A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Best of 2015, best-of lists, Buzzard, cinema, Creep, Faults, film reviews, films, Motivational Growth, Movies, op-ed pieces, personal lists, Reality, Slow West, The Voices, Welcome to Me
With the year more than halfway through, what better time to take a preliminary look back at the films that, in my humble little opinion, have been the very best of a pretty good eight months? Since there are still 4.5 months left and plenty of potentially incredible movies still to be seen (Goodnight Mommy, The Martian, Crimson Peak, Suffragette, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Cooties, Tales of Halloween, Bone Tomahawk, Before I Wake, Final Girls, Trumbo, Krampus, The Hateful Eight and Revenant are all on my “must-see” list, along with a raft of others), this is by no means a complete list: there is no particular order to anything, no sense of ranking or any of that jazz…yet, at least.
And now, with no further ado, my nine favorite films of 2015 (so far):
Welcome to Me
I absolutely adored everything about this smart, quirky and endlessly charming look at a woman with borderline personality disorder who wins the lottery and decides to launch her own talk show. In an era where narcissism seems to be the new norm, Shira Piven’s constantly surprising film has plenty to say about the way we view ourselves, the world around us and all of the wonderful misfits that inhabit it. Above all else, Kristen Wiig is a complete marvel and one of my early picks for Best Actress of the Year. I dare anyone to watch this and not be pounded senseless by your own emotions.
Not only one of the very best films I saw this year but one of the very best Westerns I’ve seen in longer than I can remember, Slow West has “modern-day classic” written all over it. The story of a teenage, Scottish greenhorn and the “reformed” outlaw who chaperones him through the wild and woolly West, Slow West is full of masterful performances (I predict a Best Supporting Actor nod for Mendelsohn), gorgeous cinematography and a wildly unpredictable streak of magical-realism that feels like the Coen Brothers by way of Wes Anderson. Nearly perfect and essential viewing.
Nothing about this effortlessly bold, thought-provoking film is spoon-fed or obvious and that’s just the way I like ’em. While Faults may seem overly familiar on the outside (if anything, the “male deprogrammer vs female cult member” synopsis makes this seem like a riff on Jane Campion’s odd Holy Smoke (1999)), the film manages to spiral out into a million different directions, like meteors vaulting into the sky instead of the other way around. Essentially a two-person character study, Leland Orser and Mary Elizabeth Winstead prove so magnetic and compelling that we don’t really need any other characters: I would have happily spent 3 hours with these two, making this the rare case of a film where I just didn’t want it to end.
If you look at him, Mark Duplass is probably the very last person you’d cross the street to avoid: with his constant grin, sarcastic demeanor and doofy “every-man” bearing, Duplass seems like the epitome of the comedy “lifer.” Immense kudos to Duplass and co-writer/director Patrick Brice, then, for managing to make the character of Josef such a thoroughly unnerving, unsettling and, ultimately, absolutely terrifying presence. The film gradually ratchets up the tension, lulling the viewer into a false sense of security until it’s too late to realize that the subtle increase in temperature we’ve been feeling has been the duo turning the knob from “simmer” to “blast-furnace.” By that point, it’s far too late: our geese have already been cooked.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Like the mutant offspring of Jim Jarmusch and John Hughes, Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is equal parts art and nostalgia, teen angst and existential angst. Billed as “the first Iranian Vampire Western” and shot in gorgeous black and white, there’s a narcotic, hallucinogenic quality to the film’s gauzy cinematography and even hazier moral outlook that’s not quite like anything else out there. When Amirpour wants to draw blood, however, she’s as fearless as any horror auteur before her.
As a big fan of both counterculture and “weird” films, Buzzard is the very best example of getting peanut butter in my chocolate. Fiercely anti-authoritarian, casually offensive, as fidgety as a meth addict on a bender and given to breaking minds at the drop of a hat (the film’s finale is almost as mind-melting as the conclusion to Villeneuve’s Enemy (2014), which is no mean feat), Buzzard is one of those films that’s best experienced…no mere plot description could do justice to this fundamentally cracked depiction of a day in the life of one of the most staunchly individualistic antiheroes since Holden Caulfield first flipped off the phonies some sixty years ago.
Full disclosure: I’ve never met a Quentin Dupieux film that I wasn’t madly in love with. Period. In a world where filmmakers seem to outnumber grains of sand on the beach, Dupieux is a true visionary, a genius filmmaker whose surreal paeans to the absurdity of modern life just don’t look or feel quite like anyone else. While Reality isn’t quite as perfect as either Wrong (2012) or Wrong Cops (2014), it’s still a thoroughly mind-blowing, utterly insane and completely wonderful trip through a true artist’s immensely fucked-up mind.
If you would have told me that one of the most amazing, stylish, disturbing and original horror films of the year would star Ryan Reynolds and be directed by Persepolis’ (2007) Marjane Satrapi…well…I would have absolutely agreed with you, hands down. You see, advance word of mouth was so strong with The Voices (Satrapi’s first ever attempt at a horror flick) that I was already predisposed to love it before I even had a chance to see it. Luckily, this was one case of the hype being downplayed: The Voices isn’t just an amazing film…it’s a goddamn revelation and should have achieved instant classic status. Instead, this dark fable about an exceptionally disturbed man and the talking cat and dog who “guide” him is the very definition of a sleeper. In a perfect world, Reynolds would be looking at a Best Actor nomination for his performance and Satrapi would be looking at a Best Director nod for hers. If dreams really do come true, I hope Puppy Goo Goo fetches this one just for me.
I had zero idea of what to expect going into this (the synopsis was intriguingly gonzo and it featured Jeffrey Combs, so I was definitely on-board) and precious little idea of what I had just seen when it was over. The only thing I did know? I wanted more, more, more, just like that greedy little shit, Oliver T. Motivational Growth is genuinely weird (as in “early David Lynch on acid” weird), incredibly grungy, more than a little gross, completely disturbing, uncomfortably thought-provoking, a little sad, totally outrageous, certainly not for polite company and, without a shadow of a doubt, one of my very favorite films of the entire year (the film officially received festival play in 2013 but didn’t get any kind of wider distribution until this year, hence, its relative age vs release discrepancy). What’s it about? In a nutshell, a shut-in receives life-coaching advice from a large patch of talking fungus on his bathroom wall. Terrible, hilarious, gross things ensue. In other words: this is unmitigated greatness not seen in these parts for some time.
And there you have it: my favorite nine films of 2015, thus far. I’ll leave you with a short list of the runners-up, those films that just fell short of making my short list. Let’s check back and do this all over again in 4.5 months, shall we?
Runner-Ups (So Far)
Digging Up the Marrow