A year at the movies — 2015 in review

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mad_max-_fury_road
Mad Max: Fury Road

Now that the 2015 movie season is firmly over and our writers have had the time to catch up on stray holiday releases, we asked screen editor Alex Rose and contributors Malcolm Fraser, Radina Papukchieva and Ralph Elawani to run down the best and worst of the year in film. (Films that screened in festivals but have yet to see wide release were considered fair game.)

Most underrated

Cop Car

Cop Car

Alex Rose: It played like gangbusters at Fantasia (with the star in attendance, no less), but with no other theatrical release (at least locally), Jon Watts’s Cop Car was relegated to obscurity. A brutally spare example of simplicity in storytelling, this thriller about two kids who accidentally make off with a murderous sheriff’s (Kevin Bacon) car was surprisingly lyrical while also extremely low on the bullshit and nerve-wracking. And while it only played once at Festival du nouveau cinéma(it’s slated for release this spring), Joachim Trier’s Louder Than Bombs is a beautifully complicated, funny and strange look at grief and family dynamics that was mostly met with indifference by most critics.

Malcolm Fraser: I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Rick Alverson’s Entertainment flew under the radar. It’s the utterly bleak story of a failed comedian (Gregg Turkington in his Neil Hamburger persona) that’s extremely minimal both cinematically and narratively, and never lets the darkness up for a moment. But I still found it brilliant. Somehow, the fact that its Montreal theatrical run was at the Dollar Cinema — in the small room, at that — made the experience pathetically perfect.

Raiders!

Raiders!

Ralph Elwani: Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made was hands down my personal favourite at Fantasia this year. It documents a trio of Mississippi teenagers who spent about eight years of their life trying to recreate the first Indiana Jones shot-for-shot on a budget consisting mainly of allowance money. It’s a textbook example of “pas capable y’est mort; son frère s’appelle essaye.” And hats off to Mathieu Grondin for screening The Randy & Evi Quaid Compilation. Worth watching at least 10 times only for the Rupert Murdoch “buttfuck scene.”

Radina Papukchieva: The German indie Victoria was grossly overlooked. How often do you see a movie that was actually, really filmed in one single long take and was engaging, with great performances at the same time? Victoria was an example of superb filmmaking and I would rank it as one of this year’s best movies, as well as its most underrated.

Most overrated

Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck

Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck

RE: Maddin/Johnson’s mind-bending 130-minute-long feature filled with psychosexual symbolism, The Forbidden Room, ranks among 2015’s must-sees. However — and as I’ve written before — The Forbidden Room would have been easier to chug down in small gulps, as a collection of shorts. Six-time Grammy-winner Amy Winehouse died in 2011, left behind a handful of now classic singles and a Halloween costume popular among Millennials. Asid Kapadia’s documentary Amy does a great job of pointing out the flaws of men who were central in Winehouse’s life (namely her underachiever of a partner Blake Fielder-Civil and her father, Mitch Winehouse, who called Asif Kapadia a disgrace for portraying him in a bad light), but although unquestionably poignant, this patchwork of interviews and home videos makes for a clumsy narrative that was, in my opinion, overhyped. In similar overhyped music documentary territory, I have to mention Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. I conducted my favourite interview ever about six years ago with Buzz Osborne from the Melvins. When he called bullshit on 90 per cent of this HBO “misguided fiction,” that’s when I knew I was free to dedicate 100 per cent of my attention to Disneynature’s Monkey Kingdom.

AR: At the risk of sounding like a contrarian grumblebum, I’ll have to hand it to Mad Max: Fury Road. Now, don’t get me wrong: almost everything that everyone has said about the movie is true. It’s spectacular and energetic, a relentless barrage of action and a game changer in many respects, but almost all of those qualities are magnified tenfold by the theatrical experience. I never caught Fury Road in theatres — it could never possibly live up to the cacophonous reaction that preceded my viewing months later at home. As much as I recognize its qualities, Fury Road disappointed me, but it also renewed my faith in the moviegoing experience in the age of Netflix-and-chill.

RP: Matt Damon was abandoned on Mars and everyone thought he was dead, but he wasn’t. Wait, wasn’t that kind of what happened to his character in Interstellar? The Martian had absolutely no appeal for me and I’m not sure what’s so interesting about Matt Damon cracking jokes in space while growing plants.

Guiltiest pleasure

Magic Mike XXL

Magic Mike XXL

AR: Magic Mike XXL is everything the original Magic Mike is not: the latter was depicted as a film full of glistening abs and flopping dicks for bachelorette parties to yell at but was instead a depressingly measured slice of life among the very lowest rungs of show business. Its sequel is anything but depressing: it’s a riotous road-movie celebration of chintzy Florida excess and female sexuality. For a movie so seemingly boneheaded on the page, it proves to be surprisingly smart, body-positive and inclusive — plus it has all the abs and dry humping you could ever want from Channing Tatum et al. Truthfully, I don’t feel that guilty liking it, but any defence of it requires at least a bit of a preamble.

RE: Drafthouse Films did it again. Over 70 members of the cast and crew were injured during the production of ROAR. This would have been my “Best Film of the Year” if it hadn’t been released originally in 1981. I also can’t go without mentioning Who Killed Captain Alex? “Action-packed movie.” No need to say more. All hail David Bertrand, the man who introduced Montreal to Wakaliwood during Fantasia.

RP: There are many better comedies about female friendships out there than Sisters, but there are few comedic duos that have quite the same chemistry as Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. They’re so great together that it doesn’t matter how formulaic and anticlimactic the plot is — that’s not important.

Worst film

50 Shades of Grey

50 Shades of Grey

RP: There were many bad movies this year, but the worst is the one audiences were excited about and then it turned out to be awful. I don’t know what’s worse — Aloha‘s predictable love story, the overt whitewashing of Hawaiian culture, or the fact that a bunch of talented people actually signed up for this.

RE: Basically it was either La guerre des tuques 3D, Les nouvelles aventures d’Aladin or 50 Shades of Grey. While I had no particular sentimental ties to the latter, choosing Les nouvelles aventures d’Aladin would have felt like pouring water on a drowning person. The Question is: Aside from Natrel and its advertising agency, who needed La guerre des tuques 3D?

AR: Before I became Film Editor, I clamored to my former bosses to send me to see garbage movies because I had an abnormally high tolerance for them (owing, I assume, to my years working at a video store while the video store industry collapsed). Now I get to choose what I see, and I managed to avoid most of the true stinkers to hit theatres this year (also important to note that Adam Sandler movies now go direct to Netflix) — but Mike Binder’s toxically well-intentioned Black or White still sticks in my craw with its caricatural characters and retrograde racial politics. It’s filled top to bottom with dubious ideas and laughable moments, a shining beacon of dewy-eyed Hollywood Liberalism gone awry. I would also like to extend a respectful fuck-you to Burnt and the implication that the toxic dildo at its core was worth giving a shit about.

MF: I watched Fantastic Four on a plane, for lack of other viable options, and I have to say that it wasn’t nearly as bad as the critical consensus made it out to be. But that’s not saying much — it was still pretty much a giant pile of shit.

Honourable mentions

It Follows

It Follows

MF: Sicario was incredibly dark by Hollywood standards, and featured some of the most beautiful cinematography in recent memory along with great performances from Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro. It Follows was an old-school horror film done perfectly right, with an amazing soundtrack — although it has to be said that the group who composed the score, Disasterpeace, has possibly the single worst band name in recorded history, which is really saying something. And I really enjoyed Spotlight, an old-school drama about the even older-school practice of investigative journalism.

RE: Rodrigue Jean is a quiet man who does films that speak for themselves. With L’amour au temps de la guerre civile, Jean takes up where he’d left off with his documentary on male prostitutes working in Montreal, Hommes à louer. Ben and Joshua Safdie’s Heaven Knows What is a 94-minute example of why a good casting director is crucial. The Safdie brothers outdid themselves with this adaptation of ex-junkie-turned-actress Arielle Holmes’s own life story. Whether you like him or not, credit has to be given to Tarantino for putting out this three-hour-long epic on 70MM. As a dialogist, I think the man is brilliant (or at least, a brilliant thief). However, The Hateful Eight lacks the presence of Christoph Waltz. It’s actually painful to watch Tim Roth when you pause for a second and imagine Waltz in his role.

Ex Machina

Ex Machina

RP: Although, when taken apart, Brooklyn is a very traditional love story, Saoirse Ronan brings a level of relatability to her character. There are nuances of the immigrant experience that are overlooked in the plot, but that she is able to convey in her performance. This alone makes the film an honourable mention. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Ex Machina both came out earlier in the year to great critical acclaim but are somehow losing steam come awards season. Well written and with strong performances, these two deserve to be re-watched.

AR: Love & Mercy doesn’t even bypass music biopic clichés by that much, but I was kind of blown away by how affecting and engrossing original director Bill Pohlad’s approach to the story of Brian Wilson and his long-running struggles with mental illness was. It toys with clichéd biopic shorthand without ever giving in, and the final result is so strong you even forget that John Cusack looks absolutely nothing like Brian Wilson and just 101 per cent like present-day John Cusack.

Best film

MF: What can I say about Mad Max: Fury Road that hasn’t been said? George Miller basically achieved the impossible: reviving a long-dormant franchise without its signature star and making an action flick that’s fun, unapologetically trashy and occasionally ridiculous, while somehow at the same time smart and totally enjoyable. And if the film’s much-ballyhooed feminism was really not much more than a longstanding genre trope — hot chicks kick their nasty male captors’ asses — the fact that it angered MRA douchebros kind of made me like it even more.

AR: I almost never see movies in theatres twice, much less genre films that theoretically lose steam once their twists are revealed, but I saw Jeremy Saulnier’s pressure-cooker thriller Green Room twice this year and both times I left the theatre frazzled and exhilarated. The precision with which Saulnier executes this brutal punks vs. neo-Nazi siege thriller is damn near perfect. If it ever gets a wide release in 2016, I’ll probably go see it again.

Carol

Carol

RP: 2015 was a great year for female-centric stories (Mistress America, Victoria, and Brooklyn all deserve a mention), and Todd Haynes’s Carol was the highlight among them, as well as my personal most anticipated film of the year. A moody study into the romance of star-crossed lovers, it was a testament of Haynes’s talent for portraying female protagonists. Aided by Ed Lachman’s stunning cinematography, here feelings serve to enhance cinema as opposed to the other way around. Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett deserve every bit of accolade they get for their performances.

RE: I think Todd Haynes took ABBA’s lyrics to “Does Your Mother Know” (There’s that look in your eyes / I can read in your face that your feelings are driving you wild / Ah, but girl you’re only a child) and turned them on their head. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel of Sapphic love set in 1950s New-York, Carol chronicles pain and distress like no other production has in 2015. A narrative in which agony is contagious but also where cruelty springs from the profuse weakness that can be found in every character. ■

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