I'm posting my annual movie awards later and later every year. I'm also watching fewer movies, because I'm watching more TV shows. When I come home on Friday or Saturday, exhausted and needing total downtime, sometimes even a movie is too much mental effort; binge-watching a series is somehow easier. So I end up with a ton of movies on the List, unwatched, year after year.
But no matter. Here's what I did watch, and what I thought.
First, the annual recap.
- Canadian musicians and comedians
(2006-07 and 2007-08)
- my beverage of choice
- famous people who died
during the past year (2009-10)
- where I'd like to be
(2011-12) (I was out of ideas!)
- Big Life Events
in a year full of Big Life Changes (2012-13)
(I'm getting desperate!) (2013-14)
- and last year (2014-15) types of travels
This year I've recycling a theme from a few years back. It was a bad year for the deaths of famous people, and it's only going to get worse, as a generation of musicians, actors, and thinkers that people in my age-range have worshipped have begun to leave us.
War resister, peace activist, athlete, orator, leader. Warrior for peace and justice. Proud Muslim. Few have sacrificed as much for peace as he did. Muhammad Ali was The Greatest, and so were these movies.
The Wire, Season 4
-- The absolute best viewing his past year wasn't a movie at all. Season Four of The Wire has more positive characters, more emotional investment, and a more profound impact than anything we've seen yet. The Wire is likely the best series ever aired, and this is its best season (so far). Exceptional.
Call Me Lucky
-- A hilarious, heartbreaking, inspiring movie about a man you've probably never heard of, featuring a lot of famous people who owe so much to him. My full review is here.
I want everyone to see this movie.
-- A riveting drama and a fascinating history. A story that should never be forgotten, beautifully told. The DVD has interviews with the real Spotlight team.
-- Solidarity that made me weep with joy. A vision of the possible. Inspiration of the highest order.
Merchants of Doubt
-- An important, terrifying look into public manipulation, from Big Tobacco to climate change deniers. The must-see documentary of my movie season.
Brilliant, multi-talented, unique, influential, and gorgeous. There was only one David Bowie, and he influenced our culture in myriad ways. He did put out some clunkers and some mainstream fluff in his day. Like Bowie, these films are not perfect, but they are excellent.
-- A low-budget revenge thriller, as bloody as it is suspenseful. Riveting.
Far from the Madding Crowd
-- A lush, luminous adaptation of a great novel. I was skeptical, then found myself completely caught up in the characters and their tragic or triumphant lives.
The Search for General Tso
-- This documentary uses Ameican Chinese food as an avenue to explore identity, authenticity, and otherness. So well done.
Boardwalk Empire Seasons 1-3
-- This high-quality historical fiction about boss politics in the Prohibition era ticks every box: gorgeous period setting, social significance, political intrigue, class war, and complex relationships. The first few seasons were stellar. After that, the great storylines faded away, and the plots became too repetitive. But these first three seasons, wow. Violence warnings, bigtime.
The Good Wife, Seasons 6 and 7
-- Rarely does a show stay great for seven full seasons. Writing, acting, storylines, politics -- all brilliant. I loved the ending, and am sad that it's over. Very nearly a Muhammad Ali.
The shocking deaths of David Bowie and Prince overshadowed the passing of many other musical artists. Allen Toussaint, Merle Haggard, and Maurice White all created original, important music. Each man took established genres and threw in elements of culture, diverse influences, and their unique visions to create something new, different, and beautiful. Their music was solid, good, and sometimes wonderful. So are these movies.
-- Part buddy road trip, part bedroom farce, funny, sad, and outrageous. Plus a trans actor plays a trans person. Plus it was shot on an iPhone. Not a perfect movie, but a really good one.
-- A stark documentary that reveals a sad slice of the dead American dream. Bleak, compassionate, thought-provoking, surprising.
BoJack Horseman, Season 2
-- As often happens, this comedy improved when it found the pain beneath the laughs. The second BoJack season was often very sad, and also very good.
-- A gentle, good-natured comedy about some misfits, their subculture, and their attempts at connection. Lovely, and left me wanting more.
-- Plot twists, suspense, and an absolute shocker of an ending. For an exploration of human-technology love, see Her
. For a thriller that happens to feature some androids, see this.
-- How do we behave in a crisis? What would you do if...? The answer to that question sets off a chain of events that remakes a family's life. A bit long and occasionally tedious, but thought-provoking and worth seeing.
-- A strange comedy-drama romp, and a reminder of Philip Seymour Hoffman's quietly perfect talents.
-- I finally saw the film adaptation of one of my favourite junior novels. It almost does justice to the book, which is very high praise.
How We Got to Now
-- Steven Johnson's PBS series does a good job of making a science-history lecture visually entertaining. I've only seen two episodes, but plan on watching all six.
-- The Big Man of Documentaries meets the flamboyant Grand Dame of Fashion, when 87-year-old presents 93-year-old Iris Apfel. A film about free spirits and life as creation. Really fun.
Keith Richards: Under the Influence
-- The latest revision of Keith's biography. Diehard fans won't learn anything new, but it's Keith, so it's fun.
-- This tribute to Roger Ebert, the film critic and cultural icon, was... good. I wanted it to be better, but if you were a fan of Ebert's, you'll enjoy it.
Magic in the Moonlight
-- Solid Woody Allen. Won't change your life, but if you like Woody's comedies, this is one of them.
Master of None
-- Aziz Ansari tries to break out of the comic-turned-sitcom mold, and sometimes succeeds. Funny and interesting enough to watch another season.
-- An African-American girl from a working-class, religious family, comes to terms with her sexuality and claims her identity. Even though the story has been told many times, when it's told well, it's touching and inspiring. A young filmmaker's very impressive debut.
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
-- A nice take on the Sherlock Holmes franchise. I found myself skipping through the action scenes to find the movie underneath, but it's fun and well done. Also a reminder that I just don't like action movies.
The Clouds of Sils Maria
-- In a film about actors and theatre, what's real and what's theatre shifts and bends and flips. This film is purposely disorienting and confusing, and strangely compelling.
The Dark Matter of Love
-- A cheery Midwestern family adopts older orphans from Russia, and learns that love and good intentions do not conquer all. This documentary follows their struggles, their perservanace, and their work with family therapists to try to get it right. Well done.
The End of the Tour
-- If you're not a writer or a fan of David Foster Wallace, I don't think this film adaptation of David Lipsky's Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself
would be of much interest. But if you do fall into either of those categories, it's interesting and though-provoking. Jason Segal's portrayal of DFW is relevatory.
The Great Train Robbery
-- A funny, suspenseful, well written crime caper, told in a two-part series, first from the robbers' point of view, then from the police's. The first part is much more interesting than the second, but in general it's enjoyable. Lovely 1960s period piece, too.
The Imitation Game
-- This is not the first film about Alan Turing, the Enigma machine, and the homophobic persecution of Turing, but it's a very solid new take. Plus Benedict Cumberbatch. If you ever have the opportunity to watch Derek Jacobi as Turing, it's a very different portrayal, and also very good.
-- Amazingly, this is the first Judy Blume novel to get a film adaptation. Directed by Lawrence Blume, the author's son, it's a simple and direct coming-of-age story. A tad melodramatic, but that's teenage life. Nicely done.
Rectify, Seasons 1 and 2
-- This series started out strong, but lost its way. Interesting, though, and worth seeing. We might try again at some point.
Love & Mercy
-- This biopic about Brian Wilson transcends the "troubled genius" mold. A good music film about struggle and redemption. The DVD extras include Brian and Melinda Wilson themselves.
Glenn Frey probably made some halfway decent music at some point. His career probably wasn't a total waste, but if I never heard another Eagles song again, that would be fine with me. These movies and shows don't completely
suck, but they are generally failures.
Garfunkle & Oates
-- The female Flight of the Conchords
is mildly amusing, but it only plays one note, and gets old fast.
I Believe in Unicorns
-- I wanted to like this teenage story of dangerous love, escape, and redemption. But I just couldn't buy any of it. Natalie Dyer's performance is excellent. Other than that, ugh.
-- Online communities and their impact on mainstream news and public perception is a fascinating topic. I'd love to see a movie like this, but better. Halfway between Glenn Frey and Haggard-Toussaint-White.
-- Family melodrama about incredibly privileged people and their relative self-awareness or lack thereof. The always brilliant Patricia Clarkson saves this from the scrap heap.
Stephen Fry Live: More Fool Me
-- Stephen Fry is a treasure. This live show is occasionally good, but mostly meh.
-- A fictional dramatization of the last day of Oscar Grant, who was killed by police in the Bay Area. This is one of those movies that I'm glad exists, but isn't very good.
God Bless the Child
-- The camera follows a group of siblings left alone by their depressed mother, with minimal plot and seemingly no script. It was such an interesting concept, and I wanted to love it. But it was so
Levon Helm: Ain't in It for My Health
-- I love The Band and I loved Levon Helm, so I found something to enjoy in this movie. Levon deserved a great film and this is not it.
-- Al Pacino is a misanthrope, then presto-change-oh, he's redeemed. What a disappointment!
No No: A Dockumentary
-- Do you want to see this baseball film? No. No.
-- If this makes you read more John Green, it has served some purpose. Otherwise, a must to avoid.
Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation
-- This movie has some nice views of La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece, so it wasn't a total waste.
-- This started out full of promise, but faded first. It should have been much funnier.
Set Fire to the Stars
-- The best part of this film about Dylan Thomas is the title. There are a couple of good moments that save it from the bottom of the barrel.
Welcome to Me
-- Kristen Wiig is good, but quirky just to be quirky is just silly.
Seymour: An Introduction
-- This movie about an inspiring teacher looks might be interesting to someone who knew and cared about him. But when it comes to introducing Seymour Bernstein and getting me to care about him, it completely failed.
-- I'm starting to wonder if Simon Pegg will ever appear in a good movie again. This road-trip romp has a laugh or two, but wow, some serious dreck.
Antonin Scalia was a disgusting excuse for a human being and a dangerous US Supreme Court Justice. He should never be missed and these movies should not be watched.
Skating to New York
-- If you must see all things Canadian, don't say I didn't warn you.
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn
-- An angry, bitter man finds out he is about to die, and runs around trying to love everyone. Yikes.
-- I don't need to like every character in order to like a movie, but when every single character is hideously unlikeable, I must run away.
-- What the hell? This was several critics' pick for best indie film of the year. I found it unwatchable.
-- Lurching from one plot hole to the next, awash in melodrama and rickety devices, this movie is a complete mess. Once again I am reminded not to be fooled by hype.