Best and Worst of 2015
Brooklyn – The screenplay, a sharp distillation of the book by Colm Toibin, is buoyed by excellent performances (Saoirse Ronan in particular), fine set design, and cinematography. Director John Crowley finds just the right rhythm and balance between comedy and sentiment.
Spotlight – The film is courageous and informative. Josh Singer’s screenplay shows how procedural journalism works at its best and it doesn’t hold back on the disturbing details and personal cost of Catholic Church scandals. This is both a thriller and a call to arms. The acting ensemble is first rate.
Clouds of Sils Maria – Olivier Assayas’ fine film on the complexities of performance. The story explores the fragile lines drawn between reality and private life across generations. Artistic ambiguities become even more bewildering in a time of global celebrity and ubiquitous social media. Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Grace Moretz are excellent.
Carol – Todd Haynes is a brilliant stylist who examines the shifting surfaces of personal identity and social performance. His film is a muted and stylish adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s book, aided by another stunning characterization by Cate Blanchett and dreamy, layered images by cinematographer Edward Lachman (who also shot Hayne’s Mildred Pierceseries), and a moody score by Carter Burwell.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl – Another liberating female-centric film that takes some difficult subject matter and makes it both moving and comedic. The movie is faithful to book’s blend of graphics and prose. British actress Beth Powley’s performance as an American teenager is one of the year’s best.
Son of Saul – This difficult and exhausting film immerses the viewer in the first-person experience of a Hungarian-Jewish Sonderkommando prisoner at Auschwitz who is slowly being driven to madness. The character’s experience is a blur — many hellish images are kept hauntingly distant.
Inside Out – Insanely clever cartoon in both concept and animation. It’s also a good conversation starter for kids and adults that can be enjoyed at all levels.
Mustang – A sexy feminist tale of five Turkish sisters kept cloistered by their uncle in a remote coastal estate. The film moves briskly along, helped by smart editing, carefully rendered detailing, and excellent amateur performances, The clash of tradition with modern culture is frustrating, damaging, and inevitable. The film is both angry and hopeful.
Winter’s Sleep – Like all Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films, it demands patience, but his masterfully chosen images and complex characterizations will reward the viewer with disquieting but keen insights into the human condition.
The Revenant – Like Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest is a tour-de-force of spectacle and endurance generated out of world convincingly conjured out of seamless special effects. DeCapprio is totally committed to his role as a wilderness survivor in a horrific battle with animals, hostile native tribes, and lots of weather. Tom Hardy is great as always as his human nemesis.
My runners-up are well worth seeing:
Theeb, About Elly, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Danish Girl, Straight Outta Compton, Youth, Room, Anomolisa, 45 Years, and The Wonders.
Five Best Documentaries
Look of Silence
Listen to Me Marlon
Best of Enemies
Where Do We Invade Next
Worst of the Year:
Ricki and the Flash – Pandering to aging rock fans requires more than bathos and overworked oldies: a vanity project gone sour. Arts Fuse review
By the Sea – Recreating high style ’60s French Cinema needs more than a big budget and movie stars staring into space for two hours. Was this a stylishly shot, self-reflexive take on celebrity marriage? Or a dreadful act of postmodern hubris? More like a multi-million dollar student film that proves, once again, that there are some things money cannot buy.
The Martian – Chock-a-block with pseudo technology; human beings didn’t make the cut. Did anyone actually listen to the dialogue? Matt Damon is a earnest as ever, but was Jeff Daniels supposed to be doing a parody of his role in TV’s The Newsroom. And what was Kristen Wiig doing here? What was the point of the Chinese sub-plot? Financing? Also,New Rule: No more lassoing in space.