11. Magic Mike XXL
Close enough to the Top 10 that I couldn’t bear to leave if off. I kind of expected Jurassic World (Indominus Rex!) to be my movie of the summer until this little gem stole its way into my heart. The pure pleasure of Big Dick’s convenience store dance to the tune of “I Want It That Way” might have been the best scene of any movie this past year.
Is it too soon to declare this movie a cult classic? I don’t think so. A pitch perfect horror film with a phenomenal opening sequence and a neat premise. But there’s depth here too, found in the movie’s exploration of Detroit’s urban/suburban social and racial divide. Couldn’t find Tom Sugrue’s name listed as a screenwriter, but he might have been a consultant at the very least.
9. Queen of Earth
Elisabeth Moss keeps slipping just beneath the radar of the performances which end up getting attention in any given year. Shame. She’s close to flawless here as the friendship between two women slowly unravels over the course of a weekend.
Preemptive apologies to Iron Will, who knows I love him. I wanted this to be even higher, but, you know those movies where your respect for the obvious craftsmanship involved just doesn’t quite align with the level of enjoyment actually had in the theater?
7. Steve Jobs
Sorkin-haters, do your worst. The cast was firing on all cylinders (though Michael Fassbender, of course, played the orchestra), the dialogue was crackling, and the score was unforgettable.
Arresting. Raccous. Jolting. Joyous.
Iron Will got it right. Funny enough to have cracked the List of Iron based solely on its chops as a comedy. But there’s so much more. Confronts the issue of abortion without hiding behind six layers of Obvious Child ironic distance. But I also loved Lily Tomlin and Sam Elliott’s unforgettable scenes together.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
What does Homer Simpson say about Roger Moore’s Octopussy? “Man, I must have seen that movie…twice.” Well, true story. The only movie here I went to see AGAIN in the theater. I like to think there was more to my fascination than some lizard-brained attraction to all the explosions and loud noises. But you know what, even if there wasn’t, WITNESS: sometimes the movies are about that child-like wonder, where almost every scene has me asking myself how they did that.
3. Clouds of Sils Maria
Hate the word, but this was meta, in all the best sense of the word. Casting K-Stew in a movie that tries to grapple with youth, fame, and its discontents allows the story to work on a whole other level. It’s hard to disentangle (or even summarize) this Maloja snake of a movie’s many thematic coils, but, the dialogue is beautifully written and it’s all set against some exquisite scenery. Hard for me to recall a bad Assayas movie, but this is probably his best.
To read about this movie is to instinctively suspect that it’s gimmick-driven. A two-hour-plus single-take shot on the streets of Berlin very early one morning with a mostly improvised script. And while no, this ain’t no phony Birdman “single-take,” I promise it’s so much more than the sum of that admittedly Herculean feat (which took three attempts before they got it, so I read). Over the course of that one shot, wandering the night clubs, flats, deserted streets, and yes, the criminal underworld of Germany’s capital, we see a phenomenal range of people, atmospheres, and emotions.
If watching Victoria stop mid-movie and play the Mephisto Waltz to the stunned silence of her companions doesn’t transfix you, then nothing will. In other words, the technical feat eventually disappears into what I thought was one of the most engrossing movies of the year.
1. About Elly
I don’t want to hear about how this one “shouldn’t count” because it was made a few years ago. I liked the movie too much for technicalities like that to stand in the way. A masterpiece, pure and simple, that somehow is absolutely about an Iran divided between its theocratic and secular self, and yet also more transcendent than even that weighty-enough subject. Elly’s early disappearance triggers crisis, conflict, and recriminations amongst a group of friends totally unprepared to handle such pressure. As they turn on each other, the fate of their vanished acquaintance takes a backseat to far more serious concerns.
The movie, at its core, has something to say about lies. The lies we tell authorities, casual acquaintances, our friends, our families and our neighbors, to get by, to save face, to prevent grief, or spare feelings. But those lies add up, Farhadi suggests, and the consequences can prove explosive. Wonderfully acted and gorgeously shot, this is the Iron Texan’s film of the year. By a long shot.