LISTFUL THINKING: Top 10 of 2015 (Individuals and Institutions)

31 12 2015

The end of the year has arrived once again in its typical fashion – surprising, jarring yet oddly welcome. On this occasion, per usual, it is time to celebrate 2015 in cinema. Thanks to a number of festivals as well as generous assistance from studio and regional publicists, I was able to see more movies than ever before. This year, the tally of 2015 releases alone soared to over 200. (I came so close to reviewing them all … but would rather provide well-considered commentary instead of rushing to meet an arbitrarily imposed deadline.)

When I sat down to pen my first top 10 list back in 2009, I doubt I had even seen 100 films, so the list represented roughly the top 10% of my year. With 2015’s edition showcasing less than 5%, I feel obliged to at least mention 10 other films that left an indelible mark on me this year but, for whatever reason, fell outside the upper echelon. These, too, are worthy of your time and attention. In alphabetical order, they are:

But the ten films that stood out above the rest this year all had one thing in common: they looked beyond their characters and plots towards larger, more difficult concepts to capture. Each in their own way spotlighted (pun fully intended) an institution or a system that guides, influences and even inhibits the actions that take place. I make no secret that my two fields of study in college were film studies and sociology, and to have such an exciting slate of movies that evinces how the former can shed light on the latter was a source of great joy (again, pun fully intended) throughout 2015.

Remarkably, each work never lost sight of the individual personalities that power our emotional engagement. The human element never detracts from the issues at hand, instead providing an entry point to ponder impersonal or intangible forces. In an era where television provides a depth of coverage that has become tough to rival, these films found power in a concentrated bursts of content where every second was carefully and wonderfully calibrated.

So, without further ado, here are my ten favorite films of 2015 along with the individuals and institutions featured within them.

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REVIEW: Brooklyn

18 11 2015

BrooklynSincerity has gone out of style in the world of adult filmmaking, perhaps as a sort of defense mechanism against the ever encroaching threat of extinction. (That’s just speculation on my part, though.) So it always feels refreshing when a film like “Brooklyn,” triumphant in its emotionality and lack of irony, manages to break through the cracks. The film’s combination of a pure heart and gorgeous craftsmanship produces an experience that lifts the soul.

Director John Crowley takes an unabashedly classical approach to telling the story of Saoirse Ronan’s Eilis, an Irish immigrant to New York in the 1950s. “Brooklyn” may look and feel like a film made in that time period, but it never falls back on retrograde worldviews or attitudes. Screenwriter Nick Hornby simply takes Colm Tóibín’s novel and allows it to soar as a tender tale of a young woman finding her voice and her home – two things with obvious relevance today.

Eilis leaves behind her widowed mother and unmarried older sister in small town Ireland not out of any great desire to start a new life. In fact, the arrangements for her to live and work in the heavily Irish concentrated Brooklyn get made almost entirely by others. Faced with the choice between an unsatisfying present and an uncertain future, Eilis lets her family nudge her towards taking the fork in the road.

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INTERVIEW: John Crowley, director of “Brooklyn”

10 11 2015

Recently, I’ve begun contributing some pieces to Movie Mezzanine, a site run by a lot of people who started with WordPress blogs like this one back in the late 2000s/early 2010s. If the page isn’t on your radar, put it there. Tons of really great writers post some provocative, insightful scholarship there is out there on the Internet.

A nice perk of being able to post there is the incredible doors it opens for me to talk with some amazing talent. The latest of such is John Crowley, director of the new film “Brooklyn.” My full review is coming soon, although the interview has already been posted over at Movie Mezzanine. You can read about how the Dardennes influenced the film as well as how Crowley works with established cinematography teams and upstart young actors.

I work with an editor over there who provides valuable feedback, such as where pieces can be truncated. A few questions were omitted from the interview as it ran on Movie Mezzanine, but I wanted to give my good and faithful readers here at Marshall and the Movies a chance to read them!

John Crowley Brooklyn

These questions were asked at the beginning of the interview.


I got to see the film at the New York Film Festival, and it really played like gangbusters with my theater – in particular some of the humor about the ethnic groups. Was it comforting to to have those screenings go over well?


It was very satisfying, during one of the Q&As, somebody said, “How many weeks did you shoot in New York for?” And I was able to say, “Two days.” It [the question] was a bit of a gaffe, so that felt like we were able to pass muster.

You never know what’s going to play with what audience. It’s been fascinating as we’ve been doing the rounds and watching what audiences take away from it, but it felt like the New York audience was able to embrace the film and make it theirs.


Why was the choice made to premiere the film at Sundance?  Obviously that’s one of the best launching pads for any movies, but you don’t normally see films so classically made there. [Fox Searchlight does not include the Sundance Film Festival’s laurels in any of the marketing materials for Brooklyn.]


I think it was about timing, basically. I don’t know that there was a huge strategic decision behind it. We finished the film in December [2014], and depending on the calendar of when you finish it, people go for the next festival. Sundance was that next one.

We didn’t think we wanted to wait until Cannes – it didn’t particularly feel like a Cannes film even though, I agree, it didn’t feel like a Sundance film either. So when it was submitted to Sundance, I thought they might go, “Oh, this isn’t enough of whatever we want.” It might not be edgy enough; it might not be indie enough.  And that wasn’t their response. They were very happy to have the film there.

So that was the main reason. I don’t think any of us really wanted to sit on it for six months and then try and do something with Telluride and Toronto.

Saoirse Ronan Brooklyn

The following was at the tail end of our conversation.


Ok, one last question – is there an area of Brooklyn that hasn’t been addressed on the press tour that you’d like to talk about?


Oh, gosh – that’s a question I’ve never been asked.

No, not necessarily. People have commented on the quality of the entire cast, which is rather lovely. Down to every last part, it was lovingly stitched together. That was a great joy, building this rather beautiful mosaic and wanting every part to be vivid and real.


I even felt sympathy for Dolores [a minor character at Eilis’ boarding home in Brooklyn, roundly despised by all the other girls] – she was so sweet even as she was annoying.


Yes, exactly. That’s a wonderful performance from Jane Murray. I think we’ll be hearing a lot more from her.

I can’t honestly say there is [a question I haven’t gotten to answer]. You’ve asked the most surprising question by asking what hasn’t been talked about.


I always want to give people the chance to answer the right question.  If there’s one question that I can ask to help someone’s vision shine through, I want to ask it. 


The style in which I did it was almost invisible; that’s why I don’t necessarily describe myself as an auteur. I don’t try to put myself forward in the frame. I say look at this rather than look at me. That’s the thing that informs everything that I do.