Last day of the year, so here, as promised, is my list of favourites.
Best film: Mad Max Fury Road.
I was dragged to this by my family, who thinks they have me figured out enough to say you’ve got to see this. Me? You’re sure now? Picky with praise for pyrotechnics and puffy budgets? Voting for my girl, Melissa, made more sense when Mad Max Fury Road opened on the same weekend. When the time finally came for me to see George Miller’s reboot of his cult franchise, there wasn’t room for sheepish shrugs. I was too busy screaming YES! YES! YES! Yes, it’s an action movie that doesn’t let up. Yes, there are scary bad guys and spectacular stunts, just for starters. What I didn’t expect was a feminist opera. Entirely new characters with poignant arcs. Yes, you heard me right. Forget the divine Mr. Hardy (he knows I love him already). The chicks own the picture.
Okay, so what? A pleasant surprise and all, but the best pic doesn’t arrive because the politics are right. The vision is so pure and so fully realized you are lost in a dream the minute George Miller says go. Listen to the master dissect a scene and give it up to his editor (and wife) Margaret Sixel, who won the gig editing her first action film because “otherwise the job would have gone to the usual guys and would look like every other action movie we see.”
My only pause in sending this film to the top of the 2015 list is that anyone who didn’t see it on the big screen will see a compromised version if forced to watch it online. Then again, an Oscar nod will open it up to more screens around North America. Here’s hoping.
A strong authorial voice is a killer when considering what to include in my favourites list. I’ll include the wizard Todd Haynes in the Big Vision group with the superbly crafted Carol. The film lost lustre for me only in the last frame with an ending I didn’t expect. I’m not one for spoilers, so go see it for yourself. This trailer hints at Hayne’s film’s dreamy tone while not giving anything away.
While not in my top ten, Carol features another slam-down performance from the wondrous Cate Blanchett and should give Mad Max a run for all the craft awards: editing, cinematography, art direction, costume design, sound design, the sound editing: the film is a dream yet didn’t make me feel as much as the other films on my list.
The Next Top Ten:
- Son of Saul*: Intense and heartbreaking. More in TIFF wrap.
- Room*:You will sob. You will gasp. You will cheer. More in TIFF wrap.
- Dheepan*: The most topical film of the year of the refugee. More in TIFF wrap,
- The Martian: read my rave here.
- Love & Mercy: more here
- James White*: read my review here
- Ex Machina: Creepy, mind-blowing, whip-smart.
- Victoria*: more in TIFF wrap
- Born to Be Blue*: more in TIFF wrap
- The Big Short: Witty, intelligent.
- Amy: I cried often watching the story of Amy Winehouse, a story that is as much about pop culture as it is about a monster talent’s demise.
- Listen to Me Marlon: A brilliant peek inside the mind of Marlon Brando; this doc is also a highly creative reimagining of a biopic.
- Dior and I: You don’t have to be a fashionista to love this look inside the storied house of Dior and designer Raf Simons.
- Guantamino’s Child: A decade in a television newsroom taught me headlines are misleading and usually miss most of the real story. This Canadian doc will change your mind forever about Omar Khadr.
(Two films I haven’t screened which might sneak their way in based again on my family’s verdict, Inside Out and Brooklyn)
A final word on film goes to a little Danish gem that I fell in love with at TIFF, where it was screened as part of the new Platform series of filmmakers to watch: Land of Mine. While officially listed as a 2015 film, it will be seen at Sundance next month. In a blur of war movies, this story of young German prisoners of war broke my heart and made me think again about how little I understand that monumental conflict.
- Olive Kitteridge: HBO miniseries that won a slew of awards for everyone involved in adapting this Pulitzer-winning book for the small screen. I loved it mainly for the restraint and elegance shown in direction and a cast that might be the best on the small screen. If this is the golden age of television, Olive Kitteridge is the shiniest of the pack.
- Homeland: It almost lost me last season, but Season 5 was thrilling from start to finish.
- The Affair: Featuring the douchebag of the century, or so the character of Noah Solloway, is for most of this HBO series about a writer who leaves his wife and four kids for a waitress. I watched this primarily because of the split narrative: each hour was split into two shorts featuring the perspective of the lead characters. We make what we can of our history. There is no objective truth; this show’s thesis is explored here beautifully.
- Mr. Robot: Okay, I’ve only seen one episode. But it made me consider hunkering down for the next 24 hours and binge-watching the rest. I haven’t slept well since I saw it. The most unnerving thing I’ve seen on TV this year.
- Bloodline: I love these stories of contemporary families on big and small screens, and when they come dressed up with Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn, I’m sold.
- This Life: A beautiful and absorbing CBC fictional series. Yes, you heard me right-a Canadian CBC drama. I loved it mainly for Torri Higginson’s portrayal of a single mom with three kids who receives a scary medical diagnosis.
- An American in Paris: Two of my favourite performance moments came this year courtesy of choreography wizard Christopher Wheeldon. This was a spectacular production. I wanted to buy a ticket to see it again immediately after it was over. We stood in line afterward with stars in our eyes to meet the cast. Yes, it was a very New York moment.
- The Winter’s Tale: The National Ballet of Canada keeps delivering dazzlers. This was a privilege to see. I hope this masterpiece, also from Wheeldon, is back another year.
Away from the performances, my favourite moment of the year came early, on a holiday to a rainforest paradise with Peter and the girls; on a sailboat with just enough breeze to make me hold onto my fruity cocktail so I didn’t wobble at the sunset. That stance escaped me for the rest of the year, so that I will hold that moment as golden.