The Final Countdown!!!
Spike Lee is back in full force with quite possibly his best film since Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X. This modern update of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophenes is an infectiously entertaining savage satire of gender roles, violence and social issues. Like the best seasons of South Park but vastly more mature, Chi-Raq is unafraid to takes aim at everyone, and everything, responsible for the unceasing madness of the world — self-hate, social divisions, poverty, desperation, apathy and machismo — and destroys his targets with the simple power of love and the nurturing and uniting power of strong women. The movie sometimes goes off on tangents that never quite work, nor seem to serve any purpose and sometimes seem misguided but these issues are quickly overpowered by the rhythm of the movie and the beats it does land, such is the power of Lee’s messy & confused yet energetic & confident moviemaking. Welcome back, Spike Lee.
A spin on identity and the performative nature of relationship dynamics from Vertigo, Phoenix is ultimately a tale about betrayal and rebirth and catharsis. Haunting would be the first word that comes to mind with Nina Hoss’ journey as Nelly Lenz, a Holocaust survivor who returns to Berlin after undergoing needed facial reconstructive surgery. Caught between re-capturing the life she had before the war and the promise of a new one, she struggles in her own skin and comes face to face with her husband who not only believes his wife to be dead and is unable to recognize this woman, but he may have even been the one who sold her out to the concentration camp. It’s also a slow build to an incredible finale that uses the song “Speak Low” from One Touch of Venus. This post-Holocaust drama uses Nelly’s journey as an allegory for Germany’s relationship to its historical actions but I can’t understate how this film has perhaps the single best ending of the year, one that will linger with you long after the credits roll.
3.) The Look of Silence
There were a number of stunning documentaries this year but none quite as powerful as Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to his own masterpiece The Act of Killing. Diving even deeper into the Indonesian genocide of 1965-66, this time not focusing on the perpetrators so much as those who were complicit and/or victimized, the movie follows travelling optician Adi Rukun as he sits down and interviews various people. Many of them are in some ways responsible for the massacre, from the leaders and politicians who orchestrated it, to the local villagers who let it all happen. All of this to find answers for the kidnapping and mutilating Adi’s own brother – information that, if made known to the leaders he’s interviewing face to face, could actually put him serious danger. It’s a film that argues that evil can be born of the ability to compartmentalize, justify, and lay blame elsewhere as we refuse to admit complicity in the larger picture The Look of Silence one of the most vital documentaries of our time.
Filmmaker Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, I’m Not There, Far from Heaven) has re-invented himself yet again. His latest masterpiece, Carol is based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt and exquisitely adapted by Phyllis Nagy. Through the story of a young shopgirl who falls for an older woman, the film explores the unspoken elements of society at a time when the words for them barely existed. It’s also about the transition from youthful passivity to adulthood agency. Some critics have argued that there isn’t much passion or thematic sustenance or that it’s too distant but considering what the movie is attempting to explore and the pov from which it explores it I’d say those reactions were purposeful. Never exploitative or pandering, the movie uses mostly visual storytelling from Haynes and director of photography Saul Leiter to create a vivid, hypnotic tapestry of love, loss and longing just from shot composition, performer glances and hand placements as opposed to what we think of how “physical” affection looks like on screen. In a way it may be the quintessential queer drama in the sense that it’s not about the indulgent parts sexuality and more about the universality and specificity of emotions. And the final shot so beautiful it’ll be used in film classes for the foreseeable future.
1.) Mad Max: Fury Road
It’s the best action movie of the decade. Accept no substitutes. Shall I elaborate? Filmmaker George Miller has not just delivered a perfect Mad Max movie; he made a movie that is perfect in every way. There is not much to say about Fury Road that hasn’t already been said: it’s an action-heavy, effects laden car chase made with the utmost cinematic precision at every moment, pulsating like a living organism. It feels as uncompromising as it does daring in its visionary symphony of action and drama all in absolute service to articulating themes of post-apocalyptic desperation and – best of all – righteous feminism. Tom Hardy is feral and sympathetic as the wounded and crazed Road Warrior Max Rockatansky, but it was Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa and the various women who accompany them on this wild journey are the real standouts in the film. It follows the quest of women to find freedom from the oppression of a maniacal tyrant who rules his kingdom with an iron fist. The world of the film is so fantastically detailed and fully-realized that even brief glimpses of places and people not explored feel as though they could serve as the basis for an entire film of their own. Each character, each set piece, each vehicle is designed with its own backstory and reason for existing. This blockbuster movie leaves all other in the dust just on its action and ingenuity alone but most of all it allows itself to be every bit as thoughtful and emotional as any of the prestige dramas on this list, sometimes more so. Witness!!!
These lists are not so much about me placing arbitrary value of some movies over others but merely a peek into a wide selection of movies I’d happily recommend to anyone who either wants to challenge themselves or simply entertain themselves. So here’s to 2015 in film and the hope that 2016 brings us some great movies too!
The Full List: