Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions. (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: Polls have been voted in, Top 10 lists filed— but what doesn’t make the cut? Or what’s on your list and no
one else’s? Name the best films, performances,
and anything else worth mentioning of 2015 that
aren’t likely to be recognized anywhere else.
Christian Blauvelt, BBC Culture
When it comes to aesthetic appreciation, listmaking is probably not the best activity in which to engage. It turns criticism into a competition — and the shades of difference between a #7 choice and a #8 choice on one’s list can be pretty inscrutable. At best a Top 10 list is a personal expression — when I coordinated a poll of 62 critics to determine the 100 Greatest American Films earlier this year I emphasized the importance of having each selection be a genuine favorite, and included “Jeremiah Johnson” and “I Walked with a Zombie” on my own ballot. But groupthink can pose a challenge to authenticity when putting together a Top 10 list—– as is the contrarian impulse to resist at all cost what one perceives as groupthink.
Take “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.” By any standard this film should be the recipient of as much end-of-year praise as “Mad Max: Fury Road” (which admittedly I also love). It’s a perfect fusion of old Hollywood classicism — I can imagine Stanley Donen adoring the shoot-out at the Vienna opera, synchronized with balletic precision to Turandot — with latter-day blockbuster bedazzlement. Every action sequence is distinct from the next. Each sequence advances the relationship of Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson’s characters. Several scenes feel structured along the rigorous logical lines of game theory, and yet at no time does the movie ever feel like just a puzzle to be solved. Director Christopher McQuarrie uses a tripod. Watching it for the third time recently on a flight back from London I was nearly compelled to turn to the passenger next to me as Cruise first dashes across a field and shout, “This is our last movie star! This is our last movie star!”
Earlier in the year I felt much the same about another movie: Simon Curtis’ “Woman in Gold.” The groupthink response to that film seemed to be, “Oh, it’s another middlebrow awards bait vehicle from Harvey.” When actually if you open yourself to it, that’s a film of refined gestures and delicate purpose about how easily historical horrors can be perpetuated simply by how we choose to remember them. Why “Woman in Gold” can be dismissed out of hand when films like “The King’s Speech” and “The Imitation Game” go on to become awards season titans is a mystery I can’t solve.
Finally, I’ve noticed that films released primarily on VOD still get short shrift in these year-end considerations, and I’d like to point out a corker that’s like “Grosse Pointe Blank” meets “Clueless”: Kyle Newman’s “Barely Lethal.” Hailee Steinfeld plays a spy trained since her earliest days to be a fearsome force in the world of international espionage — but she’s also just a teenager who wants to be “normal.” So she fakes her death and enrolls in a regular high-school. It’s a dastardly funny comedy, and, in what has to go down as the actor’s best year ever, it features Samuel L Jackson as Steinfeld’s drill-sergeant-like covert handler. Newman gives the movie a “Mean Girls” touch — and a wit that really is killer.
Josh Spiegel, Movie Mezzanine
Keeping in mind that the amount of 2015 films I saw is woefully low compared to many others, I’ll mention a couple films that show up high on my best-of-the-year list: “Shaun the Sheep Movie” and “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.” The former isn’t the best animated film of the year — that would be “Inside Out,” which still holds my top spot — but it’s no less inventive or witty. Too few people got around to seeing this Aardman Animations marvel, but I hope that its home-video release will attract a larger audience to appreciate its silent, old-fashioned charms. “Rogue Nation” isn’t even the best action movie of the year — “Fury Road,” duh —b ut I will say that it featured two of the best action sequences of 2015: the lengthy opera-house setpiece that pays so much homage to Hitchcock that the Master of Suspense’s wallets must be brimming, and the mid-film chase scene through Morocco. The latter doesn’t quite equal the Burj Khalifa scene in “Ghost Protocol,” but Christopher McQuarrie’s just about as good at escalating action as Brad Bird was. More to the point, both “Shaun the Sheep Movie” and “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” are just a lot of fun; there have been many great films this year, but few equal these two in terms of sheer cinematic joy.
Alonso Duralde, TheWrap, What the Flick?!
Underloved movie: “Paddington.” Underloved performance: Al Pacino, “Manglehorn.” Underloved documentary: “Dior and I.” Underloved popcorn movie: “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Underloved movie based on a cartoon designed to sell toys: “Jem and the Holograms.” Understocked theater candy: grape flavored Red Vines.
Michael Sicinski, Cinema Scope
There’s nothing wrong with consensus. Certain outstanding achievements always rise to the top. But I do tend to think that some films are overpraised because of their tight literary perfection, which in cinematic terms often means that they have done all the thinking for you. (Two of this year’s most admired films, “Carol” and “Phoenix,” are a lot like this. They’re admirable but never really surprise.) I like unruly moments and flawed efforts, even if top ten lists can’t accommodate them very well. Here are five.
1. “Ned Rifle” (Hal Hartley) — the final scene, when Ned (Liam Aiken) makes a pointed decision to be a very different man than his lout of a father, Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan). A Bressonian gesture, and the trilogy is complete.
2. “Arabian Nights, Volume 2: The Desolate One” (Miguel Gomes) — Is Gomes’ sprawling three-part inquiry into the future of the Portuguese state a masterpiece? Its fragmented, sketchbook quality almost makes mastery impossible, and beside the point. But one segment in Part Two, “The Judge’s Tears,” is an absolute knockout. Gomes channels Monty Python as a state justice (Luísa Cruz) struggles with humankind’s basic stupidity. She’s a Buñuelian Judge Judy.
3. “Lava” (James Ford Murphy) — This was the volcano-themed short that played before “Inside Out.” Like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, it felt so good when it was over. Plus, it provided my friends and I with a new benchmark for cinematic shittiness.
4. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (George Miller) — I didn’t like this film as much as most other people, but those character names! Especially the wives. If I had it all to do again, no way I wouldn’t name my daughter either Capable or The Splendid Angharad.
5. “What We Do in the Shadows” (Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi) — Now we know why vampires prefer virgins. Makes perfect sense when you put it that way.
Dan Kois, Slate
There is no place on my ballot to mark Worst Film. The Worst Film of 2015 is “Lava.”
Justine Smith, Vague Visages
Living in Quebec presents unique challenges in putting together a year end list. I am incredibly lucky to live in a market with an incredibly thriving local cinema. Many favourite new releases I watched this past year were homegrown. Films like “Chorus” (Francois Delisle) and “Early Winter” (Michael Rowe) would undoubtedly make my year end list if they had screened theatrically outside of my market — but they haven’t. In the past I used to use Quebec, since it’s where I live, as the measure of what qualifies for official releases but it proved to be increasingly untenable as the online community both expands and shrinks the standards that come with showcasing the best of the year. There is value in including smaller films like “Early Winter” now, get people to keep an eye out for it, but it also distills their ability to gain traction.It’s something I struggle with, since it becomes a push and pull for criticism as being interlocked with publicity — something I try and resist — but I also recognize that only good can come from helping smaller films get seen.
One really great film that got a NY release for 2015 is “Tu Dors Nicole.” It has a small following, but it is nonetheless worth mentioning as something more people should be checking out if they have not already. It’s a darkly funny surreal film about adolescent ennui. It is explicitly feminine, exploring desire and female friendship with a refreshing eye and a good dose of absurdism.
Piers Marchant, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Philadelphia Magazine
My totally unofficial list of odds ‘n’ ends:
Best First Hour: “Goodnight Mommy.” I should specify, best first hour of a film which ultimately really disappointed me. But forget, for a moment, the strangled convolutions that Fiala & Franz’s film ultimately ends with, and instead marvel at the brilliantly peculiar vibe and dark atmospherics the film’s first act establishes behind the ravishing camera work of DP Martin Gschlacht. I forgive it much of its later trespass just because it knocks you out early.
Best Visual Joke: “Slow West.” I wouldn’t dare spoil it for you if you haven’t yet seen John Mclean’s off-beat western, only to specify it happens during the film’s final shoot-out, and it’s so completely against the tone of the rest of the scene, it makes you quickly double-check to make sure it was intended. It was, and it still somehow totally works.
Best Response to a Teen Sex Scandal: “Bang Gang.” As the film is French, allow me to sum up thusly: C’est la vie. That’s right, a bunch of young French teens have a bunch of orgies together over the course of a high school summer, and their parents respond with a glass of good wine (I’m betting) and a collective shrug. Longue vie à la France!
Best Examination of a Grilled Foot: “Finders Keepers.” Honestly, just watch this fascinating doc from Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel, then you’ll know.
Best Canine Actor(s): Body & Luke, “White God.” I still have very mixed feelings about Kornėl Mundruczó’s harsh fairy tale-like polemic about a dog who rises up against his various oppressors, but there’s no denying the two pooches who play the lead protagonist are absolutely mesmerizing.
Best History Lesson: “Bitter Lake.” This absorbing doc from Adam Curtis, using material from the BBC’s vast archive, offers a sense of the tortured history of Afghanistan. Filled with fascinating detail — including just what it was that allowed poppies to grow in such otherwise infertile land — the film offers a sense of this region, torn apart countless times by foreign interests, looking to exploit it for one villainous purpose or other.
Most Overlooked Drama: “Black Sea.” I honestly have no idea why Kevin McDonald’s riveting modern submarine flick was so ignored by the critical press and the general public — it features a wildly twisty plot, and an absolute powerhouse of a performance by Jude Law, among other things — but it was. It deserves far better.
Best Film We Agonizingly Can’t List: “About Elly.” That is, you can’t, if you’re sticking to the “premiered in 2015 mandate. Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi’s mystery story was made and released overseas back in 2009, but only got shown in the U.S. this year. The film isn’t quite as refined and smooth as his more recent work (including “A Separation” and “The Past”), but the elements are all in place, including the plot entanglements involved whenever human beings are put to the emotional test. It’s a damn fine film that won’t likely ever get its proper due in this country, alas.
Stephen Saito, The Moveable Fest
One of the trickiest things about putting a top 10 list together is figuring out just when films have been released. Since dozens of films now come out on a weekly basis, there are usually gems I saw long ago that I don’t even realize are getting dumped at a single screen in LA or New York before shuffling off to VOD, with their lack of resonance with the public likely subconsciously diminishing their stature in my mind. In compiling a top 10, I had to remember that while I actually saw Melanie Laurent’s “Breathe,” the Zellner Brothers’ “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” or Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Eden” at festivals in 2014, they slipped into theaters this year, as did John McLean’s “Slow West,” Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck’s “God Bless the Child,” and Nick Berardini’s “Killing Them Safely,” which got quiet releases shortly after festival premieres in 2015. (Patrick Wang took it upon himself to start showing his bewitching “The Grief of Others” at the Loews Village 7 in NY through Tugg, and I had no idea whether to consider this an official release or not.) All of these are highly recommended, but the *technically* 2015 title that gets the most “huhs?” when I bring it up is Noah Buschel’s “Glass Chin,” a devilish thriller featuring Corey Stoll as a washed-up boxer who gets in over his head with the wrong people (including one played by Billy Crudup that has a fetish for silver needs to be seen to be believed). The film recently scored a well-deserved Spirit Award nomination for Marin Ireland, suggesting at least a few other people have seen it since its debut at Tribeca at 2014 and a blink-and-you’ll miss it release in June, but it deserves a far larger audience.
Richard Brody, New Yorker
The cutoff point of a list is arbitrary; this is the second year in a row that I landed on an even thirty. This year, I included a few movies on the basis of a scene or two — or even just an idea — that I found indelibly strong and memorable. Two movies came close, ones that I admire but which defeat their own inspirations with matters of principle and taste alike — “Welcome to Me” and “Don Verdean.” In Shira Piven’s film, Kristen Wiig stars in a role that requires her to unhinge a little more than she does but also explains the character with a clinical diagnosis that gives her less to work with. Its underlying subject is, had Jerry Lewis been young today, he’d have been medicated and ended up a successful copywriter who makes everyone laugh at meetings. For that matter, Piven’s direction neither pushes Wiig far enough nor highlights, with angles and distances or proximities (the sheer metaphysics of directorial style), how far she goes. As for Jared Hess’s satire, it’s quite unhinged enough; his idea of Christian faith (and Hess’s films are all essentially religious visions) is philosophically stringent. His notion of virtue turns exclusive and self-righteous; the movie’s wide-ranging bitterness is especially aimed at a Jewish character (played by Jemaine Clement), whose villainy is inseparable from his religious identity. Hess’s sense of style, which is among the most spontaneously inspired in the current cinema, is constrained by his doctrine. Here, too, the idea isn’t liberating but crushing. It’s a fascinating and notable film, and I’ll see it again, but it’s one that’s hard to call the best of anything.
Michael Dunaway, Paste Magazine
It’s been a weird year for me, where so few of my favorites are in top award consideration, including my four favorites:
4. “The End of the Tour.” This one’s a bit more understandable to me; I realize I love philosophical, talky films more than most people (I did direct a documentary on Linklater). Still, no love at all? From any quarter? Even for Jason Segel’s wonderful performance as Wallace?
3. “White God.” Maybe it got lost in the released overseas in 2014/released here in 2015 vortex? I seriously doubt anyone in America has seen ten films better than White God this year.
2. “Cartel Land.” I just don’t know how you make a documentary better than this — very timely topic, shockingly deep access, amazing characters, Shakespearean epic action. I assumed I was going to be writing a piece for Paste about how, for the first time, we were naming a doc as the best film of the year. That is, until I saw…
1. “Chi-Raq.” I’m lost on why so few of my colleagues are blown away by this movie. A staggeringly great, heartfelt, wise movie, and an important cultural moment. I consider it to be in the same league as “Do the Right Thing,” which was only the second-best film of the Eighties. At least I’m on the same page as the great Richard Brody on this one — always good company to be in.
Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye For Film
Four costume designers of note worked magic, interlacing time and place with the actors’ bodies. Sandy Powell for Todd Haynes’ “Carol,” Wendy Chuck for Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” Ann Roth for Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young” and Michael Wilkinson for David O. Russell’s “Joy,” show us what splendid storytelling with clothes looks like. Five French films seen earlier this year that have still not received US distribution and should have, are, Christophe Honoré’s “Métamorphoses,” Cédric Anger’s “La Prochaine fois je viserai le coeur,” Frédéric Tellier’s “L’affaire SK1,” Cédric Kahn’s “Vie sauvage” and Stéphane Demoustier’s “Terre battue.” With “Son of Saul,” winner of the Grand Prix du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, opening this week in the US and well on its way to more recognition for first-time director László Nemes and actor/poet Géza Röhrig, you might want to travel on the Möbius strip and watch Claude Lanzmann’s “The Last of the Unjust,” now out on DVD, and look out for Adam Benzine’s “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah,” which screened at DOC NYC.
Max O’Connell, Rapid City Journal
I try to make room for a couple of odd picks that resonated with me and might otherwise go unmentioned (see: Rachel McAdams, “Aloha”), but inevitably, some favorites fall by the wayside when the competition is tough (i.e., my top ten and the Best Actress category this year). I went to bat for “Ricki and the Flash” and “Crimson Peak” a few weeks ago; they ended up just missing my list, along with Cameron Crowe’s wrongfully lambasted “Aloha” and the fine documentary “Approaching the Elephant.” Some of the performances that just missed for me: Kevin Bacon in “Cop Car,” Shameik Moore in “Dope,” Ronit Elkabetz and Sasson Gabai in “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” Billy Crudup in “Glass Chin,” and Mamie Gummer in “Ricki and the Flash.” Finally, I’d like to highlight a few good performances in films I otherwise didn’t care for: Tye Sheridan in “Entertainment,” Suzanne Clement and Anne Dorval in “Mommy,” and James Marsden in “Accidental Love.”
Gary M. Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News
Here are a handful of films I loved this year that did not appear on my top 10 list:
“The Duke of Burgandy”: it’s deliriously inventive (a credit for perfume!) and features fabulous sound design. But any film that overlaps the Venn diagrams of lesbians, S&M practitioners and lepidopterists can’t be ignored.
“The D Train”: Jack Black and James Marsden play the year’s best/oddest couple in this homage to the discomfiting “Chuck and Buck”
“Wild Canaries”: Lawrence Michael Levine’s hilarious screwball comedy thriller had me laughing so hard the man sitting next to me yelled at him.
“Glass Chin”: Not a punch is thrown in this film about a boxer, but this highly theatrical film sucker punches you when you least expect it. Bravo.
“The Mend”: A messy first feature about siblings in crisis. It’s hard to watch but impossible to shake.
“The Boy Next Door”: The guiltiest of pleasures. So head-scratchingly, jaw-droppingly fantastic I could not help but fall under it’s spell.
I was knocked out by Josh Lucas’s performance in “The Mend” and Billy Crudup’s sly turn in “Glass Chin” and Ryan Guzman was fun to watch in “The Boy Next Door” Jason Segel dumbfounded me in “The End of the Tour” and Rinko Kikuchi was extraordinary as “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter”
Some of my favorite screen moments this year have been:
The salt falling in a character’s wound during the climactic shootout in “Slow West”
The bride throwing her groom’s mistress into a mirror in “Wild Tales”
Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman letting it all hang out in “The Overnight”
The carwash sex scene in “Tangerine”
And I was moved by the Paul Walker montage in “Furious 7”
Greg Cwik, Vulture
I asked Steve Greene (wonderful fellow) to add Marlon Brando to the Indiewire poll’s Best Actor drop-down, because Brando’s presence in “Listen to Me Marlon” is, to mine eyes, the best male performance of the year, even if it’s a composite of a lifetime of performing. His exhumed intonation, delivered by a computerized facial emulation, is the epitome of star power. Dude’s dead and still captivates from beyond the grave. “Listen to Me Marlon” may be a documentary, but the film — more of a ballsy kinda filmic essay — is powered by the elegiac presence of the mysterious Brando, a man who took perverse glee in fucking with John Frankenheimer while filming “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” The guy’s entire existence was a performance, really, and these prose-poems, culled from a dozen hours of Brando’s home recordings, coalesce into a self-elegy. The spectral narrator of the film is just as cryptic and beguiling as Kurtz, but with the added quality of being dead.
My top actor proper, for the more traditional readers, was Viggo Mortensen for “Jauja,” a film as beautiful as it is soporific. A lot of people struggled with this at last year’s New York Film Festival — it moves like it has molasses coursing through its veins, what the kids call “slow cinema.” But its sparsity is meditative, designed to coax the mind into meandering. And Mortensen displays unfathomable control, with emotions dribbling out as if leaking through fissures in the weathered facade he’s erected. Also, he at one point talks in Danish with a Spanish accent, which is next-level shit.
Ennio Morricone’s score for “The Hateful Eight,” which comprises unused music from John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (an obvious influence on the film), is awesome. The best part of the entire film is the overture, which promises you an epic masterpiece, with its static screen and swollen orchestral bombast. If the film doesn’t quite reach those levels of greatness, the score certainly does.
Best line of the year was Viola Davis’ “Is that tangible enough for you… Gary?” in “Blackhat,” so incisive and sassy it landed Davis on my supporting actress ballot, alongside newcomer Lou De Laage, whose simmering turn as an emotionally manipulative toxic friend in Melanie Laurent’s “Breathe” (released in France as “Respire,” which means breathe) should put her atop every director’s list. Laurent’s film is in my top five of the year. I begged multiple editors to let me write about it, since this movie got no publicity, which is bizarre because it’s written and directed by a woman and stars two young girls, which should have made it the talk of Film Twitter. Alas, my pleas were ignored.
Also, Corey Stoll is the man in “Glass Chin.” It’s on Netflix, watch it.
Joanna Langfield, The Movie Minute
As I look at the lists and nominees of so many around me, I think it’s almost impossible to find someone or something that doesn’t get mentioned somewhere, but here is, in no particular order and certainly incomplete, my list of what I couldn’t fit in the lists and voting that I have just, thank God, completed.
Two of my favorite performances by an actress in a feature film were two performances we didn’t see. When can we start recognizing voice over work? Amy Poehler in “Inside Out” and Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Anomalisa” were both just amazing, creating full bodied women without, you should pardon me, the bodies. Great stuff. And let’s not forget Richard Kind, who tore my heart out in “Inside Out’s” Bing Bong.
Maybe you have to be of a certain age, but the first two thirds of “Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead, The Story of the National Lampoon” left me roaring. Especially in contrast to today’s milquetoast “Saturday Night Live,” these Lampooners went right for it and hit their bullseye just about every time.
Jason Mitchell, Christian Bale, Jane Fonda, Liev Schreiber and Tom Courtnay all delivered performances as strong as, if not better, than some of their nominated co-stars. Ian McKellan didn’t have equal billing co-stars. He was just awesome all by himself.
Jason Statham and Le Bron James served up the most surprisingly hilarious moments of the year.
While “Tangerine” wins the little-movie-that-could award (and happily so), appreciation and a hankie or two for “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”
And Joel Edgerton, who was so terrific in support of Johnny Depp in “Black Mass,” gave us a wallop of a directorial debut. “The Gift,” which he also wrote and co-stars in, is a smart, creepy and genuinely scary movie: quite the auspicious debut.
And then there’s Amy Schumer, who proved she’s more than just a popular phenomenon, bringing the smarts and savvy of her excellent cable show to the big screen with a script and a performance that are daring, polished, hilarious and winning. Even if she’s not winning a statue to go along with them. Yet.
Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter, Sight & Sound
This survey asked us “to get outside the usual suspects and throw some attention elsewhere.” Well, if we’re throwing attention outside the usual suspects, we might as well give it a hefty heave — especially if those on the receiving end are routinely and cruelly denied much in the way of spotlight.
I’ve seen films at 29 different festival this year (alongside 60 trips to regular cinemas) and since January have kept a “true” list of the best stuff I’ve seen, regardless of production-year or running time. My 2015 #1 is therefore “The Mallet” by Aleksandar “Aca” Ilić from 1977, all ten minutes of which are viewable here:
Restricting myself to “new” films — i.e. those I saw in 2015 which world-premiered either this year or last (*) — the list looks like this:
1. “Toponymy” (Jonathan Perel) 82m
2. “Isabella Morra” (Isabel Pagliai) 22m
3. “brouillard – passage #14” (Alexandre Larose) 10m*
4. “Chappie” (Neill Blomkamp) 120m
5. “sound of a million insects, light of a thousand stars” (Tomonari Nishikawa) 2m*
6. “The Exquisite Corpus” (Peter Tscherkassky) 19m
7. “Pure Vertical Function” (Peter Lichter) 3m
8. “Veruda: A Film about Bojan” (Igor Bezinović) 33m
9. “The Reflection of Power” (Mihai Grécu) 9m
10. “Embargo” (Johann Lurf) 10m*
As you can see, all bar two of these run less than any official definition of what constitutes “feature” length, and only one obtained any kind of release in cinemas. That one picture did obtain plenty of exposure, however, Neill Blomkamp’s “Chappie” popping up in the majority of the world’s multiplexes — albeit somewhat briefly, thanks to bafflingly cack-handed marketing from US distributor Columbia and what we might charitably dub a less-than-glowing critical reception.
And while I could use this space to “throw attention” on similarly underrated/underappreciated examples of commercial or arthouse-oriented cinema (Max Joseph’s “We Are Your Friends” springs to mind), I will instead urge readers to seek out the unconventional in 2016 — both in terms of running-time and approach.
Most of my 2015 top ten were found in “experimental” festivals and sidebars — and much as I admired and enjoyed films like Peter Strickland’s “The Duke of Burgundy,” David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows,” Alexei German’s “Hard to Be a God” and Andrew Haigh’s “45 Years,” the fact that not one of these sterling achievements ended up making the list above hopefully tells its own story.
Kyle Turner, Uproxx
“Spectre” for being a wonderfully weird, morbid James Bond movie (adore Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography); the scene in “Girlhood” with Rihanna’s “Diamonds”; Rose Byrne in “Spy”; Liev Schreiber in “Spotlight”; “The Peanuts Movie”; Guy Pearce and Colbie Smolders in “Results”; for docs, “Do I Sound Gay?,” “Mala Mala,” and “The Search for General Tso”; the use of Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” in Xavier Dolan’s “Tom at the Farm”; the editing of “Unfriended”; the cinematography, production design, and Henry Cavill in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.“; Kristen Wiig in “Welcome to Me”; and director Stephen Cone’s film “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party.”
Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit
I love making lists, so this is kind of a delight to me. First off, I have at least two titles on my Top Ten list that I think I’m on an island alone with, and they are “5 to 7″ and “Sleeping with Other People.” Next, and this could be a hint as to what my Top Ten for the year looks like, these are, in alphabetical order, the next ten in line for me: “The End of the Tour,” “Grandma,” “Heaven Knows What,” “Inside Out,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “Mistress America,” “Room,” “Sicario,” “Slow West,” and “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” As for performances I’m not citing anywhere but love nonetheless, I wish more people paid attention to Alison Brie in “Sleeping with Other People,” John Cusack in “Love & Mercy,” Sam Elliot in “Grandma,” Ryan Gosling in “The Big Short,” and Lola Kirke in “Mistress America.” In terms of my favorite scene of the year, that’s easily when Lisa sings “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” in “Anomalisa,” followed by Amy’s eulogy in “Trainwreck.”
Ethan Alter, Film Journal International, Yahoo Movies
“Joy” is shaping up to be one of David O. Russell’s more divisive movies, but for me, it’s his most purely enjoyable feature since the pre-“Fighter” run that he’s since disavowed. The QVC scenes carry a strong “Huckabees” vibe, and the family sequences are straight out of “Flirting With Disaster.” It’s definitely ragged and jagged (hence the reason it’s not in my Top 10), but it was nice to see flashes of the old Russell in there.
Like many others, I admired and enjoyed “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” and one day I hope to see it programmed with the less widely-seen, but equally incisive, “Misunderstood.” Asia Argento’s roman à clef outlines another young girl’s coming of age against the backdrop of Rome in the ’80s as opposed to San Francisco in the ’70s. To be fair, the fact that it was barely seen is because it was barely released in the U.S., but it’s a movie that deserves discovery.
Other random memorable moments out of time and out of the Top Ten: Viola Davis’s death scene in “Blackhat;” H.R. Giger’s backyard in “Dark Star;” Britt Robertson’s first extended glimpse of “Tomorrowland;” the inexplicable “Brazil” homage in “Jupiter Ascending;” the contract negotiation in “50 Shades of Grey;” Bradley Cooper and John Krasinski’s wordless bro-talks in “Aloha;” every minute Jason Statham is onscreen in “Spy;” the running gag about the Cincinnati Zoo in “Anomalisa;” the “Mr. Robot” pilot — 2015’s best feature that didn’t play in theaters; and the demented trailer for “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” which promises a level of batshit craziness that the movie itself can’t possibly deliver… but I hope it does.
John Keefer, 51 Deep
Usually around this time of year I go straight up contrarian and don’t talk about films released in 2015. Instead, I talk about the films I’ve watched in 2015. We all have a personal history of our encounters with this medium, with all mediums of art. It doesn’t ultimately matter when a record is made, just matters that you hear it. Of course the times the object is created in will have an impact on its import, its perspective, etc. but I like the idea that every single human has their own biographical history of cinema and the only reason I hope for an afterlife is that there’s a record of when and how many times we see the movies we see so we can, in the end, see the whole tapestry. Yes, that’s the only reason I hope there’s an afterlife. So this year I saw “The Little Fugitive” and loved every second of it, even when it started to drag, because you get Coney Island as it was and I could watch that all day. I also want every dream I have from now on to look exactly like “The Mystery of the Wax Museum.” I want to dream in two-strip technicolor.
Speaking of the afterlife, Jigoku’s vision of hell is one to behold. And speaking of wax museums, “House of Wax” should be a touchstone for all future remakes to follow. But my favorite Vincent Price film I’ve seen this year must ultimately go to “Witchfinder General,” see it. So very quickly now some other notables: “Kuroneko,” “Wait Until Dark,” “Wild Tales,” “Brief Encounter,” “The Gorgon,” “Two Lovers,” “The Strange Case of Angelica,” “That Obscure Object of Desire,” “Chan Is Missing,” “Walker,” “The Films of Kenneth Anger: Vol. 2” (and “Vol. 1”), “Le Trou,” and “Charley Varrick.”
I would also personally recommend Red Letter Media’s “Half in the Bag” and “Best of the Worst” for some fun web series about movies. And because they introduced me to “Zaat!” and “Samurai Cop”. See these horrible movies and support those fine lads from Milwaukee!
And see “Krampus”! If you don’t, Krampus WILL come for you!!!
Happy 2016 Everybody!!!
Jason Shawhan, The Nashville Scene, Interface 2037
Awards season always manages to be the most exhilarating and damaging time of the year. On the one hand, there’s the kicky joy of having your opinion (or place of publication) valued enough that an entire industry looks toward what you have to say on matters of cinematic quality. It can be a lot of fun. But then there’s the having to reschedule your day job around impromptu screenings and the recurring three-to-five movie days for several weeks straight. Or the Middle School Dance insecurities where you have to ask yourself why you aren’t considered important enough by some distributors, but others want to sweep you off your feet with attention.
Some years, making a list is a blast. Some years, it’s a royal pain in the ass. Every survey I take part in and ballot I fill out ends up varying from any others, because once you’ve been part of a year end colloquium, you realize what does and what doesn’t break through. Or what did or didn’t get sent out in screener form. If you look at it from as macro- a perspective as possible, Awards Season is a giant insanity, with so many different variables across so many different groups and philosophies that consensus feels more and more arbitrary, or tied to promotional campaigns.
I’d love to have my own Awards Ceremony, where the Mixshow aesthetic of “Eden” could be celebrated alongside Ron Howard and Anthony Dod Mantle getting all weird with it and coming up with some of the best 3D images of the year. The kind of thing where Sam Smith would perform “Flashlight” (the “Pitch Perfect 2” song he cowrote) instead of that heinous Bond theme. Where Gaspar Noé and Angelina Jolie take part in a cutthroat miniature golf tournament while Brad Pitt and Lucile Hadzihalilovic take the kid from Room to a bouncy castle where Tilda Swinton and Cate Blanchett do facepainting. Where the casts and crews of terrible movies could drink for free because sometimes it just doesn’t come together no matter how hard you try. Where Bunzo, Josh Trank, and Demian Bichir can sit in comfy chairs and know that people care. Where the surviving cast members of “Out 1” are given tasteful plaques that they can use to beat up the makers of “Terminator Genisys” and “Hot Tub Time Machine 2.” Oh, it would be magic… Admit it, you’d watch that.
But that’s the delusion that, as critics, we all operate under. As our ranks thin, due to attrition, financial difficulty, and vindictiveness, it’s important to remember the central koan of film criticism: “Our voices do matter, but none are required to listen or give a shit.” But if you’re reading this, it’s all worth it. Unread is the worst state of being.
Noah Gittell, Washington City Paper
Here’s how a film I loved failed to crack my Top 10. The movie in question is “Mississippi Grind,” the low-key road flick about a pair of losers (Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds) who journey down the Mississippi River, gambling their way into oblivion. The first issue is recency. I saw it just a few days ago, and while I fell hard for it, it hasn’t yet demonstrated any staying power, unlike “Slow West,” “Clouds of Sils Maria,” “Mommy,” or other films from earlier in the year that have remained vivid in my mind. I also have to acknowledge that maybe I’m just the perfect audience for “Mississippi Grind” and am thus overlooking some flaws. After all, it is a film about lonely white men, which I’ve noticed is my protagonist of choice (hmm, I wonder why that is). Finally, there’s the location bias. It is the only film I know of set (partially) in Dubuque, Iowa. I was working there in 2007 when I met my wife, and I have subsequently grown pretty fond of the quirky river town. “Mississippi Grind” is the first film I know of to capture Dubuque’s particular brand of boozy optimism, so while I felt an instant connection to it, I can’t tell whether it’s actually great, or I just want it to be.
Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, One Perfect Shot
I still have a few films left to see before finalizing my list, so I don’t know for absolute certain what will or won’t make the cut. Part of the issue for me is that I refuse to make a list consisting of nothing but “predictable” films. I like to include a little of everything from the year: comedy, horror, animated fare, etc. That means a lot of juggling, and a lot of agonizing over which movies I absolutely can’t bear to exclude. I do intend to keep a promise I made to myself back in the spring, though, by finding room somewhere in my top ten for the amazing “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.” Not many people saw that one. They should. Double feature it with “Fargo” some night. You’ll be glad you did.
Sean Axmaker, Parallax View
It’s a shame that, in the rush to celebrate the ensembles of “Spotlight” (which is magnificent) and “The Big Short” (which is less an ensemble than a collection of performances running around and into each other), no one is remembering the amazing work of the cast in “Experimenter.” The committed work of Anthony Edwards, John Leguizamo, Anton Yelchin, Taryn Manning and others as the test subjects provides some of the most gripping and discomforting profiles in human anxiety and willing resignation to authority. And the contrast with the odd, almost forced joviality of Milgram’s team (Jim Gaffigan, Edoardo Ballerini, Winona Ryder) makes it all the more lacerating. And that doesn’t even begin to address the Twilight Zone debate over test morality with Dennis Haysbert and Kellan Lutz as alternate universe versions of Ossie Davis and William Shatner. I put this ensemble up against all that have been awarded by critics groups or nominated by the Screen Actors Guild.
Luke Goodsell, 4:3
Films: “No Home Movie,” “Entertainment,” “Unfriended,” “Breathe,” “Mustang,” “Stinking Heaven,” “The Thoughts That Once We Had.” Performances: Eddie Redamayne in “Jupiter Ascending,” Harrison Ford in “The Age of Adaline,” Britt Robertson in “Tommorowland,” Hugh Jackman in “Pan,” O’Shea Jackson, Jr. in “Straight Outta Compton,” Maika Monroe in “It Follows.”
What is the best movie in theaters?
A: “Carol”/”Spotlight” (tie)
Other movies receiving multiple votes: “Chi-Raq,” “Creed,” “Mustang”