Since I’m watching more movies these days, and since it was so hard to gather my thoughts on so many films for my 2015 year-in-review post, I thought I should perhaps break my movie viewing down into smaller bite-size pieces. Hence, my first “film quarterly” post.*
While the first quarter of any year is generally devoted to my Oscar Blitz, that wasn’t quite the case this year since I had already seen so many nominees in 2015. Instead, my movie selections were dominated by my 52 Films By Women project, which represented exactly one-third of the thirty-nine movies I saw this past quarter. More on this endeavor below.
If you read my year-end post, you may recall that I couldn’t come up with a top ten, but instead chose a favorite five. Would it be easier to make such a list now that I’ve seen a few more of the critical darlings of 2015? I think so. There are still some 2015 movies I want to see, but if I had to come up with a top ten today it would look something like this:
Top Ten Films of 2015
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
Bande de filles (Girlhood)
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
I’ve discussed a number of these films already, so I’ll focus on those that I saw this past quarter.
Most Feminist: Mustang
Mustang is one of those deceptively breezy, naturalistic films that is often underrated. The dynamic between the five sisters is utterly charming; they don’t feel scripted and have lots of energy. This film has been compared to The Virgin Suicides, which I watched as part of my Directed by Women series last fall; however, an important difference between the two is that Mustang is not filtered by the male gaze—the sisters, especially Lale, are independent agents, not simply a mystery some man is trying to solve.
Most Surprising: Phoenix
Oh, goodness, where to begin. Sort of like Vertigo, but way less creepy. It’s a Holocaust story, but not really. It is ridiculously implausible, yet utterly believable. I really shouldn’t say much more except the acting is brilliant and that last scene is a killer. If you appreciate foreign films, check this one out.
Most Human: Tangerine
There was a lot of hullabaloo about Tangerine starring two transgender actresses and the film being shot on iPhones (and, don’t get me wrong, that feat is impressive because it’s beautifully shot). But there is so much more here. Tangerine depicts a Hollywood that Hollywood usually doesn’t want to show us—the gritty underbelly of dingy motels and doughnut shops, car washes and bus stops. Amidst the grit is the most human of stories, involving friendship, jealousy, loneliness, and love.
Most Underrated: Spotlight
There seems to be a lot of rumbling about Spotlight not being Oscar-worthy, I think mainly because it doesn’t have a showy visual style. While it wouldn’t have been my choice for the win, I think this film has been rather underestimated in the wake of the in-your-face styles of Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant. The most impressive thing to me about this film was that it wasn’t based on a book. And maybe that was to its benefit. It felt well paced, you got the story and didn’t feel like vital information was left out. It was moral, but not melodramatic, and that fit the story being told. Furthermore, the solid cast and subtle performances and direction allowed this important story to shine (which is the job of any good reporter really).
Most Disturbing: Meadowland
I could have chosen Meadowland for most underrated, but since barely anyone has seen it that tag didn’t quite fit (I myself had never heard of it, but the Math Greek got a copy in his set of screeners for the Independent Spirit Awards). That invisibility is certainly unfortunate as Meadowland is an impressive directorial debut from Reed Morano, the cinematographer of such films as Frozen River. The excellent cast delivers an incredibly dark look at how people process grief and guilt.
Two of the above films—Meadowland and Mustang—were also part of my main film project for the year, 52 Films by Women, whereby I have pledged to watch fifty-two films directed by women before the end of the year. This follows on the success of my personal “Directed by Women” film festival that I undertook last September. If you follow me on Twitter (@sly_wit), you know some of the highlights of that project were The Babadook (2014), Beyond the Lights (2014), In a World… (2013), Stories We Tell (2013), and Wadjda (2012). But there are plenty more films by women that I haven’t seen and I’m excited to get through as many as I can. I will be counting rewatches, but only if it has been twenty years or more since my last viewing. You can follow my progress on this challenge at Letterboxd (like Goodreads for movies, sort of).
In the first quarter of 2016, I watched fourteen films directed by women, with only Clueless by Amy Heckerling not counting for the challenge. The thirteen remaining films were Efes Beyahasei Enosh (Zero Motivation) by Talya Lavie (2014), I Will Follow by Ava DuVernay (2010), The Intern by Nancy Meyers (2015), Ishtar by Elaine May (1987), McFarland, USA by Niki Caro (2015), Meadowland by Reed Morano (2015), Mécaniques célestes by Fina Torres (1995), Middle of Nowhere by Ava DuVernay (2012), Mustang by Deniz Gamze Ergüven (2015), La Pointe-Courte by Agnès Varda (1955), Selma by Ava DuVernay (2014), Sedmikrásky (Daisies) by Věra Chytilová (1966), and Walking and Talking by Nicole Holofcener (1996).
Top Five #52FilmsByWomen
Walking and Talking
I Will Follow
In terms of my other movie watching this quarter, here are some favorite (and not-so-favorite) selections:
Best Classic Rewatch: Laura (1944)
This is one of my favorite noirs that I rewatched because I recently read the novel of the same name by Vera Caspary, which I also highly recommend.
Best New-to-Me Classic: Blow Out (1981)
How had I never seen this? I don’t know, but it was a fantastic thriller.
Best Math Greek Selection: Welcome to Sarajevo (1997)
Not what I thought it was going to be. The Math Greek is rather annoying in his ability to pick good movies that I’ve always dismissed as not for me.
Best Movie Seen in the Theater: Mustang (2015)
Best Movie Seen in the Theater (runner-up): Spotlight (2015)
Biggest Theater Disappointment: Hail, Caesar! (2016)
I was looking forward to this but, while entertained, I was wildly disappointed by the major Bechdel-Wallace fail and the general treatment of women.
Most Overrated: Zootopia (2016)
An enjoyable movie with gorgeous animation but rather slow and simplistic in its message. This is a movie that is more for kids than adults.
Most Suspenseful: Sicario (2015)
A well-made thriller about the drug trade with some interesting twists and turns. The excellent cinematography and score really heighten the atmosphere.
Best Documentary: The Wrecking Crew (2015)
A Twenty Feet from Stardom for studio musicians, this documentary was an interesting follow-up to Love & Mercy.
Best Audio Experience: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/Wizard People, Dear Reader (2001/2004)
The Math Greek has never read Harry Potter (and yet he’s so Ravenclaw it’s scary), but he did agree to watch the first movie with the alternative soundtrack by Brad Neely. People, this is hilarious, whether or not you love, or even know, the world of Harry Potter.
Worst Geography: Man’s Favorite Sport (1964)
In the opening of this film, Rock Hudson starts out going west on Pine Street at Nob Hill but then all of a sudden is downtown in the financial district. Don’t even get me started on the fishing scenes.
Best Ending: Phoenix (2015)
The final scene of this film is just everything I wanted. Perfect.
Best Opening: The 5th Wave (2016)
The opening scene of this film, which shows Chloë Grace Moretz raiding an abandoned post-apocalyptic gas station, is absolutely riveting. And yet…
Five Films I Can’t Recommend
Efes Beyahasei Enosh (Zero Motivation) (2014)
The 5th Wave (2016)
Sedmikrásky (Daisies) (1966)
Wake of the Red Witch (1949)
Worst Rewatch: Inside Out (2014)
That’s right, I gave this one another chance, but it was even worse the second time around because, in addition to confirming everything I thought the first time, it was simply boring once you know the few funny or clever bits. I am not surprised it has already fallen below a 90% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and will be interested to see how it fares over the long term.
Top Ten Unseen 2015 Films I’m Most Looking Forward To
The Duke of Burgundy
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
The Second Mother
You may notice that this looks remarkably like the list in my year-end post. Somehow I only managed to see three of those films (Mustang, Sicario, Tangerine) this quarter. I will try to remedy this in the next few months.
*These posts are in no way affiliated with the Film Quarterly journal published by the University of California Press.