Tuesday, July 5, 2016
And What Didn't Make My 2015 Top Ten List
Every year, I write a companion piece to my Top Ten List, discussing other notable and high profile films of the year. I do this to provide some context for my own list, and to organize my own thoughts on these films before saying goodbye to a year in film. I find that what isn't on someone's Top Ten list is often as illuminating as what is. Please note that I will not be discussing films that made the Honorable Mention section, especially as this year I've previously reviewed all of these titles.
2015 was a big year in a lot of ways, especially at the box office. As the tentpole films increasingly dominate, however, the smaller films are being squeezed out. I'm extremely worried about what happened this past October, where "The Martian" dominated week after week to the detriment of many smaller films. Many would-be awards contenders released during this period, including "Steve Jobs" and "The Walk" were terrible bombs, which is going to affect how movies like this are made and distributed in the future. Thankfully, business did pick up over the next few months, especially for the big awards contenders. That means the awards race is more important than ever.
So let's look at the most highly lauded films first. I liked all these films to some extent. "The Revenant," for instance, was a daring cinematic feat that certainly looked spectacular. However, I couldn't connect with it on any other level beyond the visceral, and that includes Leonardo DiCaprio's performance. "Mad Max" is certainly to be celebrated for being a big action film done right, and I'm thrilled that the Academy finally caved to all the critical pressure and handed over so many Oscars. However, I'm still a little mystified by the praise. I certainly enjoyed the film, but it didn't strike me as a masterpiece. I suspect that taste may have a lot to do with this, as the aesthetics of Mad Max's Wasteland were always a little off-putting to me, even if I enjoyed it all on a story level.
2015 often felt like the year that a lot of tremendously creative people all made something passable and mediocre. "Bridge of Spies" was an entirely too familiar, earnest Spielberg period picture with Tom Hanks at his Hanksiest. Quentin Tarantino poured a lot of effort into "The Hateful Eight," surely, but also fell back on old tricks and familiar indulgences. I liked Tom Hooper's "The Danish Girl" much better than his "Les Miz," but it was entirely too timid. "Steve Jobs" was more Aaron Sorkin than Danny Boyle, and not good Aaron Sorkin, unfortunately. "The Big Short" was a nice surprise for being the opposite, a massively interesting, engaging film coming from Adam McKay, of all people. It was a little too rough around the edges to be in play for a top spot, but I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for it. Jay Roach, alas couldn't manage the same trick. "Trumbo" was about the most awkward, tone deaf picture I saw all year.
The populist successes always yield some interesting things, and this year you had to have an opinion about "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." I liked it just fine as a typical blockbuster of 2016, but it made me much more excited about what may come later. One of the year's biggest surprises was "Straight Outta Compton," which I agree is an important film for the audience it reached, but one I didn't find especially notable otherwise. It played all your typical biopic beats out in exactly the way I expected. Then there's "Kingsmen," which grows increasingly more problematic the more I think about it, but I still really, really liked for what it was.
I've already remarked in a few different contexts that I thought it was a pretty poor year for foreign and arthouse films, with many major directors apparently taking the year off. Those that remained made films that felt like lesser retreads of older films: "Cemetery of Splendour," "Anomalisa," "Youth," "Taxi," "Pigeon Sat on a Branch...") or were gimmick-driven ("Victoria" and "The Tribe"). I fully admit that I didn't understand Hou Hsiao-Hsien's "The Assassin," despite not needing any subtitles for it. And while I had no major complaints about "Amy," it felt awfully slight when compared to some of the other documentaries about musicians from last year, like "What's Up Miss Simone" and "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck."
Please note that I counted "Phoenix" and "Gett: the Trial of Viviane Amsalem" as 2014 films, so they were in contention for this year's "Plus One" spot, along with "The Look of Silence," which was the runner up. I seriously considered declaring a tie and announcing this year would have a "Plus Two" addendum, but we have to draw the line somewhere.
Finally, films that I just didn't have room for among my honorable mentions include "The Search for General Tso," "Crimson Peak," "Tangerine," "Sicarion," and "What's Up Miss Simone?"
And that's 2015 in film.