1. The Hateful Eight – “Show don’t tell” is a great suggestion most movies could stand to take more seriously. And I’m sure plenty of people would lump Quentin Tarantino in with all the people making those movies. But Quentin Tarantino movies, at least the last few, have found a middle ground. A new, elevated middle ground. One in which he can do both.
Epic and sprawling and yet pressure cooked within one location for so much of it, The Hateful Eight is an exercise in doing everything. Which wouldn’t mean much if it wasn’t all done so well. Michael Madsen’s delusional vanity, Samuel L. Jackson’s smug holstering of his weapon, Demián Bichir’s mumbling. Kurt Russell’s hurt feelings. The list of perfect acting moments is endless. I’d never understood the world’s fascination with Walton Goggins until The Hateful Eight. And of course nobody will ever get over Tim Roth in this. And that’s not even everyone!
“Show and tell” ought to be the next vague rule bandied about in film schools and overpriced seminars. Unless you’re talking about narrating things yourself, Quentin Tarantino, then you should stop doing that.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road – I don’t like the beginning or the end, and Max talks way too much, but there has been nothing, there is nothing and there will be nothing like the rest of it.
3. Steve Jobs – I heard somebody say, “It’s very good, but it’s not a movie.” Which isn’t a conversation I want to be a part of, but I do wonder if that means Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf isn’t a movie either. Or Twelve Angry Men. Or any of the millions of versions of Hamlet. And those are just examples based on other things that aren’t movies.
Truly an odd caveat to give this whatever it is.
Because if it had been a play, and then now a movie, we might be talking about how it beat The Revenant for Best Picture. (And asking what was Spotlight? Was that that one about Batman on stage?) Instead it is already a largely forgotten original piece of work about a contemporary genius and all the terrible things that go along with that seen through three tiny portholes of space and time and really I don’t know what a movie is, I guess.
4. Creed – I heard the second trailer gave something major away and I successfully avoided it. Which was no small feat. And while I felt good about that, I never could have imagined what plot point I was missing. For while the plot point itself isn’t such a surprise, the fact that they’d put it in a trailer is (that’s not true, really, I don’t trust trailers at all and it’s weird we all just sit there like the one thing we don’t want to know isn’t going to get thrown at us at any moment.)
And while one moment like that can’t make an otherwise dull movie great, it can elevate a perfectly executed genre sequel to heights we couldn’t reasonably have expected (which is silly, Rocky won Best Picture, and deserved to as much or more than most other Best Picture winners, so really we shouldn’t have been so shocked.)
5. The Tribe – Even the best movies are lucky to have one scene powerful enough to resonate long after the credits roll. This one has (at least) three and all without the benefit of spoken dialogue.
But there is plenty of dialogue. You just have no hope of understanding any of it. And while that might lead to some simplifying of plot points, it also leads more forcefully to a permeating sense of dread, because how are you going to predict anyone’s behavior if you never know what they are saying to each other?
6. The Revenant – What’s my problem with The Revenant, what’s it doing all the way down here with the Ukranian silent film and the superhero sequel you’ve convinced yourself you hated?
I think you are losing sight of the fact that it’s the 6th best movie of the year, but OK, there is a lot of Malick-ian imagery that seems useless. Maybe that’s your favorite part. You’re wrong, but that’s to be expected.
We can all agree though that the action, when it happens, it unparalleled, whether it stems from the dizzying cinematography or the seamless realism of the effects. Probably both. Plus, the best grunt acting ever captured on whatever they record sound on now.
7. Avengers: Age Of Ultron – That party scene could have gone on forever and nobody ever fought anybody again and the world lived happily ever after and this would still be one of the best movies of the year. You might argue that it’s the rest of it that ought to keep it from being one.
But for all the weirdness (Thor bath) and digital noise fighting, these are all still full characters in an ever expanding universe and their management is impressive even when it isn’t always cinematic (it usually is though.)
Add to all of this one of the better villains in any movie, never mind superhero movie, and you get something that transcends all the production problems you read about ahead of time and allowed to invade your perception of it.
8. Anomalisa – When I first saw this is was the second best movie of the year. The second time, it was the third. Now it has dropped to eighth place and I haven’t even watched it again. Soon it might be on the worst list.
But there will always be moments that feel as though they’ve been stolen from my mind. Charlie Kaufmann has a patent on doing that, and I assume it works the same on you as it does on me, although maybe I shouldn’t, considering how uninterested everyone seems to be in this.
Jennifer Jason Leigh gave us two insane and disparate performances this year and we aren’t saying enough about either, especially considering that there aren’t even supposed to be such roles for women. Never mind two for the same one.
Lesson: do not explain the word anomaly to someone named Lisa in your movie, it’s a recipe for commercial failure.
9. Minions – We look back at things like HR Puffnstuff or the early 90s NickToons and wonder how on Earth the world didn’t notice how crazy and weird it was. And that is how people will look back at the Minions in twenty and thirty and forty years. The Despicable Me movies are very good in no small part for being off kilter and slightly dangerous, especially in the hypersensitive regime of kids programming we are currently living under. Cutting the Minions loose from that formula could have easily forced them into an easily digestible construct, theoretically elevating them from crazy nonsense background noise to front and center characters we might recognize from everything else we’ve ever seen.
Instead, Illumination turned up the crazy nonsense while simultaneously making them front and center characters and the result has got to be the weirdest movie to ever make a billion dollars.
10. Ballet 422 – Until this year, I’d never seen a Frederick Weisman documentary, but I imagined all of them whenever I’d hear about one coming out that I would inevitably miss in the two theaters it might play in and then never be able to find anywhere else. But watching this, I felt like I was finally seeing one. And it was everything I had always imagined. Unintrusive documentation of a process I knew nothing about and more importantly cared nothing about until I was presented with it in this seemingly but not t all staid and droll format.
I would not watch Ballets 1-421, but I do wish they’d been made. Because it seems as though you could look forward to the next one coming out even without any previous or subsequent interest in ballet or dancing in general. And that’s all fine and good enough on its own to make this list, but then comes the ending to Ballet 422, which must be the best twist ending in documentary history. And yet it’s still treated as totally normal, so much so I had to go back and make sure I’d understood it correctly, not because the movie did anything wrong in presenting it, but because it didn’t make any practical sense and opened up a whole other world we weren’t watching the whole time, but easily could have been and would never have known the difference.
45 Years – Best Actor and Actress talk ought to begin and end here.
In Jackson Heights – I don’t want more three hour meandering documentaries. I just want more of this one.
Blind – The more Charlie Kaufman movie of 2015 than the Charlie Kaufman movie of 2015.
Room – There are two sides to everything.
The Martian – Based on a future true story.