Hi readers. Jeremy here. Aly and I are excited to welcome our first guest author on the blog today!
Zac and I’s friendship began on the topic of film and his level of passion for it is completely unmatched by anyone I’ve ever met. He makes it his duty to go out and see as many movies as he can and sometimes averages three movies a week. His insight is deep and he possesses this almost encyclopedic knowledge of all things film. He’s also damn funny. So naturally, he was the perfect person to ask to talk Oscars. Over to you, Zac!
Let us be candid: when it comes to movies, last year will largely be remembered for the return of Star Wars. Ten years from now, I suspect many other pictures will feel a bit like Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man running around JJ Abrams‘ behemoth of a motion picture. Of course, the idea that Star Wars has eclipsed a large part of cinema in 2015 is in some way dependent on how that franchise’s zealous fan base looks back upon Episode VII, which in turn may be based upon how remaining parts of the trilogy are received.
76M views for the teaser?!? The Force Awakens was an event.
Unfortunately for most of the movies released last year, the The Force Awakens was not the only Goliath to surmount. More specifically, 2014 was a full-fledged cinematic renaissance and from a personal standpoint, the year of Boyhood, Selma, Whiplash, et al. reawakened my love of movies. Given this belief, it is clear 2015 has some serious competition when directly comparing the two calendar years. Regardless, I always believe there are those proverbial diamonds in the rough and last year surely provided a few such underappreciated treasures. Further, a number of big-budget action movies carried plenty of weight in the name of quality entertainment, all the while thrusting the viewer into beautifully-shot, hellish nightmares – I’m looking in your general direction, The Revenant and Mad Max. So let us begin to review the year in film, 2015 edition. In preparation for the The Oscars, I will kickoff with a lesser-known set of acting awards.
Noteworthy Performances of 2015
Most Important Performance by an Actor/Actress:
Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy – Distinguishing this versus the standard “Best Performance” categories and no one anchors the emotional core of their film like Banks in the stellar Brian Wilson biopic. Playing Wilson’s longtime wife, Melinda, Banks appears on screen early though it is not until about a half hour in when it is made clear just how urgently Brian Wilson needs her in his life. The key is how refined her treatment of the character is, symbolizing the movie’s title with quiet power.
Banks believes the real-life Melinda “saved Brian’s life.”
Actor/Actress Whose Recognition is Long Overdue:
Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight
Actor/Actress I am Pleased to See in Serious Fare Again:
The “I-saw-this-coming-miles-away” Actor/Actress:
Brie Larson, Room. If you have watched her in Short Term 12, Scott Pilgrim, and/or The Spectacular Now, you were likely already aware of her impressively diverse range. It will be enjoyable to see where her career goes from here. If you are not sold just yet, check out Larson’s Criterion picks; it is apparent she is a student of her field.
Best Casting Decision:
Daisy Ridley and the other young leads in Star Wars – Hollywood, take note: maybe you can have your cake and eat it too. In reading discussions about the Oscar “Whiteout” there seems to be one claim which suggests casting women and minorities in major film roles might somehow prevent studios from doing well at the box office?? Hmm…the last time I looked, Star Wars managed to eke out a buck or two. Case closed, I think. In short, I am not sure that the Academy is the problem; the issues really start when scripts are written and casting decisions are made.
Moving on, JJ Abrams has made a lot of important decisions over the years. I do not find it exaggerated to suggest choosing Ridley as the lead for Star Wars may not only be the best decision Abrams has ever made, but it may be the best decision he will ever make…especially for fans of the classic series.
Noteworthy Films of 2015
The following is a commentary, in two sentences or less, on unique films even if the results were in some way lacking.
It Follows has a lot going for it and for any fan of the horror genre, it is an absolute must-see. Still, the running time feels a touch too long and some of the plot inconsistencies do wear thin, as at least one famous director has discussed (See: How Quentin Tarantino Would Fix It Follows).
The Ridley Scott film explores little beyond the entertainment value of the Andy Weir novel and the talent of the ensemble cast seems kind of like a wasted entity. Matt Damon is good, but I do question if the role is Oscar worthy.
It is silly, redundant, and silly, and also redundant, yet, I concede there is fun to be had. Well, maybe there is fun to be had if you are someone who loves both Chris Pratt and dinosaurs (speaking for myself, check and check).
Rule #1 in 21st Century Moviemaking: Sequels find a way.
Talk about a movie sure to get everyone talking, it is unfortunate the sex scene is what will likely begin the discussion. I had several significant concerns about this movie, especially in relation to its attitude towards women (I will be happy to expand on this thought in the comment section if asked).
Performances by Cranston, Fanning, and Goodman are strong, though the story’s antagonists lack depth and chew an excess of scenery. For every good point, there an equally bad one, which is kind of a shame as Dalton Trumbo’s real life deserves more refinement and accuracy than is delivered here.
Irrational Man/Crimson Peak
I usually trust Woody Allen and Guillermo del Toro as directors, but these are not the best examples of their work by any stretch. Irrational Man is the better of the two, which is not exactly a high bar given a few of Crimson Peak‘s laughably bad lines.
The Big Short
This story about the financial crisis of 2007 has far too many flaws to name here so more than two sentences are required. By the credits, The Big Short was barely even tolerable with its Sunday-sermon moralizing, its too-cutesy asides, and the fact that it may single handedly provide the weakest performances to date by two popular stars, Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling. I generally appreciate the work of both of those actors, but only Brad Pitt comes out of this one unscathed…and in all likelihood, that is because Pitt barely has 10 minutes of screen time. My recommendation is to skip it and find/watch Margin Call instead. A totally underrated work, its ensemble cast is equally noteworthy…Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, and Kevin Spacey. There are other items of consequence Margin Call offers: no self-indulgent filmmaking and no insistence on telling its audience exactly what to think. A fictional take on the subject, it is superior to The Big Short in every possible way.
Margin Call‘s Jeremy Irons: …and please, speak as you might to a young child, or a golden retriever…
Kingsman: The Secret Service
How in the wide world of Colin Firth did Kingsman score a 58 on Metacritic? (note to self: in the future, do not waste one full sentence in two-sentence reviews on rhetorical questions) My own rating would likely be a 1.5/10, which should secure Kingsman as my nominee for the most overrated movie of 2015.
Finally, I saw four documentaries this year: Amy, Montage of Heck, Hitchcock/Truffaut, and Cartel Land. Admittedly, for reasons I will not cover in full here, I have some difficulty throwing fictional movies and documentaries onto the same list. So please do not read too much into the fact that I have seemingly relegated those listed above to this odd corner of my reviews. All four are highly recommended; Amy would be my top pick among these. Winehouse fans should be forewarned about the withering emotional punch this movie delivers (honestly, it affected me for days). Cartel Land, about vigilante groups fighting the drug cartels from inside the borders of both the US and Mexico, is liable to scare anyone believing that there is a “correct way” to address this tangled issue.
Honorable Mention of 2016
Let me assure you: The Overnight trailer only looks like it reveals too much.
Riotous sex comedies are far and few between these days, which may lead one to question if anything written into a movie could really shock anyone anymore? With The Overnight, the answer may not be a resounding yes. Yet the edgy and honest script zigs when you expect it to zag. And then when you expect it to zig, the story sprouts wings and flies. This unpredictability alone makes it worth the time. The casting is also on target – Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, and Jason Schwartzman star – as The Overnight feels like a companion piece to the more serious (and slightly more accomplished) Digging for Fire. Major kudos to a comedy that builds to one huge dramatic moment, only to…actually, you know what? I shall not say another word.
If you are familiar with the work of the two leads, then you know precisely what this is: Poehler and Fey in a comedy infused with just enough story and heart to keep you invested in the characters. The smart script progressively escalates the zaniness of the Ellis Island party.
The End of the Tour
Because of his work and his persona, any movie about David Foster Wallace must walk quite a thin line. To its complete credit, The End of the Tour unfolds the exact right nuances in order to give the audience a look at Wallace as a person. Adding to the idolatry of the author’s mythology would have been a disastrous choice. Sadly, we can never know for certain, but I feel safe in suggesting Wallace would have wholeheartedly endorsed the tone and tenor of this movie as it related to his life. Jason Segel in more serious fare is a thing which I hope happens more frequently in coming years.
If there is one movie on this list I must see again, it would be this one; I suspect a second viewing might swing the needle, maybe drastically, either up or down. Bias alert: if I have a favorite Hollywood “power couple”, it might be Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig as Frances Ha is a personal favorite and merits being mentioned among the best of films this decade.
What do I like so much about this couple? This interview with Gerwig provides a glimpse of her outsider appeal.
What We Do in the Shadows
A story of 4 vampires living in a flat together, some may feel the subject matter is of the low-hanging-fruit variety, as the Twilight jokes are overcooked at this point. However, this comedy not only avoids the easy punchlines, it works to add wit and an ever-so-slight touch of soul to the sharpened comic fangs.
Far from the Madding Crowd
2015 feels like the perfect year to release Far from the Madding Crowd, based on the 1874 book by Thomas Hardy. Whether it is Joy or Carol in their respective films, or say Furiosa in Mad Max, last year’s film slate seemed more intent than usual on providing a number of strong and complex female characters. There is also this — as Mockingjay Part II closed out the The Hunger Games, we get to see the namesake of Katniss Everdeen: Bathsheba Everdene, co-protagonist of the Hardy novel. None of this would matter a bit of the actress doesn’t power the role, but Carey Mulligan is wonderful in bringing one of literature’s most dynamic heroines to life on the big screen. Don’t mistake this for another lethargic Hollywood period piece, as the story hits some powerful emotional notes.
There is a discussion early on in the movie Carol about the 1950 cinematic masterpiece, Sunset Boulevard. Keep in mind that I generally nominate Sunset as my choice for the best film ever made, so forgive me if I happen to overemphasize its “occurrence” in Carol. In this scene, while the characters are watching Norma Desmond and Joe Gillis on the silver screen, someone is taking notes and states that he is writing out every instance where a person is saying something different than what they really mean. Given Carol largely deals with the reality of conformity during 1950s, I think it is safe to say this key moment is when director Todd Haynes effectively announces his intentions. Chief among the goals is getting the audience to have an emotional stake in growing relationship between the title character and Therese (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, respectively). Haynes generally achieves this, but for a plot centered around a romance, I did leave the theater a touch cold.
Also on the Honorable Mention List
The Stanford Prison Experiment
The Stanford Prison Experiment has more than its share of startling moments.
Infinitely Polar Bear
Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of my Year in Film discussion, where I’ll share my personal Top 10 of the year!