- What Happened Miss Simone (USA), dir. Liz Garbus
What Happened Miss Simone is a bio-documentary film about spectacular Nina Simone, the singer, activist and a fighter for human rights. The title is taken from a Maya Angelou quote.
- Tangerine (USA), dir. Sean S. Baker
This story, shot entirely on iPhone, follows a transgender sex worker who just found out that her boyfriend, but also her pimp, has been cheating on her.
- Rams (Iceland), dir. Grimur Hakonarson
Rams is an Icelandic drama about two estrange dbrothers who, after 40 years, decided to make peace in order to save their sheep. Directed by Grímur Hákonarson who won Un Certain Regard award at the Cannes Film Festival.
- Room (Ireland/Canada), dir. Lenny Abrahamson
Rom is a Canadian-Irish production film based on Emma Donoghue novel, who also wrote the script. Kept in isolation for years, the woman (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son, portrayed by a force of nature – Jacob Tramblay, finally have a shot at freedom, which will enable the boy to experience the world for the very first time.
- Brand New Testament (France/Belgium), dir. Jaco Van Dormael
The God is real and he lives in an apartment somewhere in Brussels with his compliant wife and less compliant daughter Ea. God is a one of a kind sadist who created human race for the sole reason of personal amusement.
- 45 Years (UK), dir. Andrew Haigh
Based on a short story In Another Country by David Constantine, 45 years is a British drama directed by Andrew Haigh, starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtney. Kate (Rampling) and Jeff (Courtney) are an older couple getting ready to celebrate their 45th marriage anniversary who receive a news that the body of Jeff’s former girlfriend Katja, who died in an avalanche during their vacation, has been found. The film focuses on the aftermath and impact this news had on their lives.
- Ex Machina (UK), dir. Alex Garland
Ex Machina is a British SF psychological thriller and a debut film made by Alex Garland. It is a story about a programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), who is invited by his employer, the eccentric billionaire Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), to administer the Turing test to an android with artificial intelligence (Alicia Vikander). The Turing test is a test, developed by Alan Turing in 1950, of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. Turing proposed that a human evaluator would judge natural language conversations between a human and a machine that is designed to generate human-like responses. The evaluator would be aware that one of the two partners in conversation is a machine, and all participants would be separated from one another. If the evaluator cannot reliably tell the machine from the human (Turing originally suggested that the machine would convince a human 70% of the time after five minutes of conversation), the machine is said to have passed the test. This is the basic premise of the film, which goes much deeper into the topic at hand.
- Mustang (France/Turkey), dir. Deniz Gamze Erguven
A fantastic film directed by Turkish-born and French-raised Deniz Gamze Erguven that depicts lives of five orphaned sisters and challenges teenagers, who live in oppressed, conservative societies, face while coming of age.
- Beasts of No Nation (USA), dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga
The latest achievement of Cary Fukunaga, director best known for his notable work on True Detective (first season), deals with the question of war in Western Africa and creation of the problem known as child soldiers. Main roles are carried out masterfully by Idris Elba and Abraham Attah, whose Academy Award nominations had a potential in preventing the #oscarssowhite trend from happening.
11. Kurt Cobain: Montage of heck (USA), dir. Brett Morgen
The documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is one of the key films that marked the previous year, not only because its narrative is focused on Nirvana, the icons of the 90s, whose music marked the entire generation, but because it is a an umbrella film about the front man of the band, Kurt Cobain. This is it. The crown documentary. On the other hand, the film, at times impressive and comprehensive, is not really balanced as a whole and it suffers from certain problems with rhythm. But if we are to neglect these small drawbacks we will come to realize that what we are watching is actually a testament, or better yet, a love letter, written to the legend of the music scene, the spokesman for one generation, an artist, a human being, husband, father, friend.
Best quote: “I still had no friends because, well I hated everyone for they were so phony.”
- Spotlight (USA), dir. Tom McCarthy
Under a great influence of one of the best films of all time – All President Men – dealing with a topic that shocked the world at the dawn of 21st century, told through the prism of investigating journalism, followed by an excellent cast, McCarthy’s Spotlight had all the ingredients for an excellent film. Although significantly weaker than the films it was modeled upon (you will notice the interesting style and the color of Spotlight, that evoke and follow the style of All President Men and even the Zodiac, is a bit odd because the time frame of the latter is set in the 1970s while the time frame of the former took place in 2001 and 2002, respectively) Spotlight reminds us of the importance the journalistic work, that has changed significantly since 2002 (for the worse), once had. It is a film whose primary task is to celebrate brave journalists who devoted their lives to something they do best – changing the world by telling the truth.
Best quote: “We got two stories here: a story about degenerate clergy, and a story about a bunch of lawyers turning child abuse into a cottage industry. Which story do you want us to write? Because we’re writing one of them.”
- Son of Saul (Hungary), dir. Laszlo Nemes
Extraordinary debut film from Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes is a painful, horrific study of evil manifested in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the WWII.
- Anomalisa (USA), dir. Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
The key to understanding of Kaufman’s latest bizarre work lies in the name of the hotel – Fregoli – where most of the story takes place. The story begins with the arrival of the main protagonist, a middle-aged Englishman called Michael Stone, voiced by David Thewlis, famous by his role of professor Lupin in Harry Potter films. Michael Stone has come for a day to make a motivational speech, as well as to promote his book about self-help in the world of customer service. Michael Stone is a lonely, unhappy and a nostalgic man. Driven by a motto according to which you should strive to find the best and the special in people, but incapable of any kind of emotional connection, everybody he encounters in his journey not only look like but also sound the same, more specifically like Tom Noonan. Bearing that in mind, we have to revert to the meaning of the word Fregoli. The Fregoli syndrome is a rare disorder in which the person having it believes that different people are actually one and the same person, which changes its appearance or creates disguises. So the essential problem of a person suffering from Fregoli is its incapability of seeing the unique in an individual. That is where find true irony, so characteristic to Kaufman’s work – the man paid to promote the uniqueness of every single person is actually incapable of comprehending it. On the other hand, on a micro level, it is about a story which intensely researches the human relations, falling in and out of love, shown through Michael’s relationship with Lisa, a guest of the hotel and seemingly the only person in the world that looks and sounds differently (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). Is it love? What does it mean to be human? What is pain? What does it mean to be alive? Why do we suffer? These are only a few of the questions Kaufman analyses in this film, as in many more of his works. The results are outstanding.
Best quote: “Each person you speak to has had a day, some other days have been good, some bad.”
- Mad Max: Fury Road (Australia/USA), dir. George Miller
There has been a growing debate in the last couple of months about the significance of Miller’s latest work, already a classic – Mad Max: Fury Road. Is this film a masterpiece or not? If it is, then why? What makes this film so special? Isn’t it just another blockbuster? And so on and on… When it comes to art, the usual sayings are that taste is not a matter of discussion; that everybody is entitled to an opinion; that, ultimately, the art is subjective. Although these claims are mostly true, there is a thing called a consensus, actually a collection of unwritten rules, based on which we can make a clear judgment about quality of a certain work of art. Subjectivity has absolutely nothing to do with it. We may not like Citizen Kane, but we cannot denounce Welles’ enormous contribution to cinema through this film. We may not like Hitchcock’s Psycho, but we mustn’t neglect the fact that this film was the breaking of ground, which directed the seventh art to the point where it is now. To kill off the main character in the first third of the film just wasn’t the practice, nor has it ever happened until then. Therefore, context. Without it, no art work makes any sense. The importance of Mad Max: Fury Road lies in its title, more precisely in the word road. As we know, the latest Miller’s film bears the mark of a specific genre – Road Movie. It is a genre in which the story takes place during a journey, on which the character changes, matures, becomes better or worse than in the beginning of the story. This genre, as well as any other, succumbs to episodic structure. In each episode there arises a new challenge, which reveals a part of the story, and which the character can overcome or can not. The thing that makes this work stand out is not the genre itself, but the fact that Miller has succeeded in making it so bare by using his directorial approach to distill the essence that makes a road movie. The result of this process is the epitome of its genre, as well as the film which, apart from having its dramaturgical structure, is actually a single, uninterrupted action scene which lasts for two hours. Two hours of perfectly choreographed steampunk ballet, or perhaps steampunk Cirque du Soleil. If none of these things has managed to amaze you: the atmosphere, the cinematography, the editing, the fantastic choreography, the set designs, the costumes, the image, the fact that the actual main character here is the world itself – then, at least, just the concept and the directing should leave you speechless, if nothing than out of great respect to the enormous work Miller has done so flawlessly, considering that not many directors could pull this kind of film off, because if they could, we would have seen it already.
Best quote: “I live. I die. I live again.”
- Steve Jobs (UK/USA), dir. Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle’s latest film is a thrilling story about Steve Jobs, the creator of Apple Inc, told in different acts revolving around three, now historical, launches. The energy of the film is endless, the pace and rhythm relentless. The whole film takes place almost entirely indoors, on stage, backstage and in the corridors connecting these two roles in life generally. On stage Steve Jobs is the God, the genius of the tech world, he is what he wants us to see. Backstage he is what he is, the relentless maniac, a workaholic sociopath despised by most people. Concurrently, these are also the only two spaces that provide for a little if any steadiness we might experience while watching this frantic parade of walking-and-talking down the hallways, up and down the stairs, doorways and so on, mixed with the crosscuts between past and present, often intersect with the abundance of dialogue written by the genius of a screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, which shines throughout this unorthodox biopic making it a worthy successor or a parable to Fincher’s masterful The Social Network, a story of another kid wiz, Mark Zuckerberg. Boyle’s choice of giving the main role to Michael Fassbender, who doesn’t look anything like the man he is suppose to portray, turned out to be the major asset and ultimately my contender for this year’s Academy Awards. Yes, Leonardo was good, but Fassbender was terrific.
Best quote: “They won’t know what they’re looking at or why they like it but they’ll know they want it.”
- A Pigeon Sat on A Branch Reflecting on Existence (Sweden), dir. Roy Anderson
The latest Anderson’s film in the trilogy about “Being Human” is a series of tableaux, living images or better yet vignettes, which, at first, seem very random and disconnected, at least in a classical sense. However, Anderson is not a director that follows the rules of classical cinema or any rules in general and therefore his films cannot be placed in any category. And they shouldn’t be. That said, if you are desperate for any narrative link you can look for it in the theme of the film, the topic it deals with, Swedish history and the existence of two characters whose task is not only to make people happy but also to play the lead protagonists. Traveling through space and time in the search for potential customers Jonathan and Sam are taking us down story lane about life, death and sudden death. Linearity and time do not represent a particularly important determinants either, so don’t be surprised when a Swedish king, Charles XII, marches into a bar demanding a glass of water minutes before his historic battle with Russia. Poetic, visually rich and clever, deprived of color and dialogue, at times horrifying, inwrought with distinctive dark humor, and characters devoid of any humanity and emotions A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is a film worthy of your attention even thought you might not even like it.
- Youth (Italy), dir. Paolo Sorrentino
The environment in the new film of Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, best known for his film La Grande Bellezza, overwhelmingly recalls Thomas Mann’s sanatorium Berghof, the prime location of The Magic Mountain. In The Magic Mountain, his seminal and most important work, great Thomas Mann deals with the isolated individual, a lost soul, creative creature whose struggle against the meaninglessness of existence is largely influenced by the works of philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nitzsche, as well as the composer Richard Wagner, under whose creative force he generated his own work. Sorrentino’s Youth deals with the same dilemmas, questions and problems. Here, however, the sanatorium becomes the wellness center. It might even be the same place since they are both located in the Swiss Alps. Whatever the case might be, the whole point of this film lays in the magic atmosphere, which this space, space of the slowed-down nostalgic reminiscences of once famous artists, breathes life into. The wellness center thus becomes a kind of a purgatory of its own in which the aged composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine), unrealized Hollywood director Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), overweight Maradona (played by himself) are trying to cope with themselves and the past that has brought them to this very moment in life. The slow rhythm of the film through apathy of its main character leads us into the introspection, separating us from firm ground, from the real, like levitating Buddhist monk, one of many vivid visitors of this picturesque place, who in itself is a reflection of us, the audience, who are following this beautiful story with care. In other words, Youth, just like The Magic Mountain, demonstrates a colorful symphony of life and death.
Best quote: “I’m wondering what happens to your memory over time. I can’t remember my family. I don’t remember their faces or how they talked. Last night I was watching Lena while she was asleep. And I was thinking about all the thousands of little things that I done for her as her father. And I’ve done them deliberately so that she would remember them. When she grows up. But in time. She won’t remember a single thing.”
- The Revenant (USA), dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Terence Malick in hell. This is the most accurate description of Inarritu’s latest cinema achievement. On the surface The Revenant is a story of revenge. However, if you dig a little deeper you will come to realize it is much, much more than that. Although at first it seems like Inarritu distanced himself from his primary focus, The Revenant, much like all of his earlier films, is a character study which questions the state of mind, human condition, possessiveness, willpower, determination and perseverance. Its weakest link is the story itself, which may well be the reason why so many people see this film as his artistic regression. However, the way Inarritu decided to deal with this story is ultimately why The Revenent is so magnificent. In the hands of some other director this would be some other film completely. Most likely the classical western, instead of a research into the state of the human soul, memory and the power it has over us, loss, and parental unconditional love. How far are we willing to go to find the person responsible for the death of our child in order to bring the justice upon them? What are we able to survive? Bear mulling? Being buried alive? Sub zero temperatures? Harsh conditions? Fall of a cliff? Judging by Hugh Glass (Leonardo di Caprio) we are willing to go far. Followed by the extraordinary supporting cast (among which we must not neglect Tom Hardy), during most of the film Leonardo is alone, speaking only at times and perhaps not more than ten lines in a film that lasts over two and a half hours. It is a long film, relentlessly slow. It is a beautiful and a violent film, crosscut with pain, blood, suffering, agony, reflected on the body of its lead actor, who experienced a great transformation after the bear attack, after his throat was shredded to pieces. Before that moment Leonardo looked and sounded like himself, which was very dissatisfying. After that moment we witnessed a true and real transformation. An Oscar worthy one? Perhaps, and only if we believe that Hugh Glass was the real protagonist of this story.
Best quote: “No… Revenge is in the creator’s hands.”
- The Lobster (Ireland, UK, France, Netherlands), dir. Yorgos Lanhtimos
If you have seen Dogtooth then you know that Yorgos Lanhtimos is not for everyone. His films ask for patience, open mind and a stomach to process it all. The Lobster, his first English film, is no different. Inwrought with his trademark humor, The Lobster is divided into four parts – prologue, first and second act, epilogue – heavily connected to the space in which they are taking place. The space, which gives the necessary context to its lead character, becomes the character itself. In the first act we have The Hotel, a place in which the so-called Singles get a chance to find a partner within next 45 days (Heterosexuality and homosexuality are desirable, however, bisexuality is strictly prohibited as well as masturbation while sexual stimulation without an orgasm is required every day). If they fail in doing so they will be turned into an animal of their own choosing. Lead by logic, David (Collin Farrell) wants to be a lobster. They live in water, they liver over 100 years and they have blue blood, like aristocrats. It doesn’t matter that the only way to make a lobster dish is to throw them into boiling water. Brutal death for long life seems like a fair deal. Second act leads us into The Woods where the so-called Loners live. Unlike the Singles, the Loners are encouraged to stay single forever. Any type of physical contact is prohibited. In case you break this rule, the parts body that broke it are to be removed from the offender’s body. The film is therefore, the story of two extreme systems that ridicule themselves and the meaningless expectations that a human being can be programmed by adjusting to the pre-set system, regardless of its ultimate goal.
Best quote: “We dance alone. That’s why we only play electronic music.”
- Taxi Tehran (Iran), dir. Jafar Panahi
Iranian director who was sentenced to silence in 2010. has spoken again.
In December 2010, Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison and banned for 20 years from making films. His crime was “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” The first film after the ban was the extraordinary work titled This is not a Film. Forbidden to even say “action” or “cut,” Imprisoned Panahi wanders about the apartment turned prison, feeds his iguana, while starting to describe the most recent screenplay he was forbidden to do, as well as commenting on his earlier three films discussing things he did not plan. The result was this gripping, zero-budget film about a day in his life, shot entirely within his flat, partly on a simple DV camera and on his iPhone (the film was eventually smuggled out of the country on a USB stick, reportedly hidden in a cake and it was shown during the Cannes Film Festival). Panahi thus made a film not by shooting it but by describing it. The next one, Closed Curtain, dealt with similar, if not the same self-referential topics and issues in a somewhat modified manner, but still under the well-known limitations. Set almost but not quite entirely in the public space, the streets of Tehran, Taxi is something in between. With this act of toying with the idea of public and private place Panahi has managed to give a certain note to his film, which is crucial for its success. On the constant border between fiction and reality (because we are never sure if the passengers are actors or bystanders, or if the dialogue is spontaneous or pre-written) Panahi (in the role of a cab driver) leads us down, not only the streets of Tehran (which he does literally), but down his personal experience gradually explaining the system he is forced (not) to work in. His desire to demonstrate this, as vividly as he possibly can, takes its final form when two women, on separate occasions, one after the other, enter his cab. The first one is his niece, Hana Saedi, a girl of no more than ten years old, who upon entering the cab begins explaining his uncle about the assignment she was given at school. The teacher gave them the task to make a film that will be watchable and suitable for sale. In translation this means that the film they are to make must follow the certain ruler set by the ruling regime, which is precisely one of the reason why Panahi was banned from filmmaking in the first place. The second one is Nasrin Sotoudeh, a famous Iranian human rights lawyer. Just like Panahi, Nasrn was also sentenced and imprisoned on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiracy with the aim of harming the national security. And just like Panahi, she was banned from working albeit to a lesser duration of 10 years. Traveling in the car with two of the most important Iranian fighters for the freedom of speech and human rights, little Hana learns a valuable life lesson: all restrictions by the Iranian authorities against the so-called “dirty realism” cannot suppress and wipe out the dirty reality they have found themselves forced to live in, because this reality, in the digital world of constant video surveillance, will find a way and a suitable camera to unfold before. The most important thing thus becomes having a story worthy of telling. Panahi has it. And he knows how to tell it.
Best quote: “They work in a way that let us to know they are watching us. Their tactics are obvious. First, they write you up a police record. Suddenly, you are accused of being an agent for Mossad, The CIA, or MI5. Then they tack on something about your morals, your lifestyle. They make your life into a prison. Although you are released from prison, but the outside world is only a bigger prison. They make your nearest friends into your worst enemies. After that you think all you can do is either leave the country or pray to return to that hole. So there is only one thing to do: not care.”
Honorable mentions: Brooklyn, Macbeth, Amy, The look of silence, Mia Madre, Junun, Slow West, The Duke of Burgundy, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, The Tribe
Text written by: Monika Ponjavic