I have to admit that in 2015 very few films left a lasting impression on me. It was a somewhat uneventful year where the continual disappointment of some films pushed me away from even going to the cinema. As such I do not feel I've seen enough to write a "best of the year" list. Nevertheless there are some films I saw that deserve to be discussed. These films, while few, managed to not only provide a truly memorable theatre experience but also elicit thought-provoking discussion. They dared to create something distinctive, haunting and emotionally affecting. Furthermore I feel that with time many people have forgotten about some of these films, which I think is a mistake. What these films have achieved is incredible, they've advanced the medium in some form or another and to me they have more earned the right to be remembered.
When I moved to Montreal in 2009 I saw a film called Polytechnique, directed by Denis Villeneuve, and to this day the film continues to haunt me. Such is the skill and power of Villeneuve who even though has moved away from making films based on true events, continues to create strikingly unforgettable and emotionally heavy films, like Prisoners and Enemy. With Sicario he examines the war on drugs and how law enforcement has gradually realized that attempting to win this war through the proper channels is so limiting that it yields little to zero results. When Kate (Emily Blunt) is asked to volunteer for a special op it dawns on her that the only means to cut the head of the snake is to stoop down to the drug cartel level, fight violence with louder violence. Sicario may have a somewhat straight forward plot, but what elevates the film besides Villeneuve’s direction is the central conflict within Emily Blunt’s character. What happens when someone who does everything by the book is influenced to burn said book because out in the wild there is no place for order or ethics? I love this film and its two absolutely brilliant performances by Emily Blunt and the always great Benicio Del Toro.
Even though Room is one of those rare films where almost every aspect of it works, what I found most compelling about it is the way it presents a unsettling situation through the perspective of a child. Brie Larson’s character was kidnapped and forced to live in a small room where she has a boy named Jack played Jacob Tremblay. She is a prisoner, but for Jack this room is his entire world, it is all that he knows. I generally dislike voice over narration, but in this film it works beautifully because through Jack’s innocence we see the wonder and scope of what technically is a shed. Everything from the furniture to their single window carries meaning and personality. While this magic was created by her mother in order for him to have some semblance of normalcy, seeing her mother trying to bring him back to reality to help her escape creates a lot of conflict and some really intense moments. The direction, screenplay and Brie Larson are wonderful but it is Jacob Tremblay who shines brighter, proving once again that sometimes the most incredible performances come from children.
3. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.
Mad Max: Fury Road was the first film of 2015 that figuratively blew my mind. All that talk about the film’s troubled production, which led many to believe that the film would be a disaster, turned out to be just talk. Whatever troubles the production had, the end result was something extraordinary. Here we have a film that is unrelenting, tense, with outstanding characters and above all else very little dialogue. In an age where CGI continues to rule action films, Mad Max: Fury Road dared to used practical effects to achieve what will go down in cinematic history as the most striking, memorable and fucking awesome action sequences. The film is essentially a two hour long action sequence that continues to raise the stakes and provide us with a palpable sense of danger, which forces the characters to not only react instantly, but also react intelligently in order to survive. Mad Max: Fury Road marks an evolution in the action genre, an evolution demonstrating the value of distinctiveness, the scope that can be achieved through concise set pieces, and a female action lead can surpass all men.
2. EX MACHINA.
Films about artificial intelligence are common and because they tend to originate from the same shared fear, which is that a.i. will inevitably overpower humanity, the films themselves struggle to find new things to say. Ex Machina distinguishes itself from the rest by not only situating the conversation about a.i. through courtship, but also providing a more plausible representation of the capabilities of true artificial intelligence. Writer director Alex Garland assembles a thriller where three very intelligent individuals play mind games with each other, each believing that they are out smarting one another. It is a thought provoking, sensual, charming and occasionally humorous thriller with a killer ending that continues to resonate even months after watching. Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Issac give great performances, but it is Alicia Vikander who steals the show with a most captivating and duplicitous performance that deserves much more attention than her turn in The Danish Girl. Ex Machina is the kind of sleek think-piece thriller that will continue to be discussed many years from now.
1. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON.
Watching this film it dawned on me, as I’m sure it did many others, that things are still the same. Racism continues to run deep within the fabric of America and for many black people music continues to be the only form with which they can “safely” express not only themselves, but also they kind of injustices they continue to experience. Straight Outta Compton shows the evolution of rap, where politics and social issues take centre stage as truth bombs are delivered time and time again. Moreover, the film is massively entertaining and informative especially for those unfamiliar with N.W.A. and for those who simply know Ice Cube from his comedies. Straight Outta Compton is the kind of film everybody should watch and I’m very happy that when the film came out it reigned the box office for several weeks. What I’m not happy about is that as the months have passed so has the conversation around the film, which to be honest is insulting when police continue to kill black people all around The States. These injustices are still happening, innocent black people are still getting killed and the zero news coverage these murders receive coupled with the continual lack of repercussion for the police points to a dire and violent future. There’s a sequence in the film where the surviving members of N.W.A. are driving through the streets as civil unrest explodes all around them. It is haunting sequence mainly because it feels like an inevitability. If apathy continues to persist, violent response might become the only means to strike change upon the country.