My Favorite Movies of 2015 – Part 5

As I’ve said after the beginning of this series, the more I think on these movies, the more I find myself at a loss for words. Or at least, enough words that would warrant me wanting writing huge ass essays. So here are some more words on movies I really, really like that were released in 2015:


 

Crimson Peak: Broad, bloody and beautiful. Guillermo Del Toro , working with Matthew Robbins, Thomas E. Sanders, Dan Lausten, Kate Hawley, Brandt Gordon, Bernat Vilaplana, Fernando Valasquez and Jeffrey A. Melvin/Shane Vieu (jesus, what a list of skills and talent), proves once again that he is a master at injecting texture and details in works whose genres/categories would usually just let such things slide. Is the mystery a bit predictable? Perhaps, if one has seen such stories before, but what makes this work is how earnest it is about it. Rather than drown itself in modern irony or half-baked twists, “Crimson Peak” allows it’s chills and violence to grow from within, using the world its characters inhabit (and vice versa, for the movie has a keen psychological edge that rears it’s violent head in the third act) to reveal a sordid and tragic story.

And while some people may not have found this movie to be all that scary, it certainly got to me due to how much it believes in its characters, with Tom Hiddelston proving that he is not just a pretty face that happened to be pick to play Loki, Mia Wasikowska as their object of would-be affection, and Jessica Chastain as…well, one VERY murderous individual, let’s put it that way. It may all seem shallow and arch, but pay attention and give it time, because this is a bloody throwback with a lot on its mind about love, loss and even personhood in a time where women were not taken seriously. As a side note: writers/literary fanatics will probably get a kick out of Mia’s character at the beginning of the movie, with both her performance and her narration providing a sort of meta twist to the proceedings that I don’t want to spoil.


 

Bridge of Spies: Let’s get this out of the way: The Cold War was not a noble period by any definition of the word, “noble”. It was a period where lives were ruined by McCarthyism, social movements across the world were neutered because apparently any change would make us like those dirty socialists in Russia (read, “Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life” and the sources it cites for details on that)…it was a shitty time for many involved except for the politicians, dictators and capitalists who were given purpose by it. With that said, if there is one thing that director Steven Speilberg is disputed for in his work, it’s for bringing a tidy and “manipulative” angle to just about everything they direct. The emotional punch is there, the moviemaking is solid (most of the time), but it approaches schmaltzy to the point where cynical assholes like myself can get especially annoyed by it when he and his crew decide to tackle the United States history of slavery, Phillip K. Dick, and a terrorist attack that happens to touch upon some ugly truths/resentment about the occupation/dissolution of Palestine by the nation of Israel.

BUT…I’d be lying if I said that Speilberg’s approach doesn’t work here. This is a movie about the compromise of values in times of hate and distrust, with Tom Hanks serving as the center, reminding the viewer of an ideal American, of what America with our Constitution and Bill of Rights can be even in times of war (an ideal that America would break by, for example, killing Fred Hampton…and again today, with Hillary Clinton and others backing a Hondurian dictatorship killing indigenous activists). But it’s Mark Rylance as the russian spy who creates a humanistic portrait of a man working for a shadowy organization that may or may not care about him, hounded by Americans who want him (and Tom Hanks) dead merely for being on the opposite side. It does into more normal, tense procedures after that, with a portrayal of the establishment of East Germany that provides some perceptive and interesting aspects that are pushed aside in the end just so Tom Hanks can radiate the kind of Baby Boomer optimism and preserverance that would normally be insufferable but in the hands of Speilberg, the Coen Brothers, Matt Charman, Janusz Kaminski, Thomas Newman, Michael Kahn and several others gives a credible and powerful weight to a story that would otherwise be hallow propaganda disguised as history.

Like I implied before, I’m normally a cynical asshole when it comes to treatments of the past. To paraphrase Brian de Palma, the camera lies at 24 frames a second. But if more historical treatments were this perceptive, well-made and humanistic, maybe I wouldn’t be pissing and moaning so much. Maybe.


 

Inside Out: You know those narrations one gets in those old, “Noir” crime movies like, “The Maltese Falcon” or even later works like, “Memento”? Well, no matter how good those narrations (and the movies they belong to) are, they can be bothersome to me as a moviemaking technique. Why? Well, simply put, because I’m watching a movie, and the narrations provide basically a run down of what I’m already witnessing, with a just a few smatterings of, “personality” that may perhaps provide a bit of the main character’s psyche but whose writers can only dream of reaching the psychological depths such material plumbs in the books. On the other hand, reducing a character’s inner life to blunt symbolism engenders a similar amount of disrespect for the viewer’s agency, only it can be even worse when taken to obtuse ends, bludgeoning the point to the degree where one doesn’t know what the fuck is going on (ask me about the movies, “Branded” and, “Alexander” sometime).

But, “Inside Out”, in addition to providing a neat story that extols the virtue of sadness, of all things, manages to find a way to illustrate such a psychological bent in a way that, while reductive in parts, gives interesting dramatic moments in what is essentially just a relatively boring story about loss and growth. Sure, the story is predictable, but the movie leans a lot on it’s psychological point of view to the point where it encourages the viewer to look past ordinary moments and see the motivations that lie underneath. And in anthromorphizing emotions into figures like Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger, it probes into such motivations in fun ways that not only showcases how animation can be simple-looking but deep, but it also shows how such emotions can push us forward or hold us back (or at least the ones this movie shows, because, well, this is a kids/family movie so no sight of Lust or Spite can be found here). I wouldn’t recommend that therapists use this as a touchstone for sessions, but it’s great to see a kids movie that encourages introspection and insight into how we work. I mean, who knows, maybe such introspection and empathy will prevent the next generation from making the same mistakes we and others before us have made when it comes to relating to other people.


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