Nick’s 2015 Top 10 (feature)
The end of the year usual means an onslaught of Top 10 lists with Oscar and award predictions, suggestions and hidden gems. As the end of 2015 also marks the end of Black Sheep Reviews, this year end has a special meaning for me. I’ve been writing for this site for just over 2 years, and have had some incredible opportunities and met some great people, including an editor who understands my voice, challenges my writing and always encouraged me to write better. If it wasn’t for Joseph Belanger, this site wouldn’t have existed. And if he hadn’t assembled a team of writers with varying opinions and tastes, this site would never have been what it is.
The closing of the site also marks the end of my film writing/blogging career. After doing this for over 4 years, I have decided to leave the circle of online film reviewers and focus on personal ventures, which I am sure you will hear about. I wish to thank my readers, those who commented and engaged in dialogue about film, those who supported my sometimes abrasive opinions about film and this scene we call “film criticism” and for everyone I have met along the way. Also a huge thanks to editors all over who gave me a chance to write and realize my voice, especially when it comes to talking about film and all it has to offer. It’s been a fun ride these past few years, but you need to know when to step away. Hopefully I will see you guys again in some other avenue, whatever that may be.
So here you have my best of list for 2015. Also as usual, they are in no particular order.
BY THE SEA
Met with so much negative criticism, Angelina Jolie-Pitt’s BY THE SEA is an incredible art film, that is intimate, powerful and utterly beautiful to watch. Pulling from the French Nouvelle-Vague and Italian Neo-Realism, Jolie-Pitt wrote, directed and stars in this lush picture about a dancer who is coming to terms with aging as a woman in the face of the public, sexuality and reproduction. Every picturesque shot oozes a warm sensuality and this film goes places most films don’t. It’s a stunning study of relationships and intimacy, and her best work yet.
Another film about love and sexuality is Gaspar Noe’s LOVE, which if you can see it in 3D, then please do. This story follows a young man who is heartbroken and longing for a past love, his memories of that relationship told through the sentimentality of sex. This isn’t Noe as you’ve known him before; the lack of graphic violence sets LOVE apart, and the tenderness with which he tells the story left me in awe. LOVE gets fairly self-referential at times which left me rolling my eyes, but then again this is an artist’s work, and let’s be honest, Noe can pretty much do whatever he wants and get away with it.
BROOKLYN is a love story told in a way that Hollywood just hasn’t been doing the last few years. It is tender, romantic, touching and completely delightful to watch. I may not be someone who gets all the feels over a love story, but this one really did me in and made me feel all gooey and stuff (whatever that stuff is that people feel). A young woman (Saoirse Ronan) travels form Ireland to New York City to find a job and build a new life, and happens to fall in love with an Italian man (Emory Cohen) who is just… adorable. Their relationship is not met with too many complications other than the obvious cultural clashes, and there isn’t too much in the way of conflict, but this is a love story, and not the way Nicholas Sparks portrays it either. No death, no twists, just love, pure and simple.
Alex Garland’s sci-fi story looks at the existence of artificial intelligence through examination of mortality, sex, and most shockingly, gender. Garland’s film raises many interesting and important questions, and not all of them get answered, but they don’t need to. EX MACHINA is a sexy and unsettling piece of cinema that needs to be seen by everyone with an appreciation for film and the places it can take you. The sets and the design are unlike anything I’ve seen all year, and since I am a complete sucker for great design, it’s no surprise this film made it to my Top 10 list. That and seeing Oscar Isaac disco dance with a robot, of course.
When Denis Villeneuve released ENEMY a few years ago, he really caught my attention, so the fact that SICARIO has ended up here doesn’t surprise me at all. That said, the film itself is consistently surprising. What seems like a straight up FBI thriller unfolds before our eyes in ways we cannot possibly predict. From the gruesome violence to the intelligent and engaging dialogue, SICARIO is one of the most masterfully crafted thrillers of the year, boasting strong performances from Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro that get right under your skin.
Documentaries aren’t my favourite type of film, but being an Amy Winehouse fan, there is no way I could not let this one appear on my list. It is actually one of the best films I saw all year simply because of the amount of information it delivered, and the way in which it was done. AMY takes an intimate look at Winehouse’s lyrics and presents them within the context of which she wrote them, effectively creating a portrait of the late singer that we have never seen before. This movie isn’t only for fans, however. While the music we all now and love is there, it’s an interesting study of a woman who rose to fame far too quickly and never got the help she needed. Tears will flow.
2015 was a pretty terrible year for horror films, and I challenge you to prove me wrong on that one. Considering the top rated horror film on IMDB only has a 6.2 rating, that doesn’t say very much. THE WITCH moves like WE ARE WHAT WE ARE; it is slow, methodic and dark. This tale about a family in exile from their town and living on the edge of a creepy as all hell forest, which plays home to a scary witch, is incredibly effective. And no, this isn’t some paranoia tale with no actual witch; she is there and as vile as you could possibly imagine. The art direction alone makes this film worth seeing, but the fact that the dialogue was taken from actual historical documents sets this film apart as probably the best horror film of the year.
WE ARE STILL HERE
A second horror film worth mentioning (and seeing) is this little indie flick that pays homage to classic horror films of Lucio Fulci, George Romero and John Carpenter. A zombie ghost film?! Yes, actually. I’ve probably been desensitized to horror movies by this point because that’s all I watched as a kid, but I don’t remember being this scared after watching a movie in a long time. Basically a husband and wife move into a new home in the New England countryside after the death of their son, only to discover that there are evil beings lurking in their basement that need to feed every few years. The timing couldn’t be worse for them. It starts off a little bit slow, but then the action kicks in and it doesn’t let go until the terrifying last scene. This one has stayed with me for months, and definitely should be seen by every horror fan.
If you haven’t heard of TANGERINE, then it is time you have. The film follows a transgender prostitute the day she is released form jail, only to find out her pimp of a boyfriend is cheating on her with a real fish (a cisgender female), and her subsequent journey to find the bitch and confront her. Filmed entirely on iPhones, TANGERINE is hilarious, touching and absolutely incredible. Most of the cast had input on their characters and the story, and many of the transgender prostitutes are actually L.A. ladies of the night, which makes this movie all the more lovable and it should be an inspiration to indie filmmakers everywhere.
I’ve never had an animated film on my year end list, but I imagine this one will be on many lists for the respectful way it tackles a serious issue: growing up and having the feels. Pixar has long since been the leader of animated films that approach serious issues like loss and grieving, and the challenges of growing up in this big and scary world of ours. But INSIDE OUT takes psychology and creates a visual layout that is easy for everyone to understand; the way they map out the brain and its functions in a comprehensible manner, even for children, deserves much recognition. And the fact that the story is also solid, explaining that being sad sometimes happens, and that’s ok, is a message everyone, especially children should hear. Yes, I even cried, but I’ve been known to do that at lesser things.
And there you have it, my favourite films of 2015! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. Please feel free to comment or message me on twitter and share your favourites as well.
All the best in 2016!
(You can read all of Nick’s Black Sheep reviews here.)