Friday, July 3, 2015

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First Half of 2015

A brief look at the film year so far.

I've only seen 38 films so far this year (not counting the retrospective flicks, of course), which is fewer than I had hoped -- though, if recent conversations are any indication, far more than the average. I mean, someone told me the last movie they saw in a theater was Gravity!

These are unranked choices, but they are grouped together in ascending order of affection. Directors and commentary follow each title, except in "Shan't See It Again", a sort-of Hall of Shame -- the guilty are protected in this instance.

Shan't See It Again 
Child 44
The Con Artists
San Andreas
Seventh Son
Woman in Gold

Wish They Were Better

Fifty Shades of Grey (Sam Taylor-Johnson): Dakota Johnson a natural, goofy yet convincingly sexy, with a soundtrack that's on point; but Jamie Dornan is a wasteland, and the finale is ho-hummingly tame

Jupiter Ascending (The Wachowskis): fascinating world-building, but clearly hacked to pieces, and with a wan Mila Kunis at its center

Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow): great fun as a monsters-run-amok flick (and I consider That Death a huge plus), but script is aggressively regressive re: sexual politics

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon): surprisingly unsentimental lead a relief; in fact, most of the ensemble shines and convinces, despite suffocatingly twee conceits and sketchily-written adults

Serena (Susanne Bier): J-Law understated, intense, hypnotic; film should be a slow burn but it's actually a long sit

Guilty Pleasures

The Boy Next Door (Rob Cohen): deliciously scandalous, and it must be said: J.Lo is genuinely phenom in this

Mortdecai (David Koepp): I laughed more than once, love the song "Johanna" that plays over the end credits, and I think everyone should be aware that I am always Team Gwyneth

Positivity after the jump -- or as I like to call it, the Cold Stone Rankings.

Like It

C'est si bon (Kim Hyun-seok): pacing issues aside, it's a pleasant trip through an unusual piece of Korean cultural history, with an engaging cast and fantastic tunes

Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas): it's a bit repetitive, but Juliette Binoche is marvelous

Focus (Glenn Ficarra/John Requa): all-around solid flick, genuinely surprising and suspenseful, B.D. Wong once again walks away with the whole film

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn): cheeky fun

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (David Zellner): worth it for Rinko Kikuchi's bizarre, empathic portrayal of a truly frustrating person; deceptively light touch makes for truly heartbreaking moments

Welcome to Me (Shira Piven): worth it for Kristen Wiig's bizarre, empathic portrayal of a truly frustrating person; even the triumphs are tinged with discomfort; bow to Joan Cusack

What Happened, Miss Simone? (Liz Garbus): vague and all-too-brief with time and details, except when it comes to Nina's activism; then, it is truly electric

Love It

Chappie (Neill Blomkamp): knows itself, stays true to itself, sticks to its loopy guns

Cinderella (Kenneth Branagh): you don't have to completely reinvent something to offer a new perspective; leads charm, Branagh's romanticism a perfect fit (this was Number 22 in my 25 Most Anticipated)

Effie Gray (Richard Laxton): you will cringe, you will laugh, you will appreciate what a blue-and-grey palette executed imaginatively can do for a film

Ex Machina (Alex Garland): quietly unsettling, darkly comic, Oscar Isaac a blast, Alicia Vikander a revelation

It Follows (David Robert Mitchell): a worthy mix of the old and new; I crawled back from the screen, even though I was in the theater

Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller): non-stop adrenaline, one that actually got me out of my seat; the single image of men on stilts haunts (this was Number 23 in my 25 Most Anticipated)

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (John Madden): a worthy follow-up, equal to the original, deepening the original ensemble; favorite Smith since Keeping Mum, maybe My House in Umbria

What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement/Taika Waititi): original, hilarious, surprisingly heartwarming

We Are Still Here (Ted Geoghegan): deliciously bonkers; tonal bait-and-switch reaps rewards

Gotta Have It

The Age of Adaline (Lee Toland Ziegler): sincerely, effectively romantic; quietly funny, especially in design aspects; Lively intuitive, witty...and underrated!

Dope (Rick Famuyiwa): it's a comedy, it's a noir, it's a commentary on race and class in modern America in general and Southern California in particular; flawless ensemble

Far from the Madding Crowd (Thomas Vinterberg): sexy; beautifully-photographed; understated devastation, eroticism; musical numbers are always welcome (this was Number 16 in my 25 Most Anticipated)

Inside Out (Pete Docter): thoughtful defense of tears -- and thank goodness, because it wrings out plenty

Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad): a truly spiritual high; conveys mental anguish impressively; sound work, performances a marvel

Paddington (Paul King): one of the first films to come out this year, and still among the best, thanks to its mischievous wit and earnest warmth

Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonello): unflinchingly gay, hot hot hot; Gaspard Ulliel nails the simmering genius, the dangerous boredom, the sensuality; those clothes! (this was Number 15 in my 25 Most Anticipated)

Spy (Paul Feig): finally, Melissa McCarthy is given the proper vehicle, proving she doesn't need a Bullock or a Bateman; funniest studio comedy since 21 Jump Street

Twenty (Lee Byeong-hun): disarmingly charming coming-of-age film; great chemistry amongst ensemble

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