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: Mistress America

7 09 2015

Mistress America posterThe lively creative partnership between writer/director Noah Baumbach and writer/star Greta Gerwig produced one perfectly pleasant piece of cinema in 2013’s “Frances Ha.”  That film appropriated the techniques of the French New Wave greats and applied their general vibe to an (un)happy-go-lucky New York twenty-something.

Their reteaming on “Mistress America” yields something both more ambitious and fulfilling.  Baumbach and Gerwig weave together elements from theatrical, literary, and cinematic antecedents to create one truly insightful comedic masterpiece.  The finished film is nothing short of “The Great Gatsby” for the Google generation.

New freshman Tracy Fishko (Lola Kirke) arrives to Barnard without a clue or many friends.  She aspires to write but cannot crack the top literary society nor connect with peers also in need of external validation.  The vastness of Manhattan nearly devours lonely Tracy, but before it can, she makes a last-ditch phone call to future stepsister Brooke Cardinas (Gerwig).

Brooke is like Tracy, a transplant in the city, but she seems to have found some way to fake it until she made it.  (Or, at least until she could pay some bills.)  On one wild night bopping across town, Tracy becomes fascinated with her future next of kin.  And given the way Gerwig plays Brooke, she would be be a fool not to get drawn into her larger-than-life personality.

Brooke is an odd hodgepodge of Williamsburg hipster, Silicon Valley self-help maxim spouter, and that newest breed of social media-crazed narcissism.  With her motormouth, she converses with her own train of thought first and others around her second.  Chief among her ramblings is rampant self-mythologizing to a disturbingly hilarious degree; perhaps Brooke fears that if her lips were to close, she might have to think through the words that come out of them.

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