WORDS ON FILM
BY NOLAN LAMPSON
2015 had to be one of the most anticipated years for cinema we’ve ever had. Countless sequels, reboots, and remakes that touched on pop culture icons like The Avengers, Jurassic Park, and of course, that one franchise with spaceships. Most of the titles I anticipated were disappointing, to say the least, and as always, the majority of films presented here I didn’t have any knowledge about until Autumn. Now, many of the foreign films on my list were released in their home country in 2014. This list includes titles that were released in the United States in 2015. So even if it may seem I am making a grave mistake and figuring release dates wrong, know that these films that might have been released in Germany in 2003 were released in the United States this last year. If the USA can be one of only three countries that uses the standard measurement system and still call it standard, we can be the ones that determine when films are released, right?
Also, please note: these are technically favorites. I entitle this “the best films”, but truly, I am not ranking these in order of what I thought achieved more, was harder to make, or what was the biggest success; to do so would be to demean every single piece of art created this year on film (one in 70mm film) and would utterly upset me to the highest degree. So, I present ten films (and an additional ten honorable mentions) that I preferred the most this year, although I must say, many of the picks for “best-made” by most people will, in fact, make an appearance on this list. They just won’t be represented in that order. So, my ten alphabetical honorable mentions first:
These ten films I all adored, yet had flaws of which I couldn’t ignore (with the exception of World of Tomorrow, whose absence from my top ten is exclusively because there were simply ten films I liked more). Now here are my ten favorite films of the year, ordered:
10. When Marnie Was There
Supposedly Studio Ghibli’s final film, the Japanese animation studio who have created some of the most heartwarming and adventurous films ever brought us When Marnie was There, a gentler and quieter film in comparison to some of Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki’s more venturesome spectacles. It may be the studio’s swan song, and if it is indeed their final film, it is fitting and represents the heights the studio will go to both entertain and enlighten young children and adults. When Marnie was There is the best animated film I’ve seen this year, and is a surefire knockout from its wondrous start to its phenomenal finale.
9. 45 Years
My favorite filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman, had a keen interest in capturing the evolving relationships of humans, and how time or place affects one’s change and ultimately reflects the soul and how we view ourselves. It is this keen interest that Bergman held that Andrew Haigh grips on tightly throughout his third feature, 45 Years. The film stars legendary actress Charlotte Rampling, who at 69 years old garnered an Oscar nomination for her role as a woman who, in the days before her 45th wedding anniversary, receives a letter that ultimately changes her and her husband’s lives, and forces them to come together in the following days to try to rekindle and mend what they formerly had. It’s a film that every viewer will get emotional to, or will at least have a reaction of the sort, and it is one of the very best of its kind to come out in the last few years.
8. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Let’s get this out of the way: there’s a good chance you’ll absolutely loathe Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. It’s absolutely insane. Incredible, jaw-dropping, and amazing, but really insane. To simply watch it is not an option. You have to experience the insanity, because that itself is cinema unfolding before your eyes. It is a daze of artistry, complete with humor and coffee, both unashamedly black. Surrealism has been done better in few films I’ve seen so far this century. This is also the most auteuristic film I’ve seen this year, and it’s just phenomenal. Be thankful I’m not calling the film by its original Swedish title, because we’d be here awhile. Two thumbs up and two pigeon wings for this absolute stunner of a film.
7. Black Coal, Thin Ice
Yinan Diao’s Chinese neo-noir involving human parts found in coal factories and cunning detectives is one of the most entertaining and coolest films I’ve seen in a long while. Its surface is as fun as Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai, and while that film is better, Black Coal, Thin Ice is, in form, astonishingly beautiful. It is excellently shot, but more so exquisitely lit. The film is streaming on Netflix (as is Queen of Earth, World of Tomorrow, and my favorite of the year, which I am progressively getting to), open to anyone who’d rather skip that upcoming live-tweet of Game of Thrones and watch a brilliant murder mystery done in the most entertaining way possible. It’s Chinese CSI, done better than CSI, with red and yellow hues and shootouts and off-putting laundromats (that’s shootouts and, not shootouts in). Brilliant.
6. The Hateful Eight
See, this is what cinema is all about: kicking your feet up to a 70mm feast (with a program) that includes Kurt Russell firing a shotgun while dragging a murderous woman with blood splattered all over her face around a cabin floor. Tarantino thinks violence is one of the most entertaining things to watch, and Jean-Luc Godard said all you need to make a movie is “a gun and a girl”. Tarantino combines all three to create one of the sharpest films on the big screen this year, and not just because of the truly special roadshow presentation. The film itself is a treasure to behold, and is truly another reminder that Tarantino isn’t just a master of fake blood spurting from people’s esophagus.
5. Hard to be a God
One of the most continually disgusting and foul films you’ll see, Hard to be a God deals primarily with primality and the pejorative principles of primeval people. These philosophical Russian films always make me break out into alliteration. Seriously though, this movie is on another level entirely, and the black-and-white actually has a purpose, unlike some films of recent years. The photography is absolutely ravishing, and there are several extras in this film that went through as much trouble as Leo DiCaprio in The Revenant. Director Aleksey German’s vision is fully realized, and few times have I ever seen a film as unabashedly cruel as this. Pure, unparalleled masterpiece.
A romance so incredibly restrained and sublime in the style of Douglas Sirk doesn't seem like a bad film to me. And Carol, Todd Haynes’ radiant celluloid dream starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, is exactly that and more, and is most likely the greatest and most delicate representation this year of what Classic Hollywood films were like, with an unintentional slight to Bridge of Spies. This film floored me on every filmic level, and elevated my expectations in each way, but that exceeding of expectations isn't what fuels my excitement for Carol. It's the true beauty of the film; its grace reaches far beyond any film I've seen this year.
3. The Look of Silence
The above image is from a scene in the documentary The Look of Silence wherein Adi Rukun, a real Indonesian man, meets with the elderly man who killed his brother during the 1965-66 Indonesian killings, in which the military overtook the government and massacred innocent people who are thought of as “communists”. We look through Adi’s life; he is a normal man, taking care of his parents and his daughter, but holds back and restrains his never-ending torment at never having known his brother, who passed two years before Adi’s birth. Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to his 2012 film The Act of Killing is at once frightening, fascinating, disgusting, but mostly unbelievable.
2. The Assassin
Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s wuxia earthshatterer is one of the most beautiful and mystifying films I’ve seen in a very, very long time. It bars cinematic boundaries, and expands upon the apex of the art, but never has to reach out; it instantaneously pulls you in from the opening frames. The film’s detractors compare the film’s pace to a snail’s, though I found myself constantly taken aback by how much true artistry the film could contain. To say The Assassin is breathtakingly shot is to extremely underestimate the film’s awe-inspiring camerawork, done with such a finesse formalism that one feels like a scrawny maggot trying to sum up its absorbent nature. Incredible masterwork that all should see.
My favorite film of the year may be the best film dealing with people’s lives after the holocaust that wasn’t made in the post-war era. Phoenix is absolutely crushing, and simple words cannot describe its superlative naturalism. It’s a film I will see over and over and over again, and I expect to find new things that expand its cinematic prowess. The film follows a woman who survived the Holocaust (incredibly portrayed by Nina Hoss) who sets out to rekindle with her husband, who she finds out may have been the one to overturn her to the Nazis. The result of this ninety-minute cinematic wonder is otherworldly, and refuses to be labeled or put into a genre. I implore all to see the film on Netflix, as it is surely my favorite film of the year, after not much thought. Phoenix is too astonishing to be ignored.
Thank you very much for viewing my list, and thanks in advance for being respectful despite possible opinion differences. I’ll see you in twelve months, because cool people wrap up the year in late January of the next.
comments on the screen by nolan lampson.