Monday, February 22, 2016

Best of 2015, part 3: Directing/Screenplays

Here's the deal, fellow humans: I understand that by asking you read this I am tacitly agreeing to being generally funny and entertaining, and I want to try very hard to do that, but it's been a long, long, long day. So I will do my best to be funny, but I might end up breaking down halfway through and just burying my sleepy little eyes in cupcakes instead. I probably ought to just write this tomorrow when my eyes aren't literally falling out of my head, but this list series is like a shark; it keeps moving forward or else Henry Winkler sneaks up and jumps it with a jet-ski. (That was a Happy Days joke, because nothing is more topical than talking about the Fonz.)

So we beat on, boats against the current, born back ceaselessly into lists of movies I liked. (That was Gatsby. I think for my next trick I'll make a Gilgamesh joke.) Today I'm just going to deal with three categories (see above, re: eyes, falling out of head), the three which I am contractually obligated to say are the ones I've always dreamed about failing at: directing and screenplays!

Best Director
5. Pete Docter-Inside Out
Blasphemy! An animated movie in a directing category! Let slip the dogs of war! Docter spins a shockingly complex concept into a dazzling, candy-colored visualisation of a kid's mind, and he makes it accessible to kids and adults. It's a effortless and confident high-wire act, and it's a shame that the fact that it's animated made people automatically dismiss his work.

4. Ryan Coogler-Creed
There's absolutely no reason Creed needed to be any good whatsoever, and yet it's more than good--it's downright daring. Just to prove he could, Coogler made Creed as technically impressive, immersive, and envelope-pushing as he could in the context of an inspirational sports movie, and it plays like gangbusters.

3. David Robert Mitchell-It Follows
Has the patience to sit and stare like a dead-eyed zoo exhibit. Mitchell puts his characters against empty backdrops like creepy dioramas and then casually lets all hell break loose. It's detached, unnervingly calm film-making--like a polar bear on valium.

2. Denis Villeneuve-Sicario
Sicario is nothing if not a technical masterwork, weaving a host of disparate elements into one brutal, winding tapestry of stop-and-go horror. Villeneuve plays his audience like a piano, meticulously tightening strings and carefully pressing brass knuckles into your ribs. I don't think I took a breath for the entirety of Sicario's running time.

1. George Miller-Mad Max: Fury Road
Here continues the love-in for Mad Max, but Miller so obviously deserves the top spot here that I'm not even sure what to write. Congratulations to a 70-year old man for showing the kids how action movies are supposed to be done. Miller mixes chaos and beauty in equal measure, making for the most unique cinematic experience of the year.

Honorable mention: Todd Haynes' woozy, delicate work on Carol.
Honorable honorable mention: it was quite the log-jam for the top spot (still can't believe I left Haynes out of it), so I feel like I should also mention that Andrew Haigh and 45 Years could have just as easily made it into the top 5.

Best Original Screenplay
5. Ale Abreu-Boy and the World
Dense visual metaphors, enough social commentary lurking under the vibrant color palette to run four election cycles, and a consistent grasp on what it means to see the world as a child.
(There are no intelligible words in this movie, so I'ma go ahead and not quote it here.)

4. Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch-Tangerine
A daredevil mix of hilarity, surprisingly dark throwaway moments of desperation, and enough wild-eyed kinetic energy to kill a horse.
"Gurrl, that is one cute-ass blouse."

3. Olivier Assayas-Clouds of Sils Maria
Insane that this one is only #3. An incredibly complex, layered screenplay that doesn't stop mutating and folding in on itself for one moment.
"The text is like an object. It's going to change perspective based on where you're standing."

2. David Robert Mitchell-It Follows
A clear-eyed, black-hearted deconstruction of the horror genre whose deceptively simple premise should elicit the most "yeah, but what would you do?" conversations of any movie this year.
"When I was a little girl my parents wouldn't allow me to go south of 8 mile. And I didn't even know what that meant until I got older. And I started realizing that that was where the city started and the suburbs ended. And I used to think about how shitty and weird was that. I mean, I had to ask permission to go to the state fair with my best friend and her parents only because it was a few blocks past the border."

1. Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Ronnie Del Carmen-Inside Out
The #1 spot is probably no surprise to anyone who has read my ebullient little rants about Inside Out over the past few days. A daring and original concept, fantastically executed, full of surprisingly tough insights for a movie about imaginary friends.
"I know you don't want me to, but I miss home. I miss Minnesota. You need me to be happy, but I want my old friends, I want my hockey team. I wanna go home. Please don't be mad."

Honorable mention: wild west tomfoolery and myth-making in Bone Tomahawk.

Best Adapted Screenplay
5. Phyllis Nagy-Carol
What a lilting, lovely composition this is. Clearly I'm a big ol' romantic, but I can't help but stuff this category with movies that made me swoon a bit.
"What a strange girl you are. Flung out of space."

4. George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris-Mad Max: Fury Road
Genre-challenging, politically thorny work that insists on telling the entire story through action. Proof positive that screenwriting has a heck of a lot more to do than just writing snappy one-liners.
Furiosa: How does it feel?
The Splendid Angharad: It hurts.
Furiosa: Out here everything hurts. You wanna get through this? Do as I say. Now pick up what you can and run.

3. Drew Goddard-The Martian
How do you go about a adapting a book whose primary pull is the methodical working out of science and math problems? I've no idea how, and luckily it wasn't my job, but Goddard figured it out, and did it with a light touch and a sideways sense of humor.
"I'm sorry Martinez, but if you didn't want me to go through your stuff, you shouldn't have left me for dead on a desolate planet."

2. Nick Hornby-Brooklyn
Full of side-eye melancholy and hard earned joy. Plus it's so romantic it makes me want to rip my heart out through my mouth. In a good way.
Eilis: You remember that after I had dinner at your house, you told me you loved me? Well, I didn't really know what to say, but I know what to say now. I have thought about you and I like you, and I like seeing you, and maybe I feel the same. So the next time you tell me you love me, if there is a next time, I'll say I love you too.
Tony: Are you serious?
Eilis: Yes.
Tony: Holy shit! Excuse my language, but I thought we were going to have a different kind of talk.

1. Andrew Haigh-45 Years
Another not-surprise at the top. Andrew Haigh is one of the best writers working in the movies these days, and 45 Years is more proof of that. Alternates between sweet, nostalgic, and brutal. Like repeatedly poking a raw nerve.
Geoff: You really believe you haven't been enough for me?
Kate: No, I think I was enough for you. I'm just not sure you do.

Honorable mention: Christian Petzold's tough, bracingly hard-eyed look at the possibilities and impossibilities of return in Phoenix. Can't believe I'm leaving this out of the top 5, but them's the breaks.

Well that is once again that. Tomorrow I'll return for the last big list post of the year, diving giddily into the wacky quagmire of craft categories. Yay! I'm excited. I can't wait to describe Sound Mixing to you. It will literally blow your socks off.

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