This is a column where James Franco talks to his reverse self, Semaj, about new films. Rather than a conventional review, it is a place where James and Semaj can muse about ideas that the films provoke. James loves going to the movies and talking about them, but a one-sided take on a movie, in print, might be misconstrued as a review. As someone in the industry it could be detrimental to James’s career if he were to review his peers, because unlike the book industry — where writers review other writer’s books — the film industry is highly collaborative, and a bad review of a peer could create problems. So, assume that James (and Semaj) love all these films. What they’re interested in talking about is all the ways the films inspire them, and make them think. James is me, and Semaj is the other side of me. —James Franco
James: What were your favorites this year?
Semaj: I think this was a year for indies for me.
James: Yeah, we saw a ton at Sundance.
Semaj: What were the ones from Sundance you liked?
James: First off, there were a bunch of documentaries that just killed it.
Semaj: The best of the docs: “The Wolfpack.”
James: Oh, hell yes. The boys locked in a NYC apartment for their entire childhoods but saved by their love of movies.
Semaj: They were allowed to watch movies, so that’s all they seemed to do. Eventually, they started performing these films in their entirety, with homemade costumes, props and make up. Absolutely amazing.
James: A real life clash of life and fiction and the saving power of brotherhood and make-believe.
Semaj: I also liked “Montage of Heck,” the Kurt Cobain doc, and “Listen to Me Marlon,” about Marlon Brando in his own words.
James: Yeah, both films use found tapes to let the subjects speak for themselves.
Semaj: The animation sequences in the Cobain doc, combined with the audio of Kurt recording himself in his basement transported me to the Aberdeen, Washington of Kurt’s youth.
James: And the stuff at the end when he and Courtney were holed up in their apartment after Kurt was a star…heartbreaking.
Semaj: The Brando thing was also heartbreaking, his son killing that guy, and then he lost his daughter not long after.
James: Speaking of docs about Marlon Brando, I also loved “Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau.” It might have come out last year, but I caught a screening of it at Cinefamily earlier this year.
Semaj: Yes! All about the poor director who got fired and then came back onto the set as one of the pig creatures to spy on his movie.
James: And Marlon Brando is there in all his craziness.
Semaj: Yeah, but we know from “Listen to Me Marlon” that that was right after he lost his daughter and his son went to prison.
James: True. But he’s the one who came up with the idea for “Mini-me” in “Austin Powers.” Marlon had the little person dress like him in all the scenes, he even got him a little piano to play while he played the big piano.
Semaj: Okay, what were the other docs you liked?
James: “Best of Enemies,” about the debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, and the Black Panther Doc, “Vanguard of the Revolution,” and “Going Clear,” about the Church of Scientology.
Semaj: Okay, what were the non-docs from Sundance you liked?
James: Boom, “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl.”
Semaj: Yes, fun filmmaking, great young acting, touching story.
James: “The Diary of a Teenage Girl.”
Semaj: Yes, yes, yes, even better. A young artist has an affair with her mom’s boyfriend. So well done, and it looks amazing.
James: “It Follows.”
Semaj: Yes, one of the best of these new indie horror films that is packed with style and meaning.
James: “The End of the Tour.”
Semaj: Jason Segal kills it as David Foster Wallace. The role he was born to play.
James: You mean the role he was born to play after playing Nick Andopolis on “Freaks and Geeks,” right?
Semaj: Yeah, and as Judge Reinhold in the remake of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
James: True, true. I also like Noah Baumbach’s “Mistress America.”
Semaj: Yes, he and Greta Gerwig are great when they do their thing.
James: They’re like the new Woody Allen and Mia Farrow.
Semaj: Okay, what about “Tangerine”?
James: Loved “Tangerine.” Shot on iPhones, right?
Semaj: Yeah, produced by the Duplass brothers. A transgender prostitute hunts down her boyfriend/pimp on the streets of Hollywood. Amazing. And should be inspiring to young filmmakers.
Semaj: Another movie that I don’t think many Americans are aware of that I absolutely loved was “Mustang.”
James: Yes, it was like the Turkish “Virgin Suicides.”
Semaj: One of the most moving movies this year.
James: Another one, from Hungary, I think, was “Son of Saul.”
Semaj: I’m pretty sure the director went to NYU and dropped out before you and I got there.
James: Well, whatever, he made an incredible film. Yes, it’s another Holocaust film, but it puts the viewer right in the shit. The camera doesn’t leave the main actor’s face. He traverses the lower depths of hell as one of the Jews forced to assist in the exterminations and then the exposing of the bodies.
Semaj: But we see everything happening behind him, as if we were down in it with him.
James: “Straight Outta Compton”!
Semaj: Oh, hell yes. Took me back to the day. N.W.A. was popping when I was in junior high.
James: Maybe it was a little revisionist history, but you have to hand it to the guys they retold their story well, and gave it an arc that audiences could really tap into.
Semaj: “Mad Max: Fury Road.” “Witness me!”
James: Yes, one of the best action movies I’ve ever seen. And directed by the guy who did the original!
Semaj: “Ex Machina,” beautifully done, pristine.
James: “Steve Jobs.”
Semaj: Yes, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin continue to push narrative structure into new directions.
James: And Michael Fassbender was pretty rad.
Semaj: And Seth!
James: Yes, Rogen killed it as Wozniak.
Semaj: “Room” was awesome.
James: Not to be confused with “The Room” by Tommy Wiseau.
Semaj: Fo sho, very different movies. “Room” is about a kidnapped girl raising her son in captivity. “The Room” is a mind-blowing trip into the mysteries of the universe.
James: “White God.”
Semaj: Yes, with all the dogs. The dogs triumph!
James: “Beasts of No Nation.”
Semaj: That kid was amazing, and Idris Elba continues to kill it.
James: “Carol” was beautiful as hell.
Semaj: Yes, my man Ed Lachman (“Howl”) shot the most beautiful-looking movie of the year.
James: “Spotlight” was simple but powerful.
Semaj: “The Big Short” was not simple, but also powerful.
James: I love that film. Christian Bale and Steve Carell were impeccable.
Semaj: It was wild — fun, funny and depressing as hell all at the same time.
James: Haven’t seen “The Hateful Eight” yet, or “Joy” or “The Revenant.”
Semaj: Goooooooo, Leo!
James: Give the kid an Oscar, yo. He ate a fucking raw moose heart.