filmmixtape’s Top Ten Films of 2015

So finally, here we are.

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What a year for film. The year began poorly (both cinematically and personally), but ended even stronger than we’ve seen in some time. There’s a few towering above the pack, but just below the very best, 2015 still gave us an abnormally wide and diverse group of very strong films ripe for discussion and lingering shelf lives. Even outside of my higher ranked films, there’s new personal favorites close to my heart like Trainwreck, Brooklyn, and Magic Mike XXL to enjoy for years to come.

Major films unfortunately missed include James White, Son of Saul, and The Tribe – what else do you think I should catch up with?

If you missed the previous Best of 2015 posts, be sure to check out:

To spread the love, my 20-11 films are (in order): Phoenix, What We Do in the Shadows, Steve Jobs, The Look of Silence, Love and Mercy, Tangerine, Ex Machina, Inside Out, I’ll See You in My Dreams, and Shaun the Sheep.

On to the top 10…

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filmmixtape’s Best Actress of 2015

What a year for leading actress performances. The first longlist for my Best Actress picks yielded over thirty serious candidates and it was like pulling teeth to narrow down to a final five. Fan favorites and personal darlings had to be dropped with thoughtless abandon, so forgive the many exclusions. The lineup I’ve chosen was ultimately the ones that lingered hardest in my brain and wouldn’t leave my mind.

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Cate Blanchett – Carol

  • She’s physically indicative of Carol’s mental state and intentions, but never delivers a mannered or cheaply telling moment. Her every longing and regret is so present in her physicality that she creates an aura of unspoken emotion around herself. Once she finally speaks her mind, Blanchett becomes the source of the film’s catharsis and appropriately unfetters Mara’s Therese (and the audience) anew.

Emily Blunt – Sicario

  • Blunt plays Kate as a knotted muscle of blind morals and ambition, becoming the surrogate for the audience’s increasingly unbearable tension. The film wouldn’t click without the humanity she brings to the role and her economy in suggesting Kate’s unspoken depression. The threat of violence and potential for irreparable sacrifice is plain on her face from the word go.

Brie Larson – Room

  • Filled with specificity of Ma’s pain, but open enough to acknowledge that there are things about her experience that will remain unknowable to her loved ones and the audience. She makes Ma more than a savior, but a complex woman frozen by trauma into the immature mind of a teenager. Like the film itself, Larson modulates her anguish for the sake of Jack and the audience while remaining fiercely honest.

Rooney Mara – Carol

  • Her Therese is changed by love both in the moment and over the course of the film in clear ways, but Mara never cheapens them with obviousness. She may be flung out of space, but she’s also unexpectedly plain spoken, allowing Mara’s natural screen presence to take hold. From her sense of longing, to her anger, to her cold heartache, she is always the perfect compliment to Blanchett’s Carol.

Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years

  • A performance that’s at its most transformative in the silences, with whole revolutions happening on Rampling’s face as her understanding of her marriage crumbles. Her consciously dissipating connection to Courtenay as she becomes more interior predicts the conclusion’s sharp turn without diminishing its impact. To put it cheaply, it’s as if she’s living on the screen rather than acting in it.

The Winner is after the jump!

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filmmixtape’s Best Director of 2015

One of the reasons that helped 2015 be such a strong year for film is the strength of vision from a large number of directors. This was truly a director’s year and that was reflected both inside and outside of the studio system, with big gambles in approach being taken from The Revenant to Room, from Mad Max: Fury Road to Tangerine. Here are my choices for the directors crafting the strongest point of view:

Best Director

Lenny Abrahamson – Room

  • Crafted without sensationalism and with a distanced respect to moments of privacy, Abrahamson approaches Room with stunning emotional and visual intuition. The film’s two halves are distinct and different in style, yet the whole film remains cohesive. He makes the unbearable subject palatable without sacrificing honesty.

Todd Haynes – Carol

  • The film is fascinated with the unspoken and Haynes loads every frame with subtext that informs both character and circumstance. Crafting the film to a gradual swell of emotion, he turns Carol into an invigorating and cathartic experience not unlike falling in love. No one makes period look as natural as he does.

Spike Lee – Chi-Raq

  • A swift reminder that the filmmaker is one of the shrewdest at blending tones and finding hilarious humanity within larger social conflicts. The whole thing shouldn’t work but it does glouriously, as much a transplant of ancient Greek theatre as a music video. Welcome back, Spike.

George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road

  • Not since Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge has such a distinct directorial vision been given such a large scale to run amok. Miller throws so much on the screen visually and thematically, but has a refined sense of when to draw us in and when to hold back. That the film isn’t a complete mess is due to his complete control of his art.

Denis Villeneuve – Sicario

  • He corals every element behind and in front of the camera to serve his point of view and finds ambiguous depth in an already strong procedural script. His control of what’s happening on screen and to the audience borders on the fascistic. He’s becoming one of the best at challenging audiences in genre packages.

See the winner after the jump!

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filmmixtape’s Best Supporting Actress of 2015

Here’s the start of filmmixtape’s first Best of the Year superlatives. Yes, some things will be coming at their own pace – I have a few major things to see. It may be late, but I’m a completist, dammit. I’m starting off with what is always my favorite category: Best Supporting Actress.

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Rose Byrne – Spy

  • Every withering word out of her mouth in etched in marble. Byrne’s comedic gifts are absurdly under-valued against larger comedy names, and she’s been found unexpected honesty in hilarious performances in Neighbors and Bridesmaids. But she’s never been this uproariously precise or taken given broad humor this much brains.

Nihal G. Koldas – Mustang

  • Her grandmother is as both funny and urgent as the film needs her to be, but she’s never as anonymous as her character’s standing in the film’s patriachy. An extension of the film’s quintet of girls, she’s terrified, passionate, and loving in her own way. So much of the danger we feel for the girls come from the equal mix of fear and compassion on her face.

Sarah Paulson – Carol

  • Suggesting a complete life sideways of the love story at the film’s center, Paulson is dynamically present in every one of her few scenes. The Abby she creates is never the expected stock friend role in a love story – she shares a deeper connection to Carol and grants more kindness in Therese than some throwaway. She finds variety and range, crafting an Abby that is randy, defiant, and devoted.

Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina

  • She aces the high degree of difficulty: compellingly human beyond even sexual intrigue, but never humanly articulated. Like the film, she maintains tension by never overplaying her hand into outright menace or innocence. Still fascinating on multiple viewings, it’s a uniquely physical performance though she’s often perfectly still.

Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

  • Verbally dexterous as necessary to Aaron Sorkin’s relentless screenplay, you can clearly sense the actress energized by the challenges she aces along the way. She fleshes out Joanna Hoffman as more of a complete person than the rest of the ensemble floating in Jobs’s orbit, every bit believably disarming Jobs in the final act by digging deep and finding the film’s emotional core.

See who almost made the cut and filmmixtape’s winner after the jump!

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In Review!: “Carol”

As gay people, we’re acutely cognizant of nuances of perception and communication. When a portion (or entirety) of one’s life is spent forced to suppress self-expression, we become scientists of our own behavior and scrutinize how any minute tic will reveal our identity. Whether we have hidden because of social norms or for safety, the necessity to do so results in a social class of experts in subtle social interaction. The hyper-sensitivity electrifies when we meet one of our own and use these adaptive skills to acknowledge shared truths, to show compassion, to express romantic interest. The liberated YouTube generation knows nothing of the experience of not being able to speak plainly to your own camp.

Somehow, we find eachother.

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Such are the fascinations of Todd Haynes’s passionately observed Carol, a love story of stolen glances and charged embraces that is as interested in the queer longings of the central duo as it is with what remains unspoken between any of Haynes’s 50s era denizens. Rarely has every frame been so essential and packed with specific behavior in contemporary cinema, and the film is a staggering assemblage of craft that services the truth for which Haynes reaches and richly achieves. Haynes captures the breathlessness of flirtation and first touches, the cured infection of prior loves into the dynamic, the ease of feeling accepted fully. Yes, it’s relatable to anyone who’s been in love, but make no mistakes: this is a gay story, the stakes raised by the language unavailable to two women in a time where they have to hide in plain sight.

Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is an unimposing shopgirl whose life gets a kickstart by the intrigued Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), a soon-to-be divorcé shopping for a Christmas present for her prized daughter. Naturally, things are complicated by Therese’s boyfriend (Jake Lacy) pushing for next steps and Harge Aird (Kyle Chandler) open to reconciliation if Carol plays it straight. The vulnerability that Mara and Blanchett bring to the lovers as they discover each other in the moment is breathtaking as Therese and Carol are by turns awkward, turned on, patient, and enamored. These women aren’t stoic enigmas, but social outliers discovering how to communicate their mutual interest without words.

Continue reading “In Review!: “Carol””