Slam Adams’ Top 50 Movies of 2015 (Part 3)
To be considered, a movie had to be released during 2015 in the USA (that’s where I live) in theaters or on VOD that indie distributors like so much these days. I got through 157 of 2015’s movies.
This tense post-war noir depicts actress Nina Hoss as a Holocaust survivor who made it out of the camps just barely. She had been shot in the face and needed reconstructive surgery leaving her unrecognizable. She uses this opportunity to reunite with her husband, played by Ronald Zehrfeld, and investigate whether or not the rumors are true that he betrayed her to the Nazis. Hoss and Zehrfeld give palpable performances with subtle sadness that compliment the expert tone of writer/director, Christian Petzold, that fills the viewer with the same kind of anxiety and dread that a classic cat-and-mouse film might. The final scene they share together is an emotional warhead that needs to be seen.
9. Duke of Burgundy
It takes a really talented filmmaker to make one of the most erotic movies of the year and feature no nudity, at least as far as I can remember. That is what Peter Strickland is. This is only the second movie of his that I have seen of his, the other being Berberian Sound Studio, but they are both incredibly impressive. Strickland has a way of using typical horror movie tropes to accentuate drama. There’s nothing particularly chilling about this movie, but the viewer can’t get away from that feeling. It follows a romantic relationship between two women that is complicated through their elaborate sexual fetishes, specifically the socially more aggressive member of the couple forcing the other to be the dominant one in a number of BDSM role-playing games.
I may be a little biased about this movie. 5 years ago or so, I gave $100 to a kickstarter for this movie about a Customer Service Expert with a bad case of face blindness. Everyone he meets has the exact same face and voice. When he finally meets a woman unique from everyone else, he becomes obsessed with her, transforming her into a ray of hope in a mundane life. It was produced by Starburns Industries,a stop-motion animation studio started by Dino Stamatopoulos (Starburns from “Community”). Dan Harmon’s name was also attached at a time when he was just sacked by NBC, and Charlie Kaufman was set to write and co-direct. How could I say no? I was certainly not disappointed.
7. Clouds of Sils Maria
This is the movie that I really wish wasn’t forgotten about come award time. The conversation about women in the film industry and how their options change as they get older has been popular in the media. This movie actually tackles it head on both narratively and by giving Juliette Binoche a hell of a role. She plays a famous actress who first made a name for herself decades earlier in a play about a young executive assistant who seduces and psychologically torments her older female boss. She is now being asked to be part of a revival but as the boss character. It is something everyone thinks makes for nice symmetry, but it is putting her life into perspective for her. She spends most of the movie running lines with her own assistant, played by a very awesome Kristen Stewart. Their dialog starts off robotic, the way that actors plying actors tends to come off, but then eventually they make so organic that you start suspecting they aren’t running lines anymore. They are actually venting/confessing real feelings.
6. Wild Tales
This Argentine export only made it Stateside this year, so I’m counting it. It is one of the better anthology movies I have ever seen. It never gets hung up on some kind of overall narrative device, instead it just strings together a few short stories of karmic circumstance and cosmic coincidence. It is often times darkly funny, sometimes deeply thrilling, but best when working in some kind of combination. The stories are the kind of short that I don’t really want to say anymore in case I spoil something.
Denis Villeneuve is one of my favorite new filmmakers. I really have to track down his French language movies because so far this guy is 3 for 3 in English language flicks. This one shines a light on the drug trafficking on the US-Mexican border. Emily Blunt’s vulnerable expert FBI agent is thrust into the world of sloven spies and dapper hitmen, exemplified by Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro respectively. Villeneuve paints with tension forcing your heart to beat so hard in your chest it the sound could distract you from what is happening in the movie. It reminds me of that line from Walk the Line. “Steady as a train, sharp as a razor.”
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
I am a big fan of the Road Warrior, as is most people who see it I think. I am just glad that George Miller was finally able to make the long awaited fourth installment in the Mad Max series, even if it wasn’t with Mel Gibson. Tom Hardy is one of the best actors working today so he is totally nails the part. He really delivers that stray dog mentality of Max, the scruffy survivalist who can’t help but be loyal and helpful. Miller is even able to fit a feminist message into it, an element so unique to the genre that no one could stop talking about it. What makes it work so well is that Miller never really dictates it to us. It is almost always revealed to us through images: the milk maids, the brainwashed killer boys, the shark teeth chastity belts, etc. Each image tells its own story, and for once a Hollywood blockbuster doesn’t expect its’ audience to be stupid.
Despite the fact that it was based on a book, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the recent case in Cleveland, Ohio when 3 girls were kept captive by by Ariel Castro. It is that kind of real world analogy that helps a movie creep up my spine, especially when things seem too crazy to have been true. Room has the added bonus of a competent-as-ever Brie Larsen, fitting winner of this year’s Lead Actress award, as well as newcomer Jacob Tremblay’s surprisingly mature and emotionally in-tune performance. It also gets a big payoff for being bold when director Lenny Abrahamson brings the film to a logical conclusion point halfway through and then keeps going, a decision that would sink so many other films.
By the time I am writing this, Spotlight has already won the Best Picture at the Oscars, and I can’t say that I am surprised. Director Tom McCarthy has crafted one of the most exciting journalist movies since All the President’s Men. It centers on the investigative team of The Boston Globe newspaper as they uncover the child abuse sex scandal within the ranks of the Catholic Church. It almost feels like a shortcut to real stakes considering the well-being of children is the context at hand, but the nuanced work from both the ensemble cast and director Tom McCarthy make it feel more like a docudrama, as if it you really were a fly on the wall of this investigation.
1 Slow West
With so many awesome Westerns out this year, it seems only right that one of them tops the list. John Maclean’s Slow West successfully has its cake and eats it too. It lives up to the popular spaghetti western tropes: brutally nihilistic and darkly funny. It depicts “The West” as a violent and lawless place where even the fittest have to fight for survival. It refuses to give up on the classic “white hat” cowboy hero. Hired as bodyguard/escort through the dangerous West, Michael Fassbender’s opportunistic bounty hunter has his stony exterior softened by his young, innocent, kind-hearted client, played with a sincerely nice guy charm by Kodi Smit-McPhee, culminating in a pretty stylish shoot out.