Tucker's Top 20 Favorite Films of 2015
I'm in no position to judge. I don't know which of these films is better than the other. These are separate works of art and to compare one to another is kind of a silly thing to do. So, I'm still going to be silly, but I'm ranking these movies as my favorites of the year, not the best, although I'm sure you'll find most of the finest films of the year included here. Have I explained myself enough? Have I shed enough blood and tears for you people? Here we go...
What We Do in the Shadows may be - and probably is, hands down - the funniest film of 2015. Written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (Flight of the Conchords), the film is fast-paced, inspired and I can't recall a single joke that fell flat. The film follows a group of vampire flatmates as they struggle with the mundanity of the modern world given their centuries of adventurous experience. It's a great concept brilliantly staged and executed. Each vampire fills a particular expectation of what a movie vampire would be like, including the aggressive 8,000 year old bloodsucker whom looks like Max Schreck from Nosferatu. There is also a nice touch when the gang run into a similar group of werewolves. Vampires and werewolves hate each other. This is a great comedy with plenty of gore for those who are so inclined.
Welcome to Me stars Kristen Wiig as a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder who religiously watches VHS recordings of Oprah. She wins the lottery and uses the money to buy her own television show on a local station to share herself with the world. What follows is a public therapy session of spectacular proportions being led by a patient who has deliberately gone off her medication. The film is funny, but thoughtful and never denigrates the character's condition. I didn't hear much about this film when it came out, but I'm hoping people catch up with it, because it is a wonderful, sad film that deserves a bigger audience.
Documentarian and professional shit-stirrer Michael Moore, has always made patriotic films about our weaknesses, our transgressions and how we need to live up to our ideals and our potential. His films are informative, heartfelt and funny. Of course, he is a target of the far-right who ironically claim he distorts facts to fit his narrative. What he actually does is edit a documentary, and has been known to change his mind mid-film. In Bowling for Columbine, for instance, he begins by seeming to believe that we have too many guns in this country, and while that may be part of the problem, he discovers mid-film that there are more insidious parts of our nation's psyche that contribute to our violent nature. He expresses opinion, but his movies are fact-checked to the teeth, so fuck y'all. His new film, Where to Invade Next is a funny and heartbreaking movie that starts with the silly premise that Moore was telling the pentagon to stand down and let him do the invading. What does he want? Good ideas for making our country a better place. What a commie, right? He checks out school systems, vacation policies, the role of women in both the workplace and the political sphere. Does he only show good things about these countries? Sure, but that's the point. We have problems, they have problems, but these places are getting certain things right and it is improving their societies. It's his most patriotic and most optimistic film to date.
Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney delivers a scathing treatise on the cult of Scientology, a so-called religion that routinely abuses its members both physically and emotionally. Leaving the church is so difficult that it is tantamount to psychological slavery. Gibney takes down the organization by unfolding the story of the church along with the stories of many survivors, including writer/director Paul Haggis (The Facts of Life) who, despite his terrible films (Crash) is an effective voice against this criminal organization posing as a church, although aren't they all? Gibney also sets his sights on Scientology's most outspoken proponent and unofficial second in command, Tom Cruise. Unlike church leader and L. Ron Hubbard apprentice David Miscavige, who is seemingly guilty of any number of crimes against current and past members, Cruise is guilty of his own silence. Gibney's film is righteously angry and its target is ripe to be felled.
This great western, given a certain surreality by shooting in New Zealand as a stand-in for Colorado, stars Michael Fassbender as a bounty hunter with shadowy intentions as he helps a young Scottish man search for his love. Of course, another bounty hunter is on their trail as well, for reasons unknown to the young traveller. Strange and beautiful, Slow West is one of many gifts given to western fans this year.
Mistress America was the second film from writer/director Noah Baumbach this year, after the also excellent While We're Young. But, Mistress America was my favorite of the two. It follows the story of a young woman (Lola Kirke) just starting her studies in New York. She knows no one, but her soon to be stepsister (Greta Gerwig) lives in the city. They begin to spend time together and the young woman is taken in by her future stepsister's energy, charm and whimsical lifestyle, but is also treating their relationship as a study of a young woman a little too old to be living the way she is. This is a great companion piece to Baumbach/Gerwig's beautiful Frances Ha.
Star Wars fans have spent the last eleven years coming to terms with the apparent fact that George Lucas' prequel trilogies would be our last trip to a galaxy far, far away. And while the prequels could be charitably called less than stellar, it was all we had and those among us that don't "live in our parent's basements" made due. Luckily, Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney for what I believe was 800 gazilliabillion dollars, paving the way for J.J. Abrams ridiculously successful new film, The Force Awakens. This is the film we all wanted in 1999 when The Phantom Menace was released. It's fast, fun, funny and filled with our favorite characters from the original trilogy. And while the film relies heavily on nostalgia with callbacks to the original and by following the basic structure (and even some specific plot elements) of the first film, what really makes this a great new chapter for the Star Wars saga was the introduction of Rey and Finn, two new characters who have the personality, wit and likablity to carry the series through its next two chapters.
Director George Miller's fourth installment in the Mad Max franchise is an action spectacle the likes of which we've not seen since...fuck if I know. Max (Tom Hardy) finds himself in the clutches of a sadistic post-apocalyptic dictator named Immortan Joe, who keeps women captive to provide milk for the privileged among them, and produce his offspring. His followers are fighting under a mishmash of ancient philosophies that have been passed down and distorted over the generations after the collapse, resulting in soldiers willing to die and meet their prize in "Valhalla". Quickly, Max makes his escape and finds himself paired up with a female driver, Imerator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who runs gas for Immortan Joe, but is on this day smuggling a group of young women, one of which is carrying the dictator's child, to a beautiful land she remembers from childhood. Furiosa and Max use one another to fight off Joe's minions in some of the most incredible chase scenes committed to film. In fact, the movie is nearly one long chase. Hardy's stoic Max barely speaks and Theron's Furiosa steals the film. This could be called a feminist action movie, and it should be. It's hard for me to say The Road Warrior is not the best Mad Max film, because of the time it came out and its general badassery, but I think this one may have trumped it.
After the triumph of Rocky Balboa, we thought we'd seen the end of the legendary character. Fortunately, director Ryan Coogler was able to give him one last glorious round. Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed, son of the late, great champion and best friend to Rocky, Apollo Creed. Not wanting to coast on his father's legacy, he goes by his birth mother's name and sets out to find Rocky to persuade the aging champion to train him. Initially resistant to the idea, Rocky comes around and gets in the gym with the young boxer. What's remarkable about this film is how fresh and immediate it feels. It is definitely a Rocky movie, and a great one at that, but it also has its own pulse. Jordan delivers on the promise of his performance in Coogler's first film, Fruitvale Station, and The Stallord hasn't been this good since Cop Land. Of course, he's been great in everything, don't get me wrong. This is a great movie filled with emotion and sentiment in just the right amounts, you know, the amounts that Rocky had, and I think this may finally get the Stallord his Academy Staward.
Bone Tomahawk is a hybrid horror/western about a posse of sorts out to rescue a group of people abducted by a tribe of cave dwelling troglodytes. There is some great character stuff as the group travels toward this unknown horror, and some amazing gore. This is not your typical western nor horror film, or character piece for that matter, but it scores with me on all counts. I'm anxious to see what first-time director S. Craig Zahler does next.
Director Todd Haynes' meticulously crafted love story is incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking. Mining similar subject matter as his beautiful Douglas Sirk homage, Far From Heaven, Haynes loses much of the Sirk melodrama behind and brings us a story of two women in 1950s America who must not pursue their love for fear of societal repercussions, especially in the case of Carol (Cate Blanchett) who has the custody of her child at stake. This is a film of breathtaking visual beauty and great emotional strength. A high water mark for a signature filmmaker.
The Look of Silence is documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer's follow-up/companion piece to his groundbreaking film, The Act of Killing. In that remarkable film, perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide of communists and perceived communists, reenacted their atrocities in their own "movie". The murderers were celebrated for their crimes, nearly deified by their society. The gangster government still rules and the families of these victims live among those who murdered their sons and daughters and fathers and mothers. The Look of Silence, an amazing work in and of itself, but also a perfect companion piece to The Act of Killing, follows a man whose brother was murdered by the death squads two years before he was born. He visits with the men responsible. Keep in mind that these monsters are still in power. It's an emotional, shocking, dangerous and beautiful film that needs to be seen. And if you haven't seen The Act of Killing then I don't know what you think you're doing with your life, but it is wrong.
45 Years follows a couple planning their 45th wedding anniversary when an old secret emerges and threatens the foundation of their union. The fragility of a happy, secure and long marriage undone by a sudden inability to trust one's partner. What other secrets have they kept? Who is this person? The secret all the more potent because of how old it is. The film is anchored by a beautifully subtle performance from Charlotte Rampling (Stardust Memories) whose foundation is shaken by the revelation. Director Andrew Haigh, who last directed the critically adored, Weekend, which I haven't caught up with yet, is suddenly on my radar. I love this film.
Director Bill Pohlad made a wise decision when making his biopic of The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. Usual biopic trappings are out the window as Love & Mercy focuses on two periods in Wilson's life rather than drag us through his childhood and his relationship to his father, their rise to fame and Wilson's eventual psychological meltdown. No, this film smartly focuses on the recording of the classic album, Pet Sounds, which preceded, or coincided, with the escalation of Wilson's mental health issues. In these scenes the young Wilson (Paul Dano) is full of inspiration and genius, creating what would come to be regarded as one of the best rock albums of all time. The other half of the film, and it bounces back and forth instead of playing it linear, has Wilson (John Cusack) in the 1980s, where the fragile musician is living under the thumb of his shady psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti). It's a psychological biopic, and a fascinating one at that.
Brilliant director, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu follows up his Best Picture winning Birdman with this brutal tale of a frontiersman left for dead by the fur trapping party he was guiding after being horrifically mauled by a bear. What's really fucked up is that being left for dead is not really the worst thing that happens to him before he sets out for revenge across a frozen landscape riddled with the remnants of the white man's savagery. Inarritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and production designer Jack Fisk have created a 360 degree world where Lubezki's camera floats through battles with beautiful precision. The timing required for all the elements to come together in those long takes gives me a headache to even think about. Leonardo Dicaprio is fantastic in a nearly wordless performance, and Tom Hardy is equally great as the focus of Dicaprio's revenge. A film of great, cold beauty, loss and pain, this will fit in with and be a great addition to Inarritu's flawless filmography.
Charlie Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson's stunning stop-motion film tells the story of Michael Stone, an author of self-help books for companies to increase productivity, on a business trip to Cincinnati for a speaking engagement. Stone's world is bland and monotonous and populated by people who all look the same and sound like veteran actor Tom Noonan (The House of the Devil). Stone, voiced by actor David Thewlis (Basic Instinct 2) has a chance encounter with Lisa, a shy woman who has driven to town specifically to hear Michael speak. Her voice, Jennifer Jason Leigh (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), is strikingly different from the rest of the world; an anomaly. Michael finds himself falling in love. He plans on leaving his marriage and child that also seem part of this collective that populate the world. People are mechanical, going by the rules, living a seemingly benign and thoughtless existence, of which Michael feels he is not a part, but fears he may be. He is in crisis, and the beauty in which he finds respite takes a different form once he decides to embrace it. This is a film about a middle-aged man trying to find meaning in a world he feels has gone mad. I could go on and on about this film, but I won't bore you (too late). Anomalisa is one of the finest, most intimate and human adult dramas of the year.
Tom McCarthy's ensemble drama about the team at the Boston Globe that exposed the Catholic church molestation scandal is the finest film of its kind since All the President's Men. These reporters in their investigation find that this abuse is common practice and not even really considered a problem by the church leadership. The cast is incredible with Michael Keaton and Liev Schreiber being standouts for me. It's a fascinating story on its face, but what the film is really about is the shared responsibility and culpability of an entire city, an entire religion and even these very reporters that had previously bowed to presumed pressure and not sufficiently reported on the known abuse that had before come to the surface. This is McCarthy's best film to date.
Bobcat Goldthwait's documentary tells the fascinating story of comedian and child-abuse advocate Barry Crimmins. Crimmins it seems is nearly single-handedly responsible for the fertile Boston comedy scene that produced some of the best stand-up the world has ever seen. Crimmins himself is an angry, political comedian unafraid to take on Reagan and his bullshit in the 80s. Aggressive and spot-on, Crimmins is a force to be reckoned with onstage. And it is onstage where the comedian makes a personal confession that changes the trajectory of the film. Suddenly, Crimmins is trapping pederasts on this new thing called the internet, and taking the information before congress to get AOL to take some responsibility for providing a forum for sexual predators to meet victims. He is a tireless advocate for children of abuse and he is inspirational. And he'd probably punch me in the face for saying so. Goldthwait continues to be one of my favorite filmmakers working today. He works outside the system and is able to make his films uncompromisingly, which leads to singular films that are distinctively of that artist. He is one such an artist. And he'd probably punch me in the face for saying so.
Brett Morgen's Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck is unlike any rock documentary I have ever seen. Using almost exclusively Cobain's own artwork and voice to create a montage of an extraordinary and all-too-short life. Cobain's family, who have not appeared on camera or agreed to be interviewed until this film, contribute to the narrative, as does bassist and best friend Krist Novoselic. Morgen brings Cobain's home recordings and artwork to life with great animated sequences. This is agreat film about a great artist, and an indispensable rock movie.
My favorite movie of the year is Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. John 'The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) is transporting a dangerous criminal to Red Rock to hang. The fugitive (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Ruth are trying to outrun a blizzard in a stage coach when they pick up another bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) stranded after his horse died, and a man claiming to be the new sherrif of Red Rock, a stellar Walton Goggins. They end up taking shelter at Minnie's Haberdashery where they meet four more scumbags. There are no good guys in this post-civil war, racially charged comedy. Tarantino's dialogue crackles out of the mouths of these incredible actors including the director's regulars, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern, who had a small role in Tarantino's last film, Django Unchained. One part western, one part chamber piece and one part mystery, this is an epic story which takes place almost entirely in one room. No character can be trusted and one cannot discern between fact and bullshit as far as what comes out of the character's mouths. It's funny, violent and indulgent Tarantino, just the way I like it.