I don’t really have much to say about 2015 in movies, as Sean pretty much summed up my feelings, since as he failed to mention, I saw a lot of the movies to come out last year with him as my wingman. And I agree that there are a lot of different ways of watching movies these days, but I still don’t think you can beat the communal experience of seeing a movie on the big screen in a theater. Especially when you’re seeing a weirder, more off-the-beaten-path film, where you don’t exactly know what you’re in for. Though I suppose it’s that fear of the unknown that fuels the thinking behind the “I just wanna go watch a sequel/reboot/rehash mentality”. Anyways, here are the films that made those risks into completely worthwhile endeavors…
Mad Max: Fury Road
Here’s a film that’s just operating by it’s own rules, and is inhabiting it’s own little strange universe. The look of the film (it was shot on iPhones), the dialogue (the abundant use of the phrase “Hey, bitch”), and the weird mix of tragedy and comedy makes Tangerine a film who’s wavelength you kinda have to force yourself to get on. But if you can, you’re in for a raunchy, sad, and endlessly energetic little romp through L.A.’s trashy underbelly.
Look, I’m not a very outwardly emotional guy. But Room contained the only moment in 2015 movies that managed to get me legitimately choked up while I was sitting in the theater, and for that it pretty much automatically earned a spot on this list. But other than that, I thought Room was not only great in depicting the claustrophobia of living in a creepy dude’s shed for seven years, but also the repercussions of life after such an incident, which is no bed of roses either. Also, it was nice to see the ever-promising Brie Larsen take advantage of a much juicier role than her usual niche of playing the protagonist’s adorable sister/girlfriend.
I think I pointed out in my Steve Jobs review that I really have no problem with filmmakers taking liberties with subject matter based on real events, just as long as what you’re seeing onscreen is believable. That said, it was refreshing to see a movie like The Big Short, that stylistically plays about as fast and frenetic as a Scorsese movie (and one in particular), but is actually trying to be straight with you and give you the clear-cut facts about an important story that isn’t exactly the most digestible one. Which doesn’t mean I necessarily understood all the stock market terms and lingo that The Big Short was frequently throwing at me, but it did help make me feel just as simultaneously helpless and angry as we probably should all feel about what happened to our economy in 2008.
I just saw this movie last night, and this is a Charlie Kaufman movie, so it would make sense for me to say that maybe I haven’t fully processed Anomalisa enough for any sort of list consideration. But apart from it’s distinctive use of stop-motion puppetry, this is a fairly straight-forward love story told in a fairly straight-forward manner. And yet, there are all these little absurd quirks and details that add to this film’s unique ability to find profundity in the mundanity of modern life.
After my somewhat controversial take on Django Unchained, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to see Quentin Tarantino return to the western genre, and do it for an unruly 3+ hour running time. But whereas Django was filled with most of the things I don’t really thrill to about Tarantino, Hateful Eight had all the trademarks that I typically respond to in Tarantino’s work. Which is mainly the talking. Like so much talking. And yet, for a three-hour movie about a bunch of surly dicks stuck in a cabin together, cinematographer Rob Richardson makes it into something quite riveting and weirdly appropriate for 70mm.
I feel like most conversations about any modern comedy usually starts something like, “Yeah, it was funny. But…” and then you go on to explain why it was too long or the third act didn’t quite work or something like that. What We Do In The Shadows however, is a comedy that happens to be very funny, while I also can’t really force myself to pick apart, since with a 90-minute running time and very little dedication to plot, this thing really moves. And apart from that, it was just a lot of fun to watch this group of New Zealanders with their own unique tone and sensibilities apply their brand of comedy to subject matter that should by no means be this endlessly entertaining.
Much like Anomalisa, this is a fairly straight-forward love story told in a fairly straight-forward manner, but has a number of deft touches that make it something truly fantastic. The fact that it’s about two lesbians in the buttoned-down world of 1950s New York is the most obvious one, but the movie’s surprisingly optimistic book-end scenes also add another layer to what would be a seemingly doomed relationship. Also, the film’s 16mm cinematography is both sumptuous and tactile at the same time — with some deep muted colors, while also adding a grain that makes this world feel so much more tangible and lived-in than most period-pieces, like you’re living every tiny moment of these character’s infatuation.
As I said earlier, I’m not an outwardly emotional guy, but the inner life of whatever emotions I’m going through is a different story. Which is why I both connected with Inside Out‘s surprisingly high-minded approach to depicting the inner emotional life of a young girl, and also found it’s inventiveness to be a whole lot of fun. Also, for a guy who often has a hard time connecting with his inner child, I think I really responded to Pixar finally making a film that’s more for adults, and if kids like its pretty colors, eh, that’s fine. Which somehow in turn made me actually feel like I was getting in touch with my inner child. Go figure.
I feel like this is a film that people kind of forgot about, maybe because a story about two writers sitting around talking about their careers isn’t as exciting to some people as it is to me. However, I simply could not forget about The End Of The Tour, mainly because in the following three months after I saw it, I spent a lot of my free time reading David Foster Wallace’s 1000-page epic, Infinite Jest — the book that much of the film revolves around. Reading that dense, sometimes frustrating, and often transcendent and illuminating novel was a major highlight of 2015 for me, and I think the movie not only serves as a nice companion piece to it, but is also just a great, talky little film about ambition and what it means to have a life outside of your art.
As I said in my review, Spotlight is a film that I have a hard time finding any real faults with. Which maybe makes it sound like my love of this film comes more from admiration than a deep personal connection to the material. But I think it’s a film I’m undoubtedly going to be returning to in the future, just to see the way Spotlight manages to spin what should be a simple story about determined newspapermen into something that hits on religion, the rise of digital media, the inner workings of a major American city, and a bunch of other things. Yet like a good reporter, it manages to do it without ever losing sight of what the real story is here. And with a cast this good and an approach that’s equally sure-handed and empathetic, it was a story that I just couldn’t help but get lost in.