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Our Favorite Movies Of 2015

The Best Of 2015. Our Favorite Movies

There were some great movies to come out in 2015. From Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out, The Martian, Sicario, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it was really a tremendous year for film.  Which is why we at the Film Box would like to look back at our very favorite movies of 2015. If you missed any of these over the course of the year don’t hesitate to catch up with them at a later date. These 2015 standouts are definitely worth your time.

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Sicario

Joseph Jo: Out of all the films that were released in 2015, Sicario was eventually the one that had me in awe throughout the film. The only thing I knew about this film was Denis Villeneuve was the director where couple years back I had the chance to watch his earlier work, the Incendies, which is another one of my favorite. I’m usually one of those theater goers, where I wait until everything dies down, and thankfully I was glad I went to watch Sicario few months after the release, because this is one of those films where you just have to watch alone in the big screen without knowing nothing about it.

I knew from the movie poster that Emily Blunt was starring along with Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. Usually I don’t really care who’s in the picture, because ultimately I care about the story, structure, editing and how it was directed. And may all the deities bless the production team, because this movie made me feel exactly like Emily Blunt’s character throughout the movie, and that’s how I feel the movie was intended to be. If I had bothered to even read the tagline, I probably would have never felt the chill when Benicio’s character gave that eerie vibe when he said, “Welcome to Juarez.”

 

heart of a dog movie

Heart Of A Dog

Helen HighlyI would recommend Laurie Anderson’sHeart of a Dog” as Best Film of the Year. This 75-minute, poetic film-collage essay combines Anderson’s personal stories and musings with quotations from renowned philosophers, ink drawings on paper, printed words, animation, scratchy old 8mm home-movie clips, new footage of landscapes, surveillance camera footage with time codes, graphic images such as computer icons, and her ingenious use of music.

The movie is officially classified as a documentary and has rightfully been shortlisted (down to the final 15) for the Academy Award Best Documentary Feature. But it doesn’t feel at all like a traditional “non-fiction educational film.” It’s a playfully experimental memoir that is sometimes a meditation on how to go on living despite despair – “the purpose of death is the release of love,” an insightful (and not maudlin) reflection on America’s 9/11 attack, and also a witty tale on the nature of telling and remembering and forgetting. Ultimately, this is Laurie Anderson’s own love story – about her dog, her mother, her husband, and her city. It is uncommon and evocative film making and a true pleasure to watch

I think this may be the year of the documentary. There were so many interesting, important, and really well done documentaries that crossed over into mainstream film (or at least mainstream indie film). So I think it’s appropriate to name a documentary as “Best Of” this year. And the Laurie Anderson movie is truly beautiful and important as well as being surprisingly accessible (easy and fun to watch), once you start watching. And I also think this film has staying-power. It will still be relevant and worth-watching for years to come. It’s simply a great flick.

More of Helen Highly’s movie related rants and raves can also be found at HelenHighly.com

steve carell the big short

The Big Short

Matt Taylor: In a cinematic landscape filled with big budget disaster flicks it’s a rare thing for a movie to come along with actual, real world doom as part of it’s narrative. The Big Short is a sobering reminder, and revealing portrait, of the 2008 Economic Collapse. Directed by Adam McKay, who you may recognize as the wacky mind behind so many Will Ferrell films such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights, The Big Short presented it’s subject matter in such a lively, innovative way that it had to be my number one pick for Best Film of 2015.

The Big Short follows a handful of bankers who discovered the housing market collapse years before it happened. The film has us follow them as they attempt to expose and profit from this collapse. The irony and hypocrisy on display is what made the film compelling. Sure, there’s a few characters that are bleeding heart crusaders trying to do the right thing, but at the end of the day they’re bankers turning a profit. Even the best among those in the big banking machine are both whistle blowers and profiteers.
The film was made was with a documentary style, with none of the usual documentarian tropes i.e. interviews. The characters do break the fourth wall and address the audience to explain things, and most interesting is the directors use of celebrities and public figures to break down the really tough to grasp financial terminologies driving the story. For example there’s a quick cutaway to actress Margot Robbie in a bubble bath who explains the sub-prime mortgage problem leading up to the financial collapse. The use of cutaways, sound design, camera movement and character made this film about finance, which could have been extremely dull, a fast paced riveting look at one of the biggest disasters in American, and dare I say, World History. It is for those reasons that The Big Short is number one on my list for the year 2015.
More of Matt Taylor can be found at Twitter

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The Woman In Gold

Charles Soste: My favorite film for 2015 after much consideration, was The Woman In Gold. It was a well-acted, brilliantly directed story of an Austrian victim of World War II seeking to retain priceless art work that was stolen from her family by the Nazis.  The film was incredibly moving and what all great cinema should be.  Helen Mirren was at her unsurprising best in the lead role and Daniel Bruhl and Ryan Reynolds were excellent too.

I should also add that very honorable mention should go to Spotlight, Mr. Holmes and The Martian for me as well since they were all fantastic.

Rey and Finn star wars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Cameron Dueker: Like many others, for me, my favorite movie was Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’ve been a huge Star Wars fan since I was younger and the franchise has held a special place not only in my heart but in my life because of it. I still remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news the news that Disney had bought out Lucasfilm and the doubts that crept into my head shortly after. George Lucas was out. J.J. Abrams was in. Would it follow the Expanded Universe or blaze a new trail of it’s own? Could the original actors still play a role in their old age? Any New Hope that filled me was simultaneously checked with cautious trepidation of the still  recent mixed bag of the prequels.

Maybe the years of reverence surrounding the original trilogy  had simply set the bar for any new Star Wars films too high.

As information about the new film slowly leaked out it was clear to me these concerns were also weighing heavily on the cast and crew. You could just see the amount of love and care everybody involved was putting into The Force Awakens which only rocketed expectations into the stratosphere.

And when I finally saw the film I was blown away. It was a call back to 1977 true, but what is so wrong with that? The new characters were hugely compelling, the action was great, the story was intriguing and full of mystery’s still unsolved, and the feel was spot on with how WE all want a Star Wars film to be.

The Force Awakens may not be the best Star Wars film, Empire still holds that crown, but for me it was far, far away the best film of 2015.

 

“Heart of a Dog” Short-Listed for Best Documentary Oscar Plus More Awards

Laurie Anderson’s critically acclaimed film, “Heart of a Dog,” has been short-listed for the Best Documentary Oscar. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that 15 films in the Documentary Feature category will advance in the voting process for the 88th Academy Awards®.  One hundred twenty-four films were originally submitted in the category. Final nominations will be announced on January 14.  The Oscar ceremony will be held Feb. 28.

In addition, the film has been nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary. “This year’s nominees are a testament to the strength, vitality and diversity of independent, artist-driven filmmaking,” said Film Independent President Josh Welsh. “It’s an astonishingly strong group of films and performances this year and we look forward to celebrating them all at the Spirit Awards.” Winners will be announced on February 27. The awards ceremony will be broadcast live on IFC.

Another accomplishment: “Heart of a Dog” has been named one of the Best Movies of 2015 by the New York Times, landing at No. 4 on the list. A.O. Scott, Chief Film Critic, writes, “Anyone who ever had a heart is likely to succumb to Ms. Anderson’s ethereal wisdom and her fierce formal wit.”

“Heart of a Dog” is a meditation on life and death, centered around Laurie Anderson’s dog Lolabelle. It is reviewed on The Film Box by Helen Highly


When she is not writing about film and art on her blog, HelenHighly.com, Helen Kaplow is busy being a culture vulture in her adopted home of New York City. 

“Heart of a Dog” by Laurie Anderson

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In her poetic film collage essay, “Heart of a Dog,” Laurie Anderson is more beautifully and thoughtfully herself than ever.

“It seems the movie is often shedding its own tears… as if life itself is crying.”

Anderson has had a long career, but was most well-known in the 80’s as an experimental performance artist, composer, and musician who especially explored the mix of spoken word and music. Those who know her albums such as “Big Science” and “Home of the Brave” will appreciate the return of the fragmented rhythm and quizzical tone of Anderson’s speech, opening with voice-over sentences such as “This is my dream body – the one I use to walk around in my dreams,” and “It’s like one of those old movies…” It’s like one of Anderson’s old albums, only … Much, Much, Better (to quote Anderson in “Language is a Virus”).

Despite the film’s seemingly stream-of-conscious, no-plot, hodge-podge approach, Anderson has meaningful ideas to express, and she’s woven together an elegant and smartly structured tone-and-picture poem. The movie combines her personal stories and musings with quotations from renowned philosophers, ink drawings on paper, printed words, animation, scratchy old 8mm home-movie clips, new footage of landscapes, surveillance camera footage with time codes, graphic images such as computer icons, and her ingenious use of music.

As always, Anderson excels at language, and here she combines various types of on-screen text with her own lyrical voice-over. I often leave a movie wanting to run home and download the soundtrack, but in this case I am yearning for a transcript. These are words worthy of reading and contemplating. “Try to learn how to feel sad without being sad,” is just one of the many sentences that could use more time to resonate than one viewing allows.

But one of the surprises of this project may be Anderson’s sophisticated and inventive cinematography. As the film explores a variety of deaths – the death of Anderson’s dog, the death of her mother, the death of her husband (Lou Reed), and the mass deaths of 9/11 in New York, it seems the movie is often shedding its own tears. Many sequences are shot through a pane of glass that is dripping with water, like life itself is crying. And then she turns footage of an ocean upside down, with the foreground still raining, so the sea that has become the sky is weeping too. In front of everything, Anderson seems to be saying, is a gentle, pervasive sadness.

And yet, the movie is not even remotely maudlin. It discusses 9/11 in way that actually adds fresh insight, which seems impossible after so many anniversaries full of remembrance ceremonies, and so many other films that have also integrated that tragic event. In fact, this movie would have made a much better selection for the Opening Film of this year’s New York Film Festival than “The Walk,” which is ostensibly about the man who walked a tightrope between the world’s tallest pair of buildings, but is mostly a sentimental homage to the Twin Towers, complete with golden reflected sunset footage of the Towers and seemingly endless talk about their dramatic importance. For all the “The Walk’s” telling us how we should feel, and trying so desperately to rouse emotion, it fails in that regard. Laurie Anderson is a long-time New York resident and artist, and this film speaks so sincerely to New Yorkers in particular, that it would have made an intensely appropriate opening for the New York Film Festival, which took place so close to 9/11. (Of course, the film is also relevant to all Americans, and all human beings, at any time of year.)

Perhaps the strongest moment in Anderson’s film is when she takes her dog outdoors in a big field and enjoys watching her run and play in tall grass and aromatic dirt, as dogs do. And the camera pans up to the bright blue sky; it is such a beautiful day. And then we see pretty white trails in the sky, moving in circles. Anderson tells us they are birds. And then she sees that they are hawks. And she describes the look in the eyes of her dog, Lolabelle, as the dog peers up and realizes that she… is prey. The dog understands that these birds have come for the purpose of killing her. And Anderson bemoans the new reality that now the dog must not only be aware of the ground and the grass and the other earthbound creatures, but also that huge, untouchable expanse of sky. The sky is now a danger. And the dog will never view the sky the same again.

Cut to footage of 9/11 as Anderson compares her dog’s feeling to hers, and ours, when we suddenly understood that “something was wrong with the air”; the sky brought danger and those flying planes were there for the purpose of killing us. And “it would be that way from now on.”

Anderson goes on to talk about the strangeness of living in a post-9/11 surveillance state, where we are always being recorded. But she does not take the obvious path of complaining about the social injustice. Instead, she takes a clever twist and points out that all your actions are now data. And that data is always being collected, but it will not be watched until after you commit a crime. Then your story is pieced together, in reverse – footage of where you went and what you did, being viewed backwards from the most recent moment. And then she throws in a quote from Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backward but must be lived forward.”

And intermixed with philosophy, Anderson keeps her wry sense of humor. At one point, she talks about a dream in which she gives birth to her dog. She illustrates the tale with bizarre comic drawings, and then she tells us that the dog looks up at her and says, “Thank you so much for having me,” as if it has just been invited to a tea party. Ha.

“This film has heart.”

Later she talks about her own childhood memory of a trauma and reveals how our minds naturally clean up memories, leaving out certain details, and in that way you are holding onto a story and every time you tell the story, you forget it more. Cut to the computer icon of Missing File. The associations keep piling up, and they do indeed add up.

The unfortunate irony is that “Heart of a Dog” will be classified as conceptual filmmaking, and dismissed by those who won’t see it as too cerebral, while it actually uses a complex and intellectual style, very astutely, to access emotional and intimate realities that are difficult to reach through overt methods.

This film does tell a story, in its own subtly layered way. It is sometimes a meditation on how to go on living despite despair – “the purpose of death is the release of love,” but it is also clearly Laurie Anderson’s own personal tale. This is a tender memoir.  It’s Anderson’s love story, about her dog, her mother, her husband, and her city. In the most uncommon and evocative way, this film has heart.

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The complete soundtrack recording of “Heart of a Dog” is available from Nonesuch Records. The Nonesuch album is the full audio recording of the film, including all music and spoken text.

News: “Heart of a Dog” short-listed for Oscar

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When she is not writing about film and art on her blog, HelenHighly.com, Helen Kaplow is busy being a culture vulture in her adopted home of New York City.