Friday, February 12, 2016

The 50 Finest Films of 2015: #40 - #31

The list continues into the top 40 films of 2015, and as we go on my appreciation for the work grows even stronger. Including some comedy, a couple brutal epics, a painful but important documentary, potentially the last film by arguably the greatest animation studio of all time and a progressive work about the transgender community starring the transgender community, here are the next ten films on my list.

40. Mistress America

Noah Baumbach creates comedic films that don't really make me laugh consistently (although some laughs are there, trust me), yet by the time they end I find that I have fallen in love with the wit and the charm of the characters. It happened two years ago with Frances Ha, and the same goes for Mistress America, a work that initially felt a little tedious yet I stuck with it and I am thrilled I did. I am left without a specific comparison in mind, but Mistress America reminds me of a comedy film of a different era that values intelligent dialogue and clever nuance over sight gags or the desire to reach for the low hanging fruit. I may not be always laughing, but I sure as hell was always smiling.

39. The Revenant

It's big, it's brutal and it's beautiful. It may not be the best film of the year and frankly I am shocked Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu seems poised to win the Best Director Oscar, but what is achieved in The Revenant is undeniable. It's brave filmmaking, both for its now notorious realism in actually exposing the cast and crew to the elements and for its photography by the brilliant Emmanuel Lubezki utilizing only natural light, and it's refreshing to see a box office success these days be so clearly inspired by someone like Andrei Tarkovsky. I doubt I would ever watch The Revenant again because I was exhausted by the end of the experience, but as a one time viewing it is powerful and incredibly well made.

38. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Based on an actual urban legend surrounding the death of a Japanese woman in Minnesota, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a profoundly unique film about a woman who travels the world and puts her life on the line in order to find the fictional treasure hidden in the film Fargo. With a premise unlike anything I had ever heard of, director David Zellner takes something seemingly absurd and makes a moving and inspiring piece of cinema out of it and a top notch performance from Rinko Kikuchi puts the movie over the top.

37. The Hunting Ground

Documentary filmmaking can hold so much power by spreading a message that needs to be told. You need to see The Hunting Ground, plain and simple. The rape culture on college campuses isn't merely a problem, it's an epidemic and the actual assault is only one piece of the conversation. What these universities do to try to cover up these crimes and pressure the victims to keep their mouths shut is horrifying, and anyone sending their child away to an institution has the right to wonder and ask, how can I trust you with my daughter when you value her less than money and statistics?

See The Hunting Ground and spark a conversation about it. It's an outstanding film about a disturbing topic.

36. Love & Mercy

Biopics suffer when they are both too complicated in terms of storytelling yet formulaic in the way said story is delivered. It's always the whole life of a complicated and troubled man, and the way the characters are portrayed and their relationships and the music cues and the drama all feels recycled. Not the case with Love & Mercy, a portrayal of the life of Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson told by focusing on two very specific turning point moments and editing them together in a way that feels fresh and fascinating. Paul Dano is extraordinary and John Cusack is rock solid as the older Wilson. Biopic sometimes sounds like an ugly word to me, but Love & Mercy flat out works. 

35. Wild Tales

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at last years Academy Awards, Wild Tales didn't premiere in the United States until early on in 2015 and the anthology film constantly keeps you on your toes and is a whole lot of fun. Made up of six short films that all tie together in a thematic sense only, Wild Tales is an outrageous and hysterical satire that will have you ranking the segments in the end from best to less awesome but still enjoyable. My personal favorite is probably "El mas fuerte". Or maybe "Bombita". Actually, "Hasta que la muerte nos separe" is an outstanding conclusion to the whole thing. 

They are all great, and I can't pick. All I know is Wild Tales is a blast.

34. Macbeth

Fassbender and Shakespeare, sign me up. This new adaptation of Macbeth is a searing, visceral slice of cinema that is brutally violent and brilliant performed. Directed by Justin Kurzel, this is a Shakespeare film for those who don't like Shakespeare. Why? Because it is such an enthusiastic display of the power of cinema to tell a story that the dialogue actually takes a bit of a back seat to gorgeous cinematography and perfect acting. I couldn't look away.

33. Girlhood

The comparisons to Richard Linklater's Boyhood are simply going to happen because of the title and the fact that both are coming of age dramas, but that's where they end. To be clear, not a knock on either film considering Boyhood is one of my favorite films of all time, but it must be made clear: do not ignore Girlhood because you think it is some "answer" to the Linklater effort. They aren't related in the least. We've seen the subject matter handled before, the story of an adolescent who is influenced by the wrong crowd and her life starts to go off the rails, but the plight of Marieme is worthwhile because of the abusive situation she wants to leave behind that leads her to these new friends and witnessing her strength as she has to overcome so many obstacles to find her own way. Girlhood is an outstanding film that still resonates long after I watched it.

32. When Marnie Was There

Studio Ghibli released an animated film that is moving and emotionally complex? You don't say. When Marnie Was There is another beautiful entry from the amazing studio, and the worst heartbreak of all is the possibility that this could be their very last film. If that proves to be the case, it's a hell of a way to go out. I will always love the gorgeous hand drawn animation and the ability to make cinema with real depth that appeals to people of all ages. I hope this isn't the end of Ghibli, but regardless, When Marnie Was There is a treasure.

31. Tangerine

How brave is it to make a transsexual Christmas comedy starring actual transsexuals with no real acting experience? Try adding in the fact that director Sean Baker filmed the entire thing using only an iPhone. Seriously. The result is funny, moving, and truly special. A frenetic blast of energy that is both remarkably raw and yet shockingly tender, you can't get much more diverse than Tangerine and that is only the start of what makes this film so great.

Next I will move into the top 30 films of 2015. Some of the films coming up are to be expected, but I am willing to bet there will be a few surprises too, including the film pictured above.


  1. I only saw 3 of these (Mistress America, Wild Tales, and Tangerine). Since I probably didn't see 50 new movies last year, I would have to do a Top 10. Wild Tales would make mine. Every story was amazing.
    I just saw Mistress America the other night and figure it would have resonated more with me more 10 years ago (even though I was never a floating 20 something). Tangerine was a great movie and I love the insight into a culture that I have no familiarity with. Not a Top 10, but definitely a low teen ranking for me.

    1. Yeah I know you were a big fan of Wild Tales and Tangerine (and rightfully so), and Mistress America is one that certainly will not click that well with many. Even my response and where I ranked it is lukewarm to many who are putting it in their top 5 of the year. Wasn't THAT into it, haha, just thought it was a really good and entertaining film.

  2. Wow, I'm surprised to see The Revenant and Tangerine so far low. I would have expected Revenant to be at least in the middle of your list, and Tangerine I thought would be higher since you seemed to really like that one. Personally, I loved the Revenant and will rewatch it all day. I didn't feel exhausted at the end of it, inf act I felt invigorated.

    1. Yeah you and I had very different reactions in the end to The Revenant despite both obviously feeling positive about it in general. A terrifically made film that didn't do a whole lot to click with me in the long run.

      As for the placement of Tangerine, it waffled anywhere between the mid 20's and early 30's. Really at this point of the list, when the early 30's start and beyond, I pretty much love all the films and it is a very tough call where to place them.