Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Entertainment Junkie's Top 10 Films of 2015

At long last, the top ten list. Everyone else has already put up their lists, and for the most part we've all moved on to what 2016 has to offer us. But with the Oscars only a week away, and myself actually having some time, now's the perfect time to put this list up. Please note that I finalized this list in mid-January based only on the 2015 films that I had seen up until that point, therefore several films that could have easily made the list are not present here. I shouldn't have to note this, but these is also my personal favorites, not some objective ranking of the best films of the year.

And the top 10 films of 2015 are...

10. Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker)

By now, you've likely heard about this film's gimmick: the entire film was shot on a few iPhones and stars two nonprofessional trans* actors. That alone is a nice piece of trivia, but the film is much more than that. A truly independent production, the film is a raucous, campy, and blustering comedy of friends Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) roaming the streets of Los Angeles to find Sin-Dee's cheating boyfriend (James Ransone). From one scene to the next, the energy never lags, thanks to Baker's sun-drenched visuals and standout performances from Rodriguez and Taylor. Tangerine seems destined for a place in the queer and independent film canons.

9. Sicario (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

No American film has ever depicted the cartel wars of the United States-Mexican border quite like Sicario. FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) are recruited to join a special task force to investigate cartel movements along the border. However, it slowly becomes evident that the unit, led by Matt (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), is not exactly what it proclaims to be. Roger Deakins' astonishing cinematography and Villeneuve's tense direction displace the film in a realm of ambiguity. What's not ambiguous, though, is this film's masterful production, with Blunt, Brolin, and Del Toro delivering some of the best performances of their careers and Jóhann Jóhannsson composing one of the year's most haunting scores. More than anything, though, the film is a powerful examination of "the land of wolves" without any easy solutions.

8. Ricki and the Flash (dir. Johnathan Demme)

Demme doesn't get enough credit as a filmmaker. He works mostly as a documentarian, yes, particularly music docs, and his most well-known films have been thrillers such as The Silence of the Lambs (for which he won an Oscar) and The Manchurian Candidate (the 2004 remake). But his narrative films spring to life because he trusts his actors with the material. Take Ricki and the Flash, for example. While most of the marketing focused on Ricki (Meryl Streep) the would-be rock star, the film is, at heart, about a dysfunctional family not exactly trying to put itself back together. That's not a sexy premise, certainly not in a film culture that values flash and cleverness over low-key and straightforward. But this film is an absolute marvel, hinging on Ricki's (in)ability to see beyond herself and her dream - a tension that drives the film in unexpected ways. With a terrific cast and solid musical performances, the film is a triumph of old-fashioned filmmaking done right.

Numbers 7-1 after the jump.

The 6th Annual Jarmo Awards

After a bit more of a recess than I expected, it's finally time for the 6th Annual Jarmo Awards! The Jarmos are my personal film awards, selected solely by me, based only on what I had seen from the eligibility year (2015) before I made these decisions. I picked out my winners shortly before the Oscar nominations were announced, and with the ceremony only a week away, now's the perfect time to present them!

Winners, as always, you are free to pick up your awards whenever it is convenient for you. There's bound to be a trophy place somewhere in Boston, so I'll be sure to have something ready for you.

And the winners are...


Ronit Elkabetz, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Runner-up: (tie) Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, Tangerine
Finalists: Emily Blunt, Sicario; Meryl Streep, Ricki and the Flash; Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road

Elkabetz is already regarded as one of Israel's finest actors, having won numerous awards in her home country and making a lasting impression on the international scene in films such as Late Marriage (2001) and The Band's Visit (2007). Her performance in Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem should win her even more acclaim. As Viviane, Elkabetz runs the gamut of emotions over the course of her divorce trial, but also subtly evolves the character from conservatively-dressed and oppressed toward liberation and agency. That she does so mostly with glances and half-spoken statements only makes her performance all the more accomplished. Her work is a towering achievement that demands to be seen.


(tie) Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel, The End of the Tour

Runner-up: Shameik Moore, Dope
Finalists: Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation; Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road; Mattias Schoenarts, Far from the Madding Crowd

It's impossible to truly separate Eisenberg's and Segel's performances without disrupting what makes them both work so well. As journalist David Lipsky, Eisenberg's drive and curiosity - as well as his willingness to push and misread cues - come across as arrogant and off-putting. Similarly, as author David Foster Wallace, Segel's fluctuations between aw-shucks genteel and prickly withdrawal make him difficult, if still captivating (Segel's never been better). But together, the actors push and pull at each other, making those aforementioned tendencies establish the dynamics of their relationship without unbalancing them. This is a masterful duet that reflects the intelligence and insecurities of both men, and the film needs both of their voices in harmony to work as well as it does. And what magnificent music Eisenberg and Segel make together.

The rest of the winners of cinema's most prestigious awards (that are presented by The Entertainment Junkie) after the jump.