Friday, July 03, 2015

The Fifties for 2015

I'm back with one of my most popular features: The Fifties, honoring the year's best filmmaking achievements among the first 50 U.S. releases I saw in 2015.  I think this is the earliest I've ever hit this numerical milestone; it's nice to be drafting this post on July 2, at the exact midpoint of the year.  Many of the films I'm honoring are either still in theaters or newly available on DVD and streaming services, so I hope you'll investigate any titles you've missed.  And, as ever, please suggest your own favorites in the comments, especially if you suspect I've missed the film.

I've gobbled up so many movies post-graduation—ten features in five days, after seeing only three in theaters during the previous two months—that I hustled all the way to a tally of 56 before I could catch my breath. Amy, The Look of Silence, Phoenix, and Tom at the Farm have not technically opened yet, and I'll only believe the last one's planned release when I see it. I'll sideline these for now, which means Tom's Lise Roy, Amy's impressive sound mix, Phoenix's mishandled but interesting script, and just about every stunning aspect of The Look of Silence (easily one of the year's best films, towering over all of the other documentaries I've seen) won't get recognized below.

Otherwise, the eligible movies were '71, About Elly, Amour fou, Blackbird, Blackhat, Boy Meets Girl, Clouds of Sils Maria, Dope, The Duke of Burgundy, Eastern Boys, Eden, Ex Machina, Far from Men, Far from the Madding Crowd, Fifty Shades of Grey, Futuro Beach, Gerontophilia, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, Girlhood, Heaven Knows What, The Hunting Ground, Inside Out, Insidious: Chapter 3, It Follows, It's All So Quiet, Jauja, Joy of Man's Desiring, Jurassic World, The Last Five Years, Li'l Quinquin, Love & Mercy, Mad Max: Fury Road, Madame Bovary, Magic Mike XXL, Maps to the Stars, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Of Horses and Men, The Overnight, Paddington, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Play, The Princess of France, Serena, Spy, Testament of Youth, Timbuktu, The Tribe, When Evening Falls on Bucharest, While We're Young, White God, Wild Tales, and The Wolfpack.  And the nominees are...

Girlhood (rent it!), tough-minded but affecting coming-of-age ensemble drama
It Follows (DVD in July), an ingenious and brilliantly executed horror yarn
Li'l Quinquin (rent it!), Bruno Dumont's amazingly effective foray into comedy
Mad Max: Fury Road (in theaters), tense, implacable, and baroquely conceived
Timbuktu (rent it!), a quietly confident and increasingly tense social document
The Tribe (in theaters), come for all-signing conceit, stay for potent storytelling

Also: I followed Oscar's lead and drew a contour line around the choices that most excite me, though the wonderful Eastern Boys, Pigeon Sat on a Branch..., Eden, Princess of France, and Jauja are all closely clustered just beneath this sextet, and The Look of Silence would unquestionably appear if it had opened yet.

Bruno Dumont, Li'l Quinquin, for balancing absurd comedy and weirdo macabre
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road, for indelibly choreographed maximalism
David Robert Mitchell, It Follows, for articulating its vision with clarity and force
Céline Sciamma, Girlhood, for viewing these girls with neither softness nor alarm
Myroslav Slaboshpitskiy, The Tribe, for something new that isn't just a gimmick

Also: Runners-up include Abderrahmane Sissako's brutal but delicate constructing of Timbuktu, Lisandro Alonso's surreally suggestive enigmas in Jauja, Asghar Farhadi's ratcheted tension and character insights in the late-arriving About Elly, Matías Piñeiro chasing a new form of storytelling in The Princess of France, and Mia Hansen-Løve making a lovely, quietly grand film out of what could have been nothing at all in Eden.

Golshifteh Farahani, About Elly, for being duly exasperating but eliciting sympathy
Michelle Hendley, Boy Meets Girl, for vivaciously anchoring transgender rom-com
Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey, for wielding control over shaky material
Sidse Babett Knudsen, The Duke of Burgundy, for bringing heart to stiff stylization
Karidja Touré, Girlhood, for creating a prismatic point for broad identifications

Also: Mia Wasikowska in Madame Bovary, Alicia Vikander in Testament of Youth, and Carey Mulligan in Far from the Madding Crowd, in that order, kept things interesting on the period front, while Maika Monroe in It Follows and Melissa McCarthy in the first hour of Spy served the mandates of utterly un-prestige-y vehicles. I get what others see in Charlize Theron of Mad Max: Fury Road and Arielle Holmes of Heaven Knows What but felt some reservations in both cases.

Ibrahim Ahmed, Timbuktu, for conveying ease and despair with equal restraint
John Cusack, Love & Mercy, for putting a fresh, soft-spoken spin on mental illness
Paul Dano, Love & Mercy, for incipient anguish and inner genius, both tough to do
Olivier Rabourdin, Eastern Boys, for heroism, bafflement, arousal, and guilt
Matthias Schoenaerts, Far from the Madding Crowd, note-perfect with Mulligan

Also: Viggo Mortensen and Reda Kateb are a great duo in the North African western Far from Men, and Mortensen also fit himself perfectly into the semi-scrutable world of Jauja and helped to open it up. Bernard Pruvost is a loopy wonder in Li'l Quinquin. Adam Driver is responsible for many of the moments when While We're Young really works. Grigoriy Fesenko provides a sturdy but deeply shaken center for The Tribe. I'll look out for more work from that young actor, as I will from Eden's Félix de Givry and Dope's Shameik Moore.

Diana Avrămuţ, When Evening Falls on Bucharest..., funny as a rattled actress
Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy (a lead?), terrifically relaxed in a Connelly part
Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars, spoofing but relating to a despicable person
Érica Rivas, Wild Tales, a best-for-last treasure as a memorably vengeful bride
Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria, studying Binoche while subtly eclipsing her

Also: Lise Roy's grieving and possibly fuming mother in Tom at the Farm has a date with this list once the movie opens. Phyllis Smith gives Inside Out's best performance, making the case for Sadness while making fond fun of her. Nicole Kidman gives great villainy in Paddington (I had more fun with her than I did with Rose Byrne in Spy) and Viola Davis imparts typically rich backstory out of nowhere in Blackhat. ("Am I being tangible?" Yes.) Olivia Cooke does wonderful things for and with her character in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, even if the film can't properly take advantage of them. Jada Pinkett Smith zests up Magic Mike XXL when it most needs zesting. All these women were at some point in the main list and could wind up there by year's end.

Keir Gilchrist, It Follows, making his own tender movie out of Paul's quiet pining
Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, humming around third gear and still stealing the film
Menashe Noy, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, a lawyer as fed up as I was
Michael Sheen, Far from the Madding Crowd, trying to parlay the pity he inspires
Daniil Vorobyov, Eastern Boys, entrancing as a menace, moving by the finish

Also: Not a super-stacked category by this point in the year, but I was also taken with Michael Welch's bedrock BFF in Boy Meets Girl, Jake Abel's impatient and myopic but understandable Mike Love in Love & Mercy, Leonardo Sbaraglia's road-rager for the ages in Wild Tales, Kit Harington's underplayed but immediately appealing suitor in Testament of Youth, Taron Egerton's stalwart brother in the same film, and Rhys Ifans's shadowy onlooker and strange prophet in the mostly misbegotten Serena (though maybe I was just starved for someone to interest me, and impressed at how fully I failed to recognize him).

About Elly, where all have shifting motives, so actors must sync up and butt heads
Girlhood, where focal quartet has such detail and depth, as do second-tier players
Li'l Quinquin, where actors young and old sell a bizarre world and peculiar tone
The Princess of France, where each makes an impression while all blur together
Wild Tales, where a daisy-chain of Argentinean superstars keeps a party hopping

Also: These were pretty easy choices, but the schoolkids in The Tribe evoked a milieu nearly as well as the non-professionals in Girlhood did, and the self-effacing actors in Eden, Of Horses and Men, and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence do exactly what those director-driven projects need them to.  Switching gears completely, you could nonetheless say the same about the colorful troupe in Paddington, all of whom are clearly delighted to be there.  Of the various period outings, Testament of Youth called the least attention to its performances, even as it elicited the sturdiest overall set.

Nic Knowland, The Duke of Burgundy, for ravishing images, colors, and textures
Rob Hardy, Ex Machina, for preserving levels of mystery when script lost them
Mike Gioulakis, It Follows, for virtuoso sequence shots and marvelous use of depth
Timo Salminen, Jauja, thriving in new hemisphere, new palette, new aspect ratio
John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road, for virulent colors and cameras in crazy places

Also: Crystel Fournier's character portraiture in Girlhood is marvelous without being at all ostentatious, especially in dark or low-contrast shots. Andrij Parekh brought cold visual coherence to Madame Bovary, saying more interesting things about the characters than the script always did. Steven Soderbergh broke some longstanding habits and found a bevy of unusual vantage points in Magic Mike XXL. Furnished with a beautiful landscape for Timbuktu, Sofian El Fani composed some images that were gorgeous in creative ways but impressive in their austerity. Ali Olcay Gözkaya casts quite a spell in Futuro Beach, holding the movie together even when characters get opaque and story beats erratic.

Asghar Farhadi and Azad Jafarian, About Elly, eerie mystery, detailed characters
Robin Campillo, Eastern Boys, posing tough questions about sex and philanthropy
Céline Sciamma, Girlhood, casting protagonists in quietly revealing situations
David Robert Mitchell, It Follows, giving complex premise a spindly precision
Abderrahmane Sissako and Kessen Fall, Timbuktu, a timely parable that breathes

Also: The Tribe is more a triumph of directing but the narrative engrossed me on its own terms. I didn't love Inside Out's grander schemes and arcs but its driving lesson is powerful and its moment-to-moment cleverness is often disarming. Amour fou took a new angle on period psychologies and the lives of famous men. Belying its clunky title, When Evening Falls on Bucharest, or Metabolism offers a funny, compact spin on the Beware of a Holy Whore school of films about filmmaking. Of Horses and Men, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Wild Tales, and Li'l Quinquin are hard to visualize without their directors' tonal and audiovisual imprints but they all started as smart, vignette-based scripts.

David Oelhoffen and Antoine Lacomblez, Far from Men, a rich, unusual Western
David Nicholls, Far from the Madding Crowd, deftly compressing Hardy's story
Paul King and Hamish McColl, Paddington, updating Bond but keeping his spirit
Matías Piñeiro, The Princess of France, knitting Shakespeare into new knots
Juliette Towhidi, Testament of Youth, capturing an era's drama without overselling

Also: Kelly Marcel, or whoever wrote the Fifty Shades of Grey script that made it to the screen, couldn't launder out every howler but found a story and a point of view worth exploring. Nanouk Leopold might have directed her screenplay for It's All So Quiet with more urgency but the material intrigues. I couldn't get too into Heaven Knows What but its vantage on drugged-up dropouts departs from template. I appreciate that it disobeys most existing forms of structure.

Robin Campillo, Eastern Boys, whose "party" sequence is one of the year's peaks
Marion Monnier, Eden, managing subtle accumulation without any fixed shape
Julio Perez IV, It Follows, terrific at tension, clever with ellipsis... and that pool!
Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road, just this side of chaos, adventurous in cuts
Valentyn Vasyanovych, The Tribe, coherent at every beat, even sans dialogue

Also: Girlhood plays the long and loose game almost as well as Eden. Li'l Quinquin gets substantial laughs out of cuts, long pauses, and repeated motifs. I can't fully endorse Blackhat, but I do like watching Mann and his four editors experiment with scene-building. Timbuktu and Magic Mike XXL, two movies destined to inhabit the same sentences forever, can be a bit too digressive, Wild Tales works unevenly from episode to episode, and The Princess of France risks being too elusive, but they all take interesting chances and yield mesmerizing passages.

Tony Lamberti, et al., Blackhat, most consistently rewarding as sonic experience
Glenn Freemantle, et al., Ex Machina, cramping some spaces, opening up others
Christian Dwiggins, et al., It Follows, as creepy when making noise as when not
Christopher S. Aud, et al., Mad Max: Fury Road, for rips, revs, riffs, saws, drums
Billy Theriot, David Jobe, et al., Magic Mike XXL, balancing fireworks and lulls

Also: Love & Mercy collages Beach Boys hits in ways that please the audience but also suggest the drifts inside Wilson's head. It almost qualified, till I remembered that scene at the dinner table. About Elly uses the sounds of the ocean in great ways, and also the pregnant pauses among the ensemble. The Princess of France embeds an interest in sonic textures and adventures into its plot.

Harry Gregson-Williams, Atticus Ross, et al., Blackhat, subtle electronica
Paul Grimstad and Ariel Pink, Heaven Knows What, junkie music from alien planet
Disasterpeace, It Follows, scary-funny pastiche of Halloween-era horror motifs
Howard Shore, Maps to the Stars, finds spooky lullaby in film that needs more air
Amin Bouhafa, Timbuktu, combines local elements with plaintive external lament

Also: Of course I got swept up in Mad Max's crushing low strings and pummeling drums, but maybe it tilted a tad obvious? Similarly, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow gave Ex Machina the electronic minimalism it probably needed without quite breaking the mold. Atticus Ross did well weaving Beach Boys fragments together for Love & Mercy. I remember liking the music in Madame Bovary but if I'm being honest I barely remember it.

Katharina Wöppermann, Amour fou, for singular, credible take on early 1800s
Pater Sparrow, The Duke of Burgundy, for the overripe beauty of props and surfaces
Mark Digby, Ex Machina, for sleek interiors with odd details, perfect for Nathan
Michael Perry, It Follows, for clues snuck into sets, and artfully obscuring its era
Colin Gibson, Mad Max: Fury Road, going over the top to treat and agitate the eye

Also: Another easy list to assemble, though Kave Quinn kept the landscape-porn at a minimum and suggested a lot through architectures in Far from the Madding Crowd, and Sebastián Rosés blended the natural with the quizzical as I've never quite seen it in Jauja. Possibly I'm crazy to leave out the meticulously assembled dioramas in A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, if only because the tableaus in Andersson's other movies were even weirder and more wonderful.

Janet Patterson, Far from the Madding Crowd, never one to rest on period clichés
Kimberly Leitz-McCauley, It Follows, where Jay's outfits signal her demons
Jenny Beavan, Mad Max: Fury Road, from Merchant Ivory to Immortan Joe!
Valérie Ranchoux and Christian Gasc, Madame Bovary, for entrancing nuances
Ann Roth, While We're Young, for gradations in Ben and Naomi's transformations

Also: Denise Cronenberg gave Mia Wasikowska and Julianne Moore some great looks in Maps to the Stars. Christopher Peterson's clothes in Magic Mike XXL (yes, there are some) implied a lot of detail about single-scene characters like Andie MacDowell's. Tanja Hausner, presumably related to her director, furnished a detailed series of garments to Amour fou.  I'd need to see The Duke of Burgundy and Jauja again to gauge how fully they belong here.  I liked the fresh looks of the kids in Dope, designed by Patrik Milani.

Ex Machina, whose Ava character was unusually designed but instantly believable
Jurassic World, which did its dinosaur thing but will hopefully be supplanted soon
Mad Max: Fury Road, dominating this category as fully as it owns the next one...

Also: I didn't have many other places to turn besides Paddington's talking bear and Blackhat's cyber-animations, but both occasionally looked chintzy.

Candy Alderson, The Duke of Burgundy, where meticulous masks sometimes slip
Nadine Prigge, et al., Mad Max: Fury Road, with elaborate, unending inventions
Debra Denson, Trefor Proud, Sarah Love, Spy, for fun with McCarthy and Law

Also: Maps to the Stars almost got there, with all the characters' feints at California glamor, but I wasn't always sure about Mia's scars, though at least they weren't as lame as the ones in Fifty Shades of Grey.  Roy Andersson's movies always earn chuckles for the characters' uncanny pallor, and Pigeon is no different. Angela Garacija took Viggo Mortensen, who is naturally a sculpture, and turned him into a painting for Jauja.

So that's 10 nominations for It Follows, 9 for Mad Max: Fury Road, 5 apiece for Ex Machina and Girlhood, 4 apiece for The Duke of Burgundy, Eastern Boys, Far from the Madding Crowd, and Timbuktu, trios for About Elly, Li'l Quinquin, Love & Mercy, and The Tribe, and deuces for Blackhat, Maps to the Stars, The Princess of France, and Wild Tales.  Some of these movies I only equivocally admired, which just goes to show that sums are often lesser than component parts. Conversely, I like Eden, Jauja, and the totally blanked Scandinavian-surrealist double-feature of A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence and Of Horses and Men a lot more than these totals suggest, and expect that the barely-mentioned Magic Mike XXL may continue to grow on me.

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Anonymous Chuck said...

Such a fantastic lineup. Agreed that Kidman > Byrne, and especially love the citations for Johnson, Gilchrist, Dwiggins, Disasterpeace, Roth, Knowland, and Sheen.

I'm not sure if you're planning on catching Predestination, but it's absolutely worth a try for Sarah Snook's ambitious dual performance alone. On the acting front, my list would also include performers from Results, Animals, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, and (somewhat surprisingly) Danny Collins. Still, feels as though most of my ballot will be replaced by year's end.

2:44 PM, July 03, 2015  
Blogger Daniel said...

I just have to comment that I am so excited to see Dakota Johnson on your list for Best Actress. Given how dull Ana reads on the page the amount of humor she finds is almost astonishing. And really, she and the screenplay conspire to stage an act of grand larceny, turning the film into a surprisingly good coming-of-age story instead of the erotic romantic drama (or camp-tastic cheesefest) people wanted the film to be. It's not a great film (and possibly not even a good one), but one that I think was badly misjudged by a lot of people, some without even seeing it.

4:06 PM, July 03, 2015  
Blogger Jonathan said...


When I do my count around this time, I've normally seen about half as many 2015 US releases as you and, lo-and-behold, this year is no different: 27. Most of them were festival screenings from last year and, like you, that includes ones that haven't been released in the US yet like The Look of Silence and X+Y (both of which have been released in the UK).

That being said, I would like to give "Oh hell yes"es to the following choices: every mention of The Tribe and Timbuktu, but especially their leading men, who I singled out in my 2014 end-of awards last year (link here); Knudsen in Burgundy; Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria; Moore, Shore and the makeup team in Maps to the Stars (which nearly made that film tolerable for me); Isaac for Ex Machina (because duh!); the cinematography, editing and sound for Mad Max and Magic Mike XXL; Of Horses and Men's screenplay (VODKA BOAT!); the score for It Follows and Mad Max; the art direction for It Follows; and the makeup for The Duke of Burgundy.

Love the feature, as always.

5:18 PM, July 03, 2015  
Anonymous BVR said...

I check this site daily, even though you don't post so consistently. But when a new one surprises (and it's The Fifties to boot!), my heart leaps. Love this feature so much. Christmas came early this year!

Really dig your choices. I haven't seen nearly as many films this year, but here are my choices...

Picture: IT FOLLOWS. I am not a horror-movie person. In fact, I like to avoid them. But when I heard movie lovers genuinely endorsing this one, I had to check it out for myself. Boy, it is great! It's crafty in a non-pretentious way. The acting is more than just solid, without any of the performers calling attention to themselves. It finds ways to make you laugh, without ever undermining the darker implications of its sinister and mysterious plotting/villain/tone. And, especially, gave us a score for the ages.

Director: David Robert Mitchell, IT FOLLOWS: see above.

Actor: I've missed most films that seem to have the strong male contenders, but I did like James Marsden quite a lot in THE D TRAIN, if I didn't quite love him. But I thought the movie got way more interesting when he shows up, and it showed the movie the type of movie it could be, even if the movie was sometimes shy of going into darker places. He also gave us a type of has-been jock that we hadn't quite seen before.

Actress: Alicia Vikander, TESTAMENT OF YOUTH. Quite contrary to popular opinion, I think she's much better in this than in EX MACHINA. Really moving in this period piece without ever milking the tragedy. Also liked McCarthy in SPY, Monroe in IT FOLLOWS, Moore in MAP TO THE STARS.

Supporting Actor: Jeffrey Tambor, THE D TRAIN. He's sooooo moving in this. I also really liked Adam Driver in WHILE WE'RE YOUNG, although maybe he's a lead (??)

Supporting Actress: Kirsten Stewart, CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA. Because talk about eclipsing Binoche. YOWZA!!

7:37 PM, July 03, 2015  
Anonymous goran said...

Always a joy to read this feature.

But I must say, having just finally caught Clouds of Sils Maria, I don't remember the last time I've been this perplexed by a film's reception. In fact, it goes beyond perplexed. I feel like I watched an entirely different movie to the world.

Stewart is fine. I barely noticed her, and that's fine. She was fine. Binoche though? Mesmerising.

In fact when I read your actress slate, I initially assumed you must have missed the film for some reason.

8:04 PM, July 04, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love your lists!

Can you tell me what movies the images above Best Director and Best Actress are?

11:35 AM, July 06, 2015  
Anonymous Daniela said...

Are you planning on posting your 2016 Fifties soon? I'm dying to know what your favorites have been so far!

4:51 PM, August 12, 2016  

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