Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this post) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.
Q: Last week, Indiewire polled critics on the best movies of the first half of 2015. Now, let’s argue with the results. What movies should have made the Top 10 that didn’t, and what’s been egregiously overlooked?
Charles Bramesco, Random Nerds, The Dissolve
I’m going to give everybody the benefit of the doubt and assume that the only reason Don Hertzfeldt’s mind-expanding animated short “World of Tomorrow” is ranked so low (there it is, at number 23, right under “Me and Earl and rhe Dying Girl”!) is because the voters believed it was ineligible for consideration due to its length. That’s the only possible explanation for how the most casually profound, limitlessly experimental sci-fi project in not just this year, but many others, could’ve gotten buried under the likes of the solid-but-buggy “Ex Machina” or the tidy, phony “Love & Mercy.”
Farran Nehme, The New York Post, Self-Styled Siren
“About Elly” and “Timbuktu” are superb films that should have been competing for the top slot. My other favorites so far this year, in terms of narrative film, are “White God,” “Tangerines,” and “Gett.” The best documentaries I’ve seen are “Dior and I,” “Ballet 422,” “Iris,” and “Forbidden Films.”
Mike D’Angelo, The Dissolve, A.V. Club
I’m not remotely surprised that “Tu Dors Nicole” didn’t make the list, as I don’t imagine that even many professional critics have seen it. That’s a shame, though, as it’s one of this year’s most winning sleepers (almost literally; the title means “You’re Sleeping Nicole”), with a unique comic sensibility anchored by gentle melancholy. Hopefully it’ll find its audience on video. (Is that still a thing? “On video?” On streaming? On various home platforms?)
None of the films that did make the cut strike me as a travesty, but I’m surprised to see so much passion for “Ex Machina,” which I found considerably less clever and thoughtful than advertised. In part because the film’s “variation” on the Turing Test is nonsensical on its face, which kinda gives away where things must be headed.
Ed Gonzales, Slant
I didn’t participate in this poll, mostly because I like to keep my cards at this point in the year close to my chest, so permit me to express my disappointment at the complete shutout of “Salvation Army” and “Eastern Boys,” two very small “gay” films that too few eyes have seen in spite of the enormous critical acclaim they garnered during their very small release windows. The former falls apart in the end, when it becomes too explicit as a cautionary tale, but up to that point it remains an unnerving, and unusually sensual, study of the male body as spectacle for consumption. (The seduction of the main character by the pimp overlord in a high-rise apartment, an impeccably choreographed and acted show of terror, may be the scene of the year.) As for “Salvation Army,” its slight feels especially painful given that “Timbuktu,” another great film, didn’t so easily fall through the cracks. I would argue that Abdellah Taïa’s Brechtian poses are more soulfully deployed than Abderrahmane Sissako’s: In the spirit of Terence Davies, he employs a series of distancing effects throughout to hauntingly express the confused sense of remove felt by the main character. Its affection is always a reflection of the isolation of the soul.
Richard Brody, New Yorker
The very notion of what constitutes a release — an increasingly slippery notion at a time of day/date VOD — may help explain why the poll results exclude Abel Ferrara’s “Welcome to New York,” which, even in the version streamed here (which Ferrara has repudiated), is a ferocious, scathing, and sublimely skeptical film; it would be near the top of the list that I haven’t actually compiled. Also, I’m uneasy with pitting classics against moderns by including in a year’s best-of list films produced in decades past but released only now, yet I wouldn’t do a list without acknowledging Kathleen Collins’s 1982 feature “Losing Ground,” a revelation that fully justifies its connection with ecstatic experience and that makes me wonder what the hell I was doing on Monday, January 24, 1983 when it was shown at MoMA. These egregious omissions may at least have bureaucratic reasons behind them; others can only be ascribed to failures of taste, in particular, to the self-revealing furies and symbolic abstractions of Spike Lee’s “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus”; he certainly didn’t improve on the original (Bill Gunn’s “Ganja & Hess”), as he did with “Oldboy,” but he equalled it, image for image and metaphor for metaphor. Three of the year’s best independent films, so far (“Uncertain Terms,” “Wild Canaries,” and “Young Bodies Heal Quickly”) would rank high on my list; “Results” would be much higher than movie forty-three; “Fifty Shades of Grey” would be somewhere on my extended list, ahead of the virtuous and respectable “Mad Max: Fury Road”.” I wish that André Téchiné had known how to end “In the Name of My Daughter,” a splendidly corrosive story of a provincial Balzacian striver that is pitch-perfect regarding family, business, and the French underworld but goes out of tune in the shift to a true-crime story; I’d include it anyway. “It Follows” and “The Duke of Burgundy” don’t belong anywhere near the top of the heap. “Clouds of Sils Maria” is a work of stultifying mediocrity rendered downright awful by its banalization of grand subjects and themes; it seems to have been made for the sole purpose of placing high on such a list.
Luke Goodsell, Movie Mezzanine, 4:3
I can only hope the absence of Abel Ferrara’s “Welcome to New York” is a subtle protest from critics against the distributor’s decision to release a cut that the man himself was unhappy with. And “The Duke of Burgundy,” really? Peter Strickland should just take up writing giallo fan-fiction or stick to co-directing Bjork concert movies.
Scott Mendelson, Forbes
The top fifty is a pretty thorough list, and it shames me in terms of pointing out all of the “catch-up” I need to do between now and the end of the year. At least I’ve seen most of the very top picks, with the argument to be made that “Inside Out” should be a bit higher and shouldn’t be devalued because it’s an uber-mainstream animated blockbuster. Speaking of which, I could argue “Spy” should be higher, as it’s a remarkably thoughtful and nuanced bit of social commentary inside a riotous action comedy that doesn’t skimp on either, but that’s nitpicking. The omission I would argue for is “Unfriended,” which inexplicably became my favorite horror film of the year thus far. No disrespect to “It Follows,” but I was shocked at how relentlessly engaging and suspenseful a film “Unfriended” turned out to be, as its odd format (being entirely presented as the Skype chat screens and various social media pages of its protagonists) not only justified itself artistically but lent it a greater intensity and raw seat-gripping tension than anything I’ve seen this year. The film takes a moment to get started and limps just a bit at the end, but that middle hour-and-change is absolutely gangbusters. I won’t call it underrated, as it got pretty decent notices, but I hope its unexpected pleasures are not forgotten as we discuss the state of the modern theatrical horror film going forward.
Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter
Neill Blomkamp’s “Chappie” isn’t just in my top ten of 2015 so far — standing clear and proud #1 — it’s in my top ten of the decade so far, and the only English-language pictures I’d rank ahead of it on that list are “Archipelago” and “Frances Ha.”
My enthusiasm for the hilarious, thunderously entertaining, imaginative and unpredictable, tenderly moving “Robocop”-meets-”Short Circuit” mashup — featuring the remarkable vocal/mo-cap talents of Sharlto Copley (the saving grace of Blomkamp’s sole dud, “Elysium”) and the wild-card presence of Die Antwoord’s Ninja & Yo-Landi — is shared by (among others):
1. William Gibson: “Saw #Chappie. Grinned all the way home. Still am.” // “I’ve been unable to imagine ways in which Sony could have mounted a more inept marketing campaign for the excellent Chappie.” // “Chappie’s giving me that thing where I like it progressively more in retrospect. A second viewing is definitely in order”
2. Stephen King: “Loved Chappie. It’s like a children’s story written by an extremely talented psychopath” // “Besides being a good action movie and a fractured fairy tale, Chappie is a surprisingly sharp satire of thug life.”
3. Michael Pattison (who has just deleted all his old tweets, but enthused that the film is radical because it asserts that being determines consciousness, or something).
4. The vast majority of people who have actually seen it. Among 90,102 IMDb voters, 46.9% rate the film 8/10 or higher. The average of its 546 ratings among Metacritic “users” is 7.4. Of the 41,622 Rotten Tomatoes “users” who have expressed a view of the film, 61% “liked it”.
And yet “Chappie” failed to make the Top 50 in Criticwire’s “Best of 2015 So Far” poll. Only three critics voted for this instant classic, myself and two dudes who ranked it #8. The headline Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores are lousy, and despite opening at #1 at the box office on its opening weekend its theatrical release was regarded as a flop. But “Chappie” has an afterlife: it came out on DVD/Blu-ray this week, just in time for Father’s Day.
Zac Oldenburg, Having Said That
“Man From Reno”: How is this not in the top 50? Maybe too many people saw it last year at festivals? This movie was a gem with no release, I know, but shouldn’t the critic’s poll participants have it on their radar. If you all have just flat out missed it, don’t once it makes itself available at home.
Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye for Film
To my surprise, five of the Top 10 I chose were not even in the top 50 of Indiewire’s Best Films of 2015 So Far Poll. Here is why these films deserve a second mention: Saverio Costanzo’s absurdly funny “Hungry Hearts,” starring Alba Rohrwacher and Adam Driver, is many things — a suspenseful investigation into the nature of escape, a comedy of metaphors and an alluringly photographed glimpse into the abyss. Paolo Virzì’s study of capitalism in crisis gives the audience all it covets. His “Human Capital” is a tale of people trapped in the wheels of money, prestige and unfulfilled longings, disguised as a thriller. Some create the wheels, some spin them and others run in them. Vast in scope and dealing with private emotions, Dominik Graf’s “Beloved Sisters” sharply re-invents the costume drama. Frédéric Tcheng’s “Dior and I” about a house and its ghosts in past and present is all you could desire from a fashion documentary as he comprehensively shadows the teams of the haute couture ateliers at work. Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado’s “The Salt of the Earth” functions as a serious reminder of the half-forgotten. Photographer Sebastião Salgado’s images on the big screen are a visual gift as much as the subject matter of his work is a scream for change.
Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket
On the whole, that’s not a bad list, but I have to wonder why “The Overnight” — the funniest movie so far this year — isn’t on it. Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman and (especially) Taylor Schilling give superb performances in this racy, but surprisingly poignant, comedy. I’d also argue for the inclusion of Adam MacDonald’s traumatically scary “Backcountry,” which takes the killer bear concept to new heights. As for what doesn’t belong… look, I know “Blackhat” has its defenders. Many of them are critics I greatly respect. Personally, I found that movie muddled and unconvincing. And putting it ahead of the brilliant “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” is madness, no matter how you slice it.
Edwin Arnaudin, Asheville Citizen-Times
The closest that one of my Top 10 picks came to the overall Top 10 is consensus #15 “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,” so I have a few possible answers. Based on their overall critical receptions, I understand the lack of support for my top two (“Far from the Madding Crowd” and “While We’re Young”), but I’m most surprised that “What We Do in the Shadows,” my #3, only received votes from 14 critics, just four of whom have it in their Top 5. The Criticwire network has given the year’s best comedy mostly low As or high Bs with one lonely C as its worst grade, resulting in a cumulative A-. That’s the same score as “Mad Max: Fury Road,” yet it’s the top pick and “Shadows” sits at #26.
Fourteen spots ahead of “Shadows” is the snoozefest known as “Blackhat,” which should be nowhere near the Top 10, much less the Top 50. Is this a “Michael Mann can do no wrong” thing? I pretty much agree with that assessment through 2004, but think he’s been in a steady decline ever since and has reached a new low with his latest effort.
Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second
Reassuringly it has made it into the top 50, but I’d have liked to have seen Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” fare even better. The film opened here in the UK a little later than the US, and I came out of it wanting to repeatedly scream “did we see the same film?” into the cinesphere, such was the overwhelmingly negative vibe that had reached our shores from ‘cross the Atlantic (admittedly a great deal of my fellow countrymen felt the same way about it as our American cousins too).
Jordan Hoffman, NY Daily News, The Guardian
People need to calm the hell down about “Mad Max: Fury Road.” It’s very good. Extremely entertaining. Huzzah practical effects. Double huzzah for a bold woman protagonist. But best movie of the year? Y’all been huffin’ too much of that guzzolene
Jeff Berg, Las Cruces Bulletin, Reel NM
No complaints here for a change, concerning the selected titles… although I think “The Salvation” was much better than some of them.
Greg Cwik, Vulture, Indiewire
The unrepentantly eccentric “La Sapienza” is as deadpan and dry as comedies get, and the geometric, often flush and formally rigid photography has a hypnotic quality that sort of makes me think of Bresson. Eugène Green, a native New Yorker who moved to France and became more European than the genuinely European filmmakers, taps the ennui and salience of art’s role in making life mean something. I’m also sad no one I know has seen Melanie Laurent’s devastating “Respire.” People love to wonder why there are so few films about females in theaters and then a great one comes along and plays at the Film Society and gets no buzz or attention. Maybe everyone was too busy arguing about Joss Whedon’s Twitter account, I don’t know. I’m told by people who care about things like release dates and rights that it hasn’t technically come out yet, which is a shame and someone with money should buy this movie and distribute it. I’ve been telling people to see it for months, and as usual no one listens to me. You’re probably not even reading this.
John Keefer, 51 Deep
Considering that I did not participate in last week’s survey due to a three-day weekend, in which I did not look at my email, I feel like I can’t really complain about the top ten. It’s similar to not voting in an election, your non-participation helped the winner so you just gotta live with it. That being said I’m pretty surprised “It Follows” got in there at number 4. I mean I loved the movie but horror films historically tend to be looked down upon by critical consensus and that’s the way I like it goshdarnit! We in the Family Horror enjoy our outsider status, spitting in the face of good taste and decorum, and look with suspicion at any film that garners critical acceptance. Speaking on behalf of the horror community, which I am not really in a position to do, I protest this high-ranked and high regard! We in the community like it better when a film is reviled and considered sub-pornographic with the ultimate compliment being a call for a ban on the film. Then twenty years go by and the film is re-evaluated because writers need something to fill up all the various blogs with and it’s found, low and behold, to be a masterpiece. We in Horror Faithful prefer the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” model of eventual critical acceptance and praise because we like making fun of all the people who are late to the party. Especially those who blare the trumpets demanding good taste be a priority in art. Or maybe I’m just rambling because I feel bad that I missed last week’s survey and wanted to make up for it with an inordinately long paragraph of half-formed opinions and nonsense… “Mad Max” rules!!!
Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit
Well, considering how I was actually one of the folks invited to participate in the poll, I both really want to complain about some of my picks not making the top cut, as well as not really wanting to complain, since some of my picks did make it. Essentially, I just would have liked to have seen some other mentions for 5 to 7 as well as perhaps a bit more love for “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Other than that, I think it was a fairly solid representation of the critical consensus of the first half of 2015.
Josh Spiegel, Movie Mezzanine
I didn’t respond to the Indiewire survey because I felt it a bit dishonest to specify my 10 favorite films of 2015 when I’ve barely seen more than 10 of the year’s films so far. (Still haven’t seen “Mad Max: Fury Road”, sadly.) Funny thing is, the only entry in the top 50 that made me raise my eyebrows would’ve probably been in my own top 10 simply because of how little I’ve seen. While I readily admit that the Kenneth Branagh take on “Cinderella” is the least awful film in the burgeoning genre known as Disney Revives Its Animated Films In Live-Action Form So They Can Make Even More Money, I don’t think it’s actually a good film. I know a number of critics I respect feel differently, but… yeah, I don’t get how it’s among the 50 best films of the year so far unless it’s only there because it’s one of literally 50 films that opened in 2015. It looks pretty (with the exception of the obnoxious transformation sequence, which is hideously garish), but was, for me, awfully lifeless. Better than continuously painful, but not a big improvement.
Jason Shawhan, The Nashville Scene, Interface 2037
I don’t know about egregious omissions, but there are films that I love deeply that are nowhere to be found on this list. That’s to be expected; there is not a critical monolith. I loved “Jupiter Ascending” and hated “Jauja,” and would gleefully switch them out for one another… But only if it was meant to be representative of my own aesthetics. Anything working in averages is going to sand off the rough edges, and for a midyear survey, there’s nothing on here that strikes me as a blight on the tastes of my colleagues. I find my biggest and most visceral response is for what will presumably be 2015 films that haven’t been officially released yet (e.g. “They Look Like People,” “The Black Panthers,” “Alleluia,” and “Felt”) which could throw any hierarchy into disarray. And truthfully, “Love & Mercy” really isn’t all that. And I wish Spring was better than it is and not as bent on heteronormative conventionality as it is…
Max O’Connell , Rapid City Journal, Movie Mezzanine
Most of my standouts this year have been represented, but I am a bit disappointed that “Appropriate Behavior” and “Maps to the Stars” aren’t a bit higher. The latter in particular has grown in my memory, feeling more purposeful in its apparent stylistic plainness every day, its visual flatness and pause-driven editing giving it a distinct rhythm and tone, exposing the fraudulent nature of the characters’ self-presentation and cutting through the somewhat musty nature of Bruce Wagner’s script.
I can’t quite join everyone else’s enthusiasm for “Ex Machina.” It’s engaging enough in the moment, thanks largely to the actors, but aside from Oscar Isaac’s frat boy Moreau there’s nothing that doesn’t play exactly how you’d expect it to.
Ali Arikan, RogerEbert.com
I think midyear movie polls are horseshit. But you know what’s worse? How TV critics run two separate “best TV shows of the year” lists: one at the end of the season, and the other at the end of the year. Make up your damned mind when the year ends, you fucking wankers.
Q: What is the best movie in theaters?
A: “Inside Out” and “Max Max: Fury Road” (tie)
Other movies receiving multiple votes: “Dope”