Sunday, January 31, 2016

My nominations for the 2015 Flickchart Awards

As you already know, I'm an active member of the Flickchart user community, participating in the site's exclusive Facebook discussion group (exclusive in the sense that you have to be invited to join), and blogging for the site's blog as well (though pretty infrequently since I exhausted myself on a weekly series in 2013).

Part of this "scared responsibility" is to help choose the nominees for the annual Flickchart Awards, the site's version of the Oscars, with some of the same categories and some that are notably different. After we "chosen ones" determine the nominees, the whole Flickchart user community can vote on the winners, and typically come up with some interesting (though not entirely unpredictable) choices. (In other words, the quality genre picture or the one directed by Christopher Nolan usually seems to win best picture.)

I'm glad to be a part of this, though actually filling out my ballot is something I find very tedious -- something I put off until nearly the January 31st deadline every year. Twenty sixteen was no exception. The tedium comes not from choosing actual nominees, though this is something that gives me fits as well. It's actually that each category contains a point system. You can nominate five in each category, but you are also apportioning 50 points to those nominees in a way you see fit, with a maximum of 15 points going to any one nominee. So if you feel strongly about three nominees and not the other two, you can give those three 15 points apiece and divide the remaining five points between the last two.

If it were just the nominees, I'd still worry about whether I'd determined my exact perfect choices from the previous year's films -- all while not deviating from the Oscar nominations just for the sake of deviating, but trying not to hew too closely to them either. (Which usually works out fine because I haven't seen all the movies that received Oscar nominations anyway.) But then the math throws in one extra level of difficulty that just leads to procrastination.

I did finish my ballot this morning, though -- my January 31st, though still January 30th in the U.S. And I figured, if I went to the trouble and put the work in, might as well get a blog post out of it as well.

So forthwith, a piece of bonus 2015 year-end content, which contains the categories, my nominees, the points they received, and a brief comment that explains my thinking, not to mention possibly highlighting some 2015 film I didn't send enough love in my previous year-end wrap-up posts.

- Best Foreign Language Film: Goodnight Mommy (15), A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (14), The Look of Silence (12), Samba (5), The Assassin (4)

Comment: It was a poor year for foreign language films, as I've already discussed. Goodnight Mommy was the best qualifying film I saw, and I ranked it #32 for the year. (I ranked Wild Tales higher, but as that was nominated for an Oscar in 2014, I didn't feel like I could include it for the Flickchart Awards.) I just didn't really dig The Assassin, sorry. 

- Best Documentary: The Nightmare (15), Amy (15), Going Clear (12), The Look of Silence (7), The Wanted 18 (1)

Comment: My favorite documentary was also my favorite horror film. Go figure. I did rank the documentary The Armor of Light higher, but since I didn't figure anyone had seen it but me, it seemed like a wasted vote here. (But keep that title in your mind -- it's terrific.)

- Best Animated Film: Inside Out (15), Shawn the Sheep Movie (10), Hotel Transylvania 2 (5)

Comment: Because I refused to cast votes for Minions or The Good Dinosaur, I submitted only three nominees. That's fine, but then it's just a maximum of 30 points to spend on them, rather than 50. 

- Worst Film of 2015: The Human Centipede 3 (15), Pan (15), Irrational Man (15), Jupiter Ascending (3), Mockingjay Part 2 (2)

Comment: I tried to go with choices that were prominent enough to possibly get votes from other people, which means that only three of my bottom five are here. I listed Jupiter Ascending and Hunger Games rather than Accidental Love and Hits. Hunger Games might not deserve to be nominated in this category, but I just really didn't like it. 

- Most Anticipated Film of 2016: Star Wars Rogue One (15), Finding Dory (15), Hail Caesar (10), La La Land (5), Midnight Special (5)

Comment: I didn't want to delve too deeply into what's coming out in 2016 to answer this one, so I just chose some titles I was aware of.

- Best Underranked Film (best film that has been ranked less than 5,000 times) - Love & Mercy (15), The Last Five Years (15), The Duke of Burgundy (7), Tangerine (7), Queen of Earth (6)

Comment: This category was interesting in that it revealed to me that exactly half of the films in my top ten for 2015 qualify: my #4, #5, #7, #8 and #10. So those were the ones I included in this category. Which means my top ten had a good mix of mainstream films and more obscure choices. (The "mainstream" choices: Inside Out, Creed, Sicario, The Hateful Eight and The Revenant.)

- Most Underrated Film (film you thought didn't get the audience it deserved) - The Walk (15), Love & Mercy (15), Woman in Gold (10), The End of the Tour (5), Sicario (5)

Comment: I could have included films like Tangerine and The Duke of Burgundy here, but I don't think those movies were expected to have large audiences. So instead I went for under-performing films, which allows me to put a spotlight in particular on The Walk, a film I was trying to keep in my top ten all year but which eventually landed at #12. Some people will tell you that the actual walk is worth the price of admission. I'll tell you that the whole thing is worth the price of admission. 

- Most Overrated Film (film you though received more attention than it deserved) - Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (15), Trainwreck (15), Mistress America (10), Ant-Man (5), Carol (5)

Comment: I feel a little mean including Carol here, because it's a good film, I just wasn't blown away by it. The rest are films I genuinely don't like all that much. I kind of hate Mistress America, actually. 

- Most Disappointing Film (film that didn't live up to your expectations) - Terminator Genisys (15), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (15), Mistress America (10), The Good Dinosaur (5), Carol (5) 

Comment: And here we get Mistress America again, because yeah, I did have expectations for it based on Noah Baumbach. It's valid to ask me whether another Terminator film actually should have had my expectations high, but let's just say I thought the trailers looked really good. I didn't really have expectations for Mockingjay, per se, but I was eager to see how things would conclude. Mostly I just wanted to take another dig at it. 

- Most Surprising Film (film that defied your expectations) - Creed (15), Queen of Earth (14), The Big Short (10), Spy (8), Blackhat (3)

Comment: Creed should just run away with this one, but this was also the occasion for me to recognize being happily surprised by a Melissa McCarthy movie (though I also saw and really liked The Heat after that) and to give a shout out to a film I watched just as a matter of course, Michael Mann's Blackhat, but really enjoyed. 

- Best Looking Film - Creed (12), Sicario (12), The Walk (12), The Revenant (12), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2) 

Comment: A chance to acknowledge the great DPs of Sicario and The Revenant (Roger Deakins and Emmanuel Lubezki), the unique and distinct visions of Creed and The Walk, and Star Wars

- Best Writing - Inside Out (15), Creed (14), Sicario (12), The Hateful Eight (8), Room (1)

Comment: This one I did a bit more by feel. I chose my top three films of the year, the film written by Quentin Tarantino, and then Room, just because I don't know. It was a film that was residing in my top ten, but then eventually I just decided I wasn't thinking about it as much as I should for a film ranked that high. It ended up at #15. 

- Best Directing - Ryan Coogler, Creed (15), Denis Villeneuve, Sicario (14), Bill Pohlad, Love & Mercy (12), Richard LaGravenese, The Last Five Years (5), Marielle Heller, The Diary of a Teenage Girl (4)

Comment: Pretty straightforward as this is four of my top five films, excluding my #1, even though I'm sure Pete Docter bears a large portion of the responsibility for the tone of Inside Out. Then I decided to throw a vote to the female director who most impressed me this year and was one of two big breakouts from Diary of a Teenage Girl, the other being star Bel Powley (as we will see later). 

- Biggest Breakthrough (actor, director, filmmaker, studio, etc. that you 1st noticed this year) - Tessa Thompson (15), Daisy Ridley (15), Bel Powley (15), Marielle Heller (3), Alex Garland (2)

Comment: And here's Powley now! Probably the year's most naturalistic performance by a newcomer, though Ridley was pretty awesome too. And here's Heller again. 

- Best Supporting Actress - Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy (15), Tessa Thompson, Creed (15), Tatiana Maslany, Woman in Gold (10), Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina (7), Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight (3)

Comment: "Banks or bust" should have been my slogan for all awards campaigning this year. I kept talking about how great she was in Love & Mercy and awarded her with maximum points. However, special nod to Maslany for being the emotional center of the incredibly moving Woman in Gold -- plus I think I just wanted to acknowledge her, since 2015 was the year I discovered Orphan Black and her absolutely otherworldly range as an actress. 

- Best Supporting Actor - Sylvester Stallone, Creed (15), Benicio del Toro, Sicario (10), Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight (10), Tom Hardy, The Revenant (8), Christian Bale, The Big Short (7)

Comment: Stallone Stallone Stallone. But this was also a chance to acknowledge two other Oscar snubs: Jackson and del Toro. Who are both minorities! Hey! Darn, I just realized I meant to nominate Room's Jacob Tremblay here but forget. He should really be a lead, though, which complicates choosing him. 

- Best Actress - Elisabeth Moss, Queen of Earth (15), Sidse Babett Knudsen, The Duke of Burgundy (14), Brie Larson, Room (10), Emily Blunt, Sicario (10), Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road (1)

Comment: This was the category with the most number of deserving contenders who weren't nominated for Oscars. I haven't heard enough discussion about the fact that Theron surprisingly wasn't nominated, since everyone thought she was a lock. But she gets my fewest points. Moss gave one of the most astonishing performances I've ever seen, and I was also campaigning for Blunt. However, it was watching The Duke of Burgundy again last night that gave me renewed appreciation for just how subtle the work of Knudsen is in that film. This is a jam-packed category. 

- Best Actor - Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant (15), Paul Dano, Love & Mercy (12), Jason Segel, The End of the Tour (12), Michael B. Jordan, Creed (10), John Cusack, Love & Mercy (1)

Comment: I'm fine with this award going to Leo since I think he deserves it. Best acting, most dangerous acting, most committed acting. All of it. However, I think Dano and Segel were robbed of nominations, and Jordan is a great option as a minority (#oscarssowhite). I had one more point so I gave it to a deserving Cusack.

- Best Overall Cast - Inside Out (15), Sicario (14), The Hateful Eight (10), The Revenant (6), Ex Machina (5)

Comment: Just looked at impressive ensembles where I thought there were no weak spots. Ex Machina stretched my definition of "ensemble" a bit but I thought it should get some love. Then again, Sicario has only three main performance as well -- as does The Revenant. So I guess my logic in this category was flawed at best. 

- 2015 Outstanding Achievement in Film (any person in film who had a stand out year) - Alicia Vikander (15), Oscar Isaac (15), Domhnall Gleeson (10), Samuel L. Jackson (5), Thomas Mann (5)

Comment: The work was done for me on this one as this is something I sort out for my year-end wrap-up post. I just went with the three I chose as "three who had a good year" and then two from my honorable mentions (Mann will seem like the real WTF choice to the guy tabulating the votes). Here I boosted Vikander to 15 points because even though I haven't seen The Danish Girl, she actually got nominated for an Oscar for it, so I thought it was fair to give her some additional credit beyond her two films I did see.

- Best Scene (your favorite scene from a 2015 film) - Single-take boxing match, Creed (15), Dance scene, Ex Machina (15), Juarez, Sicario (10), Bear attack, The Revenant (5), The walk, The Walk (5)

Comment: This was one category I didn't want to lose much sleep over, as any number of scenes would have been worth nominating, even from films that were otherwise not my favorites. So I tried to stick to the top of my list, with four of the scenes coming from my top 12 and then one other from my #25, just because it was the first answer that occurred to me when I considered this category. Yeah, that dance scene with Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina is terrific. 

- Best Picture - Inside Out (15), Creed (15), Sicario (10), Love & Mercy (5), The Hateful Eight (5)

Comment: Five of my top six films. I could have chosen some other criteria but ultimately I didn't. I left off The Last Five Years because I knew there was no chance anyone else would actually nominate it in this category. And though I'm willing to throw away votes in other categories, this doesn't seem like the one where I should be doing that.

Hey, if I write another corresponding blog post next year, maybe filling out my ballot won't seem so tedious in January of '17. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Perfect pauses: Tangerine

When I first wrote this post in late 2011, I think I expected to make it a semi-regular feature -- to identify instances when I randomly paused a movie at a near-perfect moment.

More than four years later, I have yet to revisit the topic. But it's never too late.

Tonight we were watching Tangerine, my #8 movie of 2015 -- my wife for the first time and me for the second. We had to pause it to go deal with some nonsensical attention-grabbing stunt by our older son (who should have been sleeping), and this is what we got:

I love how much this one image speaks to this movie -- even though it contains nary a shot of a transgender prostitute. (Actually, that's not true -- if you squint there is in fact a tiny transgender prostitute in the lower right-hand corner.)

It's not just the wonderfully run-down retro sign for Color TVs, which must have legitimately still been up somewhere in Los Angeles even when this was filmed in 2014.

It's not just the sky, which is the perfect pre-sunset shade of pinkish blue (though it doesn't come across so well in a photograph -- a screen grab might have worked slightly better).

It's not just the tiny transgender prostitute, just any other small person in a big world.

It's not even the wonderful lines of the building as they converge toward the horizon.

No, it's the fact that the on-screen text fits perfectly into the building's available blue space, as though it were purposefully captioned this way for a photo.

I was glad to discover the word "perfect" coming to mind so regularly for me on my second viewing. This truly is a tremendous accomplishment for all involved, and to watch it again was simply a joy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What did Jen have to do?

This post also could have been entitled "I finally saw: Cake," not because going so long without seeing a movie that was released about a year ago was a big shock, but that for this particular movie it sort of was, since my wife was involved in the screening competition from which the writer of Cake emerged -- with Cake as the winning script in that competition and attracting the attention of Jennifer Aniston. (The director is also an alum, making it sort of a double win for that organization.)

Thinking of it sort of as her baby (my wife's baby, not Jennifer Aniston's), and it being available for viewing on Netflix months ago, it did seem like kind of a long delay for us to eventually sit down with it. But that we did on Monday night.

And after finishing it, I'm finding myself wondering why the Oscar nomination I prognosticated for Jen in this post never transpired. (I wasn't just nominating her in that post, which I thought was a foregone conclusion -- I was giving her the damn award, sight unseen.)

What did she have to do, anyway?

She did what you have to do -- she uglied herself up. But then she also gave a really assured, angry, touching performance. It may have been a calculated attempt at accolades, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't have worked.

Yet she had to be content with that Golden Globe nomination. Oscar didn't come knocking at her door.

I've always thought Aniston was a good actor who was just choosing beneath her. When you're that type of person, you get a lot of rom-coms thrown in your face, and those are the ones that tend to carry the big paychecks. As much as you're addicted to the idea of accolades, you're also addicted to the creature comforts provided by big paydays.

Aniston made her share of those movies. She did her time.

But she's also been showing us what she could do throughout. I think specifically of a film like The Break-Up, one of those typical rom-coms that the people involved transgressively turned on its head. (At least, I don't think the marketing department knew it wasn't really a romantic comedy.) Aniston pours her all into a story about a relationship with Vince Vaughn that doesn't work out. The stakes are a lot lower than they are in a movie like Cake, but Aniston doesn't care here. She respects the material and she shows you how the workaday inattentions and betrayals of the person you think you love can really cut you. That performance kind of destroyed me, actually.

Aniston doesn't do as much destruction in Cake, maybe -- but it seems like maybe a more challenging type of destruction. She plays a woman in a support group who is basically awful to everyone around her, not only the other group members, but her live-in maid and her estranged husband. She's got a good reason for it that Cake smartly reveals by degrees. But Aniston's got to make the character pretty unlikable before she can become likable, and that she does. I'm not going to do her the indignity of going and searching the web to figure out how much weight she put on for the role, but it was just enough that this is not the glamorous tabloid fixture we know and love. This is a scarred woman, both literally and figuratively. They aren't pretty scars, either -- either literally or figuratively.

So I wonder why the Oscars didn't find a spot for her in the nominations? I guess we have to look at the other 2014 nominees to try to find out:

- Julianne Moore, Still Alice - Eventual winner. No way she's giving up her spot among the five nominees.

- Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night - Powerhouse performance in the role of a woman struggling with some of the things Cake's Claire struggles with. She can stay.

- Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything - I still haven't seen this one, but my skepticism about the type of movie it is also makes me skeptical about how good Jones could possibly be in it. Nominating the actress opposite Eddie Redmayne in one of his nominated roles seems to be a thing, as Alicia Vikander was also nominated opposite Redmayne in The Danish Girl this year -- and I also suspect that to be a certain type of movie (though I also have not seen it).

- Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl - I stand by my assertion that Pike is not a good actress. But she does career-best work in a movie that had everyone's tongues wagging. She can stay too.

- Reese Witherspoon, Wild - Not having seen this either, I'm sure this was a fine performance. I'm not sure it was more than that.

So Aniston could have taken the spot of either Jones or Witherspoon, if only in the latter case because Witherspoon already has an Oscar (and I think it's fair when the wealth is spread on these awards). On that basis you could also exclude Cotillard, but I'm loath to do that simply because she was so damn good in Two Days, One Night.

And yeah, I'm kicking out the only two nominees whose work I haven't seen, which is always dangerous. But I still think Aniston deserved a slot.

Is Aniston not popular enough with her fellow members of the acting branch? I tend to think of Jennifer Aniston as a well-liked celebrity, but maybe not. Maybe Angelina Jolie put out a hit on Aniston's nomination chances, threatening anyone who voted for Aniston that they can never talk to Brad Pitt again.

Anyway, I do think it's a bit of a shame as these roles don't just come along every day. Aniston will be turning 47 in two weeks, and pretty soon she won't even have to ugly herself up anymore. (That's a claim based entirely on the linguistic serendipity of being able to call back to something I wrote earlier, not a reality based in fact.) Okay, so Aniston will still be gorgeous for a while yet, but will she be offered the right roles? Or have the shrewdness to find them herself? Then again, she does figure to be offered fewer and fewer rom-coms ... not only because of her age, but because those rom-coms don't really exist in the same way they did just a few years ago. When Aniston was still in her so-called prime.

Because not every role gets you something as meaty to sink your teeth into as Cake. Sarah Silverman just tried it this year with I Smile Back. And while her instincts on how to play that character were beyond reproach, nothing else about the story or the script could be described that same way.

It takes a lot to line up for you to ever even get a nomination, let alone win the damn thing. And Aniston would join a perfectly respectable -- nay, a downright exclusive -- club of people who never have. Nor would she even have the same convincing list of roles that should have won the elusive prize as many of the others in that club.

But I don't know, I think back to those tear-streaked, hopeless monologues of frustrated generosity of spirit from The Break-Up, and think that I'd like to see the efforts of one of my unabashed soft spots finally rewarded.

Jen should one day have her Cake and eat it too.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Useful in context, useless out of context

I've never been one to spend a lot of my free time listening to movie scores, and the Birdman score has just reminded me why.

Out of the context of the images, they can seem completely devoid of meaning. Completely devoid of, well, anything.

The Birdman score is probably a particularly extreme example of that, as the score consists only of percussion -- and fairly spare, indistinct percussion at that.

Don't get me wrong -- I thought Antonio Sanchez' music worked like gangbusters in the actual film. It was a perfect accompaniment to the project Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was trying to pull off, and not just because the drummer would sometimes actually appear on screen, as one of many semi-hallucinations of the main character (or is it just our hallucination as the viewer?).

Which is why, when I saw the Birdman score at the library, I figured "Hey, why not?" Since we now have a car, and since I now have a new computer that doesn't choke on discs from the library, I now have two ways to give it a listen, whereas just three months ago I would have had none.

But I was almost laughing as I listened to this score over the weekend. There's so little to it, I cannot imagine anyone -- even intense fans of jazz percussion, of which I am not one -- purchasing this and feeling like their $15 to $20 would have been well spent.

Nearly every track is under two minutes long, and they all seem to start up hesitantly before dissipating uncertainly. There's nothing distinctive about any of it as a standalone piece of music. Crucially, there are also no moments when you can say, "Oh yeah, this is that part when ..." Or none that I got to in about the first 14 tracks, anyway.

While I'm choosing to slam the Birdman score in particular, these are definitely more generalized feelings. And even my favorite musician of all time is not immune to them. When Trent Reznor delivered his brilliant score for The Social Network -- a score I've listened to at least ten times -- it was not a sign of things to come for him. I found nothing even remotely rewarding about slogging through all 37 tracks of the score to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl connected with me only slightly more, a benefit of at least having a couple "oh yeah, this is the part when ..." moments.

However, this does not mean that musical scores are always useless out of context. Just recently I've been thinking fondly of Michael Giacchino's music in Inside Out, and was thunderstruck by Ennio Morricone's epic score for The Hateful Eight. Not only do scores sometimes immeasurably enhance a film, they do frequently make a good independent listen.

Or parts of them, anyway. I think with most scores, there are a signature song or two that you remember, while the rest basically feels like filler. And truth be told, filler is probably what scores regularly should be. You don't want a score to dominate a film. Sometimes you just want it to be background.

So I think what would really work for me as a listener of scores would be to extract individual songs, individual significant moments from films and put them together in a complication. In order to keep it from being discordant, the task would then be to find movies with scores that strike a similar tone, so you aren't jumping from Giacchino to Morricone and back again.

However, from the Birdman score I would extract nothing. Nothing in those first 14 tracks, anyway. If I listened to the rest of it I might feel differently. In fact, I kind of remember that moment near the end when the superheroes are dancing around on stage and the jellyfish are flopping around on the beach, and that comet is falling from the sky, as possibly being distinctive. Maybe.

It's not a conclusion I reach with any relish. After all, Birdman was my #1 movie of 2014. Ever since it won best picture last year, though, I've been finding reasons to have buyer's remorse about my choice. As Birdman backlash has kicked in full time, I haven't been immune to it. And this is just one more example.

Regarding Birdman, ignorance -- in other words, the time when it was just a good movie and not an Academy standard bearer -- was indeed a virtue.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

I finally saw: Gremlins 2: The New Batch

I was pretty good about getting to sequels of popular movies back in the 1980s and 1990s. That is, unless they were not all that popular with me.

The original Gremlins kind of fits that latter description. I've seen it more than once and everything, but its tone has never sat comfortably with me. It's too scary for a movie aimed at children, and it's too childish for a movie aimed at adults. I don't know that it scared me per se, but even back when I was 10 or 11 I realized there was definitely something off about it.

As the summer of 1990 was the one between my junior and senior year in high school, I probably considered myself even less prone to the juvenile but violent antics of Gremlins 2: The New Batch -- especially after I saw its trailer, which showed that the series had cut any tenuous tethers it had to the realm of realism.

And I might have gone to my grave without ever prioritizing a viewing were it not for this Key & Peele sketch, which was shared in one of my Facebook groups back in September:

Quite simply, how can you see something like that and not immediately throw in the movie?

It wasn't immediate, but after another inciting incident (to use a screenwriting term) I knew the time had come. My son came across it at the library the other day, filed in the kids section (!!!). He was drawn in not by the cute Mogwai peeking out of the desk drawer, but the reptilian arm of the cigar-smoking gremlin in the office chair. His imagination started to run wild about what that unseen monstrosity might look like.

I told him it was too old for him, too scary for him.

And then snuck it into the stack of videos we were borrowing so I could watch it myself.

That viewing transpired last night after I returned from the Australian Open, way too late at night to start a movie. I would have gotten started around 11 except that my wife was still finishing off the last 20 minutes of the movie she was watching. So I didn't actually get started until around 11:30. But in a way, that seemed like the perfect time of night for what I hoped would be a slice of glorious outrageousness.

It was as absurd as the Key & Peele skit suggested it would be -- but still not all that satisfying.

Oh, it's clear the makers of the movie were in on the joke. They basically decided they were just going to blow it all up and go for something that would make people laugh at how idiotic it all is. Though there's at least one gruesome death I can think of that resembles the ways the gremlins are massacred in the kitchen in the first movie -- one gremlin meets the business end of a shredder -- the attempt to genuinely scare anyone is gone from this movie. It's a full-on comedy.

So in a way it's probably slightly more appropriate for kids than the first movie. But being so much dumber, it's something I'm less likely to show mine.

I wanted this movie to make me laugh at the brazenness of these creative choices, and get on the same page of just viewing this as a full-on farce. Instead I really just felt myself shaking my head. I don't necessarily think the K & P sketch ruined the element of outrageous surprise, because the stuff they talk about was the kind of stuff that turned me off to this movie 25 years ago. If it was spoiled, it was spoiled ages ago. I think it's just that sometimes, things that are bad are not so bad they're good.

Still, the closing shot of the actor Robert Picardo, who plays the chief of security of the building the gremlins infest, reluctantly finally accepting the advances of a female gremlin approaching him in a wedding dress with the wedding march playing in the background? That put a bit of a smile on my face. The type of smile the movie meant for me to have all along.

In its very last scene, I sort of succumbed to Gremlins 2.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Advertising + affordable CG = this weird thing

If you saw the poster to the right, you might say, "Well, Paddle Pop seems like a pretty strange name for a movie, but it looks like a reasonably legitimate movie."

However, if you lived in Australia and you saw the poster to the right, you'd say, "Huh? They made Paddle Pop into a movie?"

See, Paddle Pops are actually a type of ice cream bar here. They're an ice cream treat that comes on a wooden stick (or "paddle"). And the lion seen prominently in this poster is their mascot.

That there should be a movie about this lion -- who takes the name Paddle Pop in the movie, completely unironically -- and that the movie should be nearly 90 minutes long, is just plain ridiculous.

Oh yeah, then there's this -- from what I've been able to glean from walking through the room during the four or five times my son has been watching it, it's actually sort of good. Not just the digital animation, but the actual writing, not to mention the incredible amount of world-building that goes into it.

Incredible for a movie about an ice cream pop mascot, that is.

How did we come into possession of such a movie, you ask? Well that's even more interesting. They were giving them out at the zoo. For free.

Or maybe that's not more interesting, as maybe the only way to get people to acquire such nakedly promotional materials is to give them to them. But it's interesting because they did put so much money and thought into the movie, only to have it hit the marketplace as a freebie.

What strikes me as a little bit weird is that Paddle Pops don't seem to particularly require an additional marketing push. They are one of the most readily available of summer treats, and I see kids eating them constantly. It's almost like if the world's leading soft drink company made a movie about an elf wizard who can control carbonated substances like Magneto controls metal, and called that hero "Coca Cola."

It just goes to show you how cheaply you can make good looking CG. I mean, I talked about how much money they put into it, but the thing is, maybe they didn't put a lot of money into it. Maybe your average joe can cook up something that looks this good these days. I mean, once you've got the software that automatically figures out the shadows based on the location of the light source, half the job is done, right?

I'm kind of wishing now I had waited to write this post until after I'd watched it. Normally I wouldn't give something like this my attention, but maybe I need to find out just how good it really is -- just how many worlds they really did build.

And if I do that, maybe The Audient will ultimately have two posts about a movie based on an ice cream treat.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The abuse of the near-perfect score

Time for another rumination on the ways I'm struggling with correctly applying star ratings to movies.

In 2015, I successfully clamped down on throwing a perfect score to very many films. Out of 304 new-to-me movies I saw in 2015, I gave only four of them a five-star rating on Letterboxd. That's only one-tenth of one percent of the movies I saw last year.

Four-point-five stars? That's another story. I did that 34 times. That's more than 11% of all the movies I saw.

And I did see some good movies in 2015, no question about that. But were they just good, or were they really, truly great? And what is the cutoff between good and great in a star rating?

It's that same old struggle, the one that always makes me question again the validity of star ratings -- or certainly their objectivity. Their transferability.

And even though I've been trying to be less wanton with my 4.5-star ratings, a problem I've been conscious of especially during the second half of the year, I'm not off to a good start in 2016. I've seen 33 movies so far in 2016 (I know that's a lot, but January is always a busy month) and a full seven of them have received 4.5 stars. Or 21%.

It's hard to figure this out when I have people in my life who tend toward either extreme.

For one there's my editor at ReelGood, who is notably stingy with his five-star ratings (which must be doubled for ReelGood, where the ratings scale is 1 to 10). He didn't give the maximum 10/10 to any movie he reviewed in 2015, though he did give the rating twice in 2014. Not only that, but he'd tease me about each new 9 I submitted. It just so happens that I reviewed many of my favorite films of last year, resulting in seven scores of 9 out of 37 reviews I wrote, or nearly 19%. But then when you include the two perfect scores I gave, that's nine reviews of 9 or higher, or nearly a quarter of all my reviews. When you include the five reviews where I gave an 8, that's 14 of 37 with an 8 or higher, or nearly 38%. And with two of those, I wanted to give a 9 but shied away from it to maintain the sense that I wasn't just a movie-loving loon.

So I've been overpraising movies, right? Erring too much on the side of film optimism, right?

Hold on there. I just read the top 15 of 2015 of a guy in my Flickcharter discussion group, and he gave five stars on Letterboxd to ALL FIFTEEN films on the list. His rationale was also convincing: "I don't use half stars in rating; I give five stars to anything I'd be happy to say could be/is in the top 10% of movies I've seen, and each honestly makes that cut."

Wow, just imagine how tied into knots I'd be if I cut out the half stars. Making me choose between three stars and four? I just couldn't do it.

So that leaves me in the same spot I always find myself whenever I force myself into one of these exercises of self-examination: no closer to a perfect answer. I clearly want to recognize films for going above and beyond but not being perfect. Some people might give those movies four stars. I guess I've been giving them 4.5. But it does create less overall margin for error. It does create fewer spaces in which to express the subtle differences in the gradations in greatness between two separate movies.

I guess I'll just continue going with my gut, and trying not to think about it too much.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

No Audio Audient: The Freshman

Welcome to 2016! And welcome to my new monthly blog series, No Audio Audient.

As you recall from this post, I'm challenging myself more than I ever have with my 2016 series, tackling a personal bugaboo, silent movies. Oh, I've seen a couple dozen of them, so they are not entirely anathema to me. But a couple dozen is still not very many, given that I'm closing in on 4,500 movies total. Time to get another dozen on there.

The good news is that many of them will be short, making their viewing that much easier. And then there will be those like D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, which will be 197 minutes. Maybe I'll work my way up to that one.

But we'll start somewhere in between with the 76-minute The Freshman, a Harold Lloyd vehicle that was not necessarily on my radar until it came up for discussion recently in my Flickchart discussion group on Facebook.

To be slightly more accurate, the discussion about this movie has yet to occur, but will this Wednesday -- Wednesday already being here in Australia, but not due for a few more hours in the U.S. The Freshman was chosen as this month's "group rank," which basically means we watch something most of us haven't seen and subject it to the normal process of adding it to Flickchart, but we vote on each of its matchups as a group. That's possible because we have a group chart that has been assembled entirely by majority votes on such duels, conducted through Facebook polls. Yep, this group gets pretty granular and is extremely active. I figure I get 50 or 60 notifications from this group a day.

Anyway, I decided to watch The Freshman first -- instead of the previously advertised choice of Sherlock Jr. -- in order to potentially participate in this group ranking. (I say "potentially" because I'll be asleep during many of the duels anyway.)

But it makes a symbolic starting point otherwise because I'm a bit of a freshman when it comes to silent films. I've seen my share -- more than your average person, less than you average cinephile. But I'm still timid about it, still greeting the whole experience with a bit of trepidation. Not unlike the high school senior who was the big man on campus, only to find himself busted down to role of pipsqueak again once he gets to college.

Lloyd's Harold Lamb goes into the experience with considerably more zeal. Attending Tate University seems to be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. In fact, he's so excited to go that he's been preparing himself by watching a movie called College Hero, and has even perfected the little dance that the movie's main character uses when he introduces himself to people. It's a little bit of rapid, fancy footwork that immediately precedes his introductory bow. Of course, the fact that people will probably laugh at this sooner than they'll be charmed by it is an indication of how green Harold actually is.

When Harold gets to Tate, some of his attempts to take people by storm end up falling flat on their face, but as Harold is such an optimist and so naive, he mistakes much of their negative attention for positive. He instinctively goes to a line from the movie to get him out of an embarrassing jam, telling people to call him "Speedy," but the nickname takes hold in a way Harold again confuses -- he thinks people love him, when in fact, it's more like they love him in the role of "campus boob" (to quote one character). Harold's other main notion when coming to Tate is that he wants to join their football team, even though he has a notable lack of athletic abilities. He's granted membership on the team as a tackle dummy and water boy, though the coach tells him he's a proper substitute because optimistic Harold is so darn difficult to disappoint.

Harold also has a girl he likes he met on the train to school (Jobyna Ralston), who doesn't have the heart to tell him what people really think of him. Of course, this all points toward a moment of redemption in The Big Game.

This is a sweet movie, and it does indeed showcase some of what made Lloyd the third name you'd mention after the big two in silent comedy (Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton). Lloyd's fitness with the little dance he does is a perfect introduction to his abilities, which also come across in the tackle dummy scenes and a dance scene where he's trying to keep his hastily stitched together tuxedo from coming apart at the seams. It's all pretty charming.

The fact that I don't have a lot more to say about it does worry me a little bit. I don't want to give extra credence to a narrative that has already gathered too much steam with me, that silent movies represent a fairly simple version of storytelling that don't invite you to plumb their depths very deeply. However, it's certainly true that a silent comedy, especially one lacking any particularly memorable set pieces, can be easy to assess mostly at face value. I don't suspect that will be how most of the movies in this series end up striking me.

I will say that one of my fears about silent movies has already been satisfactorily answered. I've gone on record saying that part of the reason I've shied away from them is that their running time can leave me in a place of uncertainty as to how to categorize them, namely whether I can consider a 35-minute movie to compare to other features I've seen on an apples-to-apples basis. At 76 minutes, there's no doubt that a film like The Freshman qualifies as a feature by any standard.

So next month will indeed be when I watch Sherlock Jr. -- barring another rank of a silent movie in the Flickchart group, of course. (That's a joke, as this is the first such movie we've ranked.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Long time no ... zed?

Saw this poster for Zoolander 2 the other day, and it struck me as a particularly bad advertisement to hang in an Australian movie theater.

A poster with a tagline that reads "Long time no Z" is actually saying "Long time no Zed" if you read it out loud in these here parts.

Just another way that Australia fails to conform to the "correct" way of doing things. Don't even get me started on the whole "starting seasons on the first day of the month" thing.

Or does it fail to conform?

I had a weird experience at work the other day where I was training a new starter, and during the training he had the occasion to pronounce the acronym ZZZ as part of our work. He was talking to a client on the phone, and instead of saying "Zed Zed Zed" he said "Zee Zee Zee."

I was a bit gobsmacked, as this is a native Australian -- one who is probably 15 years younger than I am, but that still means he's been around speaking Australian for something like 25 years. The weird thing was that he wasn't saying it to appeal to me or my American ways. He was saying it because that's how he was taught to say it growing up. Making him the only Australian child I'm aware of who was taught that way.

The even weirder thing was that he thought it was weird that I thought it was weird.

So is Zed dead, baby? Is Zed dead?

Not yet, I don't think. In fact, as far as I can tell this is a total aberration. However, it does give me hope. Maybe if they start saying the letter Z like Americans, the next step will be figuring out how to release movies according to American release dates.

What I'm really curious about is who will win the battle of the zoos at the multiplexes in early 2016. There's Zoolander 2, of course -- and it has been a long time, as the original came out 15 years ago -- but there's also Zootopia, which figures to be the next movie I see in theaters with my son. He loves the bit about the sloths talking slowly in the trailer. Which is pretty much the whole trailer.

Given that they're aimed at completely different audiences, it could very easily be a tie.

Z you then.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The disservice I did to Creed

I gave Creed a perfect 10/10 score when I reviewed it for ReelGood, and I've just named it my second favorite film of 2015, behind only Inside Out. That's out of 143 total movies I ranked. I also wrote this glowing post about it on the blog. In other words, I've done everything within one man's power to raise awareness of a terrific film that deserves the maximum number of viewers and the most possible recognition during awards season.

So how could I possibly have done it a disservice, you ask?

Well, in the wake of the Oscar nominations and the near total snubbing of African Americans, it's become sadly clear how I've unwittingly furthered the trend of overlooking the contributions of minorities to the films we love.

See, I wrote a nearly 1,100-word review of Creed -- and spent nearly half those words talking about Sylvester Stallone. Who just so happens to have become the only Oscar nomination from a film made by a black director with a black star and black female romantic lead. All of whom are absolutely terrific in this film -- to the extent that the director is "in" it.

I sensed the imbalance even while I was writing the review, but I was in such a feverish state of rapture that I didn't go back to even things out. I was happy with what I wrote, and knew that I'd have to make sacrifices on what I could cover in the interest of length. The thing about movies you love is that you want to devote double your allotted word count to them. Even as it was, it's the longest review I've written for ReelGood.

But looking back now I feel especially guilty about inadvertently embodying a viewpoint that is sadly common both in Hollywood and in the entertainment media. I wrote a review of a film by a black director and I made it all about its white star. Actually, its white co-star. Actually, really, its white supporting player. Stallone was nominated as a supporting actor, not a lead one.

Of course, Stallone's case is a bit unusual. He was the lead actor in every other Rocky movie, and he is the single person most associated with the nearly 40-year-old franchise. But he clearly isn't the lead actor in this one, and my review did a poor job recognizing that. (As is this post doing. We've gotten this deep and I haven't even mentioned the name of the director, Ryan Coogler, or the name of the star, Michael B. Jordan, or the name of his awesome love interest, Tessa Thompson.)

What happened was, I got this great idea about how to open the piece, comparing the fortunes of Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, both 80s action icons, in their attempts to restart their most popular franchises in 2015. That's one of those darlings I should have killed, to paraphrase the old writing aphorism, because it did not relate very directly to Creed as a movie. But once I'd done that, it was only logical that I continue to call back to Stallone whenever and wherever the review seemed to call for it. And given the performance he delivered, it was all too easy to do that.

But what seems clear is that I missed "the story" of Creed's success. What I thought was the story was that Stallone, through sheer willpower and what was revealed belatedly to be good sense, had delivered the most satisfying entry in the series possibly since the original. I didn't know the real story at that time because I didn't know two things:

1) Ryan Coogler came up with this idea and brought it to Stallone;

2) Ryan Coogler is black.

It's the second one that really shocked me when I learned it. Coogler's Fruitvale Station was just outside my top ten in 2013, but for some reason, in all the discussion of that film I never absorbed the narrative that the film's director was black. And I think that's probably because his skin color was just not pushed very hard in the discussion of that film -- I mean, as far as I knew, it was not pushed at all since I never even learned that key piece of information. (I was also in the midst of moving to Australia at the time, so maybe I just didn't read as much about it as I thought I did.) Sure, the subject matter related to black characters, but for some reason I had always assumed that the film's writer and director was a white guy who was just unusually attuned to black subject matter. If asked to explore the reasons for that assumption, I'd probably tell you that I thought the name Coogler sounded Jewish. (And I'm not trying to get myself into further trouble here -- there's nothing wrong with Coogler possibly being a Jewish name, and it would be a pretty common thing in the movie industry.)

Anyway, I only finally learned that Coogler was black maybe ten days after I'd seen Creed.

It was actually at that same time that I learned that Coogler was the impetus behind this film. That's why I make reference in that review to the fact that this could have just been another director-for-hire assignment. I thought that Coogler was that director for hire, but without Coogler, the movie never would have existed.

If I'd known either of these things I certainly would have shifted the focus of my review. But I think it was also that I felt a little uncomfortable delving into the discussion of racial politics in that film, and part of that discomfort comes from the fact that the movie itself doesn't make an issue of race. Adonis Johnson's race is basically incidental, which is one of the things that makes Creed such a satisfying face of what we want the modern representations of race in the movies to be. If that movie doesn't want to make a big deal out of race, I'll respect that and follow suit in my review.

But then there's the more buried layers of meaning, where Johnson's race really does matter. There's an unspoken notion in this movie that Johnson actually is symbolic of many young black men in America, even though his circumstances ultimately end up being very different from many of theirs. Ultimately he lives his teenage years in a mansion as he is adopted by his father's wealthy widow. But before that, he's a kid going in and out of juvy because he grew up without a dad. Many black kids grow up without fathers, sometimes because they're dead, sometimes because they're in jail, or sometimes because they just left. On an unspoken level, this movie is about those kids finding their way in life and making something of themselves, rather than succumbing to crime, drugs or violence. (Johnson is involved in the violence part, but it's in his genes, and he does find a socially acceptable outlet for it.)

But to talk about all this in my review would have been to talk about things that are not present on a texual level in the movie, only on a subtextual level. And it could have become an instance of my seeing race or racism everywhere, when this movie overtly tries not to be about that. Then, you also walk the line of being a white film critic supposing to understand things about the lives of black kids, and you risk looking either condescending or just plain insensitive. Plus, I had all these other wonderful things I wanted to talk about. Too much good stuff in this movie.

But let's say an Academy member had only my review to go on in judging how to choose Oscar nominees from Creed. It's a pretty far-fetched scenario, as it's unlikely any Academy members actually read my review at all, and even if they had, they couldn't have voted on the awards in good conscience without actually seeing the movie and judging for themselves. But let's just say they did go only on my review. They would have read my opening paragraph, in which I call Stallone possibly the best part of the movie. They would have taken special note of the fifth paragraph, devoted entirely to Stallone, which actually ends with my prognostication that he'd get an Oscar nomination. But then they would have noticed that even in praising Thompson in the next paragraph, I talked about how her character speaks lines of dialogue that are a metaphor for Stallone's career.

Stallone Stallone Stallone. I couldn't get enough. And I don't think I'm wrong about him. He's great. He just isn't the whole movie.

Now, I need to let myself off the hook a little here in that the third paragraph is devoted mostly to Coogler, Coogler also gets a shout-out at the beginning of the second paragraph, and the sixth belongs mostly to Jordan. However, most of Jordan's paragraph is how his character is living down famous associations in the movie, something Jordan himself must do in real life since he shares the same name as perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time. Another thing not really directly related to Creed. Another darling I should have killed.

I can't help but notice that even in the little blurb I wrote on Creed in my year-end rankings piece, I spent more time on Stallone than I did on either Coogler or Jordan. And that was just a couple days ago.

But it was before the Oscar nominations were announced.

Creed was never likely to get a nomination for best picture, even though the original Rocky actually won that award. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Mad Max: Fury Road has just become the latest sequel in any series to be nominated for best picture, it being the fourth Mad Max film. As the seventh Rocky film, Creed should scarcely exist, let alone qualify for the year's top award. But Jordan really could have gotten a nomination, especially in a year where a nomination was thrown to Matt Damon when he didn't seem to really warrant one. And Thompson, by going way outside what's expected of the main character's love interest, could have been considered as well in the supporting category. Getting Coogler in the best director race would have been a tall order, but he could have gotten recognized for his script. Maybe.

But what might or might not have happened vis-a-vis Creed's Oscar nominations is kind of secondary to the point I'm trying to examine here. I played a role, however small, in making the conversation about Creed all about Stallone. He's deserving of praise, but he's not the only one.

At least we can say that if Stallone weren't already the frontrunner, he certainly is now. Voters seem certain to throw votes Stallone's way just to assuage their guilt about not honoring other black performers, writers or directors this year. Sad to say, that may have been a factor in what happened last year with Selma's best original song win, though I'm exceptionally wary of diminishing someone's accomplishments by chalking them up to tokenism. A vote for Stallone will function as a vote for Coogler, Jordan or Thompson, at least in the minds of an Academy with a guilty conscience. When you honor an actor, you are honoring that actor's director in a very real and a very direct way.

And when/if that does happen, at least we'll be able to say that Creed was an Oscar winner.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

2015 in portmanteaus

Beasts of Sils Maria - An African militia disappears among the fog in the Swiss Mountains.

Beasts of Rogue Nation - Ethan Hunt goes deep under cover with an African militia ... moments before it disappears among the fog in the Swiss Mountains.

The Overnight Before - Three friends end their 15-year tradition of partying on Christmas Eve with a night of awkward, experimental sex.

The Revenant-Man - After surviving a bear attack, a man shrinks to the size of an ant to fight the bear's ticks.

Maps to the Star Wars: The Force Awakens - An unbalanced young woman comes to Hollywood to meet celebrities, but finds the map to Luke Skywalker instead.

Heaven Knows What We Do in the Shadows - A bunch of vampires in New Zealand become junkies.

Specterminator Genisys - After traveling through time, James Bond discovers that Skynet is his adopted brother.

Far From the Mad Max: Fury Road - Max Rockatansky tromps through Victorian England looking for guzzoline.

The End of the Entourage - A writer reflects on an old publicity junket in the wake of Johnny Drama's suicide.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Transylvania 2 - A bunch of old Brits board the wrong tour bus and end up bunking with Count Dracula.

99 Holmes - England's best detective finds himself out of house and Holmes when he moves to America and defaults on his mortgage.

Accidental Love & Mercy - Beach Boy frontman Brian Wilson becomes a paranoid recluse after accidentally getting shot in the head with a nail gun.

The Kingsman from U.N.C.L.E. - It's pretty much the same movie.

The Walk in the Woods - A French mime agrees to traverse the Appalachian Mountains, as long as he can do it by tightrope.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Ex Machina - Self-explanatory.

Me and Earl and the Danish Girl - Two friends make a home movie when they learn that the world's first person to get gender reassignment surgery is dying of cancer.

Me and Earl and Jurassic World - Two friends make a home movie when they learn that Indominus Rex is dying of cancer.

Pan Andreas - A sprightly youngster from England and his mates become "lost boys" when they fall into a crack in the fault lines.

The Stanford Prison Ex Machina - A group of test subjects decides who will play prison guards and who will play their angry artificial intelligence captives.

Jurassicario - A shadowy organization trains a bunch of raptors to smuggle drugs across the U.S.-Mexico boarder.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The core memories of 2015

Twenty fifteen was a year where some of the movies were colored yellow, some colored blue, some colored green, some colored red and some colored purple. Yes, 2015 made me happy, sad, disgusted, angry and afraid at the movies, and at least four out of those five were good reasons to watch a movie. (Sorry, Human Centipede 3 -- all you had was disgust.) So in continuing my tradition of taking a looser look back on the year on the day after I post my rankings, forthwith are my core cinematic memories of 2015.

The first section -- three who had a good year and three who had a bad year -- is something I've been doing for all four of the years I've written this post, but it's the first time I've realized it's probably necessary to include an asterisk. That asterisk is the fact that these honors (or dishonors) are necessarily limited to people who were busy in 2015, and being busy alone usually means you had a pretty good year. I mean, Pete Docter may have had the best year for directing my #1 movie and Tom Six a terrible year for directing my worst, but that's all either of them did, so they don't make the cut.

Three who had a good year

Domhnall Gleeson - I'll acknowledge up front that I didn't think Gleeson was all that effective in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (#11). In fact, he may have actually detracted from the movie, even if only minorly. But he still gets acknowledged for his terrific year by virtue of appearing in two other movies in my top 25, The Revenant (#9) and Ex Machina (#25). What really impresses me about Gleeson's year, though, is the range he's displayed. I haven't specifically thought of him as an actor who didn't have range, but I do generally consider him a bit of a milquetoast type who might whither on a particularly sunny day. Twenty fifteen changed all that. In the three roles that I saw this year, he played a very good man (The Revenant), a very bad man (Star Wars), and a man in Ex Machina who's so in between those two poles, the robot Ava actually asks him if he's a good person and he has to stumble over the answer because of his own uncertainty. He's physically different in the roles, too, bearing a bushy beard in The Revenant and striding around imposingly in Star Wars, ready to scream dogma at a fleet of stromtroopers. Only in Ex Machina is he the meek old Domhnall I thought I knew, but even this guy's got a dark streak that we don't really pick up on until later in the movie. Overall, it's a year he should never forget.

Oscar Isaac - Deja vu. Isaac was actually in two of the same movies as Gleeson, only the difference is, he's good in both of them. (But Gleeson gets top honors by the sheer numbers, and the assumption that he was probably good in the film I didn't see, best picture nominee Brooklyn.) Isaac has been a favorite of mine for several years now, so it's about time he landed in this space. As arguably the most mercurial character in Ex Machina, the internet billionaire and programming genius who lives in an isolated state-of-the-art mansion buried in miles of otherwise uncharted territory, Isaac keeps us constantly guessing -- and also surprises us with his ability to cut a rug. In The Force Awakens, he plays Poe Dameron, a character we were desperate to see more of because of the instant, easy charm he injected into the role. He figures to have a greater involvement in the plot in future Star Wars installments. I'm a little worried that we'll next see Isaac as a villain in an X-Men movie, and that if he just begins bouncing around between these big-budget movies, then I'll be seeing less of the Isaac I loved so much in, say, Inside Llewyn Davis. Then again, Isaac's the type of guy who never phones it in, and makes you love him whatever the role.

Samuel L. Jackson - Hollywood may not have honored many people of color with its Oscar nominations on Thursday, but I want to honor one here. Make that three guys who have a Star Wars connection, though it's been ten years since Sam Jackson was in his last Star Wars movie. What Jackson did do in 2015 was appear as a villain who sort of, maybe thinks he's doing the right thing in Kingsman: The Secret Service (#22), and as a guy who's not quite as bad, but knows he's doing the wrong thing in The Hateful Eight (#6). And in these two roles he gave us both a classic version of Jackson and one we'd never seen before. First the classic. As Major Marquis Warren in the eighth film from Quentin Tarantino, Jackson linguistically dominates in a way that recalls epic monologues from films like Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. Which is not to say that Jackson hasn't done this type of thing more recently than the 1990s, since he's always been valued for his way with words, but the confident and grandstanding way he plays Warren was key to making me feel a sense of Tarantino familiarity that actually worked in this film's favor. (Different from, say, his role in Django Unchained.) Then in Kingsman he plays an internet billionaire (not unlike Isaac's Nathan in Ex Machina) with a lisp, who believes the best way of consolidating power is to give everyone free internet and phone service -- then trigger a device that will turn them into maniacs who slaughter each other, and in turn, cull the population. He has a damn good time doing it. I'll even forgive his involvement in Avengers: Age of Ultron (#118), because at least he wasn't in it very much.

Honorable mentions: Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant, Knight of Cups), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Thomas Mann (The Stanford Prison Experiment, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)

Three who had a bad year

David O. Russell - Whether it was a movie he endorsed or a movie he didn't, both David O. Russell movies that saw the light of day in 2015 were stinkers. The one that might have been something like a 2009 movie if it had stayed on track, Accidental Love (#141), was called Nailed at the time Russell was intimately involved with it. Knowing it was a disaster, he had the movie released under the name Stephen Greene -- and even if he wasn't responsible for directing all of it, he was responsible for enough that there should have been some good parts if any of his usual instincts were present. There weren't. The same is only marginally less true of Joy (#127), which was a full-on O. Russell joint, and makes us reevaluate just what those Russell instincts are supposed to be. This movie is just a mess. The two things both have in common: a real tone deafness in terms of their attempts at humor, and terrible lighting. I have no idea what has happened to a guy I used to revere for movies like Flirting With Disaster, Three Kings and Silver Linings Playbook, but if he can't do something as simple as properly light a scene, he doesn't have many good movies left in him.

Emma Stone - This one really hurts. A few years ago, Stone could do no wrong, and I considered myself perpetually tickled pink by her. Then the Spider-Man movies happened, and though I didn't even see those, they may have marked a turning point for her -- though I should say, she did appear in my #1 movie of last year (Birdman). Twenty fifteen was just a dud year for her, one that I hope will quickly reverse itself in 2016 with the next Damien Chazelle movie, La La Land. First (on my personal viewing schedule, anyway) it was one of the worst Woody Allen movies I've ever seen, Irrational Man (#139), which made my bottom five of the year. That's how stilted, obvious and utterly boring this movie is, and Stone plays the kind of character you just want to shake, because she should be smarter than she demonstrates herself to be. Then I saw her in the Cameron Crowe flop Aloha (#125), which is just inconceivably bad for its first half before actually getting a little bit better, somehow pulling itself up to two stars. However, pulling that film back down -- and Stone in particular, even though she's more caught in the crossfire on this one -- is its controversy over the casting of this woman with alabaster skin as a character who is supposed to be one quarter Hawaiian. One-sixteenth, I could see. Then again, I'm a little hesitant about jumping on board this ethnic insensitivity bandwagon. I live in a country where the native population has mixed regularly with the white European settlers, to the point that you really can't tell who claims which ancestry just by looking at them.

Julianne Moore - Moore makes this list and I didn't even see what could well be her worst film of the year, Seventh Son. The two I did see were bad enough. The less bad of the two, narrowly, is a movie that actually hit theaters in 2014 in Australia but was not seen by Americans (including this American living in Australia) until 2015, which is David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars (#132). I have no doubt that Moore played the character of an awful, narcissistic Hollywood actress past her prime exactly the way Cronenberg wanted her to play the role, but that doesn't make the performance or this movie any better. Exactly one slot lower in my rankings was the final Hunger Games movie, Mockingjay -- Part 2 (#133). As her President Coin factors directly into why I like that movie so little (and presumably also the conclusion of the novels, though I haven't read them), I have no problem assigning a chunk of the blame for the failure of this movie on Moore. I did watch her Oscar-winning turn as the title character in Still Alice in 2015 and was impressed by it, but that ain't a 2015 movie so it doesn't work in her favor. Two things that do mitigate some of the badness of her year: Her Maps to the Stars performance inexplicably won her best actress at Cannes last year (inexplicable except that it's the French), and she was probably quite good in another movie of hers I didn't see this year, Freeheld.

Dishonorable mention: Noah Baumbach (the second half of While We're Young, Mistress America), Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, Joy, Serena),  Bradley Cooper (Aloha, Joy, Serena). The only reason Lawrence and Cooper don't make the list proper was because Serena was an okay movie.

The (half) year I spent almost no money on movies

This was a revolutionary year for me at the movies, because it was the year when money basically became no object.

At about the mid-point of the year, I got my Australian Film Critics Association (AFCA) card, and for the piddly little cost of just $30 -- a pro-rated part of the $75 annual fee, which takes me up to January 31st -- I got to start seeing movies in the theater for free, with only a few restrictions that were easy to get around. That's right, for the price of about one-and-a-half tickets -- less than my wife and I would spend if we were going on a movie date -- I saw THIRTY-SEVEN movies in the theater, and counting. (I may still see one or two more before the 31st rolls around.) That's an average of 81 cents per ticket, as opposed to $20.

I'd say this was a huge assist in setting my personal record of 143 movies watched before my deadline this year. Instead of waiting on a movie I wasn't sure about, leaving me lots to catch up on at the end of the year, I simply went to watch it in the theater. In fact, it was far more affordable for me to do this than to pay for it on video. It's been with some grumbling these past few weeks that I've gone and cleaned up the movies from earlier in the year that I'd neglected, and have had to spend $3.50 or more on each.

Oh, there were times when it wasn't particularly straightforward. One ticket taker actually got kind of aggro on me when I presented my card and insisted that it meant a free rather than a discount ticket. He radio'd his supervisor reluctantly to confirm, apparently feeling like I was gaming the system. (Hey, that makes two of us, buddy.) But when the supervisor gave the confirmation, he changed his tune, and now when he sees me approach he gets the little voucher I have to fill out ready before I even reach the counter. I think he actually likes me now.

More often than not, it goes the way it went when I saw Carol on Thursday, and the person didn't even make me fill out the voucher. When I said it was a free rather than a discount ticket, he just took my word for it and happily rung me up.

Still, you better bet I carry around the letter from AFCA, which states when I'm entitled to use the card at which theater chains.

There were, of course, a couple times I couldn't use the card. I went to see Bridge of Spies on a Sunday morning at Hoyts because of the convenience of the showtime, even though Hoyts doesn't allow use of the card on the weekends. My wife of course paid for my midnight showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a gift to me. And the Astor in St. Kilda doesn't participate at all, so to see The Hateful Eight there I had to pay full price (and then some, as a markup for the 70 mm and buying online). Strangely enough, they never even looked at my ticket, so I could have walked in for free.

But I don't even blink at expenditures like that. Given how much else I'm saving, I'm almost too happy to pay on the rare occasions it happens. After all, if you assume a $19 average cost for a ticket -- most places are $20, but some are less -- that still means I saved more than $670 on the cost of those tickets. Of course, I wouldn't have gone to them all if I'd been paying full price, but the savings are still staggering.

In 2016, I'll try to improve on that 81 cent average ticket price. In order to do so, I'll have to turn my $75 into about 93 movies in the theater.

It sounds like a lot, but if you know me, "a lot" is just another personal viewing challenge I am only too eager to accept.

2015 by the numbers

I keep track of stats and stuff.

Breakdown of 2015 movies by star ratings on Letterboxd: 5 stars (3), 4.5 stars (20), 4 stars (23), 3.5 stars (31), 3 stars (17), 2.5 stars (22), 2 stars (12), 1.5 stars (8), 1 star (5), .5 stars (2)
Total new movies watched in the calendar year: 304
Total movies rewatched: 65
2015 movies seen for the first time in the theater: 69
2015 movies seen for the first time on video: 74
2015 movies I saw twice: 6 (Creed, Ex Machina, It Follows, The Last Five Years, Spy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
2015 movies that choked me up: 6 (Inside Out, Creed, The Last Five Years, The Walk, Woman in Gold, The Armor of Light)

The ten best non-2015 movies I saw in 2015

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944, Frank Capra) - Rarely has an old-fashioned "screwball thriller" made me laugh as hard as this. Probably influenced one of my favorite Hitchcock films (Rope) and confirmed that Cary Grant is one of my favorite old Hollywood stars.

The Conformist (1970, Bernardo Bertolucci) - A classic I'd always meant to seek out did not disappoint. Incredible framing and mise en scene to accompany a fascinating story about riding out a sociopolitical storm.

The Double Life of Veronique (1991, Krzysztof Kieslowski) - Kieslowski has impressed me before, but never like this. Bursts with color and inspiration.

Ghost in the Shell (1995, Mamoru Oshii) - Anime rarely connects with me, even anime royalty. This anime royalty blew me away.

The Great Dictator (1940, Charlie Chaplin) - Charlie Chaplin is a funny guy, but he's never made me laugh -- or think -- like this. Only non-2015 film I gave five stars this year.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, Philip Kaufman) - I never thought a Snatchers remake would rival my affection for the original. This one did.

Once Upon a Time in America (1984, Sergio Leone) - As one half of my 2015 Leone awakening, America immediately became one of my favorite epic movies about organized crime of all time.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, Sergio Leone) - The other half of my Leone awakening ... which immediately became one of my favorite epic westerns of all time.

The Past (2013, Asghar Farhadi) - The director of my #1 movie of 2011, A Separation, does it again.

Patton (1970, Franklin J. Schaffner) - A remarkably complex war epic that became the only one of the 12 best picture winners I saw in 2015 to make this list.

Odds and ends

- It wasn't a great year for foreign films. My highest ranked film in a language other than English was Wild Tales at #26. And you could argue that Wild Tales was technically a 2014 movie as it was nominated for an Oscar last year (though was not available cinematically in the U.S. or Australia until 2015).

- However, it was a good year -- a weird year -- for horror. Weird in that my highest ranked horror was also a documentary (The Nightmare at #18). But I also had decent-sized affection for two found footage movies (Unfriended at #44 and The Gallows at #57). And my top foreign film that was legitimately from 2015 was Goodnight Mommy, a damn scary movie that I ranked at #32. But the movie that may have disturbed me the most wasn't actually classified as horror, probably, which was Queen of Earth at #10.

- Five memorable performances from newcomers (new to me, anyway): Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Bel Powley (The Diary of a Teenage Girl), Jacob Tremblay (Room), Miranda Hart (Spy), Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behavior)

- Seventh heaven: The seventh movies in the Fast & Furious, Star Wars and Rocky series were all released this year. Few series ever reach seven movies, so three in the same year was weird indeed. What's even weirder is that two of those movies were in my top 11.

- It was a year of eerily watching dead people. I suppose every year has a number of posthumous releases, but I felt especially aware of them in 2015 with final performances from Robin Williams (Boulevard), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2) and Paul Walker (Furious 7). Perhaps that's in part because the last two involved certain tricks to cover up for incomplete shooting in long-running series, where there was no chance to replace the deceased actor with a different actor.

Lightning round

And to finish with some rapid-fire action ... 

Highest ranked best picture nominee: The Revenant (#9)
Lowest ranked best picture nominee: Bridge of Spies (#47)
Best picture nominees I haven't seen: Brooklyn, Spotlight
Most common emotion (non-Inside Out version): Fury (Furious 7, Mad Max: Fury Road)
Most common emotion (Inside Out version): Joy
Best unfunny person being funny: Jason Statham, Spy
Best unfunny person being funny in a movie that wasn't very good: Michael Shannon, The Night Before
Best funny person being unfunny: Kristen Wiig, The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Best funny person being unfunny in a movie that wasn't very good: Sarah Silverman, I Smile Back
Best cameo: Michael Shannon, The Night Before
Worst cameo: James Franco, The Night Before
Actor who should've gotten an Oscar nomination but didn't: Jason Segal, The End of the Tour
Actor who shouldn't have been nominated for an Oscar: Matt Damon, The Martian
Actress who should've gotten an Oscar nomination but didn't: Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy
Actress who shouldn't have been nominated for an Oscar: Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Most varying year for a performer: Channing Tatum (The Hateful Eight - #6, Magic Mike XXL - #55, Jupiter Ascending - #137)
Least varying year for a performer: Cate Blanchett (Carol - #56, Knight of Cups - #88, Truth - #90, Cinderella - #92)
Funniest movies within a movie: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Best mumblecore: Digging for Fire
Worst mumblecore: Wild Canaries
Most specific title: Cop Car
Least specific title: People Places Things
Director who made me believe in him: Richard LaGravenese, The Last Five Years
Director who lost me: Joe Wright, Pan
Perfect record tainted: Brad Bird, Tomorrowland
Imperfect record salvaged: Baltasar Kormakur, Everest
One to watch: Marielle Heller, The Diary of a Teenager Girl
One to stop watching: David Cronenberg, Maps to the Stars
Pixar's still got it: Inside Out
Pixar may not still have it: The Good Dinosaur
Overrated: Clouds of Sils Maria
Underrated: Chappie
Title that's most fun to say: Bone Tomahawk
Title that's least fun to say: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
Best attempt at a cult movie: Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead
Worst attempt at a cult movie: Turbo Kid
Biggest surprise: Creed
Biggest disappointment: Terminator Genisys

I greet the end of my ranking year with perhaps an excess dose of Phyllis Smith -- Sadness -- but I do have one final, much shorter wrap-up post tomorrow that should make you laugh. So tune in then for one last farewell to 2015. Sniff!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Inside 2015

Welcome to my 20th annual year-end movie rankings.

Didn't think I'd been doing it this long, did you?

I didn't either. But then I did a little math and said "Yep, I started in 1996 and it's now 2015. That's 20 years."

That's two decades of increasing obsessiveness. Back when I first started, my list consisted of a mere 43 movies. Twenty years later, I'm watching exactly a hundred more than that -- and if you think that's a coincidence, you don't know that I also have a thing for numerology. Oh yeah, that's also in maybe a month's less time. Remember back in the day when the Oscar nominations weren't announced until around the 10th of February, for a late March telecast? Even though I have my regrets about the movies I haven't seen in time to rank, I can't imagine a month more at this sustained level of viewing intensity. It'd probably kill me.

Would it be any way to celebrate 20 years in the obsessive ranking business if I didn't set a new personal viewing record this year? I don't think so, so I did. My 143 this year were seven more than last year's record, which was eight more than the record-setting year before that. I suppose there will come a point when my screening capabilities simply max out, but I haven't gotten there just yet.

This despite the fact that were some additional demands on my free time in 2015, both a side job for a little extra income and another viewing project that I have yet to tell you about but will soon enough. See what I mean about increasing obsessiveness?

And because I couldn't see everything despite another record-setting year, allow me to cast a spotlight on the five movies I am most sorry I couldn't see in time, because they were not released in Australia yet:

5. 45 Years
4. Brooklyn
3. Steve Jobs
2. Anomalisa
1. Spotlight

Honorable mentions: The Danish Girl, Heart of a Dog, Son of Saul, Trumbo

The fact that a movie written by Charlie Kaufman, a guy who wrote two of my previous #1s (Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine), is not my biggest regret tells you just how sorry I am to miss out on ranking Spotlight, this year's likely best picture winner.

So what were the ten best of my record-setting year? Here, have a look.

10. Queen of Earth - Well this was unexpected. I greeted Queen of Earth with skepticism, and only prioritized a viewing because it popped up on Netflix streaming. Why skepticism? I'd heard it discussed twice on podcasts and seen an out-of-context clip online as part of another article I read. This was one instance where I thought I'd already seen the movie, and used the negative reactions of the podcasters as a confirmation of my instinct that it wasn't worth seeing. Boy was I wrong. This story of two women during a week's stay at a lakehouse, which dips into their similar stay the previous summer when their fortunes were reversed, is the most harrowing psychological horror I saw in 2015. Would it be exaggerating if I said Elisabeth Moss gives one of the best performances I've ever seen? Her every facial nuance suggests a person burdened with mental anguish, yet never once does she seem to be performing. Katherine Waterston's performance is less attention-grabbing, but it's even more chilling at times -- and here I thought she was just Sam's daughter. Alex Ross Perry's update of Persona is one worthy of the comparison.

9. The Revenant - What mountains are there left for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Emmanuel Lubezki to climb? Only a year after the release of last year's best picture winner (and my #1), Birdman, they've come out with a movie that is even more ambitious, and literally involves the climbing of mountains. The Revenant has the creative pair's now-trademark technical derring do coming out its ears, but perhaps even more impressive than the how-did-they-do-that camera tricks is the utterly feral performance that Inarritu draws from Leonardo DiCaprio, who may finally be on his way to taking home his first Oscar. DiCaprio is brought to nearly sub-human places of emotion and the instinct to survive, the grittiest part of a movie whose every gritty detail -- and every beautiful grace note -- is captured by Lubezki's lens. If we aren't seeing three men at the top of their game here, I don't know when else we might see that, and you can add in one of my favorite Tom Hardy performances ever. The Revenant reverberates with cinematic vitality.

8. Tangerine - If you say you've never seen a movie like Tangerine before, you have to specify which part of it you're talking about. Most of us haven't seen a movie about transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles, but most of us also haven't seen a movie shot entirely on iPhone 5's. Both aspects of this film are revelatory. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor overcome their novice status to take us on a quest around Los Angeles that takes on the proportions of Greek mythology, all to find the natural-born woman with whom one's pimp boyfriend has been cheating on her while she's been in jail. Oh, and it's also Christmas Eve. It's outrageous but it's also sneakily contemplative, as the mood will change as quickly as the soundtrack -- from dubstep to a type of ethereal synth, from righteous to melancholic. It's both epic and intimate, formats the iPhones prove capable of supporting in equal measure. Sean Baker blew me away with his previous film, Starlet, and he's still blowing.

7. The Duke of Burgundy - Peter Strickland makes my top ten with his second straight feature (after 2013's Berberian Sound Studio), this enigmatic yet intensely rewarding story of lesbian butterfly experts involved in sado-masochistic relationships. That sounds like a joke or at the very least an instance of high absurdism, but Strickland's approach to the material is anything but mocking. Instead he explores the profound and very real shifts in the dynamics and roles played in any long-term relationship, identifying imbalances that are perhaps inevitable. His humanistic goals have a very lush exterior, as the film has a 70s throwback feel, is shot mostly in a mansion in Hungary (though the movie is in English), and bears the kind of production design in which both the lingerie and the perfume receive acknowledgement in the opening credits. Infusing this wonderful atmosphere is an eye for the macabre and the unexplained that we might credit to David Lynch -- if it weren't now appropriate to credit it to Peter Strickland.

6. The Hateful Eight - It's a western but it's also a whodunnit. It's a film shot on 70 mm but also one that takes place mostly in one location. It's an epic that could also be a stage play. It's a metaphorical Mexican standoff in the moments when it's not an actual Mexican standoff. And it's yet another movie that no one other than Quentin Tarantino could make. Tarantino keeps giving us movies that are recognizable variations on his previous movies, with all his trademark interests present, yet they keep feeling fresh and new. And he's back to playing with chronology in a way that he hasn't in his last couple movies, meaning that this also has the feeling of a Tarantino classic -- in addition to just a classic type movie in general, complete with an orchestral prelude (Ennio Morricone's original music is stunning) and an intermission. I only just saw this yesterday and have a suspicion it could go even higher with longer to sit with me -- or, some of the violence (specifically toward women) could make me start to question it if I think about it too much. Better just lock it in now at #6.

5. The Last Five Years - Who says a movie you saw in the beginning of March still can't make your top ten? Richard LaGravenese's adaptation of the Jason Robert Brown musical truly lived with me all year, as I watched it twice on the same iTunes rental and then promptly bought the soundtrack, which I've listened to somewhere on the order of seven or eight times. One song still brings me to tears even after I've listened to it 20 times. That's just how sharp, observant, funny, and ultimately tragic this commonplace story of a couple meeting, falling in love and breaking up is. What isn't commonplace is it's unique structure, in which the songs song by Cathy (Anna Kendrick) go in reverse order through the narrative from their breakup back to its beginning, while the songs sung by Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) go forward, alternating with hers. It's the same kind of rollercoaster of emotion of any great relationship ... even the ones that are doomed.

4. Love & Mercy - The musician biopic is probably the least exciting or inventive genre of all time, but Bill Pohlad's film proves that all you need is to go slightly outside the box to give us something memorable and genuinely touching. The biopic of Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson is such a movie, made possible by the decision to concentrate on two periods of his life that proceed forward as parallel narratives, with two different actors (Paul Dano and John Cusack) playing the role. As much as Dano's great performance confirmed my feelings about him and Cusack's renewed old feelings that I thought were dead, the most unexpectedly great performance of the movie may belong to Elizabeth Banks, as deceptively more than just Wilson's savior from self destruction. The movie also has a terrific sound design as it both captures Wilson's encroaching mental problems and shows us how the genius came up with the seminal album Pet Sounds. Love? Mercy? All of it is good.

3. Sicario - Our sentiments exactly, Emily. The most effective viewer surrogate of the year is probably Emily Blunt's Kate, who takes in all the horrors of the Mexican drug trade in an uncompromising masterpiece from a director who made my top ten last year, Denis Villeneuve. The fact that I might like Enemy, my #9 last year, as much as or more than Sicario is a sign of the quality of 2014 more than a comment on this year's #3, which knocked my socks off. I can't tell you how many times I've mentally come back to perhaps my favorite sustained 15 minutes of the year, when that convoy of American humvees barrels its way into Juarez with machine-like precision and effectiveness, through dingy streets strewn with bodies, to extract an informant and bring him back across the border come hell or high water. Both of which come, by the way. Roger Deakins is a genius for his photography of the real Juarez and Mexico City as a stand-in, but the credit goes to Villeneuve for putting the whole thing together -- including the terrific performances of the actors -- into something truly indelible.

2. Creed - The most unexpected entry in my top ten is also almost the highest. I hadn't remembered that the next Rocky movie was even coming out this year until my editor at ReelGood invited me to attend the critics screening. If I hadn't been able to work it out with my wife to go straight from work on a Monday night at a busy time of the year for both of us, I may never have even seen the movie at all. (Let's pretend for a moment I would have been immune to the overwhelmingly positive reviews.) But just to prove that it wasn't only being taken aback by the ridiculous quality of Creed that made me rate it so high, I went again a week later, and found my enthusiasm for it diminished by no more than one to three percent. The only thing that even approaches the electric filmmaking Ryan Coogler brings to the movie is his evident love for the material, which made me love it again as well. Sylvester Stallone may be handing the baton to the awesome Michael B. Jordan, but Creed makes me want to see a man whose retirement I have often campaigned for take on any role, if he can bring this kind of passion and dedication to it. As you read this I suspect Stallone will have just become the Oscar frontrunner for this role, which may be the most unexpected thing about my #2.

1. Inside Out - And the movie I walked out of in June, suspecting I might not see a better movie all year, ends up at #1. What to say about Inside Out that hasn't already been said by somebody, somewhere? It made me laugh, it made me cry -- it was better than Cats. (An old line but a good one.) Unlike in some years, I only got to watch my #1 movie once before my ranking deadline, though I did watch the first 40 minutes of Inside Out on the plane back from New Zealand before the needs of my children cut the viewing short. When I got choked up at the collapse of Goofball Island -- a part that hadn't even choked me up the first time around -- I knew that I hadn't overvalued Inside Out. But perhaps the most amazing thing about this movie that celebrates the innocence of youth and its maturation into something more complex is the way it was instantly understood by my son, who was not yet five when he saw it. Pixar's best film since -- Jesus, maybe since the original Toy Story -- turns us all into delighted children, but also children who understand the value of a complete spectrum of emotions.

Inside Out becomes the first animated film I have ever ranked #1 for the year, though if I had started ranking my movies just a year earlier than I did -- 1995 instead of 1996 -- then the aforementioned Toy Story would have taken top honors that year. Inside Out was also my most perfect theater-going experience of the year, as I got to share it with my wife (an increasing rarity), my son (as mentioned above), and a packed theater of people who were laughing and crying just as hard as we were. Well, my son might not have been crying. Let's give him a few more years. With nothing but sequels on Pixar's schedule for the forseeable future, it's probably also the last Pixar #1 we'll see for a while.

And now ... drum roll please ... the five worst.

5. Irrational Man - Challenges for the worst Woody Allen movie I've ever seen. Stilted, clumsy, mean-spirited, delusional, and wastes Emma Stone. Major crimes against humanity here.

4. Pan - As dreary and dismal as "children's" storytelling gets, even when it thinks it's being cheery. It's no wonder my son ran screaming from this, though he couldn't have known in those first ten minutes just how dismal it would get.

3. Accidental Love - Hide behind the name Stephen Greene all you want, David O. Russell, but this tonally fractured and all-around ill-conceived comedy about a woman with a nail lodged in her brain who takes on congress is your fault.

2. Hits - Misses. One after another, ad infinitum. This would-be comedy's dead spots have dead spots. It would never have occurred to me to doubt the comedic instincts of David Cross until he turned in this laughless mess, which was so devoid of value that they allowed prospective viewers to legally torrent it.

1. The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) - Reprehensible and repugnant. And I actually liked the first two movies in this series. This one exhausts 80% of its running time not on a centipede, but on a racist, sexually violent, murderous prison warden -- Dieter Laser, wildly overacting in his unwelcome return from the original movie.

And now all the rest, including the other 128 I have yet to mention in any shape or form:

  1. Inside Out
  2. Creed
  3. Sicario
  4. Love & Mercy
  5. The Last Five Years
  6. The Hateful Eight
  7. The Duke of Burgundy
  8. Tangerine
  9. The Revenant
  10. Queen of Earth
  11. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  12. The Walk
  13. Woman in Gold
  14. The Armor of Light
  15. Room
  16. The End of the Tour
  17. The Big Short
  18. The Nightmare
  19. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
  20. Faults
  21. Amy
  22. Kingsman: The Secret Service
  23. Spy
  24. Chappie
  25. Ex Machina
  26. Wild Tales
  27. Slow West
  28. Mad Max: Fury Road
  29. The Stanford Prison Experiment
  30. Far From the Madding Crowd
  31. Shaun the Sheep Movie
  32. Goodnight Mommy
  33. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
  34. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
  35. The Witch
  36. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
  37. Circle
  38. Jurassic World
  39. Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead
  40. Appropriate Behavior
  41. A Sinner in Mecca
  42. Everest
  43. Blackhat
  44. Unfriended
  45. The Martian
  46. It Follows
  47. Bridge of Spies
  48. Dope
  49. The Look of Silence
  50. The Program
  51. Digging for Fire
  52. The Wolfpack
  53. Macbeth
  54. Hotel Transylvania 2
  55. Magic Mike XXL
  56. Carol
  57. The Gallows
  58. Finders Keepers
  59. 99 Homes
  60. While We’re Young
  61. Get Hard
  62. Cymbeline
  63. Gemma Bovery
  64. Welcome to Me
  65. Samba
  66. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  67. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
  68. Manson Family Vacation
  69. Creep
  70. Results
  71. Buzzard
  72. Bone Tomahawk
  73. A Walk in the Woods
  74. The Wanted 18
  75. Mississippi Grind
  76. Spectre
  77. Time Out of Mind
  78. The Assassin
  79. Tell Spring Not to Come This Year
  80. Sleeping With Other People
  81. The Lobster
  82. Maggie
  83. Victoria
  84. (Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies
  85. The Connection
  86. Freedom Stories
  87. The Age of Adaline
  88. Knight of Cups
  89. The Visit
  90. Truth
  91. We Are Your Friends
  92. Cinderella
  93. The Overnight
  94. People Places Things
  95. Serena
  96. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
  97. India’s Daughter
  98. Ant-Man
  99. Trainwreck
  100. Home
  101. One Floor Below
  102. Phoenix
  103. The Night Before
  104. The Gift
  105. Beasts of No Nation
  106. San Andreas
  107. Clouds of Sils Maria
  108. Heaven Knows What
  109. Furious 7
  110. Black Mass
  111. Suffragette
  112. In the Heart of the Sea
  113. Cooties
  114. Minions
  115. I Smile Back
  116. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
  117. Boulevard
  118. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  119. The DUFF
  120. Terminator Genisys
  121. The Good Dinosaur
  122. Mistress America
  123. The Emperor’s New Clothes
  124. The Cobbler
  125. Aloha
  126. United Passions
  127. Joy
  128. Tomorrowland
  129. Wild Canaries
  130. Turbo Kid
  131. Fifty Shades of Grey
  132. Maps to the Stars
  133. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
  134. Zombeavers
  135. Hot Pursuit
  136. Cop Car
  137. Jupiter Ascending
  138. The Wedding Ringer
  139. Irrational Man
  140. Pan
  141. Accidental Love
  142. Hits
  143. The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)
That's it. That's all. If this were the end of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, I'd be telling you to go home right now. (But not until you've left a comment, please! I love comments, especially on this post.) 

Next year: I go for 150, or die trying.