and crazy mess of a movie, but so is the original play, and frankly, believe it or not, this isn't actually that unrealistic. They even point it out in the movie, this happened very recently in modern time. Lysistrata's influence isn't the play, it's Leyham Gbowee, a Liberian Peace Activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize after she stopped the Second Liberian Civil War, by gathering together the women of the country, and through many different protests, including a sex strike, was able to stop the war. That happened, this century; this was very recent. Now could/would that ever happen in Chicago, today,....

I mean, yes, "Chi-Raq" is surrealistic fantasy gone run amuck, but holy fuck, is it surrealistic fantasy run amuck. It's over-indulgent, it's message-y, it's beyond absurd, it's full of just, some of the strangest sequences of film, I've seen in a long time. I mean, this is like Spike Lee channeling Luis Bunuel of all people. I mean, he's known for aberrations and flights of fancy, dating back as early as the musical numbers in "School Daze", but this whole movie feels like one of those sequences. And yet, you know, it's weird to think about it, 'cause we really forget just how of much of a classical filmmaker Spike Lee actually is and can be, we know he's stylized, but his influences are firmly in the traditions of the greats, I just didn't think he had this avant-garde a project and idea within him. Part of me is tempted to throw this away and call it is a disaster, but it's way too interesting to do that with. I legitimately have left, well over a 1/4 of all the interesting aspects of the movie out of the review, there's way too much here to tackle in one review, and I can't pan a movie with this many interesting ideas that comes at you in so many different directions. In a comedic direction, a political direction, a religious direction, a tragic direction, a Greek tragic direction, a commentary on modern media and journalism, a look at the deadly warzone that is Chicago in 2015,... Most movies, if they're lucky, have a couple interesting ideas and once in a blue moon we might get something that actually borders on an original idea. This movie has dozens of ideas, and it doesn't necessarily all work, but I'd much rather watch this over and over again, then even really good movie that only have a few original ideas. This is a movie that made me want to read stuff and look shit up; I can't probably count on one hand, maybe two, if I'm stretching, how often that's happened. I can't pan this. Albert Einstein once said, "If a cluttered desk equals a cluttered mind, than what does a clean desk lead to...?" or something to that effect, well, "Chi-Raq" is a cluttered desk, and I love a cluttered desk, so I love this movie.

So, yeah, I get-, well, I get why this movie might turn people off. I'm not sure how to rank it even among Spike Lee movies, but I cannot help but to stand back and applaud "Chi-Raq". Say what you want about Spike Lee, he is never afraid to go there, and put things front and center and show it to you, and as truthfully as he can. He's confrontational in his approach, but this is a whole different kind of a confrontational approach, even for him. This is like Spike Lee channeled through a Marina Abromovich lens, or some other really avant-garde experimental performance artist. There's so much going on, and it's not all working, but the attempt is way more fascinating and thought-provoking and intriguing, than most of the movies that are probably on this list, and others, that you may not like all of it, but you have to consider it, and that's the difference between art and great art.

Number nine!

9. Mistress America

I have a couple comedies on my list this year, which is really great, also another strange trend is that there's a couple directors on this list who made more than one good movie this year. Already, Spike Lee had "Chi-Raq" and "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus" and now, Noah Baumbach, who made a really good mainstream film with "While We're Young", and an even better, more independent-based comedy, and the best one he's made yet, with his muse/screenwriting partner Greta Gerwig with "Mistress America", a movie that feels like a more typical Baumbach comedy that suddenly turns into a more 1940's style screwball comedy, and that makes the movie more and more delightful, strange and unpredictable as it goes on.

Okay, I have quite a few thoughts and remarks on "Mistress America". Number one this exchange that I immediately wrote down after hearing:

Brooke: So what's going on at college
Tracy: I don't know, everybody's really excited about the frozen yogurt machine in the student center.
Brooke: I watched my mother die
Tracy: What?
Brooke: I was with my mother while she died.
Tracy: I don't know any dead people.
Brooke: That's cool about the frozen yogurt machine. Everybody I love dies.

Okay, I'm gonna call it, Greta Gerwig has officially turned Noah Baumbach into Whit Stillman. Actually a lot of this movie feels like something Whit Stillman....this is his third collaboration with Gerwig, and the second time she's been a co-writer with him. I can think of a few director-actress combinations over the years, but I can't think of too many who were writing partners with each other. Their first collaboration was "Frances Ha", which was shot in black and white, and seemed to resemble a French New Wave film, I actually thought it was much more of a remnant of No Wave Cinema, the punk era NYC independent film movement, that was probably inspired by the likes of Andy Warhol and Robert Downey, Sr.... Gerwig's just an unusual actress. I can't think of any other modern female actress who's really succeeded at going out of her way to create a very distinctive character, and I'm talking like, how Marisa Tomei always plays somebody with a New York accent or accent or something, no, no, no. "Damsels in Distress", "Lola Versus", "Frances Ha", in this film, "Mistress America", that remake of "Arthur"to some extent, she's not only playing a type, she's creating a type. I'll be damned if I can explain it, some kind of quirky city girl, in her twenties, but not completely matured yet, still holding on to pipe dreams of her youth, that stumbles around from friendship to relationship and sometimes from apartment to apartment, usually either living on somebody's couch or one step away from it, but still probably came from money, but is still trying to go all Mary Tyler Moore and live on her own, despite not really being capable of it. That's probably the closest I can come to explaining her character, but you know it when you see it and she is almost addicted to these roles. I'd call it typecasting but she's writing half these roles for herself..., and I can't tell anymore if she's playing herself, playing the same character over and over or what she's saying, but she's clearly saying something...-

Okay I can keep going on this tangent but I have other tangents to get to for this film, 'cause Noah Baumbach even without Gerwig's influence has constantly confused me himself. I think I'm finally getting a hold of him now. At first, he was an indy darling who was known for his dialogue. His characters were upper class, although they were on the quirky, educational, intellectual side, the best of these was "The Squid and the Whale", but lately he's become a stylist, somewhat in the Todd Haynes vein, but each of his films is different in it's own way....  "Mistress America", is probably his strangest yet. On top of the Stillmanesque influence, the strange thing about "Mistress America" besides the tone is that, it's just a bizarre hodgepodge of styles. Like I said, I'm starting to get that that's part of Noah Baumbach's and Gerwig's aesthetic; it feels like "St. Elmo's Fire" in the city for the first half and then it becomes a classic screwball comedy, almost a stage-play for the second half, with extra characters and a country house and slamming doors, and pot and even a little sex and characters coming in and out of doors and hiding behind things and revelations, reveals, twists- I don't know what he's going for this mix of Bret Easton Ellis mixed with Preston Sturges,- my initial instinct is to dismiss this, but I can't quite do that... the story begins with Tracy (Lola Kirke, you might recognize her from "Mozart of the Jungle",...) she's a college freshman from Jersey who's moved to New York and lives on-campus, but is still struggling with the college experience in her first semester. She's a writer, or tries to be, but is mostly disenfranchised with the experience, especially after her first friend and would-be-maybe boyfriend Tony (Matthew Shear) starts dating a very possessive fellow-student Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones), it's shortly after this that she gives into her mother's (Kathryn Erbe) idea to meet up with her soon to be stepsister Brooke (Gerwig), who's a 30-year-old who lives in a Times Square apartment and, that's about it. She-, (Sigh) she's, well, she's hard for me to describe, but she's a typical New York party girl. No college education, hustler, seems like the life of the party even though the party seems to be passing her by. She has a plan to open a restaurant, which her sketchy off-screen boyfriend, who was currently in Greece at the time, according to her, skims on the money she's earned for the restaurant,- actually I'm not even gonna describe how this ends up at a Connecticut mansion of Brooke's ex-best friend and boyfriend's Karen & Dylan (Cindy Cheung and Michael Chernus) house at what happens, it's basically the whole second half of the movie, and even if I did explain, it's not believable. Actually, come to think of it, this whole story is just strange, which is probably why Tracy takes advantage of the experience and begins writing a short story about Brooke while going through all these experiences with her. It's out of love, but she's a writer, and yes, all writers borrow and steal from all those around them, myself included, (Sorry, um, Friends, Family, that girl on the bus that winked at me that time, well, all of you, really.)

I swear, I'm writing this much about "Mistress America", just to try to get a handle on it myself. I feel wrong dismissing this film like I did "Frances Ha", it's not as frustrating to watch, it's actually quite funny and sharp, but it's a such a bizarre mix that I'm still at a lost for it. Tone-wise it's two different movies, but structurally it makes perfect sense. This film could've come out with the eighties, perhaps with Ally Sheedy in the Lola Kirke role and-, and-,.... wait, who was the eighties version of Greta Gerwig? Was there one? Diane Keaton? No. I-eh, Mia Farrow-, no that really doesn't sound right. Melanie Griffith, eh... (Shakes head) Not Demi Moore, um....? (Shrugs) ...Like I said, I think I have to recommend it and recommend it strongly just to tell people, to experience it and try to get a grasp of it. "Mistress America" is one of the more unique films of the year, possibly one of the best, and whatever Gerwig is doing, and I can't get a grasp on her, somewhere between Kathryn Hepburn and Judy Holliday if they grew up listening to Bjork music shtick, you got something here. Whatever the hell it is, it's fascinating to say the least. 

You might, notice that the longer I review some movies, the more I likely I seem to be to recommending them this year, but it also helps that, movies like "Chi-Raq" and "Mistress America", they need a lot of writing and analysis, because there's a lot going on, simply describing it isn't enough; that's why film is visual; it works on the screen, but I digress.... "Mistress America", yeah, the thing that's really great about the movie, is the way it's written and how it finds a way to really transition between many different comedy styles and genres and, yet it feels like it's one really well-told, well-done story, and that's because Greta Gerwig, is giving one of the best performances of the year. I haven't been as, eh, enthralled with her work in the past, myself, I've always liked her, but I've been a bit critical of the Greta Gerwig role, that type that she seems to play in, what seems like everything, even when she isn't writing it; this was the movie where I finally think that role or type found the role and film where that role, not only most works, but most needed to work in the way she makes it work. It's the best film she's done and it's the best film Noah Baumbach's done in a long time as well, I'd say since "The Squid and the Whale" and this film might be better.

Number eight!

8. Steve Jobs

If I were to rank this list in terms of personal favorites, I might've put Danny Boyle's "Steve Jobs" up a little higher, especially considering just how difficult it is, to encapsulate all the many different and distinct parts of "Steve Jobs" into a feature film. We'd seen one failed biopic very clumsily attempt in, and many documentaries, all of whom struggle with the many real contradictions of the man; until this film the best depiction of him, on film, I'd argue was an old cable television movie called "Pirates of Silicon Valley" and that movie was about both him and Bill Gates, but the strength of that movie is the same strength as this one, the fact that they, didn't tell an overall story of Jobs's life, but focused in on specific key part(s) of it. That's part of the credit that goes mainly to it's screenplay, Aaron Sorkin, the best writer in Hollywood, of course, does the rest.

I guess Aaron Sorkin is now just the go-to screenwriter for any biopic about people in the computer industry? (Shrugs) As long a he keeps writing, I don't really care what he writes about. Sorkin has always said that he basically "Writes people talking in rooms", which is true enough and he does it better than anybody else. Still though "Steve Jobs", probably exemplifies this more than most of his previous work, at least in film. Actually, I should backtrack, is this a biopic?

It's more like a three-act play that happened to be filmed. Of course, "Steve Jobs" is one of the most enigmatic modern American folk heroes I can imagine....  Whatever truth we find in trying to understand Steve Jobs's life, is, I assure you, it's not found within the lyrics of one of the thousands of songs in our pockets, or any other part of our iPods. I wouldn't know where to begin with a story about Steve Jobs (Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender), but this is probably the best approach, create, what I presume is an exaggerated if not fictional account of three moments in the life and time of Steve Jobs, all of them backstage, before he's about to go on and introduced something. The first third, is the infamous introduction of the Apple Mackintosh, the second, is his introduction of Next's Black Cube, and the third is the introduction of the iMac, tracing his course from his peak at Apple, to his firing from the Board, to them bringing him back after the failure of John Sculley's (Jeff Daniels) idea, the Newton. Each time behind these scenes, we get major players in Jobs's life coming in and out and he deals with each problem or problems, or doesn't. Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) for instance, is annoyed that Jobs's won't ever give proper credit to the team that built the Apple II computer, which, even though it's been a bit rewritten in modern history, was way more successful than the Lisa and the Mackintosh, mainly because it wasn't so self-contained and had more options for additions and expansions, something that Jobs was curiously always a behind in. Remember, he was the last holdout on computers having a compact disc drive. (Which for me personally was always the reason I was a PC guy; and still am to be honest....) Speaking of Lisa (Makenzie Moss, age 5, Ripley Sobo, age 9, and Perla Haney-Jardine, age 19) she shows up behind the scenes, twice along with her mother Chrissann (Katherine Waterston). Maybe the most paradoxical behavior of Steve Jobs, involves Lisa, his daughter, who he denied was his daughter for years, even after curiously naming one of his first major computers after her. Chrisann is a piece of work in her own right, but his denial never made any sense, and it seems he keeps giving in to whatever guilt-ridden demands Chrisann asks anyway, in terms of cash. This is the most interesting way I've seen someone confront these characters in Jobs's life. John Sculley was Apple's CEO, formerly with Pepsi, (Although if I was pressured, I thought he was with Coke, but maybe I was wrong) Jobs got him on board early and then, when the company was going under, he's the one that got the Board to vote him out years later, which he considered a betrayal. Woz of course, has a free pass for life, he always mentions. Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), one of his best and closest technicians, seems to always be on the verge of either getting fired or applauded for whatever he does. All this, supposedly in run through his marketing executive, Joanna Hoffman (Oscar nominee Kate Winslet), who's interestingly the one character that I don't know much about going in. Had I not known she was a real person, I could've and would've presumed that Sorkin had made her up; if you just listen to her dialogue and looked up to see who's playing her, you could've easily mistaken her for Allison Janney, reprising her C.J. Cregg part. That's not to demean Winslet, who's giving one of the greatest performances in her career here. Everybody is actually, this is some of the best ensemble acting you'll ever see, and considering this is came from a year that had "Spotlight", "The Big Short", "The Diary of a Teenage Girl", "Straight Outta Compton", "Chi-Raq" and about a dozen other great all-star cast-filled films, that's saying something. "Steve Jobs" might actually top all those films too. Danny Boyle's directing, is ironically the weakest part, which makes sense; Boyle's one of the most kinetic directors around, and Sorkin, keeps his characters in the same small space for three forty-minute spurts. He and editor Elliot Graham do what they can, and they succeed at times, with some interesting, almost theatrical techniques, like suddenly showing images of things that are being talked about on the literal walls of the hallway and background, almost like a way a film or an animated lighting change can reflect a person's thoughts on stage. Is there any conclusion or help us to understand or think about Steve Jobs differently from this film? I don't know, but I don't think that was the idea. The idea, was much more difficult, find a way to see the world through Steve Jobs eyes, or harder yet, inside his mind. There's a scene that hints this, late in the movie where Steve Jobs realizes something about a Time Magazine cover that he never noticed before. It doesn't change much or even mean anything on the surface, but he missed it, and he can't understand why or how. Steve Jobs, missed a lot of things in his life, that were probably right in front of his eyes, 'cause he was thinking of things that nobody else could see until he made them.

The big discussion with "Steve Jobs" as a film, was more or less, how poorly it did at the box office and I do think, this was a badly marketed movie. They thought this was big blockbuster that would be everywhere...-, this really isn't that kind of movie; it should've started at a few theater and then grown organically through it's audience acclaim, critical reviews and word-of-mouth. That's especially so, since this wasn't a traditional movie. Aaron Sorkin can write a traditional movie, he's won Oscars for it, he's won Emmys,..., Danny Boyle can direct a traditional movie, but that wouldn't have worked here. We saw it fail once before, horribly fail once before, and Sorkin, who is originally a playwright,- the best part of his script isn't the dialogue, although that's great, it's the structure. Using a more stage-based three-act structure, there's literally two act breaks, and they're easy to spot; you're not gonna miss them, between the three scenes, it's really brilliant. It doesn't try to explain Steve Jobs's life, which they'd never be able to do any way, but instead, it just shows Steve Jobs, as close or as much of him, as he was at that point in time, and through his interactions with everyone else, we fill in the rest. That's really the best approach to him; you can make ten movies about him and never be able to fully explain this enigmatic genius, Boyle and Sorkin, realized that, and instead, made this very astute decision on how to approach making the film, and I wish more people had seen it at the time. I hope they find it later, 'cause this is a great film, and a great film to study, about how to approach making a biopic.

Number seven!

Last year, I complained about the lack of strong Best Picture nominees for the Oscars, only two made my Ten Best List in fact, out of eight that were nominated, and when I say that, keep in mind, it wasn't that there was only two movies that I thought should've been nominated; I don't care if I agree 100% or not with the Oscars. I cared that I thought they were basically the only two that were even worthy of being considered for nomination among the eight nominees. (Maybe three if I include "The Grand Budapest Hotel" on the outside looking in) This year though, like I said, there were a lot more great and very good and good films, and of the eight nominees, I can see why seven of them got nominated. ("The Martian" is the odd one out for me, and even that one, there's a legitimate case I can see some people making) I can see them, being among somebody's very best of the year, if not mine. That's a good number and there were three that made my Ten Best List, starting with the one that won it all.

7. Spotlight

I'm gonna try, although probably fail at decrying about the loss art of investigative journalism, especially in regards to the continuously slugging troubles of the entire newspaper industry, mainly because every other review and thinkpiece on "Spotlight" has brought it up, and yes, the comparisons the movie gets to "All the President's Men" are both inevitable as well as accurate;...  but honestly there have been several movies about investigative journalism over the years, or films that were at least made because of or inspired by, or are showing the behind-the-scene story of an article in a paper somebody wrote, or hypothetically couldn't written or were based on a true story. Just off the top of my head, "Nothing But the Truth", "Truth" is a recent one, "Philomena" just a couple years ago got a surprise Best Picture Oscar nomination, "State of Play", that was a good one,... The point I'm trying to make here though, is that, "Spotlight" is the first one of these movies in a long time where I really, honestly cared about it. It's one of the toughest things to do, getting an audience fascinated and intrigued despite the fact that we actually know what's going to happen. For those who don't know the first major story, after 9/11, was when the Boston Globe's investigative reporting team, "Spotlight" revealed the true extent to which the Catholic Church had been covering up and settling incidents of pedophilia in the church. Yeah, this is not game-breaking even at the time, but the extent of which however, we didn't know, and in Boston in particular, Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) who routinely relocated pedophile priests to numerous new parishes after every new claim, having them continue to pederast over the years. We know now just how much the Catholic Church, really is, essentially, a cover for the crimes of the cloth. (If you aren't familiar with the extent, I highly recommend Alex Gibney's amazing documentary "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God" to really show the details of it.) "Spotlight" details the investigation which realizes, just how far the rabbit hole goes. The looking up and the finding of the facts, and how difficult it was. For all intensive purposes, this movie is one of those films where, there's closed doors with every interview they try and papers and cases are closed and sealed and not public and having to get public is a constant search for loophole inside loopholes and literally having to search and search until they finally fall into the one or two mistakes the church makes in covering the fraud. Explaining the details of the movie is not really entertaining, what's really special about "Spotlight" is how personal the movie is, how intense the movie is. How personal the movie is, for the characters and how it feels to us. The struggles of investigating such a-...  boy, I haven't had this much trouble writing a positive review in years. It's definitely too low-key to really explain in the normal terms of cinematic language. There's nothing flashy, there's nothing that stands out, and that's the point. There's a reason this film won only two Oscars, one for Writing and one for Picture, you can't quantify the aspects of the movie separately, only together. None of the actors are great alone, but the cast is all spectacular. Tom McCarthy's isn't flashy or groundbreaking or experimental, but it's exactly what the film needs. The movie and the investigation, it is small, it's just that the results of what they find are huge..... It's an expert lesson in film storytelling. Like it's Director, Tom McCarthy is equally enigmatic. He's mostly known as a character actor, the kind who you've seen a million times and can't name a single thing he's been in and he uses those projects to funds his own films. I've written on one of them "The Visitor" in my Canon of Film section already, most of his movies are also character pieces, "The Station Agent", and "Win-Win" were great low-key character pieces, as was his most derided film, "The Cobbler", which he made earlier in the year with Adam Sandler. I'm one of the few people who highly recommended that sly comedy about a cobbler who magically is able to literally step into people's shoes and start seeing what it's like in their lives. I think that's actually what so perplexing to me about "Spotlight", it's actually the film that least fits in with McCarthy's ouevre. Every time I try to pick it apart through one character or one aspect of the film, I get tripped up, 'cause for the first time, he's not creating an interesting character to center his unique stories around he's telling us a true life story that's not about the characters involved. Well, he succeeds more than admirably and is a most deserving Best Picture winner.

"Spotlight" is definitely a deserving Best Picture winner, the first one, ever, unless you really stretch and count "It Happened One Night", that was about investigative journalism. And it's powerful. I didn't add the parts of the review here, where I talked about the characters or the performances, and this year, in particular, if there was ever a time where they need to have some kind of Ensemble Acting award, this was it. "Spotlight" is one of many films this year, great movies, many that are on this list, where there's great ensemble acting, as a group. Casting the right people, give them a great story and a great script and letting them fly. Finding a single great performance is tricky, 'cause the acting doesn't stick out so much; in fact, I could argue the weakest performance, even though he got nominated, and deservedly so, was Mark Ruffalo's performance, because it was a little too flashy and stage-y and emotionally over-the-top at points, those are great performances in certain situations, but people don't really act like that in real life that much, and these subtler performances by Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber among others in some respects are tougher to pull off, because you don't realize how good they are, unless they're in these ensemble works and their reacting off each other. "Acting is reacting" remember, most good acting coaches will tell you that. And that's really why Tom McCarthy, is the perfect director for this 'cause he's a lesser-known character actor. He's takes other jobs, like co-writing, "Up" for instance, but he's mainly a character actor who you've seen in a million things and wouldn't be able to pick him out of a lineup of one, who then, takes the money he makes doing that, and puts it into his films, and they're all acting pieces that show the great skills of it's stars, who themselves are often other great supporting actors like Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan and Patricia Clarkson and Richard Jenkins and Peter Dinklage, long before anybody knew his name, Here's him doing that, same low-budget filmmaking, simple techniques, nothing flashy directing-wise, but with a more epic and important story at hand. This was the actors' film of the year, you could argue that's why it won the Oscar; I'd say it didn't hurt that it was also an amazing film.

Number six!

Variety just released the list of films that are eligible for the Best Animated Feature Oscar this year, and there's a record, 27 eligible films this year. It's no secret animation is more available to use as a filmmaking tool and more filmmakers are using it than ever before and it's leading to some great movies and 2015, while it didn't have 27 eligible films, it certainly had more than it's fair share of great ones this year.

6. Anomalisa

If you looked over my ballot for the Top 100 Animated Characters countdown that Geekcast Radio Network is setting up, than you'll probably figure out the two animated features that made my Top Ten List, we're gonna start with Charlie Kaufman's latest masterpiece, "Anomalisa", a beautiful romance that dives into our fears about life and love and whether or not achieving happiness is possible in either of them.

I had heard that Charlie Kaufman had started working in the world of animation for awhile, he worked on the series, "Moral Oral", but until now I haven't seen his work in that medium and this introduction to it, is, well, it's definitely him and definitely unique. At first it doesn't quite seem that way, in fact for much of the movie I wondered why he was even bothering with the animation; this is a film that technically could very easily be shot and made with live-action. Technically, it could, but still, there was something going on. I didn't bother looking into the voice actors before looking into the film but I started realizing something weird about them very quickly. The main character, Richard Stone (David Thewlis) would run into or talk to people as he left the airport and checked into his Cincinnati hotel room, The Fregoli, and it was startling how, everybody seemed to sound the same. Especially the women all seemed to have the same voice. Eventually I realized what was going on, and indeed everybody sounded the same, for a reason; it was the same voice actor, (Tom Noonan) playing "Everybody Else", and this includes Richard's wife and kid, a taxi driver, a waiter, a worker at a sex shop, even an ex-girlfriend named Bella that he meets up and has a drink with, in a desperate attempt to...-, well I probably shouldn't say what he's searching for. Actually I probably couldn't say if I tried. He's in town because he's a motivational speaker 'cause he wrote some business self-help book about customer service of all things and he's surprisingly popular because of it..... His choice of animation is stop-motion, and yeah, that sounds about right. Everything is stop-motion, including a really surreal scene where they recreate a scene of "My Man Godfrey" that Richard watches on TV in his room for a moment.... He eventually does leave the confines of his hotel room, and he goes and hangs out with a couple girls staying at the hotel Emily and Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Lisa, is the one that the movie is titled after and yes, she's the only other performer in the movie and it's obvious to both Richard and us that she's someone special. I won't explain why she is, but it's when the movie really shines when the two of them end up together in his room and have a sweet and sensitive flirtation that leads to their one-night stand. (And yes, it's shown, the one-night stand, this is the first R-rated movie to receive an Oscar nomination for Outstanding Animated Feature) There's a lot in this movie, a lot of implications and dreamy nightmarish surreal imagery that feel right out of the most nightmarish Kaufman scenarios he's ever come up with, and yet strangely, if you were to ask me what exactly is "Anomalisa" about, I'd probably tell you that it's basically about the moments between these two people at this exact moment when they're meeting each other and nothing else. Not even necessarily the implications that they're shared experiences entails, not even necessarily the personal demons that Richard's fighting in his mind that cause him to have the breakdown at his speaking engagement. Strangely, the movie this may actually most remind me of is Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation" also about two strangers in the same foreign hotel who shared their time with each other while they have the few moments together they have. That's probably what truly makes Lisa such an amazing character, especially in Richard's eyes, 'cause they simply empathize with each other, or at least, she can empathize with him and he wants desperately to empathize with her, or somebody. It actually makes sense, with how we see the world in general, everybody can essentially be blurs who we sort through and disregard until we get to the person we really want to be with and learn about. In terms of Kaufman's most famous themes, human nature and the comedy thereof, as and the constant struggles of connecting the thoughts in our mind to the realities of the world, this movie is ironically his most bare and straightforward; even the gimmicks aren't really gimmicks that he's imploring here. It's probably the animation that helps remind us just how real these missed connections and our distrustful paranoia thoughts actually are. You know, so many movies, even great movies, I can watch and experience and enjoy and they don't necessarily stick with you afterwards, but "Anomalisa" is a movie that I've done nothing but think about ever since I saw it, and whether you appreciate or even like it after seeing it, I'm pretty sure most will be thinking about it as well.

I did hear, kinda, one intriguing critique of Charlie Kaufman's work, about how all his films are essentially about some middle-aged guy and how they're fascinated by younger women, and yet they're never really characters, the women, they're more used as object to them, to be infatuated with. I can't say that's inaccurate, but I also kinda want to complain that that's basically complaining that Fellini's films are too Felliniesque. Yes, that's something Kaufman thinks about and that's a motif of his; I don't suspect it's as simplistic as that. I would argue it's more that he's infatuated with the opposite sex in general, including and especially trying to understand, what it's like to be a women, from the perspective of somebody who, for obvious reasons could never truly understand what that's like. I think that's more apart of his, trying to make sense of life and the universe as a whole, but that's naval-gazing analysis, the movie's not about that anyway. The movie is about that feeling of, being unable to connect with someone in the world and that fleeting strange moment when you do connect with someone. The sexes of the movie, can be switched and it would still be the same movie, 'cause that feeling is universal and "Anomalisa" more than most movies, manage to actually express that feeling and emotion with painful accuracy. The animation, btw, is really good and the directing, not just by Kaufman but by Duke Johnson-, you know, this is shot like a live-action version would've been, when you think about it. With computer animation for instance, or even hand-drawn to some extent, the camera can go anywhere you want essentially, stop-motion, is still basically shot like a regular movie, only on this small model scale, which I guess, in of itself, just by process, makes it more difficult, but even without that, this is really skilled directing, not just for animation, in general, this is great directing and you do notice it, when they make decision, like when to stay in a master or to have a close-up, you know, the movie makes choice, like it's a live-action film, and that's not necessarily an easy trick to pull off, but it's an effective one for this film.

Number five!

I said, that I had some controversial choices on this list. Well, believe it or not, it wasn't "Chi-Raq" I was actually thinking of, when I said that; it was actually this film. I already know, some who are gonna criticize this pick, for numerous reasons, all of which, they're completely fucking short-sighted, misogynistic, idiotic and just plain old wrong about. Yeah, you know, I'm not gonna pull punches on this one; this is one of the best films of the year, and one of the best romantic-comedies in years. It deserves this spot. (Motion hands to come toward me) Come at me on this one, I'm prepared to fight on this one

5. Trainwreck 

Hmm. This movie is more interesting analytically than it looks like on the surface. Let's talk about Judd Apatow for a second. He, yes is probably the leader and leading influence among modern-day Hollywood comedies in recent years and deservedly so, but he's one of the few Director/Producer people out there who originally came from stand-up comedy. He doesn't do it much anymore, but before he started creating cult television series like "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" his most prominent work, and basically his main work as a performer was as a stand-up comedian. and that's not really that common a career path. I can think of a handful of people, Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, eh, Chris Rock, to a certain extent, if you want to count Louis C.K., you can add him too. I mean, there's people like Chaplin and Keaton who started as comic performers but they weren't stand-up comedians the way we know that art form now, and even those names I mentioned, they didn't go straight from stand-up to behind the scenes either, they were behind-the-scenes writers and performers onscreen, they weren't just full-on stand-ups who then moved into directing.... Now he's directing this film, but the star is a stand-up comedienne who's made a pretty similar transition, going from stand-up to being a actress/writer/director/producer on her own television series, and now has gone on to write her first feature film. Now, to some people, Amy Schumer's been the it-girl in Hollywood for a couple years, but I've known about her a lot longer, first encountering her on a season of "Last Comic Standing".... I didn't quite get her at the time. She finished, I think 4th or 5th, but to her credit, she is actually the only comic who's name I did remember from that season. I think she hadn't quite mastered her voice; she had her act figured out, but I don't think she had her character yet. She has that character now and once I got used to it, I recognize her genius as one of the funniest comics working today and her television series,...   So what we have here, is a former stand-up comic who made the transition into writing and directing feature films, giving us a brand new stand-up comic making her transition into writing and directing feature films. I told you that "Trainwreck" was more interesting than it seemed on the surface; I legitimate can't think of any other films with this kind of dynamic in it's creators. Now, despite all that talk about Apatow, this is clearly Schumer's project, and it's one of the smartest and funniest films of the year. Amy, growing up with her sister Kim (Brie Larson) and were taught by her their father, Gordon (Colin Quinn) about the perils of monogamy and how it wasn't realistic. Amy, took the message to heart. She works as a witty magazine writer, for one of those magazines that seems to consider articles about Holocaust and a Top Ten list about the Ugliest Hollywood Children Under 6 with the same amount of importance and vigor. She gets assigned by her editor Dianna (An unrecognizable Tilda Swinton giving more proof that she's the ultimate acting chameleon) a piece profiling Aaron (Bill Hader) a doctor/surgeon for the star athletes. This leads to some great sports star cameos, Lebron James in particular is surprisingly funny. After breaking up with her latest, well, I wouldn't call him a "boyfriend", just the guy she sleeps with between one-night-stands, Steven (Pro wrestler John Cena, in maybe the strangest piece of casting in this movie and that's saying something, and he's absurdly funny in this btw) she reluctantly ends up sleeping with Aaron, and more shocking to her than sleeping with the subject of your article, he asks her out the next day and basically insists on dating her. At first, she says no, and yet, she starts feeling things she's never felt before and she's clearly unable to fully handle whatever the emotions are, but eventually she forces herself into it. The movie, technically isn't that different an arc than most romantic-comedy films you can think of but it feels different however, and that's because of Schumer. It's a rom-com filtered through her, and to me, that's the key to a great artist particularly in stand-up and more importantly a great writer. It's not reinventing the wheel, it's creating through your own perspective, and the best, most fully-realized and uniques perspective on the material are the ones that stand out. I haven't liked everything Judd Apatow's created or made, I'm one of the few that doesn't think much of "Freaks and Geeks" apparently, but it's clearly a vision that he had and a unique one at that, and that what separates Schumer from all her peers as well in all the mediums she's conquered, stand-up, TV sketch comedy and now feature films. "Trainwreck" is one of the better comedies I've seen in years and Schumer's one of the most interesting artists in the entertaining industry right now, and inserting her perspective into whatever she does next is only gonna make the entertainment world more interesting from here on out. There's reason she's the It-Girl now, and wasn't that a few years ago. 

You know, I didn't think of it at the time and I don't want to give too much away here, but I'm gonna talk a bit about "Trainwreck" a little later, 'cause I've been watching some Mae West movies lately, and I'm preparing one of her films to be an upcoming Canon of Film post, and if you don't know about Mae West than you really need to look her up, especially now that there's this huge infusion of great female artists, mainly in comedy, like Tina Fey or Kristen Wiig or Lena Dunham and of course Schumer to name a few, who are creating their own material, in films and television, Mae West, was the raciest, most scandalous performer of her time, she was getting arrested for performing her material and she wasn't even cursing, that's how scandalous she was, just being suggestive, and when she got to Hollywood, especially her really early films, before the Hayes code cut the balls off of her work, it was sexual, brazen, funny-as-fuck, I mean, "It's not the men in you life, it's the life in you men", everything was an innuendo, everything was a double-entendre, and she wrote almost all her movies, 'cause nobody else was writing roles for her, so she did most of it herself, and this was the early thirties. "Trainwreck", I realize now, why it works so well, is that, this is a modern day Mae West film. If she was around today, and maybe Amy Schumer, is our Mae West, I will take that, if that's the case, this is the movie Mae West would've made. It's our version of "She Done Him Wrong" or "I'm No Angel", and let's ignore the fact that we're over 80 years later and we're now catching up to Mae West, this is one of the funniest and smartest romantic-comedies in years and that is a tough, tough genre to pull off, especially these days. There aren't a lot of great straight-up rom-coms out there anymore, and it's because it's such a difficult genre to pull off. Those who can find that different modern perspective on it, and not some generic meet-cute romance, boy meets girl and follow the previously-establish rom-com contrivances, you realize, how great one that's actually different and good and from a really smart, witty, funny and different perspective, and you get a genuinely great romantic comedy. And let's not forget Judd Apatow here either, mainly because it doesn't feel like one of his films, which are great themselves. He is the great mainstream comedy producer in Hollywood right now for a reason, but he's not making a Judd Apatow movie here; he's making an Amy Schumer movie and it's a great introduction to her, the way those Mae West films were introductions to her. And yeah, I cannot think of another film with that similar dynamics of their careers that Apatow and Schumer have. For that reason, it becomes it's own unique entity that's hard to compare to anything else. So yeah, there's way more going on in "Trainwreck" than I think people realize, and I suspect in time, people are gonna focus in and really see how great a rom-com this is.

Number four!

(Chokes up)
(Extremely long pause)
(Weird screeching voice, words trying to come out they don't. David makes unintelligible sounds before bursting into uncontrollable tears, before his head falls on his keyboard, and continues crying)

4. Inside Out

This is one of those incidents where it's clear to me that I wouldn't prefer this movie had I not previously been overly inundated with previous awareness of the movie, I probably would've liked it more. Don't get me wrong, I still love this movie a lot, and with "When Marnie Was There" it's the second animated film I've seen in a week that's managed to make me cry. I got tears, I wasn't balling like with the other film, but still as jaded as I've gotten... But yeah, I've spent months making "Herman's Head" jokes just at the idea and concept of "Inside Out".... "Inside Out" is quite a brilliant little film. In one respects, the main character is Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), in another aspect, she is also the setting. Riley is a young and precocious eleven-year-old Minnesota girl. She plays hockey, she has lots of friends, a loving mother and father (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) and an overall happy life. Inside her mind, is Joy (Amy Poehler), an.... hmm, I don't know what exactly they call themselves, but she's basically Riley's happy emotion. She runs the control center, or the headquarters inside her mind, and runs the control panel most of the time, while other emotions, Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader) also control the panels when needed but only occasionally as they also make sure the memories, the main ones and especially the core happy ones get preserved and recalled in her mind while the rest get filed elsewhere. Joy also spends most of the time trying to keep the other emotion, Sadness (Phyllis Smith) away from Joy's memories, which she somehow manages to turn from joyful to sad, as well as keep her away from the control panel and making Riley sad and then forcing her to create sad memories, which is suddenly happening more often after her family suddenly moves across country to San Francisco and their moving fan somehow got lost, she's sleeping in a sleeping bag in an unfamiliar new home and a new school. Suddenly those core memories start to become sad upon reflection and Sadness seems insistent on trying to help and take control of the panel, but Joy fights her off, and this leads to both of them accidentally being sucked down into the Memory Bank, leaving the other three emotions in charge as they struggle to get back through the other parts of the mind, as her mostly good core memories begin fading away and even aspects of her cheery personality begin to fall into the memory dump. There's also a character voiced by Richard Kind that I'm not gonna mention but it is a very powerful supporting performance and character. On the one hand, "Inside Out" is just a good adventure movie, even though it seems like it was an adventure story Pixar filtered through Charlie Kaufman's mind, on the other hand, the movie is basically not about anything more than an emotion, or an emotional shift, that dramatic experience about having everything you think you need or ever want, to suddenly not. Gene Siskel once said, and I'm paraphrasing here that, a good movie changes your mood, I think he was talking about "Leaving Las Vegas" at the time, arguing that just because a movie makes you sad doesn't mean that it isn't great. "Inside Out" is almost literally trying to not only prove that but be about the changing of your mood, whether it's through a movie or not. "Inside Out' is quite a special movie with very lofty ambitions and goals. I don't know if got all of them, but I certainly cannot fault the attempt, or for that matter that it does achieve so much.


(David wipes tears from eyes with back of his wrist, wiping them on his opposing sleeves. He sniffs.sadly. He holds back tears again, this time successfully. Then, he takes a deep calming breath.)

Number three!

Eh, for those making bets on where this would fall on the list, whoever had number three wins! Yeah, you knew this was gonna show up.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road

"Mad Max" has always been one of the strangest of movie franchises. For one thing, it's centered around one of the most enigmatic and picaresque main characters in cinema history. Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is..., well actually, there isn't much too him. In the future, his wife and kid were killed, and he got revenge on the people who killed them, a la, "Death Wish" in the first movie, and then that's it. Other than that, he just seems to walk the Earth like Cain or something and running into these strange whatever's in the world. The next strangest thing about the series, is the universe that's created. I guess it's sorta still relevant, but the original series took place, during an era when there was a lot of discussion of oil and gas shortages in the world and it wasn't until "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" did they even introduce the idea of this future where alternative fuels could possibly exist, and the world, is this bizarre combination of reconfigured vehicles and objects from the past to create,... I don't even know anymore. It's just bizarre, this skeletal universe that's created and continually growing, it's definitely unique even among this over-obsession of dystopian and apocalyptic universes we're going through, seriously, we have way too many goddamn apocalypse universes in literature! The other strange thing about this series, is that, the movies continually get better. "Mad Max: Fury Road" is definitely a great film, one of the very best action movies I've seen in years, and this is pure action. It's a long chase scene pretty much, and not much else. We meet Max, as he's been captured and enslaved for his blood for this,...- oh god, how the hell do I describe this place. Well, apparently, there's a place where people can grow things now, and the monster who's taken over and runs the place, has enslaved most of the people, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who was actually the actor that played the original villain from the original film). He's sent out Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to trade fuels with some other clans, but she's taken his wives and gone out on an escape mission to something called the Green Place, because, of course it is in this movie. I had numerous thoughts throughout the film, for one thing, I realized that George Miller probably should've directed "Gladiator" instead of Ridley Scott, 'cause this is the kind of world that film should've been. I also forget just how great a director he can be, and this visionary world of his is absolutely fantastic to sit through. It definitely is a film that plays better in the moment than when you go back and think about it, but it's literally just a thrill ride. The editing in this movie is amazing; if this film doesn't at least get an editing Oscar nomination, than the Editor's Branch needs to be investigated for being bought off, 'cause this is almost impossible to edit and it's done magnificently well here. I don't know how or where or what this even has to do with any of the "Mad Max" movies, or any of them have anything to do with each other anymore, but just as a piece of adrenaline-fueled action, "Mad Max: Fury Road", accomplishes it's lone goal of keeping us on the edge of our seats.

Yeah, I seriously doubt that there's anything I can say here about "Mad Max: Fury Road" that hasn't already been said by a bunch of other people already. This is the epitome of visual storytelling. This is the ultimate example, "It's not what it's about, it's how it's about it." The story is told beautifully, and I know people don't want to credit the writing on this film, but this film wasn't necessarily written in the traditional sense; it was visualized. George Miller had been making this movie through visuals for years, drawing and storyboarding; there wasn't a traditional script, but that is still writing and should be credited as well. But yeah, I must admit, I never thought about George Miller as being one of the great directors of all-time; I usually liked all his films, including the other three "Mad Max" movies, but I will never not think of him as being one of the greatest directors of all-time now. "mad Max: Fury Road" is one of the great filmmaking accomplishments of the century so far. I can turn this movie on, anytime and sit back and be entertained. I've seen it four or five times already, it's a truly great film. It's the greatest pure slice of pure escapist filmmaking entertainment from this year.

Number Two!

2. The Diary of a Teenage Girl

This is probably the film that most of you most likely haven't seen or even heard of and that's a real shame, it's a really great film. One of the best coming-of-age movies I've seen in a long time. Don't let that title fool you, "Diary of a Teenage Girl" is one of the most mature, adult, frightening films about growing up at that confusing age and place, I've ever seen. Not to mention, the best and maybe most overlooked great acting performances of the year, especially by Bel Powley.

Holy fuck, is this an amazing film. How did Bel Powley, who I never heard of before and found out later that yes, she is confortably older than the 15-year-old Minnie, play this role and not even remotely get considered for an Oscar nomination? Jesus Christ! Okay, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl", overly generic title aside, is one of the year's best films. It's one of-, if not, the best film ever about growing up about the sexual awakening of a teenage girl. Actually that's,- that's way too limiting a description. It's a coming-of-age movie, but a coming-of-age that feels fast, real, and full of life. It's hard to describe this movie in one shot, most movies are impossible to simplify, but this one, this one.... Okay, the diary, like many movies and television shows nowadays isn't a literal diary, but a diary through some kind of alternative media and since this film takes place in the late '70s, San Francisco, right as the hippie scene wasn't completely sure what to do with their newfound adulthood and responsibilities and the punk rock gothic rebellion is just around the corner from a late night showing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", it's a cassette recorder. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by cartoonist Phoebe Gloeckner, Minnie is, a half-pint of a teenage girl, the kind that's not exactly noticed by others, and not necessarily charismatic enough to make her voice heard to be noticed. Her mother Charlotte (Kristin Wiig) was a beauty in her youth, but now throws her days away on pot and half-baked relationships, when she's not cocaining up to clean and take care of the house. Her current boyfriend is Monroe (Alexander Skarsgaard) a forty-year-old with a half-baked idea for a mail-order diet pill company, who Minnie, decides to have an affair with. Yes, I'm wording that right, not that Monroe's actions aren't deplorable at worst, questionable at best, but yeah, Minnie, basically decides to have sex one day and chooses him, and begins flirting uncomfortably with him, and he makes a half-ass attempt to stop but, eh, yeah, it's one of those movies, but not quite. They end up fucking, and then Minnie gets a little more outgoing, sexually. Her and her friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters) begin exploring the night life, and doing a few things they probably shouldn't, with people they probably shouldn't. Minnie, in particular becomes attracted to an androgynous lesbian, Tabatha (Margarita Levieva) who they run into and occasionally have some drug-infused makeout sessions with. The real tension in the movie is Munroe and Minnie, trying to figure out how to get out of, or remain apart of this relationship, if preferable, without tipping off to Charlotte that something's happening. If the movie I'm describing feels episodic, it is. The narrative isn't straightforward, but coming at you from all directions. It's hard to even mention Minnie's distant father, Pascal (Christopher Meloni) who her and her younger sister Gretel (Abby Wait) meet up once secretly to ask for money, as they know full-well that their mother really isn't capable or sober enough to take care of them. She does have a job as a librarian, but that doesn't seem to help much. I guess there's other movies to compare this to, obviously the first one is "Lolita", but "Lolita" told the story from the perspective of an old man in the story, which, never made it, in any version that interesting; the story was about lust and wanting, not about, adolescence. I think much better recent comparisons would be Lone Scherfig's "An Education", which starred Carey Mulligan as a young woman who has an affair with an older flamboyant man of the world, but that was a whirlwind romance kind of thing; swept up in a con. An of course, there's Catherine Hardwicke's "Thirteen", which is probably the closest, and that movie was actually written by a then 13-year-old Nikki Reed, and about her recent experiences. The mood of self-destruction and continuing to fall deeper into drugs and alcohol and sex is comparable, but it's still a difficult comparison. Minnie isn't in a girl crush; she's basically just out for rebellion, of everything. She's already surrounded by the debauchery that she would intake herself in. Drug-fueled party at her mother's house, drug-fueled party elsewhere, what's the difference really? Well, at the other one, she can get laid, I guess. This movie is painfully accurate about this. There's a wonderful scene, where she's in school, something Minnie rarely is, a private school nonetheless, where her reputation is growing, sleeping with the occasional student in between being serious about Monroe, and while chasing back for Monroe outside, who's calling her, a girl walking past mutters "Slut", directly to her. She hears it, knows what she said. She doesn't care though, walks on by, and that girl is never seen or heard from again; I'm not even sure she has an credit. 99.9% of other movies, something would've happened, either right then, or later, even if it's just a confrontation with that girl, nope, nothing here however. Not even an acknowledgement. There's a lot of great touches like that, peppering the screen. The movie is vivid and wild by the way, I don't want to make this sound like it's just a morose hard brutal look at the realities of a teenage girl, it's vibrant as well. She wants to be a cartoonist and in the middle of this downward spiral of a mess she's in, she begins drawing, even begins writing to the legendary underground cartoonist Aline Kominsky (Susannah Schulman [Voice]), and the movie is also littered with the comic art work, sometimes at the edges of the screened, only visible to us and Minnie as she ponders how to interpret what's happened, sometimes full giant sequences of just animated. It's a bit of a mess, but it's always intriguing and always something going on on the screen, and mostly it adds more to the scenes already, not that they needed these aberrations, the movie was already great without it. It's the first feature from Writer/Director Marielle Heller, who was mostly an actress in stage and television before fully transitioning to behind the camera in recent years. I mean, there's parts of this that are clearly first film imperfections, but I don't mind them. This was such an ambitious and brave film, especially for a first feature.... Bel Powley, I never heard of her 'til now, and I was floored by this performance. This is a star-making role. A complex part, that maybe fifteen years ago would've been perfect for Christina Ricci, but I- I can't imagine anybody who could've played this role this well now. Powley's been mostly a longtime British TV actress until now, I haven't seen any of her other work, but I can't imagine any of her previous work would've prepared anybody for this from the 2nd generation actress. I warn, this movie will make you uncomfortable, but we so rarely see a story like this, told this well, this bravely, with this much care. This ambitious as well. There is so much good about filmmaking and storytelling in this film....

You know, I brought this film up in a FB group a little while ago, 'cause somebody was going after Kristen Wiig, and how he didn't think much of her as an actress, I said, "You obviously haven't seen "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" or you wouldn't be saying that. (I could think of four or five other movies too I could've said, including "Welcome to Me" which is also a seriously underrated film of hers from this year) and this guy said, "I'm not a girl, why would I watch a movie called "The Diary of a Teenage Girl"? And, I hate that kind of bullshit, "It's a girl film, not a guy film", fuck people who think that in general. Second, NO! NO! NO! NO! this isn't, whatever preconceive notions of a girl film you think you have, this is not that film! This is a hard, no-blinking R-Rated, eh, nightmare scenario of a smart girl who's in a severe way, is growing up way too fast. And again, that doesn't make this is haughty, message warning of a movie; this is a fun, vibrant movie, fun of great character, amazing acting, wonderful visuals...- There's quite a bit of animation in the movie; it was based off of an autobiography of a great cartoonist, and it shows that, with some great animation point of view perspectives. It is a kinetic, vibrant, excitement-filled movie, that you genuinely do not know what's gonna happen next! I can't stress this enough, this was the most underrated movie of the year, most overlooked of the year...; and it is this great. It almost made my number one slot. This is a movie that's inventive as Hell as a film, full of exciting, great filmmaking and it all works. The director Marielle Heller, took material that could've gonna in a hundred different ways on film and lose something in it's adaptation, and instead, we get one of the best and most miraculously accomplished film adaptations in years. Seek this movie out, just trust me on this one! Great film!


And now, the number one best film of 2015!

(Drumroll ends)

I, did think about a couple films that I could've put at number, but I kept coming back to one movie over the rest. Not only because it was the best and the most entertaining movie I saw this year, but also because it was the most important film of the year. The one that, most needed to be made and made as well as it was in order to truly get across what happened, why and why and how it could happen again.

1. The Big Short

The number one film of 2015, is "The Big Short"!

Just so everyone's clear, I knew. I knew that the housing bubble was gonna collapse and that the economy was on the verge of falling off a cliff before it happened. Yeah, like the guys in the movie. Okay, not like the guys in the movie, but I and most smart sensible people knew and should've known. How did I know? Well, for one thing, I couldn't afford to buy houses on bad loans back in the mid-'00s, although based on the sound of it, neither could anyone else, but people were. I know this, 'cause I live Las Vegas, which is ground zero on the housing crisis, and I saw houses that were little more than half of a windowless closet go from 4-digits to mid-6-digits in just a few years. Oh, and yeah, like the movie shows, strippers got the worst of it.... Yeah, the Depression didn't hit in '07 and '08, it was going on every since 9/11, but the people at the top, were so corrupted to each other, and had gone completely off their rockers in terms of buying up bad debt and compiling bad debt into good debt, and-, well, don't worry, "The Big Short" does a really good job of explaining all the details that, I didn't know all those details at the time, but I and probably most people in my economic position, especially in Vegas knew something was wrong. Everything was going up, and money was going down. I was not capable or knowledgeable enough to do what these guys did, or even knew how to figure it out. The first person to catch on was Michael Burry (Oscar-nominated Christian Bale) a former Doctor who happened to be great at numbers, and was given carte blanche as a fund manager. He sits in his office and determined in 2005 how bad the housing market was, so he put his investors money against the market. How do you bet against subprime mortages and CDOs? Well, you didn't, until he went to each of the banks and created a way, and the banks were happy to sell it to him, millions of dollars worth, each bank. Word caught on to what he was doing but most of them just made fun of him, a few though, suspected he might be onto something, and what he was up to, he had read what most of those subprime mortgages were worth, nothing more. Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who for all intensive purposes I guess is our, narrator, (The movie takes the fourth wall and beats it's with a brick, rips a chainsaw through it, buries it under wherever they discarded the other three walls.) he's a banker on Wall Street, who goes out on his own begins selling the prospect of buying these bonds against the housing market, and essentially against the national economy. He mostly goes around town and gets laughed at. Then, he makes a wrong number to Mark Baum, who's small investment fun is actually in the Morgan-Stanley building, but sorta technically separated, it's difficult to explain, but Baum is great at spotting the most bullshit and is cynical enough in the market that he's looking for ways to drive against them, but this seems to good to be true, except it didn't to him. Baum is the one who begins investigating and it's through him, we find the bubble, and the corruption in the ratings agencies, and when we go to Las Vegas, where the convention of the securities leader was, they realize just how insane and moronic and/or corrupt and careless everyone was, and bunch up more money against the economy. At least at the lower rated banks. We meet too others, Charlie Gellar and Jamie Shipley (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock) who have a garage upstart and once they realize the investment opportunity in betting against the economy, with the help of an ex-bigwig Ben Rickett (Brad Pitt, who looks startlingly more and more like Robert Redford, never noticed that before) who they happen to know, get the ISDA which allows them to invest big against highly rated companies, ones that got AA and A ratings, which they correctly suspected were over-rated as well. The movie is based on Michael Lewis's book, he's written quite a few non-fiction books, probably most-notably before this "Moneyball", which I read and they made into a fairly good movie, but not a great one. Partly 'cause it didn't quite really strike the tone correctly for a movie about being drowned in baseball statistics and minutia, but inside baseball isn't too complicated to understand, most of us are more than familiar with baseball, but still I wish it was directed like "The Big Short" was, with quick-cutting and breaking fourth walls, and a constantly moving camera that seems more and more wild and disjointed the deeper into the depths of the rabbit hole we go. Adam McKay is probably not an obvious choice to direct this, but I think the movie needed a great comedy director, and with "Anchorman..." and "The Other Guys" among others in his resume, to balance out the really depressing aspects of the movie and relate both the excess of the people who were destroying the economy and the dizzying realization of those who actually discover and realize what they've been up to. McKay and Randolph's Oscar-winning script takes chances and while occasionally the movie might be over-edited I didn't mind. "The Big Short" is quite an essential film about the banking industry and how much it really has gotten out of hand and needs way, way, way, more government regulation than it has now, or once had in the past. Anybody who tells you private industries, especially ones like banking and stock trading, which, by the way, take it from a guy who lives in Vegas, Wall Street is a casino, it's not a banking strategy or whatever, it's a casino; I know what a casino looks like, and I've played the Stock Market more than I'd ever like to,...  and how much the banking industry has gone-, long gone from the days of George Bailey and fallen into the hands of the Ben Bernanke's. Or worst, the upstart yuppie wannabes who don't even bother knowing who Bailey or Bernanke even is and just know that it's always a sellers market, and especially for what we're selling.

A couple years ago, I had both "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "American Hustle" on my Top Ten List, and, there's been backlash to both those films, especially with "American Hustle", some claiming it as a Scorsese rip-off, which is an argument that I do not understand at all, so I haven't given much credit to that. I think there's also some, who probably suspect the same about "The Big Short" and there are similar techniques, but Adam McKay's been a great comedic writer/director for years, some of the best comedies of the last ten or fifteen years have been his, and we've seen him make a traditional film multiple times over. He's telling this story the best way possible and that requires every trick he can think of and it works, not only as a movie about the housing bubble and the Recession, but also this is one of the most entertaining movies of the year. It's fun to watch, it's constantly changing up it's perspective, it's ideas, it's narration to some extent' it's a big topic, filled with a lot of details that-, it could be easy to actually just tell this story in generalities and not really show all the little details, I mentioned "Moneyball" which was based off of a Michael Lewis book as well, and that book is literal inside baseball and inside banking is about 100x more complex and esoteric than inside baseball, and "Moneyball" kinda was flawed in how it tried to spread away from those details, but "The Big Short" didn't back away, it could've just been about these savants and surveyors who saw what no one else saw, but it needed to be more clear than that, and it was. It was entertaining, it was funny, it did pull off all the multi-narrative storytelling that was needed to see all sides of this debacle , that's what really puts it up over the top.

Well, that's the Top Ten List for this year. And like I said, overall, this was a great year, and narrowing to Ten wasn't easy. For instance, last year, I have four foreign films in my Top Ten, I could've easily had a bunch here too, but for the first time in a long time I didn't have one. Also, no documentaries, but neither are those are from a lack of quality ones. So, here's the honorable mentions of 2015, some other great films to check out along with their directors.

45 Years-Andrew Haigh
99 Homes-Ramin Bahrani
Appropriate Behavior-Desiree Akhavan
Beasts of No Nation-Cary Joji Fukunaga
Bridge of Spies-Steven Spielberg
Brooklyn-John Crowley
Carol-Todd Haynes
Clouds of Sils Maria-Olivier Assayas
Creed-Ryan Coogler
The Duke of Burgundy-Peter Strickland
Embrace of the Serpent-Ciro Guerra
The End of the Tour-James Ponsoldt
Ex Machina-Alex Garland
Girlhood-Celine Sciamma
Good Kill-Andrew Niccol
Goodnight Mommy-Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz
The Hateful Eight-Quentin Tarantino
Heaven Knows What-Ben & Joshua Safdie
I Smile Back-Adam Salky
|Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter-David Zellner
Magic Mike XXL-Gregory Jacobs
Mediterranea-Jonas Carpignano
Mustang-Deniz Gamze Erugven
Phoenix-Christian Pertzold
Predestination-The Spierig Brothers
Results-Andrew Bujalski
The Revenant-Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Room-Lenny Abrahamson
The Second Mother-Anna Muylaert
Shaun the Sheep Movie-Mark Burton & Richard Starzak
Sisters-Jason Moore
Son of Saul-Nemes Laszlo
Tangerine-Sean Baker
Theeb-Naji Abu Nowar
Victoria-Sebastian Schipper
The Voices-Marjane Satrapi
When Marnie Was Here-Hiromasa Yonebayashi
While We're Young-Noah Baumbach
The Walk-Robert Zemeckis
A War-Tobias Lindholm
Welcome to Me-Shira Piven
A Wolf at the Door-Fernando Coimbra
Youth-Paolo Sorrentino

Best of Enemies-Robert Gordon & Morgan Neville
Cartel Land-Matthew Heineman
Deli Man-Erik Greenberg Anjou
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief-Alex Gibney
The Hunting Ground-Kirby Dick
I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story-Dave LaMattina & Chad Walker
Janis: Little Girl Blue-Amy J. Berg
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck-Brett Morgan
The Look of Silence-Joshua Oppenheimer
Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine-Michele Josue
Meet the Patels-Geeta Patel & Ravi Patel
Racing Extinction-Louie PSyhoyos
The Seven Five-Tiller Russell
Twinsters-Samantha Futerman and Ryan Miyamoto
Welcome to Leith-Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker
What Happened, Miss Simone-Liz Garbus
Where to Invade Next-Michael Moore
Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom-Evgeny Afineevsky

This really was a great year for films. Here's hoping it stays that way. Worst of 2015, next blog.

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