Having been radio silent for a long hiatus, as I gave myself a sort-of movie break and I have to pay those bills somehow, I figured I would make a list of the best of the Year thus far to catch up on the films I missed a chance to talk about. Because there certainly has been some great films that have already come along and deserve to be highlighted and to be discussed far more.
Honorable Mention: About Elly
Iranian flimmaker Asghar Farhadi has made a name for himself in last few years with his intimate family dramas A Separation and The Past. Even before those he made an international splash in 2009 with About Elly (Not really a stickler for release dates, I can only consider a film when I can actually see it), a shifting and engaging mystery about a group of close friends trying to unravel the mystery of a woman known only as Elly, invited to tag along by one of the wives in the group, who has seemingly vanished into thin air. The mystery deepens and engulfs all in the get-together as they slowly discover more about the enigmatic Elly. Farhadi as with previous efforts weaves agonizingly intimate portrayals of groups of people coming apart at the seams based off of simple withheld information. An engaging story about the simple lies we tell that can lead to something worse than we could ever imagine.
11). Mad Max: Fury Road
“Best Action Movie Ever!” “Best stuntwork Ever!” “Best 80’s movie that didn’t come out of the 80’s” Superlatives and hyperbole aside the latest entry in the Mad Max series is an absolute blast from start to finish. Tom Hardy takes to the role like he was always meant to be the titular character, but it is Charlize Theron that ends providing the bulk of the badass moments in George Miller’s return to form after a three decade hiatus. Using ridiculous acrobatic stunts, perfectly choreographed fight scenes and car crashes galore to tell a story through action of rebellion and survival in a land without hope.What a lovely day, indeed.
10). Far From the Madding Crowd
Carey Mulligan shines as the Victorian beauty with a rare kind of independent streak, Bathseba Everdene in this latest adaptation of Tom Hardy’s seminal romantic work (The classical writer, of course, not the previous movie’s star). The Hunt‘s Thomas Vinterberg moves the story along briskly as Mulligan glides through the material like a natural, providing equal parts independence and naivety about her limiting situation in Victorian times as Bathseba manages three potential male suitors in her life and supports a prosperous farm of her own. Multitasking in the 1800’s for you, with most viewers relating to her numerous trials and tribulations, a reminder that the struggles of past are always not so far removed from the present.
Just as unsettling and nerve raking in its claustrophobic cinematography as the ideas that are expounded on with writer-turned-director Alex Garland’s entry into creepy and intelligent sci-fi. The uneasy nature of the evolution of Artificial Intelligence and it’s impact on the human race is put front and center in the form of a new-age Turing test. Alicia Vikander as Eva provides the newly minted Artificial intelligence with all-too-human characteristics and mannerisms, or imitations thereof, as Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb tries to discern anything human in the wires and coding. A thriller for the 21st century as the thin grey-line between man and machine fades and fades.
8). White God
Deserving of a spot on this list just for how the movie was made, with its canine cast and their point-of-view cinematography the Hungarian film is a minor miracle. The sheer undertaking of training the dog cast members to do exactly what the script called for is a wonder in and of itself. There is, however, just a simple story at the heart of all the complicated filmmaking techniques, that of a dog trying to return home to his owner. Along the way though obstacles arise for both that serve to change them and their relationship forever. Needless to say but this is a harrowing film for Animal rights advocates and dog-lovers alike.
Not nearly as long in the making as last year’s Boyhood, but covering the same grounds in coming of age dramas; that of understanding oneself and finding your clique. Director/writer Céline Sciamma’s focused and poignant drama centers on Karidja Touré’s Marieme as she navigates her way through her rough Paris neighborhood. In order to fit in she joins a gang of girls, hence the French title of Bande de Filles, and seeks to mold herself as a worthy fit. When she is part of the gang has an identity, aptly named Vic, that she has been trying to find all her young life. Building a unique identity, finding the people you want to include in your life and coming to gripes with harsh truths about life are themes put on display in this portrayal of youth in rebellion.
6). The Hunting Ground/ The Look of Silence
No two other Docs will shock and rock you this year than these probing and unflinching glimpses into unfathomable injustices and neglect. Kirby Dick continues with investigating prestigious Colleges and Universities as he did with The Invisible War with the military to document Sexual assault in institutions that have continually and dangerously looked the other way when cases are brought up. A maddening and crucial look into how Rape is investigated on campuses nationwide. Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to the unforgettable and harrowing Act of Killing is another daring experiment into the mindset of denial and inhumanity. As an anonymous optometrist travels from former mass executioner to another questioning them about their actions during the genocidal purges in Indonesia in the mid 1960’s in hopes of understanding why his brother was murdered. Giving the audience a first-person P.O.V this time around on the atrocities committed during that time. These two achievements in documentary form both serve to show the darkest elements of human nature in a way that only film could capture.
5). The Tribe
Starting to make the rounds stateside after it’s Cannes debut last year, this startling and provocative look into gang conditioning and group mentality takes its audience places they probably never wanted to venture and will leave anyone chilled to the bone. This slice-of-desperate-life drama from Ukraine focuses in on a school for Deaf teens in an impoverished neighborhood where anything goes to make a living. It would be hard enough for any non-disabled person to do so, the kids depicted here without the ability to hear makes it all the more difficult. As the audience becomes more and more immersed into this eerily silent world, the level of tension also grows in part because the acts committed by the ‘Tribe’ become more heinous and disturbing. Additionally because a newcomer to the gang begins to turn into something unthinkable. Culminating in a film experience no viewer will be able to shake off.
4). The Duke of Burgundy
This Lychian-esque drama from Peter Strickland centers on the changing and evolving relationship between two woman that is never what it seems. Serving as master-servant, lovers and rivals all at the same time, Strickland keeps his audience in the dark as to who these people are and why are they doing what they are doing. An avant-garde drama that seeks to explore and unblinkingly look into the very nature of human relationships at their most extremes.
3). It Follows
Creepy, unsettling and unnerving, all combine in the atmosphere for David Robert Mitchell’s ode to teen horror and slasher films of the 80’s. Maika Monroe plays Jay, a young adult living in a rundown Detriot Suburb just getting-by in her home-town when after having sex with her boyfriend she begins to notice a presence around her, following her every step. As the mechanics of her affliction are revealed the terror of her situation begins to take hold creating a closed-in and suffocating feeling. Mitchell puts his uneasy use of long takes to great use in this welcomed throw-back horror flick.
This small indie romance works in large part due to the natural and scintillating chemistry between the leads Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker playing two seemingly star crossed lovers meeting by chance in a small beautiful sun-soaked Italian town. Evan (Pucci) is just trying to get away from the ever increasing tumultuous life stateside, taking an impromptu vacation to the country’s Mediterranean coast. He quickly meets Louise sharing immediate chemistry, and forming a relationship that gradually changes into… well that is best left up for yourself to find out. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead carefully craft a romance of a truly different kind.
1). When Marnie Was There
If this is to be the final project from the famed animation studio then it is as appropriate a send off as they could have hoped because they went out at the top of their game. The Secret World of Arrietty director Hiromasa Yonebayashi delves gracefully into adolescent depression, sadness and angst unlike any other animated or live-action film directed at kids I’ve seen. Anna is girl who is coming into that trying age of angst and self-awareness, and perhaps a bit too self-aware for her own good at the moment. Introverted and quiet to a fault, Anna is internally dealing with a lot beneath the surface. After a bad Asthma attack her worried foster mother sends her to to live with her sister in better climate, while there Anna starts to see a blond haired girl around her age living in the seemingly deserted marsh house near-by. Imbued with a profoundness and understanding of the complexities of growing up not normally found in movies aimed at kids this is a triumph of animation from a studio used to providing them time and again.
As with all great stories for a younger audience, they may not understand everything that happens some emotional beats will go unappreciated the first time around, but they will (or will grow to…) appreciate and be thankful that there are adults who believed that they will eventually have the capacity to come to an understanding of works like this and the daunting, complicated and mysterious world around them.