The Cinema Junkie Awards
Cinema Junkie / December 28, 2015
Awards season is in full swing so it must be time to make a Ten Best List and hand out some awards.
Let me start my look back on 2015 with a big sigh of relief. Star Wars: The Force Awakens brought us out of the Dark Times and proved that going to see a new Star Wars movie in theaters could be a good thing. The Force Awakens is not a great film but it is the healing film we as fans needed. So although the film did not make my top ten it is a film I love and am grateful for.
I am also grateful this year for some strong roles for actresses. These female characters are not so much role models as women who drive the plots of their films and are not merely reacting to what male characters do – they create their own destinies. Topping this list are Daisy Ridley in The Force Awakens, and Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol, and of course Charlize Theron in Mad Max Fury Road.
CLIP I was taken
I know people are trying to lay claim to Theron’s Furiosa as a feminist icon but I think the film is more humanist than feminist. In that post-apocalyptic future, feminism seems a narrow perspective when the entire human race is in danger of exterminating itself and is in desperate need of hope and redemption.
The other exciting thing this year is that there were multi-dimensional roles for older women with Blythe Danner, Lily Tomlin, Helen Mirren, Cynthia Nixon, and the best of the lot Charlotte Rampling all shining in films that featured. Rampling gets my pick for best actress for her subtle work as a woman rethinking her marriage in 45 Years.
As for the men, kudos to Kurt Russell and that fabulous handlebar mustache of his for almost singlehandedly reviving the American Western with Bone Tomahawk and The Hateful 8, where he plays a bounty hunter trying to survive a blizzard trapped with his prisoner and 6 unsavory characters in Minnie’s Haberdashery.
CLIP in cahoots.
And high praise too for Tom Hardy’s diverse work in Mad Max Fury Road, Legend, and The Revenant. But my pick for this year’s top actor goes hands down to Bryan Cranston in Trumbo. Not only does he bring fiery passion to the blacklisted writer on screen but he was pivotal behind the scenes in bringing this dark chapter of American history to light.
Before I get to the best films, I want to give a shout out to David Ehrlich who writes for Rolling Stone and did a video countdown of his 25 best movies. One of the films he includes is a short called The World of Tomorrow. That inspired me to give a shout out here to a trio of films that screened at San Diego’s Horrible Imaginings Film Festival, for which I was on the selection committee. These are films from young independent filmmakers who display a fresh but mature cinematic voice. The films are: Eric Msumanje’s My Mother’s Songs, Nacho Ruipérez’ The Huckster, and Adam Awni’s Bunny. I especially want to mention Bunny because the filmmaker submitted two versions of his film to the festival, one that was about ten minutes and then his preferred cut that was about 30. The ten-minute film was solid but nothing special however the longer cut was brilliant and served up a horror film that – like the other two – pushed the envelope on how we define horror. So I wanted to especially include Bunny to further bolster Awni’s confidence in his cut of the film and to destroy the other.
There are also a trio of feature films that never played in San Diego but deserve attention for challenging our expectations for what cinema can be. Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room was like a fever dream on acid; Aleksey German’s Hard to Be A God made you think twice about how you define sci-fi; Shion Sono’s Tokyo Tribe served up an action rap musical.
Honorable mentions go out to the cleverly crafted horror film We Are Still Here, and the thought provoking sci-fi film Ex Machina for genre filmmaking at its best; the darkly disturbing Drown; the cleverly crafted Phoenix; and the intensely intimate Room.
Now to countdown to the number one film of 2015.
In the number ten slot is the genre film, It Follows. This nifty horror film reminded us what creeping dread felt like and boasted the year’s most innovative score.
At number nine is a film that perfectly merged indie filmmaking with an established franchise, Creed.
CLIP He was my father.
Major props to Ryan Coogler who smartly fooled Hollywood into letting him make a mainstream film with little known African-American performers in the lead roles and disguise it as a Rocky sequel. Coogler gave it just the right mix of serious drama and Rocky sentimentality.
At number eight is the sublimely crafted martial arts film The Assassin. The novelty here is that it comes from art house director Hou Hsiao Hsien who focuses on the stillness between brief bursts of action to create a deliriously elegant period film.
As someone who loves genre films, I am thrilled to be able to include so many films in my year-end review. Coming in at number seven is George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, which has all the trappings of a high octane action film but finds a humanity underneath.
CLIP It feels like hope.
A strong cast allows this action film to become a tale of redemption plus no one shoots car stunts like Miller. No one!
In the sixth slot is the documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut, a film that simply makes you fall in love with cinema all over again.
Let’s go from documentary to mockumentary as I place What We Do In The Shadows at number five. No other film this year made me laugh harder than this deadpan comedy about the trials and tribulations of being a modern day vampire from writers and stars Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.
At number four is a film that had a surprising amount of humor despite a bleak topic,
Trumbo looked at how the Blacklist affected Hollywood writer Dalton Trumbo. The film displayed a sharp and biting wit as it tackled a dark chapter in U.S. history. Bryan Cranston as Trumbo makes the film zing.
I place this film high less for its filmmaking than for its content and for Cranston’s riveting performance.
In the number three slot is the strangest, hardest to describe film on the list: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. I’m not sure how to convey the experience of watching Roy Andersson’s film except to say it has the deadpan comic precision of Buster Keaton but without the physical pratfalls. Andersson makes me laugh with just his visual composition. Each scene is like still life painting in which an incongruity makes me smile. The relentless consistency of tone and style without a conventional narrative to latch onto may grow tedious for some. But there are so many wondrous moments to savor as Andersson challenges expectations about narrative structure as he explores what it means to be human.
At number two is Bone Tomahawk, a film I went all the way to Wales to see because it never played in San Diego. Okay that’s a slight exaggeration but I did see it in Wale at the Abertoir Horror Festival. As with the other films I mentioned earlier, it’s criminal when films this good never open in San Diego. S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk is a slow burn western that builds tension with nerve racking precision. This is a far better example of the western genre than Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist Hateful 8.
At number one I have a tie. Sorry there was no way to resolve this besides awarding a tie because the films were both masterful but totally different. Let me start with the documentary The Look of Silence from Joshua Oppenheimer. Last year I had his documentary The Act of Killing on my ten best list and The Look of Silence is a stunning companion piece. In an interview by David Poland for The Oral History of Hollywood, Oppenheimer explains the catalyst that prompted both films:
The Look of Silence is documentary storytelling at its finest – provocative, intelligent, disturbing, and ultimately profoundly affecting. Oppenheimer tackles challenging topics and finds innovative ways to access them so that we see the documentary form in fresh new ways.
And to close, Todd Haynes’ Carol shares the number one spot for 2015 with The Look of Silence. Haynes’ career is one of growing maturity and assurance as an artist with each film becoming more technically polished but without losing any of Haynes’ indie guerrilla sensibilities. In Carol he looks at what he calls the radicality of love by exploring a taboo lesbian relationship in the 1950s.
Carol and The Look of Silence top my list because they are as close to perfection as film can get. Both directors understand how to use everything at their disposal – editing, music, cinematography – to work toward a single effect, which is creating compelling cinema.
Some of these films – like Carol and Hitchcock/Truffaut – are still in theaters. Most of the others are available streaming. If this list inspires anyone to seek out any of these films, then I can close out the year feeling I have done my job. Here’s looking forward to next year.
Thanks for listening to another edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. Until our next film fix, I’m Beth Accomando.
Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place