Ten Thousand Bytes of Cinematic Critique
As 2016 nears its conclusion, I thought it only natural to take a look at some of the cinematic highlights… from the previous calendar year. Yes reader, as the rest of the world publishes more immediate best-of lists, you can count on Byting Reviews to lag pitifully behind the curve. So, without further ado! Let’s take another look at 2015!10. Bone Tomahawk - The Hateful Eight wasn’t the only movie Kurt Russell’s mustache starred in last year. Heck, it wasn’t even the best. That distinction goes to Bone Tomahawk. In Bone Tomahawk, Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, and Richard Jenkins journey deep into indian territory after Wilson’s wife is kidnapped by a group of aggrieved cannibals. There are many perils along the way, and the fucked up shit that happens when they reach their destination is some of the most fucked up shit I’ve seen in a movie. I’ve read about indians doing some of this stuff in history books, but I’ve never seen it on screen before. The result is a set of movie villains that truly terrify. This movie is definitely not for the faint of heart.But it’s pretty good! I liked the characterizations of the four would-be rescuers, and the depiction of the west as a perilous-hellscape-the-second-you-leave-town feels compelling and honest. You can find Bone Tomahawk on Amazon Prime instant watch, and I would recommend doing so.9. Room - A woman (played by personal favorite Brie Larson) and her five year-old son have been locked in a single room for years. How they got there, why they’re there… it’s probably better if I don’t tell you these things. This is a powerful and emotional movie, made even more remarkable for its heavy reliance on a child actor, a gamble that pays off rather amazingly. I’m not sure what they did to trick this kid into doing what they wanted, but he shows no hint of self-consciousness and seems incredibly naturalistic. As for my girl Brie Larson, she matches the kid step for step, as you might expect.The movie makes an interesting choice with an early climax, followed by a second half that takes place entirely outside the cramped confines of the room. I found this another welcome gamble. When incidents like the one this movie depicts get reported, the press doesn’t stick around to show us the lasting impact on the people involved. This movie does, and it also lets you see the majesty of the everyday world from a child’s perspective.8. Mistress America - Two years ago, I named another Greta Gerwig (writer/star) and Noah Baumbach (writer/director) film (Frances Ha) my favorite of the year. Now, those two are back in those same roles, but it’s newcomer Lola Kirke who steals the show. In Mistress America, a young student (Kirke) begins her college career in New York City. Alone and friendless, she dials up her future stepsister (Gerwig) and the two get fiercely involved in the latter’s life. Farcical, screwball hijinks ensue. I found the movie very humorous and endearing. The humor isn’t as universal as say, Trainwreck, but if you liked the tonal style and scattered insights of Frances Ha, you’ll likely enjoy this.
7. Song of the Sea - This Irish animated fairy tale follows a brother as he encounters various fantastical entities on a quest to recover his little sister. I kept that synopsis deliberately vague; I didn't know much about this going in, and I think that greatly enhanced my experience. Song of the Sea boasts some spectacular animation. The textural quality evokes a children's storybook. Watch five seconds of a trailer and you’ll salivate over the style.Song of the Sea is perhaps the saddest happy movie ever. My girlfriend* cried a lot. It didn't strike my emotional cords as intensely, but I still very much liked the movie. This makes great date material.*I no longer have a girlfriend. I haven’t for about a year and a half. Despite already stating as much, let me reiterate: the Byting Reviews editorial staff takes its sweet time publishing content.6. What We Do in the Shadows - This deadpan mockumentary follows four vampire flatmates in New Zealand. Co-written, co-directed by, and co-starring Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi (2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople), What We Do in the Shadows made me laugh harder and more often than anything else in 2015. There’s not much to this beyond the yucks, but sometimes, that’s enough.5. Sicario - This movie deftly casts the spell 2013’s The Counselor abysmally failed to conjure. It paints the Mexican drug cartel world as having mythical, borderline supernatural qualities the likes of which normal people have no hope of understanding or contending with. Of course, unlike The Counselor, Sicario accomplishes this in a hugely effective and entertaining way.The visceral intensity of Sicario makes me want to call it an action movie, despite the fact that there may not be nearly as much action as I feel like there is. The violent scenes work incredibly well. Assuming the perspective of Emily Blunt's overmatched character for each pays dividends, and the droning soundtrack fits perfectly.4. The Revenant - In terms of budget, it probably doesn’t come close, but to me, The Revenant feels like the biggest movie of 2015. Taking Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera and plopping it down in the American wilderness makes a grander spectacle than the flaccid digital effects slapped across any of 2015’s blockbusters (with the possible exception of Fury Road). Moreover, Inarritu’s single-camera restraint during The Revenant’s many action scenes heighten the tension while keeping the audience grounded. The craftsmanship on display here astounds. These guys know how to make a movie.
3. It Follows - In suburban Michigan, a curse (in the form of a deadly, slow-moving, shape-shifting demon-thing) follows an attractive college student. The only way she can get rid of it? She has to have sex with someone, thereby passing the curse to them.I wouldn’t call myself an expert on the genre, but It Follows stands tall as my favorite horror movie in at least twenty years. The textual idea of the monster (something that ALWAYS moves towards you) has populated my nightmares, and the subtextual idea (that sex permanently connects two people) has more truth to it than perhaps anything since the original Alien creature. Even if you don’t typically enjoy horror, you should see this. It’s such a smart and fine work. I place it in the company of mainstream horror staples like The Exorcist, The Shining, or Alien. Most people (regardless of their feelings on horror generally) have seen those movies. Now, they should see It Follows. You’ll find a few jump scares (^just as you will in those other examples), but for the most part, the movie spares you from gore/gross outs. Instead, your imagination does the heavy lifting.2. Mad Max: Fury Road - Not only is this movie balls-to-the-wall fantastic, but it fills me with genuine hope for the future of big budget movies. It has everything. There's so much creativity on display here, from the production design to the technology to the implied history of the world presented. And there's actually an artistic point to the piece! Screenwriters, take note: You can spend a lot of money on a movie without blowing up buildings or having a generic, bland, world-in-vague-peril threat.This movie is a sequel, but it feels so much more vibrant than the previous installments. The series was waiting for filmmaking technology to catch up with the imagination of its creator. From makeup to production design to simple things like the ways you can stabilize/move a camera in 2015, this feels like the first full realization of the Mad Max world.Because I waited so long to make this list, the movie has taken on new significance given the results of the American presidential election. It’s easy to see more than a bit of Trump in the villain: a fat, misogynist slob who placates the masses with bravado, lies, and hollow ideology. Consequently, watching Fury Road now makes for a cathartic experience.1. Ex Machina - The smartest movie of the year is also the sexiest, and my favorite. Nothing in 2015 gave me as much delicious food-for-thought as Ex Machina. Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander deliver my two favorite performances, each one seductive in their own way. What else do you need?
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