2015 may not have been the best year for film, but then again critics decry every year as “the worst year for film.” Make no mistake, I did come across some real stinkers in 2015, but I did see some refreshing films that I’d like to share. My goal for next year is to be more optimistic about cinema, and less cynical. Like everyone else, I thoroughly enjoyed MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. I also saw some really great documentaries this year like LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM, RED ARMY, and CITIZENFOUR. Then I saw a couple films (on an airplane) I would never watch otherwise (INSIDE OUT and JURASSIC WORLD) that I found benign and overambitious. A few films were fun and frivolous like STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, KRAMPUS, and ANT-MAN but were ultimately entertaining nonetheless. Out of the 70+ new releases I watched this year, here are my favorite:
6. WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD
To be perfectly honest, I love just about anything Gregg Araki does. He has a truly unique style of storytelling. The film which received mediocre reviews is based on a novel by Laura Kasischke of the same name. In typical Araki fashion, he altered the story a bit and added his own touches to the script. I really enjoyed the performances of Eva Green and Christopher Meloni. I couldn’t stop thinking about the dynamics of their troubled relationship long after the film ended. The soundtrack is awesome and there’s a great cameo by Sheryl Lee aka Laura Palmer.
5. THE WOLF PACK
First off, I know there’s a lot of discussion about whether or not the story about the Angulo Brothers being locked away in a Manhattan apartment their whole life is real. There’s also a lot of discrepancies about how the director found the brothers. I don’t care about those things; this is a remarkable story regardless. I’m sure the isolation angle of the film is embellished, but there’s no doubt these young men suffered some kind of psychological trauma as the result of their incredulous, and protective father. The fact that they managed to adjust relatively well to “normal” society is also astounding. To me the real message in this documentary is how cinema can shape and influence a person’s life. Film has definitely affected my life and many around me. I’m impressed that these incredible young men are so passionate about film that they used it to overcome the extreme obstacles they suffered at home. Your home should always be a safe place, but film can be the escape you need.
4. WHITE GOD
As an avid (obsessive) dog lover, this film appealed to me upon initial announcement. WHITE GOD is the story of a young girl desperately trying to find the beloved dog her father made her give up. There are two gut-wrenching stories here: the story of Lili and her strained relationship with her father, then there’s the story of Hagen (the dog) trying to survive the relentless streets of Budapest. It’s an interesting look at the relationship between man and beast. Be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster with this film. I'm getting misty just thinking about it. At least all the dogs in the film were rescued from shelters and adopted out, so that’s some comfort.
3. CRIMSON PEAK
CRIMSON PEAK might be the most visually stunning film I’ve seen all year. Guillermo del Toro makes film the way an artist paints a portrait. He creates these striking backdrops to accompany an unimaginable story. CRIMSON PEAK is a perfectly crafted gothic romance story with ghosts. It’s also a beautiful tribute to classic films by Italian director, Mario Bava. I think the problem with the lackluster response to CRIMSON PEAK is that it crossed so many genres that people just couldn’t get it. Del Toro doesn’t just make films, he creates worlds, worlds that I want to live in.
2. THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Quentin Tarantino is one of the few current filmmakers who create art. He makes films with an ardency that not everyone is going to like. I think one of the major issues with the current state of cinema is that filmmakers want to appeal to the masses. When you generate such a broad appeal, you tend to lose any distinctiveness. Everything becomes watered down dribble that is often forgotten in a couple months. This film isn’t for everyone, and it’s not supposed to be. HATEFUL EIGHT is certainly Tarantino’s most ambitious film and probably the most expensive he’s made. I think he definitely delivered a fantastic film with a script that speaks for itself. This film certainly showcases his talents as a writer with his signature sharp dialog and nihilistic tones. The film is staged like a play with several acts, overture, and intermission. This is truly an ensemble cast of remarkable actors. Even Channing Tatum’s character was convincing. I know people considered the gore to be over the top, but QT is an over the top guy. However, I never feel like it’s gratuitous. Tarantino said the inspiration for this film was RESEVOIR DOGS and THE THING and I definitely thinks he captured the essence of both amazing films. The use of 70mm film is simply the icing on the big beautiful, bloody cake.
1. WILD TALES
WILD TALES is a film from Argentina comprised of six different short stories about various individuals experiencing the worst day of their life. As some of you know, comedy is my least favorite film genre, but WILD TALES is certainly one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a long time and definitely my favorite film of the year. I laughed so hard, I was nearly in tears. It’s an unconventional film that builds sardonic candor around everyday situations. I can’t tell you how much I love the satirical tones set in this film. It’s definitely one of the best dark comedies I’ve ever seen, and I look forward to more films from director, Damian Szifron.
There it is folks, my favorite films of 2015. What were your favorites? I look forward to watching many more films in the coming year. Stay tuned for my Most Anticipated Films of 2016. Happy New Year friends!