Danny Bowes

Filmmaker, critic.

Filtering by Tag: lists

THE B(OWES)EST MOVIES OF 2016!

Boy, 2016 was swell, huh? I know I spent all year skipping merrily through the golden fields, having a lollipop while the sound of laughter tinkled through the heavens. Just an all-around pleasant fucking year. Mmm mmm.

So, yeah. But there were a lot of good movies! I know a lot of you out there don't ever want to hear about probability statistics again, but the law of averages holds that at the rate they're released, assuming an at least partially artistic motivation for the majority of them, a good 20-30 movies are going to be pretty good in a given year, give or take 10 or so on the high end. That was the biggest surprise for me when I started blogging about movies: more of them are good than I had thought, which was great news, because I love movies.

In that spirit, I come today to celebrate, not to tear down. I don't do worst-of lists, because they just piss me off, and I don't do “overrated” lists because I may be an asshole but I'm not a fucking asshole. Basically, if I don't mention it here, I didn't think it was good, and do remember that telling someone they “forgot” something on a list is the equivalent of shitting in their shoe. With that said, here are my notable/favorite movies of 2016:

 

“I liked it, but let's not get carried away”:

 

The Accountant

Central Intelligence

Deadpool

Ghostbusters

 

You liked it more than I did, and that's fine”:

 

Sully

La La Land

Everybody Wants Some!!

Captain America: Civil War

 

“I didn't see it because I live too far from movie theaters, let alone press screenings”:

 

Silence

Fences

The Edge of Seventeen

Too many foreign pictures to count (though SRK's Fan and Aamir's Dangal stung the worst personally)

 

Honorable Mention:

 

Hidden Figures

Morris From America

SPL 2 (Kill Zone 2)

Fire At Sea

Oasis: Supersonic

My Golden Days

Henry Gamble's Birthday Party

Kate Plays Christine

Doctor Strange

The First Monday In May

Knight of Cups

 

To be clear, I greatly enjoyed all of these wildly divergent movies. (As a side note: Shailene Woodley should have done Wildly Divergent instead of Allegiant, Insurgent, and Detergent. This is why I should be an agent.) I highly recommend all of them.

 

And now . . . numbers 25-11 (note, once we get to around 18 or so every single movie to the end of the list could just as easily be favorite of the year):

 

 

25. Sing Street

 

One horrendous joke, intending to mock racism, but that ends up clanging so bad it's almost sort of racist, is the only thing marring this otherwise delightful story of a dorky kid in 80s Dublin who forms a band to impress a girl and, well, succeeds. One note of warning: you're either going to buy this or you're not, and if Sing Street doesn't do it for you, it's really not going to do it for you. I bought it: the tunes are great, the kids are fabulous, and finally, finally, I liked a John Carney picture. Our long national nightmare is over. That one, anyway.

 

 

24. The Invitation

 

My new favorite subgenre, after Coherence the other year (you know what, scratch that, this goes back to The Exterminating Angel), is “a bunch of well-to-do people get together for a dinner party only a bunch of weird fucking shit happens,” only this is a much slower burn than the other two titles mentioned, to the point where even bringing them up is misleading. If you haven't seen this yet, free up a couple hours, meditate to clear your mind, and go in totally tabula rasa. It's really quite something.

 

 

23. The Witch (or, if you want people on Twitter to climb up your ass, The VVitch)

 

I was totally in the tank for this, for two reasons. One is that my ancestors were the fuckup family on the Mayflower that the stern, religious types on the boat thought were godless lumpen shitheads (talk about genetic determinism, damn), leading to their having to move out into the sticks, although as opposed to The Witch where it was for heresy, in real life it was because my ancestor killed a guy and was hanged and his remaining family decided to put some space between themselves and Plymouth. The second reason is that seemingly without fail, if horror nerds have a huge debate about whether something is really a horror movie, I end up cluelessly wandering in and really liking it six months later. It's gorgeously, sensuously shot—you can taste the fog—and the “wouldst thou like to live deliciously” moment is one of the best things in movies, and it's an incredibly versatile suggestion, useful in daily life.

 

 

22. The Fits

 

Every frame of this picture surges with life. Anna Rose Holmer's debut is the proverbial good microbudget Sundance movie, at once simple and profound, more impact in 70 minutes than damn near every other picture has at twice that length (not to mention hundreds of millions more for budget). We're officially at the part of the list where I'm getting an ulcer because every movie might be fifteen spots too low. More importantly, though, seek this movie out. Support young women filmmakers.

 

 

21. Hail, Caesar!

 

The Coens have been spending their entire career catering to the most whimsical and eccentric neighborhoods of my id, and continue enthusiastically here, doing one of the greatest things an artist can do, which is to put Channing Tatum in a musical. The whole thing isn't Channing Tatum in a musical—there's a bit where George Clooney kicks it with an impeccably curated group of leftist archetypes that had me dying, and that Alden Ehrenreich kid is the truth, and Brolin is still on his seemingly permanent roll—but I can't emphasize enough that putting Channing Tatum in a musical is a great and important thing, and if you put Channing Tatum in a musical, you are a good person who does good deeds and improves the world. So much for the Coens being misanthropes.

 

 

20. De Palma

 

Literally just Brian De Palma sitting around talking about his movies for two hours, but yo, Brian De Palma sitting around talking about his movies for two hours. As the man himself says approximately 8276 times in the movie, “Holy mackerel!”

 

 

19. Jackie

 

There's some appallingly on-the-nose dialogue, and I'm not entirely sold on Portman's performance (though I still think she's picking up a second Oscar this year, Emma Stone notwithstanding), but all of the complimentary stuff I said in my article about this holds.

 

 

18. Krisha

 

A divisive one—boy, the people who hate this movie fucking hate it—but reader, I was moved. It's almost like a domestic drama and a horror movie doing a lot of drugs together and having a “whoa, man, our personalities are merging” experience, complete with the comedown. It's the kind of debut feature where you (okay, me) really want to see what the director does next but also really want him to do something radically different.

 

 

17. The Nice Guys

 

Not even going to pretend like I can be impartial about Shane Black. I'm not. In the slightest. That being said, I kind of wished, as I did with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, that he'd collaborated with another director, but this is a minor quibble. I fucking loved this silly, shaggy, rude-ass movie. Best Gosling performance I've seen yet, and it's the best Crowe's been in a minute, though the kid performances are the best bit (particularly Angourie Rice as Gosling's daughter). “At least you're drinking again.”

 

 

16. No Home Movie

 

Chantal Akerman's last film, and it will make you feel her loss, intensely.

 

 

15. Cameraperson

 

Might make an interesting (and draining) double feature with #16, and the official “fuck, this might be 15 spots too low” picture on this list. Assembled by veteran documentary cinematographer Kristen Johnson from outtakes spanning her whole career, some astonishing moments and images ensue, and what emerges is a singular kind of memoir, a true original. (This could just as easily have been my #1 in a different year, or even a different mood. If you asked me why it's #15 instead, all I'd be able to say is something defensive about ranked lists being bullshit.)

 

 

14. The Shallows

 

As Jean-Luc Godard famously said, “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a shark.” (Why is this ahead of Cameraperson? Look, ranked lists are bullshit.)

 

 

13. Green Room

 

Jeremy Saulnier is really good at brooding, menacing, violent slow burns with colors in the title. This was not at all what I was expecting, and has one of the best endings I've seen in a while.

 

 

12. Hell or High Water

 

The proverbial good Texas neo-noir with a lot of unsubtle “in this economy?” moments (by the way, “unsubtle” is not a knock coming from me), though it would be one of the best movies of the year solely for how hot Chris Pine is in it. It's absurd. Like, to the point of inducing anger. I've seen this movie compared a lot to Killing Them Softly, but this is way better. This one has Chris Pine.

 

11. Certain Women

 

My first Kelly Reichardt, and damn sure won't be my last. Three chapters, interconnected tangentially, about certain women (hey!) in Montana, each fascinating in their various ways. It's a great reminder that Laura Dern rules, that Kristen Stewart makes people lose their goddamn minds (and is great), and that Michelle Williams can overcome even thinly written, annoying roles. Lily Gladstone, though, walks away with the movie, or, more aptly, slowly canters away on her horse with the movie. The kind of picture that reinforces the fact that “slow” and “quiet” are positive traits in the right hands.

 

 

By the way, we're well-ensconced in “this movie easily could have been #1 if I spent another few weeks overthinking the rankings” territory. Just in time for . . . THE TOP TEN.

 

 

10. Manchester by the Sea

 

This is going to sound weird, and negative, and any extrapolation of the following as a critique of the movie is undertaken without the sanction of the author, but the shot that stuck out the most for me in MbtS is one where, after writer-director Kenneth Lonergan has a brief encounter with leading man Casey “C-Fleck” Affleck where they yell at each other in Noath Shoah accents, there's this brief shot that goes nowhere and is not connected to the preceding scene or anything in the movie in any way, be it textual or geographical, of Lonergan walking up the street. Grab a drink and a snack and get comfortable, because I have a take: this non sequitur shot serves, in a way, as a signature. I am this painting. It is me. Anyway, the rest of the movie is great, and C-Fleck really is spectacular in it. (Also, like #11, an entry in the “Michelle Williams can do no wrong” sub-genre.)

 

 

9. Paterson

 

Jim Jarmusch's least cool movie. And it may be his best. Not a drop of meanness in the whole thing, which is blessedly out of step with real life.

 

 

8. The Love Witch

 

I've been banging the drums for this on awards ballots and such, and wrote an appreciating of Samantha Robinson's terrific lead performance here. This fucking movie is so fucking good. Essential for anyone into 70s Euro-horror-softcore, which if you're not you should be, that's the business right there. Anna Biller's on to something, and her name's gone right on my must-see auteurs list, in ink.

 

 

7. Toni Erdmann

 

The most frequent knock on this I've heard is that it's too long, but it needs to be long, and the build enabled by its considerable length allows it to reach quite spectacular heights by the end. I have no idea how to describe Peter Simonischek's performance in this, because “naturalistic Bouffon” sounds like gibberish to me, except that's all I got. Sandra Hüller sings a version of Whitney's “The Greatest Love of All” at one point that stopped my heart beating, not out of technical skill but out of sheer commitment, which by another apparent contradiction, is a function of the technical mastery of her acting. This is another one that's maybe 15 slots too low, and there aren't even 15 slots above it. Ranked lists are bullshit.

 

 

6. 13th

 

Saying that Ava DuVernay makes pop movies isn't a backhanded compliment, because her working within pop aesthetic modes broadens the reach of her work, and what she has to say is vital. So, 13th is presented in the form of a standard talking-head documentary, but whatever conservatism of form it may be saddled with is outweighed in importance by the fact that the United States never, in any practical sense, fully enforced the 13th Amendment (memory jog: that's the one repealing slavery), and the implications of that failure are devastating. The film simply lays out existing facts, but does so with urgent clarity, and the fact that it exists improves the chances that people unaware of those facts will learn them.

 

 

5. I Am Not Your Negro

 

James Baldwin was one of the greatest American writers, and one of the greatest Americans. My words are inadequate to assess this movie. It's coming to theaters in February, mark your calendars.

 

 

4. Love & Friendship

 

It had my attention at “Whit Stillman adapts Jane Austen.” It had my interest at “Kate Beckinsale turns in an iconic movie star performance.” It had my love with Tom Bennett, though. That fucking guy is light. Every frame of this movie is perfect and I adore it.

 

 

3. Moonlight

 

I've only seen about three negative takes on this—and this is out of hundreds, since I spend way too much goddamn time on Twitter—and none of them are worth a shit. Moonlight is the 2016 movie people are going to be talking about twenty years from now (assuming no World War III and/or equivalent Game Over scenario), and that's because it's an exquisitely rendered piece of cinematic art. There are minor issues, mostly in the writing, that bumped it down to #3 for me, but note “for me.” And also remember anything in the top 15-18 this year could have been my #1. Ranked lists are bullshit.

 

 

2. Elle

 

Paul Verhoeven is one of the greatest masters the cinema has ever known. Paul Verhoeven is fucking batshit. These two statements are symbiotic. “VY DUNT VE DO A FEELM VITH ISABAIL HUPAIR VERE A GUY RAPES HER AND DEN SHE FOCKEENK RUINS HIS LIFE, ZAT SOUNTS LIKE A GOOT FILM.” Well, sure, Paul. In your hands. And Isabelle Huppert's. It's only called Elle because “Trigger Warning: The Motion Picture” took up too much space on the poster. But goddamn it's great.

 

 

1 .The Handmaiden

 

Clearly I was in a mood in 2016. This shit is like a hentai rewrite of The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist directed by James Ivory, which automatically makes it the b(owes)est movie of any given year, but especially this one. I wrote this about Park Chan-wook's last jawn, Stoker, a couple years ago:

“. . . the great thing about cinema is you can do it all kinds of ways, and the way Park Chan-wook directs Stoker fucking rules. The key is that it's not excess for the sake of excess, there's a steady, assured directorial hand perceptible for every frame of this picture. Park's mastery of tone is complete, never letting the more lurid aspects sink the ship or the slower bits dissipate any of the holy-shit intensity. Richard Pryor had a bit on one of his albums in the 70s where he was talking about a girl who was 'so fine, I'd suck her daddy's dick.' Well, that's how I feel about Stoker.”

The same, and more so, goes for The Handmaiden. It's an experience. Parts of it feel deliberately infuriating, discomforting, and outright annoying, but I would not have it any other way. It's glorious, and for the purely subjective reason that it was the one movie this year whose ending made me stand up and cheer (I was at home, calm down) it's my #1 for 2016.

 

 

Happy New Year! Keep beauty in your eye and joy in your heart. Resist tyranny. Shanti shanti shanti.

NO MORE PARTIES IN L.A.: 2015-16 OSCAR PICKS

(EDIT: 2/29--These picks were wrong and bad.)

The Oscar ballots are in, and all that remains is putting the dresses and tuxes on, popping some SSRIs, and tuning in for the show! (Yeah, I guess the people actually attending will have fancy clothes and drugs, too, but I'm talking about us.) (Oh, and this is also assuming that the racist fustiness of the nomination process and the industry in general hasn't thoroughly alienated you.) (Or that you don't have other plans Sunday.) (Okay fuck it I'm just moving on.)

 

It's kind of the same shit as always: almost none of the best movies of the year were even nominated, and the ones that were have slim to no chance of winning, but unlike a lot of past years, the frontrunners are relatively inoffensive. Though, it should be noted, I deliberately avoided seeing The Revenant to preserve this state. AGI's on a successful run. I say let him cook, but under the condition that I get to sit out his movies. If he gets back together with Guillermo Arriaga, then we can talk. But despite not wanting to see his movies, I'm okay with AGI winning Oscars. Who gives a shit, really? He gets to be happy, the fact that Carol was the best movie this year doesn't change, everyone wins. Sort of.

 

I'm personally curious to see what effect not giving a single fuck at all has on the accuracy of my predictions. To which end:

 

 

Best Visual Effects

 

A surprisingly loaded category this year, and given personal preference I'd have liked to see Ex Machina take this, for pretty much flawless work on a comparatively tiny ($15 million, which is a lot of money, but watching Ex Machina and then finding out what it cost inevitably yields “They made that for $15 million? Damn.”) budget. But there's nothing wrong with Star Wars: The Force Awakens winning. It's Star Wars. The little soccer ball robot was adorable. I would propose that “cute > sexy” in this case isn't puritanism, either, it's that it's harder to make a robot cute than it is to make a robot sexy.

 

 

Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

 

The differences between these two categories are real, and sometimes they go to different movies but not because of the actual differences between the two. Those jerkoff “Brutally Honest Oscar Voter” things in the Hollywood Reporter are always full of random tanning salon sausages openly bragging about not knowing anything about sound. There are bigger things in the world to get mad about, but pride in ignorance is always irritating. The good news is, a great movie is going to take both of these by accident: Mad Max: Fury Road.

 

 

Best Production Design

 

Another Mad Max: Fury Road win. Man, that movie was great. Wasn't that movie great?

 

 

Best Original Song

 

This will almost certainly be “Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground, Kirby Dick's documentary about campus sexual assault, which is an important subject that things need to be done about. I still, purely artistically, wish the Wiz Khalifa Paul Walker eulogy song from Furious 7 was nominated and the overwhelming favorite.

 

 

Best Original Screenplay

 

Speaking of important subjects, Spotlight has that all covered. It's a very well written and acted movie that venerates not so much journalism as the pursuit of truth and justice, which should be the American way. My quibbles with Spotlight are strictly arcane cinematographic and mise en scene issues that don't mean shit to non-movie people, so I'm actually rooting for this to win as well as thinking it will. Here's to giving the Catholic Church another kick in the shins for their monstrous behavior over the years.

 

 

Best Original Score

 

This one I'm not so sure about. It's possible Star Wars will win, but I think Ennio Morricone's taking this for The Hateful Eight. The Oscars get to have one of their “we're all about history” moments, Morricone gets a big-ass standing ovation. He's Ennio Morricone. Give it up.

 

 

Best Makeup

 

Mad Max: Fury Road. Ride eternal, shiny and chrome.

 

 

Best Live Action Short

 

Ave Maria.

 

 

Best Foreign Language Film

 

It's going to be Son of Saul but I really wish it was Mustang. It's grown on me quite a bit since first viewing, and the last twenty minutes or so are incredible.

 

 

Best Film Editing

 

This might be the biggest layup of all the evening's wins for Mad Max: Fury Road.

 

 

Best Documentary Short

 

Who the fuck knows, really, but I say Body Team 12.

 

 

Best Documentary Feature

 

“Should” be The Look of Silence, probably will be Amy.

 

Best Costume Design

 

This is a little bittersweet, because this the one Oscar Carol, the year's best movie, has any chance of winning. On the other hand, the good news is that it's another Mad Max: Fury Road win. Unless Cinderella takes it.

 

 

Best Cinematography

 

Law of threes: since this'll be Emannuel Lubezki's third win in a row (for The Revenant, following Gravity and Birdman), he has to change his nickname from Chivo to “Triunfador de Oscar” which has the added benefit of also being a pun in English.

 

 

Best Animated Short

 

The truly wise will stay off Twitter for the whole ceremony but even those brave/foolish souls still on will want to log off when World of Tomorrow loses to Sanjay's Super Team. There will be blood.

 

 Best Animated Feature

 

Inside Out.

 

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

 

This'll be The Big Short. If it couldn't be Carol here, it might as well be this, since aesthetic/critical quibbles aside it is about important shit. It's pitched pretty well at people who care about but aren't up on all the details of the shenanigans that caused the not yet fully resolved '08 crisis.

 

 

Best Supporting Actress

 

Despite her being a co-lead, this is most likely going to be Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl. She edges out lead Rooney Mara, supporting player Kate Winslet, ensemble player Rachel McAdams, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who in a Vaclav Havel kind of way is the lead in The Hateful Eight. Whatever, we're all crystallized stardust careening through space.

 

 

Best Supporting Actor

 

Not sugar-coating this at all: if you attempt some dude-behind-Woody-in-Annie Hall posed superiority about Sylvester Stallone winning an Oscar for acting, fuck you where you breathe. You do not have the wherewithal to evaluate acting as an art or as a craft. Talking about how lame it is that Sly got a nom but Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler got screwed is a whole other matter. Creed is a great movie, and it's a perfect Hollywood movie, because of all three of them.

 

 

Best Actress

 

There are, for the most part, two kinds of acting Oscar wins. One is the kind Brie Larson has been a shoo-in for for months: the “You Are Here” win where the Academy anoints what they perceive to be an up-and-coming star. In her case, it fits: she's a good actor, people like her, she's a “type” Hollywood finds space for (not that they have a problem with institutional racism or anything), and she's got good publicists. The last two points aren't meant to denigrate her work as an actor—she's very, very good—but reality is reality.

 

 

Best Actor

Here's the other kind of acting Oscar win, the “It's Your Turn” win. It's easy to go sarcastic and do the “Oh, how Leonardo DiCaprio has suffered” aria bemoaning how difficult it is to fuck your way through multiple generations of supermodels while making millions of dollars, but here's why I'm not going to do that:

 

  

1) He gets laid a lot because people want to fuck him.

2) He makes shitloads of money because it's worth shitloads of money to people to have him in movies.

3) He should have won his first Oscar in '97.

  

3a) He should have won his second Oscar in '02

3b) He should have won his third Oscar in '04

    3c) He should have won his fourth Oscar in '13.

      

       

        

      (In order: Titanic, Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator, and The Wolf of Wall Street.)

       

      We can parse “should” until the cows come home, or we can just be like, look, he's a rock-solid actor and has been one of the biggest stars in Hollywood for twenty years. Sure the category's trash this year. Sure the whole bison liver and hyopthermia shit got old six months ago. Leonardo DiCaprio should have an Oscar. If for nothing else, he's over forty, maybe it'll help him get laid.

       

       

      Best Director

       

      In only the third BD repeat in Oscar history (joining John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Alejandro González Iñárritu. I haven't see The Revenant yet, and like I said before that's deliberate. Just predicting, not talking about what I want to see win, otherwise I'd be spilling whiskey all over the place sobbing about Todd Haynes not getting nominated. It's fine. I'm fine. Everything will be fine.

       

       

      Best Picture

       

      It's The Revenant, almost surely. People I know liked and compared it to everything from Tarkovsky to Malick to The Edge and there was more than one mention of Bart the Bear, which as a dutiful cinephile I cannot begrudge. I also don't have any particular interest at all in seeing it. IF this means I miss a great movie, so be it, no one sees every movie. There are about eight or nine Best Pictures I've never seen and that number's probably going to stay that way, or increase by the occasional one like this year.

       

       

      Final tally:

      Mad Max: Fury Road: 6

      The Revenant: 4

      Everything else tied at 1

       

       

      Rather than leave on that sigh, revisit the best movies of 2015 here. And enjoy your Sunday, whether it's watching the Oscars or any other fun you have planned.

      THE BEST MOVIES OF 2015, ACCORDING TO A NOTED FILM EXPERT: ME

      2015 was an odd year for me personally, not the least because it was my first full calendar year as a post-New Yorker (the only condition I can think of to explain the origin of this completely alien thought on a November business/personal trip back: “Man, the subway really is dirty and gross. . .”) It was a weird year at the movies, too, with a number of widely-acclaimed pictures that couldn't have been tailored closer to my taste leaving me growling with steam coming out my ears, and a number of both widely-reviled and personally uncharacteristic selections taking me by surprise.

       

      It was also a year of movie-adjunct drama and import on the personal front. I covered my first Sundance, albeit in a secondary capacity, but I was there, man. In the shit. Unrelated, a deeply unpleasant harrassment campaign of which I was the target finally began to wind down (it now seems to be completely over, knock on wood). Then there was a bizarre situation with my apartment management company in Salt Lake City leading to my eviction and a window of several weeks where I wasn't entirely sure I wasn't on the lam from a collection agency (I wasn't, thankfully). The previous two developments (as well as numerous long-simmering frustrations) led me to briefly retire from writing film criticism and thinking I was doing so of sound mind, which was almost certainly my second-funniest lapse of self-awareness ever, the first being when I loudly and indignantly insisted “I'm not dramatic!” after someone broke up with me for being too dramatic.

       

      But fuck all that shit. Let's talk movies. Actually, the reason I got into all that personal derp-de-doo above is to explain a change I'm making in my end-of year list format. The previous years, mostly hosted at my old (now-defunct) blog and then last year at my (now-defunct) Letterboxd, were ranked. This was one of the things that my professional existential crisis led me to leave behind. This year, I'm going to list my favorites in alphabetical order, with the single favorite one (which I, coincidentally, actually have this year) at the end.

       

      A few movies that were quite good and/or that I fully enjoyed that didn't make the “best” list, which should not be held against them: The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Bone Tomahawk, Furious 7, Hard to be a GodMission Impossible: Rogue Nation, MustangStar Wars: The Force Awakens

       

      A few movies others' takes on are probably more accurate quality-wise than mine: Brooklyn, The Hateful Eight, Sicario, Spotlight

       

      A few movies I regretfully wasn't able to see that may have figured into the “best” list: Bombay Velvet, Chi-RaqCrimson PeakThe Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Martian

       

      That's about it for the also-rans. So, without any further preface, one man's favorite 2015 films, mostly addressed to people who haven't seen them yet:

       

       

      3 ½ Minutes, 10 Shots: A gripping, brilliantly edited non-fiction account of the 2012 murder of Jordan Davis and the ensuing trial(s) of his killer, Michael Dunn. Refreshingly eschews talking head interviews for the most part in favor of non-staged footage, and somehow manages in the horrible year 2015 to be a movie about a murder of a black person that actually resulted in justice.

       

      99 Homes: Not a movie I was particularly expecting to enjoy but hey, I guess that's why you actually have to watch movies. Michael Shannon's always worth watching, and while the stylized variety of naturalism is a tricky balance (particularly when, like me, you fucking haaaaaate bad naturalism) Ramin Bahrani pulls it off here, and Andrew Garfield overcomes a rough start to become a compelling axis for this story about the perfidy of modern capitalism, and Laura Dern is excellent in a too-small role (god I miss Laura Dern).

       

      Baahubali: The Beginning: I tweeted “no one in the world embraces the essential unreality of CGI and co-opts it to an artistic end like S.S. Rajamouli,” and it's true. Made in Tollywood for a tenth the budget (or less) something like this would've been made for in America, Baahubali is, among other things, Rajamouli telling Hollywood “fuck your money, I know ownage. Top this if you even dare.” It's big, bold, sexy, mythic, and there are elephants. The only debit is, this is only the first half of the story, but the conclusion is on its way.

       

      Blackhat: I'm beyond trying to recommend this to anyone. Late-period Michael Mann is what it is. I, for one, am in favor.

       

      Clouds of Sils Maria: This is one of those movies where I'm like “do I only like this because I'm an actor and Kristen Stewart is in it and the film-within-a-film and play-within-a-film are so funny? and because the dialogue all reads like subtitles but the actors are all actually speaking English? because that's so perverse as to be kind of hilarious?” You know what, though? It's Assayas. It's near-full Binoche. That's enough.

       

      Creed: Anyone yet to see this may be getting suspicious, because everyone loves this and it's on every top ten list, but let the testament of someone who's always hated Rocky movies (me) sway you: it's everything that was good about the Rocky movies, and none of the things that were bad about them. It's the immaculately conceived and executed Platonic ideal of Hollywood movies. MBJ, Sly, and Tessa T are all utterly glorious. Ryan Coogler joins the ranks of people like Welles and Truffaut who made perfect movies before they even turned 30. Creed cannot be oversold.

       

      The Duke of Burgundy: Hey, kids. Ya like 70s Euro sexploitation films? Meet your new best friend Peter Strickland. His thing, as with giallo in Berberian Sound Studio, is the kind of rigorous genre recreation that Tarantino popularized, only Strickland is like if you sent Tarantino to college/grad school and took away his weed (not a value judgment, note). Not for the squeamish or the particularly vanilla, but if you're the kind of person who was really pissed when Netflix took all their Jean Rollin away this is a must.

       

      Ex Machina: If I hadn't known, I'd have thought this was the screenwriting debut of an established director rather than the directing debut of established screenwriter Alex Garland, because the filmmaking is terrifically accomplished and holistically one with the text here. The architecture of rich mad scientist Oscar Isaac's house is as cold, austere, and accomplished as his work: the creation of robots in the humanoid (specifically, severely attractive women) robots who can pass the Turing test. The philosophical implications are as deep as how much weed you smoke to it, but the movie's gorgeous to look at, very well played (particularly by Alicia Vikander and Domnhall Gleeson), and ends in a quietly satisying fashion.

       

      Experimenter: Speaking of another word that starts with the letters “exp,” I saw this under interesting experiential conditions, namely freezing my balls off during Sundance after thinking “sure, I'll walk over to the venue” and forgetting that it was only unseasonably warm during the day. So I was in a shitty mood and didn't really like Michael Almereyda movies all that much and generally in one of the kind of mood that leads even people who love me the most to say things like “Christ, he's insufferable when he's like this.” And yet I managed to slay the asshole within and appreciate this picture for the marvelously weird blend of non-fiction, artifice, and tall tale that it is. I apologize to the director for all the mean things I've thought about him over the years. Sarsgaard for life. Winona forever.

       

      The Forbidden Room: Guy motherfucking Maddin motherfucker. Get some.

       

      Girlhood: Celine Schiamma's real good, and while not everything in this lands smoothly (or at all), I would be remiss leaving this off any best-of list solely because of the Rihanna “Diamonds” scene. The Rihanna “Diamonds” scene is one of the most glorious thing I've ever seen in a movie. Karidja Touré is spectacular in the lead.

       

      It Follows: I really like John Carpenter, something I was shocked to find did not make me a special snowflake. So does David Robert Mitchell! Despite all the similar use of widescreen and synth score, this never felt overly beholden to the past, at least no more than Carpenter was to Ford and/or Hawks. I don't keep up with horror as well as I should, but when an effective horror movie comes down the pike I always like to wave at it and ask it to introduce me to its friends. So to speak.


      Jupiter Ascending: We have, at this late point, seen any number of movies that feel like they were directed by a precocious, geeky 13 year old boy. What this movie presupposes is, what if a movie felt like it was directed by a precocious, geeky 13 year old girl? Et voila.


      Mad Max: Fury Road: “WHAT A DAY! WHAT A LOVELY DAY!” George Miller reassuming his position in the action pantheon was important, and so was the attention and credit (which is still insufficient, but still) Margaret Sixel got for her editing. And the world is a better place with Furiosa in it, because it was frankly kind of fucking stupid that Charlize Theron hadn't yet had an eternal, iconic role. At least we got that taken care of this year.


      Magic Mike XXL: I have seen the face of God. “Yes, my God is a She.”

       

      The Mend: One of the best New York Movies (not every movie set in New York is A New York Movie, the latter needs to embody the spirit of the place in totality, and this one fucking really does) in recent memory. It's writer-director John Magary's debut, and I cannot wait to see what he's got in store next. Also, the best thing Josh Lucas has ever done.


      Mississippi Grind: A refreshingly low-key shamble with two excellent performances by Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds at the center. It only dawned on me an irritatingly long period after I had to file my review that its observational rather than blocked cinematic style and coincidence-driven plot spiritually fit the subject matter, the luck that underlies the entire act of gambling and frequently thwarts the skill of the gambler. When every molecule is the whole itself, you're onto something, and this movie has stuck with me with a rare tenacity.


      Mistress America: Wherein (fellow Bard alum) Lola Kirke becomes a star and Greta Gerwig continues to Gerwig, and all is well. My “Greta Gerwig totally carries Noah Baumbach and deserves 98% of the credit for their collaborations” take might be a little toasty but such is life.


      Paddington: Look, someone made an elegantly blocked and gorgeously designed Paddington movie in 2015, with a top 5 Nicole Kidman performance and a CGI bear that was actually cute and worthy to be voiced by Ben Whishaw. That's stacks on stacks of miracles, okay?


      Results: Can't really put it any better than this.

       

      The Russian Woodpecker: Oh, you had me at “non-fiction film about a performance artist who literally has radiation in his bones trying to unravel a Soviet-era conspiracy.” It is my mission in life to convince as many people see this movie as possible.

       

      Straight Outta Compton: Producers Dre and Cube don't engage in a ton of auto-critique, making this kind of a victory lap, but here's the thing: they won. The vertiginous sweep of their sudden, immediate, literally world-changing success propels the movie past a lot of the parts of the chronology where it's like, “uhh . . . it feels like a few things were elided here.” And there were. But there's also a scene where Jerry Heller hears “No Vaseline” for the first time. And the scene where the gang members board the schoolbus. And that jaw-dropping climactic confrontation. There are a lot of normal biopic things in it, but it pulls them off, and does a lot of other things extraordinarily well.


      Tangerine: So. Earlier this year there was this window of time where I was going to be moving to Los Angeles, and obviously that window closed at a certain point but while that was going on I saw this movie and it was shot in basically the same neighborhood I was probably going to move to and goddammit nothing has ever made me feel more welcomed. I know this has nothing to do with the movie and it's a little bittersweet now that moving to Los Angeles is on hold maybe for good but this feeling will all make sense if/when you've seen the movie. And will probably make you think “Christ, Danny's weird” but if you don't say that five times a day already you simply don't know me.


      Timbuktu: Set during the occupation of Timbuktu by jihadists, the attraction here is less the story (though there is one tying everything together) than the observations Abderrahmane Sissako makes, the patient assembly of all those observations into a fully realized universe, and the faith in the audience to follow everything and process all the observations. One of the rare “important” movies that's also legitimately great cinema as well.

       

      And, my #1 for the entire year of our lord 2015 . . .


       

      Carol: I could do a rambling thing about how crucial Todd Haynes and Patricia Highsmith have been to my personal and cinematic upbringing (to say nothing of Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett), or I could do the thing where I say “this is literally everything I've ever wanted in a film.” The former is certainly true, but beside the point, and the latter is slight hyperbole, because there's no car chase where Blanchett lead-foots it while Mara leans out the side with shades on and a cigarette in her mouth machine-gunning agents of the patriarchy in a trailing car that then explodes but the one of the eight billion reasons why Carol is so wonderful is because it actually, no shit, nods in that direction (the whole business with the gun and the private detective, mild spoiler). I'm digressing, and irrelevantly, but the point is this is my list and Carol is perfect and wonderful and yes.

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