Monday, March 14, 2016

Top Ten of 2015

I've been putting this off and putting this off, but I've finally just got to go for it. Here's my top ten movies of 2015. As always, this is a snapshot of the films I enjoyed and admire the most.

1. Spotlight dir. Tom McCarthy - watching this again yesterday affirmed its placement at the top of my list. Sets a new gold standard for journalism movies, depicting what real investigative reporting is like: a long slog of digging deep on a story. Important subject matter, wonderfully acted and written.

2. Son of Saul dir. Laszlo Nemes - this Hungarian Holocaust film and nominee (and likely winner) of the foreign language film Oscar is surprisingly unnerving. The surprise comes from the fact that I wasn't sure the subject matter could still unnerve me in new ways. Nemes keeps his camera with the main character, an Auschwitz sonderkommando, a Jewish prisoner whose job is to usher newly arriving Jews into the gas chambers, then clear out their possessions and remove their bodies to make way for the next herd. The entire story, taking place over the course of a day, is from Saul's perspective giving the film an incredible feeling of tension and horror and confusion.

3. The Look of Silence dir. Joshua Oppenheimer - this is a follow-up or companion piece to Oppenheimer's 2013 documentary The Act of Killing. Where that film was shocking in its reveal of Indonesian perpetrators of genocide being so cavalier in their admission of what they did, this film is arresting in the way it personalizes the horror. Adi, the protagonist, is the younger brother of a young man murdered as a communist in 1965. He confronts several of the commanders of death squads that operated in his province. Their boastfulness and rationalizations of horrific crimes against humanity can only be explained as masking of tremendous guilt. There are powerful statements being made here about the need for national reconciliation and the ways in which families fail to fully heal or function without that acknowledgement.

4. Anomalisa dir. Charlie Kaufmann and Duke Johnson - from the warped mind of Kaufmann comes an animated film that explores the very nature of what it means to be human, have relationships, and function in a community of family and strangers. There's a horror in recognizing that every person around

5. The Diary of a Teenage Girl dir. Marielle Heller - First time writer-director Heller adapted the novel by Phoebe Gloeckner and made a stunningly honest film that is unabashed about female sexuality. This is a tone that has been completely absent from even some of the better films that would otherwise get an A+ feminist rating.

6. The Revenant dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu - there are hardly enough superlatives to describe this movie. It's the most harrowing, most grueling, most excruciating movie-going experience of last year. To watch, often in close-up, Leonardo DiCaprio's Hugh Glass crawl through mud, snow, swim through icy waters, and take shelter in the hollowed out carcass of a dead horse is to be right there with him and taste the frost and filth, to feel the pain, both spiritual and physical that he feels on his journey toward revenge against the man who killed his son.

7. Inside Out dir. Pete Docter - Pixar scores yet another win with this tale of what goes on inside the emotional core of a little girl when her family moves across the country and she contends with a whole new set of life circumstances. As her emotions of joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust vie for control, they learn and teach us the importance of passing through the most painful emotional stages of life in order to reach full personhood. It's a beautiful message and almost flawlessly executed.

8. Ex Machina dir. Alex Garland - In a year that saw several films exploring what it means to be human, Garland's film just comes right out and looks at how a man might create an artificial machine that mimics humanity in every facet of its mechanical being. The film is part thriller, part sci-fi, part romance, part mystery, but it's always self-assured and the end reveals that the direction was pointed all along.

9. Sicario dir. Denis Villeneuve - Like his previous film, Prisoners, this is not an easy one to sit through. Villeneuve deals in the complexities of morality and ethical decision-making - qualities that are too often absent from our popular entertainments. The world of the cross-border drug war between Mexico and the United States is fraught with violence. Sicario is about what happens when a government decides to use questionable means to achieve its goals because the traditional methods haven't been working.

10. Creed dir. Ryan Coogler - This is a remake of Rocky in the same weight The Force Awakens is a "remake" of Star Wars. It is thematically linked, touches upon the same emotional cues, and is both a nostalgia piece for an older generation and an entree into a world for the younger. But Coogler hits every emotional mark spot on and pays homage to the original in an honest and subtle way, carefully carving out his own niche while being true to history.

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