Cinemaps BEST OF 2015: Women on top

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Charlize Theron as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Even as I listen to (read?) the dissenting voices (#Oscarso______) raising the question of recognition for diversity in Hollywood (and specifically, the Oscars) this past year, I can still look at 2015 fondly as a year not necessarily diverse in terms of stories focused on minorities, but as a remarkable year for the widespread female presence. Women as protagonists seemed to be the norm: from the open space juggernaut that is Star Wars: The Force Awakens to the confined space of the indie film, Room, women were the focal point in every genre, all with varying degrees of success (acclaimed and/or popular). Witness:

Animation? Amy Poehler. Riley.
Comedy? Amy Schumer.
Action? Charlize Theron.
War on drugs? Emily Blunt.
Indie/crime/psychological thriller (of sort)? Brie Larson.
Romance? Saoirse Ronan.
Fantasy (of sort)? Jennifer Lawrence 
Biography, fiction? Jennifer Lawrence.
Biography, documentary? Amy Winehouse.
Older people's sexual affair with younger people? Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
Robots? Alicia Vikander.
Dinosaur? BLUE.
The new friggin' Jedi? Daisy Ridley.

Even my favourite film had a female judge as the main character in its best segment. Okay, so it's an all-white list, but hey, African American represents, Charlize! Also, there was no female lead in boxing / sports genre, but you could watch Rousey vs. Holm match and call it a day! My point remains: there's something to celebrate in 2015. How it gets sustained in the next while is another story. For now, let's throw our hands up and praise to the heavens for the sisters doing it for themselves.


As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 2, O Desolado (Arabian Nights Volume 2: The Desolate one)

01. As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 2, O Desolado (Arabian Nights Volume 2: The Desolate one; Gomes) ****1/2 and As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 1, O Inquieto (Gomes) ***1/2
I spent 6+ hours straight watching this film, and I don't regret it one bit. Well, maybe Volume 3 can use some judicial trimming. I didn't think I'd enjoy bird watching much and I was absolutely right (I gotta wonder if he was messing with the audience?). But the project is staggering in scope, sprawling in narrative, and utterly relevant in its superimposed stories. There are actually eight of those stories in this trilogy, each is pulled off with varying degrees of success (for a more detailed account of the stories and a review that reflects closely my feelings on the film, read this). My favourite segment (which the above picture comes from) is titled The Tears of the Judge, which plays out like a Shakespearean netherworld court where souls are judged and sent off to serve their eternal sentence. It is absurd, profound, exceedingly clever, but with much levity in its execution, which is how I'd describe most of the segments (I'm not so hot about the tone of The Enchanted One, which I feel goes off the deep end where I can't follow). Despite its pressing concerns about the state of the world, the trilogy - knee-deep in satire - retains a sense of wonder and a deep love of all that tries to exist. Gomes is confident in his style, astute in his observations, and generous in his spirit. One gets the impression that he throws in the kitchen sink at times, but what glorious opus it turns out to be anyway!

02. Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller) ****1/2
The film is a beautiful melding playground for contrasts. Fury Road looks sleekly produced and expertly edited, yet it dons a very B-movie sensibility (revenge plot, uninhibited exuberance, corny dialogue, etc.). It's an epic film dealing with "the big picture," but spends most of its time taking the audience through car chases. It features two quiet leads in loud action sequences. Feminism surges and weaves through its machismo elements seamlessly. We have a female warrior leaving a trail of sand dust behind her for an all men squad to contend with, as she takes off with what they consider even more precious than oil: the ability to give life, or more precisely, to give healthful life. As a side note, one may wonder, could she have done this all on her own? It could've been written that way, but it wouldn't be as rich. To get to peace and all that jazz, someone who is pragmatic yet sensitive like Max is important to the cause. He who is changed by the process to look beyond his own interests and extend a respectful helping hand will see to it that his fellow mates will survive and get to their destiny, too.  Both Max and Furiosa are important - without one or the other, they would not have survived, or become their better self. In any case, George Miller pulls off, along with his wife who has been credited with profuse praise and due respect for her tremendous editing job, an incredible story of human survival in a barren, bleak, and imperfect time, all while leaving you at the edge of your seat. Cinema for the ages.

03. The lobster (Lanthimos) ****
I love this tender, beautiful, hilarious movie so, so much. Excellent acting job all around, including the great supporting cast of lovable fools played by John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Léa Seydoux and Olivia Colman. Colin Farrell has built quite a career playing the sad man-child romantic leading man, and he's doubling down on his bets here. His David appears average, vulnerable, and unsure of himself. He has not had any luck with coupling, and eventually finds himself trying to survive the jungle of the coupling outcasts. He meets and falls in love with Rachel Weisz's "Short Sighted Woman," who's something of a square peg being really good at squeezing into a round hole herself. Their journey is that of surprising pain and sweetness that you'd have to witness to understand. Lanthimos' film is not to be taken at a literal level - otherwise you may not be able to sit through the strange and somewhat silly tale unfolding. What he is trying to say about the social preoccupation with coupling and the factions that it spawns is fairly obvious. It doesn't diminish what transpires; it'll leave an emotional imprint on those willing to go for the ride.

04. Hrútar (Rams; Hákonarson) ****
I picked this film to see at TIFF last fall, because I really felt like rams are my animals (along with sheep / lamb / emu / ostrich) and the story just sounded rife for a good giggle-cry (the best kind). I pegged it correctly: the film is light and sad, satirical and emotional, provincial and universal. The story unfolds kinda as promised by the premise (c/p from wiki): a hard-drinking Icelandic farmer (Theodór Júlíusson) and his estranged brother (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) band together to save their flocks of sheep from authorities who want the animals destroyed. It should be noted that the estranged brother's point of view is the audience's here, not the hard-drinking one. It's an important storytelling decision because un-pleasantry and hard feelings come in controlled doses until they pool together to a satisfying effect. Their brotherhood adventure is Rams' gentle, real, out-stretching heart, calling the estranged to find each other before they are ... well, you'd have to watch the film to find out!

05. Inside Out (Docter & del Carmen) ****
Pixar returns to its glorious throne with yet another growing pain story of having to "let go of these childish things." It feels elegant, fresh and effective in its execution. It's astonishing that an animated film manages to depict psychoanalytic theories and emotional science in simple terms without cheapening them or making them feel archival. The details do not need to be completely accurate; they just have to approximate the main themes/ideas, and they do. I may write more on this film later, because, um, this site is all about psychology and cinema? For this blurb, I'd just say: "take her to the moon for me." Commence tears.

06. La giovinezza (Youth; Sorentino) ****
It can be argued that every personal history is a revisionist history. We may assume what we know is the truth; neuroscience will tell you that is not so: we each have our truth, and our truth changes with time. As meaning making creatures, we edit and construct our life into being as is fitting with our narrative. Sorentino's Youth is about the construction of fleeting youth ideals, those that get stickier and hardened in the memory bank as one ages. To Fred, our aged protagonist, the life of his youth lives in songs and in love. With his love in a questionable state, he retires the music without and within, resigned to live out the rest of his life in resentment and denial. His good friend, Mick, also lives in denial and seems to be weighed down by the past. Unlike Fred, Mick's denial allows him to live on the borrowed time of his younger days. Between the two of them, both old white men of "culture" and "art," we have a fantasy that is sumptuous, filled with male-centered (necessarily so, considering our main characters) youthful idols and tremendous longing to go back to the time before they lost their vitality. When this veil is torn down, by the hand of their visitors both old and young, they must choose between falling into despair or allowing the past to live in the past. If you do not embrace the privileged, dream-like setting of the film, you may find it hard to care. If you do, you'd be rewarded with one of the most beautifully placed statements about "old farts"' art/music to grace the screen: Fred's Simple Song #3. You'd have to see it to feel what I mean.

07. The Hateful Eight (Tarantino) ***1/2
This is a thoroughly geeky young adult fare: raucous, funny, outrageous, wordy, and a little silly. What helps to lend an "epic" sense to the picture is that 70 mm experience, the gorgeous cinematography and score, and a touch of commentary on racism. For that last point, it's better that you'd see Django Unchained instead. For everything else, this is a good Tarantino picture, and his most play-like - both in the sense of a play, and playfulness.

08. Sicario (Villeneuve) ***1/2
I can not recall the last time I saw an action movie through the eye of a woman soldier as she enters darkness and has her morals and spirit so broken down, and yet not de-humanized. If anything, she gets a sympathetic, complex treatment of a hero whose humanity allows her to understand and struggle with the choices she makes (within the options she has little control over). As much as I love seeing in-charge-of-her-destiny woman characters, the film's bold and delicate decision to map her internal landscape like a real human being makes me feel good about the state of women in films. Here, we get to have a woman as a person with a distinct psychological and spiritual make up, braving her world without the weight of having it all, or be someone's all encompassing ideals. It's a bit downtrodden of a movie, but also very freeing to have Blunt tumbling forward all the way with us (although during the film, it can at times challenge your patience with her)! Oh, and the film looks fantastic and feels edge-of-your-seat thrilling to boot!

09. Mustang (Ergüven) ***1/2
To be clear, the film got on this list on its own merit, not because of its subject matter. The liberal honeypot - a story about oppressed females in a remote locale of the world - could've easily drowned the film in its moral righteousness and/or be accused of pandering to the "Western" world's view. But, by the miraculous talent of its writer/director, Mustang is a film that's better than it should have been. In the context of a very obvious feminist bent (not a dirty word), so much on the screen is anything but academic. Its cast of characters feels real, even if the circumstances seem surreal at times. The film's depiction of gender entrapment and its consequences are both sensational and nuanced, with its head and heart in most of the right places. While the older generation (of both genders) is criticized for its hand in the murdering of its youth's desires and spirits, Ergüven also ensures that there's compassion for these characters, given their context of systemic policing of gender roles.  The sisters have great chemistry together. They appear to entrust who they are to the screen and lends it their much appreciated vitality in face of mounting adversities. Let there be fighting little girls everywhere, and perhaps they'll get us all out of the dark age.

10. Trainwreck (Apatow) ***1/2
I had real fears coming into Trainwreck that this raunchy rom-com was going to be dumber than it thought it was. On some levels, it does play to the usual tropes of a rom-com: girl meets boy, instant pairing, some initial challenges, girl and boy have funny and dopey sidekicks, problem, sad montage, intervention, main character tries to win the other person back, happily ever after. The film should've sunk, but instead, by some miracle, it feels right with the time. Apatow, the spokesdirector for the kid(ding)-adult generation, makes the wise decision to trust Amy's funny bone to rise above, and she does it with aplomb. She has help: the supporting cast is uniformly funny, starting with a sweet, straight laced Bill Hader as you've never seen him before. There's also a rotating set of athletes and macho-guy cameos that lends a surprisingly sincere tone to Amy's life tapestry (not to mention a smart move to bring in the guys eh?). But Amy's dramatic turn is what makes this good. She (along with Apatow) doesn't let Amy's cleverness gets in the way of her "learning." Amy has quiet moments to reflect (the film is surprisingly not as loud as I'd thought). It has the right mix of dramedy, culminating in a trampoline scene that just makes me laugh out loud while crying real felt tears. It surprises me enough to take a spot on this year-end list. That's some real achievement right here.

Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth: The Hateful Eight
Grin and Pulse
The most fun I had watching a movie this past year
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out
The Lobster

Confident storytelling, with a touch of "wow"
Miguel Gomes, As Mil e Uma Noites (Arabian Nights)
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster
Grímur Hákonarson, Hrútar (Rams)
Denis Villeneuve, Sicario

I feel you
Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
Emily Blunt, Sicario
Colin Farrell, The Lobster
Rachel Weisz, The Lobster
Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Hrútar (Rams)

Alicia Vikander, Ex-Machina
Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Jacob Tremblay, Room
The cast of Mustang, Mustang

Create interesting, layered, cohesive universe; would make for a great read on its own
Telmo Churro, Miguel Gomes, Mariana Ricardo, As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 2, O Desolado (Arabian Nights Vol. 2: the Desolate One)
Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou, The Lobster
Akimi Yoshida (manga), Hirokazu Koreeda (screenplay), Umimachi Diary (Our little sister)
Paolo Sorentino, La giovinezza (Youth)
Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight

Interesting, effective cuts and stitches that support and move the story visually
Mad Max: Fury Road
As Mil e Uma Noites (Arabian Nights)
Hrútar (Rams)

Takes my breath away
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Hateful Eight
Nie yin niang (The Assassin)

Art Direction / Production Design
Transportive, impactful set design
Crimson Peak
La giovinezza (Youth)
Mad Max: Fury Road
Nie yin niang (The Assassin)

Movie Magic
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Hunger Games: the Mockingjay Pt. 2

Amplify the visuals and enrich my sensory experience
Mad Max: Fury Road
Saul Fia (Son of Saul)
The Hateful Eight
The Witch

Was it memorable?
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
La giovinezza (Youth; based on song alone)

Films I'm intending to see that could make a dent on the list above
Embrace of the Serpent
When Marnie was here
The boy and the world

Ranked out of *****
As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 2, O Desolado (Arabian Nights Volume 2: The Desolate one; Gomes)
Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller)

The Lobster (Lanthimos)
Hrútar (Rams; Hákonarson)
Inside out (Docter & del Carmen)
La giovinezza (Youth; Sorentino)

The Hateful Eight (Tarantino)
Sicario (Garland)
Mustang (Ergüven) 
As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 1, O Inquieto (Gomes)
Trainwreck (Apatow)
It follows (Mitchell)
Ex-machina (Garland)
Umimachi Diary (Our little sister; Koreeda)
Saul fia (Son of Saul; Nemes)

Spotlight (McCarthy)
The Revenant (Iñárritu)
The Witch (Eggers)
Dheepan (Audiard)
Room (Abrahamson)
Carol (Haynes)
The big short (McKay)
Bølgen (The Wave; Uthaug)
Where to invade next (Moore)
Anomalisa (Kaufman)
Dope (Famuyiwa)

The Martian (Scott)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Abrams)
Straight outta Compton (Gray)
The Danish Girl (Hooper)
The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay Pt. 2 (Lawrence)
Nie yin niang (The Assassin; Hou)
Jafar Panahi's taxi (Panahi)
Beasts of no nation (Fukunaga)
As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 3, O Encantado (Gomes)
Ant-man (Reed)

Crimson Peak (del Toro)
Spectre (Mendes)
Jurassic World (Trevorrow)
Tomorrowland (Bird)

* (Embarrassing)
45 years (Haigh)
Shan he gu ren (Mountains may depart; Jia)

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1 Response to Cinemaps BEST OF 2015: Women on top

March 5, 2016 at 2:21 PM

I just realised I forgot to look up who won the predictions! Turns out it was as close of a race as the one for Best Picture! You had 13 correct predictions, and I had 13 correct predictions, and counting alternates, you had 6 more correct while I had 5! One measly alternate difference!

But congrats, I guess.. Grumble grumble. :D


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  • Coming 2 America (Brewer, 2021) **1/2
  • Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (Wolfe, 2020) ***1/2
  • I care a lot (Blakeson, 2020) **

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