Monday, July 27, 2015

Movies Spotlight – The Best Films of 2015 (So Far) – July 2015

These are the films I like the most so far in 2015. But first, two side notes: 1) I am only going to focus on narrative films (saying that, I thought the documentaries Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck were really good) and 2) There are quite a few films that have come out in theaters that I have not yet seen that I imagine would likely make this list (they include: ’71, Far from the Maddening Crowd, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Dope, Testament of Youth, and Love & Mercy). I list my favorites in alphabetical order below:

I think many expected Ant-Man to be Marvel’s first complete failure in their Cinematic Universe. They were wrong. The film is highly entertaining, blending (as Marvel does so well) engaging action and funny comedy. The heroes too are well-drawn, likable and characters we want to see again (Marvel’s casting of their heroes so far has been spectacular; Paul Rudd is another inspired choice as Scott Lang). The villain, on the other hand, is essentially terrible (only existing to be an obstacle and drive our heroes to action). Marvel has a big problem developing great villains in their films (Loki is probably the only truly strong villain so far, though I did enjoy Ultron, Nebula and Ronan the Accuser as well – the latter purely due to Lee Pace’s performance). Hats off to Peyton Reed coming in with a limited schedule and making such a fun film. Trailer.

I absolutely loved Avengers: Age of Ultron; it very well might be my favorite MCU film so far. It has a few narrative issues (with all the narrative threads it has to tie together, it is a wonder it works at all really), but the stuff that does work is fantastic. Joss Whedon’s dialog and character moments shine throughout the film, and the action sequences are top-notch as well. I really enjoy all these heroes being forced into the same space, having to co-exist when the odds are against them. More so than other Marvel films, Age of Ultron has real tension and palpable stakes (it is not just an orgy of explosions). I am very interested to see how the Russo Brothers handle all the characters that will popular Captain America: Civil War, which seems even more crowded than this. Trailer.

Michael Mann’s latest thriller was blasted by critics and almost universally unseen by filmgoers. The film is not for everyone, but the critics and moviegoers got it wrong. Blackhat is excellent, both as a narrative thriller about whitehats trying to stop blackhats and their evil plans and as a piece of brilliant aesthetic filmmaking. Mann’s camera and mise en scene create a vital and textured world that feels visceral and abstract at the same time. I think it is a must-see for all fans of Mann’s work. Trailer.

It is not often that serious dramas are designed as pieces of meta-filmmaking, but that is exactly what Clouds of Sils Maria is – a multilayered drama that, as it progresses, finds its characters transcending themselves. Their conversations could be about their own interpersonal relationships, their relationships with the characters they play, their interpersonal relationships between the characters they play, and even their own real identities as celebrities, actresses. The film succeeds completely on its writing (also provided by director Olivier Assayas) and the performances of its three stars (Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz) who are all wonderful. Trailer.

As technology progresses, it almost feels inevitable that we will achieve artificial superintelligence (or the singularity). Ex Machina addresses this in a very human and resonating manner, by disguising it as a love story. Alex Garland has been writing great sci-fi films for years, but this might be his best and most interesting. The performances by the three leads (Alicia Vikander, Domnhall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac) are splendid – Vikander especially showcases her talent (for many, new to her work, a star is born). The film is smart yet accessible. Best of all, it is not afraid of realistically addressing its subject matter (the debate of whether ASI will benefit or destroy humanity). Trailer.

Pixar has the best reputation of current animation studios working in Hollywood (even if their films seem to be trending towards being more revenue-driven sequels than great original ideas lately). Inside Out reaffirms their position atop the animation world. It is funny, emotionally resonant and beautiful. It is about family, growing up and love – themes that Pete Docter beautifully excels at portraying (often finding his audience experiencing a full range of emotions). Inside Out is also my favorite film of the year so far. Trailer.

Horror films today seem to be about gore and jump-scares; their purpose is to entertain, not to creep in on an emotional level and create within their viewer a real tension and fear. It Follows is part of the wonderful indie horror revolution, fully embracing the style and aesthetics of classic horror. It is a very simple story and premise. Out of context, nothing is particularly scary; but through the great slow building suspense that David Robert Mitchell uses, the film grabs you and finds you anxious and afraid. Trailer.

What can I say about Mad Max: Fury Road? It is absolutely bananas, aesthetically thrilling and grandiose in all the best ways. George Miller not only delivers a great feminist action film (something moviegoers have been craving for a long time) he also gives us what is likely to be 2015’s most enjoyable cinematic experience – this is a film that must be seen in theaters (it is insanely massive in its ambition). I went into it with little expectation and came out completely elated. Trailer.

I love westerns. Slow West is a good western, capturing the right aesthetic and garnering appropriate performances; however, John Maclean’s film is also quite strange. Everything feels a bit off (given the genre). I wrote in my review that it goes down the rabbit hole, because it has a bizarre tone and playfulness to it, which gives it a very modern feel (even though it looks and is structured like a classic western). It is a must for the genre’s fans. Trailer.

Like Blackhat, Tomorrowland was not met with commercial or critical acclaim. Yet, also like Blackhat, I think it was deserving of both and will hopefully find its audience in time. Brad Bird’s film is above all incredibly hopeful for what humanity can accomplish if it dares to dream, imagine and reach for the impossible. We look back at the 1960s, pledging to go to the moon within the decade (a seemingly impossible task) and achieving it. Today, it feels like that ambition is gone. We look at the world and for the first time tomorrow does not look as bright as today. Tomorrowland wants to reignite our imaginations and ambitions – while also entertaining us with great action and good characters. It also features fantastic leading female characters. Trailer.

Amy Schumer is very funny. Judd Apatow makes very funny and engaging films. Together, they have made what is likely 2015’s funniest film (it is downright hysterically hilarious). And not only that, but they have also made something that feels modern (while still classically structured) in the romantic comedy genre – a genre that has become incredibly stale and boring. It is not afraid to be crude and honest, soaring on the strength of its characters, performances and especially its jokes. Trailer.

Mockumentaries are difficult to get right. What We Do in the Shadows gets everything right. It is funny, full of hilarious and cool references, and features well-developed characters. My one complaint is that there was not more (I wish it were a sitcom-style series, simply about these flatmates living their everyday lives – something along the lines of The Young Ones). Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have made a splendid vampire film, when it would seem that cinema has been greatly oversaturated by vampire films, proving again the creativity and quality win out. Trailer.


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