By Ezra Stead
This is always a difficult thing to do, and this year, just like every other year, I left out plenty of movies I really like, even from the Honorable Mentions. This is a particularly interesting year in that I actually really like all the Oscar nominees that I’ve seen, which is relatively rare for me. Anyway, of the 107 new movies from 2015 I managed to see in time for this list, these are my (completely subjective) favorites.
1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD – it’s always a treat to have really high expectations for a movie and then to see them exceeded. George Miller’s return to the wasteland of his career-defining trilogy is a perfect example of this phenomenon. The first time I saw it, though, Fury Road appeared to only meet my expectations, a rare enough feat in its own right. It was the second viewing that made me realize that this was not only my favorite movie of the year, but also my favorite Mad Max movie, and quite possibly my favorite movie of the last two decades. Then I saw it three more times in the space of about two weeks, and I noticed something new about it every single time. The rich, detailed world-building not only rewards but demands multiple viewings, and it’s a testament to Miller’s craft that the movie doesn’t rely on a lot of expository dialogue and other hand-holding devices to make sure the audience can keep up. Max Rockatansky’s world of “fire and blood” has its own language that is every bit as evocative and original as its eye-popping visuals: War Boys, Blood Bags, Bullet Farms, etc. This is a movie in the glorious pulp tradition of Robert E. Howard and Heavy Metal magazine, but it never feels derivative, even of its own source material (The Road Warrior being the original Mad Max movie it most closely resembles). What seems to be overlooked in all the talk about its incredible visual effects and stuntwork (which makes a better case than any movie I can think of for an Oscar category devoted to the people who risk their lives to make movies awesome) is the quality of the writing and performances. Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult are especially great, but there is also a surprising tenderness and depth to Tom Hardy’s performance as Max, a man of few words and great stoicism, and Melissa Jaffer managed to break my heart with just a few minutes of screen time as the Keeper of the Seeds. Critics and skeptics say this movie is just one long chase scene, which is reductive, but even if that were strictly true, complaining about that misses the point of how amazing it is that a movie this compelling could be made from a single long chase. Others might say it doesn’t belong in the Best Picture Oscar race because it’s not serious and important enough, but its themes of feminism and environmentalism are extremely relevant; they’re just not belabored to the point of didacticism. Fury Road’s vision of the destruction of the Old World, in which water was plentiful and “everyone had a show,” seems all too plausible, despite its over-the-top visual antics, and there’s a funny/scary comparison to be made between the film’s main villain, Immortan Joe, and a certain current Presidential candidate. I have no doubt this movie will ride eternal in Valhalla, shiny and chrome. It is perfect in every way. Read More
Hosted by Jason A. Hill & Ezra Stead with special guests: Alan Tracy and Pete K. Wong.
The MIDG Oscars Podcast, 2016 edition.
Oscar discussion and predictions for the show Sunday night, February 28th, on ABC.
Duration: 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Intro Music: The Danish Girl
Outro Music: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Unearthing, directed, produced, edited, and flat-out hustled by Tristan James Jensen, is a coming-of-age, supernatural discovery film done on a shoestring budget that surprised a lot of filmgoers at this year’s Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Film Festival. The movie stars local actors Riley Yearly, Angelina Masciopinto, and Kaleb Miller. It was filmed on location in Stillwater, Minnesota. You can watch the trailer here.
By Ezra Stead
The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence), USA, 2015
Written and Directed by Tom Six
As both of my readers know, I work at an indie/art-house movie theater in New York City. What you might not know, and might even find surprising, is that that is the type of venue at which the pretty much universally reviled Human Centipede movies get their theatrical exhibitions. The first one was kind of a big hit, to the point where we ordered enough promotional T-shirts that they were still on sale during the run of the third one, six years later. The novelty has worn off, though, and we only actually sold one of those T-shirts this time around.
The Human Centipede 3 did pretty healthy business, though; healthy enough to get its exhibition extended by a couple of weeks. The crowds weren’t as predictable as you might imagine, either. Sure, opening night was a collection of obvious scumbags, but over the course of a few weeks, curiosity (or masochism) brought in a lot of folks you wouldn’t immediately peg as Human Centipede crowd. I actually felt the need to make sure one group of four college girls knew what movie they were standing in line for, and when they enthusiastically replied in the affirmative, I said, “But you all seem so nice.”
I had to admit it then, and I’ll admit it again now: I’m no better. My own morbid curiosity had already compelled me to sit through the first two atrocities, and I knew then that it was only a matter of time until a combination of whiskey, loneliness, and an active Netflix account would have me buckling in for one more. The title promises this is the last one, anyway. If there is a fourth sequence one day, I’ll probably watch that one, too. I’m no better. Read More
By Mike Shaeffer
Chappie, USA / Mexico, 2015
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” ― George Orwell
In his 2009 feature-film debut, South African director Neill Blomkamp gave us the science fiction gem that is District 9, a stirring, gritty, and visually stunning allegory for how apartheid divided his home country. Blomkamp’s most recent foray into the science fiction genre, CHAPPiE, reflects one of society’s growing fears—the fear of a police force that has been granted greater technology, power, and room for corruption. With victims’ names like Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, John Crawford, and Jordan Davis making the headlines this past year, movies like CHAPPiE provide not only some intense escapism, but also a chilling look at what the day after tomorrow could bring if technology and power is placed in the hands of a corrupt and desperate police force. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Beethoven, USA, 1992
Directed by Brian Levant
I should start this off by saying that I am not truly a dog hater. Like virtually any human being, I have been known to find dogs charming in small doses, but I would never want to live with one, so I can relate to George Newton (Charles Grodin), the hapless protagonist / antagonist of Beethoven. This would seem, at first glance, to be the ultimate dog lover’s movie, but it is arguably more enjoyable, and certainly more interesting on a subtextual level, to view it from the opposite perspective.
The film stacks the deck against we dog haters from the beginning, opening on an ominously rainy night outside the “Pet Supply” warehouse where evil Dr. Varnick (Dean Jones) conducts his nefarious experiments on innocent puppies. A prime example of this deck-stacking occurs later in the film, when it is revealed just what Dr. Varnick has in mind for poor Beethoven: a munitions manufacturer wants him to “test” a new type of exploding bullet, to see the impact it makes on “big skulls.” While it can be argued that animal testing is worthwhile because of the potential human benefits gained from it, even the most dyed-in-the-wool dog hater would find it difficult to defend the scientific expediency of shooting a dog right in the goddamn face. Read More