Every list is a lie. Some make them to perpetuate a false sense of their own aesthetics. Others try for the opposite effect. Most go along with whatever the clique they would like to belong to appears to esteem. Many go for a balance that gives the nod to whatever is produced by directors they have personally canonized. There are so many ways to misrepresent oneself in making a list of the best movies. Where are the lies on my list? Well, it’s possible that I may have included “Aloft” because I love the director, regardless of the fact that this movie is not in the same league as her previous two. I haven’t yet seen either “Carol” or “The Revenant,” and it is likely that, when I do, one of them may bump “Aloft” from the list. So don’t take mine, or any other list, as the final word on what is the best of the year. The only thing I can say for sure at this point is that I loved these ten films, and would watch any of them again at the drop of a hatpin.
- The Assassin
After watching this, I immediately wanted to see it again. Seldom has the act of watching a film been so pleasurable. The scenes are so sublimely directed that I didn’t want to let go of them. When I look back on the movies that I count among my favorites, they have this one thing in common. As I enjoy each treasured scene, I am always anticipating the pleasure of the scenes to come. This is how it is with “The Assassin.” 105 minutes of astonishment.
Paolo Sorrentino is quickly becoming my favorite comtemporary Italian director. This is his second film in English, and boasts a remarkable performance from Michael Caine as the retired composer who thinks he wants the world to forget who he is.
The new comedy from David O. Russell features three stars from his “Silver Linings Playbook” and is a bundle of old-fashioned goodness that would make Frank Capra smile. It makes one believe in the possibility of the restoration of the American dream.
- Clouds of Sils Maria
Juliette Binoche plays the fictional actress Maria Enders, who became famous twenty years earlier in a play in which she played the part of Sigrid, a younger woman who drives an older woman, Helena, to suicide. Now she is asked to play Helena in a revival of the play. Enders, who still sees herself as Sigrid, at first refuses the part, but eventually realizes that she has become more like Helena than she is willing to admit, and fears that Valentine, her personal assistant, played by Kristin Stewart, may well be her own Sigrid.
(I actually saw this one in 2014, but it is showing up on this year’s lists, and I loved it so much that I didn’t want to be perceived as being among those who didn’t like the picture. So, in a sense, its inclusion here is something of a lie.)
- Straight Outta Compton
Directed by F. Gary Gray, whose resume includes directing several Ice Cube videos, as well as the feature film “Friday,” which was written by and starred Ice Cube, “Straight Outta Compton” is as close to the truth as any mainstream film has come in recreating the place and time during which NWA did their best work. The story focuses on how leader Eazy-E’s relationship with manager Jerry Heller led to the break-up of the group, and how the eventual firing of Heller and reconciliation of group members came too late, as Eazy-E’s death from AIDS came before the group could reunite and make another record.
- Miss Julie
Jessica Chastain is an actress who gives her directors exactly what they want. When the director is good, her performance is good, but when her director is bad, she is horrid. Her feature debut, in Dan Ireland’s masterful film of E.L. Doctorow’s short story, “Jolene,” was so promising that much of her subsequent work was a disappointment. She hit bottom with Kathryn Bigelow’s wretched 2012 piece of pro-torture propaganda, “Zero Dark Thirty.” She did exactly what her director asked her to do, and it came off embarrassingly amateurish. I am happy to say that Liv Ullmann has lifted Miss Chastain back to the high road. Her performance as August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” is nothing short of brilliant, perhaps the finest performance an English-speaking actress has given in a film version of a Scandinavian play.
You don’t just taste the punches in “Southpaw;” you eat them. If I told you this is the most violently bestial fight movie I have ever seen, I would be setting you up for a different movie. You might expect the slow motion blood-letting of “Raging Bull” ramped up to Miike Takeshi level, but that’s not where director Antoine Fuqua wants to take you. He wants to make you flinch when that red glove comes sailing into your face, and to check the cuts on your eye after it hits you. This is visceral film-making at its most intimate, and when we in the audience get hurt, we want to hit back. So we are right there with light heavyweight Billy Hope from the first punch to the last
- Welcome to New York
Prostitution has too often been used as a metaphor for capitalism, when it would be more suitably applied to the rich and powerful of any political persuasion. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was the head of the IMF and the socialist candidate for the presidency of France. He was also a dyed-in -the-wool whore fucker and rapist, who attacked a hotel maid when he ran out of whores. Like Argentine president Christina Fernandez de Kirchner,who was likely the culprit behind the murder of prosecutor Alberto Nisman to prevent him from testifying against her alleged complicity in the cover-up of the involvement of Iranian officials in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, charges against Strauss-Kahn were dismissed. Justice is lucky to have film directors like Abel Ferrara to bring the actions of this scumsucking piece of shit to the attention of a world that is blind to the actions of their ruling classes.
Claudia Llosa is the niece of Peru’s most celebrated author, Mario Vargas Llosa. Her first film, “madeinusa,” was an arthouse favorite, and her second, “The Milk of Sorrow,” received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. Both were excellent studies of the superstitions of Andean people, and were unfairly criticized in Peru for what some hypocrites perceived as racist characterizations of Peru’s indigenous culture. The truth is that both Llosa and her uncle are two of the few Peruvian intellectuals who give a damn about the Andeans.The writer/director finds a challenging alternative to the topography of the Andes in Manitoba’s frozen lakes. With the help of Canadian cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc, she creates an environment as unforgiving as her characters. Bolduc is not so effective with his foregrounds. His camera swoops so closely to the actors that it’s a wonder it doesn’t plow their faces.
Despite my sentimental attachment to the first three Connery Bonds, those films were more about the sixties than the previous decade, in which the novels were set. “Spectre” achieves a complicated balance between the present day and the fifties era. While the earlier films sported far-fetched plots, disposable sex kittens, and comic-book villains, “Spectre” addresses such topical concerns as information monopolies and total surveillance grids. Our world of today is the science fiction world of yesterday, and both worlds are fused in the old-fashioned world of the government-sanctioned assassin. The character of James Bond is still as square-headed and strong-jawed as Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, except he has developed a conscience over the decades of a world grown so increasingly dangerous that love has become too precious to throw away on casino romance and loyalty is serious business when it starts raining bullets. Her majesty’s secret service may think it has outgrown the double-0 program, but it is the double-0 operatives who have outgrown the secret service.