I’ve been making lists my entire life. In fact, making lists is near the top of my list of things that make me happy. This is a very special list though. This is the final list I am making for Black Sheep Reviews and today is the last day BSR publishes any new material. A final review will follow this list but before we get to that, it is time to reflect on the 10 films that made the biggest impact on me in 2015.
Before I get to that, I have to thank four very special people, without whom Black Sheep Reviews would not have been able to survive this last year. My writers, which after today I can no longer call them, amaze me all the time. They constantly dig deep to find the time and the passion to put into words how they feel about a variety of films, a subject you can tell is very close to their hearts because that love is right there on the proverbial page.
George Kozera is the newest on the team but in some regards he has been with Black Sheep the longest because he has been a loyal reader for many years. In fact, it was George’s comments on the site that led me to think of bringing him on to begin with. It has been a pleasure engaging with you on this side of the fence this year, George … Ramona Zacharias is such a work horse! Within minutes of my letting her know that BSR would be ending this year, she was in touch to find a way to stop that from happening. You are such a pleasure to work with and you are such a talented writer, Ramona. This will not be the end for us … Matthew Hoffman isn’t human. He devours film and he seems to do so without sleep or sustenance. Matt knows that we have struggled with deadlines here and there but the truth is, I could never have done this without you. If he sticks with it, I’ve no doubt that Matt will one day be one of the most recognizable names in film criticism … And that just leaves Nick. He knows this already but very early on after we met each other, it became pretty clear that Nick Watson was going to be much more than just a writer in my life. You are one of the best friends I’ve ever had, Nick and you’re not so bad at this whole writing thing either. Don’t stop.
One last thank you before I get to Black Sheep’s Top 10 films of 2015 … Thank YOU for reading. Thank you for making it possible to make my dreams come true these last 10 years. I will never forget how you blessed my life and allowed my voice to play a small part in how you watch movies. And now, in alphabetical order, these are BSR’s Top 10 Films of 2015!
BROOKLYN (John Crowley, director)
They don’t make them like BROOKLYN anymore. John Crowley’s immigrant love story is unapologetically romantic without being overly sentimental and without a trace of cynicism. To watch it means to undergo the full spectrum of emotions; I laughed, I cried (oh boy, did I cry) and I longed for a time when love could still be found the moment that a boy asks you to dance. This is truly a special film that all should see and a wonderful reminder of how talented Saoirse Ronan is.
CAROL (Todd Haynes)
Todd Hayne’s CAROL is a very different kind of 1950’s romance. While the times may have been simpler for some, expressing love between two women was anything but that. I was transfixed by this film from the moment it started and, while the emotions shared between the sublime Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are heavily guarded, the film itself draws you into its spell with its lush beauty. Haynes invites us to look in on this love from afar to see that it is a love like any other, one that may be timid at times but is always precious as well.
INSIDE OUT (Pete Doctor, Ronnie Del Carmen)
I was not convinced that the people at Pixar could accomplish this lofty goal. It was certainly brave of them to attempt to tell the story of an 11-year-old girl dealing with change through the perspective of the emotions in her mind. In the end, I don’t know why I doubted them because INSIDE OUT is as insightful as it is enjoyable. The true bravery of the film is how it puts sadness front and centre to teach children and remind parents that one cannot know true joy without feeling sadness first.
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)
There is a scene in ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL that blows me away every time. The film in general is very enjoyable; it is funny and tender and honest and playful but the scene where Rachel (Olivia Cooke) tells Greg (Thomas Mann) that she is no longer going to continue her chemotherapy (pictured above) elevates Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film past its adolescent facade. These two talented youngsters finally get real with each other after months of trying to impress each other and their emotions are uncontainable and presented to us in one continuous take. Neither backs down and it just may be the best scene I’ve seen in any film this year.
MISTRESS AMERICA (Noah Baumbach)
Please God, make it so Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig make movies together for the rest of their lives. The talented twosome follow up their brilliant FRANCES HA with MISTRESS AMERICA, another whimsically witty yarn about youth and how the promise of a world of possibility can dissipate in an instant without any warning or way to stop it from happening. This is the sharpest comedy I’ve seen all year and it actually takes on elements of stage writing to make it seem even more like the world is just a play for us to all take part in.
ROOM (Lenny Abrahamson)
I had never heard of ROOM before I saw Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of the Emma Donoghue novel. When I came out the other side of this film though, I knew I would never be able to forget it. The subtlety with which Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay express their closeness and their understanding of the horrifying situation they find themselves in (trapped in a shed, being held captive – her for seven years and him for five, or his whole life) is so real, at times too real. It is one of those movies that many will run from because it might be too hard to take but I implore those people to give it a chance. ROOM isn’t depressing; it is life affirming.
SICARIO (Denis Villeneuve)
Canada’s Denis Villeneuve just keeps getting better. SICARIO is just incredible. It is intense and jarring and not the least bit afraid to be dark and difficult to sit through. A stellar cast takes us deep into an incredible thriller that doesn’t rely on cheap thrills to be truly chilling. Not since TRAFFIC has the Mexican drug cartel been portrayed so boldly and so bleakly. Also, Roger Deakins is a cinematography rock god.
SLEEPING GIANT (Andrew Cividino)
Right or wrong, I am ordinarily skeptical of Canadian cinema. As of late though, I am consistently surprised by how strong the emerging filmmakers are in this country. SLEEPING GIANT by Ontario native, Andrew Cividino is a subtle exploration of the adolescent male as he comes of age. Cividino exhibits the eye of a nature photographer as he watches three boys (three very talented young Canadian actors) as they interact with each other and give themselves away without realizing what they’re doing. I am excited to see what will come next from this fresh new Canadian talent.
STEVE JOBS (Danny Boyle)
I do still wish that STEVE JOBS was directed by David Fincher but Danny Boyle mostly stays out of the way to allow for Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant screenplay to shine through this incredible cast of actors. There is nothing real or accurate about the plot structure but Sorkin’s approach (real time conversations that take place before major Jobs project launches) is innovative and exciting and his words are made riveting by major players Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels. As usual, Sorkin’s work expands far past the story at hand.
WHERE TO INVADE NEXT (Michael Moore)
I have never been to a press screening where the press actually applauded at the close of the film until I saw WHERE TO INVADE NEXT at TIFF this year. This is Michael Moore like you’ve never seen before; it is also a perfect argument for attracting more bees with honey. Rather than take his usual approach to documentary filmmaking and ranting on about how horrible everything is, Moore travels the world in search of things that work in order to celebrate them and hopefully show Americans that there are ways to fix what is broken in their country. It is eye opening and uplifting and will most likely change nothing at all but futility is not a reason to forego fighting for change.
The (truncated) Mouton d’Or Awards
As Black Sheep Reviews will not be presenting the Mouton d’Or Awards this year, I thought it might be fun to highlight some of the best film experiences, best formal film elements and best performances here instead. Once again, thank you for reading and bon cinema!
BEST BIG MOVIE
Winner: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
Runner up: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
BEST LITTLE MOVIE
Runner up: ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL
THE WORST MOVIE I SAW ALL YEAR
Runner Up: PAN
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Winner: INSIDE OUT
Runner up: ANOMALISA
BEST LOOKING MOVIE
Runner up: SICARIO
BEST SOUNDTRACK / SCORE
Winner: THE DANISH GIRL
Runner up: CAROL
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Winner: Jacob Tremblay, ROOM
Runner up: Mark Rylance, BRIDGE OF SPIES
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Runner up: Kate Winslet, STEVE JOBS
Winner: Michael Fassbender, STEVE JOBS
Runner up: Eddie Redmayne, THE DANISH GIRL
Winner: Brie Larson, ROOM
Runner up: Saoirse Ronan, BROOKLYN
Runner up: ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Winner: INSIDE OUT
Runner up: MISTRESS AMERICA
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Winner: STEVE JOBS
Runner up: ROOM
BEST FIRST FEATURE
Winner: SLEEPING GIANT
Runner up: EX MACHINA
Winner: Todd Haynes, CAROL
Runner up: Denis Villeneuve, SICARIO