Although this wasn’t quite a great year in films, the good and great one’s proved the value of the big screen experience that film allow us. Nothing beats seeing the grand scope of an amazing car chase scene or great actors with emotional highs with close ups that won’t let you look away. There are still visionaries out there trying to show the power of film or more accurately digital film, something that the best television can’t accomplish, the atmosphere and mood that film captures. The feeling of vertigo watching someone high wire from one building to the next, the feel of a punch being landed and the capabilities of our emotions showing being on display. This is the power the movies can have over us even in the weakest of years.
Best Scene In A Film (That’s Not In Mad Max)
Creed Running With Motorcycle Crew in Creed
Every Rocky film has the montage scene of the boxer getting in top-notch shape for the big fight, so you naturally expect that in Creed as well. And yes they usually end with Rocky running up those now famous stairs in Philadelphia. Director Ryan Coogler decided to go for something quite different on his take in Creed. Clearly influenced by the documentary 12 O’Clock Boys, Coogler makes it clear this isn’t your fathers Rocky film with rapper Meek Mill’s take on the classic Rocky theme providing the tempo for this conclusion for the montage with his song Lord Knows. With a young black motorcycle crew riding with Adonis Creed while he runs his last sprint the scene provides a boost of energy never seen in a Rocky film, making Coogler take on the series uniquely its own.
Magic Mike XXL (That’s Not Mad Max or Creed)
The first Magic Mike, although surprisingly good, may have left you cold and seeking a little be more than what was delivered. As the sequel’s title suggest, this installment is going much bigger than the prior film while leaving all worries behind of the first film. Magic Mike XXL finds Channing Tatum and the rest of the boys embarking on a “one last ride” style road trip, to Myrtle Beach for a strippers convention. Yes, I said a stripper convention. On the way the find themselves involved in some light hearted misadventures. The film as no bones about what you came here to see but while they give you what you want, they also subversively bring up social topics without ever actually bringing them up. Masculinity, femininity, homosexuality, and race provide an avenue for the characters to show their views without ever making a heavy-handed statement about “togetherness”. It just simply does it in organically. If that’s not enough for you, less not forget the scene stealing performance by Joe Manganiello that provides one of best one of the best scenes of the year with his use of Nine Inch Nails and a sex swing.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I feel obligated to mention The Force Awakens, somewhere on this post despite the fact that I’m not much of a Star Wars fan. That said even I found myself sucked up in the excitement of culture phenomenon of the most recent installment. Yes, you could say it was rehash of the original Star Wars film and yes R2-D2 all of sudden waking up seemed just a little perfect but that’s ok. Let’s face it, J.J. Abrams was given the impossible job of living up to the expectations that were once faltered by a previous trilogy. Whatever you may feel for the film it’s self and Abrams table setting, you can’t deny his wonderful casting of the three leads of the film. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver were not only asked to take a beloved series on their shoulders but to be the new faces of it. There performances in one film, for me as already surpassed many of the actors in the original trilogy. John Boyega seems to be ready made leading man, capable to move between reluctant hero and the sidekick in one scene. Adam Driver is doing something very interesting her as the villain Kylo Ren, with the most iconic bad guy in film history Darth Vader it can be hard to compete with that shadow. Driver knows that, and over plays it in earlier parts of the film with almost “chip on his shoulder” attitude, eventually making and unfortunately making his case for true villainy. Daisy Ridley is the cherry on top of a great year for women in films, in particular action films. For what is asked of her in the closing fight scene (and a lot is asked of her in a break neck speed) we have to buy into her ask character. Ridley makes Rey instantly likeable, in her opening scenes. In the early parts of the film, we don’t exactly know where we are heading with Rey but Ridley manages to convey a comfortably with her performances as if we have been following this character for years. Ridley truly holds her own amongst actors more familiar to this world while placing herself firmly as the hero of this tale.
Top 10 Films of 2015
Full disclosure, I haven’t actually seen every film this year including Carol, Youth, The Look Of Silence, The Assassin, Son Of Saul, Chi-Raq and a few others.
Sometimes great filmmaking is not having a grandiose vision but knowing what the script ask of you, letting the story tell itself. Tom McCarthy does so, allowing his actors showcase their abilities to perform, with small details of their characters. Nothing sexy here, just a will crafted, precise film in which everyone delivers.
- The Revenant
I haven’t much cared for any of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu previous films, but even I knew that this most recent effort would be one to seek out. Mostly due to his leading man Leonardo DiCaprio, with if not his best performance (it’s not), perhaps the most demanding of his career. Not just in the physical sense but because for the majority of the film he doesn’t speak, asking DiCaprio to carry his performance in actions, not words. And yes, that bear attack scene, is probably the most terrifying scene you’ll see all year or next year.
- The Hateful Eight
Tarantino’s newest film is problematic at times. No filmmaker loves the sound of people speaking his dialogue more, especially when he is reading it himself as the narrator. What flaws there are don’t ruin the intriguing discussion of race, in particular the subtle racism in classic westerns of the “golden age”, such as the John Ford films. In the character Major Marquis Warren (played by Samuel L. Jackson in his best performance since Pulp Fiction), Tarantino has the capacity to talk about race relations in a modern context. The way in which black and white people need to see each other is a fascinating point of the film, especially in relationship with masculinity amongst men of any color.
- Clouds of Sils Maria
Of the films on my list that demands a second viewing for me, Clouds of Sils Maria is on the top of the list. Not just because it’s a great film but also because of the open questions that it leaves you with by the end of the film. Juliette Binoche, time in and time out demands your attention with her screen presents. While Kristen Stewart shows that there is real talent behind those other wise annoying mannerism that we grown use to in other films. Can’t wait to catch up on this film again.
For all the complaints of sequels/remakes, Creed makes a strong case for what stories can be furthered with doing so. This film didn’t have to be as good as it ended up being. Ryan Coogler didn’t want to make just boxing film with classic Rocky montages. He sought to make expansion of the franchise while giving us character driven film of young man chasing his past and future. Michael B. Jordan makes clear that he has all the makings of a movie star, while Stallone is great in his lease all out Rocky performance (It seems Coogler kept him from doing that thick Rocky accent this time around).
For those who know about this film, much has been made about the fact that it was filmed all on an iPhone. If that gets you to see this film, that’s great, but that isn’t what makes the film worth your time. It does what few LGBT films have done, it just tells a story about people that so happen to be transgender. Tangerine is not interested in making statements, but only say these are people, people who deal with life just as you or I do. This is what makes the film great, ordinary people dealing with their day the best they can. Not to mention the eye for detail director Sean S. Baker as for little corners of Los Angeles that may have never been filmed until Tangerine. Showing a side of L.A. that most residents are more familiar with and outsiders have never seen.
- Ex Machina
Feeling like a film length episode of The Twilight Zone, Ex Machina is a prime example of the power of cinema. Capturing atmosphere and tone, in such psychological level that puts you on edge admittedly when you reach the man location the film takes place in. And like great episodes of The Twilight Zone, this film subtext is the allegory of men’s need to be loved and the need for power. Alicia Vikander’s performance of Ava is of delicate nature of wonder, even in the closing moments when things begin to turn. She is freighting yes but not with malice or hurtful contempt but just wonder, that is due to Vikander’s great performance.
- Inside Out
Much is demanded of Pixar every year to deliver not just a terrific kids movie, but a great picture. This isn’t an easy feat to accomplish year in and year out (clearly they take a year off trying to do so when ever they release a Cars movie), but the bar is set high. Inside Out continues the (for the most part) efforts to set a standard in creative animation and storytelling. Making something as complex as our human emotions, quite easy to comprehend while asking existential questions has though Ingmar Bergman went into animation makes it far ahead than any other traditional big budget film this year. And as always Pixar does a wonderful job with casting whether the voices are familiar to us or not, they always seem to fit the character.
Speaking of existentialism and the human mind, Charlie Kaufman has a new film out folks. In his second endeavor as director, with the help of co-director Duke Johnson he makes his first animated feature. There’s a subtle hint in all his work of a mental horror film underlying the themes that Kaufman deals with. Whether focusing on our ego, holding on to love, fear of dying, or depression, Kaufman does it in his own unique way. His fascination with these expects of being human are all on display in this most recent film Anomalisa. As with all Kaufman films, he sends you down a rabbit hole of thought and emotion. He doesn’t do this to for us to solve the puzzle but to show the complexity of narcissism and neurosis, seeking pleasures or self worth.
- Mad Max: Fury Road
This apocalyptic film came out six months ago and it still stands as the best time I’ve had in theatre this year (yes, I’ve seen The Force Awakens…chill). No film had a better understanding of what it was trying to accomplish than George Miller’s visceral rock opera of chaos and terror. For Miller who hadn’t made a Mad Max film in 30 years, he accomplishes what few action films do as of late, placing the stacks of the situation in relatable way in unreal world. Along with high octane editing, this movie puts you in the driver seat in away that seven Fast & Furious movies having figured out to do yet. With Imperator Furiosa (played by underrated Charlize Theron), we are given a great female action hero, in this allegory of destructive nature of men who seek absolute power. The film speaks to willingness of the ones with power to send young men (War Boys) to fight their wars and die for their personal gain. The fourth installment in any action movie franchise has no business being this good but Miller not only made a great action movie, he made a great film. Period.