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
I’ve decided not to get quite so carried away this time around, but as I said last year, October is my favorite month. Since I tend to watch a lot of horror movies year-round, in October I feel like I have to do something special, so I try to watch almost exclusively horror movies. I watched (or, in many cases, re-watched) a total of 22 before starting this article, and I’m far from finished. In the interest of actually recommending some movies before Halloween, I’m putting this out now, and in the interest of brevity, I’m cutting it down to ten recommendations, grouped together as double features (even though their availability varies a bit). Not all are horror movies, exactly, but I think you’ll agree they’re all on-theme for the season. Enjoy! Read More
This was the year I realized that my annual goal of seeing pretty much every movie released in a given year was more impossible than ever. The reason for this is the exponential growth in the number of films now being released in the digital age. When I started doing these lists back in 2001, there were about 300 official releases per year; now it’s closer to 700. With that in mind, I’d like to start with a partial list of movies I meant to see in 2014, but just didn’t get to in time. Then, to acknowledge the relatively arbitrary nature of these lists in general, I’m listing my Top 10 in categories by which each film corresponds to another one from my Top 20 (only the Top 10 is ranked in order of preference). It’ll make more sense as you read it, I promise.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN (40 movies I didn’t see in time for this list, in alphabetical order): Bird People; The Boxtrolls; Calvary; Chef; Citizenfour; Coherence; The Congress; Enemy; Fading Gigolo; Filth; Force Majeure; Foxcatcher; Frank; Fury; Gloria; Happy Christmas; Ida; Joe; A Letter to Momo; Leviathan; Life After Beth; Like Father, Like Son; Lucy; Men, Women & Children; A Million Ways to Die in the West; Mr. Turner; Moebius; A Most Violent Year; Night Moves; Palo Alto; The Rocket; The Sacrament; St. Vincent; Song of the Sea; Starred Up; Stonehearst Asylum; Top Five; 22 Jump Street; Virunga; Wrinkles.
I’ve been making these lists, in one form or another, for a dozen years now, and every year I’ve done my best to balance my own personal preferences with an objective and educated view of cinema in order to recommend not only my personal favorite films of any given year, but also those I believe to be the best. Well, no more! This year, and forever onward, I strive to give you only my own subjective favorites, the films that I have watched and am likely to watch over and over again throughout the years. When I look back over the last five years, for example, I have to admit that these have proven to be my actual favorite films, despite what I may have written at the time in an effort to recognize other worthy cinematic achievements to which I may or may not have returned even once in the years since: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007); The Dark Knight (2008); Inglourious Basterds (2009); Dogtooth (2010); and Drive(2011).
Of those five, only Dogtooth actually topped my list at the time. So, with this in mind, I present my favorite films of 2012, in all their highly subjective glory. Since ranking films in order of preference is often at least somewhat arbitrary, I should admit that some of these may have made it into the top 10, rather than the runner-up category, solely because they were more fun to write about. However, my top 5 is solidly made up of films I have already seen at least twice, and feel strongly that I would be more than happy to watch again at absolutely any time. Read More
Why can’t Hollywood put out more movies like this? Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is a superbly well-crafted modern film noir that expertly builds and breaks tension, alternating between heart-pounding suspense, lyrical moments of quiet human connection and graphically violent action setpieces that should manage to shock even the most jaded viewers. It also contains some of the most exciting car chase scenes since Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse feature Death Proof (2007), beginning with the opening sequence.
And what a sequence it is. The beginning of this film is a master class in how to build cinematic tension. After a brief, beautifully shot introduction in which Driver (Ryan Gosling) outlines the rules of his business as a getaway driver, we see him on a heist with two unknown criminals. As promised, he gives them five minutes to carry off a robbery, then drives them to safety before disappearing into the night, as anonymous to the two criminals as he is to the cops he helps them evade. Using a police radio in order to track their progress in attempting to catch him, Driver uses his wits and consummate skill in the profession that bears his name (a small joke on my part; his actual name is never said in the film) to outsmart numerous patrol cars and even a police helicopter without ever breaking a sweat. It is a bravura opening perfectly set to a brilliant score by Cliff Martinez, perhaps best known as Steven Soderbergh’s favorite composer, that subtly evokes a ticking stopwatch in this scene in order to underscore the tension. Read More