Here are the best movies I saw on Netflix in 2015.
#1 Thursday Till Sunday
The predawn light, tinted blue. A sensible car, hatchback agape. A sleep-heavy child, lugged from bed. These opening scene details in Chilean writer/director Dominga Sotomayor’s yet-unreleased feature film debut, Thursday Till Sunday, herald the arrival of one to watch. This is a young filmmaker with an uncannily precise sense of observation and an undeniably keen eye for composition.
That sensible car is soon toting a family of four on a long road trip that looks to be their last, as the parents are considering a separation. Somehow turning the claustrophobic setting of a mid-sized vehicle into one beautifully framed shot after another, Sotomayor elegantly delineates the great divide that separates the driver’s seat of adulthood from the dependents who are literally and figuratively taking the back seat in their parents’ personal crisis.
While stops along the road provide some expository elaborations, there is always an intoxicating artlessness afoot in the way the film looks, feels and sounds. In knowing exactly what to leave out, Sotomayor’s evocative minimalism feels like a curative. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
#2 Moonrise Kingdom
I’ve been a Wes Anderson fan from the early days of his career and have consistently found whimsical magic in the intricate worlds he crafts. Exploring broken families, innocent love and true forgiveness,Moonrise Kingdom sustains thematic chords from Anderson’s oeuvre beautifully.
While winsome and witty, the film’s heart is shot through with melancholy, telling the tale of an orphaned boy scout and his star-crossed love—both of whom are only 12 years old.
Shot in 16mm and resembling the faded turquoise, orange and yellow of vintage Polaroid photos, the film perfectly evokes a very particular time and place: 1965 on an island off the coast of New England, to be exact. Unfortunately, but entertainingly, the adults roaming about in this nostalgic tale are stiffly sad, consistently uniformed and stubbornly determined to keep Suzy and Sam, the youthful love birds in question, from pursuing their romance.
In one of a trio of movingly frank scenes in the center of the film, Suzy’s mother and father talk in their darkened bedroom. The conversation is simply stated and quietly performed, but despite its unassuming air, it represents an emotional milestone in Anderson’s work. No punches are pulled. No winking punchlines are detonated. It’s just two seasoned actors (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) speaking on behalf of filmmaking’s eternal boy scout, but this time by way of a newfound, profound maturity. Wonder badge earned, Mr. Anderson.
#3 Damsels in Distress
Much has been made of writer/director Whit Stillman’s long absence from filmmaking. While Damsels in Distress arrived fashionably late, it’s a wry and pretty delight. As a comedy, it may seem prim at first, but it’s no goody-two-shoes. It aims and sinks its arrows neatly, making withering observations about society and human nature as it simultaneously charms.
Shining through in the majority of scenes, Greta Gerwig hits perfect notes as Violet, a college student who longs to make the world a better place, one person at a time. It’s her character who unexpectedly becomes the beating heart of Damsels in Distress, as she finds herself as lost and lonely as her protégés.
With his signature wit and empathetic warmth, Stillman has polished up a sweet little gem of a film that’s got much wisdom to share. Why, it even has a healthy dose of optimism, plus characters dancing at the drop of a hat and an irresistible soundtrack to match. Whit is it!
#4 Miss Bala
Mexican writer/director Gerardo Naranjo wanted to test that the film he had in his head would work, especially since he was casting an inexperienced actress in the lead. So he test-shot the whole thing on video before he shot the actual film. The whole thing. It seems like an insanely demanding step to add to pre-pro, but Naranjo credits Miss Bala’s seamlessness to it.
Starring the very striking Stephanie Sigman as a poor young woman who dreams of beauty queen status, Miss Bala quickly raises the stakes by becoming enmeshed in the brutally violent world of drug cartels.
The spare sleekness of Miss Bala, and the sense that the filmmaker is observing more than editorializing, makes the indictment of systemic sickness something the audience can process on their own terms. The film itself moves like sliding pressure panels and is jarringly perforated by the pop-pop-pop of gunplay. As humble as it is mighty, Miss Balafeels like an indie movie in the best way possible: created on a shoestring, but as fierce as a locomotive.
Inspired to build a movie around mixed martial artist Gina Carano, Soderbergh picked up the phone and told collaborator Lem Dobbs to write it. The result is a tidily constructed, tensely coiled, tight little action/thriller flick that tells the story of a black ops super soldier left to fend for herself when she’s betrayed.
Adding to the sparks are entertaining turns by Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas and Michael Douglas as men who get in our heroine’s way, in one way or another. The jazz-infused soundtrack is as saucy as hell, setting a perfect rhythm for the hold-your-breath action.
While Carano’s acting chops are the only weak thing about her, she turns in a performance that serves its purpose sturdily. And after you’ve seen her mop the floor with an adversary, you won’t really care if a line reading isn’t perfect. She is an undeniable femme fatale and her star vehicle, HAYWIRE, packs a delicious punch. Please don’t retire, Stevie.
Nictate plays a Peggy Olson type by day, working as a copywriter in advertising. Movies have always been a passion of hers, but it’s only been since joining Twitter in 2007 that her cinephile thirst has grown exponentially. Interacting with critics and fellow enthusiasts online has deepened her understanding of and passion for film and the quest to learn more feels (pleasantly) never-ending. You can follow nictate on twitter at www.twitter.com/nictate
1) The Separation, the deserved winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film and the work I consider the best film of 2011 (though it opened here in 2012, thus qualifying for this list).
2) Beasts of the Southern Wild, a Sundance and Cannes favorite that conflates Terrence Malick and David Lynch but remains utterly sui generis (opens in July).
3) Moonrise Kingdom, an especially winning example of Wes Anderson’s melancholic whimsy.
4) The Deep Blue Sea, the latest masterpiece from Terence Davies, a filmmaker whom I’ve long admired and whose The Long Day Closes ranks among my Top 10 all time.
5) Footnote, an Israeli film that manages to mine surprising comedy and drama from Talmudic scholarship.
Cliff Froehlich is the director of Cinema St. Louis. Cinema St. Louis organizes film competitions throughout the year and the St. Louis Film Festival.
A little piece of France was on display in the gymnasium of the International School of Dallas on Saturday. Official polling locations for the French Presidential Election were open from 8A.M. to 6 P.M. in Plano, Austin, and Houston. In Plano, Deputy Consul General, Carl Poirier, administered the poll in compliance with French law — right down to making sure the officially sanctioned election posters appeared in the designated order.
Unlike American citizens living overseas, French citizens aren’t permitted to vote by absentee ballot. Instead, official polling stations are set up all over the world to give French expatriates the opportunity to vote.
Poll officials reported that of the approximately 1,800 French Citizens eligible to vote at the Plano location 512 votes were recorded. These voters from Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma cast 70% of their ballots for the conservative candidate Nicholas Sarkozy.
Themes that might resonate with US voters emerged in an exit poll including, anxiety about taxes, morality, and partisan politics (framed as left vs. right). Concerns about the effect of the election ranged from its impact on “global dynamics” as expressed by Douchka Lecot of Dallas to “increasing the number of consular staff” reported by Marie Jones of Denton.
There was a pervasive attitude of citizenship and connection with country that would make the heart of a civics teacher swoon. After a long pause, Viviane Ajarrista said, “Voting is so important that we don’t even consider why it is so important.” Indeed, Viviane and her husband drove 10 hours round trip from Little Rock, AR to vote. Some were compelled to polls by an even stronger instinct: maternal guilt. Several young women admitted that lobbying from maman in France was their motivation for voting.
On a quiet residential street shared with private schools and churches, conspicuously dressed citoeyennes expressed a bond with their country; and in some cases with their mamans.
1. “Moorise Kingdom” Wes Andeson has a ceertain spunk and verve when it comes to appreciating his movies. “Moonrise Kingdom” was no different. Fun, albiet quirky and very dry and witty, this tale involved an AWOL Khaki Scout and his love for a young redheaded girl.
2. “Marvel’s The Avengers” Everyting a comic book movie should be and more, writer-director Joss Whedon managed to squeeze a plethora of actors into an enjoyable, fun yarn — especially since the majority of characters were in their own seperate storylines. He blended the action sequences flawlessly with plenty of time for the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansen), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).
3. “Thin Ice” The art of the con was full on in this tale of an everyman, an insurance adjuster (Greg Kinnear) who stumbles onto an elderly man (Alan Arkin) who also owns a pricless violin. Enter in Billy Crudup as a jack-of-all trades whose involvment thows a monkey wrench into his plans.
4. “Battleship” Although this one arrived d.o.a. at the box office, director Peter Berg (“The Rundown,” “The Kingdom”) threw in an outlandish story that resulted in smiles aplenty by film’s end. What is cool is that it had a disabled vet as one of the heroes in the movie.
5. “Safe House” Ryan Reynolds owed me a good one from last year, considering his two summer spectacles with the lifeless “Green Lantern” and the mess tht was the buddy-buddy body switching comedy “The Change-Up,” resulted in just a mish mash of ideas that might have looked great on paper, with a dull thud on delivery. In this one, Reynolds stars as CIA operative Matt Weston, who has a thankless job working as a peon at that safe house incape Town. Denzel Washington costars asTobin Frost, a former villain with a checkered past in the agency.
Also worthy of mentiom are “The Hunger Games,” “Prometheus,” “The Raid: Redemption” and “Contraband”
“The movie guru” Ricky Miller is a professional Film Critic in the Dallas/ Fort Worth Metroplex. His website is http://movieguru.bravehost.com
2011 Twitter Awards: News. I wouldn’t see the world in the same way if it wasn’t for your stories and insights. Thank you!
2011 Twitter Awards: Film. Thanks for your passion, insight and keeping my netflix queue completely out of control.
1) Five Easy Pieces
3) The Beaver
4) Seven Samuari & Ikiru — Kurosawa
5) Winter’s Bone
6) Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears
8) If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle
9) L’Eclisse & L’Avventura — Antonioni
10) Street Days
In addition to seeing some films that rocked my world, like Melancholia and Five Easy Pieces, I have discovered famous directors Antonioni and Kurosawa. I have the DVDs of extras in my Netflix queue for the films I reference in my list — and loads more of their films for 2012.
My infatuation with the Romanian New Wave continues with, If I want to Whistle, I Whistle. These films seem so stripped down to the basics that it adds a directness to these films of the soul.
The two comedies on the list are Woody Allen’s Zelig and The Beaver, what they have in common is courage: courage to take a stupid idea all the way to genius.
Melancholia, a film by director Lars van Trier, is the antidote to reality TV. If reality TV is a modern melodrama, Melancholia turns those shop worn roles against the viewer. Reality TV reinforces your expectations; Melancholia on the other hand, is a lens that makes you see the world in a completely unexpected way.
The story takes place at a country manor and