Hello, and welcome to Cinephile City! If you have any questions regarding who we are and what we’re doing here, feel free to check our About Us page, but the short version is: we love movies, and if you’re here, you probably love them too.
We decided to launch Cinephile City in early September, right as Oscar season begins to rev up. For instance, last weekend was the Telluride Film Festival, where such past Oscar winners as The King’s Speech and such past Oscar also-rans as Prisoners first debuted to paying audiences, and this coming weekend we have … the latest M. Night Shymalan film.
So, as more and more prestige pictures pass in front of our eyeballs in the coming months, we want you to know where we stand on the movies of 2015 so far. Our top 10 list is coming; until then, we offer you some other things we took note of in the past year that didn’t quite make the list.
Best of the Year Near-Miss: What We Do In the Shadows
In a relatively weak year for mainstream comedies, one of the funniest films of the year was this indie mockumentary from New Zealand about a group of vampire roommates and their wacky adventures. What We Do In The Shadows carries on in the proud tradition of the Christopher Guest films in shooting hours of footage of the tremendously funny cast doing improv, and formulating an 88-minute gem that doesn’t drag like the worst of Judd Apatow’s films. Don’t go in expecting much of a plot; go in for the low-key but hilarious character interactions familiar to fans of Jermaine Clement’s previous outing Flight Of The Conchords, filtered through a vampire milieu. If nothing else, this film will give an entirely different perspective than the dark and deathly serious Underworld series about what would happen if a group of vampires came across a group of werewolves.
Worst Noah Baumbach Film of the Year: While We’re Young
Comeback of the Year: Noah Baumbach, Mistress America
Best of the Year Near-Miss: Tangerine
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez brings a maniacal energy to the role of Sin-Dee, a transgender prostitute unleashed on Christmas Eve after 28 days in jail and onto a warpath following rumors of her pimp/boyfriend’s infidelity. Sin-Dee and her reticent but supportive best friend, Alexandra (Mya Taylor) descend upon the sun-scorched underbelly of Hollywood in their attempt to find Chester (James Ransone) and suss out the state of his heart. Sin-Dee’s tornadic path sweeps other unsuspecting lost souls into her state of perpetual drama, including an Armenian cab driver whose rather-touching dedication to Sin-Dee and Alexandra leads to considerable marital strife. Hearty laughs and quiet devastation come in equal measure as Sin-Dee snottily dispatches anyone in her way (sometimes verbally, sometimes physically) until she arrives at Chester’s self-made headquarters at the 24/7 Donut Time and gives new meaning to “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” A reductive log line might read “if you’re looking for a new transgender prostitute revenge-comedy Christmas film for the whole family…make it Tangerine.” But this would only graze the surface of the unabashedly coarse joy of which the film is capable. Tangerine also manages quiet moments that cut to the heart of true friendship and familial understanding in ways that many saccharine holiday films desperately aim for, only to fall short. Time to make the donuts, bitch.
Worst New Trend of the Year: Saving Your Plot For the Sequel
I had hoped that it was merely a spot of poor writing in 2012’s Prometheus, but instead it has become the worst trope in recent summer blockbusters: leaving huge plot threads to dangle in the most conspicuous fashion possible. It’s basically an act of dramatic blackmail, putting the audience under duress to attend a subsequent movie which may or may not ever get made. As the Amazing Spider-Man films went with an unnecessary backstory involving Peter Parker’s parents, so it was with Terminator: Genisys this year: a mildly entertaining action film which played dumb every time Kyle Reese refused to ask the most obvious time-travel-related questions on the audience’s mind. Then, during the closing narration, the film tries to extort every last bit of currency from our mental savings accounts with the phrase, “Though questions remain…” Get outta here with that passive voice! You had the power to write a movie in which there were no remaining questions!
Best of the Year Near-Miss: Paddington
Few movies this year (or any year for that matter) have reached levels of such pure delightfulness as this one. Even the most jaded, cold-hearted of viewers is bound to feel at least something watching it. Much of the credit is due to Ben Whishaw, who voices the title character with the requisite charm, but even more is due to director Paul King. He fills the screen with a number of unique visual flourishes that are always interesting and never distracting. What could’ve been just another perfectly fine family film is elevated by his sense of style, influenced by, yet never aping, directors like Wes Anderson. Perhaps the most magical feat pulled off by the team behind the film is the creation of a computer-generated character who seamlessly interacts with his environment. The audience never doubts Paddington’s existence within his world, making the movie itself all the more effective.
Worst Trailer of the Year: The Water Diviner
The trailers before any film can often be a harbinger for the audience’s experience to come. Painful guffaws or chattiness overheard by one’s seat neighbors can sometimes lead to anxiety about their behavior during the impending film: “Will they ruin it for me?” But sometimes a trailer comes along that unites a theater in a state of heady excitement and mutual understanding. When I eased into my seat at the packed theater about to show the brilliantly menacing It Follows, I had no idea I would first experience the sadistic glory of the trailer for Russell Crowe’s prestige pile, The Water Diviner. As soon as Crowe’s character’s wife choked out (through a hail of sobs, of course), “you can find water, but you can’t even find your own children,” the entire theater burst into incredulous laughter. Suddenly we were all one. We had already arrived with the giddy excitement of seeing a scary movie, but as we all laughed along through the remainder of the trailer, an air of camaraderie came over the room. We were all for the scary movie vibe just as much as we were all against Crowe’s self-serious pablum. It hardly matters what The Water Diviner is actually about. Rather than calling it an awful trailer, I would say it’s actually quite brilliant: it lets the audience know exactly what it is and why it should be avoided at all costs.
Best of the Year Near-Miss: Felt
Not a female revenge story so much as an indictment of a culture poisoned by sexism, Felt is a raw fever dream of a film. The audience is never specifically told of the event that triggered main character Amy’s emotional crisis, and they don’t need to know. The misogyny she suffers doesn’t take the form of a particular figure; there is no big bad wolf in this story. Instead, Felt portrays Amy’s world as rife with inescapable microaggressions and male dismissiveness. With art as her coping mechanism, Amy’s creations turn the male form into something exaggerated and totem-like, a source of power she can take. Scenes like the one where Amy prowls the forest while wearing one of her “man suits” are the movie’s ecstatic highlight. Just as Amy does, the film transforms the threat of violence and oppression into something fulfilling and controllable. Eventually, however, that violence breaks free, and the inevitable climax is both shocking and poetic. Felt is not an easy film to watch, and it may not even be an easy film to like. But it’s an important film, one that’s beautiful in its anger.
Come back tomorrow for Cinephile City’s Top 10 of the Year So Far!