Greetings Dear Readers!
As another year comes to a close, and a whole new year bursts forth with film promise, I am called to compose my essential film list. Sure, I could call it a “best of” list but really – as I have declared previously – critics operate and judge within their own preferences, emotions and intellectual viewpoints. Of course I have my own ideas about what film(s) are best, but my year-end list is composed of the films which I feel you need to see, films which, beyond merely missing out on, you will actually suffer without viewing them. Or, to be more upbeat, seeing these will just make you a more fulfilled person. But hey, that’s just my opinion man…
Ranking these is a very very difficult task for me and know that depending on the day, or my mood any of these could be #1, but there are fine gossamer threads of distinction which do lead to my ranking. I’ve also included some fun new special categories at the end. As always – I’d love nothing more than to talk about these and hear YOUR favorites of the year. Happy 2016 and I’ll see you in the theater!
And so, in order, Cinemynx’s essential films of 2015:
10. ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL
Easy to pass up because of its possible ‘tween appeal, this film is about death, fear, angst, friendship and creativity. Thomas Mann (Me/Greg) is forced by his mother to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who has been diagnosed with cancer. His best friend Earl, played by RJ Cyler (who is without question bound for stardom) helps Greg comfort Rachel in funny, awkward and ultimately beautiful ways. Nick Offerman plays Greg’s father, whose performance alone makes the film worth seeing. Molly Shannon is astoundingly powerful and deeply tragic as Rachel’s mother in the best performance she has ever given. Without any saccharin sweetness, ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is a story for anyone who has suffered loss and confronted all that we cannot control in life.
9. THE MARTIAN
Matt Damon. Abandoned for dead on Mars. He’s a botanist. Got that? NOT an astrophysicist, a botanist. Throw in the other phenomenal cast members of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Benedict Wong (the highlight character actor role of the film), Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara…It’s well worth the 144 minutes of your life.
The story of a young German Jewish woman disfigured in the concentration camps of WW2, returns to Berlin post war to search for her ex-husband who may, or may not have, given her up to the Nazis. Bearing a new face after reconstructive plastic surgery, she is unrecognizable. Nina Hoss conveys a life of pain, love and reprisal with a restrained screenplay, and embodies a woman alarmingly frail and birdlike yet armed with a resolve and drive of iron. The films concluding scene will leave you breathless.
7. INFINITELY POLAR BEAR
Mark Ruffalo plays a man with bipolar disorder who is the father of two young daughters. Left to raise them on his own after his struggling wife seeks education and a better life for the family, the film is realistic, heart wrenching and deeply endearing. The dynamic between the girls and their father is both hysterical and painful, yet the privilege of being allowed into their world is beautiful. Ruffalo, transformed, is totally captivating, and director Maya Forbes allows Ruffalo to make bipolar illness personal, and shows its struggles as well as the incredible magical beauty that often comes with it.
6. THE CONNECTION
My formative decade was the 1970’s, and while I am loathe to admit it, in far too many ways I am still there. I’m a sucker for anything 70’s. But even if I weren’t, THE CONNECTION, based on actual events, is a gripping and glittery portrait of the French “side” of The French Connection. Amid a backdrop of heroin trading and gang rivalry THE CONNECTION is truly about the pas de deux between French magistrate Pierre Michel (Jean Du Jardin) and the focus of his years long mission to take down organized crime leader Gaetan “Tany” Zampa (Gilles Lellouche). Both men are passionate, brilliant and strong in their own way, with Michel’s strategic intellect beautifully balancing Zampa’s physical power.
5. THE BIG SHORT
Adam McKay’s film about the financial crisis of 2008 and the instruments which brought the world economy to its knees is funny, powerful and takes a complex subject and makes it accessible – and interesting – to everyone. Circling the subject from several points of view, THE BIG SHORT extracts the best performance to date from Steve Carell who carries the ethical burden and heart of the story. McKay has crafted a film that is complex, highly amusing and deceptively emotional.
4. PAWN SACRIFICE
The best film of 2015 that no one, save me, knows about. PAWN SACRIFICE is a poetic and wildly gripping portrait of Bobby Fischer and his singular drive to become the World Chess Champion. From his childhood being raised by his single Communist immigrant mother in Brooklyn, to his ultimate match against his formidable opponent Boris Spassky, the USSR Grandmaster of chess, Maguire’s portrayal of Bobby Fischer is masterful. He achieves what all actors aim to do: lose themselves completely in the role, and allow the audience to forget Tobey Maguire completely. Fischer is by no means an easy person to explore, explain or represent, however director Edward Zwick gifted with an insightful and intimate script, allows us to see Fischer with both caution and empathy. The drama and tension Zwick brought to the silent and all to often plodding game of chess is hard to believe, but it is thrilling and elegant. The magnificent cast comprised of Tobey Maguire, Peter Sarsgaard, Live Schreiber and Michael Stuhlbarg has incredible synergy and power.
Charlie Kauffman is not for everyone nor is he interested in being the most popular flavor. He is, though, one of my personal favorite filmmakers. His latest creation is a film that one sensually experiences rather than merely views. Main character Michael Stone’s loneliness and melancholy is communicated through the sonic quality of the film rather than the words of the screenplay itself. Unlike anything you have ever seen before, ANOMALISA is, yes I am saying this, a perfect film. It’s stop-acton animation allows Kauffman to aim the audience’s focus with laser precision, where we are slowly led and firmly held inside the mind and psyche of Stone in a way no filmmaker has even been able to accomplish before.
2. THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Although I can hardly believe it myself, after a year of viewing, I was blown away by Tarantino’s eighth film. Beyond the fact that it was filmed in warm glorious 70mm Panavision (a now defunct but gorgeous format) and is one of the most visually beautiful films I have ever watched, it elegantly presents like a stage play in two acts: first within the tight confines of a stagecoach, followed by the close warmth of a cabin. Both milieus are trapped in a ferocious blizzard whose winds and bitter cold amplify the pervasive suspiciousness of the entire cast. It may be numbing outside but inside it is a firestorm of presentiment, rivalry, deceit and blood. The screenplay is like old western prose, full of fertile lyrical dialogue slowly burning until it bursts into a volcanic sea of blood. Even the violence is worthy of Balanchine. Brimming with testosterone THE HATEFUL EIGHT’s one female emasculates each of the men with her demonic, vile contempt. We all want to see her hang and we would happily pull the lever ourselves.
This film, about the Boston Globe’s investigation and exposure of the Catholic Church’s child abuse history, is both my favorite and the year’s best. Suffice it say that the ensemble cast of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, and John Slattery is extraordinary, and the screenplay and direction flawless. My full review, which is of course worth reading, is here: http://cinemynx.com/spotlight-movie-review/
Best Midnight Viewing: WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
A mockumentary about a house full of vampires. Need I say more?
Guilty Pleasure: SPY
I laughed. Hard. The Italian guy, Rose Byrne’s hair and the rodent problem at HQ are bits for the ages.
Hidden Gem: MAGGIE
What elevates MAGGIE from the mass of zombie movies is that the zombie virus is but a backdrop for what is actually a profound story about a father’s love and dedication to his daughter. The greatest surprise is that the quietly powerful love comes from none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger who for once becomes truly human, emotive and sympathetic. You’ll be surprised.