Intercut’s Best of 2015
’71 (Yann Demange)
Yann Demange’s film takes a quagmire full of religion, politics, and territorial disagreements among other tense subjects and decides to chuck that out the window. It uses this dark period full of deceit and violence as setting both physical and cultural. The protagonist is behind enemy lines and must come back to safety. We know very little about him other than that he has a young son and that he is not overtly deserving of death. It’s a simple story told in a kinetic way. He needs to get from point A to point B however, enemy lines blur and, like the protagonist, the audience is not sure what will happen next. ’71 has enough political intrigue, suspense and thematic talking points for it be a worthwhile time at the movies.
88:88 (Isiah Medina)
One of the best Canadian films to come out of the festival circuit this year. Medina’s movie pushes the medium to extremes here, exploding continuity in the montage, sound design, and narrative structure to depict the materiality of time within the class struggle.
Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson)
The only downside to Charlie Kaufman turning to direction is that his stories, no longer told by other filmmakers, can only be told when he decides to tell them. As such, this follow-up to Synecdoche, New York was a long time coming and it managed to succeed, despite the hype, by doing the exact opposite of its predecessor, replacing the epic agoraphobic space of the film with a small intimate stop motion animated film populated by (basically) three individuals, and yet, this minimalist setup manages to tell one of the most human stories of the year, resulting in yet another Kaufmanesque study of mental illness in an isolated world.
Blackhat (Michael Mann)
Mann continues his strange mixture of experimental digital cinematography with Howard Hawks or Jean-Pierre Melville-like character studies about professional criminals. This time, Mann tackles the uncinematic world of cybercrime wherein the violence goes from extremely high-tech to primitive in a finale that is set during the Bali redemption parade for the terrorist attack in 2002. Mann ingeniously stages the action so that the main character is running in the opposite direction of the marchers to avenge his dead best friend.
Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg)
Steven Spielberg creates a companion piece to his masterpiece Munich with this Cold War era allegory of 21st century American foreign policy. Here, he presents an ideal from which he believes America too often falls short. Like Lincoln, Bridge of Spies is filled with long flowing monologues about American values, but Spielberg most powerfully conveys his vision of America through potent images like the American children jumping a fence on their way to school as a train passes by.
Carol (Todd Haynes)
Adapted from the “Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmight, Carol is a beautiful and heartfelt love story set in the fifties between two women both stuck in vapid heterosexual relationships. The two leads — Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara — have more chemistry than any other pair in the movies for quite some time. Haynes has become the Douglas Sirk of our time, revitalizing the melodrama without any of the modernist impulses of RW Fassbinder. His straightforward approach to adapting this queer novel turns out to be more subversive because by focusing on the emotional drama of this relationship, Haynes is able to make us care about queer bodies in that same way that we care about heterosexual ones.
Inside Out (Peter Doctor)
Pete Doctor’s Inside Out uses its clever premise to explore the complex emotional terrain we live on every day. The world the film creates inside 11-year-old Riley’s head is rife with sequences that combine a bright and colorful aesthetic with rich ideas like long term memory and abstract thought. Doctor and his Pixar colleagues could have used this high concept in service of a more typical coming-of-age story centered around some traumatic event. Instead, they dramatize the moment we recognize the value in feeling something other than happiness.
The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)
Lanthimos is one of the most exciting voices in cinema today and his first English language feature proves that. Retaining his shooting style, his distinctive acting style and the extra dry humour, the only thing that separates this film from his earlier Greek works is that this one contains bigger stars. Telling a barely coherent story of a world where single people have to go to a hotel where they will either find a mate or get turned into an animal of their choice, this film shows off the people on both sides of this struggle, with all the healthy cynicism and misanthropy that has come to be expected of Lanthimos. Consider this a decidedly anti-love film!
Love & Peace (Sion Sono)
This has been a fantastic year for Sion Sono. I saw four of his films this year and the weakest among them was still a solid effort. Anybody familiar with Sono’s work knows that his films often defy description; I would argue for a new review system for his works which consists solely of “Sion Sono” for a good film and “Not Sion Sono” for a bad film. This film is strictly “Sion Sono”, a rock ‘n’ roll musical about a loser who reaches his dreams of becoming a rock star by way of his flushed pet turtle who ends up in a sewer world, populated by talking animals and toys, where he gains the power to grant wishes. Despite this constituting the first fifteen minutes or so, the film continues to get weirder and weirder, while staying at an unwavering G-rating. “Sion Sono”, indeed!
Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
In a year which saw many long dormant franchises revived, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road stands tall. Taking the groundbreaking car chases, action editing, and design sensibilities of his original Max trilogy to illogical extremes, Miller imbues Fury Road with a sense of meticulous spontaneity.
Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs)
A joyous follow-up to Steven Soderbergh’s downbeat 2012 male stripper opus, Magic Mike XXL uses a loose road movie framework to provide an excuse for expertly choreographed dance sequences. From Channing Tatum’s lonely workshop dance to “Pony” to the massive final competition, these numbers are more graceful, funny, acrobatic, and sexy than anything in the original.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie)
This series has become really interesting. It continues to operate as a pet project for producer / actor, Tom Cruise, but it has also become a playground for directors to challenge themselves with the task of constructing a streamlined action film. Each new director brings their own style and penchant for storytelling and plugs them into the skeleton of the Mission Impossible series (with Tom’s permission, of course). When looked as a genre experiment in the vein of The Five Obstructions (The Five Destructions?) this franchise not only rewards adrenaline junkies but also nerds who can’t help but over think films. Rogue Nation doesn’t disappoint aesthetically-speaking (it contains some of the most gripping action scenes of the year) or those looking for something to talk about after the showing (like, is Tom Cruise an auteur? franchises that get better as the series continue, and where has Rebecca Ferguson been all our lives?).
Mistress America (Noah Bambauch)
The film is riddled with absurdist lines and is extremely quotable. It’s the movie equivalent of a restaurant where they also cut hair. The film bogs down once it reaches the central set piece, but prior to is breezy and enjoyable. The Instagram-filtered New York American Dream, fleshed out, is absurdist comedy.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson)
I am not sure that anyone knows what this film is about but it is quite absurd, loving, and a great conversation piece. For this reason, it should be seen. There are many aspects of the film to discuss. What is the plot? Why does the camera never more? Why do many of the people or objects in the frame never move? Is this a diorama? Why does it look like every one has vampire makeup on? What is the filmmaker trying to communicate? Why am I watching this? Who is this for? Why am I alive? Who am I here for? Is it Wednesday? These are the questions to ask or you can just laugh while you watch because it works that way too.
Queen of Earth (Alex Ross Perry)
This weird thriller inspired by Persona and Polanski’s early movies pits Elizabeth Moss’s character against reality after losing her father and drifting apart from her best friend. The narrative is set at a lake house and the two friends verbally battle for nearly 90 minutes, creating the most intense arguments out of off-hand comments, spinning into comedic hysteria at the end.
Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang-soo)
The most interesting aspect about Hong’s two-part movie that repeats the same story twice is that the second half plays like a dream version of the first without assigning the dream to any character. In typical Hong fashion, this movie is another take on male vanity with the added mystery of the dream structure that recalls the atmosphere of The Day He Arrived and In Another Country without feeling like he is simply repeating himself.
Sicario (Denis Villenueve)
Denis Villeneuve is one of the best working directors. His honesty in using landscapes and cinematography to tell a story is surprisingly unusual in this age of filmmaking. Like most films regarding the “War on Drugs”, it’s riddled with deep-seeded nihilism. Despite playing the main character, Blunt is underused. Her character risks life and limb for less than nothing, yet she toils on, a joyless ghost of morality. Rumors of a sequel are rampant but with Del Toro’s character leading the way.
Tangerine (Sean S. Baker)
The film, shot on an iphone, is a glimpse into the transgender street corners of LA, and slots easily into the canon of great independent cinema. Certainly, like all films, it has imperfections, but those are overpowered by its energy, confidence, comedy, and rawness.
Taxi (Jafar Panahi)
Several years into his twenty year ban on filmmaking, Jafar Panahi completed work on his third film within this period, once again going to the very basic roots of cinema– a story, a camera and a vision — to tell a truth that is missing from the cinema. Panahi’s films, even more real and simple than his pre-ban work, somehow manage to be visual acts of protest, more powerful than any grassroots campaign. It also doesn’t hurt that this film is entertaining as well, funny at times and heartwarming at others. Panahi is one of the few filmmakers to have never made a bad feature and his streak continues.
Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako)
This film presents the occupation of Timbuktu by armed religious militants in a way that seems counter intuitive. Timbuktu does not relish in the obscene or the harrowing which given the film’s content could be an easy route to pathos. Instead, it shows a community full of life and the film takes its time in presenting the quiet serenity of their humanity even when it becomes all too obvious that it is fleeting. The occupiers are immature and incompetent all motivated by the same thing: fear of no purpose and not belonging. This preoccupation alongside the trappings of bureaucracy lead them down a dark path. Every character is somehow negatively impacted by zealots yet the film condemns no one. It merely highlights the beauty of human nature even when its worst aspects take center stage.
Contributors: Franco Asmaeil, Timothy May, Shahbaz Khayambashi, Curtis Alexander, and Cody Lang.