Jenn’s Best of 2015

I have been away from writing for a long time but I am ready to come back and I thought a good place to start is to reflect on the films that pleased and amused me in 2015. Here’s my list organized by genre.
Before I mention anything about my favourite comedy of the year I have to say that 2015 was not my favourite year for comedies. There were a few good ones out there but everything else was meh. That being said, there was one film that made me laugh so hard I could not contain myself.
I encountered this mockumentary at TIFF 2014 it was then  later released in limited released in early 2015 so for that reason I am counting it as my favourite comedy of the 2015. Nothing comes close to how great this movie is. What We Do In The Shadows follows the lives of Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonny Brugh), and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), three vampire flatmates coping with modern day life. Even though they are vampires they struggle through normal flatmate problems like dividing house chores and the odd petty disagreements. In that sense they are perfectly normal except for the fact that they thirst for blood and have a hard time getting dressed to go out without a reflection to help them put outfits together. When Petyr (Ben Fransham), their 8000 year-old housemate, turns 20-something Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a vampire, the must guide him through life as an immortal. Nick helps them discover the perks of a modern age with the help of his mortal friend Stu (Stu Rutherford) . There is also some trouble with werewolf pack lead by Anton (Rhys Darby) that is just hilarious.
I’ve always been a fan of vampire mythologies. It was one of the things my sister and I bonded over. This film is a refreshing take on vampire conventions answering questions I and many people have had regarding the every day life of a vampire. Directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi take vampire mythology and turns it in to a hilarious joke. It’s clever, witty, and for lack of a better word heartwarming. If you haven’t seen it yet you need to. Check out Jacqueline Valencia’s full review here  .
Honourable Mention
I’ve chosen Spy as my runner up because it was full of belly laughs. Melissa McCarthy is perfect as Susan Cooper, modest desk CIA employee who remotely guides her partner Agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) on his missions. After a mission goes wrong Susan volunteers to go into the field to infiltrate a deadly arms dealer and prevent global disaster. I love how director Paul Feig is able to write ridiculous yet hilarious dialogue for her that she is able to deliver without a second thought. These two are a perfect team. The best thing, however, is Jason Statham‘s performance as Rick Ford, an uber macho agent. Statham is basically poking fun at the characters that have made him famous and it couldn’t be funnier. If you were to tell me that I would laugh the most at his parts I would have thought you were pulling my leg but it’s true, he steals every scene he is in. The film is not without its flaws but it is worth a watch if you want to just laugh.
Let me preface my choice by saying I have not yet seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes, you heard me right. I have not seen it yet. I am a big fan of Star Wars and my reason for not seeing it is I just don’t like when films are hyped up. I don’t like any hype whatsoever. Hype up a book, movie, new food (ok, maybe not food), I walk in the other direction. I like to let things settle before I take a chance at whatever the thing is. . Ok, now that I have gotten that off my chest on to my selection:
Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth instalment of the Mad Max franchise. Mad Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by the War Boys gang run by tyrannical leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Max is improsened and used as a blood bag for sick War Boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Meanwhile, on a routine gasoline run for Immortan Joe, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) goes rogue, taking with her Joes five “brides” (sex slaves), heading to the Green Place, an all-female oasis. Max escapes and reluctantly joins up with the women. This is where the epic dessert car chase begins.
What can I say about Mad Max: Fury Road that hasn’t already been said? I guess all I can say is that it changed everything in 2015. This year might not have been the greatest in terms of the content that came out but it did bring a lot to light and started a lot of discussion about diversity in film. This film helped launch that discussion forward.  The reason I found this film so memorable is that George Miller took the Mad Max world that most of us of a certain age know all too well and turned it on its head. It was refreshing and exciting. It had a female character so fierce and amazing that the film did not bat an eye about it. George Miller does this in such a way that it felt like this was something that wasn’t abnormal in an action movie. It just is and should have always been. Mad Max: Fury Road breathes new life into the action film genre. It’s beautifully shot and has some of the most thrilling action sequences I’ve seen in a while. Miller has basically schooled the new generation of filmmakers on how to make an action film and they and the genre will be better for it!
Honourable Mention
I have been a fan of Jurassic Park (and the subsequent sequals no matter how bad) since it came out. I saw it at least three times in the theatre. Needless to say I was extremely excited for this to come out. Even though the film has its issues I was as happy as a kid could be seeing their beloved dinosaurs coming back to life on the big screen. Jurassic World lacks the awe and wonderment of the first film but it it holds its own as an entertaining, exciting, eye candy of ridiculous fun ride.
Terrible, terrible terrible. The only good thing about it was Arnold Schwartzenegger.
Best Drama
Charlie Kaufman has done it again. He made something weird and it was great. Anomolisa is a strange, visually compelling stop-motion animation film about a man who is crippled by the banality of life and is unable to connect with people anymore because of it. Michael Stone, voiced by David Thewlis, the respected author of “How May I Help You Help Them?” is on a a business trip to Cincinnati to speak at a convention for customer services representatives. To Michael everyone looks and sounds exactly alike. His wife, children, the cab driver, everyone is the same. That is until he meets Lisa. Lisa sounds like Lisa and to Michael she is the most beautiful creature in the world. It’s all great but knowing Kaufman this is not where the the story ends. The film is slow and moves like a dream, which works because well it’s an odd film. It is humours at times but ultimately the film is very sad. I like this film because it’s different, even for Kaufman, it’s lyrical and I’ve never seen anything like it. Also when the synopsis says there is stop-motion animation sex you go see it! There were so many dramas to choose from but nothing like this and for that reason it’s my favourite of the year.
Honourable Mention
Steve Jobs
This film is here because of Aaron Sorkin. His script is out of this world. The film is divided in three acts. Each act is set before three major product launches in Steve Jobs’s career; the Macintosh, NeXT Computer, and iMac G3. I love the structure and the play like feel of the film.  I know there is a lot of controversy revolving around the portrayal of Steve Jobs and the historical accuracy of the script. Sorkin does takes liberties with the how things unfolded in terms of who was there and the actual events  that took place backstage in the minutes before the product announcements but he went to great lengths to interview the people who knew Jobs and were part of those major events in his life. The additions and omissions made by Sorkin were done to best dramatically portray the events, actions, and motivations behind the characters.
Danny Boyle‘s direction thoroughly compliments Sorkin’s script by allowing the events to unfold before the camera. Boyle’s unsettled camera glides over a scene letting the audience get a sense of the space and what is beginning to unfold. The camera then relaxes and the audience is allowed to take it all in. This sense of calm never lasts too long as tensions rise and things come to light the audience becomes further immersed via Boyle’s incessant camera.
It is a shame that the film did not do so well after it’s wide release. It was up against some very big films at the time. There are some truly great performances in this film. Kate Winslet is phenomenal as Joanna Hoffman and proves that she can hold her own in any film. Michael Fassbender becomes unrecognizable as Steve Jobs. I completely forgot it was even him after a few seconds. My write up here is far too long for an honourable mansion so that should indicate how much I liked it. I urge you to see it.
Best Animated Feature
Inside Out is a charming and creative look at human thought process. In the film our thoughts are controlled by five basic emotions, Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) , Fear (Bill Hader), and Anger (Lewis Black). The film follows the specific inner workings of 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) at the time her and her family are uprooted from Minnesota to San Francisco.  At the start of the film Joy runs the show in Riley’s head. Joy is eternally chipper and too positive for her own good. All that begins to change when Riley’s life gets turned upside down because of the move. She misses her home, her hockey team, and friends. Riley tries to be happy for her family but that becomes increasingly difficult when the adjustment proves to be harder than expected. Through this upheaval Riley is experiencing emotional growth, which can often be confusing and daunting. There is a shift inside her and now none of the emotions truly know how to deal. This is where the fun begins.
I have always been interested in films, books, art, anything about into the human mind, specifically when it involves memories and dreams. Inside Out does not disappoint in attempting to explain emotions on the most basic level. In the most beautiful creative way the film teaches children about what emotions are and helps them understand the shifts that can happen as you grow older while at the same time providing laughs for adults with its hilarious take on our emotions.  The voice casting was ingenouse. No one could play Anger better than Lewis Black and Sadness is so melancholy while at the same time extremely relatable she quickly became my favourite of the five.
Things looked rather shakey for Pixar for a while with what seemed like an over reliance on sequals. This film was a bold step for them but they put together a spectacular film with all the elements of a great Pixar film. Inside Out is funny, beautiful to look at, has memorable characters, and a heart of gold. I must see for everyone who has a pulse.
Honorable Mention
So is this a live action film or an animated film? Someone please answer this for me. Either way I had to put it on my list somewhere so I put it here.  I was so afraid Paddington was going to fall into the trap that a lot of children’s book adaptations fall into. They are either too over the top or try to be too realistic in their interpretations so I avoided this film for as long as a I could. People kept telling me how great it was so I finally caved in and rented it on iTunes. I was pleasantly surprised at what I saw. Paddington is a delightful and funny as hell. The animation of Paddington himself is equal parts realistic and cuddly but my favourite thing about the film is the set design. Paddington leaves his beloved “Darkest Peru” with nothing but a red hat and a suitcase full of marmilaide after the forest is destroyed. When he reaches London he is alone and homeless until the Brown family  temporarily takes him. Nothing prepared me for the inside of the Brown family home. I had never seen a house like it before. I was in love. It was both parts fantastical and functional. Colourful, warm and full of love. This house needs to exist and it will be my home in London.
Best Doc
Has a documentary every scared you? Well this one will. Directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker takes us to a small town of 24 residence (including children) called Leith, North Dakota right at the time that a notorious neo-Nazi named Craig Cobb moves into town buying up cheap plots of land and selling those plots to white supremacists. Cobb proceeds to attempt to take over the town using the democratic systems in place like town council meetings and elections. With only a dozen towns people to deal with he almost manages his take over. The residents of Leith live there for its peaceful remoteness and privacy but find themselves having to act in order to save their town from becoming a Neo Nazi haven.
It’s a captivating story with fascinating characters. Not just the terrifying new inhabitants but the towns people themselves who where minding their own business until their calm rural town was under attack.  Nicholas and Walker have a surprising amount of access to both the original towns people and new inhabitants and were able to film much of what was happening as it happened. Both sides are featured quite equally which gives the film an unusual amount of fairness. Nichols and Walker often let Cobb and his tenants speak for themselves and their matter of factness approach is probably the most terrifying aspect of the film,l.  Welcome To Leith is not just about the incident in this small town but addresses larger issues. It is a terrifying look at the monsters we don’t see and hope are not actually there.
Honorable Mention
So there seems to be a theme to some of my favourite films of 2015, scary documentaries and things that happen in your head. The Nightmare is a scary documentary. Not scary like Welcome To Leith. Scary like I am watching The Exorcist kind of scary. The film explores a condition known as sleep paralysis in which the suffer is dreaming but is completely conscience and unable to move or wake up. Often the suffer sees strange things like a person in their room or hears things. There have been cases where the dreamer can feel a touching them or thing on top of them and sometimes feeling like they are being violated. Rodney Ascher (Room 237), interviews eight people who suffer from this condition. Their experiences are shown fictionalized scenes that are as terrifying as the scariest horror film. The experiences of the eight subjects range from somewhat eerie to outright horrifying.
I have a personal connection to this film because I myself have suffered from sleep paralysis numerous times. My experience have been tamed compared to some of Ascher subjects but they were scary for me none the less. Imagine thinking you are awake in your room but can’t move. Then you feel someone enter your room and you don’t know who it is and you are unable to say anything or get away. That *$%* is scary. It hasn’t happened recently but just watching the film brought the experience right back to me and made it feel very real again. The Nightmare does not delve into the science of why and how but acts as more of a sensory documentary bringing the viewer into the experience and making it all too real.
Best SiFi & Fantasy
Like Under The Skin (2014) Ex Machina is a cerebral sifi film and this is why I like it. It does not rely on a lot of action, explosions, or convoluted plot lines to get the story message across. The film puts weight on the characters and the psychology behind them.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) works for a Google-like company and wins the chance to spends a week with the company’s CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac) in his private wilderness estate. Upon arriving Nathan informs Caleb that he has chosen him to put his latest invention, an android named Ava (Alicia Vikander), under the “Turing Test” to determine Nathan’s prototype mental capacity and human intuition.
It is hard for me to believe this Alex Garland’s directorial debut. This was a well established novelist and screenwriter sure has some directing chops. From directing the actors to the screenplay Garland commands with precision. From the get go Garland cuts right to the chase setting up the major plots details, getting them out of the way within the first 15 minutes. Once the testing begins we quickly get to learn more and more about these characters. The more time they spend together it becomes clear that these two men don’t like each other and this is where the tension begins to bubble and the game begins. Caleb is naive and has fallen for Ava while Nathan is egotistical and crazy. Nathan’s genius has to be validated by proving that Ava is indeed and A.I. while Caleb wants to prove that his intellect can overcome Ava’s programming thus out smarting Nathan. It is the classic ego war playing out that blinds the men to the real situation at hand, Ava is more aware and more complicated than either men could have anticipated.  When Ava identifies Caleb’s naivety and the rift that has appeared between the two men she exploits it by making herself more desirable to Caleb and playing both men against each other.
Garland keeps it simple in this film by isolating his characters in Nathan’s retreat turned compound while keeping everything look sleek like your new shiny cell phone. The film is fascinating in its simplicity that works along captivating performances. Ex Machina shows us a future where the lines between what makes us human and what makes a machine a machine become very blurred and that notion is terrifying.

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