John and Ben discuss their top 10 favorite films of 2015 and the reasons why these films resonated with us.
Written by: John Matsuya and Ben Matsuya
Art by: Ben Matsuya
Creating our list of favorite films is an exercise that I’ve enjoyed since I first made a best films of 2005 list. It’s a way to celebrate and highlight the movies and stories that shape our storytelling sensibility and appreciation for art. While our lists no doubt have some glaring omissions and questionable picks - you must remember that movies are personal and extremely subjective. There is no such thing as consensus, regardless of the tyranny of Rotten Tomatoes' mandate.
But there must be some method to our madness, right? What factors constitute our choices? Firstly, Ben and I are fundamentally “story people.” Even more than art, we ask: "what is the story and soul of the film?" We want to enjoy the film on it's own terms. This levels the playing field for a Guy Maddin independent film, a Crank movie, or a studio melodrama.
I've long argued that there is a difference between critics picks/industry awards and general audience reactions due to the number of films each group watches. Casual movie-goers have an expectation of the movies; they reward a fulfillment of that expectations - and one can’t blame them when the price of two tickets can fill up your gas tank for a week. The industry (and some critics) focus on craft; other critics focus on culture. The more films you watch, the more tolerant (hopeful?) you are of seeing something new.
There has to be some sort of graph that explains a tolerance for weirder, more experimental fare as one watches more movies. Ben and I not only love movies, we also tend to see about 60 to 70 new releases per year so I would like to think we are at a happy medium between the two poles. But enough backstory - without further ado, here are our favorite films of 2015:
Ben's Favorite Movies of 2015
John's Favorite Movies of 2015
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- Steve Jobs
- The Revenant
- The Clouds of Sils Maria
- Mistress America
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- It Follows
- Inside Out
- The Revenant
- The Gift
- The D-Train
Mad Max: Fury Road
John: I've found it harder and harder to defend Hollywood blockbusters as escapist entertainment, since a lot of them have turned towards gritty realism. There was a time when movies routinely took you out of your seat to a different place - I'm thinking the epics of David Lean and Cecil B. DeMille's transporting the audience to places and times you can never travel. The calculation that we like familiar properties has robbed us of this experience and even if it's technically part of a franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road broke free of routine to showcase everything great about Hollywood shock and awe. The film is a visual feast and a literal ride - marvel at the pure effort these filmmakers took to thrill us. This is the imagination and world building that should be the coin of the realm in Hollywood. And that’s even before we discuss the actual social themes that it reinforces (women’s empowerment and a caution against stripping our environment).
Ben: The effort that went into it - all the planning, logistics, and coordination is just mind-blowing. When I first saw the trailer, to be honest, I thought it was too ambitious - the critics might not get it, and thought it was going to bomb with audiences. I’m really glad that it was nominated for an Oscar - I couldn’t even have predicted that as a best case scenario. This from the man who brought us Babe. From a design standpoint, Immorten Joe is iconic. He’s so striking and has a crazy look - everything about his costume supports the story. The fiberglass muscles. The Mask. Every ribbon and metal. Shiny and chrome.
John: As much as it's critically praised (and Leo seems to have won that Oscar), I think the film is actually underrated. The "backlash" is now par for the course for almost every film and the attrition of an Oscar campaign isn't helping either. But if you block out the noise - you take for granted how really beautiful the whole film is and the action sequences that are on par with anything coming from a superhero film.
Ben: I think there is a recurring theme here - our admiration for the craft and work that good movies make so easy. We can admire the whole thing from a technical level and the savagery of our nature; but that begs the question, are we "getting" Innaritu's schtick?
John: I think he's an explorer - just like in this movie, he's on the frontier. I think guys like him and Soderbergh really push things cinematically. Those who are cynical call them gimmicks, but the older I get, the more interested I am to see if these guys can pull off these magic tricks.
Ben: Make a plea for this movie.
John: So I originally heard David Chen from the /filmcast rave about this and thought we should see it immediately. When did it "get" you?
Ben: Probably the rooftop scene. Up to that point, I wondered where this was going, but cause it felt so real - the real time and all... In a lot of movies, I don't buy the connection that characters have (like, why would they give up their lives for this person, etc.), but you get to a certain spot in the movie and the whole experience lends to that ending.
John: The real time aspect I think is almost more impressive than the single-take (although they go hand in hand). I love this movie from the aspect of one day like eight, nine, years later - Victoria will be in a bar, telling someone the craziest night of her life ("I was at this party, and they took of their clothes, and the car wouldn't start..."), and she will remember, misremember, idealize, this movie. Just like explaining the movie to someone or recollecting parts of it is that same experience of piecing together a memory - a memory that's preserved in film form.
Ben: Room is one of those movies that's great, but I can't see myself watching it again. It's like 12 Years a Slave. That kid is so good - I mean, what room did they find that guy in? But yeah, it was emotionally draining.
John: I probably turned to you after we got out of the movie and said "there are probably thousands of people trapped in rooms all over America right at this moment." And one way to look at it is, how we only hear the really salacious parts of the story. It really is an indictment of the media who stoke the story for titillation and the genius thing about Room is how we leave the Room halfway through and deal with the consequences of escape. Brie Larson is the best and the empathy you get for their experience... Lenny Abrahamson and Brie Larson really took great care with this.
John: I watched this film three times in theaters, bought the soundtrack, and have pre-ordered it on iTunes. I love everything about the construction of this film. I've been a big booster of the kinetic energy of the anti-auteur Danny Boyle - he's always experimenting in different genres. I loved 127 Hours and once again in Steve Jobs he challenges himself by constraining himself within a self-imposed frame of time and space (40 minutes before a product launch).
Each act has its own feel and style. 1984's Macintosh launch is shot in 16mm. It's soundtrack has the optimistic "bleep-bloops" of a synthesizer - revving up and thinking. The first act is Jobs in boot up mode; a comparison I can relate to: a young man in a hurry. 1988's NeXT launch is operatic and shakespearean, equally shot in classic 35mm. The showdown between Michael Fassbender's Steve Jobs and his mentor, Jeff Daniels' John Sculley takes place in the imperious San Francisco Opera house - the very setting reminiscent of Brutus' betrayal of Caesar. Their argument is Aaron Sorkin at the top of his game.
Finally, 1998's sleek finale is shot in digital. Everything is more clear as the protagonist is on the tipping point of changing the way we interact with technology. Every act of the film is a distinct piece and represents both Job's evolution and Boyle's dynamism. It's a complicated piece where everything comes together.
Ben: I'll admit it. It's not a good movie. Maybe it's a horrible movie. But I couldn't stop thinking about it and it stuck with me for god knows why. There were so many strange decisions that I couldn't help but wonder what Joe Wright was going for and what he was trying to do. And I wasn't even looking forward to this movie! You dragged me to it, convinced it was good.
John: You know I love Joe Wright.
Ben: I know. It might not make sense. I had so much fun thinking about the missed opportunities and how to fix it. I shouldn't hold my own expectations against it...
John: Say the stuff about Nirvana.
Ben: Yeah, when they first get to Neverland and everyone is singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit", I wanted a Neverland where you go - and gain this hidden knowledge. It's a world of imagination. Then you return to this world... our world with that creativity. Basically, Curt Kobain was a Lost Boy and he's reciting the words of a song he used to chant as a boy.
John: But that's not this movie.
Ben: They didn't do anything like that. I kept coming to these Pan tangents in retrospect. Even some great movies I haven't thought about as long as I have with Pan.
John: I think you're trying to ruin our site...