Saturday, December 19, 2015
Movies 2015: An Alternative Top 10 List
(Drivebycuriosity) - Now is the time for the best of the year lists. How could I resist. Here are my 10 favorite movies from 2015:
My movie of the year is: "Ex Machina": It`s just a matter of time that we will have to deal with an artificial intelligence (AI). Should we embrace the machine mind or should we fear it?
A young software coder gets a one-week appointment in a remote research facility in a mountain forrest to execute a turing test. His employer, a billionaire genius, had created "Ava", a smart robot with a female body and wants to know if this android is really an AI. "Ava" will pass the test if her interviewer cannot distinguish her behavior from human.
"Ex Machina" is one of the rare "real" science fiction movies because the film describes possible future developments based on scientific considerations, especially information technology. Director Alex Garland, who also wrote the script, created a fascinating psychological triangle between the young and smart coder, who is eager to fulfill his job, the employer, a bully with a sharp mind, and the sexual highly attractive machine-girl ("sex machina"?). This creates tensions and conflicts which escalate and get more and more dramatic. The plot is spiced with intelligent dialogues and philosophical debates about evolution, creating life, freedom of will, sexual attraction, deceit, survival strategies and much more. Even that the plot was highly intellectual it had a lot of suspense and I really cared about the fate of "Ava" and the humans.
Alicia Vikander, as the smart & alluring female machine, was iconic and could by the face of AI for years to come. Domhnall Gleeson, as the coder, Oscar Isaac, as the controlling boss, also impressed. Director Garland, cinematographer Rob Hardy and their team created a cool and stylish scenario immersed in a gorgeous and wild mountain environment. "Ex Machina" is the proof that a science fiction film can be smart, entertaining and stylish at once.
There were at least two more outstanding films:
"The Martian": Imagine you would be left behind on the Mars because your crew had an emergency departure? Imagine you have to live in a deadly and unforgiving environment and you have to count the days till your supply of air, water, food, and more will come to an end.
Director Ridley Scott describes how astronaut Mark, a biologist, fights for his survival on Mars (based on the same named novel by Andy Weir). It is real (hard) science fiction because the plot is based on sciences (physics, chemistry, biology and more) and very plausible assumpion. I really cared about the astronaut´s fate, but I also enjoyed how the involuntarily "Martian" uses his skills and scientific knowledge to fight for survival.
The film is optimistic and delivers a "we can do it" message. The "Martian" is pro science, pro technology and pro progress - a refreshing contrast to the usual dystopian movies (driveby). I agree with blog author & economist Alex Tabarrok that the "Martian" is about "efficacy of man’s mind and the power of reason " (marginal). I think that the "Martian" might even give the NASA some tailwinds against the gloomy and anti-scientific zeitgeist. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and a huge team of coders constructed a realistic Martian environment and created gorgeous space flight scenes. I watched the film in 3D and got really the impression to be with Mark on Mars or in outer space.
Matt Damon is the perfect cast as Mark, the "Martian". The actor combines a believable intellectual & scientific attitude with survival instincts. I really enjoyed watching Jessica Chastain elegantly floating weightless in Zero-G.
"Carol": New York City. The 1950s. Carol, a wealthy married woman, meets Therese, a young shopgirl. Love happens. But it gets complicated. The film is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, a master of psychological studies, but don´t expect a murder thriller. Director Todd Haynes` perfect film immerses the audience into Manhattan in the 1950s and let the viewer participate in the emotional roller coaster of Carol & Therese and the dance of different social classes. Edward Lachman`s cinematography is a piece of art. One of the film´s manifold pleasures is an erotical choreographed love scene between "Carol" & "Therese". Cate Blanchett - as "Carol" - proves again that she is one of the brightest stars on Hollywood´s firmament. She is charming, bitchy, arrogant, strong/vulnerable - and irresistible. Rooney Mara - as "Therese" - impressed me with her intensity. Her powerful eyes and her gazes cast a spell - and not just on "Carol".
And there were more cinematic highlights:
"A Most Violent Year": The film tells the story of Abel, an ambitious entrepreneur, who has big plans as local oil seller, & Anna, his equally ambitious wife and business partner. The movie is a fascinating portray of a fast social climber and self-made man, who is surrounded by a viscous environment. The film is set in New York City in the year 1981 as crime ruled the streets and oil prices peaked, paralyzing the economy. Oscar Isaac radiates the aplomb and self-confidence someone needed in this times to survive. The gorgeous Jessica Chastain plays his perfect partner against crime.
"Cut Bank": One of the best black comedies of the recent years. Strange characters are doing bad and stupid things which brings them into trouble. Violence and funny scenes are frequently trading places. I enjoyed the great John Malkovich as an overstrained backwater sherif and Billy Bob Thornton as local businessman and would be father in law. Oliver Platt as a postal inspector "from the capital city" also was fun to watch. But the star of the movie is Michael Stuhlbarg as the inscrutable "Derby Milton", a character which will stay in the memories of his audience for a while.
"The Diary of a Teenage Girl": Minnie, age 15, has sex with her mother´s boyfriend, who is almost 40. The movie ignores the legal aspects of this relationship and focuses instead on the feelings of the girl . Minnie is smart and sexual very curios, but also very frustrated and neglected, because nature didn`t bless her with beauty. She tries to compensate her minority complexes, to escape the tristesse of her white trash home and to satisfy her hunger for life with a vigorous sex life. The movie, set in San Francisco´s liberal hippie climate in the 1970th, is an entertaining psychological study about coming of age and the issues of a teenage girl. Director Marielle Heller, who also wrote the script, wasn`t shy of sex scenes and nudity, but the amorous parts were well dosed and necessary for the plot.
"Sicario": Another movie about the bloody & dirty war between the US drug enforcement and the Mexican drug cartel. Director Denis Villeneuve and script writer Taylor Sheridan created a a well-thought-out and powerful thriller, that also satisfies art film tastes. There is a lot of blood & violence (some scenes are really tough), but horror & action are photographed like an art movie. Cinematographer Roger Deakins & the special effect teams created amazing pictures full of beauty. I fell in love with the amazing nature close the US/Mexican border which looked like a moonscape and other scenes were aesthetically shot as well. Benicio Del Toro impressed as a forceful hunter & god of destruction. Josh Brolin (who is getting better from film to film) contributed with some subtle humor and Emily Blunt was the beauty who deals with the beasts.
The French cinema proved that it is still alive and kicking. I enjoyed 3 marvels from the Republic:
"The New Girlfriend/Une Nouvelle Amie": Director François Ozon ("In the House"; "Swimming Pool") delivered a kind of melancholic comedy about people who are getting confronted by their own sexuality. The film touches in a playful way issues like friendship & gender identity. There are similarities to films like "Farewell My Concubine", the movies by Pedro Almodóvar and the Amazon series "Transparent" but "Girlfriend" is much more subtle and filigree. The film is sometimes funny and hilarious, but also gives something to think about.
"The Clouds of Sils Maria": Juliette Binoche impersonates an international movie star, who accepts again a role in a prestigious stage play, where she had kickstarted her career in her youth. Then this character had played the seductive assistant and lover of a ripe woman, who drove the other one to suicide, now she is cast in the role of the elder. The switch causes her a lot of doubts & and inner turmoils. Kristen Stewart plays her assistant. The movie - partly set in the awesome photographed mountain region of the Swiss Alps - moves very slow and focuses on the dialogues between 2 smart women. Psychological & philosophical conversations and musings about aging, relationships (between women), life strategies, theater business and much more replace action.
"In The Name Of My Daughter/L'homme qu'on aimait trop": The film shows a conflict between Renée, who controls a grandiose casino at at the French Mediterranean coast, and her daughter Agnès. The younger woman wants to get her heritage, some million euros, paid out immediately. Maurice, a very smart and unconscionable lawyer, gets involved in this struggle and a dangerous mess starts which spans over 3 decades. The movie is a love story, court drama & business thriller and tells about sex, obsession, betrayal, organized crime, justice - and maybe murder. Catherine Deneuve enthralled with her beauty; Adèle Haenel impressed by her intensity, acting like a wild & irrational animal in heat, driven by her craving & lust, totally out of control. Guillaume Canet as the coldly calculating advocate completed the trio perfectly.
Conclusion: 2015 was a solid cinema year but not quite as strong as 2014 which had marvels like "Under the Skin" (driveby).
PS: I was discussing with myself wheter or not to include "Mad Max" in this list. I watched the movie on the TV screen. Unfortunately the esthetics and the power of the much praised races didn`t work on the small screen.