5. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Written by: Jesse Andrews
Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, Connie Britton
A film that has seemingly dropped in esteem since its film festival run earlier in the year, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is easily the most touching film I saw all year long. It managed to surprise me with its ending, despite constantly giving me reason to doubt the film’s bravery. Me and Earl the Dying Girl sees a film-obsessed young man (Greg) and his bestfriend (Earl) befriending Rachel, who has recently been diagnosed with cancer. The two young men decide to make a film for young Rachel, and along the way do a lot of soul searching and finding of themselves. It’s a beautiful and hilarious coming-of-age story that features highly energetic direction in the vain of Wes Anderson, and the performances from Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, and RJ Cyler are all the best breakout performances of the year. While it may not be a film for everybody, I found it to be undeniably charming and full of life, and at the end of the day, that’s all I ask for a film to be. You can read my full-length review here.
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Daniel Kaluuya, Victor Garber
Another movie I reviewed earlier in the Fall, Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario was a thriller the likes of which I hadn’t seen since Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty back in 2012. The film sees FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) enlisted by mysterious government agents (played by Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro) to aid in the war against major drug cartels along the border area between the United States and Mexico. Villeneuve’s Sicario is incredibly suspenseful, and has a great deal to say about the morals and ethics employed in the war on drugs in North America. It’s a film that features only the greyest of moral areas throughout, rather than giving everything to the audience in easy to understand, black and white ideals. Villeneuve’s direction is tight and deliberately paced, never opting for cheap thrills but instead opting to build suspense like a beautiful crescendo. Backing up Villeneuve’s understated direction is more incredible photography by cinematographer Roger Deakins, who is widely considered to be one of the best in the game. Emily Blunt gives a career best performance as Kate Macer, never feeling too comfortable in her own skin, nor is she able to trust anybody around her – whether they’re considered to be friend or foe. It’s a wonder that Blunt wasn’t nominated for Best Actress at this years Academy Awards, but that says a great deal more about the strength of that category. Blunt’s lead performance is wonderfully complemented by that of Benicio Del Toro, who had an incredible return to form in Sicario. Brooding, mysterious, and dangerous as hell, Del Toro’s Alejandro is easily the most intimidating film character of 2015. If you’re not sold on Sicario, you can check out my full-length review of it here.
Directed by: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
Written by: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
Writer-director Charlie Kaufman stole my heart years ago after I saw Adaptation., Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Being John Malkovich, all of which he penned. Kaufman’s latest feature, Anomalisa, hits familiar notes – but does it in such a human way that it’s undeniably genius. After falling in love with his directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, I was convinced that Kaufman could only go up from there. And boy was I right about that one. Anomalisa follows Michael Stone (David Thewlis), a customer service expert in the city for a convention, as he struggles to make any significant connections with those around him. The entire cast (save for two characters) is voiced by Tom Noonan, with the exceptions being David Thewlis’ Stone, and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Lisa. The animation – which is a sort of blend of traditional computer animation and puppetry – coupled with hilarious and unique voice acting, makes Anomalisa a truly once in a lifetime experience. It’s deeply moving, always funny, and depressingly thought-provoking, an even greater feat, seeing as how Kaufman’s second film is merely ninety minutes long. I can’t promise you that it’s going to feel satisfying, nor can I promise you that Anomalisa is going to spoon feed you answers, but I can promise you that you’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s an incredibly important look at loneliness, anxiety, and depression, masked as a relatively quirky and relaxed dramedy. This film easily would have been my number one film in a weaker year.
2. The Revenant
Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Written by: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter
The Revenant is a film I’ve been waiting patiently for since Inarritu’s Best Picture winning Birdman was released last year. I went in with incredibly high expectations, and still managed to walk away feeling like they had been far exceeded. Every aspect of Inarritu’s The Revenant is nearly perfect: from the ambitious, high-energy direction, to the gorgeous cinematography, the incredibly physical performances by our lead actors, and the solid and unobtrusive score. The Revenant is the incredible story of one man’s survival in the dense American wilderness, braving his own colleagues, wildlife, and the angry war-party of Native American warriors who are hunting the trapping party through the forests. After being viciously attacked by a bear and left for dead, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) hunts for the man who left him and killed his son, and he’s not going to let anything get in his way. Alejandro G. Inarritu’s follow-up to the incredible Birdman takes advantage of excruciatingly long takes in the same way his previous film did, but never feels forced or like a gimmick. Instead, Inarritu’s film feels dreamlike, while also maintaining a great deal of authenticity and gritty realism. It’s also very clear that his photographer, the great Emmanuel Lubezki, has learned a great deal from his time working with director Terrence Malick. The scenery is breathtaking in every last shot of The Revenant, bringing the film to life with the incredible use of natural lighting. Inarritu manages to direct another very good (but flawed) performer to what I would call the best performance of their career in the film, finally shutting up those on the “give Leo an Oscar” bandwagon. DiCaprio has never been better than he is under Inarritu’s direction, disappearing completely into the role of Hugh Glass. His performance is so physical that it’s painful to watch, making me believe every bit of pain and desperation being felt by the abandoned guide. Complementing DiCaprio’s terrific performance is Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald, the man who has left Glass for dead. Hardy is incredible as well, and I’m astounded to hear that he’s finally picked up the Oscar nomination that he so truly deserves. The Revenant is a nearly perfect film that is being unjustly picked apart by critics for being “empty and soulless”, which is a hilarious criticism in a year that saw Mad Max: Fury Road of all films become one of the most universally praised films of this decade. Don’t listen to the detractors, do yourself a favour and see The Revenant now. It’s an experience the likes of which comes all too rarely in Hollywood filmmaking, and one you absolutely shouldn’t miss out on.
1. It Follows
Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Written by: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary
A controversial pick for my favourite film of the year, but one that still stands out from the pack even six months after seeing it last. It Follows is the most terrifying film I’ve ever seen, a statement I absolutely don’t say lightly. While its thrills and chills may not linger in the back of your mind like that of The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Conjuring, The Babadook, or other such supernatural (and psychological) films, It Follows is one of the only movies that has ever kept me up at night as a fully grown adult. The rare highly-acclaimed horror film, directed by David Robert Mitchell in his sophomore effort, does things differently than most modern horror movies do. It’s funny at times, features an incredibly likeable cast of principle characters, and has a plot that most anybody on this earth can relate to in some way. It does for sex what Jaws did for the ocean, and what Psycho did for showers. It Follows sees the young Jay (Maika Monroe) develop a sexually transmitted disease (or curse) from her late-Summer lover. He explains the rules of this curse to her, and tells her that she has to pass it on before it’s too late. She can’t trust anybody, because it can disguise itself to look the somebody she loves, or a complete stranger. There is no cure, and it will find her. With the help of her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe) and her friends, Jay is going to find the answers she needs in order to get rid of the curse that now plagues her every waking moment. Mitchell’s film is genuinely frightening, thanks in part to his terrifically subtle direction. It Follows does not feel like a second film, but instead feels like something coming from a seasoned veteran of the Hollywood scene. Mitchell never tries to insult the audience by going for cheap scares, instead building up the tension until you can’t possibly take anymore. It’s in these moments where the film is at its scariest, and when you can feel your skin crawling as you watch young Jay and her friends struggling to survive something completely incomprehensible. It Follows is made even scarier by the fact that absolutely nobody can be trusted, whether they look friendly or not. You know something’s coming for them, no matter how far away they can possibly drive. The paranoia felt throughout the film is unlike anything I’ve seen, harkening back to films like 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (and the original film, of course). The script is smart, never panders to its audience, and never underestimates our intelligence, either. The lead performance by Maika Monroe is incredibly believable, bringing her from a lovely young woman in the beginning, to a tired, anxious, and paranoid one by the very end. On top of incredible writing and direction by David Robert Mitchell, and terrific performances by most of the cast, It Follows features one of the most unique scores of the year. Composed by Disasterpeace, the electronic score is incredibly unsettling, and to be honest just sounds pretty amazing when you’re out and about taking a walk. It’s a soundtrack I’ve returned to over and over again since viewing the film, and one that has sadly missed out on awards season because of the film’s small stature. It Follows is a horror masterpiece, and without a doubt my favourite film of 2015. It may not be perfect in the eyes of everybody, but I’ve never experienced a film so charming and terrifying all at the same time. If you love horror films and somehow haven’t seen it yet, seek out It Follows by any means necessary. It’s tremendous.