Welcome to the wonderful world of what was cinema for me this 2015. It was a year of discoveries, wonderful insights and a change of pace in terms of how I react and write about the movies that I see. I won’t start saying that my list has more or less authority, or personality than any of the others around the world, specially since it comes in the middle of January, when most people have already done their lists and have already been revered, feared or mocked because of them. So, without much further ado, I present to you what I consider to be the best 20 films of 2015.
For this list I consider only audiovisual projects that were originally released in 2015, whether they be in festivals, commercial theaters, online, secret screenings, online leaks, or whatever it is that I ended up seeing them, but only screened or published for the first time in the calendar year of 2015. Beyond that, anything goes, here you could end up seeing short films, TV movies, music videos, Mini-series, Web videos and many feature-length films, watched in theaters, festivals or online. This is the 21st century, welcome to it. My list might not be the most original or even the most eclectic, but I can say that these 20 films defined my 2015.
20. Joanna Newsom: Divers (Paul Thomas Anderson)
I sadly didn’t have the chance to see the wonderful ‘Inherent Vice’ (2014) in time for it to be featured in my top 20 films of 2014, but it would’ve easily made it in the top 5 films of that year. In 2015, Paul Thomas Anderson didn’t rest, and he didn’t just release a full new movie, a music documentary named ‘Junun’ that was available on MUBI for a month, but also released two music videos of the new talent Joanna Newsom, one of them being ‘Joanna Newsom: Sapokanikan’ and this one, that stars in the 20th spot of the list. The main reason behind the placement of this particular ‘short’ or ‘music video’ in this list, above the other two works by PTA, is that it’s a wonderful visual work that is among the most strange and captivating imagery that this now incredible American filmmaker has managed to conjure. The colors, the clouds and the almost apocalyptic way in which the frame fills itself with the dread of the thundering clouds, as if the most colorful storm was about to break out. This music video captures you from the start, and that’s not adding the fact that Joanna Newsom is my favorite new female voice after a string of my recent tries to ‘get into’ new music, this angelical yet weird and nasal voice, along with the quiet yet deeply vibrating musical companion, make it a wonderful even if long song that reminds you of the best work of Kate Bush. I look forward to the next work of Paul Thomas Anderson, just as much as I look forward to listening more and more of Joanna Newsom in the near future.
19. As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 3, O Encantado (Arabian Nights: Volume 3, The Enchanted One) (Miguel Gomes)
Against what has been happening in most lists, where they put the entirety of the Arabian Nights trilogy of films by Miguel Gomes in the same spot, I will individualize each entry. And yes, that means that the three films of this wonderful collage of situations and political statements by the Portuguese director is in this list, as I think it’s probably the most important cinematic project of the decade so far, a dedicated passionate analysis of the situation of Portugal and the world from the lens of trying both to pay respect to the people that are living through the crisis, and as well as a way to alleviate the hate, the heavy emotions, just leaving with a sensation of floating sadness, let’s call it like the Portuguese call it: saudade. This last installment in the trilogy is the one that I rate the lowest of the three, but that doesn’t mean that isn’t essential in the understanding and potential greatness that the entire trilogy has when looked from afar, but it is surely the one that got me more uncomfortable as I watched it, but for the same reason I’d say that the sensation in itself was rich and wonderful. Ditching the voice over and favoring the use of text onscreen to narrate the tales of Sherazade, who takes a bigger role in this segment, narrating her ways of getting away from the sultan during the days in which she doesn’t need to tell the stories, while at the same time we remember that this isn’t actually an adaptation of the book Arabian Nights, and thus we are thrust into the tale of bird watchers and catchers, a group of people that raise and compete with chaffinches. The documentary segment of these bird owners is curious in its structure and how it builds on the fact that the useless facts on the birds is the way of telling how much tedium can be found in today’s Portugal, where no one has money, jobs, but you do have lots of free time.
18. Victoria (Sebastian Schipper)
The much talked one-take film. It wouldn’t be that much talked about if it wasn’t a film that was done in one take if that take didn’t last over two hours, but it does, so we talk about it, which is a shame, because it’s barely one of the many wonderful things that this film does right. First of all, the performance of the title character is charming and wonderful, played by the Spanish actress Laia Costa, she plays the shy yet still confident immigrant that works heavy hours in Germany so she can live there, after abandoning piano studies there. Perhaps the best scene of the film and one of the best sequences in any movie of 2015 is when we find out about her story, while she plays a melody on the piano, talking with one of her new found German friends, it’s a beautifully framed and carefully composed scene that is the last moment of calm before the storm hits. It obviously evolves into something more action packed, when the characters that Victoria finds outside the discotheque she was in have to rob a bank to pay a debt that one of them had incurred when he was in jail. Obviously there’s the miracle that the film was done in one take and that there were only three takes made in total, so the level of organization, specially when we slowly see the sunrise and then the way that the characters tire themselves and must rest for a while, it feels real and you become breathless with the characters, and any film that can achieve that only through the power of the images, sound and a superb control over the camera movements and the performance of the characters, is amazing. Besides, there’s so much more layered under the one-take ‘gimmick’ (which I don’t think it is), the issue of inter-European immigration, work and the youth of today. A keeper.
17. Ji-geum-eun-mat-go-geu-ddae-neun-teul-li-da (Right Now, Wrong Then) (Sang-soo Hong)
Hong is master at doing a certain kind of film that I can’t really describe. He, like Ozu in his time, seems to be making the same variation of plot and movie every year and he always comes up with something that strikes you as completely novel and incredible and so makes it immediately rewatchable, relatable and at the same time cinematic. He seems in more ways than one like both the distillation and the combination of the Ozu sensibilities, the Woody Allen sort of zany referential comedy, and his own flair of weirdness with his constant reframings and zooms that make the audience go ‘woooah’ whenever they happen. This film is divided in two ‘moments’ if we were to speak, one is named ‘Right Then, Wrong Now’ and the second one gives its name to the film ‘Right Now, Wrong Then’, it’s the same situation played out in the same places, with the same characters, with almost identical dialogue, but with completely different outcomes: a filmmaker visits a city near the capital to present one of his films in the town’s cinematheque, as well as doing a conference on the movie, but he got confused and got a ticket for a day earlier, thus he wonders the town and meets by happenstance with a girl who paints abstract imagery in her newly bought workshop. The work of the director becomes apparent when the performances just with slight changes can completely alter the course of a film, where a slightly drunker performance can clear doubts or a minute wave of the hand can mean so much more in one situation than in the other. This film is a testament to the artisan quality of the films of Hong, a filmmaker with his tics and quirks that can still muster up a great film a year, and that’s quite the feat.
16. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (Andrew Jarecki)
A six-part HBO documentary mini-series doesn’t seem at first glance like top 20 material, and probably for more than one picky cinephile, it simply isn’t, but this is a powerful feat of both editing and investigative filmmaking that goes beyond what other TV shows are willing to do.Without the impromptu of saving or jailing someone, this longform documentary just takes a hard look at the evidence on hand and tries its hardest to come up with reasons to doubt what is being said by Robert Durst, now charged with murder and in jail, and what the evidence found by the filmmakers is telling us. The drive of the first four episodes is more about what it says about the American judicial and law system than anything else, as this isn’t an exposé on the idea of how much privilege does someone that have more money than others have. Sure, they can attain better lawyers, but that’s not something that can change the fact that the faulty laws were what made that this man was free on the streets. With impeccable access to the subject himself, who was trying hard to come with reasons and facts to back up his story, and he himself is something to reckon with: his voice, his mannerisms, the tics in his eyes, hands, the way that he sees life, the way that he wants at the same time to be freed of all the charges against him, yet he can’t escape the idea of fame, of how much he wants to be known, how much he wants his record to be set straight by his impeccable logic and the ways that his subterfuges have worked out in all these years. The final episode is certainly somewhat muddled, and yet even though the editing does make it seem a bit weird, I think that episode is a triumph, if anything, of the power of editing, of concealing certain shots, certain audio, change the way in which events are presented, using (to some degree) the same trickery that Durst had used to that day to avoid jail, here is used to access the truth. That final shot, the final audio, is still chilling in its certainty, its depth and its cinematic value.
15. Show Me a Hero (Paul Haggis)
Another TV Mini-Series in this list, and also from HBO, but this time it’s fiction, and it’s amazing. The chronicle of the city of Yonkers during the late 80’s regarding public housing under the viewpoint of Nick Wasicsko as first a representative and then a full blown mayor of the town, all in the midst of protest and violence fueled by the terrible racism and classism of the people that lived in the places where the public housing was to be put in. It’s evidently clear who are the ‘bad guys’ in the story and who are the good guys, but even that perception is muddled through the canvas and lens of politics, as it all turns out to be a game of influences, votes and who is the biggest and meanest man in the room. Oscar Isaac does a wonderful job playing the main character as the young mayor of Yonkers, he comes across as both inexperienced yet passionate, and at the same time prone to despair and full of characteristics that make me think he almost knew the real man, that we see him live and breathe once again, that his problems are real and that the people just don’t understand the position in which they are. But I must make a small but very important mention here to Natalie Paul, who plays Doreen Henderson, a young black woman that is constantly involved in the ‘projects’ as the housing problem has been called; she has the most impressive role and she is the biggest surprise for me, an actress that manages to create an arch, where she leaves her home, later to come back, be in drugs problems, just to later become one of the most important political elements of the new housing: she is the embodiment of how she can become a better person, but not through the help of others, but because she is the agent of change she wants to be, and that makes her performance much more emotionally investing. Paul Haggis here manages to make a full portrait, where he gets into every reality and every point of view of the troublesome situation, and while it doesn’t really close it, he at least gives the idea of what happened a fair shake, and that’s better than what most people can say about their films or projects about racial integration.
14. Inside Out (Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen)
Maybe the most visually striking Pixar has done so far, a shiny animated film with gorgeous colors and the most wonderful animation style, something they’ve practically perfected in this particular film. Divided in two ‘spaces’, the real world in which we live as humans (and animals) interacting with each other is among the most realistic that Pixar has achieved so far, where everything seems to be filmed through a lens that murks and distorts the image ever so slightly, giving it a personality: it’s not that the image is imperfect because of the limitations of the animation software, but that the software itself uses these filters and colors to make it contrast with the other world in which the movie takes place, the space of the mind. In the mind of Riley, a 11-year old girl, there’s a system that works to store, compose and create the personality of what is a complex human being, all of this seen through the bright and neon-like style of Pixar, where the mind is controlled by personalities that instill their influence into every act and memory that they can. Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger are among the most memorable characters in any film, and that’s because of how simple they are, as they represent exactly what they names are, and it’s in that interaction that the comedy ensues, as well as the desperate moments in which certain emotions seem to take control in the wrong moments, and it’s generally a well constructed picture, specially when the adventure starts, that’s when Joy and Sadness get lost in the mind of Riley and must make it back to the controls, just while she goes through a crisis in direct relation to her growing up and the fact that they’ve moved from the place in which she lived all her life. And I think that’s the main problem with this movie, and I know I’m supposed to only find good things in the movies from this list, but I must say it, because if it dared to do a more changeling situation for Riley, I think we’d have a definitive masterpiece here, as the problem of moving places is hard, but not as hard as, I don’t know, a possible divorce could have in the psyche of a still young child. But there are memorable sequences like the one with the abstract thought, the apparition of Bing Bong, and many others. A visual emotional treat.
13. Une jeunesse allemande (A German Youth) (Jean-Gabriel Périot)
The most impressive editing on film this year will be seen in this French/German documentary/found-footage movie about the youth revolts in Germany during the 1960s and 70’s. While the film does eventually fall into the events of the Baader-Meinhof, the Red Army Faction, and the explosive attacks that the members made, this film focuses for most of its length on the visual work done by the two sides of the struggle, trying to come up with images and discourses to try to understand and inform what was going on. I love how much of the film focuses on the students and the film students in particular, those that lived the moment and tried to say something, tried to instill their ideology into the short films that they made. Among the most beautiful moments of the film is when we see the emotion that is inherent in the use of color stock to shoot a man running down the streets with a red flag: it’s both a test and a political statement, as well as it’s an act, a performance, which is what will evolve in the film as the main thesis: the way in which ideology acts and permeates society is through performance. We see footage of debates between the German youth and a government official, and you can see how they act their parts in a perfect yet to this day completely ridiculous ways, almost being a complete caricature of the positions that they represent, as it was the only possible way in which they could make an impact. Périot is a masterful editor and director, he knows what moments to choose and when to cut, he knows where to find the ridiculousness both in the official statements of the government and its representatives, but at the same time he sees the ridicule that the words of the revolting youth had, asking for completely unimportant and outrageous stuff to happen. He uses the footage of the short films made by these cinema students and he sees the ridiculousness that it’s implied there, and thus it’s not really that the film doesn’t take any sides, but that the director has managed to go beyond a for-against conundrum, and he sees the events as they happened, and the events there just distill into the same thoughts that Fassbender could so accurately put forward in his films about the past, present and future of Germany. The fact that there’s no narration needed to piece this movie together is among the most impressive feats of 2015.
12. The Martian (Ridley Scott)
I think many people have explained the sensation much more better than I could ever imagine to do in this occasion. This is, above anything else that can be found to like or dislike in a film, a testament to the capacity, audacity and overall proficiency of the human being in the face of absolute chaos or incredible danger. The film chronicles the difficulties of every character in Mars, Earth and space as they try to find a way to survive and save one man. While some people might start nitpicking and start to ask and wonder why would people go lengths and lengths to save only one person’s life, I’d say that this is first and foremost a movie, and if people had no interest in the life of the astronaut that was stranded, we wouldn’t have a movie! And it’s not as easy as some people think, they try and they fail, and it’s only because of the attitude of the members of the mission in which he started that he manages to get a second chance of being saved. Whatever, I’m not here to justify a film, but to fall on my knees at its incredible narrative, the way in which the special effects and the construction of the landscape makes you feel like you are somewhere else (in fact, someone I watched it with asked me if there was a possibility that it was filmed in Mars… yeah, that person wasn’t really that smart, right? but it did prompt that question, which I felt stupid but at the same time said a lot about how real the film felt). And for all the talk that went around about how this film isn’t a comedy, and sure it’s not an actual comedy as it’s not structured as such, but I must say that I laughed a lot in this movie, much more than in other full-on comedies that were released in 2015 and veered for the nominations. Sure, it has some serious moments and it achieves some really grueling imagery, but it’s mostly light-hearted, and Matt Damon helps sell that, which I think is a great performance from his behalf, as well as from Chiwetel Ejiofor, which work like an almost odd couple. A good movie from one of the most established science fiction directors of all time.
11. Chappie (Neill Blomkamp)
For some people, liking ‘Chappie’ is akin to some sort of sin, you can’t like the films of Blomkamp without being ridiculed and even sometimes put away as some sort of mad man, and at times you’re even cataloged as racist or fascist. But I can’t understand how that can be applied to such a sweet, wonderful, yet still violent movie; ‘Chappie’ is more than meets the eye, as it posits not only a lovable robot surrounded in the midst of the most strange of circumstances and supporting characters, but it also makes way into the future, as its final minutes wander around the idea of the future beyond the singularity, and what are we going to do as human beings in a world that is more and more pure technology. While I know that there are many other films that have explored this issue much more deeper, and I’m sure that the whole thing is much more complex than what finally happens in this film, but I must say that what mostly permeates here is an emotional connection between the characters, how their feelings is what make them approach each other, search for answers, for shelter, for care, nurture, whatever it is that these characters need: love, in the end. The music of Die Antwoord, the band that also serves as the supporting characters that teach, give bad lessons yet still manage to love Chappie, blasts throughout the movie, giving it a punchy feel, a rhythm that makes it something of its own, a science fiction film with a pure pop-rap feel that permeates through the social and racial struggles of South Africa, a movie about crimes and the search of the future, about warfare and the problems of militarized society. A good entertaining film that can make you cry and laugh in the same five minutes. An emotional film.
And, now, brace yourselves, for the top 10 films of 2015. Which ones will be near the top? Let’s find out.
10. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
What is behind the success of the fourth entry on a series in both critical and audience terms? I don’t know and I’m just as clueless as you are. I’ve only seen it once, when it played in theaters, and I will see it again in a special screening, and I can only wonder how much higher this movie will get to me. To me, this is a strange film, mainly because I wasn’t really into ‘Mad Max’ (1979) nor ‘Mad Max 2’ (1981), but this one completely floored me not only with its non-stop action, but also with its surprising themes regarding the utility of people in society and their worth. I certainly want to watch the original Australian films again with Mel Gibson, to try to understand what is behind all the world that was built and exploded on the screen in 2015. Maybe this is, after all, the best Mad Max film that has been done, and the maturity of Miller is what made this work so much more than his earlier work. Just take into account the slew of films that he has done before, and we can see that this was the film that he wanted to make all along. I want to highlight the fact that this is maybe the best film that has been nominated for best picture this year at the Oscars, and this means that it’s one of the weirdest Oscar years in all of its time, or maybe this is normal? I don’t know, I’ve only been alive since 1990. I also want to point towards the fact that the cinematography in this film gave us one of the best gifts of 2015: those amazingly weird, fake yet still fascinating Day for Night shots, the cyan blue covering everything, with flashes of silver and darkness covering the nightmarish creatures that lurk in the desert-like landscape of the post-apocalyptic world in which this film takes place. I hope this wins everything. But it won’t win here, we have 9 movies left.
9. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick)
What I first thought was: “people are insane when thinking that anyone has mastered digital filmmaking as art until they see this movie”.
Then I thought: “what is this? I don’t even like Tree of Life and I’m feeling transported by this?”
Then I was just wondering what it all meant, and then I realized that it didn’t really matter, and then I was asking myself why did I like this way way way more than the other recent Malick films and the only thing I could think of was focus.
This movie is focused on its intents and it doesn’t want to put the whole history of the universe in it. This one contains multitudes, contains an ocean, contains a universe inside of it, but it doesn’t really attempt to do it, it achieves that through the continuum of the life of the main character.
8. Riaru onigokko (Tag) (Sion Sono)
I’ve said it before and I don’t care how many times I have to repeat it. Sion Sono is the most prolific, wonderful and consistent director working today. And he had five movies coming out this year, and while I was able to watch only two of them, I was immensely glad that I did, as I think he’s approaching the certainty that a career of success and perfected filmmaking can give. Sono here takes a franchise, based on a book, that has had movies and TV series attached to it, but here he strips any reference to the main product, he completely catches anyone off guard, and uses the staples and basic concept of what is called ‘The Chasing World’ to make one of the boldest, bloodiest and most impressive feminist films of the last few years. Yeah, you heard that right. It might even surprise some as its opening takes some cues of his early first pictures, where he took with glee the idea of destroying the bodies of schoolgirls, but here he makes a point out of it, with a wind that suddenly cuts two school buses filled with schoolgirls and doesn’t flinch in making you watch the blood spurt from every stump of body that lies still in their seats. Its profound themes lie in the cartoonish violence portrayed here, the cuts, the guns, the mobs, the grotesque, the wonderful score and the calm way in which Sono appropriates the images filmed with drones, it just gives the final third of this movie the feel of both an adventure and a necessary discourse against the evils of the violence against women. In a way it’s almost like #GamerGateTheMovie, but you can’t really quote me on that, and if you wanna do that, you can’t, I won’t allow it, this is my written permission that says that you aren’t allowed to use it. Ok? Ok. This movie is amazing, structurally, and thematically, and it approaches Ruizian levels of labyrinthian discourse+imagery.
7. World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt)
Hertzfeldt is also among the most powerful filmmakers of the 21st century. He has managed to get three masterpieces in his career, and the rest of his work is almost always impeccable in terms of how coherent it is in its entirety. And this particular short, that opened in Sundance and was readily available for streaming through Vimeo, is the logical continuation to the incredible project that was ‘It’s Such a Beautiful Day’ (2012), a science fiction rumination on the idea of time, love, life and death. I think it’s been said before, but I must say that the voice work, one of the voices being a niece of the director that’s barely five years old, is among the most intelligent things that this short film has. It’s deep, and it leaves you gasping and completely wrecked emotionally. This is the best animated work of 2015 and I can’t wait to see it again and again, much like I’ve seen Hertzfeldt’s work again and again since I discovered it all those years ago. I don’t want to say much more because this film is so readily available to those that want to see it (it’s on Netflix Instant), that if you haven’t seen it, you can watch it, and if you have seen it, then you know what’s going on.
6. Love & Peace (Sion Sono)
Two films by Sion Sono make it into this list, but it’s not the director with most films in this list, but whatever. Sono has made something truly eclectic and personal with this particular film, a movie that he has wanted to make since he started in this filmmaking world. The story about a sad loser that tries to make it into the music world through his rock ballads, but fails due to his own timid behavior and the pressure of those around him. It is a mixture of the genres that Sion Sono probably identifies more with, the comedy of errors, the melodramatic pseudo romance, the family film and the kaiju monster picture. It is probably the most accessible of his works for sure, not because it’s tame, but because of its subject matter and style it makes sense as a film for kids, even though it does veer into adult themes at times, but it is at its heart and soul a family film: it features talking and moving toys that have come to life, and it uses animatronics and giant turtle suits to achieve the sense of wonder and child-like fascination with these kind of creatures. Did I mention that this movie has a giant turtle that sings the notes that the protagonist later turns into rock songs that he sings and becomes famous for? This movie has everything. The movie is also strong in its messages, it’s about following your dreams but at the same time about how those dreams shouldn’t eat you up and make you forget where you came from, where you started, who you were when you were dreaming, and the film is highly emotional in those moments, when our protagonist is maybe even in a way too clichéd way, starts to drift apart from what he initially wished for, but the final twenty minutes of this film really make you feel goosebumps. It’s not that Sono has tamed down his instincts, quite the contrary, as he constantly side steps everything that might make you turn down this movie for its over sentimentalism, because it remains smug and uncontrolled, he is still the most punk filmmaker working right now, and this movie is his testament against establishment and for a complete empire of the emotions and the sense of individuality and independence above all. Sion Sono has made his Christmas film, and it’s still a Sion Sono film, and it’s one of the best Japanese films of the decade.
5. Nie yin niang (The Assassin) (Hsiao-Hsien Hou)
A couple of paragraphs from the review I wrote for Vague Visages, which you can read here.
“This is first and foremost a sensorial film, beginning with a black and white segment introducing the protagonist Nie Yinniang (Qi Shu), an expert killer. She has been trained by a nun who lives in a temple high up in the mountains, and in the first scene, we see them converse about the missions through gorgeous monochrome tones featuring the white faces against the dark environment. We are also given “the rules of the game,” at least in terms of the assassin’s abilities, as she seems to move around with little weight — just like the old (and sometimes recent) Wuxia films of the 70s on-wards.”
“One could think this as a cinephile’s film, as it contains a visual language that requires a trained eye, but nonetheless, with the still attributes of the acting and the overall length of the shots, the film is still highly entertaining for most audiences, especially if they don’t expect a fight to occur every two minutes. In a way, the film reminded me of ‘Once Upon a Time in China’ (1991), which is considered one of the best Kung Fu films of all time, a film that spends most of its length in negotiations and conversations. Sure, there’s some astounding martial arts work in this, but it’s not just that. It’s also a fantasy. The film uses elements of magic and the concept of wuxia itself, which is akin to that of a supernatural world that is ordered under otherworldly rules of physics.”
4. El botón de nácar (The Pearl Button) (Patricio Guzmán)
The only Chilean film in this list, but its position in the five best films of the year is unavoidable, and I’m not prone of including Chilean films so high up in these recounts. But I can’t resist the new work done by who is one of the true masters of the modern documentary, and one of the best filmmakers alive, that is still making films that are only his own: personal, deep, investigative, but also poetic and highly revealing of not only the history that he decides to tell, but also of his obsessions as filmmaker and as human being. In this particular documentary, Guzmán continues exploring the ideas of nature and history like in his earlier ‘Nostalgia de la luz’ (2010), but this time he explores instead of space and earth, the water and the ice capes. It’s not a nature documentary and it never attempts to make it about an issue or about the importance of taking care of our water sources, but the depth of the love that he has for the element makes all the statements that it needs to do, just to approach to the emotional core behind it. Guzmán connects the habitat of the Kaweskar, an indigenous tribe that lives in the most southern part of Chile, and their relation to water through rituals, lifestyle and overall culture, to the story of Jemmy Button, a Kaweskar that was civilized by British sailors and brought to London, only to later come back and leave all that behind just to come to peace with his natural lifestyle. While he tells that story we hear about the tales of the people that were thrown to the sea, tied to a railway, during the Pinochet dictatorship, so they could sink and never be found again… in one of the rails, under the sea, one could see a little pearl button attached with rust to it. It’s an emotional trip through the idea of water and the depth of its own soul as well as its artistic meaning. It also features some of the most gorgeous cinematography in a documentary, probably since Guzman’s latest, a wonder to look at, and beyond what you’d call nature beauty, as it adds a layer of discussion regarding the beauty of the framing and the horrible nature of the events portrayed. A film to discuss.
3. As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 2, O Desolado (Arabian Nights: Volume 2, The Desolate One) (Miguel Gomes)
Be advised: 3 and 2 could switch places in the future, whenever I end up rewatching these films, so take it as a joint ‘second best film of the year’ instead as number 2 and 3 strictly.
The second film in the Arabian Nights trilogy is maybe the most eventful and the one that is most highly regarded, and maybe it is the best of the three because it manages to create stories from this concept of recreating the news as they happened, and all of them manage to have a political and emotional depth that is impressive. It starts with the story of ‘Gutless’, a man who killed his wife and daughter and is running away from the police, and he manages to be invisible to them, their drones (a really fun sequence can be seen at the opening of the film as we see the drones flying and buzzing, searching for the image of the man, as if catching the image of the criminal would be equal to catching him and turning him to the police), only later to be received by the town in which he lived, cuffed and paraded by the police, as a hero, because the people are so upset with the idea of the regulations that the government did, that any deviation and defiance towards the image of establishment or power is seen as courageous, and thus here, escaping the police and making them see like fools, it’s actually commendable for them. The second tale that Sherazade tells the sultan in this mock-up of the classic book features a trial for a series of ridiculous crimes that have been made in the recent time in Portugal, and the woman judge that serves as the one who hears every story and connects them as if it were a game, in an open trial where characters from fantasy and reality mix themselves in a portrait of what it means to live in a country that seems to be wandering towards nothingness, and it’s my choice for my favorite segment in the entire trilogy, as it’s funny, but also heartbreaking, when the judge finally tears down and comprehends that there’s not much that can be done. The final tale is the ‘Story of Dixie’, a dog that is suddenly found near a building, and how it finds its home with different people of the building, chronicling their lives, deaths and the way that they manage to endure the situation. The ending of this film is maybe the best that I can think of. But, why do I put it behind what is number 2?
2. As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 1, O Inquieto (Arabian Nights: Volume 1, The Restless One) (Miguel Gomes)
I don’t think I was more entranced and encouraging a movie so much during the entirety of 2015. It starts as a documentary, chronicling the experiences of workers in the bay, disarming and making big boats, and how slowly they were taken from their work, being left alone, and how in the midst of that sadness, those voices combined with the footage shot from a car of the place, we jump to the experience of a man who in a small town is the only one that knows how to take care of the hornet nests, and how he’s called by the police and the mayor’s office to take care of the problem, all while we see his family life and how austerity has failed him, and then we jump to the director, Miguel Gomes, who tries to run away from directing the film that he’s making. All of that charade is irresistible to me, and it feels like the complex world of the nuisance that is living an austere daily life is put there, on the screen, and we see Miguel being condemned to die drowning, buried in the sand, knowing that the only thing that can save him is to tale a really good story, and thus he starts his Arabian Nights, telling the story of Sherazade, a woman that to woo the sultan needs to tell him stories that will hook him from night to night. The first tale is the most clear and straightforward metaphor about the situation of Portugal, and in a way it’s the one that explains the situation to the viewer if you can’t understand it beforehand: the members of the European Economy Board, and the president of Portugal try to come to terms to the austerity measures that they need so Portugal can get out of the bad place in which they are, something that is explored in the rest of the films as a direct consequence of the bad ways of capitalism and the idea of an eurocentrism that is toxic to the modern society, and so they also come to terms to the fact that they can’t “get it up”. It all ends in a very comical way when they are given a medicine by a strange genie that will make them get eternal hard-ons. That is only the first “tale” segment in a film that mixes continuously the real characters of news items, real locations, even the real animals involved, how Miguel mixes emotions with politics, and how everything ends up being a condemnation of everything that is wrong today… that is my kind of movie. The Arabian Nights trilogy is maybe a couple of rewatches away from becoming the most important work of art of the decade, and it’s not saying it lightly and maybe it’s because of its specificity that it becomes universal.
1. The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino)
I can’t resist myself against the pleasures of Quentin Tarantino. And maybe I should, but for some reason I truly think that this is the best film I saw from 2015 (so far), and not only because it’s the new movie of Quentin Tarantino, but because I genuinely think it’s deep in its intentions and its visual flair, as everything is purposeful and nothing is left to be random. Tarantino pieces every moment as some sort of parable, as if he were a mystery writer of years that knew where to place pieces and clues of what’s to come and evidently what he’s trying to say with his movie.
If I can recommend one piece of writing on this movie, it’d have to be this one, written by Glenn Kenny, who weirdly dedicated it to me, something that I can’t really understand yet, but that I’m deeply grateful for. In the piece he approaches practically everything that I can see in this movie that is worth discussing, as I honestly think that while Tarantino always derives his movies from his own baggage and his knowledge of films and other pop culture affectations, at the same time this is the first movie of his that feels ‘clean’, if you could pardon the awful word I’ve just used. It feels as if he needed to clean himself off the airs of the reference and maintain them to a minimum while he over-cranked the metaphors and the imagery to achieve the best message that he could, one that while denouncing the violence and the cruelty of certain attitudes, like racism, it still comes out with a more heavy handed and maybe problematic position: end racism, through the act of seeing this film.
I wish I could expand on the awful thing I just said and maybe shouldn’t have, but it’s what I was left with, that there’s something beyond what we all see, something that is present in the fabulous acting, cinematography, framing, directing and colors of this film, something that is described in the prolific and virtuoso words that Quentin makes his characters speak, something that cries for a better understanding. It’s still, I think, a really hopeful but insanely violent film, one that under the rewatches might be considered one of the best, if not the best, film Tarantino has ever made.
And that’s all, guys. Fight me, comment, rate me, send me some death threats, whatever you like. I’m waiting.