I don’t live in Los Angeles anymore. I’m reminded of this all the time, of course. Whenever I board this city’s competent mass transit. Whenever I eat Bay Area “Mexican” food. Whenever I look off in the distance and see a big red bridge that for some reason is called “golden”.
I miss Southern California for lots of reasons and I could list a hundred of them, but that’s not what this is about. But one thing I miss very dearly, that is relevant here, is film culture. Not “The Business.” Not the Hollywood Community. Film Culture.
Los Angeles is a town that makes movies but is also a town that loves movies. Especially the movies that not everyone loves. The ones not in English. The ones with small budgets and big ideas. The ones that are not deemed marketable enough to open in thousands of theaters but still need to be seen. A lot of these films make it to other cities, but they ALL play in L.A. And not just the new ones. Several theaters, including the legendary and place-I-miss-most New Beverly Cinema, specialize solely in playing older films. Golden age masterpieces. 70s grindhouse. Silents. Cult classics.
One of the things I miss most about living in Los Angeles is that fact that there was always a movie to go see. Not on TV. Not on Netflix. Not at home. But a movie to go out and see.
I’m typing this while watching the Academy Awards (Chris Rock took an angle on the #OscarsSoWhite thing that I did not see coming) and I usually like to put out my Best of the Year list before the Oscars air. Not that anyone cares, but that’s just usually my deadline. But this year it was harder to see all the films I thought I needed to see. It’s just not as easy up in here in the land of Giants, Warriors, and 49ers. I’ve still missed a few things that I think might have had an impact on the list, but I’ll catch them when I catch them. So, after some pointless rambling, here’s my list of the best films of 2015.
(Oh, note: Star Wars. I liked it. I did not love it. I have too many problems with it to name it one of the best films of the year, despite its success, despite people’s love for it. It’s the film from 2015 that I will probably see a hundred times before I die, but it was never close to making this list. So consider this an honorable mention for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (J.J. Abrahms), I guess.)
I: THE GREAT
My first instinct when beginning to write about Villeneuve’s Sicario was to just rattle of a list of adjectives, but they were all just synonyms for one word: bleak. This is a dark, dark movie. You will not walk out of it with a jaunty spring in your step. You won’t call your mom to tell her “you NEED to see Sicario!” You can watch it on a date, but don’t expect it to put anybody in an amorous mood. Sicario is (and I say this as a man with a degree in film therefore know the terminology better than anyone) a fucking bummer, man.
It’s also extraordinary.
Okay. I found some more adjectives. And made up an adverb.
Sicario is a film you think is one thing then you find out it’s another and then “whoops!” it’s a completely other thing and it’s frustrating and confusing and you can’t stop watching it. On the surface, it is about the futility of the drug war. Benicio Del Toro is not officially reprising his Oscar-winning role in Soderberg’s Traffic, but it’s not hard to imagine a sequence of horrible events that would change 2000’s beleaguered Tijuana cop into 2015’s mysterious government operative.
He’s equally great in this film as he was in Traffic. Blunt is fantastic. Brolin is amazing. It looks great. It sounds great. It will have you scratching your head and gnawing your nails. I know I’m being vague but I really think the best way to see this film is in the complete dark.
And some people will come out into the light hating it. It is a polarizing film, mostly due to its stunning last act. I come down on the “pro” side; I think the whole point of the movie is the last act. But the last minutes of the film leave you feeling pointless, impotent, and oh so small. That makes it hard for some people to enjoy. And I totally get it. This movie so absolutely fucking frustrating.
But I absolutely fucking loved it.
CREED (written by Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington, directed by Ryan Coogler)
Here’s the thing about Creed. There are a million ways to do this movie wrong. A million understandable decisions that could have produced a piece of shit movie. But Ryan Coogler found all of the ways to make this picture absolutely right. It is reminiscent of Rocky without being a complete rehash. It jumpstarts the franchise (I hate to use the word but it’s the world we live in) while honoring what came before it. It rewards you if you’re a Rocky fan but doesn’t punish you if you aren’t. It’s nostalgic without being fan service. It’s young and fresh and fun without being cloying or alienating to older fans.
(Actually, as I write this, I’m realizing that the makers of Creed and The Force Awakens had nearly identical missions laid out before them: and Creed, I really do feel, was more successful.)
But what really makes Creed work is that, despite its new protagonist and indie feel, is a straight-up, no bullshit, Rocky movie. And probably the best one this side of the 1976 original.
Oh, and Stallone is great here. (note from the future: he didn’t win the Oscar. The guy who did is a phenomenal actor but I really wanted to see Sly win this one). And Michael B. Jordan is a big giant motherfucking movie star. I would say it made everyone forget the travesty that was Fantastic Four, but that would be implying that people actually saw that garbage. Mr. Jordan is going to be just fine.
I love, love, love this movie. Thank you, Ryan Coogler. My favorite moment in any movie in all of 2015 is in Creed. If you’ve seen it you know it: the last round, the bell rings… and the music comes.
For that moment and many more, I can’t help but put Creed in my Top Three. It’s the most crowd-pleasing movie I’ve seen in years. If you didn’t see it in a packed theater, you missed out.
This past December, millions of people around the world understandably fell in love with a dashing X-Wing pilot named Poe Dameron and the handsome actor who portrayed him. But more savvy film goers have been a fan of Oscar Isaac for some time now. I first noticed him as Prince John in Ridley Scott’s lackluster Robin Hood, but it was the quirky 2013 Coen Brothers gem Inside LLewn Davis that made me fall in love. The following year he starred opposite powerhouse Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year, a movie I really wish people had given a chance. And earlier in 2015, before Isaac became the new Han Solo, he appeared in Ex Machina, the directorial debut of acclaimed screenwriter Alex Garland.
Ex Machina is smart, minimilist science fiction that treats its audience like adults. I’m noticing that several films on this list heavily feature smart people doing smart things. The Martain. Spotlight. Bridge of Spies. Steve Jobs. As well as my favorite film of 2014, The Imitation Game. In a world that sometimes feels like it’s on the express train to Idiocracy, there’s comfort to be found in stories that romanticize knowledge and intelligence.
I really don’t want to say any more about this film. Just watch it if you haven’t. If you already have, you know. You don’t need me telling you.
* * * * *
II: THE EXCELLENT
Praise be to Jebus. The most unique voice in American cinema has finally returned to the screen. Seven years after his heartbreaking directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, Academy-Award winner Charlie Kaufman returns with an animated film that can only be described as, well, Kaufman-esque. As much as I loved this movie, in a real, deep down way, I know that I’m going to like it even more the next time. Because no one rewards repeat viewings better than Charlie Kaufman.
Turn the lights down. Silence your phone. Close the laptop. And just watch Victoria. Don’t have it on in the background. Don’t second-screen it. WATCH IT. This film wants to take you on a little trip. Take it up on its incredibly generous offer.
If you’ve managed to not know ANYTHING about Room, keep it that way until you see the film. When I sat down I had no idea what it was about (with a small part of me hoping it had something to do with Tommy Wiseau) and was better off for it. I suggest you do the same if you can.
Whenever we want to count Pixar out, they come up with a masterwork like this. Their most mature film. I’m not even sure how much it appeals to children. But as the father of a nearly three-year-old girl, this movie, on multiple occasions, conjured up a weird moist substance that leaked from my eyes. I should probably see a doctor about that. Inside Out is so smart. Clever. But it’s also honest in a way that “family entertainment” rarely is. Painfully honest. I wish the movie was longer; kind of wish there was more to the story. But it’s a wonderful film and a tough yet beautiful sit for any parent.
Do you know how good Mad Max: Fury Road is? I like it less than almost everyone I know, and I love it. I think it’s overrated and amazing. I’m on the low end of people who liked this movie and I can’t wait to watch it again and again. That’s how good this movie is.
III: THE VERY GOOD
BRIDGE OF SPIES (Steven Spielberg)
* * * * *
Also worth checking out: DEADPOOL, STEVE JOBS, THE BIG SHORT, MI: ROGUE NATION, TRUFFAUT/HITCHCOCK, FURIOUS 7, DEADPOOL, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, TRUMBO, ANT-MAN, AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, AND DEADPOOL.
Apologies to: THE DANISH GIRL, JOY, CONCUSSION, BEASTS OF NO NATION, DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE, AMY, SPY, CRIMSON PEAK, 99 HOMES, 45 YEARS, BROOKLYN
Oh and the best Television Show of 2015 was Season Two of “Deadpool”:
I mean “Fargo”:
Now that I’m done, I’m going to tear up the fucking dance floor, dude. Check it out.