Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Taking On 2015 - Top Films

Well, here we are, right after the Oscars and the official end to the year that was in cinema. Though there is still plenty of catching up that I wish I was able to do, but when is life not full of regrets, right? After a kind of lost year at the blog (where I should do a 2015 blowout post, but not sure that I'll get around to it), I feel compelled to continue at least the yearly tradition of writing up some things about films outside of short reviews on Letterboxd. You can also find a list there of all the films I have seen there. It helps to solidify my thoughts on how things have changed since the last time this happened. And changed they have. Also, it would not be a year end Top 10 if I didn't cheat. So let's start with that initial slip up.

11. The Visit

When trimming down my list, I really had no idea what to do with The Visit, because it was so surprising and enjoyable, and it really does deserve to be seen. I guess there's also the narrative that it's M. Night's "return to form," which maybe it is, though I'm not entirely sure how valid that is either but it's beside the point in regard to the rest of the film. Sure there are spots where it gets generic, but technically it's a well made film (and a good found footage kind of thing!) and even the emotional beats are notably strong thanks to some great performance from the two kids who make up the story's core. There's so much that goes on in the periphery that one almost may not realize until it creeps in to the center of the film. I cannot wait for M. Night's next film, and hopefully he finds a way to fit in that rapping little brother.

10. Room

 A lot has been said, and rightfully so, about the opening of Room. It's wonderful in the way that it establishes the scenario, and terrifying in the way that it presents this tragedy, but perhaps the emotional heft comes in how the second half is executed. A lot has to do with Larson's performance, of course, but the way it balances the experiences of its co-leads is truly impressive. Room is potentially the announcement of a new voice (Frank may suggest otherwise, but who knows), which is exciting in its own right, but when a film as emotionally resonant as this one it's easy to be encouraged. This film gets tough to watch at times, though given the subject matter it should be, but when it looks in to its characters it finds truth, which is the best thing any film can do.

9. While We're Young

This could easily have been Baumbach's other film Mistress America as well, but what really struck me about While We're Young was the way it juxtaposed its characters in the process of aging. Stiller and Driver make up the core of the film, and each play their part incredibly well, highlighting the divides and lack of divides, while giving Baumbach the room to make generational commentary. Which could get in to dicey territory, and though it could, it manages to avoid that for the most part. And regardless, the comedy here is pretty top notch.

8. Inside Out

Is this the first time in the history of this list that a Pixar film has made the list? It very well may be, and I can hardly think of any more worthy title. There's so much fun to be had in Inside Out, but that also does not detract from the emotional cores (and I will not apologize for using that phrasing) of either the Sadness/Joy dynamic or Riley's external story. Even the Bing-Bong problem isn't nearly as big of a problem as it seemed at first, contributing to both stories while also working out a decent little arc of his own. It took a lot of time, but we made it. It's bursting with emotions or something like that.

7. The Boy And The Beast

Hosoda. Going in to this film I had lofty expectations, because in years past Summer Wars would have topped my list had I been writing at the time, and Wolf Children showed incredibly well during its release. So as Hosoda leans farther in to his penchant for anthropomorphization, so too does his filmmaking become a bit more refined. What he always does so well is establish the fantastic, but tell really human and universal stories in these worlds. And like in Wolf Children the film spans a number of years, which allows more room for exploration. I'm entirely on board for whatever Hosoda has up next.

6. The Hateful Eight

Look, this is a problematic film in a few regards. At least I think it is, I do really need to rewatch it, but Tarantino's latest is also so well constructed, so funny, so engaging. It's not surprising how carefully constructed everything is, every frame so precise, but what struck me was how controlled even the more chaotic moments were. And to the film's benefit. Some of that also has to do with the structure, breaking things in to acts and allowing perspective to shift, but it never gets away from Tarantino.

5. Mountains May Depart

A sweeping portrayal of changes in the economic structure of China mingling with a number of personal tales, I was not prepared to fall as hard for this film as I did. It is the power of cinema that allows us to transcend cultural boundaries, and even though I am sure I did not pick up on all the nuance, but it's hardly necessary to finding the true joy and heartbreak and pleasure in everything else.

4. World Of Tomorrow

This is the point where I would probably insert a joke about length not mattering as much as how you use it, but one assumes that shit has been done to death by this point. But seriously, in such a short time this film is able to cover so much ground, and does it in just the most remarkably visually inventive ways that are only possible in animation. Though it's only about twenty minutes long, World Of Tomorrow stands right alongside the best films of the year.

3. Ex Machina

Last year in cinema, there were few films more thrilling than Ex Machina, what is likely the most surprising thing that I saw. It's been a long time since I fell in love with a sci-fi film in this way, even Under The Skin didn't strike me in the way that I felt it should have, but the ideas here are so central to the intrigue that it goes beyond the plot. It makes us question how much intelligence and life actually mean in a developing world, doing it all while keeping us as viewer entirely unaware and guessing. It's riveting and exciting, in the way that cinema should be.

2. Anomalisa

 Where to start with Charlie Kaufman's latest film? For something that is not incredibly long, there is so much here. But all the credit does not belong just to Kaufman, Duke Johnson should be spoken for what he does with the stop motion. It is little surprise, his work prior on Moral Orel was impressive, but a welcome addition to tying everything together, I am sure. And this really is a masterclass in craft. And funny, and emotional, and there are so many little touches that contribute to the ideas it probes at, all the heartbreaking reality. There's a complexity, one that I admire, and all of that wonderful animation. Anomalisa demands to be seen.

1. The Lobster

Alright, here's the real reason this is a Top 11 and not a traditional Top 10. Last year I felt kind of bad for putting It Follows so high on my list, but it wasn't number one so that was okay. This year though the best thing I watched had to be a film that should be getting a US release sometime in the near future. The Lobster is funny, it's engaging, and it forces us to examine the idea of love and the construct of romance with no punches pulled at all.

And there we have it, the final list. Obviously I will continue to catch up with a few things I never had a chance to get to in theaters. But this is as close as I'll get to a list for now. And, as always, I would love to hear in comments exactly what people think and what else I should go seek out in the coming months. Thanks for reading, and on to 2016!

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also, I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at twitter.com/r_thor1.

And if you want to know what I'm watching, listening to, playing , and reading you can follow my tumblr account!

© 2016 Richard James Thorne

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