clouds

Mid-year, I teased my working lists of The best films of 2015 … so far. It’s finalized. Four films had their premieres at either Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival or its mid-season Gems event. I had the chance to catch up with one of these films (Flowers) thanks to the Coral Gables Art Cinema booking it even without a distributor. It later became Spain’s entry to the Oscars and was picked up by Music Box Films. Another movie had its premiere at the Miami Jewish Film Festival. But I’m spoiling the suspense already…

Now, in reverse order and capped off with 10 honorable mentions with links to reviews where appropriate, are the 10 best movies I saw in 2015. Where available, all titles link to the item description page on Amazon. If you purchase via the link provided, you will be financially supporting this blog.

10. The Forbidden Room

forbidden room poster

The only film in my top 10 I did not review. Suffice to say that The Forbidden Room is an incredible experience of dreams and primal desires infused with that indelible Guy Maddin sense of humor.

9. Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice poster

Read my review

8. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

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Read my review

7. Heart of a Dog

heart-of-a-dog

Read my review

6. Flowers (Loreak)

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Read my review in The Miami New Times

5. Theeb

THEEB

Read my review

4. My Golden Days

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Read my capsule review in The Miami New Times (longer review to come)

3. Love & Mercy

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Read my review

2. The Assassin

4tHR6e4IZi2eAX-B_-Q6FEDp1eyb1mngFQpkqsUH4wA

Read my review

1. Clouds of Sils Maria

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Read my review

My honorable mentions (or bottom 10 – 20) are as follows (titles either link to reviews or Amazon): Mr. Turner, The End of the Tour, The Look of Silence (review), Voice Over (review), Mad Max: Fury Road, Carol, Spotlight, Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (review), Brooklyn.

Next, Ana Morgenstern weighs in with her top 20.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

mad-max-fury-road-hardy-theronThe Florida Film Critics Circle, a critics group we have representation in, has announced the winners of this year’s contest for the best of 2015, and it’s a wild list. Mad Max: Fury Road, a film we loved (Overturning Patriarchy in the Post-apocalyptic World: Mad Max: Fury Road – A Film Review), took the several of the top prizes including Best Picture, Director, Cinematography and Effects. Carol, another excellent movie we were rooting for (Love in times of heterosexism — Carol, a film review) had led the nominations with eight to Max‘s seven, but it ended up winning only one category, that of art direction/production design. Though it’s sad to see Carol come up short in so many categories, it did get runner up for esteemed categories like director, adapted screenplay, cinematography and score.

Speaking of score, I was delighted to see Love & Mercy win for that category. It was also a winner in Best Actor for Paul Dano. The Brian Wilson biopic really came out of nowhere to win this writer over this year, as I initially approached it with skepticism. I watched it twice in theaters before reviewing it (Love & Mercy harnesses the music & madness of Brian Wilson), and had a chance to talk with the film’s director (Director of Beach Boys pic Love & Mercy talks about externalizing Brian Wilson’s musical madness and how to deal with the character of Mike Love). As the months went on, it stuck with me, and I don’t think I played Pet Sounds, Smile and “Surf’s Up” in my life much as I ever had these past few months. I really gained a new appreciation for The Beach Boys due to this movie and its performances. So kudos for that.

Dano’s win was the tip of the iceberg for the acting categories. The winners were amazing in how much they went against predicted/marketed contenders. First of all, we went against the Hollywood Foreign Press’s decision to consider his role a supporting role. Plus, there was no sign at all, during the nomination phase, of the Will Smith or Jennifer Lawrence vehicles, and though it was close, the sentimentality of Sly Stallone did not deter critics from voting for Oscar Isaac for Best Supporting Actor not for his high profile appearance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits nearly all the right notes with breezy, rich flair — a film review) but for his performance in Ex Machina (Ex Machina looks past AI to examine artificial sexuality — a film review). Then there was Kristen Stewart who won Best Supporting Actress for her work in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria (Clouds of Sils Maria examines the layers of celebrity identity with powerful performances — a film review), a movie most have undeservedly forgotten — but not us.

This is probably the year where the most films and people I voted for to win actually won. Below you will find the nominees our group voted on. The winner is noted “WINNER” and my choices have an asterisk* by them. And below that you will find my ballot and nominees, which may hint at some of my favorite films of the year, but, as usual take it with a grain of salt. This is a political thing after all, and when participating in these things one should nominate and lobby for films that have a chance for recognition. My choices at least define a certain aesthetic that I feel no shame in celebrating.

Check out this link to see all the winners. In previous years that I have been a member (2012 and 2013) we ranked three choices in each category. Last year we tried something different. There are two rounds of voting. Each of the 30 voting members offers three choices in each category without ranking. Once all ballots were turned in, our chairman and vice chair tabulate the results return a new ballot of five choices (up from three last year) in each category. Everyone would pick one name or film in each category, and then the ones with the majority votes were declared winners. But if it was tight race, we would have a run off, and we had four this year. Plus we had five choices on the original ballot for each category because there were so many tight races to begin with.

OK, congrats to all the winners and here is the list:

BEST PICTURE

Carol*
WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road
Spotlight
T
he Big Short
The Martian

BEST ACTOR

Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
WINNER: Paul Dano – Love and Mercy*
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

BEST ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett – Carol*
WINNER: Brie Larson – Room
Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

WINNER: Oscar Isaac – Ex Machina*
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
Michael Shannon – 99 Homes
Sylvester Stallone – Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Elizabeth Banks – Love and Mercy
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara – Carol
WINNER: Kristen Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria*
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina

BEST DIRECTOR

Todd Haynes – Carol
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
WINNER: George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Tom McCarthy – Spotlight*
Ridley Scott – The Martian

BEST ENSEMBLE

The Big Short
Mistress America
WINNER: Spotlight*
Straight Outta Compton
Tangerine

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Ex Machina
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out
Mistress America
WINNER: Spotlight*

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

WINNER: The Big Short
Brooklyn*
Carol
Room
Steve Jobs

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Carol*
WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario
Youth

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Ex Machina
WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens*
The Walk

BEST ART DIRECTION/ PRODUCTION DESIGN

Brooklyn
WINNER: Carol
Crimson Peak
Love & Mercy*
Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SCORE

Carol
The Hateful Eight
WINNER: Love & Mercy*
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

BEST DOCUMENTARY

WINNER: Amy
Best of Enemies
Cartel Land
Heart of a Dog*
The Look of Silence

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

WINNER: The Assassin*
Mommy
Mustang
Phoenix
Son of Saul

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Anomalisa
WINNER: Inside Out*
The Good Dinosaur
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie

FFCC BREAKOUT AWARD

Bel Powley – Diary of a Teenage Girl*
WINNER: Daisy Ridley – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez – Tangerine
Jacob Tremblay – Room
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina and The Danish Girl

My initial ballot of nominees is below. We had to nominate three were unranked choices. The ones that got the most mentions out of the group became a list of five choices that we had to pick from. All my choices are listed in no particular order and the picture corresponds with the film that got the most nominations:

Paul Dano in Love & Mercy

BEST PICTURE

  • Spotlight
  • Clouds of Sils Maria
  • Love & Mercy

BEST ACTOR

  • Paul Dano – Love & Mercy
  • Jason Segel – End of the Tour
  • Peter Sarsgaard – Experimenter

BEST ACTRESS

  • Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
  • Kristen Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria
  • Cate Blanchett – Carol

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Oscar Isaac – Ex Machina
  • Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
  • Stanley Tucci – Spotlight

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Rooney Mara – Carol
  • Deanna Dunagan – The Visit
  • Kristen Wiig – Diary of a Teenage Girl

BEST ENSEMBLE

  • Spotlight
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Mad Max Fury Road

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Olivier Assayas – Clouds of Sils Maria
  • Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
  • Bill Pohlad – Love & Mercy

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner – Love & Mercy
  • Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
  • Olivier Assayas – Clouds of Sils Maria

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Phyllis Nagy – Carol
  • Marielle Heller – Diary of a Teenage Girl
  • Nick Hornby – Brooklyn

CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Brooklyn
  • Mad Max Fury Road
  • It Follows

VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Ex-Machina
  • Mad Max: Fury Road

ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Carol
  • Love & Mercy
  • Brooklyn

BEST SCORE

  • Atticus Ross – Love & Mercy
  • Cat’s Eyes – The Duke of Burgundy
  • Laurie Anderson – Heart of a Dog

BEST DOCUMENTARY

  • Heart of a Dog
  • The Look of Silence
  • Tales of the Grim Sleeper

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

  • Theeb
  • The Assassin
  • Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

ANIMATED FEATURE

  • Inside Out
  • Shaun of the Sheep
  • Anomalisa

BREAKOUT AWARD

  • Bel Powley – The Diary of a Teenage Girl
  • Lola Kirke – Mistress America
  • Daisy Ridley – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

carol-posterIn his  latest film, director Todd Haynes brings to life a love story between a wealthy housewife and a 20-something department store clerk in 1950s Manhattan. Although a portrayal of forbidden love between two women in the ’50s may seem like a familiar trope, Haynes’ portrayal in Carol, which is based on a The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith’s second novel, makes it fresh. The script, written by Phyllis Nagy goes beyond clichés and shows a deep connection between two women that transcends social class, age barriers and even adds a layer of complexity by making Carol a mother of a young child.

Rooney Mara plays Therese, a young, unaffected store clerk, who wants to become a photographer. She’s quiet and unsure of herself, with a bare bones life that includes a cold apartment and a boyfriend, Richard (Jack Lacy), with whom she has reticently made plans to travel to Europe. It is in the department store where Therese first comes in contact with Carol, a glamorous middle-aged woman who commands attention played superbly by Cate Blanchett. She is wearing fur and expensive leather gloves and carries herself with an aristocratic air. When she chats with Therese, Carol sets a flirtatious tone, listening to Therese’s recommendations for a Christmas present for her daughter. When Carol leaves her gloves behind (by mistake?), Therese takes it upon herself to return them. There is an instant attraction between both women, so when shy Therese calls Carol to return her gloves; Carol quickly follows up with an opportunity to meet face-to-face and Therese agrees.

The affair takes place when Carol’s marriage is falling apart and her controlling husband, played by Kyle Chandler, is trying to keep her in line by using their young daughter as a bargaining tool. In the midst of the drama, Carol not only falls deeply in love with Therese but also cares for her in a motherly way. Carol is also alluring, not only as a beautiful woman, but also in her mysterious and needy qualities.

Carol 2

Haynes’ details include a misè-en-scene that creates an environment of unbridled passion that seeps from the screen. The dialogue is sparse but profound, as are the detailed shots that suggest oppression, love and the high stakes of this affair. Therese seems undaunted, at first, leaving her boyfriend behind to follow Carol in her world, head on. The chemistry between the two women is electric, although the repercussions could be especially high for Carol, who has settled in the heart of suburban New York as a mother to a young girl she deeply loves. Nonetheless, Carol puts it all on the line and unravels onscreen only to reveal that the only great sacrifice is lying about who you are and who you love.

To be sure, Haynes does not mince the film’s message with Carol. In fact, the dialogue is sparse with lots of subtext, conveying the hidden-in-plain-sight nature of being gay in hetero-sexist 1950s America without ever using the word lesbian. But even more importantly, Haynes does not mince images either. Carol’s powerful imagery oozes into the audience, delivering a mood that unfolds slowly, yet Carol still2it is quite potent. The all-knowing glances exchanged between young Therese and the haughtily beautiful Carol, along with loving gestures, speak volumes of the fine acting coming from Mara and especially Blanchett. The camera lingers enough to let the audience catch up and inhabit this secret world that can only exist indoors in a sexually repressed America. When Therese, the budding photographer, shoots Carol with a camera she received as a gift from Carol, we can see how much she cares. The photographs are telling of the depth of feeling and the caring eye Therese has for the somewhat broken Carol.

Within the confines of the small domain of a patriarchal society with strict class boundaries, enforced dress codes and morality clauses; Carol shows that love is one of the ways through in which challenging these power structures is not only possible but inevitable. After fleeing with Therese in a road trip, Carol returns to the fold as her husband pulls her back in by using their daughter. The sequence shows a desperate mother, willing to do whatever it takes to gain back her daughter. But after the first encounter, it becomes obvious that the marriage and Carol staying within that framework is an unsustainable deal. As Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” In that vein, Carol decides to let her own story be told, making sacrifices along the way to be able to gain herself, in her own terms.

Ana Morgenstern

Carol runs 118 minutes and is Rated R. It opens in our South Florida area, on Dec. 25, at the following theaters, but let’s start with the local indie art house: Coral Gables Art Cinema. Other theaters in Miami include:

AMC Aventura
Regal South Beach
AMC Sunset Place

In Palm Beach County, it shows at the following theaters:
Carmike Parisian 20 at City Place, West Palm Beach
Cinemark Palace, Boca Raton
Regal Shadowood, Boca Raton

It opened several weeks ago in the U.S. in other locations, check here for local listings. The Weinstein Company invited us to a preview screening for the purpose of this review and provided all images for this post.

(Copyright 2015 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)