|By The Sea|
MY TOP TEN FILMS OF 2015
No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman)
The Forbidden Room (Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson)
Taxi (Jafar Panahi)
The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer)
Entertainment (Rick Alverson)
By The Sea (Angelina Jolie Pitt)
The Pearl Button (Patricio Guzman)
Horse Money(Pedro Costa)
Creed (Ryan Coogler)
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Elkabetz)
Also Liked: Spotlight, Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Mountains May Depart, In Transit, Cartel Land, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Big Short
Some Movies I Haven't Seen Yet: In Jackson Heights, The Assassin, The Revenant, Hard To Be A God, Son of Saul, Right Now Wrong Then
Every year at this time, critics wax rhapsodic about the unprecedented bevy of riches the last twelve months have showered upon us cinephiles fortunate enough to live in this age of miracles. That reminds me - you still have time to contribute to my long-gestating book project: “Every Movie's A Masterpiece (And Every TV Show Too): The Story of Modern Criticism.”
As usual, I have no idea what they're talking about, but I'm glad they're having fun. I could fill a list twice this length with movies rated over 90% on the Tomato Meter that I either walked out on or deeply regret not walking out on, even the ones I watched at home. I won't name any. Except for “Room.” And “Sicario.” But no more. OK, “The Martian.”
But this is the time to focus on the positive, including the year's pleasant surprises, of which there were two.
I thought “Unbroken” (2014) was a serious misfire and after reading the critical savaging of Angelina Jolie's vanity project “By the Sea” I was tempted to push this one to the end of the viewing queue or pass on it altogether. Enthusiastic endorsements from go-to critics Kim Morgan and Sheila O'Malley persuaded me otherwise, and I thank them both for it. Vanity project? I guess that's what an achingly sincere story torn right from an artist's heart gets called when she happens to be a glamorous international celebrity. Hey, guess what, just because a famous married couple plays a married couple in a movie doesn't mean it's about the famous married couple. If this slow burn isn't your cup of tea I understand, but calling it “indulgent” just makes you look silly. Besides, you know what I want uniquely talented artists to do? Indulge!
I didn't really get Rick Alverson's 2012 film “The Comedy,” perhaps because I prefer my Tim Heidecker in 12-minute doses. But “Entertainment” blew me away, and I'm not ashamed to admit it's because it felt like a movie made specifically for me. This is a movie made by (and for) people who don't think that anything about this culture is OK and are baffled and frustrated that other people don't see it the same way. I've always liked Gregg Turkington's stand-up comic alter ego Neil Hamburger, but setting him on an American journey consisting entirely of crappy hotel rooms and even crappier clubs en route to the crappiest destination of all, the Hollywood celebrity scene, is absolutely inspired. Most films that set out to be provocations wind up somewhere between tedious and asinine (call it “Fight Club” syndrome). This is the rare provocation that succeed in being genuinely unsettling. I can't stop thinking about it.
I got “Gett” from the get-go, one of the more exasperating entries in the burgeoning field of “Religion sure can make us stupid” studies. Ronit Elkabetz knocks it out of the park in the title role, but the supporting cast of Men With Punchable Faces really makes it an infuriating viewing experience. In the best way possible.
Most of the rest of my favorites are from reliable filmmakers who delivered yet again. I voted for Jafar Panahi of “Taxi” (AKA "Jafar Panahi''s Taxi", AKA "Tehran Taxi") as best actor in the OFCS poll and didn't do it to be a smartass. Panahi's interpretation of himself as a pleasant if slightly incompetent cab driver in Tehran is brilliant, employing fastidious politeness to express rage at institutionalized injustice. Sylvester Stallone also plays himself (playing Rocky) in “Creed” for less subversive reasons than Panahi but still to great effect, the best effect being the way he sets the stage for Michael B. Jordan's star-solidifying performance in the title role. One of my favorite oddities in cinema this year – Jordan's Adonis Creed doesn't want to fight under a name that reminds people of someone famous. So he boxes as Don Johnson.
Guy Maddin can do no wrong for me, but “Keyhole” (2011) was slightly less right than his other movies. “The Forbidden Room,” which Maddin co-directs with Evan Johnson, is all kinds of right, embodying Maddin's beloved amnesia trope in its very structure. This movie is designed to make you forget what happened before – somewhere between the volcano and the dead father who won't go away, you briefly think, “Hey, weren't we on a submarine?” But then you forget all over again. Also, greatest credits ever. Ever ever ever. I demand that every filmmaker shoot credits this way from here on out.
“Horse Money” isn't quite as good as any of Costa's unofficial Fontainhas trilogy, but Ventura is a spectacular performer and there's plenty of room below “Colossal Youth” (2006) to still be great, and I bet this one gets even better on a second viewing. Similar story with “The Pearl Button” which isn't quite on the level of Patricio Guzman's magisterial “Nostalgia for the Light” (2011) but spins a contemplation of the relationship between Chilean society and the ocean (via the universe) into a moving and damning historical survey. It also preserves Kawesqar language on film. Joshua Oppenheimer's “The Look of Silence” also isn't quite as great as its prequel “The Act of Killing” but it seems to be designed to answer the complaints the dissenting minority had about that previous film. It's still unforgettable.
Saving the best for last. “No Home Movie” will count as a 2016 release for “official” purposes but I'm not really official. Chantal Akerman is gone and this deeply personal documentary will be her last movie and that's a terrible thought but it's another great movie from one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. I'm not ready to say anything more about it except that Chantal Akerman is irreplaceable and I will always miss her.