Wednesday, December 30

Monte's Best Films of 2015

Monte's  Best Films of 2015

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Director George Miller drove this pulsing, bursting, no-holds-barred vehicle into the summer blockbuster scramble and completely destroyed all competitors. Mr. Miller builds an expansive world, without much dialogue, with the assistance of Tom Hardy who plays Max Rockatansky. But don’t be fooled, this film belongs to Charlize Theron. As Imperator Furiosa, Ms. Theron confidently controls the film with stunning screen presence. Mr. Miller executes the film with exceptional style and skill, making “Mad Max: Fury Road” feel more suited for the arthouse than the grind house.

2. Spotlight
“Spotlight”, a film about the investigation by the “Boston Globe” into the scandal within the Catholic Church, is a captivating and devastating experience. Tom McCarthy directs an exceptional cast, lead by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and Liev Schreiber, and narrates a film about investigative journalism in a straightforward manner while also allowing the film to unfold in a thrilling and stunning fashion. It’s a film that never relies on anything more than displaying a group of hardworking people determined to reveal the truth, regardless of how intimidating the impact of the truth may be.

3. Ex Machina
Good science fiction always asks difficult questions. Science fiction cinema didn’t get much better than “Ex Machina”, a methodically structured film with an intelligent narrative directed by Alex Garland. While many of the films that deal with science fiction are cluttered with special effects, Mr. Garland utilizes these tools to build an impressive, beautiful, and emotional artificial being known as Ava, played impeccably by actor Alicia Vikander. “Ex Machinafocuses on relationships between men and women, the advancing world and how it connects with progressing technology, and the trappings and limitations of science. It is an exceptional film that asks difficult questions and allows the viewer to interpret the answers however they choose.

4. Inside/Out
Pixar films have an undeniable emotional quality unlike other animated films. “Inside Out”, a film that takes place inside the mind of a young girl, is an impressive return to form for the company. The narrative is smart and poignant while also being thought provoking, asking questions for both children and adults to contemplate and, hopefully, discuss with one another. The animated world is incredibly unique, the casting of the characters is near perfect, and the story is accomplished in displaying how emotion changes throughout the rough and beautiful parts of maturing life.

5. Me and Earl and The Dying Girl
Experience is an important aspect of adolescence, it has a way of preparing one for the unexpected but also teaching one valuable lessons about people and situations. “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl” is a coming-of-age story with a firm and grounded sincerity. All the trappings of a melodramatic teenage film are here but are instead shrewdly and cleverly implemented under the keen direction of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl” is an emotional experience, though it’s never devastating or heartbreaking but instead filled with heart and passion.

6. Anomalisa
Human connection told expertly through stop-motion animation; “Anomalisa” displayed the pain, loneliness, and despair of relationships and the journey of finding ones’ self better than many films this year. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson co-direct this film, about a solitary man leading a mundane life who has an unexpected encounter with a stranger, with charm and tenderness. This is a film about imperfect individuals dealing with complicated issues, it’s never easy or simply stated. “Anomalisa” is a challenging, yet heartfelt experience.

7. Sicario
“Sicario” is a fascinating thriller about the war on drugs and the control and chaos that ensues while federal agents fight a faceless foe. It’s a film that lingers in an atmosphere of fear and builds suspense in subtle yet effective ways. Whether the enchanting cinematography by Roger Deakins, which is a visual descent into darkness, or the narrative penned by Taylor Sheridan that displays the bleak disenchantment of the whole situation. “Sicario” is consistently tense and foreboding; it’s a film that drops the viewer in the middle of a frantic and confused setting, and then continues the journey amidst building chaos.  Director Denis Villeneuve is a skillful director and “Sicario” is one of his best films.

8. Brooklyn
Colm Tóibín’s novel, about a strong-willed Irish immigrant living in 1950’s Brooklyn, found its film adaptation from director John Crowley. The story follows Eilis Lacey, a great lead performance from Saoirse Ronan, as she comes to America in search of all it promises. Themes of homesickness, love, maturity, and the identity found in the place one calls “home” are all deftly handled throughout the film. Mr. Crowley paces the film with measured assurance while avoiding the clichés and melodramatic trappings that hamper many dramatic stories like this. “Brooklyn” is uplifting and sincere.

9. The Hateful Eight
In the eighth film from Quentin Tarantino the director takes a group of unredeemable characters and locks them in a shack during a blizzard in post-Civil War Wyoming. The three-hour long epic, released in a special 70mm presentation, displays Mr. Tarantino meticulously building a mystery while also incorporating an interesting amount of social commentary that transcends beyond the time period depicted in the film; it’s compelling to see everything slowly unravel. The film finds further success with stunning cinematography and a beautiful score, composed by the legendary Ennio Morricone. “The Hateful Eight” is Quentin Tarantino self-indulgently doing what he does best.

10. Carol
Director Todd Haynes builds a magnetizing connection of love between two women in the film “Carol”. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara give phenomenal performances as two women drawn to each other in the 1950’s. Their romance is witnessed from the initial blossom, starting as a chance encounter at a shopping counter, to powerful gazes across and next to one another, to the moment of intimacy; everything in their relationship is portrayed with subtle details, emphasizing mannerisms and movements and expressions. It feels in parts like a dream, accomplished through beautiful photography, in the sense that as the feelings grow stronger for these two women so does their release from the constraints of their 1950’s reality.

11. Timbuktu
Director Abderrahmane Sissako constructs a quiet, at times gentle, film that displays the realities of life under Islamic extremist rule with an insightful and skillful hand; “Timbuktu” is striking and uncompromisingly truthful.

12. The Revenant
Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of his best performances in “The Revenant”, a film that takes painstaking measures to portray nature and humanity in its most raw and pure form. “The Revenant” is a gorgeously composed film with some of the best technical scenes of the year. The silence of nature provides a powerful backdrop for this visceral revenge tale.  

13. Straight Outta Compton
“Straight Outta Compton” is the story of the hip-hop collective N.W.A., a group of talented, enraged young men who utilized the power of their words to reflect the emotions and experiences of their world. F. Gary Gray directs this accomplished biopic with a steady hand; the attitude of the actors, the placement of the music, and the design of the environments are all spot-on.

14. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The movie event of the year arrived in theaters, with long lines of people waiting, still waiting, to watch this film. Director J.J. Abrams did not disappoint with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. It’s a film that gives older audiences joyous nostalgic feelings and offers a new generation of fans that memorable movie magic experience.

15. White God
In Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó’s film “White God”, the enduring trust and love between a young girl and her dog presents a heartwarming tale, until the dog is ripped away and left to survive in the corrupt and hate-filled world. “White God” comes to stunning life with the assistance of near two hundred trained dogs, offering a film that starts as a touching drama and moves into the realms of horror.

16. Creed
Michael B. Jordan is a worthy contender to the “Rocky” legacy. “Creed” boasts a narrative that is crowd-pleasing and in moments exhilarating, but the welcome surprise is Sylvester Stallone’s excellent performance as Rocky. Director Ryan Coogler is a talent to watch.

17. The Big Short
Upsetting and at times infuriating, “The Big Short” is intelligent and clever while also being completely entertaining. The film makes it easy to laugh at the appalling errors of the past but it never lets this comedic aspect distract from the point of revealing the tragedies of greed.

18. The Look of Silence
“The Look of Silence” is a frightening, shocking, and heartbreaking documentary from director Joshua Oppenheimer, a film that places survivors in the presence of the people who murdered their families. It’s a powerful film that is difficult to watch about a history that shouldn’t be forgotten.

19. Wild Tales
Humans can behave in terrible ways; however the people in Damián Szifron’s anthology film “Wild Tales” take it to the most extreme, depraved level. It’s a shockingly funny and darkly entertaining piece of film comedy.

20. Bone Tomahawk
It’s a horror film, but it’s mostly a western. “Bone Tomahawk” is a strange, unconventional western film in the best possible way; a mix of unusual humor with touches of thoroughly effective and satisfying horror. The western era atmosphere is beautifully rendered and the performances from the cast are excellent.

Honorable Mentions
  • Beasts of No Nation
  • Chi-Raq
  • Dope
  • Duke of Burgundy
  • Labyrinth of Lies
  • Love & Mercy
  • Mustang
  • Tangerine
  • Room
  • The Assassin
  • The Martian
  • Turbo Kid
  • What We Do In The Shadows
  • Youth

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