Ranking the Films of 2015


A while ago I set a goal for myself: to see fifty films that were released in US theaters in the calendar year of 2015, by the time of the 2016 Oscars. Although I have not yet seen some Oscar-nominated films – I want very much to see The Revenant on the big screen – I have experienced a wide array of genres and styles of filmmaking. (I’m not even 100% certain about some of these rankings, since the process of judging is complicated and constantly shifting, but this is the list that I have settled on at the moment.) Some of my reviews for these films have not been posted online yet, but they will be soon. For now, enjoy!

  1. The Walk – dir. Robert Zemeckis
  2. Carol – dir. Todd Haynes
  3. Ex Machina – dir. Alex Garland
  4. Seymour: An Introduction – dir. Ethan Hawke
  5. Amy – dir. Asif Kapadia
  6. Spy – dir. Paul Feig
  7. Bridge of Spies – dir. Steven Spielberg
  8. San Andreas – dir. Brad Peyton
  9. 99 Homes – dir. Ramin Bahrani
  10. Kingsman: The Secret Service – dir. Matthew Vaughn
  11. The Martian – dir. Ridley Scott
  12. 45 Years – dir. Andrew Haigh
  13. Tab Hunter Confidential – dir. Jeffrey Schwarz
  14. Love & Mercy – dir. Bill Pohlad
  15. Creed – dir. Ryan Coogler
  16. Spotlight – dir. Tom McCarthy
  17. Mississippi Grind – dirs. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
  18. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – dir. Christopher McQuarrie
  19. Brooklyn – dir. John Crowley
  20. Meet the Patels – dirs. Geeta Patel and Ravi Patel
  21. The Danish Girl – dir. Tom Hooper
  22. Meadowland – dir. Reed Morano
  23. Sicario – dir. Denis Villeneuve
  24. Learning to Drive – dir. Isabel Coixet
  25. Woman in Gold – dir. Simon Curtis
  26. The End of the Tour – dir. James Ponsoldt
  27. Magic Mike XXL – dir. Gregory Jacobs
  28. I’ll See You in My Dreams – dir. Brett Haley
  29. What We Do in the Shadows – dirs. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
  30. True Story – dir. Rupert Goold
  31. The Wolfpack –  dir. Crystal Moselle
  32. Girlhood – dir. Céline Sciamma
  33. The Hateful Eight – dir. Quentin Tarantino
  34. The Big Short – dir. Adam McKay
  35. Avengers: Age of Ultron – dir. Joss Whedon
  36. Jurassic World – dir. Colin Trevorrow
  37. Clouds of Sils Maria – dir. Olivier Assayas
  38. The Longest Ride – dir. George Tillman, Jr.
  39. Danny Collins – dir. Dan Fogelman
  40. Run All Night – dir. Jaume Collet-Serra
  41. Pitch Perfect 2 – dir. Elizabeth Banks
  42. Do I Sound Gay? – dir. David Thorpe
  43. Fifty Shades of Grey – dir. Sam Taylor-Johnson
  44. Ant-Man – dir. Peyton Reed
  45. Dark Places – dir. Gilles Paquet-Brenner
  46. Focus – dirs. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
  47. Ride – dir. Helen Hunt
  48. Fantastic Four – dir. Josh Trank
  49. Welcome to Me – dir. Shira Piven
  50. Aloha – dir. Cameron Crowe

Academy Awards 2016: Nomination Predictions

Except for three categories (documentary short, animated short, live action short), here are my predictions for the Oscar nominations, will be announced tomorrow morning. I expect to get some wrong: maybe Alicia Vikander will snag a nomination for The Danish Girl; some old hands and relative newcomers could sneak into the Best Supporting Actor category, including Paul Dano (Love & Mercy), nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay (Room), Benicio Del Toro (Sicario) and Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight); Bridge of Spies could get an Original Screenplay nod; I could be totally wrong about the contenders for Best Production Design (Brooklyn and The Danish Girl could edge out some competitors); Scandinavian features The Fencer (Finland) and A War (Denmark) might earn nominations for Best Foreign Language Film. Despite all these possibilities, here is my final-decision list.

P.S. It doesn’t look like too many women-directed films are contenders this year; the only four that I have marked down are Fifty Shades of Grey (Sam Taylor-Johnson), Meru (co-directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi), Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven) and The Prophet (two of the ten animated-film-segment directors are Joan C. Gratz and Nina Paley). This is disappointing, seeing as how this year’s Independent Spirit Award nominations have recognized Advantageous (Jennifer Phang), Among the Believers (co-directed by Mohammed Naqvi and Hemal Trivedi), The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller), Girlhood (Céline Sciamma), Heart of a Dog (Laurie Anderson), Incorruptible (Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi), Meadowland (Reed Morano), Mississippi Grind (co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck), Songs My Brothers Taught Me (Chloé Zhao), (T)ERROR (co-directed by Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe) and A Woman Like Me (co-directed by Elizabeth Giamatti and the late Alex Sichel).

Best Picture

  1. The Big Short
  2. Bridge of Spies
  3. Brooklyn
  4. Carol
  5. Mad Max: Fury Road
  6. The Martian
  7. The Revenant
  8. Room
  9. Spotlight
  10. Straight Outta Compton


Best Director

  1. Todd Haynes (Carol)
  2. George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
  3. Ridley Scott (The Martian)
  4. Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant)
  5. Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)


Best Actor

  1. Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)
  2. Matt Damon (The Martian)
  3. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
  4. Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
  5. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)


Best Actress

  1. Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
  2. Cate Blanchett (Carol)
  3. Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
  4. Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)
  5. Brie Larson (Room)


Best Supporting Actor

  1. Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation)
  2. Christian Bale (The Big Short)
  3. Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
  4. Sylvester Stallone (Creed)
  5. Michael Shannon (99 Homes)


Best Supporting Actress

  1. Rooney Mara (Carol)
  2. Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)
  3. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
  4. Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)
  5. Helen Mirren (Trumbo)


Best Original Screenplay

  1. Alex Garland (Ex Machina)
  2. Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight)
  3. Josh Cooley, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve (Inside Out)
  4. Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (Spotlight)
  5. Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus (Straight Outta Compton)


Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Adam McKay, Charles Randolph (The Big Short)
  2. Phyllis Nagy (Carol)
  3. Drew Goddard (The Martian)
  4. Emma Donoghue (Room)
  5. Aaron Sorkin (Steve Jobs)


Best Cinematography

  1. Edward Lachman (Carol)
  2. Robert Richardson (The Hateful Eight)
  3. John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road)
  4. Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant)
  5. Roger Deakins (Sicario)


Best Costume Design

  1. Odile Dicks-Mireaux (Brooklyn)
  2. Sandy Powell (Carol)
  3. Sandy Powell (Cinderella)
  4. Paco Delgado (The Danish Girl)
  5. Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road)


Best Hair & Makeup

  1. Black Mass
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. The Revenant


Best Production Design

  1. Bridge of Spies
  2. Carol
  3. Mad Max: Fury Road
  4. The Martian
  5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Best Editing

  1. Hank Corwin (The Big Short)
  2. Margaret Sixel (Mad Max: Fury Road)
  3. Pietro Scalia (The Martian)
  4. Stephen Mirrione (The Revenant)
  5. Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)


Best Sound Editing

  1. The Hateful Eight
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. The Martian
  4. The Revenant
  5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Best Sound Mixing

  1. Bridge of Spies
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. The Martian
  4. The Revenant
  5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Best Visual Effects

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Martian
  3. The Revenant
  4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  5. The Walk


Best Original Score

  1. Thomas Newman (Bridge of Spies)
  2. Carter Burwell (Carol)
  3. Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight)
  4. Jóhann Jóhannsson (Sicario)
  5. John Williams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)


Best Original Song

  1. “Earned It” (Fifty Shades of Grey)
  2. “See You Again” (Furious 7)
  3. “Til It Happens To You” (The Hunting Ground)
  4. “The Light That Never Fails” (Meru)
  5. “Simple Song #3” (Youth)


Best Animated Feature Film

  1. Anomalisa
  2. Inside Out
  3. The Peanuts Movie
  4. The Prophet
  5. Shaun the Sheep Movie


Best Foreign Language Film

  1. The Brand New Testament (Belgium)
  2. Mustang (France)
  3. Son of Saul (Hungary)
  4. Theeb (Jordan)
  5. Viva (Ireland)


Best Documentary Feature

  1. Amy
  2. Cartel Land
  3. He Named Me Malala
  4. Listen to Me Marlon
  5. The Look of Silence

2015 Academy Awards: Final Predictions

Best Picture: Boyhood

Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Best Actress: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Best Director: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Best Original Screenplay: Birdman

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Imitation Game

Best Animated Feature Film: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Best Foreign Language Film: Ida

Best Cinematography: Birdman

Best Editing: Whiplash

Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Original Score: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Original Song: “Glory” (Selma)

Best Sound Mixing: Whiplash

Best Sound Editing: American Sniper

Best Visual Effects: Interstellar

Best Documentary (Feature): Citizenfour

Best Documentary Short Film: Joanna

Best Short Film, Live Action: Aya

Best Short Film, Animated: Feast

Academy Awards 2015: Predictions

Tomorrow morning at 8:30 am (Eastern Standard Time), I’ll be ready with pen and paper in hand, watching the live announcement of the Academy Award nominations. As usual, I didn’t try to figure out the short film categories since I never have any clue what’s in the running. Otherwise, all categories are present and accounted for.

Best Picture (top 10 candidates, if the Academy chooses to nominate so many films): Birdman; Boyhood; Gone Girl; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Imitation Game; Into the Woods; Nightcrawler; Selma; The Theory of Everything; Whiplash

Best Actor: Michael Keaton (Birdman); Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel); Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game); Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler); Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Best Actress: Jennifer Aniston (Cake); Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl); Julianne Moore (Still Alice); Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything); Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

[The four absolute locks are Pike, Moore, Jones and Witherspoon. For a while I thought that the fifth spot might go to Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night, but when the film didn’t make the Best Foreign Language Film shortlist and Cotillard failed to earn nominations from the BAFTAs, Golden Globes and SAG Awards, I figured she was out of the running for the Oscar. Aniston is my guess for #5, but I wouldn’t count out Amy Adams for Big Eyes. I would be surprised if the fifth spot went to someone other than Aniston or Adams.]

Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton (Birdman); Ethan Hawke (Boyhood); Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher); Robert Duvall (The Judge); J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

[The BAFTAs threw a curveball by nominating Foxcatcher’s Steve Carell in the Supporting Actor category, but I assume that he was put in the lead category for the Oscar ballots. So unless Carell takes Duvall’s spot – or maybe Josh Brolin can take that same place for Inherent Vice – I think that this will be the final five.]

Best Supporting Actress: Emma Stone (Birdman); Patricia Arquette (Boyhood); Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game); Meryl Streep (Into the Woods); Rene Russo (Nightcrawler)

[Jessica Chastain is a contender for A Most Violent Year and some wishful thinkers are predicting Tilda Swinton for Snowpiercer, but I feel confident in my choices. Laura Dern also has an outside shot for Wild as support for the nomination that the Academy will undoubtedly give to Reese Witherspoon – a repeat of what happened last year with Cate Blanchett/Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine.]

Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman); Richard Linklater (Boyhood); Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel); Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game); Ava DuVernay (Selma)

Best Original Screenplay: Birdman; Boyhood; The Grand Budapest Hotel; Mr. Turner; Nightcrawler

Best Adapted Screenplay: American Sniper; Gone Girl; The Imitation Game; The Theory of Everything; Whiplash*

[*By rights Whiplash should be considered “original,” but… the Academy had bizarre ideas about that. Also, Wild is a strong contender and it could knock out either American Sniper or the misplaced Whiplash.]

Best Animated Feature Film: Big Hero 6; The Boxtrolls; How to Train Your Dragon 2; The Lego Movie; The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Best Foreign Language Film: Force Majeure; Ida; Leviathan; Timbuktu; Wild Tales

Best Cinematography: Birdman; The Grand Budapest Hotel; Interstellar; Mr. Turner; Unbroken

[I have also been considering Ida, which got a BAFTA nod for the cinematography, but the Academy loves Roger Deakins so they may reward Unbroken in its place.]

Best Editing: Birdman; Boyhood; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Imitation Game; Whiplash

Best Production Design: Big Eyes; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Imitation Game; Interstellar; Into the Woods

Best Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Imitation Game; Into the Woods; Maleficent; Mr. Turner

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Grand Budapest Hotel; Guardians of the Galaxy; The Theory of Everything

Best Original Score: Gone Girl; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Imitation Game; Interstellar; The Theory of Everything

[Mica Levi’s score for Under the Skin has probably won more awards than any other score of the season, so by rights she should be one of the nominees, but neither she nor the film has enough heat to generate an Oscar possibility, unless something really crazy happens.]

Best Original Song: “Ryan’s Song” (Boyhood); “Lost Stars” (Begin Again); “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” (Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me); “Everything Is Awesome” (The Lego Movie); “Glory” (Selma)

Best Sound Mixing: American Sniper; Birdman; Guardians of the Galaxy; Unbroken; Whiplash

Best Sound Editing: American Sniper; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; Birdman; Interstellar; Unbroken

Best Visual Effects: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; Guardians of the Galaxy; The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies; Interstellar; X-Men: Days of Future Past

Best Documentary (Feature): Citizenfour; Finding Vivian Maier; Life Itself; The Overnighters; Virunga

Programming Note: Best-of Lists

This is the time of year when critics, bloggers, moviegoers and anyone else who wants to makes a “best of” list for the films that came out during the calendar year. Although I made a post that chronicles the films I saw in a set of GIFs, I feel that I would be doing a disservice to the films I have not yet seen by prematurely creating a ranking. American Sniper, Big Eyes, Birdman, Citizenfour, The Gambler, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Gone Girl, Goodbye to Language 3D, The Imitation Game, Inherent Vice, Leviathan, A Most Violent Year (which wasn’t released until December 31 anyway), Mr. Turner, Nightcrawler, Selma, Still Alice (I hope to see it soon at a Museum of the Moving Image screening introduced by none other than Julianne Moore), Two Days, One Night (which I have heard some people call the best film of the year), Unbroken, Whiplash, Wild and more are still on my to-see list, so I am going to wait until closer to Oscar time until I actually create a “Best Films of 2014” post.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep watching movies both new and old. Happy new year, everyone!

Another Comment on Kim Novak at the Oscars

The more I think about Kim Novak’s appearance as a presenter at the Oscars last night and the fact that she did not receive a standing ovation, the more I think just how appropriate it is to have a discussion about what that signifies. How do the bright, shining stars of Hollywood determine who among them is a legend and who is not?

I guess it’s debatable whether Kim Novak is actually a “legend” (unlike another presenter, Sidney Poitier, who definitely got people out of their seats). She was never nominated for any Academy Awards during her career. There is no question, however, that in her heyday she worked with many of the biggest names in the business. Novak’s starring role in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) is how most people best remember her, but she worked with many other talented directors and leading men as well. Think for a moment of some of those highly-regarded directors: Richard Quine, Mark Robson, Joshua Logan, Otto Preminger, George Sidney, Delbert Mann, Billy Wilder, Terence Young, Robert Aldrich, Guy Hamilton. And then there are some of those memorable leading men, besides James Stewart of Vertigo and Bell, Book and Candle: Fred MacMurray, William Holden, Frank Sinatra, Tyrone Power, Fredric March, Kirk Douglas, Jack Lemmon, James Garner, Laurence Harvey and Dean Martin, to name only ten. Does anyone remember when Sight & Sound crowned Vertigo the greatest movie of all time? Well, for all we know that might not have happened if Hitchcock had cast a different actress.

The complicating factor in the public’s reactions to Novak is in the knowledge that she was once a sex symbol. It seems that perceptions are harsher and more judgmental when they are assessing someone who was once considered beautiful. (This remark about Novak by some young nobody is especially mean.) Not even having Academy Awards can alter this; the blogosphere was also snarky towards presenter Goldie Hawn (1970’s Best Supporting Actress winner for Cactus Flower), who was a bona fide star from the early 1970s to the early 2000s and who was certainly considered a sex symbol for many years. Even with all her success, the evident plastic surgery or Botox or whatever it is that Hawn has had done was prime fodder for the online critics. Getting back to Novak, the online reactions remind me of how the Internet immediately laughed at Jacqueline Bisset’s Golden Globes speech. Whether or not people were aware of Bisset’s fame and beauty from the late 60s to the late 80s (and her career hasn’t slowed down to this day), they were only reacting to the “uncomfortable” awkwardness in her genuine surprise at winning. Maybe if you had waited nearly fifty years to win a major award, you’d be shocked and say weird things too.

From what I gather, Kim Novak chose to leave Hollywood because she was frustrated with being seen only as a sex symbol, which was undoubtedly the main reason why she got many or most of the roles that she did, and after a while she was probably not considered a sex symbol anymore anyway. It was better for her to have bowed out graciously when she did, acting only occasionally between the early 70s and early 90s. But even at last night’s Oscars, when Hollywood went out of its way to pay tribute to just about every relic from its golden days, the fickle crowd was selective enough not to care that Kim Novak was onstage. If Novak was unsure of herself back in the 1950s, I can only imagine that it was a little frightening to appear at the Oscars as an 81-year-old woman. Can you really blame a female veteran of an appearance-driven industry for taking some injections?

As the blog Dlisted’s comments noted, echoing disappointment over the Oscar audience’s lack of reverence for one of their own: “This is what happens when people are thought to value and be appreciated based on only their looks … I wouldn’t even want to know how Marilyn Monroe would have looked if she were alive today … Do you think she would have received a standing ovation? Or would the Bieber crowd not recognize her either?”

Oscars 2014: Best and Worst Moments

Among the highlights of last night’s three-and-a-half-hour-long Academy Awards:

Brad Pitt helping hand out plates when Ellen brings pizza. Harrison Ford, Pitt, Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence were among the people actually eating said pizza.

Darlene Love busts out the loudest version of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” imaginable during the acceptance speech for the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom. Bill Murray is the first to jump to his feet for a standing ovation.

Pharrell Williams dances with Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams while he sings his Oscar-nominated song, “Happy.”

A bunch of celebrities stop to take a selfie.

Pink performs “Over the Rainbow” during the Wizard of Oz segment.

Lupita Nyong’o’s emotional acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress.

Benedict Cumberbatch photobombs U2 on the red carpet and again during the show with Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Some of the worst moments:

Bette Midler performs what feels like an extra-long rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” the sappiest song in human existence. Memorial segments are better when the show cuts the sound afterward and has silence until the commercial, rather than this year’s extended Midler performance and applause afterward. Midler’s mugging and talking to the crowd afterward, despite performing for a serious reason, didn’t help.

John Travolta totally mispronounces “Idina Menzel.” He gets a pass for having dyslexia, but why did he agree to read off the TelePrompter in the first place? He’s an actor; couldn’t he have memorized the name?

Kim Novak appears with Matthew McConaughey to present the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. I don’t really care how much plastic surgery she may have had; what I can’t figure out is why she was at the Oscars in the first place. I mean, didn’t it seem so random? Mostly it was just a sad moment because she didn’t get a standing ovation.

Another Low Point: In a year when so many notable names passed away, it would have been impossible to include everyone in the “In Memoriam,” but among those that I’m pretty sure were missing from the telecast were Jonathan Winters, Bryan Forbes and Dennis Farina. Also missing were Martha Eggerth, Patty Andrews, Wojciech Kilar, Helen Hanft, Otto Sander and Christopher Evan Welch, who had many decades of excellent work among them. I guess Marcia Wallace, another personality we’ll remember, only counts as a TV actor despite working in movies too.