By Ezra Stead
Well, here we are again, folks! Every year since 2001, I’ve made it my self-imposed obligation to see at least 100 new movies (104 in 2016) and then attempt to rank my ten (or more) favorite ones against one another. Notice I didn’t say these were the “best” movies of the year, but my favorite ones; the distinction is important, lest anyone mistakenly expect a shred of objectivity herein.
Anyway, this year, in the interest of championing underdogs and holding a light to some movies you might not have been constantly hearing about since November or so, I have decided to exclude any of the Academy’s Best Picture nominees from my top ten. If you want to know how I felt about those films, you can find my favorites, unranked, in the Honorable Mentions just below the main list, and if you want to know more than that, there’s always the annual MoviesIDidntGet.com Oscars Podcast, which you can listen to on this very site, very soon. Read More
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
By Ezra Stead
The Immortalists, USA / UK / India
Directed by David Alvarado & Jason Sussberg
This new documentary from David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg tackles one of the most fascinating subjects a nonfiction film could possibly cover: it is about scientists on the hunt for a cure for aging. In other words, the subjects of this film are trying to make natural death a thing of the past. What makes the film even more special and memorable is the fact that it is just as interested in these scientists as people, giving equal time to both their extremely compelling goals and their personal biographies. In investigating the reasons for their obsessions, the film tells us a great deal about these people, as well as about ourselves. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Every year, I struggle with the relatively arbitrary process of ranking movies, so this year I’ve decided to do something a little different. Instead of a traditional Top Ten list, I’m grouping two thematically connected films together for each place on the list, resulting in a hopefully more interesting Top 20 list. I’ve also included a more traditional Top Ten below that, for all you “too long, didn’t read” folks. One final note before we get to the list: it should tell you a lot about my credibility as a film critic that I liked Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa more than most of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees for 2013.
10. THE WICKER MAN: FINAL CUT / JURASSIC PARK 3-D – BEST RE-RELEASES. Obviously, this category doesn’t really count, as both of these films were originally released decades ago, but I can’t deny that each of them provided one of the most enjoyable experiences I had in a movie theater in 2013. This new cut of the original 1973 classic The Wicker Man adds some nuance and more musical numbers to an already great film. Most crucially, it opens with a scene of Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) praying in church, emphasizing his piousness from the very start, which enriches the events to follow. Jurassic Park, on the other hand, is quite simply my favorite movie (it has the most dinosaurs in it – I rest my case), and seeing it on a big screen again, in 3-D no less, made me fall in love with it all over again. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Invincible Force, USA, 2011
Directed by Daniel Schneidkraut
To my knowledge, Daniel Schneidkraut’s second feature, Invincible Force, must be the only film ever to have this unique amalgamation of genres attached to its IMDb page: documentary, drama, horror. All of these descriptions are accurate to some degree, and to them I would personally have to add comedy, though it is certainly comedy of the very darkest variety. Schneidkraut’s previous film, Seeking Wellness: Suffering Through Four Movements, could also be described in much the same way, though it lacks the distinction of any true documentary trappings and is, in fact, a collection of short films tied together by a common thread of suffering. In this way, Invincible Force could be seen as Schneidkraut’s feature film debut, and what a bracingly unique debut it is. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Project X, USA, 2011
Directed by Nima Nourizadeh
In the past, I have never fully subscribed to the idea of a “guilty pleasure” movie. Sure, I unabashedly love a variety of questionable movies, from Julien Temple’s Earth Girls Are Easy (1988) to Uwe Boll’s Postal (2007), and I also have an ironic taste for some of the great cinematic disasters of all time, such as Claudio Fragasso’s Troll 2 (1990) and Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003). I even have a fondness for the films of Roland Emmerich that strains my credibility as a film critic, unless one accepts the fact that I consider them great unintentional comedies (especially The Patriot, which is absolutely side-splitting), but I’ve never really felt guilty about liking any of these films. However, while viewing first-time director Nima Nourizadeh’s Project X, I realized that a true guilty pleasure film is not one other people tell you is bad and you like it anyway; it is a film whose content makes you at least mildly uncomfortable regardless of anyone else’s opinion, yet you can’t deny that you enjoyed it overall. Read More