Everything Becomes Pure Want: 15 from 2015

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“You can’t really what it is to want things until you’re at least thirty. And then with each passing year, it gets bigger, because the want is more and the possibility is less. Like how each passing year of your life seems faster because it’s a smaller portion of your total life. Like that, but in reverse. Everything becomes pure want.”

Looking in no particular direction, Brooke (Greta Gerwig) says this to Tracy (Lola Kirke) as her life is falling apart. “Everything is pure want.” Maybe that desire, inexplicable and ineffable and uncontrollable, is the biggest running theme in my list, and to get personal, my life. In the films featured on this list and in my personal life, there’s the want for intimacy, to be validated, to be wanted, to be seen and heard, to find stability, to be human, to ache, to feel pleasure, to transcend or eschew convention. It’s full of flaws, complexities, and nuances. And it’s not that those wants or desired be fulfilled that matters: it’s the articulation that might matter more. It’s not only cinematic, it’s human.

You can also find my list of the year ranked here, the top 10 musical moments, and everything else I’ve written this year.

Appropriate-Behavior

15. Brooklyn/Appropriate Behavior | Directed by John Crowley/Desiree Akhavan

You can never go home again, but maybe that’s okay.

14. The Big Short/Experimenter | Directed by Adam McKay/Michael Almereyda

Yes, this film is about one of the biggest cons ever sold to (primarily) American audiences, but not the one that you’re thinking of. It’s this: the words “Based on a True Story”. Its “story”, and the deluge of financial talk, is mostly smoke and mirrors. Of course it took a comedy director like McKay, whose acumen at deconstructing various forms of social relationships and culture, would be able to make a (maybe slightly lesser) I’m Not There of that subgenre of prestige movie. Peppered with onscreen text, fourth wall knock downs, a flurry of “authentic” images, and famous people telling you what’s “going on”, as it were, McKay and The Big Short understand the artifice of exposition, and Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography, frantic and frenzied, allows McKay’s players to ever so nonchalantly look the directly into the camera (even when not breaking the fourth wall) and give you a look that dare you to believe this stuff, viciously asks you, “Can you believe this shit?” It oscillates well between being self-reflexive about the subgenre as well as the tragedy it purports to be. It knows how bro-y and white it is, and is just as inclined to indict the players as it is to indict its voyeuristic, probably gullible audience. But, with music cues like “The Phantom of the Opera”, “Sweet Child o’ Mine”, and “Crazy”, how could this film not be in on the joke? In the other corner is Michael Almereyda’s Stanley Milgram biopic, also in the I’m Not There school of genre deconstruction films. It’s more self-serious than The Big Short, but its cognizance of manufactured drama in such narratives is aces.

13. The Mend | Directed by John Magary

With his debut feature, John Magary transforms a well-worn topic (masculinity, fraternal relationships) into something not only compelling, but tranfixingly sad, melancholic, and fiery.

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12. Unfriended/The Gift | Directed by Leo Gabriadze/Joel Edgerton

Everyone is Terrible, and Masculinity is Toxic: The Movies

11. Lost River | Directed by Ryan Gosling

Its skeletal outline of a story is generic, but placing it in this landscape of where nightmares can come true conjures some of the most dazedly beautiful imagery I’ve seen in quite a while. It doesn’t matter to me that Gosling was influenced by a number of well known aesthetes (I see more Malick than Lynch in here), and I think Gosling is talented enough that he uses these visual inspirations to his own gain. It’s saturated not with hacky cribbing, but with real weirdness and beauty, transforming a decrepid landscape into hallucinatory panorama.

10. The Man from UNCLE | Directed by Guy Ritchie

The only person more fatigued about James Bond besides James Bond is this guy, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), who was also created by Ian Fleming. But there’s such disdain for conventional action, and even for the subtext of Cold War tensions, that its context as a throwback is also a rumination on why we can’t get over the past. We romanticize it, make it shiny, make it stupidly handsome, make it as facile and superficial as possible, and yet we don’t understand that we don’t understand the past. It’s a casual shrug towards films unwilling to admit that nationalist heroes like James Bond and, for added extra textual baggage, Superman don’t make sense in a contemporary world. But, damn is Henry Cavill good at playing what is essentially a clichéd, souped up version of a dapper secret agent. His arch elocution and chiseled features are of an imagined past, the only place like people like him really belong.

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9. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter/Welcome to Me  | Directed by the Zellner Brothers/Shira Piven

Here are a couple films about how we cope. He world of fiction and “unreality” is a safe haven for some of us. It’s comforting and dangerous, and we want to see ourselves reflected in that world. But one of the greatest strengths of both films is its disinclination to blame or indict its troubled leads (Rinko Kikuchi and Kristen Wiig) without pandering to them. Both of them are billed as black comedies to some degree, but they’re even better as haunting dreams.

8. Fifty Shades of Grey | Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson

My inclusion of Fifty Shades on this list is sincere, but it is also a litmus test. Anyways, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s film works both as a work in its own right as one about gender, power dynamics, the performative roles in relationships, and female eroticism, as well as a conversation starter about consent and rape culture, idealized romances, and sexuality in film. It is, as my friend Inkoo Kang suggested, kind of like a female porno that got mainstream distribution, with enough camp and winks that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but never invalidates the arguments its making or the things its examining.

7. Spectre | Directed by Sam Mendes

The closest we’ve gotten to James Bond through an art house lens, Daniel Craig’s latest Bond film finally states its purpose: to kill James Bond. Or, at the very least, to suggest there’s no point to his existence anymore, given how anachronistic he is. Lots of James Bond films are campy, but Spectre is capital W Weird, a film where Death looms everywhere from its very first frame, where it states “The dead are alive”. What is that referring to exactly? James Bond as a nationalist figure in a global(ly terrorized) world? The remnants of British colonialism continuing to wreak havoc? The past come back to haunt? It’s everything and more, and the hazy, ghost like shots and lucidly dreamy direction, and Craig’s seeming contempt/apathy for the character, all make this one of the best Bond films of all time.

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6. Girlhood/Breathe | Directed by Celine Sciamma/Mélanie Laurent

So many of the films I like are about self-actualization, and Girlhood fits in interestingly in a cinematic landscape where that is limited to women of color. So, its scene with Rihanna’s “Diamonds” feels more urgent and spectacular because we get to see, throughout the film, the trajectory of that self-actualization, and how Maireme/Vic (Karidja Touré) shapes herself. Shine bright indeed. The inverse of this is when identity through projection on friends turns dangerous and seductive, as in Laurent’s Breathe.

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5. Mad Max: Fury Road/Magic Mike XXL | Directed by George Miller/Gregory Jacobs

“Yes, my God is a She,” Channing Tatum says with sincerity in Magic Mike XXL. Mad Max: Fury Road is like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale with guns and engines ablaze, the perfect antidote to the loud incoherency of the homogenous comic book movies, dusty and brutal, and spiked with a funny sort of optimism in a cynical world. The latter is a film unafraid to anesthetize all bodies, one impressively choreographed and framed and inclined to think of the audience when doling out its pleasures. I wish I had seen the film with a large group.

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4. Carol/45 Years | Directed by Todd Haynes/Andrew Haigh

For Todd Haynes, a deconstructionist, and Andrew Haigh, a naturalist, the unsaid speaks more than words could ever dream to. As queer directors, they understand the earth shattering impact intimation has. For one film, the intimated is a road to an evolving infatuation; for the other, it’s the decay of that love. But both are about the exploration of identity and how our relationships to others ask us to constantly recontextulize who we are, what we want, and who we want to be. There are few music cues as stunning as Haynes’s use of “You Belong to Me” and Haigh’s “Happy Together” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, both scenes where it’s the look that says everything.

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3. The Lobster | Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

I’ve decided that my perfect mate will be someone who wants to watch this with me on Valentine’s Day. It’s maybe a little ironic given how caustic it is to the concept of monogamous relationships, how vicious it is towards social ideals and functions, and how unpleasant it can be even about the transgressors of those boundaries (suggesting that they’ll end up in the same kind of hierarchy anyway), but it’s also refreshingly honest about how human those desires to be wanted, needed, and loved are. I like it when my love letters are written with a poisoned pen.

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2. Tangerine | Directed by Sean Baker

The screwball comedy came back with ferocity in this, Mistress America, and Trainwreck, but it is at its most radical in Tangerine. Queerness and sexuality are inextricable from the film, yet it doesn’t marginalize its characters into caricatures. It lets Sin-dee (Kiki Kitana Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) live both in a hyper realized world, splashed in color, but also as human beings in a reality that too often renders their needs, wants, and desires irrelevant. It’s like His Girl Friday, but with added subtext about broken American Dreams and making it all about their hustle.

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1. Mistress America | Directed by Noah Baumbach

Oh, Kyle has put a Gerwig/Baumbach film at the top of his list? Shocking, I tell you! I admire this film as much as I do their earlier effort Frances Ha, but for as many similar reasons as dissimilar. The generic pastiche that works as the palate for Mistress America seems to make its central struggles feel all the more tragic. For as comedically deft as the film is, every joke and punchline seems sadder on subsequent watches, indicative of anxiety and arrested development. But there’s something heartening, nonetheless, that despite the uncertainty and disappointment that permeates the film that the relationship Tracy (Lola Kirke) and Brooke (Greta Gerwig) transcends conventional depictions of sororal friendship, like Frances and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) before them.

Things that were on the list last year…

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  1. Clouds of Sils Maria | Directed by Olivier Assayas

Kristen Stewart uses her muted acting quality to subvert the archetype of the femme fatale. Yes, please.

  1. Eden | Directed by Mia Hansen-Love

Don’t stop the music, because otherwise everything feels empty.

  1. Maps to the Stars | Directed by David Cronenberg

If Sunset Boulevard were meaner and weird and made by David Cronenberg, this would be it.

And of course…

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Tom’s his best, Mommy’s personal for me, and “Hello” was the next logical step for both of them.

The Performances

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  • Mya Taylor and Kiki Rodriguez, Tangerine
  • Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, and Heather Lind, Mistress America
  • Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, 45 Years
  • The Cast of The Lobster
  • Live Schreiber, Spotlight
  • Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Carol
  • Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Jada PInkett Smith, Magic Mike XXL
  • Daniel Craig and Ben Whishaw, Spectre
  • Henry Cavill, The Man from UNCLE
  • Rinko Kukuchi, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
  • Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria
  • Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
  • Peter Sarsgaard, Experimenter
  • Félix de Givry, Eden
  • Kristen Wiig, Welcome to Me
  • Tom HIddleston and Jessica Chastain, Crimson Peak
  • Ian McKellen, Holmes
  • Joel Edgerton, The Gift
  • Stephen Plunkett, The Mend
  • John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks, Love and Mercy
  • Ben Whishaw, Paddington
  • Nina Hoss, Phoenix
  • Tayonnah Paris, Chi-Raw
  • Oscar Isaac and ALIcia Vikander, Ex Machina
  • Colbie Smolders and Guy Pearce, Results
  • Rose Byrne, Spy
  • Phyllis Smith, Inside Out
  • Jennifer Aniston, She’s Funny That Way
  • Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston, Queen of Earth
  • Angelina Jolie Pitt, By the Sea

The Directors

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  • Todd Haynes, Carol
  • Andrew Haigh, 45 Years
  • Celine Sciamma, Girlhood
  • Desiree Akhavan, Appropriate Beheavior
  • Stephen Cone, Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party
  • John Magary, The Mend
  • Ryan Gosling, Lost River
  • Sam Taylor-Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey
  • Gregory Jacobs, Magic Mike XXL
  • Liv Corfixen, My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
  • Adam McKay, The Big Short
  • Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Mustang

The Auteurs

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  • Mya Taylor and Kiki Rodriguez’s Tangerine
  • Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America
  • Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Phyllis Nagy, and Todd Haynes’s Carol
  • Charlotte Rampling and Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years
  • Charlize Theron’s Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Ingmar Bergman’s Clouds of SIls Maria
  • Hoyte van Hoytema and Daniel Craig’s Spectre
  • Now That’s What I Call Music’s Mommy
  • Alfred Hitchcock and Xavier Dolan’s Tom at the Farm
  • Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Jack Clayton, and Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak
  • Melanie Laurent’s Breathe
  • #BlackLivesMatter’s Chi-Raq
  • Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs
  • Saul Leiter’s Time Out of Mind
  • Kristen Wiig’s Welcome to Me
  • Robert Altman, Brian De Palma, Ingmar Bergman, Elisabeth Moss, and Katherine Waterston’s Queen of Earth
  • Jean-Luc Godard’s The Big Short
  • Angelina Jolie Pitt and Michelangelo Antonioni’s By the Sea

The Screenplays

MISTRESS AMERICA

  • Mistress America
  • Carol
  • 45 Years
  • The Mend
  • Appropriate Behavior

The Cinematography

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  • The Mend
  • Saint Laurent
  • 45 Years
  • Carol
  • Unfriended
  • The Man from UNCLE
  • Tangerine
  • Magic Mike XXL
  • Fifty Shades of Grey
  • Tom at the Farm
  • Lost River
  • Goodnight Mommy
  • Heart of a Dog
  • The Duke of Burgundy
  • Chi-Raq
  • Ex Machina
  • It Follows
  • I Am Michael
  • The Big Short

The Soul Sucking Worst

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  • Avengers: Age of Ultron

Boring, incoherent, kind of sexist, ugly, loud, obnoxious. Like 2 ½ hours of inside baseball.

There is, interesting, a soet of qualifier here. On the one hand, I completely forgot Stonewall had even come out this year until a friend posted a picture of the DVD on Twitter. So, it was clearly not the LGBTQ rights film that we were hoping for. On the other, it’s less an offense of sensibilities and taste and more just super underwhelming on every level. There’s a lot of things wrong with it, but Stonewall shows up on this list not merely because of its childish production design, its inert drama, its really horrendous acting, its piss stained cinematography, its white bred fictional lead, or its controversial veracity, or perhaps lack thereof: no, Rolland Emmerich’s film is on here because it was such a disappointment. Maybe there was a lot of pressure from the word go, for a film to be as monolithic as the mainstream LGBT community likes to present itself and likes to be seen by the world. In a way, it is: it demystifies the idea of anything happening during this time being injected with a sense of complexity or nuance, and instead presents its dramaturgy flatly, uninterestingly. It panders to straight audiences with its simplification of interpersonal dynamics, queer homelessness, social marginalization, and the divide in queer politics. It is so deeply disappointing that whomever backed this film and wanted to give it any kind of release severely underestimated its audience(s). Yes, as The Hollywood Reporter and Slate have suggested, assimilation into the mainstream has resulted into some weird mixed signals between Hollywood and contemporary mainstream film going audiences. I’m sad about the witch hunty (heh) attitude that Stonewall received, even if it is a bad movie with questionable politics. But I’m even sadder that while TV leads the pack in terms of idealistic liberal progressivism and queer representation, Hollywood doesn’t really know what to do. We have our Carol, of course, but this should give audiences, queer and otherwise, the incentive to seek our queer cinema that are on the outskirts of bigger budget Hollywood filmmaking. If Hollywood backs away from topics like this for while – and, to be fair, when has Hollywood explicitly ever been great at handling subjects of marginalization or such? – I’ll be fine. I can wait. I have other things I can watch.

A film that doesn’t say anything about narcissism, or perception of narcissism, but instead buys into the lame victimization of its  lead character while others less fortunate around him have to put up with it.

  • A Very Murray Christmas

I sort of get what it was trying to do. It’s melancholy and there’s a hint of alcohol soaked sadness in here, but it’s so unfocused and meandering and unfunny that it skates on the idea of the extra text of knowing what Coppola’s filmography of sad, detached people is already like. The themes alone in this aren’t enough to inform it to be a complete whole, so instead it just feels lazy and annoying, contingent on the charm of Billy Murray, or rather lack thereof. But Miley Cyrus and Maya Rudolph are good.

You’ve never heard of it? It’s about Nia Vardalos as a mother who’s so overprotective of her son that she outs him as gay (even though he hasn’t chosen to identify himself as such) in order to get a scholarship. It’s as repugnant as it sounds.

I don’t necessarily begrudge people who are anti-sex work. But I do take insult at people who want to infantilize or condescend to its own subjects.

This seemed to exist for its own third act twist, and says less about the privileged life of Brooklynite hipsters than it thinks it does.

It’s formally impressive, but that its subtext heavily exists within the realm of using gay panic as horror is really bothersome. More on that later next year.

Whether you like Kramer or not, his influence on LGBT politics is undeniable. But the doc is unable to embrace the same kind of passion and rigor and vitality of its subject that captured in the first three minutes, instead resorting to a very standard, honorific doc that doesn’t confront the differences and evolution and the context of Kramer as activist and individual, in addition to refusing to evaluate his work as art in its own right.

And the rest of the year…

And the rest of the year…

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Here’s everything else I saw from 2015.

The Great

The Hunting Ground Kirby Dick A-
Ex Machina Alex Garland A-
Do I Sound Gay? David Thorpe A-
Mala Mala Dan Sickles and Antonia Santini A-
Phoenix Christian Petzold A-
Mr. Holmes Bill Condon A-
Results Andrew Bujalski A-
Crimson Peak Guillermo del Toro A-
Shaun the Sheep Mark Burton and Richard Starzak A-
Love and Mercy Pohad A-
The Peanuts Movie Steve Martino A-
Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party Stephen Cone A-
Experimenter Michael Almereyda A-
The Duke of Burgundy Peter Strickland A-
Saint Laurent Bertrand Bordello A-
The Tribe Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy A-
Chi-Raq Spike Lee A-
The Big Short Adam McKay A-
By the Sea Angelina Jolie Pitt B+
Mustang Deniz Gamze Ergüven A-

The Good

It Follows David Robert Mitchell B+
My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn Liv Corfixen B+
Wild Tales Damián Szifron B
Far From the Madding Crowd Thomas Vinterberg B
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence Roy Andersson B
Boy Meets Girl Eric Schaeffer B
S&M Sally Michelle Ehlen B
What Happened, Miss Simone? Liz Garbus B
Inside Out Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen B
Mountains May Depart Jia Zhanke B
Heart of a Dog Laurie Anderson B
Heaven Knows What Benny and Josh Safdie B+
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom Evgeny Afineevsky B
The Forbidden Room Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson B+
Mia Madre Nanni Moretti B
Timbuktu Abderrahmane Sissako B+
Creed Ryan Coogler B
Anomalisa Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman B-

 

The Meh

Wild Canaries Lawrence Michael Levine B-
Power/Rangers: Unauthorized & Violent Joseph Kahn B-
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief Alex Gibney B
The Age of Adaline Lee Toland Krieger C-
Bessie Dees Rees B-
The Nightmare Rodney Ascher C
Happy Valley Amir Bar-Lev B
Charlie’s Country Rolf de Heer B
I Am Michael Justin Kelly B-
Jurassic World Colin Trevorrow B-
Felt Jason Banker B-
Boulevard Dito Moneise B-
Amy Asif Kapadia B-
Trainwreck Judd Apatow B
Irrational Man Woody Allen C+
Queen of Earth Alex Ross Perry C+
The Diary of a Teenage Girl Marielle Heller C+
Ballet 422 Jody Lee Lipes B-
Time Out of Mind Oren Moverman B
Spy Paul Feig B
Bridge of Spies Steven Spielberg B
Steve Jobs Danny Boyle C+
Goodnight Mommy Verokia Fraz and Severin Fiala B-
The Overnight Patrick Brice C+
Spotlight Tom McCarthy B-
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation Christopher McQuarrie C+
Blackhat Michael Mann B-
The Wolfpack Crystal Moselle C
Call Me Lucky Bobcat Goldwait C
She’s Funny That Way Peter Bogdonavich B-
52 Tuesdays Sophie Hyde B-
Beasts of No Nation Cary Fukanaga B-
Star Wars: The Force Awakens JJ Abrams B
The Revenant Alejandro Innaritu C
Son of Saul Laszlo Nemes C+

The Bad

The Human Centipede 3: (Final Sequence) Tom Six C-
Sundays Mischa Rozema D
Sleeping with Other People Leslye Headland C-
Tangerines Zaza Urushadze D
The Film Citic Hernán Guerschuny D
Walking on Sunshine Max Giwa and Dania Pasquini C-
Grandma Paul Weitz C
Choclate City Jean-Claude La Marre C
Z for Zachariah Craig Zobel C
The End of the Tour James Ponsoldt C
Kingsman: The Secret Service Matthew Vaughn D+
The Walk 3D Robert Zemeckis C-
Maggie’s Plan Rebecca Miller C-
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine Alex Gibney C
The Good Dinosaur Peter Sohn C
Where to Invade Next Michael Moore C

TV

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Pilot Tina Fey and Robert Carlock A-
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Season One Tina Fey and Robert Carlock B+
Mad Men – Season 7B: Person to Person Matthew Weiner D
Hannibal: 3.01 – Antipasto Bryan Fuller A
Mad Men 7B.1 – “Severence” Scott Hornbacher A-
Masters of None Aziz Ansari B+
Scream Queens: Season 1 Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuck, and Ian Brennan C+
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst Andrew Jarecki B-
Looking: Season Two Andrew Haigh and Michael Lannan A-
Difficult People Julie Klausner A-
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