My Top & Bottom Films of 2015

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I probably did not see enough new films to have a totally complete list, and living in Canada means that we often get much later release dates on films.  I made  these lists according to which films I thought were most disappointing to me, and which ones I enjoyed the most.  The ones which were disappointing were often not bad but did not meet up to my expectations and were overall not great, which can sometimes be worse than the films which you know are going to be terrible.  The ones I liked best include new releases but also re-releases and Canadian release dates which can be later than the original dates.  So with that in mind, here are my lists for most disappointing, and best, films of the year.

Most Disappointing Films of 2015

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10. The Whispering Star (Sion Sono)
I actually debated putting this on my top 10 films list.  On paper it really does have everything I could want: a quiet film about a woman android who delivers packages through space, filmed mainly in Fukushima.  At times it was almost like Futurama meets Stalker without the fear of God, and the final sequence was beautiful and very creative.  But ultimately it didn’t work out and felt numb.

9. It Follows (David Robert Mitchell)
Not bad, again, but definitely not the greatest contemporary horror film as so many people seemed to describe it; the story of how some dull, plain white kids should not have sex ever just doesn’t appeal to me much, even if it was quite scary, and in that sense successful as a horror film.  By the end (spoiler) the most desperate nerd-boy gets the girl.  I’m not white so I probably don’t have to worry about demons chasing me.

8. When Animals Dream (Jonas Alexander Amby)
An opaque werewolf film which relies on tropes of “sex makes girls into monsters” and “women are scary” without anything terribly interesting or nice to look at to make the viewing experience at all worthwhile.

7. Spectre (Sam Mendes)
When you have a franchise like this where you have to wait several years between films, you want the films to be good in order to merit your anticipation.  This was overly long (it got boring after the first big car chase). Sexist. The clothes weren’t great.  There was no logic or sense to anything. Not enough shots of the very beautiful cat.  Léa Seydoux and Daniel Craig had so little chemistry that their relationship felt nearly Brechtian.

6. Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke)
This was disappointing since I had wanted to see it not only because I have previously enjoyed Jia Zhangke’s films, but because it was described as a story about friendship which extends from the 1990s into the 2020s (which sounds charming).  No on in this film even has friends.  The plot revolves around two men who fight over Zhao Tao’s character, and their futures as resulting from her choice between them.  There were some good song and dance sequences but the romantic melodrama was boring and based around one of the most irritating romantic tropes: the love triangle.  This lacked the perceptiveness and quiet interrogation of the director’s past films, but was not fun enough to, I think, appeal to an audience wider than the international art circles who primarily consume his films.

5. Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow)
I just wanted a fun dinosaur movie.  Instead I got a film about how successful women are evil bitches who must be broken.   Actually, all women (human and dinosaur alike) are evil bitches who must be broken.  Chris Pratt lacks any charm or quality of allure.

4. Inside Out (Pete Docter)
I was told I would love this film which was sold to me as a complex psychological portrait of a girl.  I did not love it.  I found it infuriatingly childish, which is fine for a children’s film, but not at all appealing to me, a person over the age of seven.  I was happy when (spoiler:) Bing Bong died, if only because it meant he would be finally silent.

3. The Martian (Ridley Scott)
I want a good psychological space movie, not a movie about some abrasively arrogant, obnoxious jock-type who is perpetually fearless and happy while stranded on Mars.  Matt Damon portrays the kind of man you wouldn’t want to be around for the sheer irritation caused by his very loud personality.  This is the anti-Solaris.

2. Room (Lenny Abrahamson)
It was very highly praised.  It was also very upsetting, and I found it to be emotionally manipulative and exploitative.  I can’t see the appeal. I get that the performances were great, but it’s impossible to enjoy and I don’t see why so many films have to be based on torturing  women.

1. Carol (Todd Haynes)
I was so looking forward to this but it was heavy handed and terribly dumbed down from the source material.  Rooney Mara’s blankness was not an asset.  Again, not a terrible film but it should have been so good.  It lacked the tension, emotion, realism and drama of the source material and now that we know that Chantal Akerman had been working on a film adaptation before running into problems over film rights, all I can think of is how much more sensitive and complex it could have been had she directed it.  I realise that part of what has formed my opinion on this highly acclaimed film is outside sources: Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt and the idea of a Chantal Akerman adaptation.  These two objects definitely diminish the film; however, without them the film is still weak.  Cate Blanchett is extremely magnetic, which really carries the whole thing, but otherwise Mara is stiff and boring.  There is no subtlety, there is no nuance, there is no warmth.  It left me cold and disappointed.



Best Films of 2015

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(to end on a high note):

10. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
One of the most beautiful films of the year.  I did find the plot quite confusing – I do not have the background knowledge to have fully grasped it.   Despite that, it was engaging and was one of the best uses of space in 2015.

9. Goodnight Mommy (Veronika Franz & Severine Fiala)
It was kind of nonsensical to the point where it felt like parts must have been cut out to explain gaps in the narrative, with a twist that was expected from the first 10 minutes, but still a very enjoyable horror film.  It left a lot of questions and not necessarily in a good way, but I think that the fact that I still liked it so much despite these faults speaks to its quality.

8. Macbeth (Justin Kurzel)
One of the best uses of mise-en-scène of the year.  Very beautiful with great sets and costumes in particular, and a very effective use of light, colour, and slow motion.  I found it engaging throughout. My only issue was Marion Cotillard’s styling.   Her makeup was jarring in  how polished and modern it was (think your typical no-makeup makeup), which was out of step with other looks.  If the point was to make me constantly ruminate on the fact that women are only worth as much as their attractiveness because cinema is a white supremacist heteropatriarchal capitalist institution which must exploit these harmful and inachievable beauty standards, then the film was successful.  Otherwise I did like it.

7. The Mask (Julian Roffman, 1961; 2015 re-release)
It’s the kind of 3D that really does 3D well,with things jumping out at you (very effective for a horror film!) and an amazing use of depth.  This 3D was perhaps gimmicky, but I like that and you will never feel like “I don’t get why this had to be in 3D, it would have been the same in 2D” (…like Star Wars: The Force Awakens…).   The soundtrack was superb as well.

6. The Creeping Garden (Tim Grabham & Jasper Sharp)
I think I would have appreciated this film if only for its introducing me to slime mold (my favourite thing of 2015, probably); it’s even more fortunate that it’s a fascinating, engaging, and beautiful film beyond its noble pursuit of exposing the world to the magic of slime mold.

5. Roar (Noel Marshal, 1981; 2015 re-release)
This film is totally weird and terrifying, and it had me in hysterics.  It’s just a really immense and visceral cinematic viewing experience.

4. What We Do In The Shadows (Taika Waititi & Jermaine Clement)
I liked this film because it was quite genuinely, earnestly joyful and funny.  It can be refreshing sometimes to see something that’s just totally uncynical.   It’s an example of how a film can be so sincere and also quite stylized without falling into the territory of the irritatingly quirky or childish.

3. Why Don’t You Play In Hell? (Sion Sono)
Definitely the funniest film I’ve seen in theatres in years, and one of the best films about filmmaking and cinephilia.  Films tackling this subject matter often get bogged down in cloying sentiment about the “magic of movies,” or focus on the tortured soul of the self-destructive (generally male) filmmaker.  This was instead pure fun: never saccharine and never irritatingly, masturbatorally cynical.  Sion Sono’s best film since Love Exposure.

2. Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra)
The black and white shots of the amazon were very beautiful.  The narrative was additionally creative and engaging, as well as necessary.  Though political in nature (and explicitly, harshly critical of colonialism!) it never felt forced or heavy handed: everything flowed well.

1. Hard to be a God (Aleksey German)
It is beautifully disgusting (so, so disgusting) and the definition of what an epic should be.  The amount of detail that went into how grotesque this film is is astounding.  I am definitely predisposed to this sort of film as I love gross medieval things and space travel, but it went beyond my expectations.

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