It’s been quite the ride these past three years. I met Black Sheep Reviews editor Joseph Belanger in line for an advanced screening, where we discussed the films we both loved and hated. I remember telling Joe that I thought that BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN was overrated; he immediately informed me that it was one of his favourite films and I thought our relationship would have ended there. A few days later Joe reached out over Facebook and asked if I would write an article for BSR. At that point, I’d never published a review, but film journalism was always something I’d thought of as a dream job, so I took the opportunity. Three years later and that one line conversation has opened up so many doors, allowing me to meet amazing people, see incredible films, and meet some of the filmmakers and actors I admire most. So it is with a heavy heart that I’ll be saying goodbye to Black Sheep Reviews, the place where the dream of “Matthew Hoffman: Film Critic” became a reality.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a big fan of lists. Liam Neeson once joked that Steven Spielberg hired him to play Oscar Schindler because Neeson made lists. So we’ll see where my admiration of lists takes me. Without further ado, these are my favourite films of 2015 …
This was one that really surprised me. In my opinion, Lee hasn’t made a good film in almost ten years, so I never expected to be floored by his latest effort. Lee’s response to gun violence in Chicago comes in the form of a reinterpretation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. It’s loud, angry, and kicks ass. To top it all off, the whole thing rhymes. The film currently doesn’t have Canadian distribution, but American viewers can find it on Amazon Prime.
9. SON OF SAUL (SAUL FIA)
I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the press screening of László Nemes’ SON OF SAUL at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. I was shocked, disgusted, and completely moved by one of the strongest on-screen depictions of the Holocaust. With a brilliant performance by Géza Röhrig and claustrophobic cinematography, this is one we won’t be forgetting any time soon.
8. THE NEW GIRLFRIEND (UNE NOUVELLE AMIE)
I’ve always admired the way French director Francois Ozon spotlights both women’s and LGBT stories. His latest film THE NEW GIRLFRIEND throws the two together, for a film that is both powerful and a hell of a good time. Don’t worry what it’s about. This is the kind of film that is most rewarding if you go in knowing nothing. You’ll like it, I promise.
7. I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS
Find me a film that stars a woman over fifty in the lead role and I’m immediately sold. That was what drew me to I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, the film that no one other than me seems to be talking about. Blythe Danner is our leading lady, for the first time in decades, in a film that explores the joys and misfortunes of retirement. Danner is delightful. It costars June Squibb. I cried. Twice.
Todd Haynes has never let me down, so I was prepared to love his latest film CAROL. This is the rare film where all the elements line up perfectly, creating an entrancing experience. Edward Lachman’s 16mm photography is perfectly cold. Sandy Powell’s costumes are expertly subdued. Cate Blanchett. Cate Blanchett. Cate Blanchett.
I’ve been waiting since 2007’s ATONEMENT for Saoirse Ronan to once again get a role worthy of her talents, and it lies in BROOKLYN’s Eilis. Here, Ronan completes her transformation from child actress to leading lady. BROOKLYN is a beautiful film, one that is pretty impossible to dislike. Don’t miss it.
4. LOUDER THAN BOMBS
Here’s another film from this year’s Cannes Film Festival. LOUDER THAN BOMBS isn’t being released in North America until 2016, but since this is my last Top 10 list for BSR, I thought I’d include it. Joachim Trier’s family drama stars the greatest actress of all time, Isabelle Huppert, as the deceased matriarch of a now broken family. Gabriel Byrne plays her husband, and Jesse Eisenberg stars as her son in his first non-asshole performance. It’s basically Reitman’s MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN, except for the fact that it’s not garbage.
3. 45 YEARS
The final three! Unsurprisingly, these final three films star actresses giving career-defining performances. In 45 YEARS, Charlotte Rampling is fucking incredible as Kate, a woman preparing for her forty-fifth wedding anniversary. The brilliance of this film didn’t kick in until my second viewing, hence the reason I insist on seeing every great film more than once. I’d say this features the strongest finale of the year, but I’ll leave that award for my number one.
2. MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART
MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART is another film that North American audiences won’t be seeing until 2016. I saw it twice in Cannes, then again months later at TIFF, and I can’t wait for round four. Jia Zhangke directs his wife Zhao Tao in a role most actresses could only dream of. Tao plays a woman whose life we visit in 1999, 2014, and 2025. The film opens with an awesome dance sequence set to Pet Shop Boy’s Go West. You will cry.
I’ve known that this film would top this list since I first saw it at TIFF in 2014. Since the world premiere screening, I’ve seen the film six times and counting. Christian Petzold’s film follows Holocaust survivor Nelly (Nina Hoss), as she navigates post-war Berlin in search of the life that the Nazi’s took from her. I know it’s a grand statement, but in my opinion I think this is the greatest Holocaust-related film ever made. It depicts the horrors of the Holocaust without ever displaying a single frame set inside a concentration camp. Nelly, the people of Berlin, try and live in a fantasy in which they are the people they were before the war, a task which proves to be impossible. I got to interview Nina Hoss following the premiere at TIFF, it was definitely my favourite interview I’ve ever done, and an unforgettable experience. PHOENIX is not only one of the best films of the year, it is one of the greatest films ever made. I accept the tenacity of that statement.
Top 5 Documentaries
1. THE LOOK OF SILENCE
3. IN JACKSON HEIGHTS
Worst 5 Movies
3. THE ASSASSIN
And with that, my time at Black Sheep Reviews is unfortunately over. My life as a film critic however, is not. If you feel compelled to keep up with my reviews, you’ll find them at scenecreek.com and freshfromthetheatre.com. In exciting news, you can find my coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival at Scene Creek as well as aintitcoolnews.com.