2015 isn’t over yet and I still have many films to see (Amy, The Hateful 8, The Revenant, Straight Outta Compton, Love, Self/Less, Dope) and so little time. Here is a breakdown of my favorite films of this year, based not on release date but the year in which they were seen…
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11) House (1977)
This film is #11 because technically it isn’t a film at all. It’s an experience. I can guarantee that you haven’t seen anything like House and will never again once you do. You will be treated to pillows attacking people, screaming cartoon cats, random nudity, watermelons turning into heads and someone dying in a grandfather clock. Overall it’s a strange, glorious, unpredictable and hilarious clusterfuck of a movie, a mishmash of ideas from first-time filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi and his eleven-year-old daughter. The twist is it ended up being a smash hit in Japan and is currently available in The Criterion Collection.
10) Cake (2014)
There are two reasons to see Cake: 1) It is the most accurate depiction of living with chronic pain I’ve ever seen, and 2) If audiences had never seen Jennifer Aniston in Friends or anything else, her performance would have gotten more attention and acclaim. There are some parts of the film I don’t like as much as others, but as an overall character study it’s quite impressive. Aniston’s Claire is angry, impossible and in constant agony. She’s also truthful and funny, and when you discover how she has arrived at her current state you can’t help but sympathize with her.
9) Magic Magic (2013)
I had wanted to see this film since the trailer hit the web, mostly because of Michael Cera’s creepiness was off the charts. But Magic Magic turned out to be something else. It’s a portrait of someone slowly losing her mind, not only due to her anxieties but the brusque and apathetic crowd she is stuck with. The situation is a complete nightmare, and Juno Temple’s performance is fragile and unnerving. When you reach the end you’re stuck in a terrible moment where too much damage has been done, then as the credits roll you can’t help but think, “If you’re in a foreign country, make sure you’re not only with people you know or like, but people you trust.”
8) Rubber (2010)
I loved Rubber. It’s a movie that doesn’t give a shit about you. It’s irreverent, meta and without regard for audience expectations. But here’s the best part: it’s about a tire that rolls around making things explode. During its ruthless spree characters address the audience directly, plenty of narrative rules are broken and you’re constantly reminded that you’re watching a movie. Does it make complete sense? No. But that’s not the point. You’re watching a murderous tire, for God’s sake. And what’s more, that tire has more charisma than some acting I’ve seen. Bonus.
7) Dear White People (2014)
The obstacles and future of black cinema is something I’ve read about with interest this year, but in spite of the racism in the industry there are filmmakers doing amazing work and have plenty to say. Justin Simien is one of those people. Dear White People proves to be a two-fold experience: 1) the experience of watching, and 2) the conversations and realizations you have afterwards. In short, you aren’t only entertained but forced to think about what you’ve seen. For example, I had no idea that blackface parties were a thing. Seriously. Dear White People, get your shit together.
6) Camp X-Ray (2014)
A few years ago I heard about Kristen Stewart’s frustration while being offered films. She would be offered an ingenue role and would say something like, “Why don’t you make me the hero? Why don’t you give me a sword?” It was while watching Camp X-Ray that I realized why. Kristen Stewart was never meant to play the Hollywood version of femininity. She should be stealing roles from men the way Peter Dinklage steals roles from taller, less-talented people. Her work in this film is a testament to that, and the bond she forms with one of the Camp’s prisoners (Peyman Moaadi) has more resonance than most blockbuster romances.
5) Call Me Lucky (2015)
To be honest, I don’t want to spoil this for anyone who hasn’t seen it. I knew absolutely nothing about Barry Crimmins before watching this documentary, and I’m so glad that I took a chance and did. Crimmins is not only a comedian and political satirist, but an advocate. His life story has many dimensions and several unexpected twists and turns- some of which I saw coming, others absolutely not. What’s more, the documentary was made by Bobcat Goldthwait, who is better known for his stand-up, acting and directing narrative films. He has been a friend of Crimmins for over thirty years and wanted to honor the guy. To say the least, he delivered.
4) The Guest (2014)
Apparently I’m the only one in my group of friends who loved The Guest, which puzzles me. I think of it as a tongue-in-cheek send-up in the vein of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse (which my friends loved), but referencing the “stranger infiltrating a family” horror films of the ’80s and ’90s instead. It stars Dan Stevens, who pounds the final nail in the coffin of his Downton Abbey past playing a guy described as “Captain America gone wrong.” More than half of the fun is how oblivious the characters are while you are more than aware of the ridiculous shitstorm coming their way. The only one who is suspicious is eldest daughter Anna, played by indie scream queen Maika Monroe. Her performance in It Follows may have gotten more attention and press, but The Guest a hell of a lot more fun.
3) Under The Skin (2014)
It took me months to sit down and watch Under The Skin, and only because I’m a fan of its director, Jonathan Glazer. An interview with FKA twigs made me commit, and when I did I knew I was watching a true modern horror film. It’s a strange and visceral take on what it means to be human, especially the vulnerabilities of being female, and when the ending came it was a complete knockout. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, let alone how it made me feel. And who thought that I could be watching a film starring Scarlett Johansson and feel… well, anything? I haven’t been shocked by a film in that way for years.
2) Two Days, One Night (2014)
The plot is so simple: a woman’s co-workers will be voting on a Monday about whether she can keep her job or not. This leaves her the weekend to visit them one by one and ask them to vote in her favor. The problem is that if they don’t, they will get a bonus, and nearly all of these employees need the money. Another complicating factor is this woman’s job is on the line because of she suffers from depression. This made me ponder if her job would be in danger if she had suffered from a physical illness rather than an emotional one. Either way, asking for help in this kind of situation is hard. You can see this struggle in Cotillard’s performance, watching her waver in her confidence or feel relief over a small victory. I haven’t identified with a character in that way for a long time.
1) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
This film is pretty much #1 on every end-of-the-year list anyway, but here it is again. In short, a character who suffers from PTSD helps a bunch of sexually-enslaved women escape a maniacal asshole by making the longest, crashiest, most badass U-turn in cinema history. But it wasn’t just the spectacle that earned its place here. I wrote that I loved it because it portrays supposed victims as “capable, empathetic, reasonable and non-tragic human beings.” That alone is revolutionary and made this one of the only summer blockbusters that had any personal resonance for me. In the end my friends and I loved it, my family thought it was a joke, and numerous fans are now waiting for an ultimate edition to buy on blu-ray or the black and white version rumored for a release in 2016. For my part I wouldn’t mind seeing it again. Who’s with me?