A Look Back at 2015:
Speak low…when you speak love…when you speak of the films you love…
There’s a film that was released in 2015 that hardly anyone is mentioning at year’s end. It’s a film that for fans of a certain type of old-school cinema…those who love noir, Lang, Hitchcock and The Third Man…soared wafting in on the summer breezes to art-house theaters like a fresh breath of cool lake air. And it features a singular performance (from the one and only Nina Hoss) and a closing scene, so haunting, so complete, so cinematic, so classy…it made those lovers of that refined kind of retro flick gasp. “We didn’t know they could make them like this anymore…” we communally thought. Oh, but they do…and it’s so very rare and precious when they do. Phoenix (and for the legions who haven’t seen it, please do…it’s currently streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime) is the film of the year – hell, maybe of the decade. My wife and I loved it so much we had “Speak Low” play as one of our wedding songs. It’s that damn good. And unforgettable.
The theme of survival and revenge (and in the case of Phoenix, the simple act of surviving as the sweetest form of revenge) was, as is almost always the case, the dominant theme of the year’s most powerful films. In Tom McCarthy’s riveting and “matter of fact” Spotlight, we saw how when good people put in the hard work, the truth and justice will eventually prevail. Like Phoenix it offered hope in a grim world of human horrors. Meanwhile, in what may have been the year’s most brutal survival film (and also the most sumptuously photographed), The Revenant, Inarritu depressingly offers up some kind of perverse divine/cosmic justice in the face of human misery, provided Mother Nature doesn’t swallow you up first.
There was also Mad Max: Fury Road which, pardon the cliché, shot like a bat out of hell and scorched across cineplexes like the last mad gasp of society gone completely mad. It was a pop metal-death feminist empowerment fantasia fever dream that both evoked the past (if Furiosa isn’t the symbolic cinematic resurrection of Dreyer’s Joan of Arc come back to raise hell after the apocalypse, then well, I’ll eat my hat) and vomited a vision of the future that blistered itself onto viewers like a boil. It’s the polar opposite of Phoenix, but almost just as memorable, and in any other given year would’ve devoured every other movie in its path.
But when it came to pop culture reinvention, circling back to make everything old new again…Hollywood was on fire from the over-the-top artsy action of Mendes’ “way better than they gave it credit for” Spectre to the return of the Stars Wars franchise to its Saturday afternoon serial and screwball comedy format in The Force Awakens to the “I didn’t even know I liked Rocky movies!” fun of the uplifting Creed. Even in the quiet and lovely and mostly overlooked Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, mopey but endearing teenagers ghetto-crafted their own smart-phone era updates of classic films, and the scene where “Me” is writhing around on the floor while his mother scolds him with the theme from Vertigo playing in the background is the type of pop-culture mishmash (an homage to John Hughes and Hitchcock in the same scene?) that could only exist in this 21st century of constant recycling and sampling.
The images 2015 left behind were astonishing thanks to some of the best collective work in cinematography I can recall as an active amateur film critic. The greatest living cinematographer, Roger Deakins, just might have perfected his signature brand of nighttime photography to make the hard-hitting and nail-biting drug war saga Sicario brood. Meanwhile Emmanuel Lubezki (the world’s second greatest living cinematographer) was up to his usual bag of tricks with the dreadfully gorgeous winter scenery of The Revenant. John Seal delivered his best work since The English Patient and made a post-apocalyptic hellscape art in Mad Max: Fury Road. And let’s not forget those gorgeous Dorset hills photographed so splendidly by Charlotte Bruus Christensen (along with sunlight through Carey Mulligan’s locks) in Far From the Madding Crowd.
Another healthy trend included what may be looked back on as a watershed year for actresses from a legendary Hoss in Phoenix and iconic Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road, to the headstrong Carey Mulligan in Far From the Madding Crowd, to “a star is born” performances from Brie Larson in Room and Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, to the blunt Emily Blunt in Sicario, to the refined leading ladies of Todd Hayne’s Carol, women had some of the meatiest roles in ages and they relished in the opportunities (hell, even comedians like Amy Schumer got in on the game). I think I may have made similar claims in past years, but I really mean it this time. Really, I do.
And it was one leading lady who was roped into the year’s worst film, the un-releasable Serena, an unforgivably bad (and not only bad, but flat-out clueless and monumentally inept) adaptation of a great novel staring big, big stars (Jennifer Lawrence and Bradly Cooper) which sucked the life out of me for two hours. Sadly not everything in 2015 came up roses, and this dreck would have to be buried under two tons of the thorny things to get rid of the stink it left behind.
The Schleicher Spin proudly presents:
The 10th Annual Davies:
Awarding Excellence and Idiocy in Film for the Year 2015
The Top Ten Films of 2014:
- Phoenix – Christian Petzold
- Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller
- Spotlight – Thomas McCarthy
- Sicario – Denis Villeneuve
- Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Vinterberg
- Room – Lenny Abrahamson
- The Revenant – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
- Carol – Todd Haynes
- Amy – Asif Kapadia
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
- Beasts of No Nation – Cary Joji Fukunaga
- Brooklyn – John Crowley
- Creed – Ryan Coogler
- Ex Machina – Alex Garland
- 99 Homes – Ramin Bahrani
Best Picture: Phoenix
Best Director: Christian Petzold for Phoenix
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant
Best Actress: Nina Hoss for Phoenix
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight
Best Supporting Actress: Nina Kuzendorf for Phoenix
Best Original Screenplay: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer for Spotlight
Best Adapted Screenplay: Christian Petzold for Phoenix
Worst Screenplay: Christopher Kyle for Serena
Best Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
Worst Editing: Serena
Best Original Music Score: Junkie XL for Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Use of an Old Song: Nina Hoss’s rendition of “Speak Low” in Phoenix
Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins for Sicario
Best Special Effects: Mad Max: Fury Road
Most Underrated (0r Overlooked) Film: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Most Overrated Film: The Martian
Best Feel Good Film: Creed
Best Guilty Pleasure: Predestination
Best Sci-fi Film: Ex Machina
Movie Trend I Completely Ignored: I successfully avoided every single Marvel branded movie (though looking back I think there may have only been two?)!
Weirdest Film: Lost River
Worst Picture: Serena
Results from past Davies Awards can be found by clicking below:
We encourage feedback and suggestions for categories next year.
Reviews for many of the films mentioned here can be found under the “Movie Reviews” category.
Tell us what your pick was for Best Film of 2015.
What movies would make your Top Ten List?
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Written by David H. Schleicher