A Top 50 Films of 2015, More or Less

As I did last year, I’m making a Best of the Year list following the conventional system for what counts as a 2015 film, mainly the nonsensical and ahistorical system that decrees that critics may only consider movies to have existed once they have played for a week in a commercial venue in New York City. (This is the system that claims my favorite film of 2013 (La última película), which played for a week in Seattle in 2014, can only be considered a 2015 film because that is when it finally got a New York release, although it will only play Los Angeles in 2016). (Not to mention the absurdity that is the fact that Tsai Ming-liang’s 1992 debut feature is qualified for this list.) But alas, we all must bow to convention, however silly, every once in awhile.

My 2015 list of course will never be finalized, as there’s no such thing as a final list here at The End: there are always more new movies to discover and old movies to reevaluate. But in a couple of weeks I’ll have the nominations up for the 2015 Endy Awards, with the winners to be announced during the Academy Awards ceremony. This list is a snapshot of my favorites of 2015 as they stand now, on the last day of the year.

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1. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien)

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2. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)

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3. La última película (Raya Martin & Mark Peranson)

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4. Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)

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5. The Forbidden Room (Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson)

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6. Blackhat (Michael Mann)

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7. Horse Money (Pedro Costa)

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8. The Royal Road (Jenni Olson)

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9. Carol (Todd Haynes)

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10. World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt)

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The Best Older Movies I Saw in 2015

An annual tradition here at The End, this is a look at my favorite film discoveries of the year, any movie more than a few years old that I saw for the first time in 2015. Previous years include: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2006. I watched 368 or so movies in 2015, roughly third of which qualify for this list. That’s a sizable decline from last year, where half the films I watched were discoveries, a result of spending more of my movie-time this year on new releases for Seattle Screen Scene and on rewatches for They Shot Pictures. Here are 75 that I liked.

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1. Linda Linda Linda (Nobuhiro Yamashita, 2005)

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2. It Felt Like a Kiss (Adam Curtis, 2009)

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3. News from Home (Chantal Akerman, 1977)

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4. Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)

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5. Le bonheur (Agnès Varda, 1965)

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6. The Civil War (Ken Burns, 1990)

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7. Man of Aran (Robert Flaherty, 1934)

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8. Tokyo Olympiad (Kon Ichikawa, 1965)

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9. Christmas in July (Preston Sturges, 1940)

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10. The Sun Shines Bright (John Ford, 1953)

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1965 Endy Awards

These are the 1965 Endy Awards, wherein I pretend to give out maneki-neko statues to the best in that year in film. 1965 is the year we covered in 2015 on The George Sanders Show, on our year-end wrap-up episode and with reviews scattered throughout the year. Awards for many other years can be found in the Rankings & Awards Index. Eligibility is determined by imdb date and by whether or not I’ve seen the movie in question. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order and the winners are bolded. And the Endy goes to. . .

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Best Picture:

1. Le bonheur
2. Chimes at Midnight
3. Pierrot le fou
4. Red Beard
5. The War Game

Best Director:

1. Agnès Varda, Le bonheur
2. Orson Welles, Chimes at Midnight
3. Jean-Luc Godard, Pierrot le fou
4. Akira Kurosawa, Red Beard
5. Kon Ichikawa, Tokyo Olympiad

Best Actor:

1. Orson Welles, Chimes at Midnight
2. Omar Sharif, Dr. Zhivago
3. Lee Van Cleef, For a Few Dollars More
4. Jean-Paul Belmondo, Pierrot le fou
5. Toshiro Mifune, Red Beard

Best Actress:

1. Claire Drouot, Le bonheur
2. Carol Lynley, Bunny Lake is Missing
3. Anna Karina, Pierrot le fou
4. Edie Sedgwick, Poor Little Rich Girl
5. Catherine Deneuve, Repulsion

Supporting Actor:

1. Laurence Olivier, Bunny Lake is Missing
2. John Gielgud, Chimes at Midnight
3. Jim Hutton, Major Dundee
4. King Hu, Sons of the Good Earth
5. Oskar Werner, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

Supporting Actress:

1. Anna Karina, Alphaville
2. Senta Berger, Major Dundee
3. Kyōko Kagawa, Red Beard
4. Sylvia Pinal, Simon of the Desert
5. Claire Bloom, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

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Original Screenplay:

1. Agnès Varda, Le bonheur
2. Charlies Schulz, A Charlie Brown Christmas
3. Luciano Vincenzo, Sergio Leone & Sergio Donati, For a Few Dollars More
4. Harry Julian Fink, Sam Peckinpah & Oscar Saul, Major Dundee
5. Peter Watkins, The War Game

Adapted Screenplay:

1. Orson Welles, Chimes at Midnight
2. Jean-Marie Staub & Danièle Huillet, Not Reconciled
3. Jean-Lu Godard, Pierrot le fou
4. Masato Ide, Hideo Oguni, Ryûzô Kikushima & Akira Kurosawa, Red Beard
5. Julio Alejandro & Luis Buñuel, Simon of the Desert

Non-English Language Film:

1. Le bonheur (Agnès Varda)
2. Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard)
3. Red Beard (Akira Kurosawa)
4. Simon of the Desert (Luis Buñuel)
5. Tokyo Olympiad (Kon Ichikawa)

Documentary Film:

1. Dizzy Gillespie (Les Blank)
2. Tokyo Olympiad (Kon Ichikawa)

Animated Film:

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (Bill Melendez)
2. The Dot and the Line (Chuck Jones)

Unseen Film:

1. The Holy Man (Satyajit Ray)
2. Juliet of the Spirits (Federico Fellini)
3. The Saragossa Manuscript (Wojciech Has)
4. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (Sergei Paradjanov)
5. Vinyl (Andy Warhol)

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Film Editing:

1. Le bonheur
2. Chimes at Midnight
3. For a Few Dollars More
4. Not Reconciled
5. Pierrot le fouCinematography:1. Le bonheur
2. Chimes at Midnight
3. Dr. Zhivago
4. Pierrot le fou
5. Tokyo Olympiad

Art Direction:

1. Alphaville
2. Chimes at Midnight
3. Dr. Zhivago
4. Planet of the Vampires
5. Red Beard

Costume Design:

1. Chimes at Midnight
2. Dr. Zhivago
3. For a Few Dollars More
4. Planet of the Vampires
5. Temple of the Red Lotus

Make-up:

1. Chimes at Midnight
2. Dr. Zhivago
3. For a Few Dollars More
4. Major Dundee
5. The War Game

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Original Score:

1. Alphaville
2. A Charlie Brown Christmas
3. Dr. Zhivago
4. For a Few Dollars More
5. Help!

Adapted Score:

1. Bunny Lake is Missing
2. A Charlie Brown Christmas
3. Poor Little Rich Girl
4. The Sound of Music

Original Song:

1. “Christmastime is Here”, Vince Guaraldi, A Charlie Brown Christmas
1. “I Need You”, The Beatles, Help!
2. “Lara’s Theme”, Maurice Jarre, Dr. Zhivago
3. “Ticket to Ride”, The Beatles, Help!
4. “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, The Beatles, Help!

Sound:

1. Alphaville
2. The Sound of Music
3. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
4. Tokyo Olympiad
5. The War Game

Sound Editing:

1. Alphaville
2. For a Few Dollars More
3. Major Dundee
4. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
5. The War Game

Visual Effects:

1. Alphaville
2. Dr. Zhivago
3. For a Few Dollars More
4. Major Dundee
5. The War Game

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Running Out of Karma: John Woo’s The Crossing

Here are reviews of the two separately released parts of The Crossing. We talked about John Woo’s career in general on They Shot Pictures a few months ago.

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The Crossing – reviewed August 13, 2015

The first part of John Woo’s latest epic (the second part was recently released in China to little fanfare, but isn’t available here yet) is a romantic war movie in the style of The Big Parade or Doctor Zhivago, with a half dozen characters caught up in the Chinese civil war following the defeat of the Japanese in 1945. The most direct connection is probably Cai Chusheng and Zheng Junli’s 1947 film The Spring River Flows East which follows the ups and downs of a family awash in the same history, and was also released separately in two parts.

Leaving the nautical disaster that’s led the project to be dubbed “John Woo’s Titanic” for the second half, this first part follows the three major stars and their satellite characters through the civil war: Zhang Ziyi as an illiterate nurse trying to get by while searching for the man she loves (a soldier), Takeshi Kaneshiro as a Taiwanese doctor who has lost the woman he loves (a Japanese girl), and Huang Xiaoming as a Nationalist general who falls in love with and marries a young woman before shipping her to safety in Taiwan (where she lives in Kaneshiro’s girlfriend’s old house). It’s lush and romantic (a quite pretty score by Taro Iwashiro, who also did the stirring and lovely music for Woo’s Red Cliff), with golden hues, wind blowing through grasslands, pointed freeze frames and slow motion (yes, and doves), balanced by the horrors of war: starving children, students and dancing girls beaten in the streets, freezing trenches and explosive heroism. Nobody mixes action and melodrama with more seriousness than John Woo.

One person’s old fashioned and sappy is another person’s classical and heartfelt. And I am nothing if not a sucker.

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The Crossing II – reviewed December 2, 2015

Such a strange movie, less a continuation of the story of Part One than a partial remake of it (pointedly perhaps its title is “The Crossing II” and not “The Crossing Part II“), as the first half hour not only recapitulates what went before, but completely replays whole scenes with slightly different editing and a few extra scenes added in. The next hour or so continues the rhythm of the first film, intercutting between the various leads as they all slowly make their way to the doomed boat (a title card at the opening gives us all the details of the impending disaster, with some of this information to be repeated verbatim at the end of the film). The emphasis is on Takeshi Kaneshiro’s doctor, first in his friendship with Song Hye-kyo (the wife of Nationalist general Huang Xiaoming), then with his family (ostensibly his younger brother who wants to run off from Taiwan to Shanghai to become a prostitute, but as it plays the relationship is more with his mother and sister-in-law (his older brother’s widow), who is played by Woo’s daughter Angeles), and finally, on the boat, with Zhang Ziyi, the idealistic young woman willing to do anything up to and including prostitution in her quest to survive long enough to find the army man she loves (“When I believe someone, I believe him whole-heartedly. Shouldn’t it be that way?” she says, in a line that does much to summarize Woo’s entire career).

Recentering the film in this manner makes it less an ensemble piece about love in a time of war, as the first one is, than a film about the endurance of women in the face of tragedy. Perhaps this is the influence of Tsui Hark, brought in at the last minute to help assemble the final cut of this film. The whole thing feels like it was hastily assembled in response to the box office failure of the first film. I’m very curious how the second half was to play out in its initial conception, as I quite liked Part One, it had the sweep and loveliness of a great historical melodrama, like Woo’s version of the great 1947 Shanghai film The Spring River Flows East. The second part though would probably play better, or at least just as well, as a single film, in isolation from the first. The jumbling repetitions of the first film irreparably break the rhythm, we’re left wondering why we’re seeing these scenes again, and why the new scenes were deleted from the first film, rather than being caught up in the emotions on-screen.

For all its billing, this is not “John Woo’s Titanic“. In its loveliness, deep anxiety about the past and the horrors of history (one of the many fascinating things about it’s look at the Civil War is that both sides are pretty much equally terrible, while good people populate the ranks of both armies), breathtaking romanticism and flights of digital expressionism, this is nothing less (and nothing more) than John Woo’s War Horse.

This Week in Rankings

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Because I’m not very smart, the end of the year finds me scrambling not only to catch up with the deluge of high quality late 2015 releases, but also a whole slew of films from 1965, in preparation for our annual end of the year episode of The George Sanders Show. With all these movies to watch (and they pile up faster than I can watch them), and a couple of as yet unpublished projects, there hasn’t been much time for writing actual movie reviews. I do have a few over at Seattle Screen Scene: Takashi Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse, Robert and Monica Flaherty’s Moana with Sound, and Nelson George’s A Ballerina’s Tale, along with George Sanders Shows on Major Dundee and The Heroes of Telemark and Star Wars and Turkish Star Wars, along with a handful of capsule reviews linked in the list below.

This is of course the beginning of award season (and a reminder that when it comes to this time of year, be careful not to fall prey to the Intended Ignorance of the awards bloggers). The Endy Award Nominees for 2015 will be announced at the same time as the nominees for the Academy Awards, and I’ll be live-tweeting the winners during the Oscar telecast as I did last year. At the end of this month I’ll have a few year-in-review posts here: a list of my Top Film Discoveries (older movies I saw for the first time) of 2015, a list of my Top Films of 2015 by New York-release date reckoning, along with a list of the Top Films of 2015 that haven’t been released yet, according to that system. Depending on how much I’m able to see between now and the end of the year, I may have an actual Best of 2015 list as well. Or I may save that for Oscar week (when we’ll have our 2015 episode of George Sanders as well). Of course, all lists and awards here at The End are subject to change, because I’m never finished watching movies.

These are the movies I’ve watched and rewatched over the past few weeks, and where they place on my year-by-year rankings. Links are to capsule reviews over at letterboxd.

A Girl in Every Port (Howard Hawks) – 12, 1928
A Day in the Country (Jean Renoir) – 4, 1936
French Cancan (Jean Renoir) – 5, 1954
Hatari! (Howard Hawks) – 2, 1962
Tokyo Olympiad (Kon Ichikawa) – 4, 1965

Major Dundee (Sam Peckinpah) – 7, 1965
For a Few Dollars More (Sergio Leone) – 9, 1965
Not Reconciled (Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet) – 15, 1965
Samurai Assassin (Kihachi Okamoto) – 16, 1965
Tattooed Life (Seijun Suzuki) – 18, 1965
The Heroes of Telemark (Anthony Mann) – 35, 1965

Star Wars (George Lucas) – 2, 1977
Moana with Sound (Robert & Monica Flaherty) – 16, 1980
The Man Who Saves the World (Çetin İnanç) – 45, 1982
Rocky V (John G. Avildsen) – 58, 1990
Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) – 36, 2006

Here’s to the Future! (Gina Teliroli) – 29, 2014
Carol (Todd Haynes) – 6, 2015
Spotlight (Tom McCarthy) – 12, 2015
In Jackson Heights (Frederick Wiseman) – 13, 2015
Creed (Ryan Cooler) – 19, 2015
Hitchcock/Truffaut (Kent Jones) – 26, 2015

By the Sea (Angelina Jolie-Pitt) – 47, 2015
Brooklyn (John Crowley) – 50, 2015
Ex Machina (Alex Garland) – 54, 2015
Aloha (Cameron Crowe) – 55, 2015
The Peanuts Movie (Steve Martino) – 57, 2015
Judy Judy Judy (C. Mason Wells) – 60, 2015