All hail, Awards Season! Tyrant of all she surveys! Oppressor of cinephiles! Scourge of the pudgy and bespectacled! Obvious Ben Whishaw fan! Long may her tastefully bland mediocrities inexplicably occupy our otherwise intelligent thoughts!
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 29
Victor Frankenstein (Dir.: Paul McGuigan; GRADE: C+)
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 30
Amour Fou (Dir.: Jessica Hausner; GRADE: C+)
Decorative and cerebral, a stark costume drama about a 19th-century German poet obsessed with finding a partner in suicide, and the ailing married woman who becomes his surprise soulmate. Dryly feminist, and well aware of the droll dark comedy inherent in the premise, but also stuffy and bloodless.
The Mend ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: John Magary; GRADE: A-)
No significant change from my original assessment, just confirming that I really saw that crazy thing I saw. A razor wire treadmill of cutting dialogue (“Your voice…someone should bottle it up and throw it at terrorists.”) and anxious insight, balancing Robert Altman freedom with Coen brothers control.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 1
The Revenant (Dir.: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu; GRADE: B-)
Do not open until 2016. Check out my updated Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Power Rankings HERE.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 2
Suffragette (Dir.: Sarah Gavron; GRADE: C+)
All the elements are present and accounted for, but the visuals are murky and the storytelling is drab. Meryl makes the poster and the FYC pool despite the fact that she’s basically making a Cannonball Run-like cameo here. Carey Mulligan is getting the FYC push for this film over her much better performance in the much better Far from the Madding Crowd, which I would like to introduce as Exhibit MLXXVIII of the mass hypnosis of Awards Season.
Joy (Dir.: David O. Russell; GRADE: C-)
Do not open until Xmas. Check out my updated David O. Russell Power Rankings HERE.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 3
The Danish Girl (Dir.: Tom Hooper; GRADE: C)
Do not open until Xmas in Sacramento; now playing in San Francisco. Dishwater drama, so flowery and inert that I’m having trouble staying awake through the end of this sentenzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 4
By the Sea (Dir.: Angelina Jolie Pitt; GRADE: D)
Holy shit. Every bit the disaster you would fear and expect from a Pitt/Jolie Pitt vanity project. Intermittently fascinating in its clumsy and facile attempts at naked honesty, but so vacuous and boring that it’s un-recommendable, even as a train wreck curiosity.
Carol (Dir.: Todd Haynes; GRADE: B+)
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 5
The Hateful Eight (Dir.: Quentin Tarantino; GRADE: A-)
The Big Short (Dir.: Adam McKay; GRADE: C)
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 6
Bone Tomahawk (Dir.: S. Craig Zahler; GRADE: C+)
2015’s second best western featuring Kurt Russell in a bushy mustache. The sort of stocky, mixed-bag genre picture that Hollywood used to chug out with regularity, now so nearly extinct that it gets inevitably exalted by overeager cinephiles. Refreshing in its willingness to stretch its narrative legs, but also strangely ambivalent and cruel, and too willing to ignore the ugliness of its own premise.
Hard to Be a God (Dir.: Aleksey German; GRADE: B)
Insane. Gorgeous ugliness from the deceased Russian director, a three-hour, quasi-sci-fi/quasi-historical anti-epic of snot-rocketing coprophilia. Salo-like in its gross beauty, as well as in its endurance test single-mindedness, but never less than fascinating, with some truly remarkable camerawork and performances of cult-like conviction.
Breathe (Dir.: Melanie Laurent; GRADE: A-)
The revelation of my 2015 awards season, a devastating look at anguish and manipulation in a teenage friendship, bringing all the hellish truth of Welcome to the Dollhouse without any of the quirky sadism. A major debut film from Laurent, light years away from the inspirational drippiness suggested by the poster, callous and empathetic all at once.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 7
Anomalisa (Dir.: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson; GRADE: A-)
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 8
Spotlight (Dir.: Tom McCarthy; GRADE: B-)
Like Bone Tomahawk, another presentable genre film getting ridiculously overpraised for its mere competence. Unassailable and inoffensive and indistinct on every front, which in the tunnel-vision mentality of awards season somehow equates with a laudable dignity. Check out my updated Tom McCarthy Power Rankings HERE.
Tokyo Tribe (Dir.: Sion Sono; GRADE: B+)
As I wrote on Letterboxd, this is the best all-rapping, cannibalistic karate gang musical of 2015, and it’s not that close (sorry, Effie Gray). Sono follows up the gleeful schizophrenia of Why Don’t You Play in Hell with this non-stop assault of neon braggadocio, a throbbing, two-hour Whip-It high of stupid boasts, sadistic comic book violence and bravura camera moves.
Blind (Dir.: Eskil Vogt; GRADE: B-)
A wispy and mopey high-concept morality play from Norway, sort of a Sundance-style hand-wringer without the Jason Reitman callowness, focused on a newly blind woman and her suspicions about her husband. Some fun narrative head fakes and swerves, but a gimmick movie at heart, and a fairly passionless one at that.
Mississippi Grind (Dir.: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck; GRADE: C+)
Feckless but atmospheric gambling picture about a shaggy loser (Ben Mendelsohn, always good) who latches on to a slick wanderer (Ryan Reynolds, better than usual) headed towards a high-stakes poker game in New Orleans. There’s some interesting local color along the road from Kansas to Louisiana, but there’s no engine to the story or the characters, just an empty and useless chassis.
And that’s a wrap for the 2015 movie year! As of December 9, I had watched 378 movies in the calendar year of 2015, and 242 of them were list/ballot-eligible NYC/LA theatrical releases. That’s a huge increase over last year, an average of nearly 5 “2015 releases” per week, but there were still a lot of well-reviewed and/or intriguing films that I failed to watch before my deadline, including:
Chi-Raq (C+); Star Wars: The Force Awakens (B); L’il Quinqin; Of Men and War; the Arabian Nights trilogy; Gangs of Wasseypur; Western; Dreamcatcher; Democrats; Horse Money; Spectre (B-); Office (B); Prophet’s Prey; Gueros; Victoria; Charlie’s Country; Time Out of Mind; Eastern Boys; 1971; 52 Tuesdays; Wild Canaries; The Connection; The Taking of Tiger Mountain; In the Heart of the Sea (C); (T)error; Digging for Fire; Queen and Country; and many more.
And that’s not even a complete list. While I feel that I did a thorough job catching up with 2015 releases and I’m happy with my top 10 list, it’s possible that an even better top 10 could have been pulled just from that above list of unseen titles. It’s really quite humbling, and an important reminder that no matter how much we think we know, there is always so much left to learn. Onward to 2016!