Paperphiliac asked me to test fold this model for her (except it took me like 2 months to get to it) and it looks pretty good! It’s sunken version of the Electra model, if you want the diagram of this model you could try asking her. :D
At first glance, While We’re Young is an extremely amusing comedy in Noah Baumbach’s usual style, which means plenty of dry wit and characters who behave in incredibly unlikable but simultaneously relatable ways. The writer/director has a knack for acerbic, invasive dialogue that cuts to the bone of his characters and the types of people they represent and this is just as true here as ever. That being said, the film shows him playing with form and without dialogue in ways that he never has before, while still maintaining that Woody Allen-esque flow that has defined his career to date. A big third act twist takes things in a bold new direction for the filmmaker, however, taking a relatively plotless cross-generational dramedy and careening it down a direction heavy on contrived, high-stakes drama. Is it distractingly out of place and at odds with everything that came before it? Absolutely, but that seems to be the point and it gets to the root of what Baumbach is trying to say about the state of the industry and perhaps his own difficulty in accepting the evolution of storytelling while he remains stuck in the ways of old. While We’re Young is a film trying to have its cake and eat it too, while encompassing deeper ruminations on the integrity of art, the idea of subjectivity within it and the simple universal struggle to find acceptance of who you are at whatever stage of your life you may currently be in.
24. THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (Peter Strickland)
In The Duke of Burgundy, writer/director Peter Strickland has created an elaborate alternate universe in which no men are present and all women are engaged in dedicated sadomasochistic relationships. It’s an odd world that Strickland brings to vivid life, yet through all of its eccentricities his ultimate goal is one of the most basic understanding – that of the human relationship. While to an outside observer the core romance between Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the dominant, and Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna), the submissive, may seem to be one of scandal and at times even silly taboo, Strickland pushes past the titillation for a deconstruction of the daily minutiae of any relationship between two people. When we’re first introduced to Cynthia and Evelyn, their routine of mistress and servant comes off as peculiar, fascinating and exciting but the more time we spend with them the more we see that they are just as trapped as anyone else. These activities aren’t the works of spontaneous flights of fancy, but the rigid instructions choreographed by the duo to generate the most sexual satisfaction. By examining this lascivious arrangement as something mundane in its form and structure, Strickland removes The Duke of Burgundy from the rudimentary classifications so often associated with films that are sexual in nature. The film may feature an abundance of scenes of sexual activity, but not a single one of them is gratuitous or without purpose.
23. HUNGRY HEARTS (Saverio Costanzo)
Comparisons to Roman Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy abound in Saverio Costanzo’s Hungry Hearts, in which young married couple Jude (Adam Driver) and Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) find their resolve put to the test when they have their first child. As the two grow increasingly combative in their stalwart positions of what is best for the child, the tension builds to a fever pitch where it feels as though anything can happen. The only thing for certain is that it won’t end well. Costanzo shrewdly plays with audience expectation, building an ambiance akin to a horror film that gets you looking one way while he moves in another direction. Hungry Hearts is as nail-biting an experience as those Polanski films he clearly drew inspiration from, but he keeps it all grounded in reality rather than jumping into the supernatural or metaphysical. The claustrophobic setting only further drives up the tension, with the scorn and resentment growing beneath the darkening eyes of the actors as their quiet war rages on. Every step of the way there’s an expectation that something is right around the corner, but Costanzo plays a patient game with his audience that places character front and center. The eventual payoff may not be quite as rewarding as the journey to get there, but Hungry Hearts nevertheless earns its stripes as one of the most chilling experiences of the year, aided by two magnificent performances at its center.
22. MISSISSIPPI GRIND (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)
It’s been a while since we’ve had a really great gambling movie, and I don’t think anyone would have expected that void to be filled by the writing/directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the independent duo behind Half Nelson and Sugar. Taking their no-nonsense, character-driven approach into the world of casinos and dog tracks, Mississippi Grind is a two-hander about a pair of very different men, the perfectly cast sad sack loser Ben Mendelsohn and charming vagabond Ryan Reynolds, who team up for a trip down the Mississippi, hitting whatever gambling joints they can find on their way to the big jackpot waiting in New Orleans. Boden and Fleck set the premise up efficiently, immediately bringing us an understanding of who these two men are, before pulling back their layers over the course of their journey together. Naturally, both men have their demons, but whatever predictability arrives in the development of this story is alleviated by the rambling, jazzy rhythm that the directors pitch the film at, as well as their dedication to telling stories first and foremost about characters. At the end of the day, Mississippi Grind is all about their stories, and the two arcs that they go on are emotional, captivating, and very humanly portrayed by two great actors getting the opportunity to excel in the kind of meaty parts they don’t often get.
21. IT FOLLOWS (David Robert Mitchell)
Few films have been able to capture the experience of an urban legend brought to cinematic life the way that David Robert Mitchell has done with It Follows. The horror genre is overflowing with films that love to dissect every detail of their intricate mythology in order to get an audience to understand the complexity and motivations of their central villains, only for all of that backstory to be tossed out the window in exchange for lazy jump scares and a quickly extinguished final act. Mitchell goes in the opposite direction, setting the audience up with a simple premise and doesn’t waste any time over-explaining the history of his titular menace. Watching the film genuinely feels like seeing the cinematic version of a story that is passed along in whispers from hormonal teenagers on dark nights. The “It” in question is an entity in human form that does exactly what the title states – slowly follows its intended victim until it meets up with them and brings about their graphic demise. Transmitted from one carrier to the next through sexual intercourse, this boogeyman could be a metaphor for any number of real world issues (STDs, death itself, and so on). It gives the film an added layer, but more than anything Mitchell has crafted a loving throwback to the horror films of the late ‘70s and early '80s, one that revels in traditional genre tropes while also having plenty of fun subverting them.
20. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (Guy Ritchie)
Without ever veering too far into kitsch, Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. expertly weaves the fine line between having fun with itself and knowing when things need to get serious. This is a big summer movie loaded with exciting, well-choreographed setpieces from the word go, keeping a spring in its step all the way to the finish line. Essentially a two-hander between American agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and his Russian adversary Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), the two are teamed up against a common enemy at a time when relations between their two countries were at their most heated. Solo’s cocksure swagger and Kuryakin’s arrogant bullishness clash time and again, resulting in a game of one-upmanship, played out with the surprisingly engaging back-and-forth of Cavill and Hammer, a duo I admittedly was not expecting to work as well as it does here. The key is that the film’s script allows them to have a lot of fun sending up the stone-faced masculine personas that these types of characters so often typify with no sense of humor or humility. It’s almost as if the movie, and the performances, know that it’s all just for show and we’re simply here to have a good time, rather than take any of this too seriously. Ritchie finally found just the right mixture of his testosterone-fueled personality, mainstream sensibilities and subversive tilt to create a fully-formed roller coaster of a production that is an absolute blast to experience.
19. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (Thomas Vinterberg)
In our modern age, how does one keep the well-worn genre of romantic costume drama fresh? While directors like Andrea Arnold and Joe Wright have taken excitingly inventive approaches to try and bring a unique experience to adaptations of novels like Wuthering Heights and Anna Karenina in recent years, Thomas Vinterberg has gone the opposite route and adhered to the old form in his attempt to bring cinematic life to Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. Already adapted several times to film, the Danish director doesn’t necessarily try anything unexpected with his interpretation, but by sticking to what worked before he does enliven new passion in these familiar characters and their potent conflicts in the arena of love. Slimming Hardy’s novel down into a more manageable two hours does result in some hiccups in David Nicholls’ script, but Vinterberg’s film perseveres thanks to the emotional power of its story and the excellent performances from its talented cast, led by Carey Mulligan as the radiant, fiercely self-reliant Bathsheba. This Far from the Madding Crowd may not strive to do anything new with its classic story in a potentially antiquated genre, but Vinterberg has demonstrated that there remains plenty of room for these adaptations to succeed in ways as vibrantly alive as any original, modern idea.
18. LOVE & MERCY (Bill Pohlad)
There was genius in the madness of Brian Wilson, the virtuoso musician responsible for the sounds of The Beach Boys. Or was it the other way around? The same question can be posed for Love & Mercy, Bill Pohlad’s film which attempts to bring to life the dizzying artistry and tragic mental instability of Wilson across two periods of his life, with Wilson played by both Paul Dano (in one of the best performances of the year) and John Cusack. As the stories progressively bleed into one another, what at first begins as two distinct timelines slowly becomes a fluid study of a masterful artist struggling with a mind that’s impossible to understand. Pohlad’s film takes an unconventional approach to the musician biopic that is too often stillborn with banal birth-to-death history lessons or skeleton narratives that are really only designed to bring the audience from one hit song to the next. Like Wilson when he got into the studio to create Pet Sounds, the director is less interested in the pleasant, disposable fluff of the early Beach Boys and more intent on digging into the psychological complexity of the man who produced that thoughtful, wholly unique album. Cross-cutting between two timelines gives him plenty of room to explore many sides of this individual, and the obvious disparity in actors Dano and Cusack is a testament to how far apart Wilson’s mind was capable of spreading. While the dual performance of the leads effectively melds the many sides of Wilson into this portrait of one full man, Pohlad’s unique approach lends this feature its own accomplished and individual style that is at once impenetrable and endlessly fascinating.
17. ‘71 (Yann Demange)
Belfast, 1971. The Troubles are burning strong and Gary Hook (Jack O'Connell), a soldier with the British army, joins his unit as they head into the city on a routine mission. So begins the adrenaline-pumping debut feature of director Yann Demange, a riveting endeavor that charts the course of Hook’s attempt to survive one night in this merciless environment. Hook gets left behind after a riot is unleashed on the streets, setting the stage for a night where this one inexperienced man is a lamb caught in a den of wolves. '71’s script may not be up to snuff, but the writing takes a backseat to the visceral work from the director and star here. Demange instantly creates a unique, palpable atmosphere with a ton of grit that only increases the further along we go in Hook’s frightening night of peril. '71 has the trimmings of a thriller in a time of war, but the director makes it feel more like a work of horror than anything else. There’s a sense of claustrophobia in every moment, where even the streets are so crammed with rows of houses on each end that you always feel like you’re surrounded in a maze as complicated as the allegiances of its many characters. This fresh new director keeps the pulse racing, providing his film plenty of punch and style to immerse you in its treacherous world for its well-paced duration. In just one feature he has clearly shown an aptitude for ambiance that makes him a talent to keep an eye on as he fields offers for bigger projects to come.
16. THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (Marielle Heller)
15-year-old Minnie Goetze undergoes a sexual awakening in the frank, emotional, and refreshingly non-judgmental The Diary of a Teenage Girl, the feature debut of writer/director Marielle Heller. Adapted from the autobiographical graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, Minnie is an aspiring cartoonist living in San Francisco in 1976, recording her thoughts in an audio diary, which takes an exciting turn when she has sex for the very first time. It’s only the beginning of what becomes a litany of escalating sexual experiences for young Minnie, a girl caught up in the whirlwind of adolescent hormones whose enjoyment of and curiosity for sexual behavior is something that’s preyed upon by those with their own agendas. Yet for all of its darker themes, The Diary of a Teenage Girl surprisingly isn’t a cautionary tale. Heller gets to the heart of this young girl without placing blame on her, nor depicting her behavior as something that should be considered wrong or looked down upon. It’s simply the way that she came of age in a dizzying world of emotions and desires, a story in which I feel a great many young people out there can find a lot relate to. Featuring a star is born performance from British newcomer Bel Powley in the title role, Heller’s open approach to Minnie’s predilection for sex could prove uncomfortable for some, but it’s that honesty which allows The Diary of a Teenage Girl to stand out against the pack of coming-of-age movies that are too afraid of the stigma of female sexuality to depict a young woman in an honest way.
For a franchise that has been running for two decades now, it’s staggering how Tom Cruise is able to maintain the energy and spectacle that each new Mission: Impossible entry brings. The credit really does belong to the actor, not only for shepherding the series from behind the scenes as producer, but of course also for his unrelenting commitment to delivering some of the most insane stunts we’ve seen in cinema, with the most authenticity as humanly possible. Even if they had been done largely digitally the action sequences in Rogue Nation, the fifth film in the series, would be jaw-dropping to behold. The fact that you can watch them with the full knowledge that they were being done practically, with the 53-year-old superstar actually performing them himself, brings a whole new level of amazement to the experience. It’s no surprise that the pure exhilaration of the action is what leaves the most impact walking out of the film, but along with that new director Christopher McQuarrie (who will be the first in the series to repeat his job at the helm in the follow-up) brings an almost noir-like tone to the plot that mixes well with the slick high-stakes espionage thriller on the surface. Complete with the franchise’s first standout female character in the form of Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Fault, one of the best characters of the year period, Rogue Nation has succeeded wildly in the rare Hollywood feat of continuing a long-standing franchise with as much energy, creativity and spectacle as it’s ever had, if not more so.
14. THE MARTIAN (Ridley Scott)
What do potatoes, ABBA, Elrond from The Lord of the Rings, and NASA all have in common? They’re all integral parts of The Martian, Ridley Scott’s new space adventure, starring Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an astronaut left stranded on Mars after his crew presume him dead when he’s knocked unconscious during a major storm. Based on the popular novel by Andy Weir, The Martian combines the kind of one-man survival story of All Is Lost with the astronautic intricacies of Apollo 13 for an extremely entertaining thrill ride that absolutely flies by, despite pushing near the two and a half hour mark. This is a tale loaded with pure optimism in a way that we no longer see, in an industry marked by a cynical perspective on the state of the world that bleeds into every aspect of their storytelling. Going in the total opposite direction of its most obvious comparisons (Interstellar, this is not), The Martian has a lightness of touch that makes it positively delightful to watch, chiefly thanks to the witty, irreverent central character brought to life with such charm and screen presence by Damon. This is a triumph of the human spirit kind of movie, but not in the self-important, grandstanding way that we’re used to seeing. Instead, Scott somewhat underplays the significance of such a tale in exchange for a riveting, old-fashioned form of Hollywood entertainment extravaganza, positively boiling over with thrills, cheers, and plenty of humor to spare. It’s one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the year, which is something quite surprising from a director who usually takes himself so seriously.
13. IRRATIONAL MAN (Woody Allen)
Woody Allen has mixed up his comedic farces with the occasional thriller before, such as Match Point or Cassandra’s Dream, which presented ordinary men embroiled in murderous scenarios. However, the aptly titled Irrational Man comes at it from the new angle of a man whose cause for crime is his own dissatisfaction with life, rather than an affair or the promise of financial gain. Some people have criticized the film for feeling too similar to other projects in Allen’s canon, but while it has surface similarities to some of his other tales of murder, I found it more than capable of setting itself apart from the pack. Part of this is due to the ingenious casting of Joaquin Phoenix, an unconventional choice who doesn’t fit the traditional mold of the Allen protagonist, as he successfully conveys the fascinating psyche of a character who could have been incredibly tricky to portray. Along with the uniqueness of its leading man, Allen also distinguishes his latest with some unpredictable turns that should surprise even his most devout followers. I was fond of last year’s enchanting, and underrated, Magic in the Moonlight, but even I can admit that the handling of that film’s twist left a lot to be desired. There’s no such case here, as every new scene in Irrational Man feels intelligently calibrated in the script, with some remarkable foreshadowing that pays off wonderfully in the final act. For the second year in a row Allen has delivered a winning effort that I feel has been unnecessarily derided in its reception from critics. Perhaps they’re just tired of the director’s style, but I can’t see it ever becoming an unwelcome experience for me, especially when scheduled as a counterpoint to the glut of summer blockbusters.
12. KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (Matthew Vaughn)
2015 was the year of the spy movie, and the best one of them all didn’t come from a summer blockbuster or James Bond’s latest venture, but rather the utterly manic, gleefully vulgar, and cleverly subversive Kingsman: The Secret Service. Adapted from Mark Millar’s graphic novel, director Matthew Vaughn took the loose ideas of the source material and fitted them for a more cinematic adventure that retains the energy and creative spark that will feel familiar to fans of Kick-Ass, his previous Millar adaptation, without losing its juice by succumbing to a third act of generic plot developments that would have seen it become the very thing it looked to defy the way that film did. Drawing from Pygmalion as much as it does Bond, Kingsman works the rags to riches story of Eggsy (a breakout turn from newcomer Taron Egerton) into the wider tale of the dashing international spy organization known as Kingsman and their efforts to thwart megalomaniac tycoon Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, perhaps the best traditional villain of the year). On paper, the narrative procedure of Kingsman reads almost as traditional as any of the old Bond films, but on screen Vaughn takes things into surprisingly inventive and unpredictable places that toy with audience expectations in one glorious way after another. It’s got all the promise and uniqueness that Vaughn has shown across his career so far, while also avoiding the blockbuster standard of the disappointingly bland climax and villain or the betrayal of itself by turning into another generic version of the thing that it’s knowingly, admiringly taking the piss out of.
11. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (Olivier Assayas)
With social media and constant publicity tours bringing celebrities into our home on a more personal level than ever, the lines between what is real and what is artificial are increasingly blurred. In Clouds of Sils Maria, Olivier Assayas looks to explore the evolving way this culture informs the lives of those existing within that world, while also constructing a love letter to his star, the illustrious Juliette Binoche. The two combine forces to create a thoughtful, moody examination of celebrity from both inside and out, exploring what it means for an actor to truly immerse themselves in a character and the dangers of bringing so much of their personal baggage into play. Similar to Birdman, there’s a meta quality that exists here that brings a self-awareness and inside baseball approach to the writing, dropping the names of prestigious actors and directors throughout as a way of contextualizing these characters within the real world. Rather than drowning itself in the kind of scathing criticism that the recent Oscar winner did though, Assayas plays it all in wonderfully understated terms that only uses it to illuminate the characters rather than define them. At the core of this film is a real woman, not a manifestation of other ideas and personal demons informed from outside parameters. Clouds of Sils Maria is a fascinating movie about its characters, as well as its stars, while also challenging our perception of characters themselves and how that can change and evolve over time, as we bring our outside life experiences into our interactions with what we see on screen.
10. BRIDGE OF SPIES (Steven Spielberg)
The latest from a director who needs no introduction, Bridge of Spies sees Spielberg reuniting with leading man Tom Hanks to tell a story from an area they’ve long shown a devoted appreciation for – American history, particularly when it comes to times of war. Set during the height of the Cold War, Hanks does his Jimmy Stewart thing as lawyer James Donovan, who is assigned to defend Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (an astounding Mark Rylance), and does such a good job that he’s later asked to negotiate a prisoner exchange between Abel and an American spy captured behind enemy lines. It’s a stirring tale of a morally righteous man fighting the system, the kind of story that Spielberg and Hanks were born to work together on, and it’s no surprise that they handle it with the proper amount of credibility and respect. Old-fashioned is a term that is often used derogatorily towards the work of directors like Spielberg and Clint Eastwood, sometimes deservedly so, but there’s more than one type of old-fashioned filmmaking, and Bridge of Spies fits the descriptor in the best way possible. Here, Spielberg has delivered a riveting story, with powerful themes of humanity and American idealism, yet thankfully he manages to avoid tackling them in the preachy, grandstanding way that he has often devolved into in the past. Similar to his last picture, the gripping political drama Lincoln, this is a historical tale that’s told in practical terms, taking a procedural approach to these grand ideas, while incorporating an even more engaging narrative that genuinely gets the heart racing.
09. MISTRESS AMERICA (Noah Baumbach)
Without question the funniest film of the year, Noah Baumbach’s second to feature on this list is also his best since his breakout The Squid and the Whale, which coincidentally celebrated its ten-year-anniversary this year. Reuniting with co-writer and star Greta Gerwig, also his off-screen partner, Mistress America may at first appear light on the surface, but deep down it’s a sharp look at insecurity, self-fulfillment, dream-chasing, and the dangers and benefits of idolizing those around you. Baumbach creates a rambunctiously entertaining modern farce complete with stolen cats, pregnant women and apple bongs, while also crafting a picturesque love letter to New York, and a defining portrait of the struggles of not fitting in. As is often the case with Baumbach’s work, this is a film far more about characters than any conventionally designed plot that takes us from point A to point B, and he’s created two of his best in college freshman Tracy (Lola Kirke) and her soon to be stepsister Brooke (Gerwig). The film has a loose style that could have fallen into tedium under the hands of a lesser director. Thankfully, Baumbach’s talent is in how effortlessly lively the whole thing is, with Gerwig helping him guide this story in a direction that is very precise without feeling overly-orchestrated. Mistress America eventually deals with some significant themes that get to a deeper struggle within these characters, but first and foremost it must be said that it is simply an absolute blast to experience over and over again.
08. ROOM (Lenny Abrahamson)
There are few things stronger than the bond between a mother and her child. This relationship is pushed to the limit in Room, Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s acclaimed novel, for which the author wrote the screenplay herself. Capturing the unimaginable story of Joy (Brie Larson), a young woman who is held captive in a ten-by-ten shed for seven years, in which time she gives birth to her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who is five when we meet the characters, Abrahamson and Donoghue examine the bonding these two experience when the only thing they have is one another, as well as the difficulty to transition into “normal” life when they finally are able to make their escape. Even though Room is seen through Jack’s eyes, Donoghue and Abrahamson do a remarkable job of making sure that both characters are explored to profound lengths. By introducing us to them as a co-dependent unit, we are grounded in that relationship immediately, so when they finally escape and have to grow as individuals, it’s just as startling for us as it is for them. Room is the tearjerker of the year in more ways than one, a status which it wouldn’t have been able to achieve if it weren’t for the titanic performances of the two leads. Larson and Tremblay get into that relationship in such a devastating way, finding the soul of these characters as they face such enormous adversity. It’s a film that will linger in the mind, and even more so in the heart, for a long time after it’s over.
07. THE HATEFUL EIGHT (Quentin Tarantino)
Certainly the most polarizing film of the year, Tarantino’s ninth feature (or eight, if like him you consider Kill Bill to be one) is quite possibly the most entertaining of his entire career. As much as he likes to champion the work of legends like cinematographer Robert Richardson and composer Ennio Morricone (both of whom deliver some of the finest work of their careers here), Tarantino’s canon has always been about characters, and his latest features a collection of some of his very best. The eight nefarious scoundrels who make up the film’s title are as loathsome as they come, played out with extravagant glee by a terrific ensemble made up of Tarantino regulars (Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, etc.), as well as a few newcomers (Demian Bichir, the movie-stealing Jennifer Jason Leigh). Old or new, each one of these actors finds exactly the right rhythm by which to deliver the incredibly precise, inimitable dialogue that the director lobbies up for them to knock out of the park. The compelling nature of these characters was crucial to The Hateful Eight more than any of his others, as he made the bold move to set the three hour running time almost entirely within the confines of a single location, with the story being made up mostly of one conversation after another. It’s all wickedly entertaining, oozing with atmosphere thanks to the work of Richardson and Morricone, set within the chilly environment of a blistering winter storm not long after the Civil War.
06. BROOKLYN (John Crowley)
Whether you’re going away to college or are on a bad vacation, homesickness is a feeling that’s universal for everyone. John Crowley’s Brooklyn, adapted by the great Nick Hornby from Colm Toibin’s novel, captures the coming of age of Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) in a wonderfully classical way, hearkening back to purely cinematic tales of uplifting perseverance and human spirit. As Eilis makes the journey from her Irish homeland to Brooklyn in 1952, she’s hit with a heaping case of the homesick blues, until she falls under the charm of dashing Tony (Emory Cohen). Brooklyn isn’t just a love story, though. With romance, tragedy, humor, gorgeous costumes and sets, and entertaining characters all portrayed by a collection of tremendous performances from its cast, Crowley has constructed a simple, delicate, and deeply personal story that nevertheless resonates with the kind of grand swells of emotion of the great Hollywood classics. As we witness Eilis’ evolution from naive girl to confident woman, we are also seeing the transition of Saoirse Ronan from the Oscar-nominated ingenue of Atonement into the intelligent, experienced actress she is now. Eilis is her first truly adult role, for the first time really giving her the task of holding an entire film on her shoulders, and she nails it, fully inviting us into the experience of her character and taking us on a journey as emotional for the audience as it is for Eilis.
05. SPOTLIGHT (Thomas McCarthy)
Detailing the investigation in which reporters for the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-ups within the Catholic Church at the turn of the century, Thomas McCarthy’s Spotlight lands with a monumental thud of importance, relevance, and dedication that immediately ranks it alongside the most significant journalism films of all-time, like All the President’s Men and Ace in the Hole. In our internet-heavy culture that is quick to report on anything as much as possible with only the slightest modicum of evidence (if any at all), seeing the intricate details of how this team worked strenuously day in and day out for a considerable period of time to bring these people to justice in a way that was done without any room for error is like watching a forgotten art form being brought back to life long after the world had known it ever existed. Spotlight is not only a reminder of what excellent reporting actually looks like in an era that’s lost touch with that level of hard work, it’s also simply an engrossing narrative that’s as exciting and nail-biting as any thriller we’ve seen this year. Boosted by an excellent ensemble cast working like a well-oiled machine to give the characters personality and inner life that the script doesn’t have time to do the heavy lifting for, as McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer wisely focused on the story above all else, Spotlight doesn’t miss a single beat in finally bringing this tale to the screen. It may have taken a little too long for this very important story to get the cinematic treatment, but like the Spotlight team themselves, there’s no sense in rushing something if you’re not going to get it absolutely right.
04. CAROL (Todd Haynes)
Carol may be set in 1952, but it feels as modern as any movie on this list. Todd Haynes’ style of directing calls to mind an old-fashioned, reserved passion in its depiction of the forbidden romance between young shopgirl Therese (Rooney Mara) and high society woman Carol (Cate Blanchett), and the film has a classic Hollywood majesty thanks to its breathtaking cinematography and score, yet the emotions are as raw and powerful as any to have come in the decades since the release of Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, the novel that Phyllis Nagy’s script is adapted from. If Carol only existed for sensory pleasures, it would be more than worth viewing thanks to a director and crew who have built an exquisite tapestry from top to bottom in every department. Haynes doesn’t stop here, delivering an absolutely shattering portrait of two very different women pursuing a love with one another that neither can ultimately afford. What Nagy’s script does so well is that it positions the romance as the centerpiece of the story, while deceptively revealing the film to be far more about both women as individuals than as a unit. With two tremendous performances at its center, expertly cast in the form of the shy ingenue Mara and the extravagant veteran Blanchett, Carol builds powerful arcs for each, stripping the characters down very much in the same way that Haynes and Nagy do the cinematic ideal of a great romance. At the end of the day, nothing is as glamorous as it seems in the movies.
03. EX MACHINA (Alex Garland)
Artificial intelligence was a hot topic across the films of 2015, yet the most impressive take on the idea didn’t come from a major blockbuster. Instead, it was the much smaller debut of director Alex Garland, and his chamber piece chess game between three uniquely operating individuals. Ex Machina takes three of the finest, most exciting young actors in the industry (Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac) and sets them up against one another in what is essentially a series of conversations in which a fresh-faced coder (Gleeson) is tasked by a tech genius (Isaac) with conducting a variation on the Turing test in order to determine if the world’s first true artificial intelligence (Vikander) could pass for human in the real world. Vikander’s performance deserves a world of credit for bringing the AI to life, subtly capturing the artificial elements while also maintaining a level of humanity that explains how easily she is able to twist these men to suit her needs. It’s that element of subverting standard gender positions which is what’s most impressive of all in Garland’s writing. Ex Machina at first appears to be a rather traditional, almost misogynistic portrayal of two men fitting this robotic woman into narrow boxes of their own making, but the script turns this on its head by revealing her to be the one in true control in what is ultimately an extremely feminist film. She tears down the constructs that these two men have built for her and instead forms an identity of her own design. As much as she is a creation of Isaac’s character, in a truer sense she is a self-made woman built on the hardships and suffering of those who came before her, thanks to Garland’s bold, unique and progressive take on artificial intelligence and storytelling in general.
02. SICARIO (Denis Villeneuve)
With its thumping Johann Johannsson score, stark Roger Deakins cinematography, and absorbing Denis Villeneuve direction, Sicario stands right alongside Prisoners as proof that these guys are making the best crime thrillers in the film industry at the moment. Their latest collaboration may feature the same kind of hypnotic tone and disturbing, unraveling plot, but Taylor Sheridan’s script takes the action here a world away from the rainy suburban Pennsylvania setting of their previous effort. Taking place on the border area between the United States and Mexico, the film opens up by introducing us to FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) in the most blistering way possible, with a heart-pounding sequence in which Macer leads a team in a raid on a house, where they discover something they weren’t expecting at all. In most films, this scene would be enough to make for a riveting centerpiece of an altogether enthralling experience. In Sicario, it’s merely the tip of the iceberg. Like the maze of claustrophobic tunnels that provide the setting for the film’s climax, Villeneuve exposes us to a world where there are many exits, all of which have some kind of horror waiting on the other side. Whether we believe we’re fighting the good fight or not, this is a war where villainy has become a common, every day experience, and perhaps one where some shade of that darkness is necessary in order to survive. Villeneuve never gives us the answers to the many questions that his film asks, instead setting its gripping tale within a real-world context that simply presents the reality of the situation, and the maddening realization that resolution is well past the unreachable horizon.
01. THE END OF THE TOUR (James Ponsoldt)
With each new film, James Ponsoldt betters his last effort, and The End of the Tour is going to be a tough one to beat. Based on a memoir by David Lipsky, the film charts the relationship that formed between him (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and writer David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), largely developed in the confined spaces of automobiles over the course of five days at the end of the book tour for Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Ponsoldt, as focused on character as ever, creates a small, but sharp and deceptively impactful portrait of the many idiosyncrasies, contradictions, and remarkably human characteristics exhibited by the two writers – traits that are unquestionably unique, yet also surprisingly universal. Topics of conversation between the two range from the dark seriousness of Wallace’s depression and rumors of heroin addiction to the frothier likes of a shared appreciation for Die Hard and Alanis Morissette. Every step of the way, Segel (in a career-defining performance) and Eisenberg share a constantly evolving rapport that is fascinating to watch, as Donald Margulies’ screenplay gives them remarkably insightful material that develops the film’s many revolving themes that are so intrinsically human. Lipsky and Wallace are two very specific kind of people, but through them The End of the Tour explores the flaws and insecurities that are shared by many.
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