Saturday, January 30, 2016

1975--The Year in Review

Oh, boy. I mean…really…this hurt. It's such an outstanding year for movies, I still question if I made the right selection here, leaving the Kubrick, Wertmuller, Lumet, Spielberg, and Forman films out in the cold (I adore them all so much that I couldn't abandon them entirely). Dang. How can I justify this? Okay. Nicholson was nearly trumped this year–in a photo finish–by Pacino’s frenzied bank robber (which still seems like this superlative actor's best performance ever). In the end, even though I've promised myself not to go this route unless absolutely necessary, I had to do it anyway: a tie (Nicholson's charismatic R.P. McMurphy is every bit Pacino's match in vitality; it's impossible to pick between the two, even though the Academy decided in Nicholson's favor, leaving Pacino in a lurch for many years to come). And here’s where the case for One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest as Best Picture--as much as I absolutely love it--starts to crumble for me. Fletcher’s Oscar-winning "lead" performance was certainly a supporting one, so I placed her in that category–where she didn’t have a chance against the phalanx of Nashville women (and the one that I picked performed sublimely in her film debut--and her songwriting led to another prize). Supporting Actor, too, was locked up (Cazele's nearly silent portrayal--one that mightily impressed me, even as a kid first watching it in '75--was the soul of Dog Day Afternoon). As for Barry Lyndon, I have to admit it comes up just a slight bit short for me in the emotion department, but it certainly was the most meticulously crafted film of the year (it gets better and better each time you watch it, like most Kubrick movies do). Seeing as how this was the case, my favorite director of the 1970s had to emerge up top for his omnibus masterwork Nashville, an acidic criticism and embrace of American culture with scads of vibrant characters and tunes thrown about its three epic hours (Altman's film is more relevant today than in 1975--in fact, it's timeless, and that's pretty much why I decided in its favor). I tried to spread the love from here on. But…again… this really was tough. Still, on anther day, I would probably go the same way. A major milestone should be mentioned: 1975 featured two films directed by women justifiably at the top of the list: Lina Wertmuller's Seven Beauties--the first and most powerful Holocaust comedy, predating Roberto Begnini's Life is Beautiful by decades--and Chantal Akerman's challenging portrait of Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Finally: the short film categories are filled with absolute brilliance, through and through, so be sure to check out the links, as there are some great riches there! NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold. 

(2nd: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (US, Milos Forman)
followed by: Seven Beauties (Italy, Lina Wertmuller)
Dog Day Afternoon (US, Sidney Lumet)
Barry Lyndon (UK, Stanley Kubrick)
Jaws (US, Steven Spielberg)
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Belgium/France, Chantal Akerman)
The Day of the Locust (US, John Schlesinger)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (UK, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam)
Grey Gardens (US, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer)
Tommy (UK, Ken Russell)
Picnic at Hanging Rock (Australia, Peter Weir)
Welfare (US, Frederick Wiseman)
Overlord (UK, Stuart Cooper)
Night Moves (US, Arthur Penn)
Love and Death (US, Woody Allen)
The Passenger (Italy/US, Michelangelo Antonioni)
The Story of Adele H. (France, Francois Truffaut)
The Man Who Would Be King (UK, John Huston)
Shampoo (US, Hal Ashby); Smile (US, Michael Ritchie)
Deep Red (Italy, Dario Argento)
The Magic Flute (Sweden, Ingmar Bergman)
The Man Who Skied Down Everest (US, Bruce Myznik and Lawrence Schiller)
Hester Street (US, Joan Micklin Silver)
The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (West Germany, Margarethe Von Trotta and Volker Schlöndorff)
Rancho Deluxe (US, Frank Perry)
Hearts of the West (US, Howard Zieff)
The Sunshine Boys (US, Herbert Ross)
Cooley High (US, Michael Schultz)
Rollerball (US, Norman Jewison)
W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (US, John G. Avildsen)
Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (US, Sam O'Steen)
Hard Times (US, Walter Hill)
Death Race 2000 (US, Paul Bartel)
The Drowning Pool (US, Stuart Rosenberg)
Three Days of the Condor (US, Sydney Pollack)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (UK, Jim Sharman)
Maitresse (France, Barbet Schroeder)
Farewell, My Lovely (US, Dick Richards)
Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins (US, Dick Richards)
The California Reich (US, Keith Critchlow and Walter F. Parkes)
The Incredible Machine (US, Irwin Rosten and Ed Spiegel)
Hustle (US, Robert Aldrich)
The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (US, J. Lee Thompson)
Aloha, Bobby and Rose (US, Floyd Mutux)
Give 'em Hell, Harry! (US, Steve Binder and Peter H. Hunt)
Bite the Bullet (US, Richard Brooks)
White Line Fever (US, Jonathan Kaplan)
Brother, Can You Spare a Dime (US, Phillippe Mora)
The Stepford Wives (US, Bryan Forbes)
Crazy Mama (US, Jonathan Demme)
The Story of O (France, Just Jaeckin)
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Italy, Pier Paolo Pasolini))

ACTOR: (TIE) Al Pacino, DOG DAY AFTERNOON and Jack Nicholson, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (2nd: Giancarlo Giannini, Seven Beauties, followed by: Tim Curry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show; Roy Schieder, Jaws; Gene Hackman, Night Moves; Walter Matthau, The Sunshine Boys)

ACTRESS: Ann-Margret, TOMMY (2nd: Isabelle Adjani, The Story of Adele H.., followed by: Delphine Seyrig, Jeanne Dielman 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles, followed by: Diane Keaton, Love and Death; Angela Winkler, The Lost Honor of Katherina Blum; Maureen Stapleton, Queen of the Stardust Ballroom)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: John Cazale, DOG DAY AFTERNOON (2nd: Donald Sutherland, The Day of the Locust, followed by: Charles Durning, Dog Day Afternoon; Robert Shaw, Jaws; Sidney Lassick, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Burgess Meredith, The Day of the Locust)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Ronee Blakely, NASHVILLE (2nd: Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (won as Best Actress), followed by: Lily Tomlin, Nashville; Gwen Welles, Nashville; Tina Turner, Tommy; Geraldine Chaplin, Nashville) 

DIRECTOR: Robert Altman, NASHVILLE (2nd: Milos Forman, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, followed by: Stanley Kubrick, Barry Lyndon, Sidney Lumet, Dog Day Afternoon; Steven Spielberg, Jaws; Lina Wertmuller, Seven Beauties)

NON-ENGLISH-LANGUAGE FILM: SEVEN BEAUTIES (Italy, Lina Wertmuller) (2nd: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Belgium/France, Chantal Akerman), followed by: The Story of Adele H. (France, Francois Truffaut); The Magic Flute (Sweden, Ingmar Bergman); The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (West Germany, Margarethe Von Trotta and Volker Schlöndorff); Maitresse (France, Barbet Schroeder))

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: ANGEL AND BIG JOE (US, Bert Salzman) (2nd: The Ash Tree (UK, Lawrence Gordon Clark), followed by: Two Solutions for One Problem (Iran, Abbas Kierostami); Recorded Live (US, S.S. Wilson); Windows (UK, Peter Greenaway); The Girl Chewing Gum (UK, John Smith))

ANIMATED SHORT FILM: HEDGEHOG IN THE FOG (Yugoslavia, Yuri Norstein) (2nd: Quasi at the Quackadero (US, Sally Cruickshank), followed by: Kick Me (US, Robert Swarthe); Rikki Tiki Tavi (US, Chuck Jones); Sisyphus (Hungary, Marcell Jankovics))

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: GREY GARDENS (US, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer) (2nd: Welfare (US, Frederick Wiseman), followed by: The Man Who Skied Down Everest (US, Lawrence Schiller and Bruce Nyznik); The California Reich (US, Keith Critchlow and Walter F. Parkes); The Incredible Machine (US, Irwin Rosten and Ed Spiegel))

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Frank Pierson, DOG DAY AFTERNOON (2nd: Lina Wertmuller, Seven Beauties, followed by: Joan Tewkesbury, Nashville; Alan Sharp, Night Moves; Robert Towne and Warren Beatty, Shampoo)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO‘S NEST (2nd: Stanley Kubrick, Barry Lyndon, followed by: Waldo Salt, The Day of the Locust; Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle, Monty Python and The Holy Grail; John Huston and Gladys Hill, The Man Who Would Be King)

CINEMATOGRAPHY: John Alcott, BARRY LYNDON (2nd: Russell Boyd, Picnic at Hanging Rock, followed by John Alcott, Overlord; Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Conrad Hall, The Day of the Locust)

ART DIRECTION: BARRY LYNDON, The Day of the Locust, The Sunshine Boys, Tommy, The Man Who Would Be King

COSTUME DESIGN: BARRY LYNDON, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Magic Flute, Nashville

FILM EDITING: JAWS, Dog Day Afternoon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Night Moves, Nashville  

SOUND: JAWS, Tommy, Nashville, Dog Day Afternoon, Rollerball

ORIGINAL SCORE: John Williams, JAWS (2nd: Jack Nitzsche, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, followed by: Enzo Jannacci, Seven Beauties; John Barry, The Day of the Locust; Bruce Smeaton, Picnic at Hanging Rock)

ADAPTED OR MUSICAL SCORE: Pete Townshend, TOMMY (2nd: Leonard Rosenmann, Barry Lyndon, followed by: Allen Nicholls, Keith Carradine, Karen Black, Ronee Blakeley, Gary Busey, Juan Grizzle, Dave Peel, Joe Raposo, Arline Barnett and Jonnie Barnett, Nashville; Richard O'Brien, The Rocky Horror Picture Show; Eric Ericson, The Magic Flute)

ORIGINAL SONG: “My Idaho Home” from NASHVILLE (Music and lyrics by Ronee Blakely) (2nd: "Camelot Song (Knights of the Round Table)” from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Music by Neil Innes, lyrics by Graham Chapman and John Cleese), followed by: "Since You've Gone" from Nashville (Music and lyrics by Gary Busey); “I’m Easy” from Nashville (Music and lyrics by Keith Carradine); "That's the Way of the World" from That's the Way of the World (Music and lyrics by Maurice White); "Dues" from Nashville  (Music and lyrics by Ronee Blakely); “One, I Love You” from Nashville (Music and lyrics by Richard Baskin); “Drifting and Dreaming of You” from White Line Fever (Music and lyrics by David Nichtern); “A Friend” from W.W. and The Dixie Dancekings (Music and lyrics by Don Williams and Jerry Reed); "It Don't Worry Me" from Nashville (Music and lyrics by Keith Carradine); "Champagne" from Tommy (Music and lyrics by Pete Townshend); "200 Years" from Nashville (Music by Richard Baskin, lyrics by Henry Gibson); "Let's Do It Again" from Let's Do It Again (Music and lyrics by Curtis Mayfield))


MAKEUP: BARRY LYNDON, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Sunshine Boys

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

1974--The Year in Review

The Francis Ford Coppola juggernaut continued in 1974 with two extremely notable works--sincerely, the charismatic writer/director was totally on fire this year, maybe as no other filmmaker has been before or since. This would have been an unprecedented one-man race were it not for Polanski and Towne's sublime Chinatown (dutifully noted here, though it still feels like I've slighted their magnificent work). Yet Coppola wasn't the only auteur to contribute two astounding pieces to his CV in 1974, as the most-unlikely Mel Brooks delivered a similar double-blow with Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Still--let's face it: there was only one choice to be made here. I'm glad to give some leeway to Cassavetes and his muse, wife Gena Rowlands, and to Brooks' most valuable supporting player (in both movies) Madeline Kahn. If I had only one wish, it would be that there were more than one award to give to this stellar array of Best Actor possibilities. But Hackman, with his supremely conflicted Harry Caul, had to emerge above them all, as it's perhaps this fine artist's most acutely detailed performance. A really remarkable year of movies here. Also note the first appearance of true "Claymation" in the winner of the Best Animated Short category: the superb stop motion artisan Will Vinton, who'd go on to influence film and advertising culture for decades to come. NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold. 

(2nd: Chinatown (US, Roman Polanski)
followed by: The Conversation (US, Francis Ford Coppola)
A Woman Under the Influence (US, John Cassavetes)
The Parallax View (US, Alan J. Pakula)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (US, Tobe Hooper)
Young Frankenstein (US, Mel Brooks)
General Idi Amin Dada (France/Switzerland, Barbet Schroeder)
Céline and Julie Go Boating (France, Jacques Rivette)
Edvard Munch (Norway/Sweden, Peter Watkins)
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (West Germany, Werner Herzog)
Blazing Saddles (US, Mel Brooks)
Thieves Like Us (US, Robert Altman)
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (US, Martin Scorsese)
Harry and Tonto (US, Paul Mazursky)
Italianamerican (US, Martin Scorsese)
Mirror (USSR, Andrei Tarkovsky)
Cockfighter (US, Monte Hellman)
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (US, Joseph Sargent)
Daisy Miller (US, Peter Bogdanovich)
Dark Star (US, John Carpenter)
The Longest Yard (US, Robert Aldrich)
Lancelot du Lac (France, Robert Bresson)
Hearts and Minds (US, Peter Davis)
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (West Germany, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
Female Trouble (US, John Waters)
Lenny (US, Bob Fosse)
Alice in the Cities (West Germany, Wim Wenders)
Xala (Senegal, Ousmane Sembene)
California Split (US, Robert Altman)
The Outfit (US, John Flynn)
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (US, John Korty)
The Sugarland Express (US, Steven Spielberg)
Black Christmas (US, Bob Clark)
Gone in 60 Seconds (US, H.B. Halicki)
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (Canada, Ted Koecheff)
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (US, Sam Peckinpah)
Cousin, Cousine (France, Jean-Charles Tachella)
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (US, Michael Cimino)
Murder on the Orient Express (US, Sidney Lumet)
Dersu Uzala (Japan/USSR, Akira Kurosawa)
Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (US, Thom Andersen)
Phantom of the Paradise (US, Brian de Palma)
Truck Turner (US, Jonathan Kaplan)
The Cars That Ate Paris (Australia, Peter Weir)
Caged Heat (US, Jonathan Demme)
Lacombe, Lucien (France, Louis Malle)
The Phantom of Liberty (France, Luis Buñuel)
Sandakan 8 (Japan, Kei Kumai)
Parade (France, Jacques Tati)
Zardoz (UK, John Boorman)
The Towering Inferno (US, John Guillermin)
Immoral Tales (France, Walerian Borowczyk)
Swept Away…by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August (Italy, Lina Wertmuller)
Phase IV (US, Saul Bass)
Conrack (US, Martin Ritt)
Freebie and the Bean (US, Richard Rush)
The Groove Tube (US, Ken Shapiro)
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (US, Gordon Hessler)
We All Loved Each Other So Much (Italy, Ettore Scola)
That's Entertainment! (US, Jack Haley Jr.)
Foxy Brown (US, Jack Hill)
Zandy's Bride (US, Jan Troell)
The Three Musketeers (US, Richard Lester)
Buster and Billie (US, Daniel Petrie)
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (US, John Hough)
Macon County Line (US, Richard Compton)
Earthquake (US, Mark Robson)
Emmanuelle (France, Just Jaeckin)
Sweet Movie (Yugoslavia/France, Dusan Makavejev)
Benji (US, Joe Camp))

ACTOR: Gene Hackman, THE CONVERSATION (2nd: Jack Nicholson, Chinatown, followed by: Al Pacino, The Godfather Part II; Art Carney, Harry and Tonto; Peter Falk, A Woman Under the Influence; Bruno S., The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser; Warren Oates, Cockfighter; Dustin Hoffman, Lenny

ACTRESS: Gena Rowlands, A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (2nd: Ellen Burstyn, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, followed by: Cicely Tyson, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman; Brigitte Mira, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul; Faye Dunaway, Chinatown; Marilyn Burns, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre; Diahann Carroll, Claudine)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Robert De Niro, THE GODFATHER PART II (2nd: John Huston, Chinatown, followed by: Lee Strasberg, The Godfather Part II; Jeff Bridges, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot; Harvey Korman, Blazing Saddles; John Cazale, The Godfather Part II; Robert Shaw, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three; Alan Arkin, Freebie and the Bean

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Madeline Kahn, BLAZING SADDLES (2nd: Valerie Perrine, Lenny, followed by: Cloris Leachman, Young Frankenstein; Jessica Harper, Phantom of the Paradise; Madeline Kahn, Young Frankenstein; Edith Massey, Female Trouble; Diane Ladd, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore; Talia Shire, The Godfather Part II)

DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola, THE GODFATHER PART II (2nd: Roman Polanski, Chinatown, followed by: Francis Ford Coppola, The Conversation; John Cassavetes, A Woman Under the Influence; Alan J. Pakula, The Parallax View; Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre; Jacques Rivette, Celine and Julie Go Boating; Bob Fosse, Lenny)

NON-ENGLISH-LANGUAGE FILM: CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING (France, Jacques Rivette) (2nd: Edvard Munch (Norway/Sweden, Peter Watkins), followed by: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (West Germany, Werner Herzog); Mirror (USSR, Andrei Tarkovsky); Lancelot du Lac (France, Robert Bresson); Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (West Germany, Rainer Werner Fassbinder); Alice in the Cities (West Germany, Wim Wenders); Xala (Senegal, Ousmane Sembene); Cousin, Cousine (France, Jean-Charles Tachella); Dersu Uzala (Japan/USSR, Akira Kurosawa) (won in 1975); Lacombe, Lucien (France, Louis Malle); The Phantom of Liberty (France, Luis Buñuel))

LIVE ACTION SHORT: ONE-EYED MEN ARE KINGS (France, Edmond Sechan) (2nd: The Violin (Canada, Andrew Welsh and George Pastic), followed by: Planet Ocean (US, George Casey)) 

ANIMATED SHORT: CLOSED MONDAYS (US, Will Vinton) (2nd: The Family That Dwelt Apart (Canada, Yvon Mallette), followed by: Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (US, John Lounsbury); The Heron and the Crane (Yugoslavia, Yuri Norshteyn); Miracle of Flight (UK, Terry Gilliam))

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: GENERAL IDI AMIN DADA (Germany, Barbet Schroeder) (2nd: Hearts and Minds (US, Peter Davis), followed by: Italianamerican (US, Martin Scorsese); Janis (US, Howard Alk))

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Robert Towne, CHINATOWN (2nd: Francis Ford Coppola, The Conversation, followed by John Cassavetes, A Woman Under the Influence; Paul Mazursky and Josh Greenfield, Harry and Tonto; Mel Brooks, Andrew Bergman, Norman Steinberg, Richard Pryor and Alan Uger, Blazing Saddles)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:  Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo, THE GODFATHER PART II (2nd: David Giler and Lorenzo Semple Jr., The Parallax View, followed by: Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder, Young Frankenstein; Peter Stone, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three; Frederic Raphael, Daisy Miller)

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Gordon Willis, THE GODFATHER PART II (2nd: John A. Alonzo, Chinatown, followed by: Gordon Willis, The Parallax View; Gerald Hirschfeld, Young Frankenstein; Bruce Surtees, Lenny)

ART DIRECTION: THE GODFATHER PART II, Chinatown, Young Frankenstein, Murder on the Orient Express, The Towering Inferno

COSTUME DESIGN: DAISY MILLER, Chinatown, The Great Gatsby, The Godfather Part II, Murder on the Orient Express 

FILM EDITING: THE GODFATHER PART II, The Longest Yard, Chinatown, The Conversation, The Parallax View

SOUND: THE CONVERSATION, Earthquake, The Longest Yard, The Godfather Part II, Young Frankenstein

ORIGINAL SCORE: Jerry Goldsmith, CHINATOWN (2nd: David Shire, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, followed by: Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola, The Godfather Part II; Michael Small, The Parallax View; John Morris, Young Frankenstein)

SCORING OF A MUSICAL/ADAPTATION SCORE: Paul Williams and George Allieson Tipton, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (2nd: Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe, The Little Prince, followed by: Nelson Riddle, The Great Gatsby)

ORIGINAL SONG: “Benson, Arizona“ from DARK STAR (Music by John Carpenter, lyrics by Bill Taylor) (2nd: “Special to Me“ from Phantom of the Paradise (Music and lyrics by Paul Williams), followed by “Blazing Saddles” from Blazing Saddles (Music by John Morris; lyrics by Mel Brooks); “Truck Turner” from Truck Turner (Music and lyrics by Isaac Hayes); “On and On“ from Claudine (Music and lyrics by Curtis Mayfield); "Where Do We Go From Here" from Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (Music and lyrics by Paul Williams); “I’m Tired” from Blazing Saddles (Music by John Morris; lyrics by Mel Brooks); "We May Never Love Like This Again" from The Towering Inferno (Music and lyrics by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschorn); "Benji's Theme (I Feel Love)" from Benji (Music by Euel Box, lyrics by Betty Box))

SPECIAL EFFECTS: EARTHQUAKE, The Towering Inferno, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad


Thursday, January 21, 2016

1973--The Year in Review

When Universal Studios' executives were presented with the script for my film of choice, they insisted it would never work: there were too many story lines running concurrently, and audiences would be hopelessly lost in navigating its plot. When the aging execs finally saw the film, they abjectly hated it--but, then again, Universal Studios had been famously behind the times for many years. American Graffiti ended up being not only the best movie of the year, but also among the most profitable of all time. It also changed the way we processed cinematic storytelling, even after filmmakers like Robert Altman had accepted its forward thinking. Though I absolutely ADORE the ten films that follow it on my list, I could go no other way. The acting, the dialogue, the look, the sound, the editing, the needle-drop scoring (even better than the remarkable Mean Streets)…it changed so much of American film that it simply could not be ignored. Its effects are still being felt today, with each decade producing a movie of prime similarity (in the 80s Fast Times at Ridgemont High; in the 90s Dazed and Confused, in the 2000s Superbad). But I have to give props to so many other films this year, and so I think my relatively well-balanced ballot says it all (there was no way I could ignore the Best Director of the year). I have to note that the song category was packed to the max with possibilities, and though both the Hamlisch/Bergman standard and the Dylan anthem live on in lively ways, I was compelled to go another direction; the protracted final shot of Electra Glide in Blue, with the insanely emotive song "Tell Me" as its backing, is just TOO unforgettable. And finally, as to the oft-neglected short film category, I COMPLETELY urge you all to look at Frank and Caroline Mouris’ Frank Film; it is utterly unlike anything ever made--a singular achievement. NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold.

(2nd: O Lucky Man! (UK, Lindsay Anderson)
followed by: The Exorcist (US, William Friedkin)
Scenes from a Marriage (Sweden, Ingmar Bergman)
Mean Streets (US, Martin Scorsese)
Electra Glide in Blue (US, James William Guercio)
Paper Moon (US, Peter Bogdanovich)
Badlands (US, Terrence Malick)
The Long Goodbye (US, Robert Altman)
The Sting (US, George Roy Hill)
Amarcord (Italy, Federico Fellini)
Painters Painting (US, Emile de Antonio)
The Mother and the Whore (France, Jean Eustache)
The Spirit of the Beehive (Spain, Victor Erice)
Holy Mountain (Mexico, Alejandro Jodorowsky)
Don’t Look Now (UK, Nicolas Roeg)
F for Fake (France/US, Orson Welles)
Payday (US, Daryl Duke)
Papillon (US, Franklin J. Schaffner)
The Wicker Man (UK, Robin Hardy)
Scarecrow (US, Jerry Schatzberg)
Theatre of Blood (UK, Douglas Hickox)
The Iceman Cometh (US, John Frankenheimer)
The Last Detail (US, Hal Ashby)
Charley Varrick (US, Don Siegel)
Sleeper (US, Woody Allen)
High Plains Drifter (US, Clint Eastwood)
Bang The Drum Slowly (US, John Hancock)
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (US, Peter Yates)
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (US, Sam Peckinpah)
The Day of the Jackal (UK, Fred Zinnemann)
Serpico (US, Sidney Lumet)
The Night Porter (Italy, Liliana Cavani)
Sisters (US, Brian de Palma)
Day for Night (France, François Truffaut)
Godspell (US, David Greene)
Magnum Force (US, Ted Post)
The Paper Chase (US, James Bridges)
Jeremy (US, Arthur Barron)
Turkish Delight (Netherlands, Paul Verhoeven)
A Brief Vacation (Italy, Vittorio de Sica)
The Last American Hero (US, Lamont Johnson)
Distant Thunder (India, Satyajit Ray)
The Last of Sheila (US, Herbert Ross)
Save the Tiger (US, John G. Avildsen)
That'll Be the Day (UK, Claude Whatham)
Charlotte's Web (US, Charles Nichols and Iwao Takamoto)
Blume in Love (US, Paul Mazursky)
Dillinger (US, John Milius)
Wattstax (US, Mel Stuart)
The Way We Were (US, Sydney Pollack)
Breezy (US, Clint Eastwood)
Coffy (US, Jack Hill)
Tom Sawyer (US, Don Taylor)
Fantastic Planet (France, René Laloux)
Enter the Dragon (US/Hong Kong, Robert Clouse)
The Seven-Ups (US, Philip D'Antoni)
The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob (France, Gerard Oury)
Let the Good Times Roll (US, Robert Abel and Sidney Levin)
Ganja and Hess (US, Bill Gunn)
La Grande Bouffe (France, Marco Ferreri)
My Name is Nobody (US/Italy, Tonino Valerii)
The Laughing Policeman (US, Stuart Rosenberg)
White Lightning (US, Joseph Sargent)
Soylent Green (US, Richard Fleischer)
The Crazies (US, George A. Romero)
Robin Hood (US, Wolfgang Reitherman)
Jesus Christ Superstar (US, Norman Jewison)
Walking Tall (US, Phil Karlson); Emperor of the North (US, Robert Aldrich)
The Devil in Miss Jones (US, Gerard Damiano))

DIRECTOR: Lindsay Anderson, O LUCKY MAN! (2nd: Martin Scorsese, Mean Streets, followed by: George Lucas, American Graffiti; William Friedkin, The Exorcist; Ingmar Bergman, Scenes from a Marriage; Terrence Malick, Badlands; Peter Bogdanovich, Paper Moon; George Roy Hill, The Sting)

ACTOR: Vincent Price, THEATRE OF BLOOD (2nd: Malcolm McDowell, O Lucky Man!, followed by: Robert Blake, Electra Glide in Blue; Al Pacino, Serpico; Donald Sutherland, Don't Look Now; Rip Torn, Payday; Jack Nicholson, The Last Detail; Jack Lemmon, Save the TigerHarvey Keitel, Mean Streets

ACTRESS: Liv Ullmann, SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (2nd: Ellen Burstyn, The Exorcist, followed by: Sissy Spacek, Badlands; Pam Grier, Coffy; Barbara Streisand, The Way We Were; Julie Christie, Don’t Look Now; Kay Lenz, Breezy; Charlotte Rampling, The Night Porter)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jason Miller, THE EXORCIST (2nd: Robert De Niro, Mean Streets, followed by: Robert Ryan, The Iceman Cometh; Max Von Sydow, The Exorcist; John Houseman, The Paper Chase; Paul Le Mat, American Graffiti; Charles Martin Smith, American Graffiti; Arthur Lowe, O Lucky Man!)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Tatum O’Neal, PAPER MOON (2nd: Madeline Kahn, Paper Moon, followed by: Valentina Cortese, Day for Night; Candy Clark, American Graffiti; Cindy Williams, American Graffiti; Mackenzie Phillips, American Graffiti; Diane Keaton, Sleeper; Linda Blair (and Mercedes McCambridge), The Exorcist)

NON-ENGLISH LANGUAGE FILM: SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (Sweden, Ingmar Bergman) (2nd: Amarcord (Italy, Federico Fellini), followed by: The Mother and the Whore (France, Jean Eustache); The Spirit of the Beehive (Spain, Victor Erice); Holy Mountain (Mexico, Alejandro Jodorowsky); The Night Porter (Italy, Liliana Cavani); Day for Night (France, François Truffaut); Turkish Delight (Netherlands, Paul Verhoeven); A Brief Vacation (Italy, Vittorio de Sica); Distant Thunder (India, Satyajit Ray))

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: PAINTERS PAINTING (US, Emile de Antonio) (2nd: F for Fake (US, Orson Welles), followed by Wattstax (US, Mel Stuart); Let The Good Times Roll (US, Robert Abel and Sidney Levin))

ANIMATED FEATURE: CHARLOTTE'S WEB (US, Charles Nichols and Iwao Takamoto) (2nd: Fantastic Planet (France, René Laloux), followed by: Robin Hood (US, Wolfgang Reitherman)

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: George Lucas, Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, AMERICAN GRAFFITI (2nd: David S. Ward, The Sting, followed by: Ingmar Bergman, Scenes from a Marriage; Martin Scorsese and Mardik Martin, Mean Streets; Robert Boris and Rupert Hitzig, Electra Glide in Blue)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: William Peter Blatty, THE EXORCIST (2nd: Alvin Sargent, Paper Moon, followed by: David Sherwin and Malcolm McDowell, O Lucky Man!; Leigh Brackett, The Long Goodbye; Kenneth Ross, The Day of the Jackal)

LIVE ACTION SHORT: THE WOLD-SHADOW (US, Stan Brakhage) (2nd: Cristo’s Valley Curtain (US, Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Ellen Giffard), followed by: L’Ammbassade (Chile, Chris Marker); The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (UK, Jeff Grant); A Field of Honor (US, Robert Zemeckis))

ANIMATED SHORT: FRANK FILM (US, Frank Mouris) (2nd: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (US, Bill Melendez), followed by: The Trip (Japan, Kihachiro Kawamoto); Where The Wild Things Are (US, Gene Deitch); Tup Tup (Yugoslavia, Nedeljko Dragic))

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Lazslo Kovacs, PAPER MOON (2nd: Owen Roizman and Billy Williams, The Exorcist, followed by: Rafael Corkidi, Holy Mountain; Conrad Hall, Electra Glide in Blue; Robert Surtees, The Sting)

ART DIRECTION: THE STING, Paper Moon, The Exorcist, High Plains Drifter, Holy Mountain

COSTUME DESIGN: THE STING, Paper Moon, The Way We Were, Amarcord, Godspell 

FILM EDITING: AMERICAN GRAFFITI, The Exorcist, The Sting, The Day of the Jackal, Godspell

SOUND: AMERICAN GRAFFITI, The Exorcist, Paper Moon, The Sting, Papillon 

ORIGINAL SCORE: Jerry Goldsmith, PAPILLON (2nd: Marvin Hamlisch, The Way We Were, followed by: James William Guercio, Electra Glide in Blue; John Williams, The Long Goodbye; Nino Rota, Amarcord)

ADAPTED/SONG SCORE: Alan Price, O LUCKY MAN! (2nd: Marvin Hamlisch, The Sting, followed by: Stephen Schwartz and Stephen Reinhardt, Godspell; Paul Giovanni, The Wicker Man; Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, Charlotte's Web)

ORIGINAL SONG: “Tell Me” from ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE (Music and lyrics by James William Guercio) (2nd: “The Way We Were” from The Way We Were (Music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman), followed by: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” from Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Music and lyrics by Bob Dylan); “O Lucky Man!” from O Lucky Man! (Music and lyrics by Alan Price); "I Got a Name" from The Last American Hero (Music by Charles Fox, lyrics by Norman Gimbel); "The Long Goodbye" from The Long Goodbye (Music by John Williams, lyrics by Johnny Mercer); “Live and Let Die” from Live and Let Die (Music and lyrics by Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney); "There Must Be Something More" from Charlotte's Web (Music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman); “She’s Only A Country Girl” from Payday (Music and lyrics by Shel Silverstein); "River Song" from Tom Sawyer (Music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman); "Poor People" from O Lucky Man! (Music and lyrics by Alan Price); "Are You Man Enough?" from Shaft in Africa (Music and lyrics by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter); "Corn Rigs" from The Wicker Man (Music and lyrics by Paul Giovanni); "Tom Sawyer!" from Tom Sawyer (Music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman); "Beautiful City" from Godspell (Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz); "Nice to Be Around" from Cinderella Liberty (Music by John Williams, lyrics by Paul Williams))

MAKEUP: THE EXORCIST, Papillon, The Sting

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Best Films of 2015

This year I found myself bristling with disappointment at the movie theater. With the ever-escalating number of productions being made, this might be attributable to cinematic burnout--though I prefer to chalk it up to refined taste. In general, I just found this year's crop of movies to be thuddingly blah (sorry to repeat an old trope, but the best TV was way more engaging). Even more irritating is the fact that, uncomfortably often and for whatever reason (ignorance as prime), the critical mass covered up for the industry's downfalls by goofily overpraising a great many titles while outright ignoring so many outstanding, less hyped ones. I was confounded by the adoration that many felt for year-end Oscar bait (Room is a particularly drab dislike of mine; I'm much less mystified toward the love for the accomplished yet problematic Spotlight, The Big Short, and Brooklyn, while the critical march behind the dynamic but narratively threadbare Mad Max: Fury Road leaves me wondering whether any film writers had ever seen the original George Miller movies on big or small screens). Anyway, it's an off-year, but I'm not a complete sad-sack: as with all years, I could at least find 25 (really, 27) pictures to be passionate about, and many more to simply recommend. Here are my choices for the best in 2015 cinema:

1) Inside Out (US, Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen)
Visually lush and, frankly, raucously funny, this was the 2015 film that really made me FEEL more than any movie out there. Brilliantly performed by its cast (I particularly loved Phyllis Smith as Sadness and Richard Kind as the fading imaginary friend Bing-Bong), the movie is conceived with such lithe, detailed care that it transformed the way I think about my own thoughts (and I suspect it did the same for many a filmgoer). It might be a difficult movie for some Pixar fans to love, as it's essentially about gloom (many parents were likely challenged to explain its details to their kids) but I think that's its prime attribute; we don't get many movies about that subject (and certainly none directed at children, who are always smarter than we think). As a person that suffers from depression (a daily struggle), Inside Out honestly helped me gain insight into my past, present, and future; that it made me laugh, cry, marvel and cheer was a generous bonus. How I adore it! 

2) 45 Years (UK, Andrew Haigh)
Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay deliver the performances of a storied lifetime in this dazzling dissection of a marriage's secret history. Impressive in its economy, it speeds by, its laconic pace never feeling rushed as every coming moment finds a fresh reveal in the weathered faces of our leads. It's so haunting, it almost feels like a ghost story, and it has the single most stunning closing shot of any 2015 movie--one that, when coupled with a final song and dance, reduces me to shivering tears.

3) Wild Tales (Argentina, Damien Szifron)
Revenge has never been more hilariously, devastatingly fun. Six stories of backstabbing goodness, impeccably directed by newcomer-of-the-year Szifron. I solemnly swear: you won't forget this movie once you see it--it really gets your heart racing in a heaping variety of fashions! The single best anthology movie ever (with each story hitting at 100% maximum impact), it's also the film I'd recommend everyone drop what they're doing immediately and watch. It's that freakin' good.

4) Creed (US, Ryan Coogler)
It revives the joy and character-driven competition of the still underrated Rocky--a huge surprise! And what a cast! Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and especially Sylvester Stallone are all so wonderful in it that it's easy to forgive its adherence to a basic formula, though when a formula is concocted this well, it reminds you why they exist in the first place: when justly mixed, they work magic on audiences. Terrific editing, scoring, sound, and Maryse Alberti photography (my gosh, that one-shot fight sequence is a miracle)! Just an impeccable Hollywood production on all fronts, spearheaded by Coogler, a writer/director who obviously cared deeply about his charge.

5) Amy (UK/US, Asif Kapadia)
The documentary of the year, and one that implicates all of us who once reduced this supreme artist down to a late-night punchline. Inventively constructed largely from Winehouse's personal video recordings (quite a dashing choice there), it's not a movie I expected to have move me to tears, but it did (it was the scene with Amy and Tony Bennett that really gut-punched me). Most importantly, it's led me to fully appreciate the impeccable artistry of its subject--and, make no mistake, she was an outright genius.

6) Anomalisa (US, Charles Kaufman and Duke Johnson)
A film about loneliness, and the ability we all have to alleviate it, in ourselves and in others (though it's also about the inescapability of it all for some). Superbly crafted, with intense performances by David Thewlis and Tom Noonan (whose flat delivery of nearly all the character's voices--male, female, child, adult--is somehow perfect). Especially remarkable is Jennifer Jason Leigh, who vibrantly enlivens the title character with hurt, shyness, and joy. It's one of the year's top performances and, in the realm of animated voice turns, perhaps the best of all time. Her a capella delivery of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" was just otherworldly.

7) The Revenant (US, Alejandro G. Inarritu)
Totally exciting and epic--a strapping western stripped down to basic elements, like all good westerns should be. The film makes you feel, down to your toes, the Herculean effort that went into making it, and I love that, even if others find that aspect of it annoying (why are some downgrading this movie for that?). In this tale of survival, Leonardo Di Caprio pushes himself to the absolute limit, and is nearly matched in disheveled ferocity by Tom Hardy (who had a heckuva year, and deserves to be talked about more as one of this film's most valuable players). And we should give major credit to Emmanuel Lubezki whose photography is so athletic, so absolutely gorgeous, that its gonna be hard to deny him his third Oscar in a row. How can this team top this?

8) Chi-Raq (US, Spike Lee)
Lee's most unremittingly vital movie in years--poetic, raucous, sexy and dangerous. An extremely funny and creative work, with an astounding cast (led by a revelatory Teyonnah Davis) and almost literally musical dialogue largely done in rhymes as a tribute to its source material, Aristophenes'  Lysistrata. With all that's going on in it, it adroitly maintains its focus on the avalanche of gun violence on US streets, managing to be more insightful than even the most understanding documentary could be. As a bonus, it pops with a sense of nearly-off-the-tracks wildness not seen since the early days of Robert Altman and Mike Nichols! Enlivened with exemplary songs and a Terence Blanchard score.

  9) The End of the Tour (US, James Ponsoldt)
A moving, layered work about male relationships, the processing of fame by the unfamous, and the acceptance of fame by those who kinda don't want it. Jesse Eisenberg is slyly duplicitous as the Rolling Stone reporter visiting newly-minted genius David Foster Wallace for an in-depth interview. As Wallace, Jason Segel delivers 2015's most eye-opening performance, filled with pain, smarts and exuberance (how in the hell is he not being talked about more in this awards season?). The modern equivalent to My Dinner with Andre, another movie in love with words and ideas.  

10) The Tribe (Ukraine, Miroslav Slaboshpitsky)
Slaboshpitsky's tour through the criminal underbelly roiling beneath the halls of a school for the deaf is maybe the chanciest film of the year. Filmed completely without words (or subtitles), it manages to say everything while saying nothing, meanwhile ratcheting up our attention to the sound of its surroundings and its ferocious characters. Masterfully directed in widescreen with a constantly roaming camera, I can easily say I've never seen anything like it. 

11) Sicario (US, Denis Villeneuve)
Thrilling and constructed with complete assurance, with its strangely passive protagonist imparting a sense of impotence toward the hopeless drug war. Supreme contributions, too, from photographer Roger Deakins and composer Johann Johannsson. And, of course, Benicio Del Toro's extraordinary hero/villain sends us to unimaginable extremes.

12) (TIE) Bridge of Spies (US, Steven Spielberg)
The sign of a master who still knows how to spin a great yarn. Spielberg is assisted by the efficiently surprising screenplay by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers, and with his usual coterie of collaborators (chief among them cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and editor Michael Kahn, as well as lead Tom Hanks), you can totally feel the director settling in to do some fine work. Mark Rylance's immense though controlled supporting performance is a major asset!


Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Israel, Shlomi Elkabetz and Ronit Elkabetz)
This terrific courtroom drama from the Israeli filmmakers who brought us The Band's Visit a few years ago stars co-director Ronit Elkabetz as a wife desperate to convince her cold-fish husband to grant her a divorce. Faced with a dour rabbinical court who refuses to consider a woman's point of view, all manner of leeway is given to the uncooperative husband, to the point where this trial goes on for a radically long time (you will seriously shake with rage over the injustice of it all, and be astonished at the accompanying absurdity). Stark in its almost black-and white look, and claustrophobic in its confinement to the courtroom only, Gett features some of the best acting of 2015--a really intense ensemble at work here, led by a devastating Elkabetz, whose pleading, tired eyes piece your soul. 

13) A Despadida (Farewell)  (Brazil, Marcelo Galveo)
A sad and ultimately rousing goodbye, and hello, to life. Nelson Xavier's heartrending turn as The Admiral, an old man venturing out from his family-imposed sickbed to experience one final day of independence, is one of the marvels of the year. I hope more people get clued into this masterwork of Brazilian cinema, which is a lot more life-affirming than it might initially sound. 

14) Dope (US, Rick Famuyiwa) 
Wow, what a marvel this one was. Shameik Moore is terrific as a geeky L.A. kid trying to get ahead in a tough world that has no time for his college ambitions. Famuyiwa's intelligent yet always entertaining writing ensures us we're in capable hands as he steers us one way and then another through a seriously unpredictable turn of events. Tony Revelori and especially Kiersey Clemons are equally effective as Moore's best friends. I still wonder why more people aren't talking about this exciting, expertly-built film!

15) Krisha (US, Trey Edward Shults)
A truly original work, coming from a utterly personal space. If John Cassavetes were still alive, he would've loved this. Krisha Fairchild (playing herself, like everyone is in the film) is commanding as the drunken, unreliable black sheep of the family coming home for her first Thanksgiving meal in a while. In fact, this might be the most accurate Thanksgiving movie ever made, complete with an eventful dinner (wait and see what happens to the turkey) and even more eventfully wringing emotions. Lovingly shot and edited, this is a must-see for anyone who adores absolutely independent indies.

16) Two Step (US, Alex R. Johnson)
This taut Texas noir, quiet and gritty, sported one of the year's finest scripts (by director Johnson) and also a supremely capable ensemble cast led by the menacing yet somehow sympathetic James Landry Hebert and, in a biting supporting performance, the imposing Jason Douglas. Fun but also totally calamitous--we can feel the agony in its every move. And what a grasp it has on its Texas surroundings--a film that completely earns its comparisons to the Coens' Blood Simple, though it does so resolutely on its own terms.

17) The Gift (US, Joel Edgarton)
Among 2015's most underrated movies is this writing/directorial debut by actor Joel Edgarton, here deftly walking the line between intimidation and anguish as the put-upon boyhood target of bullying yuppie jerk Jason Bateman, with Rebecca Hill as Bateman's on-edge wife; all three performances are phenomenal. A baldly involving work that shrewdly subverts its genre and our expectations of it. 

18) God Bless The Child (US, Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck)
Visually stunning in its simplicity, this day-in-the-life of an older sister trying to keep her younger brothers in line while their mother is away is the year's most little-seen gem, and the film on this list that really needs a bigger audience--one that's ready for something completely new and challenging.

19) Straight Outta Compton (US, F. Gary Gray)
Arguably the most effective musical bio-pic ever devoted to a band rather than a single personality. The terrific screenplay really does something unique with the genre (especially in its first two-thirds), and the superb cast, led by Jason Mitchell as Easy-E and O'Shea Jackson playing his father Ice Cube, is equally impressive. Gray's direction is right on point, assisted by sharp editing and Matthew Libatique's evocative photography. You don't need to be a rap fan to love this one; in fact, it'll be an education to the positive if you aren't. 

20) Mad Max: Fury Road (Australia, George Miller)
While it's rather anemic on the screenplay front, there's no denying that this massive fourth entry in Miller's apocalyptic series is a visual feat that makes one positively giddy with its adrenaline-fueled chaos. Magnificently realized by this master of so many genres, but who is defined by his grasp of space, time, and movement. I must say, moments of this film transported me back to 1979 and 1981, and to when my jaw first dropped watching the most amazing stunts ever filmed. The fact that the film is bringing moviegoers to the conclusion that the real is better than CGI (which is still a player here) is enough for me to downright love it, even with my misgivings.

21) Carol (US, Todd Haynes) 
I'll be able to appreciate this film more as time progresses. I generally prefer my movie romances to have a bit more intellectual connection between its protagonists, but I can't deny that pure passion exists, and as such, this is the movie that illustrates it. Impossibly sensual, it's feels like a piece about memory as well, and the patina through which we view our most soul-shaking moments. Cate Blanchett is terrific (she had another magnificent year with this, Cinderella, and Truth), but it's Rooney Mara, with her shattering stare, who really makes it work. Incredible direction from Todd Haynes proves he's a master at this kind of storytelling (not that it needed proof), but photographer Ed Lachman, working in 16mm and shooting through a continual array of  reflecting and watery windows, is clearly his second in command.  

22) Spy (US, Paul Feig)
The funniest live-action movie of the year, by a wide margin. It confirms Melissa McCarthy's standing as a major comedic force, while never forgetting to give face time to its impressive supporting cast, with action star Jason Statham being a particularly adept scene-stealer. It's simple: I just had total fun here.

23) Tangerine (US, Sean Baker)
Boy, was I surprised by this--a wholly engaging comedy about the bumpy friendship between two transgender prostitutes combing the brightly-colored streets of Los Angeles in search of a heartbreaking pimp. The fact that it's shot on an I-Phone never feels like a gimmick and instead enables the filmmakers to get ridiculously creative with their low-budget visuals. And I have to add: are there two more dynamic performances in American movies this year? Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor are just delicious in their hysterical ferocity and, ultimately, in their togetherness. Somewhere, John Waters is smiling...

24) I'll See You in My Dreams (US, Brett Haley)
So sweet to see the always lovely Blythe Danner get a role worth her mettle, in a movie that has real respect for the aged and their ability to get back in the thick of things. Terrific support from all, but particularly Martin Starr and the incredible Sam Elliott. It's a movie that I simply responded to on a personal level, though I was quite mindful while doing so. A perfect movie for a Sunday afternoon, and those are often the kinds of films I feel need more love.

25) TIE: Heaven Knows What (US, Ben Safdie and Joshua Safdie)
The drug war as played out on the streets. Arielle Holmes plays herself in this film based on her memoir, and that in itself is incredible. As much a tale of survival as The Revenant, this tour through the hell of NYC heroin addiction is perhaps the most honest that we've seen since the 1970s and Panic in Needle Park. But the personal connection here is immediately palpable, and the filmmakers never shy away from its nastiest aspects. Not a film for everyone, though--it takes a strong constitution to go down this rabbit hole. I almost didn't make it out.


James White (US, Josh Mond)
Devastating drama with Christopher Abbott extremely impressive in the title role as a self-destructive son taking care of his cancer-ridden mother (Cynthia Nixon, who is absolutely superb) while he smashes his senses night after night at NYC clubs. Completely real, and utterly devastating in its close-up examination of abject misery. If anything, it might be TOO hard to watch. But, for sure, this is among the best directorial debuts of the year, with two of the annum's most detailed performances.

OF NOTE AND RECOMMENDED (in alphabetical order): 31/2 Minutes Ten Bullets, 99 Homes, Almost There, L'Annee Prochaine (Next Year), Apartment Troubles, Barely Lethal, Best of Enemies, Bone Tomahawk, Boychoir, Brooklyn, Cartel Land, Christmas Again, Danny Collins, Dante's Down the Hatch, Deli Man, The Duff, Experimenter, Far From the Madding Crowd, Finders Keepers, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, I Am Michael, Infinitely Polar Bear, Irrational Man, The Hateful Eight, Kumiko The Treasure Hunter, Labyrinth of Lies, Learning to Drive, Little Accidents, Love and Mercy, Mad as Hell, Magic Mike XXL, Match, Merchants of Doubt, Meru, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Mr. Holmes, Mistress America, Montedoro, Results, Runoff, Spectre, Spotlight, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Unfriended, Wild Horses, Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Steve Jobs, A Walk in the Woods, What Happened Miss Simone?, WildLike, The Yes Men are Revolting, Youth

LOVED LAST YEAR, RELEASED THIS YEAR: Sunshine Superman, '71, Stray Dog, Iris, Eden (Mia Hansen-Love), Red Army, I Believe in Unicorns, Time Out of Mind

SOME FINE ASPECTS, BUT WAY OVERRATED: Ex Machina, The Martian, The Big Short, It Follows, The Assassin, Everest, Victoria, Clouds of Sils Maria, Trainwreck, White God, Beasts of No Nation, The Lobster, Goodnight Mommy, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, The Diary of a Teenage Girl

BLAH: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World, While We're Young, Pos Eso (Possessed), Particle Fever, Pitch Perfect 2, Welcome to Me, Five Flights Up, The Runner, Cop Car, Ant-Man, Black Mass, Song One, Kingsman: The Secret Service, 1971, Truth, The Seven Five, The Voices, A Murder in the Park, American Ultra, Criminal Activity, The Walk, I Smile Back, The Intern, Mississippi Grind, Grandma, Pawn Sacrifice, Where to Invade Next, Trumbo, Concussion, Joy

THE WORST: Fort Tilden, Mortdecai, Entertainment, True Story, The Peanuts Movie, Jupiter Ascending, Room, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Sisters, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Ricki and the Flash, Son of a Gun

STILL HAVEN'T SEEN: Son of Saul, Queen of Earth, The Duke of Burgundy, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Timbuktu, Theeb, Seymour: An Introduction, Hard to Be a God, Kahil Gibran's The Prophet, Mustang, Girlhood, Shaun The Sheep Movie, What We Do in the Shadows, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, The Look of Silence, Heart of a Dog, Phoenix, Taxi, Hitchcock/Truffaut, We Are Still Here, Boy and the World,  When Marnie Was There, The Hunting Ground, The Lady in the Van, Gueros, Approaching the Elephant, The Forbidden Room, The Danish Girl, Love, Macbeth, A War, Slow West, Maggie, The Brand New Testament, In Jackson Heights (By the way, it makes me angry how hard these sorts of movies are to see for audiences outside of NYC and LA...isn't there a damn better way to get these kind of titles out there to concerned viewers? I know there is!)

GREAT PRE-2015 FILMS I DISCOVERED THIS YEAR (in preferential order): I Promised to Pay (aka Payroll) (Sidney Hayers, 61), Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg, 2010), Call Northside 777 (Henry Hathaway, 48), Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Elio Petri, 71),  Welfare (Frederick Wiseman, 75), What a Crazy World! (Michael Carreras, 63), That Sinking Feeling (Bill Forsyth, 79), Countdown to Looking Glass (1984, Fred Barzyk), Forty Guns (Samuel Fuller, 57), The Hit (Stephen Frears, 84), The Iceman Cometh (John Frankenheimer, 73), Love and Betrayal: The Mia Farrow Story (Karen Arthur, 95)Playboy's Roller Disco and Pajama Party (Tom Trbovich, 79), Night Nurse (William A. Wellman, 31), Cry Terror (Andrew L. Stone, 58), No Place Like Home (Lee Grant, 89), Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (Robert Parrish, 69), Night Train to Munich (Carol Reed, 40), Riot (Buzz Kulik, 69), Words and Pictures (Fred Schepisi, 2013), The Devil and Miss Jones (Sam Wood, 41), Boomerang (Elia Kazan, 47), Canyon Passage (Jacques Tourneur, 46), Devil in a Blue Dress (Carl Franklin, 95), Cry Wolf (Peter Godfrey, 47), How To Beat the High Cost of Living (Robert Scheerer, 80), Bill (Anthony Page, 81), Thunderbirds Are GO! (David Lane, 66), My Old Lady (Israel Horovitz, 2014), Not as a Stranger (Stanley Kramer, 55), The Facts of Life (Melvin Frank, 60), Murder in Coweta County (Gary Nelson, 83), Odd Man Out (Carol Reed, 47), Cause for Alarm! (Tay Garnett, 51), Gideon's Army (Dawn Porter, 2013)

GREAT FILMS REDISCOVERED: Hooper (Hal Needham,78), Sharky's Machine (Burt Reynolds, 81), Ladybug Ladybug (Frank Perry, 63), Murder on a Sunday Morning (Jean-Xavier de Lastrade, 2001), The Mist (Frank Darabont, 2007), Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, 2009), Old Enough (Marisa Silver, 84), The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (Preston Sturges, 44), The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges, 42), Between the Lines (Joan Micklin Silver, 77), The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, 2010), Nightmare Alley (Edmund Goulding, 47), Girlfriends (Claudia Weill, 78), United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006), General Orders No. 9 (Robert Persons, 2009), Son of Frankenstein (Rowland V. Lee, 39), Sherman's March (Ross McElwee, 85)

BLAH FROM THE PAST: Neighbors (2014), The Judge, The Hindenburg, The Conjuring, Flawless, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, Chaplin, The Razor's Edge (46), The Best of Everything, Mosquito, Reptilicus, The Thing with Two Heads, Tomboy, Roller Boogie, Take This Job and Shove It, The Visitor (79), Love of a Stranger, My Son John, The Hobbit trilogy, Lockout, Unearthed, Black Sabbath, Return to Mayberry, Hoffa, The H Man, Ginger in the Morning

GREAT TELEVISION (in order of preference): Show Me A Hero, Making a Murderer, Master of None, Fargo, The Jinx, Mad Men, Mr. Robot, The Unsinkable Kimmy Schmidt, Ray Donovan, Off The Air, Veep, Louie, Downton Abbey, American Crime, Documentary Now!, Masterchef Australia, Real Time with Bill Maher, Ash Vs. Evil Dead, The Slap, Mike Tyson Mysteries, We Bare Bears, W/ Bob and David

Finally, I'm pleased to present the MOVIE GEEKS UNITED year-end wrap up, where Jamey Duvall, Jerry Dennis and I each talk about our top ten films of the year. It's always an involving listen, so if you have a couple of hours, check it out! 

And now, on with 2016...and thanks for reading!