My Superlative Year in Film: 2015 Edition

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the-mendHere are some words about how 2015 was a year that impacted me, in both good and bad ways. Here are some introspective thoughts about what that means to me. Here are some words about what I learned over the last year, and what I hope 2016 will hold. Here are some words about the movies I watched. I watched 340 new to me films, and around 120 2015 releases. I’m really happy I got to work with such great people this year and make some strides in my career, so thanks everyone.

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  • The Film That Changed My Life – Frances Ha

I suppose that part of my entire brand is contingent on my fanboyish adoration for Frances Ha, and while I’ve had an enduring appreciation for it since its initial release in 2013, it’s only this year that the film’s deep, almost tragic sadness struck me so crucially. I’m not a white girl in her late twenties in New York, but I am a privileged boy in his early twenties whose life, like Frances’s, was thrown into the air. Uncertainty, lots of moving around, odd jobs, trying to grasp onto something stable. That’s been my 2015. It’s been anchored by little except for the movies, and I made it a point to watch Frances Ha before and after each move. Each viewing was as symbolic and personally significant as the address title cards that appear on screen during the film, representative of each location and, what is more, each state of mind. Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s film was already important to me for its inexplicable charm and its ability to wheedle out of me a rare emotional response. But when my life began to imitate its art, that’s when it solidified a place in my heart.

  • The Film I Saw the Most in Theaters – Mistress America

Two Baumbach/Gerwig films in a row is super on #brand for me. But, not unlike Frances Ha, the streak of melancholy that runs perhaps more overtly is one that is striking and personally significant. Of course I saw the film in the midst of transition, which is maybe why such elements stood out to me the way they did. The shifting relationships dynamic between Brooke and Tracy is identifiable: at once, neurotic and out of place, but also ambitious with a tendency towards lack of follow through. Masked by a style of comedy I’ve adored since I was five, it was as if Gerwig and Baumbach were pandering to me personally. So, I saw the film like three times in theaters, all in Provincetown: first at the Provincetown International Film Festival, and then twice more at the same local theater after it had finally gotten a theatrical release.

  • The Best Rep Film I Saw – Fantasia and Ball of Fire

I didn’t see that many rep films this year because a) I’m not fortunate to live in an area that regularly shows them and b) I keep forgetting that Trinity College, which is like 20 minutes from me, regularly does rep showing and I am lazy and without a license. But I did get to see Walt Disney’s Fantasia on the big screen, and that is some great movie making. You can tell it’s really late because my writing just took a hit. Also, I saw Ball of Fire at the Film Forum with my friend Eloise Ross. Howard Hawks, Barbara Stanwyck, Billy Wilder: hot damn.

  • The Superhero That I Watched Out of Professional Obligation, Which Then Somehow Affected My Personal Life Ever So Marginally – The Avengers: Age of Ultron

I did not go on a date to see this movie. I went to see this movie with an acquaintance. That acquaintance paid for my ticket. I had told him very explicitly the day before I was not romantically interested in him, but that I had to go see it out of professional obligation anyways. I took notes during the film because I was going to be doing something journalistic about it in the following days. It was a very bad movie. It was mind-numbingly bad. It was incoherent, sort of sexist, and felt like a two and a half hour game of inside baseball. A pilot for a dozen other series I don’t care about. So, when the acquaintance asked what I thought of the film after the film, I told him exactly how I felt. He proceeded to tell a small subsection of my university that I was a terrible date, because I complained about the movie and took notes. I repeat, this was not a date. I didn’t know he thought it was a date until months after, when someone told me that he thought it had been a date. Anyways, I guess I should only hang out people people that are perfectly aware that when they ask me what I thought of a movie, I will tell them exactly what I thought about that movie.

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  • The Film(s) Everyone is Wrong About – Spectre and Fifty Shades of Grey

I think it’s important to reconsider our own values and bars as to what “good” and “bad” mean. There’s a level of subjectivity, as always, but dismissal is never an attractive attribute to a writer or a critic or anyone, for that matter. I ask you to reconsider Spectre, a James Bond film that thinks James Bond films are kind of boring and archaic. So, they treat this one like that. It’s weird, morbid, sometimes silly, but it is definitely very weird. Its funny levels of restraint, its illogical approach, and its odd way of connecting the films: they’re kind of a middle finger to an audience that has very specific expectations for Bond films, ones that exist both within the EON conventions and whatever route Daniel Craig, and subsequently Sam Mendes, took them on. With regards to Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m almost inclined to suggest that the vast number of negative reviews are a symptom of sexism. No, I don’t think Fifty Shades is the same kind of great that Bicycle Thieves is, or, for that matter, Belle du Jour. But it’s keyed into a very specific niche and style that I believe it is sort of subtly parodying: porno. It is, as my friend Inkoo Kang suggested, a mainstream porno that exists for the services of (predominantly) female pleasure. And, no, I do not endorse the abusiveness of the relationship in the film. So, levels of “quality” aside, there’s a richness about Fifty Shades that is seldom being recognized: it’s about the roles we play in relationships, the power dynamics of that, what consent means in contemporary society, the class dyanmics of the modern romance, female eroticism, and desire on screen.

  • The Film That David Rudin is Wrong About – Spectre

You heard me. IT IS SO GOOD.

  • The Films That Sold Exposition – Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Spectre

No one likes having to listen to exposition. It’s too clunky and its function is kind of dubious. But when you do it right, you’ve got gems like the bro-y Oscar Isaac up against kind of neurotic dweeby Domhnall Gleeson laying out Ex Machina’s primary discursive ideas, Charlize Theron dropping bits of exposition like little narrative grenades that are there and gone again in a second in between long swaths of action in Ma Max: Fury Road, and Daniel Craig with his devil may care look delivering exposition with an appealing amount of contempt in Spectre.

  • The Directors Who Finally Returned to the Big Screen – Todd Haynes and Andrew Haigh

Two of my favorite directors, who happen to be queer, returned to the big screen this year. Haynes hasn’t had a feature theatrical release since 2007’s I’m Not There (though, I liked to consider his adaptation of Mildred Pierce as cinematic as anything in his oeuvre), and he came back with a swoon with Carol. Andrew Haigh’s last film was Weekend from 2011, a queer Brief Encounter of sorts, sweet and sad in the best ways. His return with 45 Years is decidedly more haunting, a relatively young director already skilled at examining the effects of the past on the present, aging, etc. And few directors are as precise as Haynes. So, yeah, it was a good year for the movies.

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  • The Weird, Awesome Thing That I Started Doing This Year – Interviewing People

I would like to thank Ed Gonzalez, Sam Fragoso, and Jordan Raup, for simultaneously teaching me how do give a good interviews and giving me the opportunity to do so in the first place. This year, I started to interview people. I volunteered to talk with Noah Baumbach for Slant, per the release of While We’re Young. It’s very odd thinking about it now, because I had made the assumption that when people start interviewing reputable industry folk, they start at the bottom. Not to say there’s anything wrong with the bottom, like indie folks and such, but it is bewildering to me that I’ve been able to interview four high profile people this year, most of whom are my personal idols. I think I’ve gotten better at it with each successive one. I feel like I’m going to vomit before each one, but I get through it, and I’ve been pretty pleased to talk to some of my favorite filmmakers this year. You can read them here.

  • The Unpopular Opinion – Nasty Baby

I feel like it’s like a half assed attempt to blend some sort of naturalistic Dardennes style filmmaking with the exploitation of Michael Haneke or something. I don’t know what it has to say about gentrification, racism, or homophobia, because it starts sentences and then never finishes them. They’re incomplete thoughts that are more interested in a narrative twist than the ideological end.

  • The Other Relatively Unpopular Opinion – Lost River

Lost River is a fairy tale that covered in grime that’s shot with an aesthete’s eye, and it could have easily been this year’s Spring Breakers in its fever dream approach to the ugly had it not been for the bad reception at Cannes and the lousy baggage it brought from there. I don’t think it’s nearly as derivative as people have claimed, and I don’t think the aspects that are derivative are bad either. Calling it Lynchian or whatever is almost wholly beside the point. Lynchian, ostensibly, is a merging of the mundane of the surreal, generally the latter transforming the former. But here, there’s a perversion of that rule: the surreal nature of something as sad and dirt covered as Gosling’s vision of economically troubled Detroit turned into the mundane, and then back again. It’s a switch back and forth that’s calculated, just enough to show hypocrisy in the romanticism of such places and stories told about those places.

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  • The Scariest Film I Saw – Unfriended

It may be a Nancy Jo Sales Vanity Fair piece come to life, but is there anything scarier than seeing the rainbow wheel of death on your computer? I watched this on my laptop (as everyone should, for the complete experience), and I don’t even own a Mac. But it’s certainly one of the most effective horror films that’s obsessed with indicting the presumably millennial audience in its crimes of complacency and narcissism.

  • The Queer Mirrors – Carol and Mistress America

Two stories about dark haired young girls whose lives are transformed by a blond haired woman. All four are uncertain about their lives, but it’s only the blonde women that give the impression that they know what they want and who they want and how they want it. As things unravel, that mode of desire is rendered more and more complex. I should note that I think Mistress America is pretty queer: the relationship that exists between Brooke and Tracy transcends that of conventional sororal relationships. Tracy even says she’s in love with “Meadow”, the character that is based on Brooke in her short story. That love exists in a grey area, intangible. Not romantic, per se, nor sexual exactly, but there is a connection between them that is singular.

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  • When the Music Videos Eclipsed the Films – Bitch Better Have My Money, Hello, Blackstar, and WTF

Stuck in a gay club against my better judgment in West Hollywood in April 2013, I looked up at the screen and was captivated by whatever the video DJ was playing, even if it hadn’t been particularly qualitatively good. I think it was the video for “Turn Down for What”, followed by Avicii’s “Hey Brother”. (The former is a very bro-ish joke taken to an extreme, the latter is suggests that sweet innocence, particularly of an ideal American brand, is to be corrupted by war.) And while I wasn’t dancing and when I wasn’t being hit on by men of a certain demographic, I was having a good time looking up there on the screen. And, there, in the sweltering club filled with drugged up and alcohol infused twinks and their paramours, with my shirt stained with someone else’s vodka cranberry, my interest and infatuation with music video in form and function was born. This year was no exception to see Auteurism rear its face in videos like Rihanna’s sickening and hypnotic Bitch Better Have My Money; Adele’s sweeping and melodramatic Hello (directed by none other than Xavier Dolan); David Bowie’s return with the incredibly weird Blackstar; and Missy Elliot’s strung out and fluid WTF. Both experiment with music video form as skillfully as any short or feature film, refining their cinematic techniques and narrative and thematic contexts.

  • The Time When I Identified with Depressive Characters – Please Like Me, Baumbach/Gerwig, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, Welcome to Me

I don’t talk about being depressed that often because I don’t think it’s as severe as other people experience it, or at least I don’t really like to burden people with the idea that I experience at all (with the exception of one or two close friends). So, the outlet, naturally, becomes writing about/watching film and television. 1) You have the discomfiting dramedy Please Like Me, where Josh Thomas balances a neurotic/self-loathing/self-entitled sense of humor with a genuine sense of pathos for his characters. Thomas, who writes, stars, and co-directs the episodes, is 28, but he’s able to bounce back and forth between a kind of immaturity in the comedy that often froths forth from the mouths of his younger characters and a deep sense of knowing and responsibility and maturity when presenting mental illness. I think what makes Please Like Me special is a tacit brokenness to the show, but a desire to keep it together. It’s apt. As Brandon Nowalk describes the show, “The title isn’t ingratiating. It’s longing.” 2) Been there, done that. Frances Ha and Mistress America are about people trying to do a lot of things in their life, or do nothing while pretending to do something, for the very fear that the nothingness and the failure will consume them. Cool. 3) Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter and Welcome to Me are sort of about the same thing, but in different ways. They’re both suggestions that we find solace in images or in fiction or on the screen. When everything else pretty much sucks, you have something else to make it feel better, for better or worse.

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  • I Finally Watched Some Prestige TV – Mad Men

At the behest of Conner Good – for six months, no less – I finally watched Mad Men. It was great! I like it a lot. I have nothing interesting to say about the show, other than I love Peggy, Sally, Betty, and Joan, and Bob and Pete. I started the show just after its first half of the seventh season had aired, so, against the behest of Conner Good, I got to binge watch.

  • The Best Spies – Henry Cavill in The Man from UNCLE and Daniel Craig in SPECTRE

Sorry, Mark Rylance. Cavill is capital C Charming in such a wonderfully artificial way, and Daniel Craig is so careless and bored by everything.

  • The Year of Masculinity – Magic Mike XXL, Mad Max: Fury Road, Creep, The Overnight, The Gift, Ex Machina, Anomalisa, The Mend

Maybe it’s always been that way, but everyone is concerned with What Makes a Man. Frankly, I don’t really care, but yet I’m ever so intrigued by what the movies thinks makes a man. Usually it’s nothing good, whether it be gay panic (Patrick Brice’s double whammy of his horror film Creep and his subpar Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice ripoff The Overnight), fear of emasculation (Joel Edgerton’s The Gift), creation of things to play with (Alex Garland’s Ex Machina), brotherly love/hate (The Mend), or your everyday male malaise (Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa). Once in a while, you’ll get something a little more positive, my nontoxic fraternal bonding and embracement of male sexuality (Magic Mike XXL) or oscillation of power dynamics (Mad Max: Fury Road). But, if I have to sit through another thing of True Detective, or as critic Margaret Lyons likes to call it Sad Cop, I’ll hurl.

  • The Film That Broke My Heart – Carol and 45 Years

These are films that I keep coming back to. I’m a sucker for a swoony melodrama (a good one, mind you), but even more so for a story about doubt in love. Yay!

  • The Year of Xavier Dolan – Mommy, “Hello”, Tom at the Farm

I still don’t know why Dolan hasn’t crossed over into the US as well as other foreign language directors. But, we had three Dolan things this year, which is like my dream and everyone else’s nightmare come true.

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  • That’s Not a Vanity Project, You Morons, and Even If It Were, It’s Still Pretty Great – By the Sea

That time Angelina Jolie Pitt decided to channel Michelangelo Antonioni. Miscommunication, malaise, female sexuality, mental illness, the decay of love, trauma.

  • The Year I Got to Be Head Balconian

I had a great experience being an editor at Movie Mezzanine’s blog The Balcony. It was a great learning experience, and I think we produced some fun content.

  • The Year I Did Some Podcasts

Film Critic of the Week and Media Queery. Film Critic of the Week will live again as Cinema Paradiso this year, and Media Queery is on indefinite hiatus.

  • The Summer I Spent in PTown

There was a nice movie theater down the street from where I worked in Provincetown, MA, the gay mecca I spent my summer working as a houseboy, which is exactly what it sounds like. Rivers Edge Cinema catered to the kind of movies I tend to gravitate towards (I saw Mistress America three time there, and Best of Enemies, the doc about William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal). So, when I wasn’t working or sleeping, or hanging out at the Grotta, or buying books, I was at the movie theater. Sitting in a dark room watching the screen illuminated, that’s a failsafe way to get me to feel comfortable. I made a couple of friends there just pontificating (shout out to Heather and Bridget), and what I found were a couple of really cool folks. Forgive me for dipping into cliché, but my time in Provincetown will remain important to me in a manner that few things will. It was a formative experience I have to get around to writing about. I’m thankful for all the folks at the Watership for being so lovely. We even went to see Jurassic World together.  And I was able to badger my coworker/friend Derek about queer things and movies. Good times.

  • Hon. Mention: The Year I Sold My Soul to the Patriarchy One Check at a Time
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