Hello July. Wait, July?! Already? Yep. The movie year of 2015 is half way gone, or half way to go, depending on the kind of person you are. Regardless, raise a glass to the the 21 movies (U.S. 2015 releases) selected carefully and passionately by myself and movie-loving friends – in three parts (two and three here). You may think these movies are not all be your cup of tea, and I suspect you’ve not heard of them all (shame on you), but I implore you to make sure you get every single one crossed off your To-See list before we get too caught up with the second half of the year. You don’t have a To-See list? Let’s make a start, with the first 7 then:
Without being a spoof of the genre or a pretentious thumbs up homage to horror films, It Follows does somehow blueprint the components of scary movies right in front of our eyes. That sheer concept of being followed is alarming in the correct context, but the relentless, unseen by others, pursuit is a terrifying notion. It also relies on the fear of the lingering chase – that the walking figure can be more butt-clenching than if they were running. The alluring-enough characters are set out as standard, but hardly stereotypes, and with them comes the urge for adolescent sexcapades (an essential plot pusher here) and an absence of adults. There are some classic tension-building set-pieces here too – the swimming pool is used to good, chilling effect in one particular scene, and the final sequence drops a tiny bomb if your horror-hungry psyche is looking for it. Mine was.
Based on Vera Brittain’s infamous, poignant memoir of the First World War, Testament of Youth is a powerful and moving account of one woman’s courage as she postpones her dream of studying at Oxford in order to nurse wounded veterans of war. Whilst detailing the gruesome reality of caring for the bloody, wounded soldiers that had often lost limbs, this is only the backdrop for a riveting romance between Vera (Alicia Vikander) and the handsome, young soldier Roland Leighton (Kit Harington). The title of the book and film encapsulates what this story is about – tracing the youth and innocence of Vera, Roland, Vera’s brother Edward (Taron Egerton) and their friends as they innocently enjoy their youth up until the outbreak of war in 1914. Director James Kent’s adaptation is a heartfelt, moving story of how communities united to overcome national threat. The film had a very limited release in cinemas, but was the first film to feature in the BFI’s new project of live-streaming independent films. Almost a hundred years on, and Testament of Youth still remains one of the most powerful accounts of the First World War, ultimately a tale of what it is to be human.
The terrorist organizations and their bloodshed has been the most featured news item for some years now. The threat of violence is also imposed on those far from their immediate reach. But what is it really like to live under such oppression? Abderrahmane Sissako’s highly acclaimed, multiple awards winning film shows us the city of Timbuktu under such rule. What really hits you in the film is how relatively quieter, subtler and poetic it really is in tone. No highly political or violently action charged narrative is needed to fully let the viewers feel the absurdity of the absurd. This film doesn’t outright condemn the ‘bad guys’ in conventional way than it lets them to do that for themselves. Lots of characters speaking different languages of various walks in life clashes with these extremists. Not without some really tragic moments, the film uses its anger and outrage and channel in it in purely expressive ways. It speaks of the talent of the filmmaker, who is from Africa and a Muslim, knows exactly what needs to be shown. It will stay with you for days.
As a lifelong feminist, I’m always appreciative of male filmmakers who make the effort to have a female-dominated cast – complicated, rounded, unconventional women front-and-center. But admittedly, I have been lukewarm with Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy’s prior collaborations, Bridesmaids and The Heat. This lack of enthusiasm is not the the case with Spy. Spy simultaneously serves as both an ultimate paeon to the modern espionage/action thriller as well as a classic, spit-take subversion of it. With its frenetic camerawork, a tightly contrived plot, and psychedelic opening title sequence, Feig more than capably replicates the familiar sights and sounds of the James Bond films, then splices a gleefully feminist DNA into the proceedings. The ensemble of Jude Law (swoony suave), Allison Janney (dead pan perfect), Rose Byrne (“Slutty Dolphin Trainer!”), and Miranda Hart all turn in great supporting turns. Special mention goes to Jason Statham: in a self-parodying performance, his increasingly ridiculous monologues about his history of cheating death serve as deliriously hilarious highlights. Finally, Melissa McCarthy delivers nothing short of a career-best performance – much of the movie’s loopy comic effectiveness derive from her character’s inflection shifts. This is really the first cinematic role of McCarthy’s that utilizes the full spectrum of her comedic talent. The end result: Spy is one of the greatest action-comedies – an irresistible femme-centric triumph.
Before Jack O’Connell made waves with Unbroken, the British actor starred in this riveting action drama set during the Belfast riots between Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Loyalists in war-torn Ireland. First-time director and screenwriter Yaan Demange and Gregory Burke respectively aren’t interested in the politics that nearly tore the country apart, but are more interested in the people caught in the conflict’s crossfire. O’Connell’s turn as a rookie soldier is revelatory, as he gets separated from his unit after a routine weapons search goes tits-up and has the locals threatening to kill him at every turn. It’s an anti-war film that both provokes as much as it entertains and thrills.
Officially premiered in the U.S. in February, and available on MUBI in April / May, Lav Diaz’s From What Is Before. The Filipino auteur’s singular style of slow cinema, and his singular talent, demonstrated in one of his richest titles yet; it took the Golden Leopard at Locarno last August. His latest meditation on time, past and future converge in a memory of the present, dictating out perception of the definition of what is, what is before and what is yet to occur. What is each and all of those is the world in which we transient creatures exist – their environment is permanent, their situations are fluctuating, and Diaz trains his eye and ours alike on his tableaus, in rural compositions of equal aesthetic beauty and narrative and thematic importance. Scenes are extended both before and beyond their expected limits, and in adjusting the traditional focus of film from the present moment to those moments which surround it, we observe cause and effect in play, and relate what we observe to a broader, more expansive notion of reality.
Noah Baumbach‘s movies have tended to successfully reflect a close-up view of regular people in society, like celluloid diary entries. It is not so much intrusive as it is enlightening, and ultimately refreshing story-telling. While We‘re Young goes straight for the refined differences between two couples likely twenty years apart. A lot can happen and change in twenty years, so Baumbach really grabs the opportunity to go to town with this. Although the final act sways heavily towards kicking the actual plot in the balls in an attempt to round off the narrative to a conclusion, more than anything the life observations shine through brightest. When the forty-somethings meet and befriend the twenty-somethings, it is the younger couple that read paperback books, have the record collection and choose using recovery of the mind over simply Googling it. A clever trick, very well executed and written. The older couple are full of admiration at first, but ultimately accept, contently, where they are. Which is encouraging.