For a look at 10-6, click here.
Bless director Denis Villeneuve's heart for trusting his audience. There's a whole world behind Macy and Alejandro -- stories that are often just hinted at or left for interpretation, much like Sicario's moral compass. Who's in the right here? There's a tense scene in the middle of the movie where we're not even sure whether Macy's lost her mind, or if she's justified in fighting for her life. Villeneuve's restraint in storytelling is what make Sicario's suspense so gratifyingly intense. Alejandro is the embodiment of this control. His lack of words, his lack of establishing story, and the awe-inspiring ominous gravity he draws close around him like Dracula's cloak are both frightening and fascinating.
Like many of Villeneuve's other films, there's something bleak about the whole enterprise, which we feel in our gut from the first establishing shot which shows the endless minutiae of homes from above. Because we see the movie through Macy's idealistic eyes, these scenes of what are usually mindless easy violence in other movies become more pronounced as she struggles to follow some sort of process. Despite all her pure intent though, who do we end up rooting for the most in the end? Is it Macy, who doesn't belong in this land of wolves...Or is it Alejandro, who makes us lean in almost unwillingly so we don't miss any of his movements? I wish the answer were a bit more difficult to conjure.
original review here.
4. Little Forest
The presentation of each dish makes the mouth salivate (in the theater I could almost hear the collective stomachs grumble), and Ichiko relishes the dishes that open the film to ambivalent memories of her mother, the rich history of the hamlet she lives in, and almost unwitting disclosures of her personal flaws. Little Forest is sparse with words or narration, but resplendent with the experience of Ichiko's food: not just the gulp and audible crackle of its consumption, but the zen-like all-consuming preparation of it as well.
I think for many of us, we always think of what we could gain from being able to retreat to a Walden of our own. Ichiko is fresh out of college and uncertain what to do with her life even as she comes to understand more and more of her past while living in her childhood cottage. The film envelopes Ichiko with her farm life from the backbreaking work of planting rice to the communal significance of a chestnut recipe. It's a quiet, beautifully appreciative movie. If rice grows listening to our footsteps, we can learn much from stepping softly amongst what we've planted.
original review here.
Ravishing in story and in visuals, featuring both blistering powerhouse and sublimely understated performances (Rachel Weisz' monologue has you holding your breath as long as the camera holds her face), Youth speaks to the wisdom and the allure of its title. As Fred Ballinger sits at what should be the epoch of his career and his discernment, we find that we can be as nearsighted when looking at our past as when looking into the future. It's damning to realize how much stock other people have in defining our life achievements or determining what our legacy is.
There's not a definitive answer, nor should there be, but Sorrentino makes the exploration worth it. Each relationship brings out subtleties and nuances within each character, and as skilled as Sorrentino is, Youth would not be possible without the incredible foray of actors peopling the Swiss Alps resort.
Youth is as luminous as its name suggests, achieving a sort of incandescent captivation. Sometimes absurd, sometimes heartbreaking in its candor, but always sincere with its words and damn if it isn't gorgeous to look at.
2. The Revenant
Amazingly, it lived up to its potential and more. Oh if only Kubrick could have dreamed of such beauty in his Barry Lyndon. The use of light, the bare skim of it skittering over the land, the sparks flying up at night, the torches in the hands of hunting men that were reminiscent of Deakins' stunning railway scene in Assassination of Jesse James. Seriously, each scene was a wonder to behold. It feels like Malick's The New World, not because it involves Native Americans but because Inarittu is able to capture this juxtaposition of an age-old land that's untamed and brand new to men. The thought of the filming schedule and the strenuous preparation to capture it at just the right moments is mind-boggling.
DiCaprio and Hardy are phenomenal here, as are Domhnall Gleeson (by the way, can we talk about a year of glory for this guy?) and pretty much everyone breathing a frosty gasp in this film. They bring gritty reality to its fore, but Inarritu catapults us into it. The first time I saw this film, I went with a group of people during opening weekend and we were only able to get seats an uncomfortable five rows from the screen, and I completely forgot about it five minutes into the movie. The battle sequence in the beginning is so expertly handled and so beautifully shot with a deep depth of field that somehow heightens the confusion and clarity of peril, it had me jaw-dropped both times I watched it. What a beauty. I've never experienced anything on film that gets us into the headspace of a battle that closely.
I think it's more than just a simple revenge story as well. On surface it appears rather straightforward, but there's something acutely tragic about the inevitable encroachment of civilization on the wild land and its people. Hugh Glass can feel it even as he looks at his son and is reminded repeatedly of his heritage. His grief is bound with his loss, but that--as are so many other things in this movie-- is out of his hands.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
First and foremost: what a visually exquisite film. Uncharacteristically sumptuous for a post-apocalyptic piece, Miller basically did all the work so that our eyes had as little impediment as possible to enjoy what was going on on screen. He created storyboards first before screenplay and brought cinematographer John Seale out of retirement to make the movie as pleasing to the eye as possible.
You can't talk about Fury Road without some mention of the stunts. Hours and hours of set-up for only two minutes of filming per day, the stunts are real and not in the "Antonio Banderas did all his stunts for The Mask of Zorro but who can even tell...since he literally has the mask of Zorro on his face" way but in a jaw-dropping, face-melting, actual cars exploding way.
Kudos to Tom Hardy, by the way, for enduring the two most grueling productions of the year with this and The Revenant. Sure he ended up strangling Inarittu in the process, but that's another story really.
Beyond the technicalities, the editing, and the process is the movie itself. This is storytelling at its greatest. No need for expositions or awkward name introductions. More than any other movie this year, we feel like we're being dropped into the middle of these characters' lives: they embody breathing, independent souls. Max and Furiosa are the definitive mutually respecting badass team-up.
Mad Max hit it out of the park. It looked stunning, it had great story and characters in spades, and the intricacy of the world-building was unmatched. But most of all, it was an exultant revel in its existence. Witness, indeed.
original review here.
That's all she wrote. Thanks for dropping by and let me know about your favorites, if you can...or if you violently disagree with some of my mine. One of my favorite things to talk about is movies, easily.
An honorable mentions list will follow in the next week because there were a lot more movies this past year that I think deserve to be seen even if they didn't quite squidge onto my top ten...but also because I like making lists.