Thursday, December 31, 2015

Movies of the year, 2015.

The time has come for a roundup of movies I saw this year, and what I thought of them. I know, your excitement can barely be contained.

I use this idiosyncratic rating system:

* a movie I quite enjoyed, or thought was worthy. A * does not mean it was a bad movie. In fact, no asterisks whatsoever may not mean that I didn't enjoy the movie, only that it wasn't one of the special, most memorable movies for me.

** a movie I thought was very good.

*** a movie I thought was one of the best of the year.

Okay! that out of the way, let us recount our cinematic experiences and wax reviewerish:

Paddington: I viewed this with a grandson and his dad (my son) and the historian. On our bed. On Netflix. We all enjoyed it quite a bit. An adorable animatronic bear, and Ben Whishaw was his voice. All to the good.

Kingsman: The Secret Service: I won't say that I didn't enjoy this. I saw it with my son purely for entertainment value. We had fun. Too much mayhem and gunplay, however, for my taste. I enjoyed but I did not approve of my own enjoyment.

What we do in the shadows *: Well, on the other hand, there was plenty of vampirish blood and biting galore in this movie. I totally enjoyed it and I approved of my enjoyment. I guess I have a vampire double standard. Well, a comic vampire double standard. All involved were excellent.

McFarland, U.S.A. *: There is no good reason that this movie should get even one star, but it does, because it had the decency to note that for some kids, the fact that the high school was quite literally next door to the prison is more than a trope, and its runners make a good story that was damned inspiring. Also, I love running movies and Kevin Costner in sports movies and sports movies in general. I.e., your mileage--ha ha!--may vary.

Maps to the Stars *: Cronenberg, very acidic. Mia Wasikowska shows her uncanny ability to make you very uncomfortable. Julianne Moore plays a terrifyingly narcissistic actress. Robert Pattinson is ambitious, young, appalling. John Cusack plays a life coach with a chilling secret in his own past. All of these characters buzz around Hollywood. I wasn't compelled, exactly, by this--I liked, actually, Cronenberg's Cosmopolis more--but it was really well made, at times thrillingly so.

Cinderella: Ho hum, beautiful blue dress.

Kumiko Treasure Hunter *: I kind of find myself treasuring the oddball and truly weird, movie-wise. This film falls into that category, hardcore. A young Japanese woman acquires a VHS copy of Fargo, decides that she should go there and find the money that dumb, venal Steve Buscemi buries in the snow, then dies (horribly) before he can retrieve it. The young woman is played by Rinko Kikuchi, and she is, as always, fantastic and indelible. This is not a happy movie, but it is highly original, and thus, I recommend it.

Home: Rihanna as the young protagonist, trying to find her mom. Jim Parsons as the alien who accompanies her. Hijinks, etc. We saw this with grandsons and what can I say? we had a fine time. 

While We’re Young **: This was one of my favorites of the year. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as a married couple--he's a documentarian who is stuck on a years-long, acres of footage project; her dad is a famous and decorated documentarian. They meet a young couple, Amanda Seyfried and the feckless, winning, cunning, devious Adam Driver (I heart him so hard). The two couples, in essence, become infatuated with each other, and everyone's life changes. This was beautiful and witty and fluid and aching. So good.

The Clouds of Sils Maria **: A beauty. A French actress (Juliette Binoche) is going to appear in a restaging of a play that made her famous when she was young, but this time she's not playing the ingenue--she's playing the older woman who's made a fool by the ingenue (who's going to be played by Chloe Grace Moretz). Her assistant, a terrific and very sharp Kristen Stewart, helps her read lines, etcetera. This is a wonderful movie that is so smart and beautiful it's hard to describe. Directed by Olivier Assayas.

Ex Machina *: My friend said, I don't think I need to see an Asian sex-bot, when I said how good I thought this movie was. And I was all, there's no...oh, wait. But I think I would argue that this cyborg, one of a whole bunch of cyborgs, is a function of the mad scientist's warped imagination, and thus (maybe) legitimate (?) in the film. Be warned. I found this movie to be smart and unsettling and super-engaging. And there's an amazing dance sequence in it, and it stars Oscar Isaac, who makes any film, just about, at this point an almost inarguable gotta-see recommendation for me. Plus an Asian cyborg/sexbot.  

Welcome to Me **: At his point, I think Kristen Wiig is maybe a genius. This movie is strange, funny, and sad. Wiig plays a woman who's mentally ill, who wins the lottery and decides to self-fund the production of a television show featuring herself as the subject. She reenacts scenes from her own past as a form of retribution for those who have wronged her, spending the lottery winnings at a frightening speed. The film has a heart, but it's not entirely predictable, and it felt almost entirely unique. 

Hot Pursuit: How I wished for this movie to be better than it was--Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara, Witherspoon as a by-the-books cop, Vergara as the widow of a drug boss. Bad cops and other bad guys chase them. Etcetera. I'm sure I laughed, and probably a lot. But that's because I'm easy. I own that. Luckily, I saw it with my aunt Sal, and we had a good time.

The Salt of the Earth **: Wim Wenders' documentary about Sebastiao Salgado, also directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. A fairly comprehensive look at the work of Salgado pere, with many insights peeking around the edges of what it would have been like to be connected to this brilliant and peripatetic man. His wife, Lelia, seems to me to be a fantastic person. The restoration they are currently doing of his family's farm in Brazil, which has turned into the Instituto Terra, was one of the most beautiful parts. I really loved this film. 

I’ll See You In My Dreams *: lovely. Blythe Danner plays a widow who's at something of loose ends, who meets a guy (Sam Elliott) and sings a song at karaoke and makes a friendship with another, younger guy (her pool guy, Martin Starr). It's a small film, but it is, in its way, beautiful, and Danner has what it takes to make you wish she were at the center of many more films.

Pitch Perfect 2: Not as good as Pitch Perfect 1. Readers of this blog know that I have seen Pitch Perfect 1 approximately a billion times, but I see no need to re-see Pitch Perfect 2. Except for all the scenes with Keegan-Michael Key as the entrepreneur who is running the record company where Beca is interning. Okay, I might need to see it again. No stars, though.

Tomorrowland: I enjoyed this movie, although I can hardly tell you what it was actually about. George Clooney was in it, playing a jaded and maybe secretly sad former boy inventor who is now a recluse. And also Hugh Laurie. A young girl comes to find him and they go to Tomorrowland, where they try to right wrongs and make the world better, I think. Anyway. I can't exactly recommend this. But if I had kids who were, like, eight or older, I might rent it and have a lot of fun.

Aloha: Everyone hated this. I can see why. I remember reading a critical conversation in which the several critics were clearly have a lot of fun remembering what they saw as the most egregious parts. Yes, sure, definitely. I saw this film in a theater by myself--literally--one summer afternoon. I so enjoyed it, and I cannot say exactly why, but all the acting was fantastic, including a great Bill Murray part, and also an almost mesmerizing Bradley Cooper, Rachel MacAdams whom I always adore, Alec Baldwin playing a general in a perfect performance, etcetera. Not good, I know. I still don't think it was as bad as the people who savaged it said. (see: I'm easy.)

Love and Mercy ***: One of the most lovely, heartbreaking films I saw this year. The score of this film is one of the most wonderful parts--the way it picked up and wove together motifs from Wilson's music. Both Paul Dano and John Cusack were splendid, and Elizabeth Banks was wonderful, and Paul Giamatti as Eugene Landy, Wilson's terrible therapist, was horrifying and perfect. So good.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl **: I laughed, cried, admired this movie--some of the best stuff included the film parodies that Greg, the protagonist, and Earl, his friend, make (The 400 Bros; Senior Citizen Kane; My Dinner with Andre the Giant). But mostly it felt heartfelt, and moving, as a young person learns how to be a better person, and I appreciated it for its wit and its heart.

The Wolfpack *: One of the handful of documentaries we saw this year, this one is about the group of brothers who were, essentially, quarantined from the outside world in an apartment in New York by their monomaniacal father. They were, however, allowed to watch and then reenact films of all sorts. A filmmaker happened to run into them when they had finally defied their father and begun going out, and she received permission to make the film. Amazing, disturbing, and also hopeful.

Inside/Out **: I felt lucky to see this with my grandchildren--so wonderful, original, smart, moving. As a poet, I appreciated that sadness ultimately had a role to play, something I have been arguing (to myself, mostly) all along. 

Dope **: This was great. Saw it during the summer. It's a buddy movie, where the kids (one of whom also played the Lobby Boy in Grand Budapest Hotel!) accidentally end up with a drug dealer's stash, and have to figure out how to get rid of it without getting beaten up by the various parties who want it. The kids are all excellent. Great 90s hip hop music.

Eden **: Another movie I saw in the summer time. I loved the story of the main character's desire to keep making music, even as the life of DJ-ing took its toll. The electronic music gave the film an energy, and there was beautiful, original, entrancing filmwork throughout. One of my favorites of the year.

A Little Chaos: I wanted to love this. Alan Rickman as the French king Louis XIV who wants original, gorgeous gardens for Versailles, and Matthieu Schoenaerts as the head gardener, with Kate Winslet as a free-spirited gardener contracted to work on a particular section. Sadly a little blah blah blah, even though gorgeous persons such as Schoenaerts and Winslet should have been compelling enough, especially naked. But no.

A Poem is a Naked Person *: Rather thrilling to see this, featuring the weirdest--truly!--filmwork by Les Blank, but masses of live music from Leon Russell, whom I adored from my youth. Blank and Russell fell out over the film, so it was never shown until after Blank's death, i.e., now. 

Amy **: Although I found this film almost unbearably sad, I was so glad to get to see it for the sake of hearing and seeing Amy Winehouse's beauty, originality, and ferocious talent. A treasure, in my opinion.

Jimmy’s Hall: An Irish movie with a socialist hero, set in County Leitrim in the 1930s. We had to see it, obviously. By Ken Loach. Worth a watch, although perhaps a little preachy? 

Mr. Holmes: I certainly am not sorry to have seen this, and Ian McKellen makes most things watchable. Some reviewer I read carped about having Laura Linney play a relatively uneducated housekeeper. Okay. Because actresses shouldn't play parts that they wouldn't occupy in real life, I guess? It was entertaining and it was enjoyable.

Trainwreck ***: one of my favorites of the year. Amy Schumer was perfect and awful and wonderful in her role, and the film was filled with wonderful performances: Bill Hader is loose and lovable as her romantic foil; John Cena is hilarious and touching as her just-a-little-too-dumb boyfriend; Brie Larson as her sister; Colin Quinn as her racist, awful dad; Tilda Swinton as an incredibly funny and truly terrible boss; and most of all, LeBron James as himself. Magnificent. 

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation *: Super entertaining. Tom Cruise as a special effect. That is all.

Spy **: Although I thought MI:RN was pretty great, I will say that my favorite international spy movie of the year by far was Spy, Paul Feig's send up and love letter--send up of the genre, love letter to women actresses, Melissa McCarthy specifically. She is wonderful indeed as a CIA analyst who becomes a field agent, as is Miranda Hart as her friend/sidekick. Alison Janney also has a splendid role as the CIA unit boss--so hilarious--and Rose Byrne plays international (Bulgarian) baddie. They are all so incredibly funny, but it would seem churlish (and insubordinate) not to mention Jason Statham as, well, a parody of himself, one of the funniest things I have seen this year or maybe ever. And rounding it out, Jude Law also plays on his own pretty boyishness in a great way. I've seen this movie three times and I am pretty sure it will be funny forever.

Ricki and the Flash *: I will not apologize (the sure sign of an impending apology) for loving this movie. I cried all over myself at it. Oh how I loved it. Meryl Streep as a neglectful mom who tries to make up for it. She's made a life for herself, sort of, playing in a bar band. Her boyfriend is Rick Springfield (!) and their bar band is--true story!--pretty legit. 

Mistress America **: Noah Baumbach gave us a twofer this year, with While We're Young and this. The great thing about this film is that it has Greta Gerwig, playing an erratic but compulsively charming young woman pretty much barely making it in New York City, and the friendship she strikes up with another young woman--their parents are going to marry one another, apparently. Both the actresses are terrific (Lola Kirke plays the other young woman, a college student), and the pace was zippy and lively. Comedies that last less than ninety minutes are optimal. I'm not saying I gave the stars on that basis, but, you know, it didn't hurt.

The Gift: Jason Bateman plays a jerk who doesn't know he's a jerk and who has to find out that he's a jerk. Joel Edgerton directs and also plays his antagonist. Creepy and pretty sharp.

Grandma **: This was a really good one. Lily Tomlin plays a poet who is called upon to help her granddaughter, who finds herself pregnant. All sorts of encounters ensue during the day they drive around L.A., trying to scrape together money for an abortion. Sam Elliott is indelible as a former lover of Tomlin's. 

Sicario **: I was glad I got to see this for the great performances from Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin. Emily Blunt was not bad either. Set at the border between the U.S. and Mexico, where what increasingly appears to be an extra-governmental task force works at the escalating drug wars. Super intense. 

99 Homes **: This, along with The Big Short and The Wolf of Wall Street, make a small curriculum on the economic meltdown. I was really glad to have seen this, with several terrific performances, including those by Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon (whom I adore), and Laura Dern. 

The Intern: Okay, okay. You can see I didn't give stars here. But I did see this, and I did like it, and that's enough out of you, there, just pipe down.

The Martian *: Super enjoyable and entertaining. We saw this after a long week, and I really felt the deep, deep pleasure of being told a story, of good acting, especially Matt Damon's, of generally sharp filmmaking. Good job, all concerned! Keep up the good work!

Burnt: No reason this movie shouldn't have been better than it was. But it was basically a placeholder for that better movie, Bradley Cooper and Daniel Bruhl notwithstanding. 

Suffragette *: This movie was pedagogical, but it was also stirring, smart, emotionally compelling. I do not always love Carey Mulligan--or maybe it's just the idea of her that I resist, because I can think of several pretty strong performances by her--I did think she was great in this, as was Helena Bonham Carter. Ben Whishaw as the ultimately unsympathetic husband of our Carey. I always love seeing him. 

Peanuts Movie: I saw this with grandchildren. It was quite lovely, even in CG-animation. Charming.

Spectre: Daniel Craig as Bond and Christof Walz as the nemesis. Perfectly fine. It was exactly 30 minutes too long.

Spotlight ***: This movie is, perhaps, perfect. It is, perhaps, better than All the President's Men at showing journalism as a team sport, and why it is so important. A morally compelling story, too, and it's one worth attending to, about the ways that powerful interests, aligned, can lead to tremendous abuses against ordinary people. Everyone is so good, I can't even really talk about who is good, because it's everyone.

The Night Before *: My son and I were going to church, which was for no good reason not being held. So we decided to go to a movie, which ended up being this one. Want to see The Night Before? he asked. I had no idea. He queued up the trailer which I watched while he assembled his lunch. I totally laughed, and off we went. I submit to you that Seth Rogen's performance in this film is a comic tour de force, and I suggest that you see it for yourselves. Michael Shannon, as the film's equivalent of Jacob Marley, is superb.

Mockingjay 2: This was part deux of our break-the-Sabbath moviethon. I was disappointed in it. I liked the previous Hunger Games installment a lot. This felt sluggish and sloggish and I wasn't happy with it. I preferred The Night Before greatly. Just for your information.

Brooklyn *: This was lovely. I don't think it was transcendent. But it was good. Saoirse Ronan is, as always, sublime. 

Creed **: I loved this almost as much as I loved the first Rocky. Two reasons: (a) Michael B. Jordan is a wonderful actor. Wonderful. (b) Sylvester Stallone has given three great performances in his career: the first Rocky; his sheriff in Copland; and this. He is soulful and great. All right, three reasons: (c) the fight scenes are awesome.

Sisters **: We saw this the night before my daughter's wedding, which was perfect. It was funny and raunchy and really funny. In conclusion, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. And Maya Rudolph. Equals comedy miracles. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens *: Yes--totally. A fantastic girl heroine and Oscar Isaac as a pilot and another new character, Finn. Entirely pleasurable. I liked Adam Driver as Kilo Ren, the tortured wielder of the dark side of the Force.  

Miss You Already: so much crying. My daughter and I saw this together, basically for the purpose of crying. It did the job nicely. Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette as friends for life, even when one of them gets very very sick.

Room **: Brie Larson as the woman kidnapped, who has a son by her captor. Her love for him keeps her sane, and when she concocts a daring and terrifically dangerous plan of escape, which works, then she has to recover in the bigger world. So good, moving and upsetting and powerful.

The Big Short **: I found the design of this film--its assemblage of tones, imagery, strategies--to be the only possible response to the subject matter, which is the internal workings of the housing market collapse. So intelligent and so full of outrage. Great performances uniformly. So very smart.

Joy **: Despite the reviews, which seemed not to be so enthusiastic, I quite loved this. I loved the thought of this woman making good. A. O. Scott thought that David O. Russell deliberately played up the elements of Joy Mangano's story that felt fairy tale-ish, emphasizing the obstacles against her and the ways she summoned her powers to overcome them. I thought it mostly worked, and I loved Jennifer Lawrence in it, a lot.

These were actually 2014 movies I saw in 2015: 

Into the Woods: so much singing. I love music--I'm not quite sure why I don't really love musicals, especially recent ones. I wasn't sorry to have seen this, but it felt long and also strange. (I am apparently a philistine.)

Big Eyes: Fine. Wish it had felt more compelling, honestly, even though I love Amy Adams, and Christoph Walz made a perfectly great creepy husband.

Top Five **: Who's brilliant? Chris Rock, that's who. Also Rosario Dawson. And Cedric the Entertainer is terrific as Jazzy Dee in an unforgettable, and unforgettably funny, scene of debauchery. 

A Most Violent Year *: A very good, very straightforward drama set in New York City in the early 1980s. Oscar Isaac is a businessman plagued by the historically-documented crime wave of that era. His wife, Jessica Chastain, is from a crime family. The ways they navigate the challenges to their business, and the trust that is, or isn't, present in their marriage, makes for a compelling and grave film. 

Foxcatcher *: I didn't think this was an amazing film as a whole, but I did think that the scenes with Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum as wrestlers and brothers were all so beautiful, they took my breath away. It's entirely worth seeing for those scenes alone. 

Inherent Vice ***: a brilliant film, in my view. So gorgeous and spooky and scary and funny and sad. Paul Thomas Anderson and Joaquin Phoenix make a fine team, and there are nothing but great performances here. The feeling of paranoia but also corruption work to make this feel, to me, like L.A. in the 70s, and I loved that about it. I loved everything about it, honestly.

I missed a lot of really good films this year--Mad Max: Fury Road among them--but I am hereby committing myself to find those films and see them somehow, without also compromising my plans to see all of this year's good movies, plus, probably, a bunch that are merely passable and some that are really inexcusable. Because movies, c'est moi, and that's it, America, over and out. Happy New Year!

1 comment:

Ann said...

Thank you, HTMS. And now I'll let you finish the line I always reel out. "Thanks for seeing these movies so that I ____________."
Happy New Year!

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