Who comes up with these titles?
This is anything but that.
What with the ever-present reality of deadlines, I didn’t get to as many films in the theatres as I would have liked this year. There are a number that I missed, and to keep myself honest for this exercise, I am limiting myself to movies I actually bought a ticket to see. Home video or Netflix do not count.
Given how much I have not seen, it would be presumptuous of me to make any sort of claim for these films being the best of the year. But they are, for what it’s worth, the ones I enjoyed the most this year. And maybe they’re the best I saw. Whatever. So here they are: the Top 8. Not 5. Not 10. Not 15. I DEFY YOUR ARBITRARY NUMBERS.
Also, they’re in alphabetical order. Just to annoy you a bit more.
I saw this the same evening as Fury Road, and that was a fine evening at the movies, I’m here to tell you. Two films with a lot on their minds, working through their ideas in very different ways, to very different effect, but both with uncompromising rigour. Ex Machina uses its SFnal premise to embody objectification literally, and to see the concept all the way through, no matter how dark the conclusions it reaches. This would make a hell of a double-bill with Under the Skin.
Retro with a purpose, setting itself in a temporal never-never-land that is both the eternal 1970s and bleeding-edge-now. Like Ex Machina, it makes the conceptual literal. What is the creature that stalks our protagonists? Time? Death? Sexuality? Adulthood? All of the above? This is fine, multi-layered, heady horror, that is also a wickedly effective shock machine like the best of the films from the era it echoes.
It won’t be for everyone, but I think this is the best Christmas movie since Elf, and the best horror Christmas movie since Black Christmas (1974). The creature designs are wonderfully imaginative, the decision to make the grandmother’s flashback narration animated was inspired, and the movie is, in its cheerfully grotesque way, as uncompromising as Ex Machina. It embraces all the tropes of the Christmas movie and squeezes them to death. You laugh and laugh, and then gape with disbelief. I kept waiting for the film to pull its punches, and it never did. That last shot… Wow.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Yeah, I know. Huge surprise to find this here. But here is is where it belongs. Fury Road demonstrated it was possible for the adrenaline-supercharged spectacle film to be dense with meaning. This was a movie that had much to say, and said it well, using the density of poetry rather than prose. It was also a bracing riposte to The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which appeared to be intent on achieving the total evacuation of meaning (such a feat is impossible, but with its characters reduced to an author’s ventriloquist dummies and a stripping of any sense of stakes, it came close).
While it is far too early to judge its long-term reception, and whether it will stand alongside Alien and Blade Runner, The Martian does feel like another major genre work from Ridley Scott, and its combination of smarts and awe might give him as much as five minutes of peace from the “what have you done for us lately?” crowd still upset over Prometheus.
I saw Spectre and enjoyed it quite a bit more than some. But this, in a number of respects, was the more exciting film in the James Bond vein. It took apart the conventions while delivering them expertly, and the violence was surprisingly bone-crunching in the midst of the laughs. Good grief, this was fun.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
This isn’t the best film I saw this year (I might grant that prize to Fury Road). But I had fun at a new Star Wars movie for the first time in over 30 years. And my enjoyment of the film has grown in the days since I went, as I’ve seen just how important and meaningful the film has become for so many people, in ways that far surpass my own personal experience. That matters.
What We Do in the Shadows
Perhaps a bit of a cheat. It’s a 2014 film. Its American release date was February 2015. I can’t recall now if it arrived in Canada then or before, but it seems to me I saw it in the winter, so on it goes. Just when I thought I’d had it up to here with the mockumentary form, here comes this smartly silly bit of business, a horror comedy that deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as Shaun of the Dead. The riffs on vampire lore and films come thick and fast, the gore is hilarious, and there’s the thread of a rather moving love story that reaches a big-grin-on-your-face conclusion.
So there you go. And Happy New Year!