“Roughly Speaking” on the 2016 Oscar Nominations

Rodricks Oscar Noms

Today, Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film & Moving Image, Stevenson University – joined Dan Rodricks on his Baltimore Sun podcast, “Roughly Speaking,” where we discussed the just-announced 2016 Oscar nominations, giving our opinion on what we agreed with and what we didn’t (here are my own lists of the best films, the best acting, and the best artistic and technical work of 2015). We also talked about the fact that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has, once again, mostly ignored people of color in its choices.

Here is the link to the show.

Enjoy!

Mr. Reed’s Metaphysical Neighborhood Presents the Best Technical and Artistic Film Work of 2015

Best Artistic Techincal 2015 Collage

This coming week – on Thursday, January 14, in fact – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce its 2016 Oscar nominations. Before that happens, I would like to finish with my annual “best of” lists: I already posted my “best film” and “best acting” lists, so today’s post – about the (often) unsung artists and craftspeople who are essential to the filmmaking process – completes the triptych. As always, each movie title’s hyperlink will take you to my review, when I have one (if not, I have a note explaining where the hyperlink takes you). I also hyperlink the artists’ names, as well (mostly to IMDb, but sometimes to their own personal websites), so you can see what other work they have produced over their careers. In the case of best score, I link to the movies’ soundtracks on iTunes, as well. Occasionally, I add a note after the entries, to briefly explain my choices.

For each category, I stick to 5 candidates, in alphabetical order. These are the films where I thought that the work in that particular area truly enhanced the quality of the movie. Enjoy, and feel free to leave comments after you look it over!

Best Screenplay:

Best Cinematography:

Best Editing*:

[*3 of these are documentaries, which are among the hardest kinds of films to edit, given the huge amount of material to work with, from which one must, somehow, extract a coherent story.]

Best Production Design*:

[*I include the Production Designer, Art Director(s), Set Director and Costume Designer, in that order, for each film]

Best Special/Visual Effects*:

[*Too many people to mention all, so I include just the supervisor from the various teams, though the credits are complicated enough that I may be missing folks – or including too many – and for that I apologize]

Best Original Score*:

[*These scores all worked beautifully with their movies, adding much to the storytelling without overwhelming it.]

Mr. Reed’s Metaphysical Neighborhood Presents the Best Film Acting of 2015

What follows is a list of what I consider the best acting in films released in 2015. Four days ago, I published my list of best (and worst) films of the year, and most actors in most of those films turned in admirable performances. The same goes with directors. I see no need to publish a separate “best directors” list, since if the film is good, then I credit the director. A few actors and actresses in films which I did not put among my top choices still made into this new list, since they were so mesmerizing and memorable, even if the film was not.

Therefore, the actors and actresses listed, below – each with a clip of their performance (when available, and if none is available – or if the available clip is not very good – then I include the movie’s trailer, instead) – are the 5 per category (I stick with just 5, like the Academy, though this is sometimes difficult) whose work most stands out (for me) within the context of the film they’re in; those performances which most contribute to raising the quality of the movie. All movie titles are hyperlinked to my review, and if you follow that link, you can learn more about the movie, itself, and my thoughts on what makes that actor’s performance so special in that movie.

It’s so difficult to choose, but here goes (in alphabetical order by last name within each category):

BEST ACTRESS:

Brie Larson, Room

Teyonah Parris, Chi-Raq

Bel Powley, The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years (no full review yet, so I link to my “best films of the year” page, where I have a capsule review)

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Joan Allen, Room

Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy

Kiersey Clemons, Dope

Olivia Cooke, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina

BEST ACTOR:

Paul Dano, Love & Mercy

Michael B. Jordan, Creed

Shameik Moore, Dope

Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul (no full review yet, so I link to my “best films of the year” page, where I have a capsule review)

Jacob Tremblay, Room

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina

Michael Peña, Ant-Man

Tony Revolori, Dope

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Alexander Skarsgård, The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Mr. Reed’s Metaphysical Neighborhood Presents the Best and Worst Films of 2015

[For an explanation of my blog post title, check out my “best of” list from 2013.]

So here we go … below you will find a number of lists, including: my top two favorite films of the year; my next 9 favorites; my next 9 favorites after that, for a total of 20 best films of the year; and, finally, my (lucky) 13 least favorite films of 2015. I also add, at the end (before the “worst” list), a list of films that may not have cracked my top 20, but which I enjoyed, nevertheless. My main criterion for liking a film this year seemed to be the following: did it surprise me and tell a story in a fresh and original way?

All of the films mentioned received some kind of theatrical or online release in 2015. Where I have previously written reviews of a movie, the title of that movie is hyperlinked to my original review. If I only wrote about a film after seeing it a film festival, then I link to that write-up, however short it may be. Where I have not (yet) reviewed a film – usually because the film has yet to be released in Baltimore – I have hyperlinked the title to the movie’s imdb page and written a (very) brief capsule review of it, just to explain what I admire (or don’t).

There are a few films not on the list that might have made had I seen them by now, but for various reasons I have not. Anomalisa,* for instance, hasn’t even opened in our area yet (but I’m seeing it, finally, next week). I missed The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution when it came to the Maryland Film Festival this past May, then missed it again when it opened at The Charles Theatre in town, and now I won’t be able to see it until it’s available for home viewing, in mid-February. It’s not going to be nominated for an Oscar (though Anomalisa may be), but it’s at least been mentioned on some people’s end of year’s lists. I also missed – even though it’s been available on Netflix for some time – Beasts of No Nation. I started it, but then got distracted. I watched almost 250 movies this year – not all new ones, for sure – and some TV shows, as well, so sometimes I just … drop the ball (plus, I do have a full-time day job). For the most part, the kinds of films that I review for Hammer to Nail – mainly, micro-budget indies – did not make it onto this list, as I wanted to only include films that non-press folks would have had some chance to see in theaters … or on Netflix.

Enjoy! In a few days, as always, I will publish a separate list of the best acting and technical/artistic achievements of the year.

Top 2 Films of 2015 (in alphabetical order):**

Mustang Son of Saul Best of 2015

  • Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, 2015)
    • Directed and co-written by Turkish-born, Paris-based filmmaker Deniz Gamze ErgüvenMustang tells the riveting tale of 5 young sisters, living in a provincial Turkish village, whose lives are turned upside down and inside out when an innocent, frisky game – with boys – in the waters of the Black Sea is misinterpreted by family members and neighbors, alike. Suddenly, the forces of tradition and morality conspire to to take away the freedom they have heretofore taken for granted. Like wild horses unwilling to accept the bridle, they fight back, but it’s not easy being young and female in a world where adult men have all the power. With a sure hand – all the more remarkable since this is her feature debut – Ms. Ergüven guides us through the intellectual awakening of her main characters and takes us on a journey of hope salvaged from despair that is a must-see for all. Despite her grand ambitions, the director never loses sight of her mission to entertain, and fills her movie with rich details and anecdotes, and even great humor. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry, both, and rejoice in discovering that cinema is not dead.
  • Son of Saul (László Nemes, 2015)
    • Unlike Mustang, this movie has no diverting moments of levity. How could it? It is a concentration camp procedural, taking us through the unbearably harrowing realities of 24 hours in the life of a member of the Sonderkommando (Jews chosen by the Nazis to serve in quasi-management positions over other Jews) at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. This film is one long cry of horror, and also absolutely riveting. Another feature debut, Son of Saul is directed and co-written by Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes, who treats his subject with the appropriate revulsion while also giving us another Holocaust film that doesn’t feel like (just) another Holocaust film. This subject has been given, by now, so many different cinematic treatments that it’s hard to imagine there being anything new or fresh to say. And yet, somehow, Nemes does, indeed, offer a novel perspective. His main character, Saul, is a man with a problem – the classic dramatist’s trick – who, despite the nightmare in which he lives, is determined to solve it, giving the film an especially urgent drive. Nemes ups the film’s ante by keeping the camera close to his protagonist at all times. Indeed, much of what makes the film bearable to watch is that the Nazi atrocities are mostly out of focus and rendered through sound, since Saul is almost always in close-up. It’s a cinematic tour de force that teaches us much about the indomitable human spirit without in any way playing down the savagery of the Nazi genocide. It may be tough for some to watch, but it is well worth the effort.

The Next 9 (in alphabetical order):

Second 9 Best of 2015

  • All Things Must Pass (Colin Hanks)
  • Amy (Asif Kapadia)
  • The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller)
  • Dope (Rick Famuyiwa)
  • 45 Years (Andrew Haigh)
    • Director Andrew Haigh (Weekend) offers up what seems, at first, a gentle meditation on the ups and downs of a long marriage, with two beloved actors – Charlotte Rampling (Swimming Pool) and Tom Courtenay (Quartet) – giving terrific and nuanced performances as wife and husband of … 45 years. As the film begins, they are about to celebrate their wedding anniversary, with Kate (Rampling) – the spryer of the two – doing most of the planning. Beautifully shot in Norfolk, England, the film appears initially to offer nothing more than encomiums to a life well lived. Until it all changes, when a secret from the past emerges that threatens to undermine the security that Kate, especially, had so long taken for granted. See it for Rampling, whose face reflects the devastation wrought within as the life she thought she had been living slowly dissipates throughout the course of the film. It is a devastating journey, playing out like a thriller, except the chases and climaxes are all internal.
  • Inside Out (Pete Docter)
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)
  • Room (Lenny Abrahamson)
  • Twinsters (Samantha Futerman/Ryan Miyamoto)

The 9 After That (in alphabetical order):

Third 9 Best of 2015

  • Ant-Man (Peyton Reed)
    • I have a review already, so this is just a note added to deflect the surprise I know many will feel upon seeing this title here. The big budget action films that some critics have placed on their best-of lists are Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian, both of which I liked a lot (see my final list of runners-up, below), but which didn’t catch me unawares the way Ant-Man did, which continued to surprise and delight throughout. That’s why it’s here.
  • The Big Short (Adam McKay)
  • Brooklyn (John Crowley)
  • Carol (Todd Haynes)
  • Listen to Me Marlon (Stevan Riley)
  • Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad)
  • Red Army (Gabe Polsky)
  • Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)
  • What Happened, Miss Simone? (Liz Garbus)
    • Musical biopics are tricky, and often fail when done as fiction films (though not in the case of Love & Mercy, also on this list). This movie, along with Amy (see above), proved how well the documentary format can serve such a complex subject. A brilliant portrait of a brilliant woman, directed by a terrific female documentarian, Liz Garbus (Bobby Fischer Against the World), What Happened, Miss Simone? takes us through the highs and lows of Nina Simone’s life and career, offering up an indelible portrait of an inimitable artist.

12 Final Films of 2015 that didn’t quite crack the top 20 (in alphabetical order):

Worst 13 Films of 2015 (in alphabetical order):

  • Fantastic Four (Josh Trank)
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (Sam Taylor-Johnson)
  • Hot Pursuit (Anne Fletcher)
    • I did not review this, nor did I want to. It is stale and unfunny, and does no favors for its two stars, Reese Witherspoon (Wild) and Sofia Vergara (Modern Family), nor for its director, Anne Fletcher (The Proposal), who has done (nominally) better before. I don’t even think this would be funny on an airplane.
  • In the Heart of the Sea (Ron Howard)
  • Jupiter Ascending (The Wachowskis)
  • The Longest Ride (George Tillman, Jr.)
  • Lost River (Ryan Gosling)
    • This is a great vanity project for its director, Hollywood star Ryan Gosling (Drive), who, in his debut as a director, throws everything but the kitchen sink into mix – strike that, the sink is there, too – without achieving anything of merit. Beautiful to look at and utterly incomprehensible, the film is also so tedious that its mere 95-minute length ends up feeling like twice that.
  • Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs)
  • San Andreas (Brad Peyton)
  • Seventh Son (Sergei Bodrov)
  • Sisters (Jason Moore)
  • Southpaw (Antoine Fuqua)
  • Where to Invade Next (Michael Moore)
    • I used to like Michael Moore, back when he was less convinced of his own goodness. From the time of his documentary debut Roger & Me up to and including his Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine, he seemed like one of those ideologically driven filmmakers whose work was entertaining enough that even those who might disagree with his ideas might enjoy his filmmaking enough to stick around until the end, thereby walking away with a nugget or two of new information. But then, post-Oscar, Moore began to believe his own press clippings, and now, with his latest film, Where to Invade Next, he offers up nothing that we haven’t heard or seen from him before. Worse, he is has devolved into such a smug and self-congratulatory filmmaker that he no longer feels the need to present actual research on screen, assuring us that because he believes in something, it must be true. In this film, he takes us on a journey across randomly chosen countries (he never explains those choices) that ostensibly provide better services and lifestyles to their citizens than we do in the United States, and then presents only one or two examples to back up his claims before moving on to the next country. It is lazy filmmaking at its worst. If you agree with everything Moore says, then you’ll nod along in joy; if, like me, you expect some actual journalistic information, you will be disappointed. As a good progressive, I find Moore – these days – more harmful than helpful to the cause.

*[from 1/20/16: when I finally saw it, I liked Anomalisa, but did not consider it good enough to be among my top films of the year. Maybe among the runners-up, however.]

**Look of Silence[also from 1/20/16: I have to add another film to my top of the top, making it a “Top 3,” and that is The Look of Silence

Dragon Digital TV’s “Reel Talk” – with Chris Reed and Jed Dietz – on “Brooklyn,” “Room,” “Spectre” and the MD Film Festival

HCC-TV Reel Talk_2015-11

Christopher Llewellyn Reed, “Reel Talk” host, w/ Jed Dietz, Director the Maryland Film Festival.

Welcome to the second episode of the 2015-2016 season of Dragon Digital Media‘s Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed (you can watch the first episode here). My guest this time was Jed Dietz, Founding Director of the Maryland Film Festival. We reviewed three films, as usual – BrooklynRoom and Spectre – and added an additional segment where we discussed the history and films of the Maryland Film Festival. In Howard County, Maryland, you can watch the show on Channel 41 (if you’re a Verizon customer) or Channel 96 (if you’re a Comcast customer), and you can watch it online from anywhere.

As always, the amazing Dragon Digital Media team did a fantastic job putting this together, especially producer Karen Vadnais and director Danielle Maloney. Our next episode will premiere in January of the new year. Until then, if you want to watch more of our work, you can check out last year’s episodes in full – Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5Episode 6 – or watch the various segments from each episode on our YouTube channel. Enjoy! And we’ll see you at the movies!

In “Room,” a Marvelous Brie Larson Triumphs over Trauma

Room

Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015)

Based on the best-selling book of the same title, by Emma Donoghue, Room tells the harrowing tale of one woman’s survival through abduction, imprisonment, rape, motherhood and post-traumatic stress. Sound grim? Well, it is, but it is also beautifully life-affirming. As played by the marvelous young actress Brie Larson (Short Term 12), Ma – the only name by which we know her, spoken by her 5-year-old son, Jack – is a model of strength and resilience, though prone to occasional (and very understandable) fits of despair. Her universe is limited to a single room, which she shares with Jack – played by the extremely talented (and relative newcomer) Jacob Tremblay – through whose point of view the book is told, a device mostly replicated in the film (for which Donoghue also wrote the script). The first images we see are from Jack’s perspective: abstract close-ups of furniture and other objects in the tiny space, which slowly morph into shots of Ma. This is the only world that Jack has ever known, and curious sort that he is, he makes the most of it with his imagination. Mother and son have a deeply intimate bond, soon to be tested. We sense, from the opening, that we are in for a riveting and overwhelming experience, a promise to which Room more than lives up.

The director, Lenny Abrahamson, last made a movie about a man trapped by his own psychoses, Frank. There, the self-imposed prison was a papier-mâché head, inside of which actor Michael Fassbender spent most of the movie. Here, the jail may offer more room to maneuver, but it’s far more solid. What are the effects of a seven-year kidnapping? How does one cope without hope? Jack, an originally unwanted product of violent sexual assault, is now far less albatross than life preserver. With him, Ma’s life has structure and meaning. Without him, she might possibly have long ago surrendered to defeat. In this way, Donoghue weaves a complex tale where good can come from bad, and bad from good. If it comes, the long hoped-for liberation may joyfully unlock one set of doors, only to lead Ma and Jack into a new form of captivity.

I haven’t read the book, so a great surprise for me was how the film doesn’t end where you’d expect it to. In fact, what starts out feeling like the third act turns out to be but an extension of the central conflict. It’s a tribute to both author and director that they never allow their story a pure happy end. That would be disrespectful to the experience. True, most wounds heal over time, but some leave deep scars. Both Ma and Jack will forever be marked by their years in “room” (that’s how they refer to their space), no matter what good comes later. The film does leave us with a strong sense of mother-child love, which overrides most of the horrors. And thanks to the exceptional performances from Larson and Tremblay – and other members of a fine ensemble cast that includes Joan Allen (Georgia O’Keeffe) and William H. Macy (The Sessions) – the bond between Ma and Jack is a beautiful salve that can, at least, heal the wounds we suffer while watching their plight.

Rodricks’ “Roughly Speaking” on “Room,” “Our Brand Is Crisis,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and Sterling Hayden

Rodricks 10-30-15 Podcast Collage

Yesterday, Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film & Moving Image, Stevenson University – joined Dan Rodricks, former host of Midday on WYPR, on his new Baltimore Sun podcast, “Roughly Speaking,” where we discussed new films Room and Our Brand Is Crisis, as well as Rebel Without a Cause (which just celebrated the 60th anniversary of its release) and actor Sterling Hayden.

Here is the link.

Enjoy!