Monday, January 11, 2016


Dear Dennis (and Marya! Odie! Phil!),
Ah, Hot Pursuit! I had such hopes for Reese, Sofia, and their diamond-encrusted platform shoes. Alas, it's been a long decade for Ms. Witherspoon since Walk the Line, hasn't it? (And despite comedic gifts that rarely get a chance to shine within Modern Family's hermetically-sealed sitcom confines, I think Sofia Vergara was far better used in 2014's underrated Chef than in the strained Last Detail, Y’all of director Anne Fletcher's monsterpiece).
But, hey-- I've managed to write a whole paragraph about the use and misuse of two talented performers in a film I didn't even like that much, which just speaks to your inaugural post's observation about the strength, breadth, depth, and pleasure of so many female performances in 2015. I'm sure we'll get into this more over the next week or so, but let's hear it for, to start:
--Teyonah Paris, Angela Bassett, and Jennifer Hudson in Chi-raq
--Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (if not the misbegotten Testament of Youth)  
--Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
--Ronit Elkabetz in Gett
--Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche in Clouds of Sils Maria
--Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne and Miranda Hart in Spy
--Amy Schumer in Trainwreck
--Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road
--Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke and Heather Lind in Mistress America
--Annette Bening in Danny Collins
--Winona Ryder in Experimenter
--Blythe Danner in I’ll See You In My Dreams
--Karidja Touré in Girlhood
--Sidse Babett Knudsen in The Duke of Burgundy
--Nina Hoss, in my favorite performance of the year, in Phoenix
Those are off the top of my head, and I haven't even had a chance yet to see Carol or Brooklyn or Creed--all of which, I'm assured, also have superb female performances in them. Toss in three documentaries whose "performances" rank among my favorites of 2015—Iris, Amy and What Happened, Miss Simone?--and it's certainly been an exciting time for those of us who often enter a movie through faces on the screen.
Twenty-two years ago, in a long and wonderfully winding interview in the New Yorker, the retired Pauline Kael noted that "TV is a great medium for actors" (and this was before the critic-approved/insisted-upon "Golden Age" we're supposedly in the middle of now, even!), so let me also mention how great Knudsen is in the Danish political drama Borgen, which I finished catching up with this past spring via DVD; the dizzy screwball pleasures of Essie Davis in the Australian period show Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (streaming on Netflix); and Iben Hjejle's ability to make a deeply unlikeable character empathetic on the Danish crime reporter drama Dicte. Lena Waithe was also great on Aziz Ansari's Netflix original Master of None, and the streaming service also gave us the gift of Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in Grace & Frankie (Fonda, in particular, is a delight-- she's given so many fine dramatic performances that it's easy to forget what a fab comedienne she is). I'm sure there are many I'm forgetting, and can't wait to see which performances y'all mention as the week goes on.
Before offering a tentative "Best of" list below (with the caveat that I'm hoping to catch up with a few more this weekend, and perhaps on Monday and Tuesday, so if your favorite isn't listed, STOP YELLING AT ME), I want to ask a question you kind of allude to in your initial post, which is about the ways/media through which we all consumed movies this year. More than trends in writing, directing, acting, and even camera/editing technology, I've been convinced for the last 10 years that it's these shifting spaces that are potentially the most interesting/exciting/scary, depending on your perspective (as one character said on the late, lamented Gossip Girl, "Who watches TV on TV anymore?").
I live in Oberlin, a small Ohio college town that's about an hour or so (weather and traffic depending) from art-houses in Cleveland and 30 minutes or so from multiplexes in nearby towns. We have one theater, with two screens, which alternate out films about every two weeks or so (give or take—The Force Awakens is in its third week, while Sisters had the good sense to slink out of town after seven days). While it's not quite Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms hanging out at the Royal in The Last Picture Show, this isolation, combined with the limited viewing time created by day jobs, does mean that I'm often behind on things my big-city friends are chatting about on Twitter.
When the Ebert site asked its contributors for their Top Ten lists, I prefaced mine by addressing this supposed quandary; I guess I felt like it was something that needed to be addressed (a social/cinephile anxiety which certainly says something about me, and maybe about current trends/pressures of talking about films in a tiered movie economy whose discourses are shaped by geography as much as anything). Here's what I said, shared to give y'all (and those who read it at the blog) a sense of where I'm coming from:
"There was a long period when I was bothered by the difficulties that my geographic location presented to my staying in touch with current films; I think I even felt weirdly “guilty” about it, as if being out of the loop meant being away from my “real” movie-going self. But now, I think of it as an odd advantage: it gives me a lot to look forward to, freedom from whatever suffocating cliquishness might exist in bigger cities, and a perspective whose skewed nature (relative to everyone else’s) means that whatever else my viewing habits are, they are mine to take responsibility for and enjoy. As Roland Barthes said, “My body is different than yours.” Or, in the words of Malcolm, the lead character of Dope (one of my favorite films of the year): “ 'I don’t fit in. I used to think that was a curse, but I’m slowly starting to see, that maybe, it is a blessing.' "
So, anyway, thank God for Netflix, for streaming services like Hulu and I-Tunes, and for both a Roku and a sturdy laptop, which have all allowed me to gorge on dozens of films in the last couple of months, and to feel like a relatively up-to-date cinephile.
How about y'all? How did you mostly watch movies this year? Which ways do you prefer? And how did different spaces of theater/TV/computer shape your responses to what you saw?
Okay, enough preface-- as Prince's "Blue Light" plays through my earbuds, let me offer up multiple "Best of..." Lists. Cynics and careerists be damned-- it was a great fucking year for movies, across all kinds of genres, national cinemas, and approaches, and narrowing down these lists was really quite hard. I'm sure I forgot something.
MY TOP TEN FOR EBERT-DOT-COM (which were due on December 16):
1. Love & Mercy
2. Ex Machina
3. Inside Out
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
5. Tangerine
6. Phoenix
7. Bridge of Spies
8. The Mend
9. Girlhood
10. Blackhat/Dope (tie)
1. Love & Mercy
2. Ex Machina
3. Chi-Raq
4. Inside Out
5. Tangerine
6. Phoenix
7. Mad Max: Fury Road
8. The Mend
9. Girlhood
10. Bridge of Spies
11. Blackhat
12. Dope
13. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
14. Eden
15. The Clouds of Silas Maria
16. The Martian
17. Horse Money
18. Mistress America
19. Mississippi Grind
20. Experimenter
21. Fort Tilden
22. Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation
23. Spectre
24. Spy
25. Tomorrowland
26. The Duke of Burgundy
27. Amy
28. Danny Collins
29. Tu Dors Nicole
30. Trainwreck
The Age of Adaline
Christmas, Again
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
Hard to Be a God
The Look of Silence
Magic Mike XXL
Ricki and the Flash
Shaun the Sheep Movie
What Happened, Miss Simone?
The Fantastic Four
The Intern
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
She's Funny That Way
YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED... (Alphabetical)Ballet 422
Cop Car
I'll See You In My Dreams
Queen of Earth
WHY, EXACTLY?: A POLITE LIST OF "MEH" (Alphabetical)The End of the Tour
Jurassic World
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Straight Outta Compton
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Beasts of No Nation
Best of Enemies
Mr. Holmes
A Walk In The Woods

The Assassin
The Big Short
Crimson Peak (which also counts as the film I most regret didn't play by me)
The Hateful Eight
In Jackson Heights
Steve Jobs

So, now that I've expulged, I promise not to be so logorrheic in future posts. Enough about me-- what were you all excited about in 2015?


Brian Doan is an Affiliate Scholar in Cinema Studies at Oberlin College, where he taught courses in film and popular culture from 2006-2011. In addition to academic research and publications on film, comics, TV and advertising, he is a contributor at and blogs at Bubblegum Aesthetics. Brian also enjoys the music of Prince and is actively annoyed by the work of Seth MacFarlane. 





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