As we move into the new year, it’s tempting to simply put the last year behind us, casually forgetting the good and bad of 2015 in the hopes of a fresh start. But there’s still plenty of last year business that must be completed before fully moving on, and a major part of that is Reverse Shot’s 11 Offenses of 2015 list. Decidedly not a “worst-of-the-year list,” but rather a list of individual, personalized affronts to cinema from some of the best film writers working today.
Some of the names on this list won’t be a surprise to many people, as films like “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service” have been panned in many critical circles despite their general acclaim, but what’s interesting about the list is that it contains films that have placed on numerous “best of” lists. For example, here’s Michael Koresky on László Nemes’s “Son of Saul,” a film that won Best First Feature in Indiewire’s Critics Poll:
“This opening should immediately clue the viewer in that director László Nemes, in his feature debut, is focused on creating something experiential out of historical tragedy, like an art-film rollercoaster. What makes his showman’s instincts galling is that they are so hubristically wedded to a strict moral philosophy. From Adorno’s famous dictum (“to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric”) to Jacques Rivette’s attack on the tracking shot in Gillo Pontecorvo’s ‘Kapò’ to the eternal debates over Claude Lanzmann and Steven Spielberg’s differing cinematic takes, each alleged by others to be purposely ‘definitive,’ Holocaust representation has long been subject to the highest scrutiny—resulting in arguments over what is right and wrong, what is possible and not. Nemes’s film, a work of appalling craftsmanship, has clearly followed the critical discourse closely, as it comes with its own built-in self-protection: by adhering to its protagonist’s subjectivity, it pretends to keep its horrors largely off-camera, always implying that its aesthetic approach is The Right One. We are invited to find it proper, even tasteful, because we hear rather than see murder, or because images of humans being shot in the head and dropped into pits are kept out of focus. It’s not a cinema of ideas, but one of rigidity, constructed entirely of an arbitrary set of moral principles; it was even given the thumbs up from the 90-year-old Lanzmann, who has long rejected the notion that the Holocaust is dramatically representable onscreen, but who Nemes was savvy enough to consult during production. Lanzmann might as well have given his blessing to ‘Life Is Beautiful’: in its surety of itself, ‘Son of Saul’ is as grotesque and exploitative as any of the Holocaust films that routinely meet with righteous condemnation.”
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Or Leo Goldsmith on Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario,” a film that was roundly praised by many for its tight direction, its performances (mainly from actress Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro), and its cinematography courtesy of Roger Deakins:
“Because the border is a place of murkiness and illogic, one could perhaps forgive the script, penned by ‘Sons of Anarchy’ bit player Taylor Sheridan, for making no sense, and indeed it does a creditable job fashioning outdated Internet articles about Juárez’s drug violence into a taut, nonspecific thriller. One might even say it’s appropriate that Blunt’s hotshot agent takes a moment early in the film to do some very belated background research via Google Image Search to figure out just how bad Mexico is. But these are also indicators of the filmmakers’ assumptions that its characters and audiences know and care as little about the drug wars as they do. Rather than contend with the chilling details and deeply disturbing complexities of a film like, say, Gianfranco Rosi & Charles Bowden’s 2011 documentary ‘El Sicario, Room 164,’ why not transpose the blinkered U.S. news media’s perspective on Mexico into the visual tropes of 21st-century cinematic spectacle instead? Add a veneer of professionalism courtesy of DP Roger Deakins and a telegraphed contempo vibe via Jóhann Jóhannsson’s post-Zimmer electronic score, and the stage is set for a full integration of Fox News immigration coverage and Hollywood fairy tale, wherein the fog of the ‘drug war’ neatly dovetails with one character’s personal, ‘feminine’ struggles with Right and Wrong, and where desperate times call for desperate measures — tough, masculine, paramilitary measures like enhanced interrogation, assassinations, and a little flouting of international law.”
Whether or not you agree with every “offense” on the list, Reverse Shot is one of the few publications where the writing is consistently great across the board, and it’s worth your time just to read wonderfully written takedowns of sacred cows, well-intentioned duds, and pure dreck. Below are the list of films on the list, but as always, follow the link above to read the notes.
Reverse Shot’s 11 Offenses of 2015:
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”
“Son of Saul”
“Kingsman: The Secret Service”