2015 copy

 

Was it just me, or did the last twelve months feel incredibly strange at the multiplex?

Studios seemed to abandon the audience for weeks at a time during certain stretches, the early part of the year was particularly dreadful, some dormant franchises returned with aplomb – others died a brutal death.

Pure bliss came from unexpected places, while selections that seemed built for joy failed to deliver. Meanwhile, in the background, the studios figured out how to make a big budget project that entertains and doesn’t insult the intelligence.

Like I say – strange.

In the end there were a lot of great hours spent with wonderful characters in complexed stories…likewise with iconic heroes in larger-than-life tales.

So while I hope for more to come in the year ahead, let’s close off the last twelve months by casting an eye on five of my favorites.

 

Ryan’s Top Five Films of 2015

#5. SPOTLIGHT

There is nothing flashy or sexy about this film. There is no one incredible shot, no one witty piece of dialogue. There’s no sequence that will inspire the next era of film students to want to do what SPOTLIGHT does. Every piece on its soundtrack could almost be titled “beige”.

However, in lieu of sizzle, what we get is some very very meaty steak.

Few films this year were more concerned with emotional truth. While seeing the nuts and bolts of the way the Spotlight team gets the facts was fascinating, it’s the way they cut to the truth of the situation that makes this film hit home. That truth is a very particular balance of outrage, empathy, and dedication…and it underlines the difference between the vast majority of us going about our day-to-day, and the champions we turn to in hopes of forcing the hand of justice.

It’s easy now to forget the value and purpose of the fifth estate. In a very short amount of time, what once seemed like a pillar of western civilization has been thrown into complete chaos thanks to a public’s disinterest with hearing something complete, and their growing wish to hear it now. So when a movie like SPOTLIGHT comes along and piques our interest not only in the story, but also the people telling the story…one can’t help but feel a slight sense of loss.

The desire is to watch Tom McCarthy’s new film and call it a throwback; a sepia-toned look back at a better time. An era where we cared more about each-other, and believed in going deeper in the hopes of being a catalyst for healing.

Unfortunately, that “better time” is just fifteen years ago.

(Full SPOTLIGHT review here)

 

#4. WORLD OF TOMORROW

 

If I could launch my consciousness into space, what would it then be conscious of?

If a clone was kept in a museum as installation art, what are the odds that the clone would belong to James Franco or Tilda Swinton? Where can I find my own snake boy? How long must I wait to experience “the outernet”? How can a work of art so achingly simple prompt such a powerful response? Is there anything more beautiful and terrifying than wanting to stand before our six-year-old selves for something only they posses moments before we are going to die? How is it possible that fifteen brief minutes could leave me with more introspective questions than existential answers…and more so, that I love every second of feeling this way?

The great thing about falling so deeply in love with a short film is the way it lends itself to frequent revisits. In the year that just passed, I considered any twenty-minute swath of downtime as a chance to read a few pages. Perhaps in the year ahead, I’ll regard any fifteen minute space as a chance to look in on little Emily.

Don Hertzfeld’s gem was by far the most unexpected delight in the year that just passed; the moviegoing equivalent of finding a fifty dollar bill on the subway. I was surprised, somewhat elated, but convinced that what I’d just found wasn’t supposed to be kept.

My mantra for 2016 will be the simple wish from this film: Live well and live broadly.

 

#3. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Nobody saw this sandstorm coming. If you try to claim otherwise, I’ll call you a damned dirty liar.

Much has been made about this film’s glorious feminist ideas, its emphasis on practical effects, and its balance of blow-ups and brains. Much more will be made in the years ahead. For now, I look back on the success of this film and see it as a testament of determination.

One’s mind tends to wander when one spends a long time roaming around the wastelands. Thoughts can drift to how one got to where they are…or how to get where they want to go. Usually it seems easiest to keep going in the same direction, but sometimes to truly gain ground, a bold new direction is required.

This new direction might present itself after a long walk in the original direction, and to make that change will feel like losing a lot of ground. Indeed, to take that direction though requires great fortitude. It means going against a natural order even though the instinct is to keep following it.

In short, it requires the sort of determination no man is usually capable of

 

(full MAD MAX: FURY ROAD review here)

 

#2. CAROL

 

I fell in love with CAROL because I’ve never fallen in love like Carol. I’ve never been in the middle of something feverish…somewhat inappropriate…deeply infatuating. There’s something amazingly charged behind every gesture, look, and touch within CAROL; so very much left unsaid. Love is often about the lyrical expression – the comparisons to a summer’s day. But love can be so many things. It can be frightening, it can be intoxicating, it can be haunting, it can be deeply impressionistic.

These are the fingerprints we see left all over love after CAROL is done with it. The way Therese will love every person after this movie ends is forever changed because of this one brief encounter during the Christmas of 1952.

Much is left unspoken, leaving us in the audience to say it for ourselves. It’s up to us to understand why a bright young lass like Therese would be so fixated on a woman like Carol Aird, and what Carol could possibly want from someone so young and inexperienced besides the obvious.

Captured like a bleary and romantic dream, for me CAROL is about the choices left unchosen. It’s about the people we associate with so briefly, but who impact our lives so very deeply. It’s about knowing when a touch is more than just a touch, and the search to understand that meaning as an observer and a participant.

 

(full CAROL review here)

 

#1. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

 

 

In the titular Swiss valley, the clouds gather to form a snake-like-pattern and tumble past in a show of awesome natural beauty. The clouds don’t care what happens on the ground below, or wait for an audience do get the prime spot.

Sorta like life, right?

Time will march by whether you want it to or not. Sometimes everybody in the world will know what you are doing with your time and talent; sometimes nobody will care. For a while it seems as though you have the best seat in the house, but then one day you’re being pushed back to a further seat by someone younger, more beautiful, more famous. Or all three.

This film contains enough meditations on fame, film, love, friendship, art, commerce, maturity, idolatry, and infatuation to fill three movies. Yet, it brings them all together into one elegant mosaic.

A less deft film would be crippled by the way Kristin Stewart seems to spend half the film commenting on her own career. But surprisingly, by speaking so frankly, she disarms us and makes us reconsider our entire opinion of everything from franchise blockbusters to teen starlets. Perhaps in a film so fixated on maturity it shouldn’t surprise us that Stewart is the one coming off especially mature.

All of these ideas are interwoven so incredibly into the relationship of Maria and Valentine. At times they challenge each-other; other times they are like old friends. From scene to scene, they interact in ways that suggest they are either roleplaying, in-love, strictly professional, or some blend of the three. All of this before Chloe Grace Moretz gets lobbed into the middle of things like a stick of dynamite.

These thoughts and worries come and go – over coffee and cigarettes, unconcerned with what happens on the ground below or if the audience is in its spot…and seldom, so elegantly brought together in one film.

 

(full CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA review here)

 

Other films on my shortlist for 2015 include AMY, ANOMALISA, BEST OF ENEMIES, THE BIG SHORT, BRIDGE OF SPIES, CREED, DOPE, THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY, EX MACHINA, GIRLHOOD, INSIDE OUT, THE MARTIAN, A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE, ROOM, SICARIO, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, STEVE JOBS, TANGERINE, and WESTERN .

What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts on the list, and your own selections for the best films of 2015.