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2015 In Film: Part 3 – Auteurs, Unpopular Opinions and More

March 9, 2016

In case you missed Part 1 or Part 2, here are the links.

Tony: Speaking of del Toro, this is probably a great opportunity to delve into our favorite works from 2015’s top auteur filmmakers. We got movies from del Toro, Tarantino, Abrams, Iñárritu, Haynes, Mann, Baumbach, Sorrentino, Georgo Miller, and the list does indeed go on. I’ll stick a sock in it and pass the mic to you.

Zack: Real quick before you get to your commentary on the auteur cinema of 2015: Bone Tomahawk was so, so great in every mode I expected it not to be.

Oh, this is a big list for me. I’ll take this opportunity to just quickly list a handful of auteurs’ works that I had a real chance to savor.

Queen of earth anomalisa

Queen Of Earth/Anomalisa

These are in no particular order (so as not to spoil our inevitable top ten lists):

  • David Cronenberg’s Maps To The Stars
  • George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America and While We’re Young
  • Todd Haynes’s Carol
  • Alijandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant
  • Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs
  • Paul Thomas Anderson’s Junun
  • Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight

And I’ll take this little platform to address a younger director who’s staking his claim as a new auteur. Alex Ross Perry. He’s an exciting filmmaker who popped up in our conversation last year when I talked about Listen Up Philip as an honorable mention. But this year, he took the tone he’s crafted through his first several features and focused it into a play on genre film. Queen Of Earth was just this visceral experience of a movie—a quasi-thriller without the inherent violence. A breakup movie. A serene set of small-time vistas. Ostensibly a two-hander with Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston. And it was shot on Super 16 from angles I hadn’t quite seen before. Queen Of Earth. I can’t praise it enough.

But that does lead me into a strange little tangent: the 2015 films I saw multiple times in theaters. Should I do another list? I do like lists. I’ll do a quick list.

I don’t know if I have a more nuanced point than that there were a few very rewatchable movies last year, and for all kinds of reasons. I made sure I saw the 70mm roadshow version of The Hateful Eight as many times as I could specifically because I don’t know if something like that will happen again anytime soon. I stood in line for The Force Awakens on opening night, then I had to find out what the IMAX version had to offer, and then I had to see it with my dad. But I won’t bore you with my reasoning for each movie I saw twice. Maybe what I’m getting at is some films deserve a second or third viewing—not to change an initial opinion (although that’s a possible benefit of the revisit)—to gain a chance to really dig into the subtler details.

sicario the force awakens

Sicario/The Force Awakens

Tony: I am extremely envious that you saw the roadshow version of The Hateful Eight once, let alone three times. I saw the movie once, but the full 70mm experience was not readily available to me at the time (I should just move). That’s a special experience that’s long been outdated, and with the possible exception of a future Tarantino or PTA film, I doubt it’s going to happen again with a new film.

(Editor’s Note: Cursory research shows that The Hateful Eight is notable fore several reasons: being the first widely-released “roadshow” with an intermission since likely Fiddler On The Roof in 1971, and the first film to employ Ultra Panavision 70 technology since Khartoum in 1966)

While I have not seen anything from 2015 more than once yet, I came close with The Force Awakens. Alas, it never came to pass

Zack: But okay. You. Auteurs. And whatever else! It’s your website!

Tony: Intriguingly, I had Maps To The Stars filed under “2014,” but since you brought it up, I’m going to run with that. David Cronenberg is one of my all-time favorite directors. I think he has one of the more remarkable filmographies of any active director, and I’d venture to say that nobody stimulates your mind and your gag reflex simultaneously as effectively as Cronenberg does. Maps To The Stars probably isn’t top-tier Cronenberg (possibly because he didn’t write it), but his trademark acidity is still present. The script excoriates your typical Hollywood stereotypes, so it’s working on a satirical, darkly comedic level. The cast is also wonderful. I always find John Cusack and Julianne Moore fascinating. Count me as interested in anything they do on screen. I’ve become a fan of Mia Wasikowska as well. She did good work here, as well as in Crimson Peak. Robert Pattinson has found some really interesting roles recently, and in him, I think Cronenberg has found something of a muse. Between Maps and 2012’s Cosmopolis, I am suddenly very interested in R-Patz’s career. I don’t think Maps To The Stars is a great entry point for those new to Cronenberg, but if you already appreciate his unique worldview, Maps is yet another entertaining proposition.

And I may be stretching the accepted definition of auteur here but I would like to mention Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck. I think it may be Apatow’s best directing yet. Trainwreck was very funny (no surprise there), and effectively marshalled an unconventional cast that included John Cena and LeBron James. Though always funny and sentimental, Apatow’s movies tend to be under-edited, and as a result, are occasionally perceived as unfocused. I think Trainwreck was easily the tightest movie directed by Apatow, and that claim might even hold up when you include the movies he’s produced. Trainwreck actually reinvigorated my interest in his work, and I want to briefly Shanghai the conversation to make a wholehearted recommendation of Funny People (2009). One could argue that it’s unwieldy, but after four viewings, I’m leaning more toward calling it a masterpiece. So anyway, Trainwreck. It’s good. It might even be the reason we eventually have a separate conversation in which we make wild proclamations about under-appreciated movies from 2009.

Zack: Judd Apatow is an auteur. No need to think of it as a stretch. I enjoyed Trainwreck a lot as a traditional rom-com. There were Apatow flourishes, but it was apparent he wasn’t working with his own script. And maybe that’s okay. Amy Schumer stuffed her script with the little details and big laughs that made it all work. But the best rom-com of the year, at least by my estimation, was Sleeping With Other People. (And if we’re going to talk about 2009, A Serious Man and Up In The Air stand as my two favorites, with the former firmly in the in the under-appreciated category.)

Tony: I think we’ve beat around the bush long enough. I’d love to hear any unpopular opinions you might have. That might be the only thing standing in our way from diving into the good stuff, and bestowing a slew of meaningful honors that will inevitably get lost in the mail.

bone tomahawk kumiko the treasure hunter

Bone Tomahawk/Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Zack: I’ve been sitting here, racking my brain for some obvious unpopular opinion I had about a movie in 2015. But it’s tough. I have nothing on my list that I love that was universally panned, or vice versa. So I suppose I’ll keep my statement small.

Steve Jobs, apart from maybe Spotlight and Ex Machina, was as propulsive a non-action film as I saw in 2015. Leave it to Aaron Sorkin, I guess, King Of The Walk-And-Talk. But I’ve read plenty of “meh” reviews of the movie to make me think my love for it is a bit unpopular. Do Sorkin’s typical missteps repeat themselves? Somewhat, sure. Is he precious about his words? Maybe, but this felt less speechy to me than, say The Newsroom. But maybe that’s not saying much. I thought he deserved an Oscar nod over either The Martian or Brooklyn, the latter of which is a movie I loved, but its screenplay wasn’t what hooked me the way this one did.

And then look at the direction. Danny Boyle, hand-in-hand (presumably) with cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler, made the bold decision to shoot in three distinct formats, each to coincide with the time period reflected on the screen. For the scene in 1984, we’re looking at 16mm film. In 1988, it’s 35mm. And in 1998, we’re watching a digitally filmed image. It’s a subtle thing (which could easily be labeled as cute), but it really works for me.

I haven’t even gotten to the performances. Tony, look at every major character here. Just look at the list. Sure, Michael Fassbender (who we’ve already professed out love of) was nominated for his turn as Jobs himself. And Kate Winslet too for Joanna Hoffman. But then we’ve got Seth Rogen with a very solid take on Steve Wozniak. Jeff Daniels as John Sculley. Katherine Waterston (showing up again in a favorite film of mine) as the semi-estranged Chrisann Brennan. And the always stellar Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld.

I don’t know. To me there wasn’t a false note in it. A large part of that is due to Fassbender’s inarguably phenomenal representation of the Apple demigod. But I was engaged from frame one. How anyone viewed this film as less than superb is beyond me. And I’m realizing now this amounted to a bit more than a small statement, as initially suggested.

But other than that, what have I got? I mean, I didn’t hate We Are Your Friends as much as the general public did, given its record-low opening weekend. Me And Earl And The Dying Girl read as a little too twee and entirely too manipulative to be great. And I was pleasantly surprised (in a small way) by the quasi-horror triumvirate of The VisitUnfriended, and The Lazarus Effect. But I don’t think anyone’s arguing at the dinner table over those options.

So I’m ready for your thoughts. I’ve said enough.

Tony: Glad to hear your thoughts on Steve Jobs, not to mention Sleeping With Other People. Those are two of the movies I’m most looking forward to that I’ve thus far missed.

I’m feeling generous, and want to share a few kind words. I think Terminator Genisys is probably the best movie in that franchise since T2. That wouldn’t be saying much for most people, but I actually have found a lot to like in all of the Terminator movies so far. Genisys was a complete departure from the established chronology, which was arguably played out anyway. Back To The Future-style time-hopping wasn’t what I thought I wanted going in, but afterward, I thought they found the best way to extend the franchise, short of a re-boot. It was easily the most fun Terminator has been in a long time. The highlight has to be the 1984 sequence, featuring Byung-hun Lee as the T-1000. This is not the first unpopular opinion I’ve had regarding this particular set of films; I also find the original to be vastly superior to T2.

I thought I was going to follow that up with an impassioned defense of Fifty Shades Of Grey on the grounds of Dakota Johnson emerging from it as America’s Sweetheart. But…I just can’t do it. I thought Johnson was a major redeeming factor for this movie, which was not nearly as bad as I was prepared for it to be, but that’s just not saying enough to spin this as a convincing unpopular opinion. She’s really good, and I think praising her will soon be a very popular thing to do. I’m a failure.

The revenant faults

The Revenant/Faults

Keeping things rolling, here are my five favorite titles from the year. There were a handful of other contenders, but overall, I think 2014 had a much better crop.

  • Bone Tomahawk
  • Bridge Of Spies
  • Ex Machina
  • Mistress America
  • The Revenant

Thoughts?

Zack: All decent picks for top film titles. My additions to your list, in no order:

  • Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
  • What We Do In The Shadows
  • Anomalisa
  • Christmas, Again
  • Infinitely Polar Bear
  • A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence

Actually, this dovetails pretty well into a quick tangent, really. Two of the films I’ve listed above had posters I adored this year. I like to think I’m a more discerning moviegoer than someone swayed by something as obvious as a poster, but sometimes they’re just great. Real feats of design. And I know it’s not a new concept, but some series of individual character posters this year were just gorgeous.

Anyway, here’s my list (in order, I think) of my ten favorite movie posters of the year:

  1. Queen Of Earth
  2. Anomalisa
  3. Sicario
  4. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
  5. Bone Tomahawk
  6. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
  7. The Revenant
  8. Faults
  9. Pawn Sacrifice
  10. The Hateful Eight

Also, since most films (and this group is no exception) have several poster variations, I’ve attached the images I was referencing. Maybe you’ll make a collage. (Editor’s Note: The posters from this list are presented in couplets throughout this particular post)

Tony: Looking at your list of titles, it’s obvious I overlooked a few gems. But if I’m being honest, Anomalisa is difficult for me. If that title really resonates with you, it probably just means I need to see the movie.

As for the posters, I love that I give off the impression of being able to construct such collages. Since you bothered to grab 10 poster images, I’ll see what I can do. I don’t think additions are really necessary. (Editor’s Note: On second thought, the addition of the Maps To The Stars poster is very necessary—see below) I love the new Star Wars poster. I don’t think Drew Struzan actually created the official artwork this time around, but it looks like it could pass for his work. Here’s hoping Struzan designs more Star Wars posters in the future. I’ll just chip in that I was also intrigued by posters for Chi-Raq and The Witch (the goat design).

Maps To The Stars

Poster courtesy Universal

I think I’m about ready to share honorable mentions, so I will:

  • Ant-Man
  • Bone Tomahawk
  • Crimson Peak
  • Straight Outta Compton
  • Trainwreck
  • Bonus (shorts): The World Of Tomorrow and Kung Fury

We’ve already touched on three of these, so I’ll briefly say that Ant-Man was my favorite superhero and/or comic book movie, and came in pretty high on my list of favorite franchise films from 2015. I wasn’t bowled over by how good it was, just because I don’t think it’s surprising that Marvel made an enjoyable film. That said, Ant-Man still exceeded my expectations. Add Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, et al. to the picture and you’ve got a really fun adventure movie, and a bit of counter-programming to Marvel’s typically muscular lineups.

pawn sacrifice hateful eight

Pawn Sacrifice/The Hateful Eight

Zack: Films that didn’t quite crack my personal ten best. Yeah, I have a few to name. There are a few we’ve already discussed and some we haven’t. I don’t know what that says, really, but I feel like it may end up painting me as a hypocrite. But isn’t that the point—making me look like an idiot?

Anyway, as advertised, my bubble films, in alphabetical order:

  • The Big Short
  • Brooklyn
  • Heaven Knows What
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Mistress America
  • Mustang
  • Phoenix
  • Sicario
  • Son Of Saul
  • Steve Jobs

Sad to see I didn’t have a foreign film in my top ten, but my three favorites are just on the outside, looking in. Mustang, Phoenix, and Son Of Saul are all so, so good. They’re distinct in terms of filmmaking and tone, each taking a different approach to affect an audience. Mustang has a familial current bonding viewers to characters that’s tough to sell. Phoenix could make a strong case for the most potent final scene of any film in in 2015. And Son Of Saul might have been the most uncomfortable movie-going experience of my year; I think I was sweating and squirming by minute two.

Check back next week for our final installment in which Zack and I discuss our top ten lists and dive into a few of our personal favorites.

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