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Best & Worst of 2015 (so far)

By JOEY OSTER/ VN FILM CRITIC
On December 10, 2015

I feel a bit hesitant in making a best-of-2015 list at the beginning of December, just before a knot of Oscar contenders and the year’s biggest movies are released.

But first, instead of ranking the worst movies of 2015, let’s rank the movies that just really pissed me off:

1. “Dope”: Basically, it rips off Spike Lee in embarrassing and uncreative ways. It tries to be this hip, thoughtful counter-culture look at racial stereotypes and “geeks,” but it ends up as a senseless mess of a film that is more cringe-inducing than listening to someone explain their fantasy football lineup.

2. “Legend”: There is nothing I love more than an incomprehensible plot and two hours and 15 minutes of not understanding a single word of mumbled British accents.

3. “Aloha”: Cameron Crowe needs to go Vanilla Sky on himself.

4. “The Martian”: Any time a decently average movie starts to get serious Oscar buzz, my blood boils and I irrationally hate the movie. See: “Moneyball.”

5. “Concussion”: I’ve only seen the trailer as of writing this, but Will Smith’s accent and overacting already make me want to defend Roger Goodell.

OK, now here are the best films of year so far. Any of these six films could easily be ranked as my number one:

 

“Steve Jobs”

I’ve written about “Steve Jobs” previously, so I’ll save some space here. However, although it has garnered universal acclaim, the film has failed to gain traction with audiences and the awards pundits. Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle take the idea of a biopic and inventively turn it on its head. Above all, it’s creative, which can rarely be said for “adult dramas.”

 

“The End of the Tour”

I feel like I may be slightly biased with this pick, but “The End of the Tour” hit me in the right place at the right time. The film is based on the actual few days writer David Lipsky spent interviewing author David Foster Wallace while on the press tour for his insanely critically acclaimed novel “Infinite Jest.”

Jesse Eisenberg plays to type as Lipsky, the slightly nebbish, straight man who is awestruck that he gets to interview someone who has been called one of the great writers of our time.

Jason Segal plays completely against type as David Foster Wallace. Usually cast as a buffoon or jester, Segal melts into the man and character of Wallace, the soft-spoken, vast-thinking everyman who just happens to be one of the world’s most popular writers.

These interviews are told in a flashback 12 years prior, after Lipsky learns of Foster Wallace’s suicide. The knowledge of his fate obviously adds to the underlying sadness of the film, but it works solely due to the performances and chemistry of Eisenberg and Segal.

Essentially, you’re listening to a conversation for two hours, ranging from existentialism and mortality to the art of writing, television and the “Die Hard” franchise. The two men disagree and argue, but there is never any major conflict, other than the unwillingness of them to admit they are becoming genuine friends.

In every way imaginable, “The End of the Tour” felt like the perfect movie for the moment in my life that I resided in back in August (and still currently do to an extent). I’m not in the same exact spot as Lipsky and Foster Wallace, but I feel paralleled.

In the film, both men are at a turning point. They are writers, but they want to be writers. They seem afraid of the world, yet intrigued by it.

“The End of the Tour” is undercutting in its melancholy and regret, but that’s why it’s so moving; it feels like a celebration of life.

 

“Ex Machina”

Machina” is sleek, chilling and haunting as it tackles the realistic impending threat of artificial intelligence.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleason) has been whisked away to the isolated mountain home of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the genius CEO of a Google-esque company. Nathan has assigned Caleb to give a Turing Test to Eva (Alicia Vikander), a humanoid robot of his own creation.

The purpose of this test is to prove, or disprove, the full intelligence and self-awareness of Eva. Nathan’s high-tech fortress/mansion plopped within the beautiful Norwegian mountains and landscape is breathtaking and unsettling.

The film asks the classic questions of Nature vs. Nurture and Damning Truth vs. Blissful Ignorance, all while slowly and tactfully curdling your blood.

“Machina” is masterfully able to maintain simplicity while being beyond rich in depth.

 

“While We’re Young / Mistress America”

Writer/director Noah Baumbach had a banner year in 2015. With “WWY” and “Mistress,” he is operating on another level. It’s somewhere between farce, satire and aging hipness.

Both these films feel so connected to each other that it’s impossible for me to break them up. They’re spiritual sequels. Both tackle themes of authenticity and its importance, or unimportance, in the modern world.

Baumbach is honest with his audience and you feel him deeply questioning himself, seriously and tongue-in-cheek. He helms utterly powerhouse performances from Adam Driver (“WWY”) and Greta Gerwig (“Mistress”), allows Ben Stiller (“WWY”) to simply be Ben Stiller and introduces the world to the wonderful Lola Kirk (“Mistress”).

Baumbach is finding his groove. Following the footsteps of his buddy Wes Anderson, Baumbach might have taken the penultimate step before creating his masterpiece.

 

“Creed”

See the full review on page 6 for my complete thoughts, but it rivals the 1976 original that won Best Picture. I’m already preparing to go see it a third time.

 

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

The most common criticism I’ve heard of “Fury Road” is that it’s “basically a two-hour car chase.”

That is nearly correct, but by simplifying writer/director George Miller’s masterpiece to that condescending phrase, you are completely missing the point.

Miller creates a world that is chaotic, disgusting and unrelenting. The commentary on feminism, big government and cult societies is as bright and bold as the crashes, chases and explosions.

At one point, Max (Tom Hardy) uses mother’s milk to physically wash the blood off his hands. And the film even ends with Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and the freed wives being raised up on a platform above civilization, while Max slips namelessly back into the crowd. 

As a man, he has done his duty, and that is all the recognition that he needs. This isn’t the prototypical feministic stance; these women needed a man, just as much as this man needed women.

The film as a whole is dazzling and operatically beautiful. It is shot and edited to precision while being paced perfectly.

Miller treats “Fury Road” like an symphony with no intermission. He speeds it up to a blur and slows it down for breathing room, but the film never concedes; it purely overtakes you. 

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