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Welcome to the wonderful world of what was cinema for me this 2015. It was a year of discoveries, wonderful insights and a change of pace in terms of how I react and write about the movies that I see. I won’t start saying that my list has more or less authority, or personality than any of the others around the world, specially since it comes in the middle of January, when most people have already done their lists and have already been revered, feared or mocked because of them. So, without much further ado, I present to you what I consider to be the best 20 films of 2015.

For this list I consider only audiovisual projects that were originally released in 2015, whether they be in festivals, commercial theaters, online, secret screenings, online leaks, or whatever it is that I ended up seeing them, but only screened or published for the first time in the calendar year of 2015. Beyond that, anything goes, here you could end up seeing short films, TV movies, music videos, Mini-series, Web videos and many feature-length films, watched in theaters, festivals or online. This is the 21st century, welcome to it. My list might not be the most original or even the most eclectic, but I can say that these 20 films defined my 2015.

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youth-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

      There are many breathtaking turns in the film, Youth (2015). The one which I can’t forget transpires during the protagonist’s conducting one of his musical compositions in a concert by request of Queen Elizabeth. A beautiful young soprano is singing and body and soul, wrapped up in a scarlet gown, are somehow so right. The conductor regards her excellence and there flashes before him a moment we saw sometime before, his wife’s corpse propped upon the window of her hospital room as he was heedlessly regaling her with their superior depths and heroic sacrifices as compared with the actions of young people in general and their daughter in particular. The lovely mouth of the both sexy and angelic professional singer becomes briefly superimposed (by means of the quick cut) upon the loyal retainer’s grotesque maw.

Its palpable harshness and incisiveness are all the more stunning in view of the film’s wanton discharge of the composer/ conductor’s paltry range of perception in all the actions which preceded that shock, actions taking place at an exclusive Swiss spa. Paolo Sorrentino, the body and soul bringing to us this puzzling treasure had, in his previous coup, The Great Beauty (2013), dished out (among other virtues) a pleasing reprise of Federico Fellini’s spotlighting Italian-Miracle oligarchs at self-indulgent play. Especially impressive in that venerable motif was the unfailing well-rounded inclusion of self-injury and confrontation of an elusive verve amidst expensive and pretentious diversions. This time, however, we are notably in the domain of clockwork mechanisms, ticking along without serious need to question the exercise. Verve’s elusiveness is indeed salient in the presumably bracing mountain air being breathed by the guests. But unlike the films based in Italy, a Vichy-like denial of outrage has come to stay. Continue Reading »

brooklyn

wolf hall

phoenix

by Sam Juliano

My Top 10 Films of 2015 (and the runners-up)

I saw nearly 170 movies in theaters over the past year, though 36 were at Tribeca. My list of 10 is really a list of 12 as I have an-impossible-to-break three-way tie for Number 10. My runners-up list includes films I really liked a lot as well. I have seen every last awards contender, so the ones that are missing are films I just didn’t care for or were indifferent towards. 2015 marks the first time I have ever included a TV mini-series since I started making lists in 1970, but I felt I had good reason to this time

Top Ten:

1. Brooklyn (Ireland/UK)
2. Wolf Hall (UK; mini-series)
3. Phoenix (Germany)
4. Carol (USA)
5. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Sweden)
6. 45 Years (UK)
7. Son of Saul (Hungary)
8. The Revenant (USA)
9. Youth (Italy/UK/USA)
10. The Tribe (Ukraine)
The Hateful Eight (USA)
The Assassin (Taiwan) -three way tie-

Runners-Up:

Room
A Woman in Gold
Anomalisa
Bridge of Spies
The Clouds of Sils Maria
It’s Me Marlon
The Lady in the Van
Sicario
Slow West
Spotlight
The Danish Girl

Lucille and I saw one film in the theaters this past week – In the Shadow of Women, a French film by Phillip Gerrel at the IFC:

In the Shadow of Women     ***      (Saturday night)   IFC

New links will go up next Monday.  With the completion of the Caldecotts and the composition of the list I was unable to do anything with them today.  But next week they will definitely return.

ROONEY MARA and CATE BLANCHETT star in CAROL

pigeon-sat-on-branch-reflecting-existence

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by Allan Fish
Falling Leaves – 1912, France, Alice Guy-Blaché
Suspense – 1913, US, Lois Weber
The Smiling Madame Beudet – 1923, France, Germaine Dulac
The Adventures of Prince Achmed – 1926, Germany, Lotte Reiniger
The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty – 1927, USSR, Esfir Shub
Women of Ryazan – 1928, USSR, Olga Preobrazhenskaya
The Seashell and the Clergyman – 1928, France, Germaine Dulac
Mädchen in Uniform – 1931, Germany, Leontine Sagan
The Blue Light – 1932, Germany, Leni Riefenstahl
Triumph of the Wall – 1935, Germany, Leni Riefenstahl
Dada – 1936, US, Mary Ellen Bute
Olympische Spiele: Parts I & II – 1938, Germany, Leni Riefenstahl
Dance, Girl, Dance – 1940, US, Dorothy Arzner
Meshes of the Afternoon – 1943, US, Maya Deren
Ritual in Transfigured Time – 1946, US, Maya Deren
The Last Stage – 1947, Poland, Wanda Jakubowska
Paris 1900 – 1947, France, Nicole Védrès
Those Blasted Kids – 1947, Denmark, Astrid Henning-Jansen
Death is a Caress – 1949, Norway, Edith Carlmar
Olivia – 1951, France, Jacqueline Audry
A Portrait of Ga – 1952, UK, Margaret Tait
The Stranger Left no Card – 1952, UK, Wendy Toye
The Hitch-Hiker – 1953, US, Ida Lupino
The Moon Has Risen – 1955, Japan, Kinuyo Tanaka
Araya – 1959, Venezuela, Margot Benaceraf
Poem of the Sea – 1959, USSR, Julia Solntseva
Ung Flukt – 1959, Norway, Edith Carlmar
The Story of the Flaming Years – 1961, USSR, Julia Solntseva
The Connection – 1961, US, Shirley Clarke
Cleo from 5 to 7 – 1962, France, Agnès Varda
The Cool World – 1963, US, Shirley Clarke
The House is Black – 1963, Iran Farough Farrokzhad

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waterfall

by Sam Juliano

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.   -Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire

Environmental philosopher and activist John Muir dedicated much of his life toward the preservation of the western forests, and today is referred to as the “Father of the National Parks.”  From both a political and recreational sphere of interest this master of many pursuits has also been dubbed “one of the patron saints of twentieth century American environmental activity.”  Such a rich and diverse life would no doubt yield some specific events that in and of themselves would yield the basis for promising books.  John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall by Julie Danneberg and Jamie Hogan is the outgrowth of a very close brush Muir had with death during his acute immersion with nature during the time he spent at Yosemite Valley.  Certainly this is not the kind of defining life event that is brought up when the author and naturalist’s name is broached as it would be in the life of Civil War politician Charles Sumner, who was nearly caned to death in the congressional chambers by a furious southerner, but ironically enough the Sumner incident was condemned by famed transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson who visited with Muir at Yosemite, and was deeply impressed with his oneness with nature that he tried to convinced him to travel east.  Muir declined but twenty years later, he met Emerson in Concord, Massachusetts.

John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall employs the same kind of two prorogued narrative presentation as last year’s Winter Bees.   Muir’s activity is chronicled in free-spirited prose, while on at the bottom of each right side panel  the historical and biographical context enriches one’s understanding of Muir and his daily wilderness investigations.  Muir was ravished by Yosemite’s expansive soulful sublimity, and the only surefire way to become immersed in the nature experience, to take it in by experiencing it and living in a simple solitary cabin with equipped with observational capacities.  The central object of his fascination and appreciation was a springtime waterfall, where as described by Danneberg it “cascaded, crashed and careened over the side of the mountain.”  In the hang-nest room at the sawmill  he maintained journals, sketches and books, and saw the heavens and Yosemite Falls through window roofs. Continue Reading »

bowie

Finding winnie

by Sam Juliano

The shocking news of music legend David Bowie’s sudden passing at 69 this morning will leave all other discussion on the sidelines for some time to come.  He was a huge favorite in my own house, but virtually in everyone’s and I proudly remember seeing him three times in concert, the last at the Garden State Arts Center in the late 90’s.  One of the all-time greats who music will live on long into the future and beyond.  R.I.P.  He made his mark on so many of us, and brought us unbridled joy.  The word superstar was made for the man.

And the Caldecott Medal goes to…………Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall.  My review of this masterpiece posted at the site a little over a week ago:

https://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/caldecott-medal-contender-finding-winnie/

It was an incredible honor to be named as one of 36 people nationwide on a FB post Ms. Blackall sent out earlier this week, as  “ambassadors of children’s literature.”  The vast majority of people on that  post were authors and illustrators.  She is quite the beloved woman by so many, as as some readers here will well remember she also illustrated the controversial A Fine Dessert, another masterwork that was discussed lat month in a post that attracted 208 comments. Continue Reading »

skunk 1

by Sam Juliano

The droll humor on display throughout The Skunk is the creation of one of children’s literature’s wittiest luminaries, who for the first time has pooled his inimitable talent with celebrated cartoonist Patrick McDonnell.  The result is one of the best picture books of 2015.  The review of this most curious Theater of the Absurd fever dream is the final act in the 2015 Caldecott Medal Contender series.  Every imaginable artistic component comes together flawlessly in this irresistible confection that has many of us crossing our fingers for a re-teaming of this inventive duo.  McDonnell, who presently is writing a screenplay for an animated film with a major studio, previously won a Caldecott Honor for Me…Jane, and Barnett, ever-prolific, authored two books with illustrator Jon Klassen that also won Caldecott Honors, Extra Yarn and Sam & Dave Dig a Hole.  Barnett’s Battle Bunny, an irreverent homage to Golden Books, left the box like few picture books have, and this year’s teaming with Christian Robinson on Leo: A Ghost Story was a big winner.

The Skunk, surrealist in essence and execution is far more convincing as a dream than as a slice-of-life friendship story, though the budding friendship, never acknowledged as such by either of the conspirators is the emotional hook that will resonate most compellingly with readers.  In this sense it seems McDonnell’s decision to scale back on the details and place emphasis on the bare essentials bring this bizarre relationship more emotional heft.  From the very fact that the mammal chosen for this story of human and animal bonding is just about the most detested creature out there alone underscores the improbability of such a development, again pointing towards horizontal nocturnal imaginings.  The title page is the one place in the book where we get to see a drawing of real skunk, and it ain’t a pretty sight, nor was it meant to be.  As those who live in areas where these stenchmeisters can attest to the odoriferous residue from a skunk spraying have maintained astonishing staying power, with seemingly no logistical panacea other than prompt relocation. Continue Reading »

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