I watched a lot of films this year. Thanks to pay cable getting their streaming catalogs stocked with quality films, I may have watched more films than in any year prior. The frustration I have with myself is that I missed seeing many of these on a big screen. There is no substitute for a theater. Netflix will never be able to change this, no matter how dark the room, good the sound, and large the television. Others on this list haven’t made it to our part of the world yet. Either way, I’m excited to resolve myself to go through this list as my new year begins. I suggest you do the same.
If Michael Caine taught that film acting is in the eyes, then Charlotte Rampling is one of the best in the business. Rampling co-stars with veteran English actor Tom Courtney in this film about a couple planning the celebration of their 45th wedding anniversary. A week before the party a letter arrives for Courtney’s character that informs him that the body of his first love has been discovered, frozen, in the Swiss Alps. Directed by Andrew Haigh, this drama opened December 23rd for a limited run. I first remember Rampling’s unforgettable longing stare as she starred with Paul Newman in the 1982 film The Verdict and have loved it ever since. They are a couple of deep eyes that can only be seen on the big screen. Find the film somewhere and you’ll see what I mean.
A Most Violent Year
In my opinion, Oscar Isaac stole the movie Drive from Ryan Gosling. It was the first time I remembered him in a role. I wasn’t the only one. The Coen Brothers picked him to lead Inside Llewyn Davis (on reflection one of the best films of the 2010’s). Along with Academy Award nominee Jennifer Chastain, Isaac stars in the crime drama from J.C. Chandor. Quite honestly, I have no idea how I haven’t seen this film. It was released at the beginning of the year, received mixed reviews, but over the following months has picked up some strong momentum. The poster image is staring at me on Netflix so I don’t have any more excuses.
I’m always wary whenever I see features about a film before it’s release that focus on the production. With Room the focus was on the interior set that was built for the film and how the filmmakers created a set of rules when filming. My first thought is that the distributor’s PR department is pulling a sleight of hand away from the mass appeal of a film. The film’s star, Brie Larson, picked up a Golden Globe nomination for her role as a woman held captive for many years and the resulting adjustment for her and her young son when they are freed and have to adjust to the outside world. I’m excited to see if this film can move past the Mamet view of theater blocking caught on film to small location indie cinema in the tradition of Hard Candy and Reservoir Dogs.
Todd Haynes film Safe could be my favorite film of all time. His student film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story is one that made me want to be a filmmaker. I don’t think the man has made a bad film and I get frustrated he isn’t more widely celebrated as one of our great filmmakers. The man just makes great films that reflect on us as individuals and a society; I’m biased. I also anticipate that his film Carol, an adaptation of the 1952 novel The Price of Salt, will do nothing to harm the opinions of his filmmaking. The fact that Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and Kyle Chandler star only make it more attractive. The film is set in New York City and follows a young photographer and her relationship with and older woman. There is something magical about seeing a film in the city it takes place. I missed seeing this film the week before Christmas while visiting New York City and already regret it.
I may have been cheating so I could add Sean S. Baker’s film to this list. Tangerine has been staring at me on Netflix for over a week and at one point I think I hit play but the internet went out. Either way I’ll be watching it soon, probably before you read this list. Baker got his start as the creator of Greg The Bunny, and since then has accumulated an impressive list of small indie films as writer/director. Tangerine is his latest. The drama/comedy follows Sin-Dee Rella, a transgender sex worker just finishing a month long prison sentence who finds that her boyfriend and Pimp, Chester, has been cheating on her. I was worried that the fact that this film was shot entirely on an iPhone was being used as a hook for a film that may be one dimensional in story. After I read a couple of reviews of the film from those I respect it is the first I’ll be watching from this list.
I think I missed Rick Famuyiwa’s film Dope because I was out of the country on vacation when it was released. I saw the film’s trailer before a screening at the Nickelodeon and didn’t give it a thought afterwards until I was compiling this list. I feel like a lazy film writer for doing so. Forget the talented list of names that are behind this project, or Famuyiwa’s strong directorial history (Talk To Me was as good as a biographical drama gets), I just like seeing films that tell stories that it seems would never be told if it weren’t for the group who championed it. I also like seeing new young talent take over a big screen and hope they have a bright future. The screen will probably have to be small when I watch this movie in the coming weeks, but I’m sure the talent will still shine through.
After graduating my college film program, I found out there was a book that was a result of filmmaker Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock locking themselves away in Hollywood for a week so Truffaut could mine Hitchcock’s brain about his approach to filmmaking. I loved Truffaut and I loved Hitchcock. I was pissed. Why was this never brought up? How deficient was my instruction? I still include it among the three publications that I feel are the only books a film student needs- along with David Mamet’s On Directing and Edward Dmytyk’s On Film Editing. Kent Jones’ documentary collects interviews with well respected filmmakers and mixes their praise with audio that Truffaut recorded during his sessions with Hitchcock. You may have to be a film nerd to make it through the whole film (I couldn’t make it through a film with famous salesmen talking about the two of the best salesmen who met to talk about how they sell), and it is quite possible the film may ruin the way you watch movies, but so what- educate yourself, Son.
The Forbidden Room
If you pushed me for an answer about my favorite filmmakers, there is Guy Maddin and everyone else. His films are, in my opinion, what filmmaking should be about. There is no grey area with this statement. He just gets what being cinematic is all about. He’s not Scorsese or Anderson or any of the great names, but that’s the point. He is his own voice and influence. I watched my first guy Maddin film from a VHS tape I grabbed off of a shelf at the SC Arts Commission Media Center- you know, back when our state supported things like young filmmakers by offering them the tools to make films at reasonably low rental rates. I popped the tape in and instantly knew that I had never seen anything else like what was in front of my eyes. The best part is that over the years I have found that his films work on big screens and small screens. Maddin is a prolific filmmaker and artist and The Forbidden Room is his latest. It may be twenty-five years too late for you, but find a film of his and make it your New Year’s Resolution to watch it.
What were the top films you DID or DIDN'T see this year? Share below!
Wade Sellers is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and the Film Editor for Jasper Magazine.