Gary Shannon’s Top 10 Movies of 2015
From the opening to the last shot, Sicario is thronged with hidden textures of realism—the stark brutality of the cartel’s conflict bleeding into the lives of the working class and into the homes of unassuming families. More troubling, perhaps, is the moral ambiguity of our supposed allies, whose own corruption reflects those of their labelled enemies. Sicario is a dark, twisted and literal descent to darkness, featuring typically brilliant camera work from Roger Deakins and layered storytelling.
On paper, the story for Carol would seem like a mundane, cliched and pedestrian take on same-sex relationships. However, the cinematography’s manipulation of cinema space for dramatic effect and the actors, whose physical expressions provide layers of subtle storytelling, make this one of the most unique films on the stigma and plight of the LGBT community to date. Carol takes the psychology of its characters, the repressiveness of the environment and expresses it visually, making this not only a moving drama but a great piece of filmmaking.
8. What We Do in the Shadows
Where do I start with this one? Not only is What We Do in the Shadows one of the funniest mockumentary comedies in years, comparable to Sacha Baron Cohen and even Christopher Guest at their best, it’s also perhaps one of the most interesting vampire movies of the last twenty years. Its characters, each coming from a different century, occupy a house of vastly wide gaps of cultural identity, colorful personalities and appropriate context to the perpetual pain of their eternal psychology. This sets a stage for some truly realized and brilliant comic improvisation, clever character interaction and moments of true affection for these characters.
7. When Marnie Was There
This is could very well be Studio Ghibli’s final film, however my love for the film surpasses my sentiment for a studio that had essentially characterized my love of animated cinema. When Marnie Was There is a great film, it’s about identity, seen through the eyes of a young girl who doesn’t realize she has one. It’s not a whimsical story but dramatic and profound, providing a dual narrative which I dare say matches Inside Out’s sophistication. A cinematic soul search, through present, past and future, literalized by the studio’s ageless, beautifully distinctive animation.
A genius blend of black comedy, social satire and a terrifying futuristic dystopia. Despite being an incredibly exaggerated film, The Lobster seems to capture the perfect atmosphere for the zany, unpredictable world of relationships and the awkward, sometimes scary expectations that come with it. The unsung universal rules of the dating world are realized with terrifying succinctness within an institutional system, which seems to feature characteristics of a rehabilitations and, at times, a concentration camp. Not so much a high concept film as it is an intimate one about our fears and socially placed pressures, all beneath a hilariously dry, darkly humorous tone.
5. The Assassin
When one thinks of the martial arts subgenre wuxia, at least in a western, more mainstream sensibility, one would think of vastly emphasized visual effects, romanticized political/social ideologies, and impressive wire-acts. The Assassin is different, which is probably why its not nearly as well received as its more mainstream counterparts. However, as is common with Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s visual style, every lingering shot, slow camera pan, object placement, natural imagery, dialogue and emphasized emotion acts as something of a dramatic ripple effect, not entirely noticeable but evident. Evidently, this proves to be quite challenging, as the showing in my city resulted in at least five people exiting the theatre early. However, for lovers for the innovators of film form, The Assassin is a must-see.
You’ll notice the TV spots and trailers selling Brooklyn as an approachable, safe romance film featuring an ever stigmatized love triangle as its central dramatic selling point. This, while not only limiting its appeal, does the film a huge disservice in ignoring its much more astute, creative approach to its study of an immigrant living in a strange land. Not only is Brooklyn a cinematic love letter to our ancestral forefathers but a densely realized supposition on how one defines the values of their homeland, using its multi-faceted romance story to emphasize these points. A powerfully intimate film, with Saoirse Ronan giving what could be the year’s best performance.
Spotlight celebrates the accomplishments of investigative journalism, and in many ways evokes All the President’s Men and The Insider which too share in their subtle appreciation on the delicacy of both obtaining and divulging information to the public. And like the two films, Spotlight too must also share with us the plight of its protagonist, whose own perseverance must come at the cost of their exposure to corrupt institutions of power and an utter remorseless acts of atrocity. More than just an adaptation of a true story, Spotlight proves itself by expressing itself with subtle, often penetrating camera work, editing and story structuring. The more reserved performances are often noteworthy as well, particularly from Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo whose simple bodily expressions characterize their unique personalities, and Michael Keaton’s character, whose own high status is challenged by conflicts with men in similar positions of power.
2. Inside Out
After what seemed to be ages since Toy Story 3, Pete Docter returns once again with one of Pixar’s most concept driven, dramatic film to date. To a good many people, Inside Out is exactly what we were looking for, Pixar returning to form. For me, Inside Out expands its own form, no longer reserving itself to pure metaphor or high concept parable, but imaginative and literal approach to human emotion. Of course, the characters representing emotions are not literal, but are instead manifestations of literal emotions, which can be equal parts hilarious, devastating and utterly intriguing to watch onscreen. For Pete Docter, this is a personal film, but to his surprise, this became a personal film to the masses who have fallen for this film, whose own emotional conflicts in many ways are represented by Riley’s own inner turmoil.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
What fascinates me about George Miller’s films is how deceptively simplistic they are, which is probably why many of his films are greatly appreciated to both casual movie goers and professional film critics alike. Mad Max: Fury Road is an opera of painstaking stunt work, editing, camera, set pieces and directorial prowess matched equally by its character driven, overtly political, psychological and ideological storytelling. Characters are often defined by their actions in the film, and if not by action, then by their status which is sometimes never completely divulged but always realized. Its action sequences, although defined by their technical achievements, are often platforms of narrative progression, especially a way to emphasize the motivations of its characters. Little details can often be looked over, but Fury Road’s meaning and depth is never lost in its spectacle, despite its naysayers. In the phantasmic plane of George Miller’s post apocalyptic future, there’s always something to learn about the world we live in today.