So the year is nearly halfway done, and fortunately for me there has been quite the selection of great films, both independent and studio produced. Paul Feig’s Spy, starring the hilarious Melissa McCarthy, further proves that the actress is very skilled at physical and self depreciating comedy but also has the ability to layer different emotions simultaneously to reveal more than just humor-which is quite valuable. Feig knows how to direct her talents as he did with her Oscar nominated performance in Bridesmaids.
Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria could be IFC’s indie sleeper of the year, but that could also be The Stanford Prisoner Experiment, which looks crazy good. Kristen Stewart won the Cesar Award (French Oscar) this year for Supporting Actress in Clouds, becoming the first American actress to do so. But she is just one third of a stellar ensemble depicting a great meta-commentary on contemporary moviemaking, with Assayas making keen observations about modern celebrity, blockbusters, Internet gossip culture, and the next generation of actresses.
Here’s my Top 10 of 2015 thus far…which is surely to change throughout the year, since there’s a whole slate of strong films coming out this year.
10. Welcome to Me; Directed by Shira Piven; Alchemy
Dark, hilarious, perceptive, cruel, sad, and Kristen Wiig. Shall I say more?
9. Slow West; Directed by John Maclean; A24/Direct TV
An indie Western, with a tasteful amount of blood, romance, morbid wit, and great acting. I don’t think I’ve yet to see a better “final showdown” then I have in this film since a Tarantino film. This movie moves quite briskly, underplaying the harsh realties of this world-making the violence that much more effective. Maclean created something that could be interpreted as poetic or just plain entertaining.
8. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter; Directed by David Zellner; Amplify
Kudos to Amplify Releasing’s marketing team for not revealing which DVD the protagonist, Kumiko, watches and believes to be a treasure map. I will not say the name of the film, so you can find out. Is she crazy or is there really a treasure? Based off a true story of a real life Japanese woman. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, is a multicultural, cinematic, visual wonder that made me laugh and cry at the same time. Kumiko’s best friend is a pet bunny. Enough said. #TeamBunzo.
7. Ex Machina; Directed by Alex Garland; A24
An extremely intelligent and manipulative film. I suggest anyone who sees Ex Machina, to see it second time. You begin to put the puzzle pieces together. But what’s especially great about this film is that yes, it’s an art film but it’s also very, very entertaining. Oscar Isaac dancing and saying the most quotable line of the film. Yes. Alicia Vikander marking her arrival on U.S. soil as the seductress and eerie Ava. Absolutely Yes. She casted her spell on me and so will this film. Director Alex Garland has described the future presented in the film as ‘ten minutes from now.’
6. Mad Max: Fury Road; Directed by George Miller; Warner Brothers
Read my article that I wrote in May. This studio film, is that rare big budget movie to serve cinema as an art form before entertainment value. Thank you Miller for not forgetting the true craft.
5. Amy; Directed by Asif Kapadia; A24
Received a standing ovation at 2015’s Festival de Cannes. This powerful documentary leaves it up to the audience to determine whether Amy Winehouse’s situation could have truly gone another way. But if one thing is for certain is that I got to understand this very loving, sensitive, misunderstood and incredibly gifted young woman.
4. Inside Out; Directed by Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen; Disney/Pixar
One of Pixar’s best, worthy of the Oscar crown come awards season. Who needs therapy when you have the most color-candy, imaginative, humane and heart-wrenchingly beautiful film that will forever change the way you’ll ever think about your emotions.
3. Faults; Directed by Riley Stearns; Screen Media Films
Wrote about this movie last month. This wild, unpredictable and flawlessly acted thriller will leave you floored.
2. It Follows; Directed by David Robert Mitchell; Radius-TWC
A rare find. A coming of age horror film; It Follows has solidified David Robert Mitchell’s auteur status. An almost classic horror flick, layered with modern subtext rooting the horror in the nuances of teenage friendship. It Follows is a striking piece of art that gives the horror genre the respect that it deserves and once received decades ago in American cinema.
ON DEMAND/ON DVD
1. White God; Directed by Kornel Mundruczo; Magnolia
An important and beautiful film that deserves international recognition. White God blew me away because of how visual it was; there was barely any dialogue. The audience follows two protagonists as they strive to be reunited once more. The two main characters are a young girl, Lili and her loving dog, Hagen. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a canine performance as strong as the one that the twin dogs, Luke and Body, deliver as Hagen in this film. They actually won the “Palm Dog” at 2014’s Festival de Cannes. I cared about Hagen so much in his journey that I could feel what he was feeling every moment he was on screen. Empathy. The reason why I watch films is to understand myself, others, and the world we live in. This film uses the canine-human relationship to put forward a simple but elegant metaphor for racial and class oppression and how the outcasts must band together to assert their collective strength.