Movies

Published on January 7th, 2016 | by Nathan Raine

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Nathan’s Top 10 Films of 2015

It’s the time of year for best of lists, so film writer Nathan Raine takes a look at his top ten movies of the 2015.

tangerine

10) Tangerine (Dir: Sean Baker)

Despite a smattering of critical acclaim following its Sundance debut, it took a long time before I got around to this one. Admittedly, it wasn’t for good reason: the thought of watching a full length movie shot entirely on an iPhone sounded about as appealing as watching a Wes Anderson collaboration with Paula Deen. Then, a whole three minutes into the film, I was sold. From its opening moments, ideas of gender, sexuality, crime, and race immediately ricochet off one another in a completely vibrant and fresh way. It’s a simple story about a transsexual prostitute looking desperately for the man who broke her heart. The story concerns characters and sexualities we don’t often see portrayed in mainstream cinema. It could have been exploitative or mocking, but Baker treats his subjects with intense sensitivity. There’s not a character who doesn’t burst off the screen with depth and feeling, nor is there a sedate moment of the film. Tangerine is frantic, gaudy, and scuzzy in the most wonderful ways possible.

spotligjht

9) Spotlight (Dir: Tom McCarthy)

Probably the best movie about journalism since All the President’s Men, Spotlight is a painstakingly detailed account of the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church’s history of child abuse. One of Spotlight’s greatest virtues is in its refusal to meddle in cringe-worthy scenes of handsy priests or traumatized children. It instead remains in the present, focusing on a team of individuals obsessed with exposing an immensely important story. It’s not the anticipated outcome that creates suspense, or makes this a great film, but the huge implications felt by each of the reporters responsible for breaking open a well-kept secret.

madmax

8) Mad Max: Fury Road (Dir: George Miller)

Who would’ve thought that in this age of incessantly unimaginative remakes, reboots, and sequels [*cough* Star Wars *cough*] that a reboot of a well-established movie franchise, from a 70-year-old director, best known recently for Babe: Pig in the City, would obliterate all of the ultra-hype and expectation? Fury Road in its beautifully orchestrated chaos, constant energy, weirdness, subverted heroes, undeviating narrative, and practical filmmaking, is, far and away, the best action movie in years. Calling it revolutionary might be hyperbolic, but hopefully it proves to the studios that box office success isn’t always contingent on playing it safe.

lookofsilence

7) The Look of Silence (Dir: Joshua Oppenheimer)

The Look of Silence is Oppenheimer’s follow up to his devastating 2012 doc, The Act of Killing, on the same subject: the genocide of hundreds of thousands of ‘communist’ sympathizers and ethnic Chinese in Indonesia in the 1960s. Silence is the less florid of the two companion pieces, and, perhaps, the more affecting. He fixes his lens on Adi, an middle aged optometrist whose brother was tortured and executed by men who still control the country today. Adi, in his quiet bravery, finds and confronts several of the death-squad members responsible for the mass murders — including the men responsible for killing his brother. Oppenheimer is less implicating in Silence than in Killing — a simple recounting, rather than [encouraged] reenacting the massacres, still giving the guilty sufficient rope to hang themselves. It’s a painful and empathetic account, through Adi’s insistence to pay homage to his brother’s death, of one of the most criminally untold atrocities in human history.

insideout

6) Inside Out (Dir(s): Pete Doctor, Ronnie Del Carmen)

Remove a couple of those horrendously forced and predictable Bing Bong scenes [Pixar seriously needs to start rethinking their doggedly formulaic antagonists] and Inside Out might just be a perfect film. The movie itself is a testament to how the advancements in digital technology and animation are paving new possibilities in cinema. Inside Out creates an extraordinarily rich mental landscape of an 11-year-old girl’s mind. It’s a fun kids movie that’s doing serious work: there’s great insight into emotion, core memories, subjectivity, identity, dreams, deja vu, the subconscious, deja vu, and even a hilarious venture into abstract thought and deconstruction. There’s also an unreliable narrator in Joy, which marks a first for Disney. Pixar has been astonishingly creative before, but this is a new high. And certainly their most cerebral.

pidgeon

5) A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Dir: Roy Andersson)

Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson is somewhat of a hidden treasure in cinema, with a mere five features over the course of a forty year career. Unfortunate, because the dude makes films like no one else. Working in a flat theatrical style, he plants the camera in the corner of a room and orchestrates darkly comic, surreal vignettes where half-alive characters face devastating tragedies or existential dilemmas. Pigeons, like in most of Andersson’s work, is set a purgatory of sorts: his two main characters, a pair of the most miserable novelty-gag salesman on the planet, are seemingly sanctioned to “make people happy.” And although this tragicomic pair provide the narrative through-line in the film, Andersson is constantly taking detours to other mini-worlds furnished with all the tragedy and humour of existence. At its best, Pigeons is able to whisk together a unique sense of sadness, hilarity, and beauty simultaneously. In its most touching scene, a group of young soldiers in a tavern begin to sing in unison for a disabled barmaid. It’s easily the most wonderful scene I saw all year. Conversely, the film ends with a horribly disturbing condemnation of the unthinkably inhumane grand-scale acts we’re been capable of — one of Andersson’s many musings that loomed over me long after the film was through.

lobster

4) The Lobster (Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos)

Equal parts bat-shit crazy and deeply insightful, The Lobster continues on Yorgos Lanthimos’ career trajectory of hurling his unenlightened characters into nearly-alien worlds containing their own distorted rules and codes of behaviour. In The Lobster, adults not in a relationship are forced to check into a hotel, in which they are given 45 days to find a mate. If they fail to find love, they will be transformed into an animal of their choice. Within these distorted set of rules, characters being to question authority and society’s conventions, both creating conflict and revealing truth. This might be the most complex of Lanthimos’ work thus far, yet probably is most accessible. For the most part, the narrative flows steadily, and Lanthimos throws in plenty of his trademark abrupt-shock-violence and confoundedly absurd characters to keep the audience in a suspended state of uncertainty. In The Lobster, he uses this deadpan comedy and extremely unnatural human interactions to make sharp commentary on the self-serving nature of relationships, and the pressure society imposes on romance and coupling as an indication of normality. It’s disarming and strangely beautiful, and marks the most unique cinematic experience I had this year.

carol

3) Carol (Dir: Todd Haynes)

Todd Haynes is a visionary. Blanchett and Mara are two of the best actresses of this generation. And Carol is crushingly beautiful portrait of love. I’ll spare the onslaught of synonyms for “beautiful” and “heartbreaking.” Just see it.

mommy

2) Mommy (Dir: Xavier Dolan)

Film really doesn’t get more ambitious and exuberant than 25-year-old [Canadian] filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s Mommy. I’d argue that a film of such genuine radiance could not have been achieved had it been made by a more ‘mature,’ careful director. Sure, Dolan is uncommonly experienced for his age [this being his fifth feature], but his youth seems to lend him the freedom to blindly swing for the fences in a way older filmmakers, ravaged by critics and age, would likely resist. Mommy tells a story of a troubled young teen and his love-hate relationship with his brash and hapless mother. In the boxy 1:1 ratio Dolan employs, he limits not only the actor’s ability to freely occupy the frame, but uses the confined space to impart both the psychological suffocation and material restrictions on the characters. Yet, this confined space is brimming with energy. Apart from a certain excessive scene near the end [the only scene I can think of that needed a little more of that restraint/maturity] Dolan absolutely nails a constant flood of raw, messy, explosive, and emotionally operatic scenes, all with incredible sincerity. It’s melodrama that never feels disingenuous or pretentious. The small frame is so brimming with life, in fact, that at one point the frame literally overflows, bursting wide open. It’s a scene that should be cliche, ridiculous, and unaffecting — when it started happening I began to curse filmmaker aloud. I truly hate gimmicks like this, but somehow, much like the rest of the film, it’s a scene that hits on a beautifully visceral level. At only 25, it’s almost irritating how good this Dolan kid is already.

quinquin

1)P’tit Quinquin (Dir: Bruno Dumont)

The best film of the year doubles as my biggest cheat of the year. Technically speaking, P’tit Quinquin shouldn’t qualify for this list; it’s a 3.5 hour miniseries which aired on French TV in 2014 [making its way to North American audiences the following year]. But screw these rigid list conventions and despotic Silliphant mandates. Perhaps next year I’ll top the list with a Charmin commercial or a NyQuil-induced nightmare. But dammit if I won’t shoehorn this unbelievably weird masterpiece to the top of the year’s best.

It’s also one of the year’s most unlikely. The genius behind P’tit Quinquin, Bruno Dumont, is perhaps cinema’s foremost trafficker of grim; carving out his own special genre of okay-enough-already bleakness in order to muse on God, death, and humankind’s inherent capacity for evil. In Quinquin, Dumont keeps these same ruminations but replaces his relentlessly gloomy approach with muted comic absurdity and deadpan humour. Dumont making a comedy is akin to Donald erecting a TrumpMosque.

Quinquin follows two incompetent cops, in a rural French community, on the trail of a serial-killer who leaves body parts stuffed inside of barnyard animals. And trust me, it’s far more absurd than it sounds. Dumont casts a host of nonprofessional actors, many chosen for their physical uniqueness [the lead roles feature an Einsteiny looking man with an orchestra of facial tics, and, a young boy with a misshaped head]. There’s so much going on in Quinquin that its hard not be overwhelmed by both its scope and abnormality. Dumont wages a celestial battle of good and evil, muses on racism and immigration, and rethinks the way we respond to death. Most discernibly, Dumont is exploring some kind thread on the distortion of man’s divine image. It’s never explained but the majority of the characters display some sort of deformity or mental disability, and it seems, through their struggle through these near demonic circumstances, Dumont is likening our corrupted and blasphemous image against the image of God. Yes, I know, it all sounds like horribly serious stuff [and it sort of is], but these contemplations merely trickle through an amusing adventure story following a bratty young boy and a bumbling investigator. It’s poignant and disarming and bizarre and hilarious and disturbing, and for my money, is the best thing I’ve seen all year.

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About the Author

is a writer, journalist, and parsimonious philanthropist from roughly the middle of Canada. His fiction, which sometimes wins terribly important awards, can be found in a handful of defunct magazines and journals worldwide. He doesn’t like to blow-it-up after a fist bump, and has taken a lifelong vow to never talk or write about himself in the third person. His greatest talent is hypocrisy.



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