Tag Archives: Best of 2015

End of Year 2015 – Best Albums of 2015

Disclaimer: I am not, nor do I claim to be, an expert in the field of music of any kind.  I listen to a great deal of it, and read about it occasionally, but nowhere near the amount that I watch or read about films and film criticism.  I can’t tell you what it is that makes music great or artful in the way that I can tell you about films, and for that I apologize.  I’ll probably anger passionate music fans with my lack of knowledge and terminology, but hey – I’m going to give it my best here.  It’s important to know before reading that my musical preferences include hip-hop, independent folk, and bands led by female vocalists, which is very much reflected by my list.  If I’ve managed to miss anything you think I should check out, by all means shoot me a recommendation or two!  For those wondering, my 2014 albums of the year were Run the Jewels’ Run the Jewels 2, and Taylor Swift’s 1989, and in 2013 Kanye West’s Yeezus and Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City.  Without further ado, my top ten albums of 2015

SremmLife_cover10. Rae Sremmurd – SremmLife

Chain swings like nunchucks
She gon’ chew you up, yeah
Twerk like she from Russia
Don’t get me wile’d up (up)
Soldiers at a 10 hut
Look what you’ve don’ done (up)
Now you’ve done fucked up, up
– Up Like Trump, Rae Sremmurd

Easily the most energetic album I had the pleasure of hearing all year, SremmLife was released early on in the year and still managed to resonate nearly a year later.  After the release of their hit No Flex Zone, Rae Sremmurd quickly became a huge mainstream success.  The two brothers, Khalif (Swae Lee) age 19, and Aaquil (Slim Jimmy) age 20, have incredible careers ahead of them, and if they can keep a consistent quality in future releases look to only get bigger and bigger in the eyes of the public.  They’re young, clever, cool as hell, and most importantly know exactly the kind of sound that their audience wants to hear.  Most tracks on the album were produced by the terrific Mike WiLL Made-It, who clearly sees potential in these young men.  Using repetition in songs like Unlock the Swag and No Flex Zone, nearly every song on SremmLife is an earworm, and will undoubtedly get stuck in your head for days on end.  Whether you enjoy the trap music club sound or not, this album deserves your attention.  If you’re looking for an album full of nothing but bangers, look no further.

Standout Tracks: No Flex Zone, Come Get Her, Throw Sum Mo (feat. Nicki Minaj), YNO (feat. Big Sean)

9. The Staves – If I Was
How can I want you a little bit more than I did before?
I don’t need you,
But I want you back just a little bit more than I knew
Now I can’t go back to life before
Before I knew
That you didn’t love me no more
You didn’t need me no more
You didn’t love me no more
You didn’t want me at all.
– No Me, No You, No More – The Staves

The Staves are a folk trio out of England composed of three sisters, Emily, Jessica, and Camilla.  If I Was is the band’s second full-length release, and boy is it a real treat for fans of the three young ladies.  Their latest release has been entirely produced by the acclaimed Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and you can really hear it deep in the music.  The entirety of If I Was feels like perfect winter music for some reason, and I’m not sure why that is.  It may be attributed to the loneliness felt in the album’s cover art, or the natural winter-y sound of Bon Iver’s music, but whatever it is makes it a perfect album to curl up with, drink some hot coffee, and try not to cry as these women create a heartbreakingly beautiful album that rings so true.  It’s clear that at least one of these sisters has been through a great deal of trauma in her life, whether it be romantic or otherwise.  Featuring a bold sound that never distracts from the lyrics at play, The Staves’ If I Was may be a slow and clearly folk-influenced album, but not once has it been a chore for me to listen to it all the way through.  Their voices are beautiful, Vernon’s production is inspired, and the lyrics in songs like No Me, No You, No More make it hard not to immediately fall in love with this album.

Standout Tracks: No Me, No You, No More, Let Me Down, Damn It All, Horizon

Mac_Miller_GOOD_AM8. Mac Miller – GO:OD AM

I’m a deranged motherfucker, took too many uppers
Now it’s rush hour, Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker
I stuck around for the past six summers
Karma is a bitch and that bitch don’t love ya
We was in the attic you could smell the weed
Bitches getting naked, we was selling E
Bitches kissing bitches just like Ellen D
In the kitchen whipping biscuits, giving generously
– Rush Hour, Mac Miller

Having never delved into the work of young Mac Miller before his latest release, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  When the album opens you’re treated to a dream-like introduction that doesn’t do well to reflect the incredible Mac Miller sound you’re about to hear.  Packed with lyrics that detail the unthinkably difficult life Mac has had, his ambitions, and his regrets, GO:OD AM is a more personal and autobiographical album I ever thought possible for a 23-year old to release.  Miller is still so young, and yet he’s lived a life of hardship the likes of which we couldn’t even imagine sitting behind our computer screens or smartphones.  GO:OD AM focuses on Miller getting clean and sober, and trying his damndest to rid himself of the depression that he’s been trying to contend with for some time.  Triumphant songs like 100 Grandkids make the album a constant blast to listen to, but it’s in the searing, personal lyrics of songs like Perfect Circle/God Speed that the album truly shines.  It’s clear that Miller knows he’s not completely out of the dark yet, and I can only hope that he stays safe and sober so he can continue to grow as an artist and blow away all of his critics.  GO:OD AM is a revelation, somehow being one of the standouts in a year littered with incredible hip-hop albums.

Standout Tracks: Rush Hour, 100 Grandkids, Clubhouse, Break the Law, Perfect Circle/God Speed, The Festival (feat. Little Dragon)

7. Young Thug – Barter 6

But really what is it to do
When the whole world constantly hatin’ on you?
Pussy niggas hold their nuts, masturbatin’ on you
Meanwhile the fuckin’ federal baitin’ on you
Nigga tell me what you do
Would you stand up or would you turn to a pussy nigga?
I got a hundred things to do
And I can stop rappin’ but I can’t stop stackin’ fuckin’ figures
 – Constantly Hating, Young Thug (feat. Birdman)

It took me more than a week to get through the entirety of Young Thug’s full-length debut album Barter 6, but not because of the quality, but because I just couldn’t make it past the first track “Constantly Hating”, which I adored.  I listened to it on repeat, and legitimately forgot that there was more to the album than that one song.  When I finally managed to make it past the opening track, I was absolutely floored.  Every song that followed was even catchier and more fun than the one that preceded it, and Barter 6 instantly became one of my most-listened to albums of the summer.  Young Thug’s slow is incredible, never going for obvious or awkward rhymes, and his selection of incredible and energetic beats is incredible.  The pure energy that one feels from listening to Young Thug’s album is incomparable to any hip-hop album I listened to all year, which I feel is impossible to ignore.  What Barter 6 gives you is a mainstream sounding album full of catchy hooks, incredible beats, and lyrics that paint Young Thug as both a frustrated and endlessly joyful artist who never fails to infect you with his unique energy.  The album is made even better with terrific features from established rappers like Birdman, Duke, and T.I.  If you enjoy rappers like Lil Wayne or Birdman, then Young Thug might be right up your alley.  I can’t recommend it enough.

Cournetbarnett6. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

I love you, I hate you, I’m on the fence, it all depends
Whether I’m up or down, I’m on the mend, transcending all reality
I like you, despise you, admire you
What are we gonna do when everything all falls through?
I must confess, I’ve made a mess of what should be a small success
But I digress, at least I’ve tried my very best, I guess
This, that, the other, why even bother
– Pedestrian at Best, Courtney Barnett

Speaking of infectious energy, the debut album by Australian indie rocker Courtney Barnett does exactly what Young Thug’s album did for me, but for a completely different genre.  Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit has received a great deal of critical acclaim from critics, and even managed to pick up a Grammy nomination for Barnett.  Simply put, the album absolutely rocks in every sense of the word.  It’s at times loud, as times contemplative, but always manages to sound fresh, personal, and very invigorating.  Barnett’s album sounds less like a debut album and more like that of an established rock star with years in the music scene.  Songs like “Pedestrian at Best” have a mainstream sound that could get Barnett on any Top 100 list in the world, while “Depreston” is a look at the truly mundane and depressing.  Sometimes I Sit and Think is an intensely personal album, but unlike other debuts manages to be funny, insightful, catchy, and down-to-earth.  It sounds like a perfect summer rock album, and it has me incredibly excited for the future of this young and unique artist.

Standout Tracks: Pedestrian at Best, An Illusion of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York), Depreston, Aqua Profunda!, Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party

5. Vince Staples – Summertime ‘06Summertime-06

I feel like “Fuck Versace”, they rapin’ nigga’s pockets
And we don’t get acknowledged, just thank me for the profit
A prophet just like Moses, if Moses look like Shaka
Zulu, my .44 loaded, I’m aimin’ at Nirvana
My bitch look like Madonna, they starin’ at katana
Waiter still ain’t brought the chopsticks, should have brought the chopper
Uber driver in the cockpit look like Jeffrey Dahmer
But he lookin’ at me crazy when we pull up to the projects
– Lift Me Up, Vince Staples

Making what was easily my favourite hip-hop album of 2015, Vince Staples is an artist I hadn’t actually heard of until June when the hype around Summertime ‘06 started to build to epic proportions.  The 22-year old rapper made one of the most impressive, ambitious, and personal debut hip-hop albums in recent memory.  Summertime ‘06 is a double album featuring 20 tracks in total, and a runtime of nearly an hour, showing off Staples’ incredibly varied and versatile style.  As soon as I heard “Lift Me Up”, the second track on the double album, I knew I was going to be in for a treat.  Staples wastes no time in painting a unique and provocative portrait of who he is as both a person and an artist, and instantly hooks the listener into caring about him and the stories he has to tell.  The album serves as a kind of coming-of-age tale that would play almost as well on the big screen.  Staples has an ear for both intensely personal songs, as well as mainstream bangers that even the most jaded music fans can appreciate.  Songs like “Norf Norf”, “Birds & Bees”, “Lemme Know”, and “Jump Off the Roof” all sound like they could be club hits, but also manage to be profound and infinitely listenable.  And that’s just the songs on the first disc.  The highlight of the album comes at the end of side one, with Vince Staples’ beautiful song “Summertime”, which instantly became one of my all-time favourite songs.  The song is sung in a somewhat monotone, quiet way, and is full of incredibly vivid lyricism the likes of which I legitimately hadn’t heard in hip-hop before this point.  It’s slow, it’s serious, and it’s incredibly beautiful.  Vince Staples’ Summertime ‘06 is an epic-length hip-hop album that features the work of a young man who has all the potential in the world to become the next big thing.  I can’t recommend it enough.

Standout Tracks: Lift Me Up, Norf Norf, Birds & Bees (feat. Daley), Summertime, Surf (feat. Kilo Kish)

Miguel_-_WILDHEART4. Miguel – Wildheart

I wanna fuck like we’re filming in the valley
I wanna push and shove and paint your hills and valley
I got a rad idea to expedite the ride
Bend it over, pull em to the side
– The Valley, Miguel

I can’t believe just how long it took me to finally get to this album just because of the supposed genre it fit.  The moment the album got to its halfway point, I knew I was listening to one of the most unique and incredible albums of the year, and that the genre doesn’t matter as long as the quality is there.  I’ve described Miguel’s Wildheart as “baby making music” to everybody I’ve told about it, and I’d say that’s not such a stretch.  Full of sexy lyrics and beats, Miguel will make even the most seasoned hip-hop or R&B fans blush.  This is music for adults and only adults, and that seems to be increasingly rare in today’s scene with artists trying to reach the broadest audiences possible.  The songs on Wildheart vary more than I thought possible on a single R&B album, with rap inspired N.W.A. to the sexy hit single Coffee, and over to the lewd and impossibly catchy The Valley, preceded with the screeching guitars of Deal.  All these varying songs make for a diverse album that keeps me guessing even all these listens later.  If you’re not sure how you feel about R&B, give some of his more accessible songs like Coffee or The Valley a listen and see where you stand.  I promise you that this is an album that won’t disappoint, and it’s easily the sleeper hit of the year for me.  If you’re looking for something to play in the car during a road trip with some friends, maybe pick something that’s a little less likely to make you all embarrassed to look one another in the eye.

Standout Tracks: The Valley, Coffee, NWA (feat. Kurupt), What’s Normal Anyway, …goingtohell

3. Hop Along – Painted Shuthomepage_large.96f9778e

Realized I knew you from
His photo when you walked
Into the restaurant
And my heart just sunk
Your friend looked over from the bar
She must’ve known, who I was
The worst possible version of what I’d done
As, seating couples
I tried to listen
– Waitress, Hop Along

The third full-length album by indie rock band Hop Along has finally earned them the praise and critical attention they so obviously deserve.  Painted Shut is an album that seemingly came out of nowhere and absolutely blew me away with how much I truly enjoyed it.  Hop Along’s sound isn’t quite rock, and it isn’t quite punk, but whatever it’s technically classified as is a genre I want to hear much more of, especially if it’s full of as many revelations as I found in Painted Shut.  The beautiful voice of Frances Quinlan might not be to everybody’s liking, but it’s exactly what got me hooked on Hop Along’s album.  Painted Shut’s incredible personal nature hit me on levels I was never expecting, managing to make captivating stories out of very mundane and regular situations.  The highlight of the album is “Waitress”, one of my absolute favorite songs of the year.  The song captures the awkwardness and anxiety filled in being in a situation where you have to confront the new lover of your ex.  Quinlan’s voice conveys embarrassment and guilt like nobody I’ve ever heard, creating something truly unique.  Hop Along’s Painted Shut is an underrated album that I’d love to see get a lot more love from mainstream music fans.

Standout Tracks: The Knock, Waitress, Happy to See Me, Powerful Man, Well Dressed

1035x1035-MI00038079872. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Oh, I just love the kind of woman who can walk over a man
I mean like a god damn marching band
She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes
And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream
I wonder if she even knows what that word means
Well, it’s literally not that
– The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt., Father John Misty

Painful, romantic, awkward, alienating, cheesy, intensely personal.  These are all words I’ve used to describe Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear to the people around me, and yet they don’t even cover a fraction of the emotions and feelings that the album gets across.  Josh Tillman, former drummer for Fleet Foxes, managed to create one of the most unique folk/rock albums I’ve ever heard.  Every song on the album feels different than the one preceding it, from the dark romanticism of “Chateau Lobby #4”, to the synth-pop sounds of “True Affection”, to the disturbingly funny “Bored in the USA”.  With every song bringing its own sound and feel to I Love You, Honeybear, it’s incredibly hard to pick a standout.  It’s just all so damn good.  The song that had me hooked on the album was the fourth track, “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment”, a sarcastic, spiteful song about a brief romantic fling Tillman might’ve had.  The album is full of dark and romantic personal anecdotes, sarcasm, satire, and insight.  It’s sickly sweet at times, and incredibly depressing at others.  I Love You, Honeybear may not always a fun listen, but it’s surely the most interesting and ambitious project I heard in 2015.  I highlight recommend it, though it may take a listen or two before the genius of the album truly sinks in.

Standout Tracks: Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins), True Affection, The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt., The Ideal Husband, Bored in the USA, I Went to the Store One Day

  1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & LowellSufjan_Stevens_-_Carrie_&_Lowell

Don’t back down, concentrate on seeing
The breakers in the bar, the neighbor’s greeting
My brother had a daughter
The beauty that she brings, illumination
Don’t back down, there is nothing left
The breakers in the bar, no reason to live
I’m a fool in the fetter
Rose of Aaron’s beard, where you can reach me
Don’t back down, nothing can be changed
Cantilever bridge, the drunken sailor
My brother had a daughter
The beauty that she brings, illumination
– Should Have Known Better, Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell is only on my list so I can keep my indie cred with the music blogging scene.  Only kidding, the album is legitimately one of the most special and highly emotional things I’ve ever heard, and I instantly fell in love with it after its release early on in the year.  Carrie & Lowell is the most mature album to date from the prolific and multi-talented indie folk artist Sufjan Stevens, and you can feel it in every line of every song.  The album chronicles the lives of his mentally ill mother (Carrie) and her relationship with Sufjan’s stepfather and producer (Lowell).  It deals with serious themes like death, depression, aging, suicide, mental illness, and addictions.  Stevens’ album is incredibly intimate, emotionally and thematically deep, and every single song packs a punch – while still managing to be catchy, memorable, and enjoyable.  Carrie & Lowell is perfect for a rainy day, curled up under your favourite blanket with a cup of hot coffee by your side.  There’s literally not a single dull or bad moment in the entire album, as every single song manages to set itself apart from the last, while still maintaining the serious and emotional nature of the project.  I can’t recommend enough, especially if you’ve ever dealt with the loss of a loved one, or struggled with mental illness yourself.  It’s one of the most beautiful projects I’ve ever heard, and one I can legitimately say I’ve listened to fifty or so times already.  Do yourselves a favour and listen to it at least once.

Standout Tracks: The entire album, duh.

Honorable mentions:

  • Adele – 25
  • A$AP Rocky – At. Long. Last. A$AP
  • Beach House – Depression Cherry
  • Chvrches – Every Open Eye
  • Drake – If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late
  • Drake & Future – What a Time to Be Alive
  • Future – Dirty Sprite 2
  • Future – 56 Nights
  • The Game – The Documentary 2
  • JME – Integrity
  • Joanna Newsom – Divers
  • Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
  • Laura Marling – Short Movie
  • Laura Stevenson – Cocksure
  • Meek Mill – Dreams Worth More Than Money
  • Travi$ Scott – Rodeo
  • Wale – The Album About Nothing
  • Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

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Filed under End of Year, Lists, Music, Other

End of Year 2015 – Bottom 5 Films of 2015

Kingsman-Secret-Service-Group5. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson

Kingsman: The Secret Service kicked off 2015 with some of the most unwarranted hype of any film to be released last year.  Not only was it somewhat well-received critically, but it also managed to wrack up more money at the box office than most films could ever dream of.  So why did I hate it?  Well, Matthew Vaughn’s vision here leads to one of the most mean-spirited, cynical, and unfunny films I saw all year, and I knew it almost from the get-go.  Kingsman pretends to be a hilarious parody of famous spy films in the vein of James Bond, the Bourne franchise, and even Austin Powers, but doesn’t feature even an ounce of the charm those movies hold.  Instead it wastes its incredibly talented English cast on one of the most conflicted and confused scripts I’ve ever seen adapted to the screen, and becomes a stain of the fairly good reputation of writer-director Matthew Vaughn.  Kingsman may be an entertaining watch at first, but you’ll quickly see that it’s only skin deep.  There’s nothing more to the film than some cheap gags, jokes about anal sex, and mean-spirited edge-lord comedy that would make even the proudest 4chan users blush.  I can’t believe the praise that this thing received, what am I missing?

CrimsonPeak14. Crimson Peak
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver

Oh Guillermo del Toro, how far you’ve fallen.  The once great and visionary Mexican filmmaker directed some of the most interesting horror/fantasy works of the last decade, including 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone, and 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth.  It’s with a heavy heart that I have put Crimson Peak on this list, despite being incredibly beautiful in its photography and competent direction from del Toro.  Much like the prettiest girl at the prom, Crimson Peak’s beauty is only skin deep, and the longer it lingers, the more it becomes evident that it’s all it has to offer.  del Toro’s script for the film is quite possibly the worst aspect of it, blending together classic Gothic literature and films like Hitchcock’s Rebecca, and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, but somehow dropping the ball and being far less interesting than either of those works..  Crimson Peak attempts to be a profound story of love and deceit, using ghosts as an incredibly obvious and eye-roll inducing metaphor.  The film thinks it’s far more clever than it actually is, and ends up becoming unintentionally hilarious in its last act.  Characters chasing each other around a decrepit old mansion, frail young women falling three stories and surviving, awkward ghost encounters, and Charlie Hunnam trying his damnedest to be charming makes Crimson Peak almost screwball comedy worthy.  Crimson Peak is a very highly polished turd, but a turd nonetheless.  It might be wise to revise the screenplay a couple hundred times for your next film, Guillermo.  But don’t worry, I still believe in you.

Side note: Can we stop trying to make Charlie Hunnam happen?  He’s not going to happen!

R00L3UM3. Jurassic World
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan

Like everybody else this past year, I was overcome with excitement about the looming sequel to the modern Spielberg classic, Jurassic Park. When it finally released, it was met with millions of equally excited patrons ready to bask in the nostalgia of dinosaurs and the incredible world of Jurassic Park.  Except what they got was a bizarre, bloated, action film that was almost a parody of the three films that came before it.  Box office sensation Chris Pratt comes off as completely unlikable throughout, and the concept of training raptors to do the bidding of park zookeepers just felt completely silly and unnecessary.  Director Colin Trevorrow’s vision for Jurassic World is incredibly muddled and confused throughout, never quite deciding on whether it wants to be a fun action-adventure film, or an absurd parody of itself.  The script is a perfect example of having too many cooks in the kitchen, as it was re-written multiple times over production.  What results feels like four conflicting voices all trying to make Jurassic World their own film, and instead creating a horrendous disaster of a screenplay.  The cast of characters are all almost completely void of charisma and end up being unlikable, especially the aunt character of Bryce Dallas Howard.  On top of empty and uninspired performances, we are treated to two of the most embarrassingly bad and hammy supporting performances of 2015 from actors Vincent D’Onofrio and B.D. Wong.  Jurassic World is a film that seemed to have so much going for it, and in the end had no idea what it wanted to be.  It made a great deal of money and in the process secured the future of many of its producers, but it sure as hell won’t live in the memories of millions the same way 1993’s Jurassic Park did.  I can’t wait to see the train wreck of a film Star Wars: Episode IX could be with Trevorrow behind the camera.

Lorenza-Izzo-and-Ana-De-Armas-in-Knock-Knock2. Eli Roth Double Feature: Knock, Knock & The Green Inferno
Directed by: Eli Roth
Written by: Eli Roth, Guillermo Amoedo, Nicolas Lopez (Knock, Knock) | Guillermo Amoedo, Eli Roth (The Green Inferno)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas (Knock, Knock) | Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Daryl Sabara, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Sky Ferreira (The Green Inferno)

Eli Roth was once a name being touted as the next innovative voice in the horror genre.  With fun splatter films like Cabin Fever and Hostel under his belt, young Roth was quickly brought into a sort of mentor relationship with the veteran Quentin Tarantino.  I want to know what has happened in the last decade or so, because this version of Roth isn’t nearly on the same level as he once was.  Although his ideas were never completely unique or refreshing, there was an undeniable charm about his works.  His two releases in 2015, Knock, Knock and The Green Inferno feature none of that charm, and instead resemble the work of a hack who is years past his prime.  Knock, Knock is a look at what happens when you lie to your spouse, let attractive strangers into your house, and spin a complex web of deceit.  The Green Inferno tells the story of environmental activists who crash land near a village of cannibals, risking their lives and the lives of those around them to escape at any cost.  Both of those stories sound fairly interesting and full of potential, right?  I certainly thought so too, so you can imagine my disappointment when not one, but both films crashed and burned almost immediately after take off.  Both films feature some of the worst lead performances I’ve seen in modern horror films, especially those of Keannu Reeves and Lorenza Izzo, the current spouse of director Eli Roth.  Why he refuses to branch out of his comfort zone and cast charming, talented young actors and search for a competent screenwriter, I’ll never know.  It’s clear that the skills are there in the hands of Eli Roth, but he doesn’t seem to have any idea what to do with them.  I really have no further comments about either film, as both are almost completely forgettable experiences in every single way.  These aren’t simple misfires, but rather the last gasps from a filmmaker a decade past his prime, trying desperately to remain relevant in the breakneck world of American film-making.  Better luck next time, Eli Roth.

adam-sandler-ridiculous-6-trailer1. The Ridiculous 6
Directed by: Frank Coraci
Written by: Tim Herlihy, Adam Sandler
Starring: Adam Sandler, Julia Jones, Terry Crews, Jorge Garcia, Taylor Lautner, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson, Nick Nolte, Will Forte, Nick Swardson, Steve Zahn

The Ridiculous 6 and Netflix’s entire model of “throw something against the wall and see what sticks” for their original content lineup is exactly why I can’t possibly endorse the current product.  Their exclusive deal with Adam Sandler is looking like a complete bust just one film in, hopefully it can only go up from here.  Those defending Sandler’s latest foray into the world of absurdest comedy are delusional, because they clearly haven’t seen the same piece of trash I watched for two hours (!!!).  “It wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, it was just a stupid movie made by a bunch of actors have fun!” is the laziest way to praise a horrible film, and I would hope that most people hearing those words would think twice about the person repeating them.  The Ridiculous 6 is trash in its purest form.  It’s bloated run-time, embarrassing performances, and “satirical” screenplay all make notoriously bad cult films like The Room and Troll 2 look like okay films in comparison.  I don’t understand the thought behind Netflix producing and financing the film, especially if their whole business strategy is keeping users around by providing them with new and exciting original content.  Who in their right mind would ever watch The Ridiculous 6 a second time, let alone leave the film feeling proud to be a subscribing or looking forward to the next Sandler romp?  What’s most tragic about the film is that Adam Sandler is a talented performer and writer, and it’s clear that he’s being surrounded by some of the laziest yes men in the business.  Instead of being inspired to create content on the level of his pretty good comedies of the 1990’s, and give performances on the level of Punch-Drunk Love or Reign Over Me, he’s taking his friends on vacation to make films that would embarrass even Uwe Boll.  Props to Taylor Lautner for giving the most insensitive performance of 2015, by the way.  I’m sure he’s going to be proud of that one in a decade when all of that sweet, sweet Twilight Saga money runs dry.  Both Netflix and Adam Sandler should be ashamed of themselves for producing this train wreck, they’re both capable of creating such higher quality output.  Avoid this thing at any cost.

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End of Year 2015 – Honorable Mentions

99Homes-2768-1440x60099 Homes
Directed by: Ramin Bahrani
Written by: Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern

A tremendously thrilling film about the years following the financial and housing crisis in late 2000’s United States, carefully directed by Ramin Bahrani.  Bahrani directs Michael Shannon to an incredible performance that has become the most celebrated part of the film.  Andrew Garfield delivers a heartfelt lead performance, showing exactly why he should be given the chance to star in more award worthy dramatic films.  99 Homes sat at the very top of my list until a disappointing rewatch revealed many of the screenplay’s flaws, especially during the film’s very rushed last act.  On top of the lackluster third act, the over-acted supporting performance by the talented Laura Dern only hurt the believability of the movie.  Still, there’s a great deal to appreciate in 99 Homes, and it’s clear that Ramin Bahrani is a name to look out for in the future.

bridge-of-spies-03_0Bridge of Spies
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda

Steven Spielberg’s follow-up to his incredible Lincoln in 2012 sees him once again teaming up with Tom Hanks, this time for a post World War II/Soviet era period piece featuring elements of spy and espionage thrillers.  Bridge of Spies features more terrific cinematography from Janusz Kaminski, another Spielberg regular. The film looks and feels like its 1960’s era setting, but somehow manages to feel more modern in its film-making techniques and use of lighting and darkness than other period pieces.  Tom Hanks delivers a typically solid performance as lawyer James B. Donovan, but it’s relatively unknown stage actor Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel who absolutely steals the show.  Rylance disappears into the role of the alleged German spy Abel, and delivers what I believe to be the second best supporting performance of the year.  It’s terrific to see Rylance up for an Academy Award, and to see Bridge of Spies be deservedly recognized in the Best Picture and Best Writing categories.  I wish it luck in the next month, as it’s up against some terrific competition.

end-of-the-tour-03The End of the Tour
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Written by: Donald Margulies
Starring: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg

David Foster Wallace is a man who has greatly interested me ever since hearing about the epic novel Infinite Jest, one of the most intimidatingly deep pieces of modern English literature ever published.  The End of the Tour chronicles journalist David Lipsky’s (Jesse Eisenberg) interactions with the famously reclusive writer (Jason Segel).  Foster Wallace eventually opens up to Lipsky after a number of days spent together, forming a bond with the young journalist.  Jason Segel gives a career best performance as David Foster Wallace, and is very easily the highlight of The End of the Tour.  Segel is almost unrecognizable in the film, paying homage to Wallace through the use of the writer’s famous quirks and paranoias.  Jesse Eisenberg proves once again that he’s a skilled supporting performer when the screenplay is strong enough, and he too gives an impressive outing as Lipsky.  James Ponsoldt, who directed 2013’s beautiful The Spectacular Now, films The End of the Tour with a subtle hand, never making any sort of judgment on the characters of either man.  The End of the Tour is a perfect example of an interesting and brief biopic that never overstays its welcome, and doesn’t try to become something bigger than it is, and I can’t wait to see what Ponsoldt does next.

Ill-See-You-In-My-Dreams-The-GirlsI’ll See You in My Dreams
Directed by: Brett Haley
Written by: Brett Haley, Marc Basch
Starring: Blythe Danner, Martin Starr, Sam Elliott, Malin Akerman, June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place

I’ll See You in My Dreams is a relatively small film that has gone mostly unnoticed by the masses this past year, featuring an incredible lead performance and subtle and sensitive direction.  It may not be a thrill ride on par with some of the year’s biggest films, it’s undoubtedly a very touching and poignant drama that I wish would have found a bigger audience.  Veteran actress Blythe Danner gives an amazing performance as Carol Petersen, a widow who is struggling to find meaning in her life.  Through a series of events, she meets the young Lloyd (Martin Starr), and the two form a friendship that inspires Carol to start living her life once again.  She meets Bill (Sam Elliott), and falls in love with his natural charm and charisma. Director Brett Haley brings very impressive performances out of the entire cast, which is fairly unique for somebody with such a short resume.  If I’ll See You in My Dreams had found more of an audience, there’s no doubt in my mind that Blythe Danner would have been a major Oscar contender this awards season.  I’ll See You in My Dreams is a quiet, charming, and very funny film that I implore everybody looking for a lovely drama to look into.  You won’t be disappointed.

a393a54df1802728358b99e85b3448f4445c7669Goodnight Mommy
Directed by: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Written by: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Starring: Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz

The creepy and incredibly atmospheric Austrian horror film directed by the team of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala garnered a great deal of critical acclaim this past year, and rightfully so.  Goodnight Mommy is a slow-moving, but tremendously atmospheric and dread-filled horror film that actually does a great deal to spook its audience.  While there may not be anything truly groundbreaking about Goodnight Mommy, it’s an incredibly tense and wonderfully directed film that managed to disturb and scare critics.  The direction by Franz and Fiala is beautiful, slow-moving, and handles the film’s many haunting reveals incredibly well.  Goodnight Mommy never settles for cheap jump scares, but ramps up the sense of dread and suspense between every horrific reveal and scare.  The performances by child actors Elias and Lukas Schwarz are quite good for child actors, and by the end of the film even I was kind of creeped out by them, wondering whether or not they were in the right.  It, in addition to It Follows (my #1 film of the year) did a great deal to further the so-called “horror renaissance” the world of film has been seeing since the release of James Wan’s The Conjuring in 2013.  I can’t wait to see what 2016 offers in the way of unique and genuinely scary horror films.

magic_mike_joe_manganiello.0-1940x1090Magic Mike XXL
Directed by: Gregory Jacobs
Written by: Reid Carolin
Starring: Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias, Amber Heard, Donald Glover, Elizabeth Banks, Jada Pinkett Smith, Andie MacDowell

Effortlessly charming and incredibly fun, 2015’s sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike is another great example of a sequel that for the most part just works.  Gregory Jacobs takes the driver’s seat of Magic Mike XXL with Soderbergh as his cinematographer, enlisting the services of most of the cast of the original film, as well as some welcome additions in the form of Donald Glover, Amber Heard, and Andie MacDowell.  This time, Channing Tatum and the boys are on a road trip to Myrtle Beach for a stripping convention that will close out their careers.  Along the way, the gang of wily male strippers meet an assortment of new and interesting characters, have incredibly funny interactions between themselves and generally whoever they cross paths with, and find any and every excuse in the book to take off their shirts and look damn good doing it.  Magic Mike XXL is hilarious and incredibly fun, and while it may be a little too long and bloated for its own good, is still a fairly memorable moviegoing experience.  Tatum is incredibly likeable and charismatic as the titular Mike, and the entire supporting cast make this a very memorable, if minor, experience.  Don’t let the naysayers talk you out of seeing both Magic Mike films, as they feature fun performances, hilarious moments, terrific soundtracks, and tremendous direction for sure odd little films.  

Directed by: Christian Petzold
Written by: Christian Petzold, Harun Farocki
Starring: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf, Michael Maertens

After seeing Christian Petzold’s 2012 film Barbara, I knew immediately that the German director was going to be one to watch.  His latest film Phoenix shares a great deal in common with Barbara, including its lead stars Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld, their post WWII settings (Barbara takes place in East Berlin in the 1980’s, Phoenix in post-war Berlin), and the understated but powerful stories that Petzold tells with his camera.  I’d say that Petzold has easily outdone himself with Phoenix, telling an incredibly mysterious and morally ambiguous tale of a woman searching for the love of her life, even after her love may have sold her out to the Nazi’s.  Nina Hoss plays Nelly Lenz, a holocaust survivor who has undergone facial reconstruction surgery.  When she meets her husband (Ronald Zehrfeld), he has no idea who she is and the two hatch a plot to collect Nelly’s family inheritance.  What follows is a heartbreaking, thrilling, and incredibly subtle drama about a relationship that may not have been everything it seemed to be.  Phoenix is a terrific film from director Christian Petzold, and I hope he continues to hone his craft by telling such beautiful and personal stories.  Phoenix will be released on blu-ray by the Criterion Collection in April 2016.

2979968-star-wars-bb-8-force-awakensStar Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Starring: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow, Mark Hamill

When I finally got around to seeing the new J.J. Abrams directed Star Wars film, I walked into the theatre almost certain that I was going to come out disappointed.  Having never been a huge fan of the franchise, I rewatched the films in the week prior to my viewing of The Force Awakens, and found myself feeling much the same about the series.  I enjoyed The Phantom Menace much more than I remembered, hated Attack of the Clones, somewhat enjoyed Revenge of the Sith, adored A New Hope, liked The Empire Strikes Back (but not nearly as much as others do), and very much enjoyed Return of the Jedi.  But at the end of the day, they all just felt like fun sci-fi films and not much else.  I’m pleased to announce that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is probably my second favourite film of the entire series, and that it successfully managed to charm its way into my heart.  Everything from the new characters, to new settings, to the sweeping action set pieces had me absolutely floored and rooting for our new cast of loveable characters.  Though I wasn’t crazy about the original cast cameos for the most part, they did their part and didn’t hog the spotlight from the incredibly talented ensemble of Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega.  What I got in The Force Awakens is what I hope for (but never get) in every major blockbuster franchise: a coherent and not overly complicated origin story that manages to subvert tired tropes and cliches, a cast of strong and well-developed characters, believable and epic settings, and incredibly fluid action scenes.  J.J. Abrams and company managed to prove me wrong again and again, and I absolutely can’t wait to see what happens with the rest of the new trilogy.  

Side note: As much as I like the guy in other films, Domhnall Gleeson was absolutely awful in this.  He managed to ruin my immersion on more than one occasion, and I hope he stops overacting in future installments of the trilogy.  

Directed by: Jafar Panahi
Written by: Jafar Panahi
Starring: Jafar Panahi, Hana Saeidi

Iran’s badboy filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been banned from making films for half a decade now, but that hasn’t stopped him from producing some of the most interesting works of his entire career.  His latest film Taxi furthers the idea that Iranian directors REALLY love driving and filming the acting of driving, but it’s much, much more interesting and thought-provoking than that statement makes it sound.  Panahi plays himself as a cab driver in the Iranian city of Tehran, picking up fares and driving them around the sprawling city.  Panahi interacts with his customers, all of whom are different ages, from different walks of life, and going about their daily lives in different ways.  Many of his fares recognize him as the famous outlaw movie director, and all of his fares feel like they could be situations straight out of real life.  Taxi blends the line between fiction and documentary filmmaking, creating something that is almost indescribably dense and full of anger towards the government of Iran for their notorious censorship and oppressive nature.  The highlight of Taxi sees Jafar Panahi picking up his young niece, who is making a film for her class.  Hana, Panahi’s young niece, details all of the rules of filmmaking she must abide by, while her uncle slyly comments on and scoffs at the enormous list of rules.  Taxi is an incredible experiment the likes of which I’ve never seen before, and shows that Panahi is willing to bend the rules even further when it comes to pursuing his passion.  It’s a beautiful, unique film that I wish more people would seek out.

Directed by: Sebastian Schipper
Written by: Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Sebastian Schipper, Eike Frederik Schulz
Starring: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski

Sebastian Schipper’s incredible experimental film was shot in one complete take, one of the first feature-length films of its kind.  Victoria never hides its cuts like other famous “one take” movies like 2014’s Birdman or Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, but instead is completely unblinking and seemingly flawless in its timing and blocking of scenes.  The film sees a young woman, the titular Victoria, taken in by a group of rowdy young men for an evening of fun.  The men and their new friend become embroiled in a large-scale robbery plot.  After falling for one of the young men, Victoria is recruited as the getaway driver, further complicating matters.  Victoria isn’t just a one-take gimmick, but also manages to tell an incredibly tense story and features a cast full of characters that are easy to root for (or against, depending on your perspective).  While it may have been a little too long for my preference, there’s no denying the impressive craft that went into the making of Victoria.  The tonal shift taken halfway through the film only helped to raise the stakes and further my dedication to the film, and I was very thankful that it went where it did in the end.  Victoria is a terrific exercise in tension and unique filmmaking that everybody should check out at least once.  It may not be perfect, but it looks and feels like something of a trailblazer in its best moments.

Movies I’ve yet to see from 2015 include:

The Assassin
Black Mass
The Brand New Testament
Cartel Land
The Danish Girl
The Good Dinosaur
Hard to Be a God
The Keeping Room
The Look of Silence
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Pawn Sacrifice
Shaun the Sheep the Movie
Son of Saul
Straight Outta Compton
When Marnie Was There

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End of Year 2015 – Best Films of 2015 (#5-#1)

meearl5. 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.

SICARIO14. Sicario
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.

1401x788-Screen-Shot-2015-11-02-at-11.06.31-AM3. Anomalisa
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.  

the_revenant_trailer_grab_h_20152. 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.

deb8edab-19f9-43c4-bf02-b904ebdcb5841. 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.

Part 1 (#20-#16) can be viewed here
Part 2 (#15-#11) can be viewed here
Part 3 (#10-#6) can be viewed here

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End of Year 2015 – Best Films of 2015 (#20-#16)


20. Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

It seems that no year-end list would be complete without Mad Max: Fury Road, which has gained so much steam that it managed to defy all odds and pick up a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture, a huge feat for an action film.  George Miller’s incredibly impressive and high-octane direction is easily the strongest aspect of the film, making even the film’s slowest moments somehow riveting.  Though the speed-ramping of action set-pieces and the sparingly used, but admittedly weak CGI were at times detriments to the film, the end result is still a highly enjoyable if slightly minor blockbuster.  What it lacks in the departments of character development and stakes, it makes up for in spades with incredible world-building, beautiful photography of its hot and bleak Australian outback setting, and one of the best soundtracks I heard all year.  It took me two watches to appreciate this fully, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s one of the best action films ever made, and one everybody should probably see at least once.  While I don’t think it’s nearly as important a film as some are claiming it to be, I do think it has raised the stakes for all action blockbusters to come.  God willing, at least.

000052-5992-brooklyn_still2_saoirseronan_emorycohen__bykerrybrown_2014-12-19_04-10-16am19. Brooklyn
Directed by: John Crowley
Written by: Nick Hornby, Colm Toibin
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent

I’ve seen John Crowley’s Brooklyn written off as being nothing but a performance-driven film, a criticism I can certainly see, but one that simply just isn’t true.  Brooklyn is the beautiful story of a normal young woman torn between living the life she has always dreamed of, or staying in the country where everybody and everything she has ever loved presides.  Saoirse Ronan gives the performance I’ve always known she could, and absolutely steals the show in her portrayal of Eilis.  Ronan’s performance is down to earth, independent, delightful, and at times naive and too small for the massive city around her.  She brings a full living, breathing character to life in less than two hours.  Brooklyn is the story of a romance that never feels unbelievable or melodramatic, but is instead lighthearted, incredibly uplifting and comedic at times, and almost painfully charming.  Emory Cohen’s performance as Eilis’ eventual love interest Tony is perhaps a little louder and less subtle than Ronan’s, but nonetheless impressive in his plain likeability.  This is a very small, personal story that touched me much more than I ever expected it to, and one I hope that more people get to see as its theatrical rollout expands.  While it may not immediately change your life, Brooklyn is a subtle, heartwarming, and charming love story anchored by an incredible performance by a beautiful young star.  All future hamfisted Nicholas Sparks film adaptations should take notes from Brooklyn’s success.

Screen-Shot-2015-05-18-at-07.31.1118. Steve Jobs
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Aaron Sorkin, Walter Isaacson
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston

While never reaching the soaring heights set by 2010’s The Social Network (admittedly one of my favorite films), Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs manages to subvert the major tropes and downfalls seen in most biopics.  Aaron Sorkin’s writing and Boyle’s frantically-paced direction help makes Steve Jobs an always tense and fast-moving look at the personality of a technology and marketing giant.  Sorkin’s script is immediately recognizable, bringing with it the razor-sharp wit and speedy, sarcastic dialogue that would make even Ernst Lubitsch smile.  Michael Fassbender’s performance as Jobs is incredibly believable, while never becoming a parody of the man or a mere impression (I’m looking at you, Ashton).  Fassbender, using Sorkin’s tight screenplay, does an incredible job of making the audience both love and hate the Apple mogul.  It’s amazing to me that Fassbender’s performance isn’t being talked about more, but I suppose that just goes to show how incredibly impressive a year 2015 has turned out to be.  I wish I could rank Danny Boyle’s spotlight of late Jobs higher on my list, but I found that the film dragged a great deal in its second act, especially after the soaring highs of the first act, and the far more compelling last act of the film.  The story structure is another huge credit to the genius of Aaron Sorkin, taking place at three separate press conferences headed by Jobs himself, facing personal troubles, technological bumps, and tension with all those around him.  Steve Jobs is an incredibly tense and fun drama driven by another amazing script, a tremendous and fitting (but never distracting) soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton, and a cast full of mostly likeable characters.  I wish I could say the same about all biopics being made today.

MISTRESS AMERICA17. Mistress America
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Written by: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Heather Lind, Cindy Cheung

After the release of 2005’s The Squid and the Whale, writer-director Noah Baumbach cemented himself as one of the foremost American independent filmmakers.  With hits like 2010’s Greenberg and 2012’s Frances Ha under his belt, he’s a bonafide great filmmaker.  2015 saw the release of two films, first While We’re Young, a very good film about aging and the complications it creates starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, and Adam Driver, and Mistress America, something of a continuation of Frances Ha.  Mistress America is an incredibly fun (albeit brief) road trip film with a cast full of quirky and really funny characters.  Baumbach and girlfriend Greta Gerwig co-wrote the film, each of whom bring their own unique sensibilities to it.  Baumbach, in the most relatable sense possible, brings with him a sense of being afraid to grow up, and Gerwig brings her effortless charisma, charm, and natural comedic timing.  Mistress America might not have as much to say about young people as something like Frances Ha did, but I can say with absolute certainty that I had an amazing time watching things unfold.  The film works as a modern screwball comedy, yet still manages to make its two stars Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke instantly likeable in all the hijinks taking place onscreen.  I hope Baumbach keeps exploring the themes of youth and loneliness, because he does it better than anybody else.

landscape-1439933880-elle-august-2015-intel-tiger-lily-0116. Grandma
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Written by: Paul Weitz
Starring: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Sam Elliott

A film that took me completely by surprise, Grandma boasts one of my favorite performances of the year in Lily Tomlin’s titular grandma.  A surprise hit from the director of American Pie, Grandma was easily one of the most charming, funny, and honest movies I had the pleasure of seeing all year long.  Tomlin’s performance as Elle Reid is wise, hilarious, and highly emotional in its best moments, serving as a triumphant return to form for the Oscar-nominated actress.  Backing her up is the young Julia Garner, who gives a very impressive down-to-earth performance as Sage, Elle’s young granddaughter in need of money for an abortion, which is the main focus of the film.  Both Marcia Gay Harden and Judy Greer appear in memorable minor roles, delivering very good supporting performances as both women are known to do.  The legendary Sam Elliott also appears in a brief scene, delivering one of the film’s most powerful moments; one that further complicates the audience’s opinion of Elle as a character.  On top of having some truly terrific performances across the board, Grandma never panders to the older audience it’s aimed at, and instead takes the high road and decides to challenge the audience.  This isn’t a film like The Bucket List or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that only exist to serve as fluff for their mature audiences, but instead a truly powerful movie that has a great deal to say about aging, abortion, gender rights, and homosexuality.  Grandma is one of the most socially important films of the year, and I hope it gets the recognition it truly deserves.  

Note: As with almost every single year, the majority of great films released in 2015 came towards the end of the year and are still circulating the festival circuit, in limited release, or in limbo until they show up on home media.  Some of the films that are currently available I just have not had the time to get to, so this list will serve as something of a temporary one.  When I feel like I’ve seen all of the films worth seeing from 2015, I will try my very best to issue an addendum of sorts, or re-publish the list to my liking.  The major movies I’ve yet to see from 2015 include:

  • 45 Years
  • Amy
  • The Assassin
  • Black Mass
  • The Brand New Testament
  • Carol
  • Cartel Land
  • The Danish Girl
  • The Good Dinosaur
  • Goodnight Mommy
  • Hard to Be a God
  • Irrational Man
  • Joy
  • The Keeping Room
  • The Lobster
  • The Look of Silence
  • Magic Mike XXL
  • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
  • Mustang
  • Pawn Sacrifice
  • Phoenix
  • Shaun the Sheep the Movie
  • Son of Saul
  • Spy
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Straight Outta Compton
  • Trumbo
  • Victoria
  • When Marnie Was There
  • Youth

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Schedule (2015-2016)

Hey folks!  After re-branding the blog and coming back extremely motivated and energized, I’ve decided to stick to some sort of theme or schedule for each month for the foreseeable future in order to keep me on track.  The ability to choose themes, directors, and genres to cover has endless possibilities, and will keep me (and hopefully you, too) crossing films off my very, very long watch list.  If you have any suggestions, feel free to include them below or message me with them on Facebook or Twitter.  I’m completely open to changing up the schedule depending on what people want to see and read, as this is just something of a loose idea at the moment.  Without further ado, this is what the next few months of the blog are going to look like:

October 2015Doctober: Taking a look at some of the best and most influential documentary filmmakers in history.  Spotlights include Penelope Spheeris, Werner Herzog, D.A. Pennebaker, and Alex Gibney.  Also featured will be my Top 20 Documentaries of All-Time, coming in four parts.

November 2015Noirvember: Covering some of the best and highly regarded films of the noir genre, including Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, Jules Dassin’s Night and the City, and Otto Preminger’s Laura.

December 2015John Ford Retrospective: A look at the man himself, the legendary four-time Academy Award winner John Ford.  Films I hope to take a look at include The Searchers, The Informer, The Quiet Man, My Darling Clementine, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and The Long Voyage Home.

January 2016End of the Year: A look back at the 20 best films of 2015, as well as some I may have missed along the way, and my top 10 albums of the year.

February 2016 – Black History Month: Films celebrating and taking a look at all things Black History, including: Steven Spielberg’s Amistad and The Color Purple, The Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975, Boyz N the Hood, and Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, Jungle Fever, and Malcolm X.

Thanks to everybody out there reading and for all the support I’ve gotten recently.  If you have any suggestions, comments, or criticism, don’t be afraid to reach out!

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