By Will Ashton
Hey everybody. Long time no talk. How are we doing? What’s new? How are the kids?
Anyway, to the one or two whom read my ill-informed musings here on the site, I wanted to let you guys know where I’ve been. With my staff writer position at TheCelebrityCafe.com, and my contributions to Rope of Silicon (as well as, briefly, writing for College Magazine) — in addition to doing some other things like, you know, graduating from college — I couldn’t give my love and affections to The Watching World the way I’ve wanted to. But I’m back again, if just for a little, and I’m hoping to make this at least a weekly effort. No promises, but I have goals dammit. Among those also includes getting a job, so we’ll see how successful I become with my hopes.
In my triumphant return, however, I would like to take this moment to celebrate the movies which took my fancy this year (so far). While 2015 is not as well-spread in the cinematic goodness as it was last year, that’s not to put down those films which really accelerated themselves and displayed some excellent showmanship in the art of cinema. And based on the handful I’ve seen of late, some of which haven’t even gotten a formal release, it looks like the best may still be to come.
So with enough of my personal life on the line and whatnot, let’s take a look at my top ten favorite movies of the year thus far.
10. It Follows
So many great things have already been lauded towards this horror-turned-mainstream pleaser, so I’ll try to keep this brief. It Follows is not only extremely tense in its stripped down premise but also displays the polished skills of its up-and-coming filmmaker. Mature beyond its years and mounted with technical skill galore and a well-guided young cast, this is one horror film to remember, specifically as it follows you well after it comes to a close.
That this new Paddington movie is not only decent but one of the most downright charming family features in years is probably among 2015’s most delightful surprises. Bolstering the sophistication of the original source material while intelligently adding both new-age sensibilities and the writer/director Paul King’s whimsical touch, this is as proper and lovable a send-off and introduction to the English bear as one could hope and imagine. Even when it falls down formulaic narrative tropes, it still invigorates a nicely wry sense of humor and confident intelligence which is so-often missing in these family adventures. Live it to the Brits to make a family movie that’s, thankfully, as sweet and tender as a marmalade sandwich.
8. It’s All So Quiet
A taunt, character-driven study on life and its fleeting existence, It’s All So Quiet is fitting both as a send-off to its late lead actor Jereon Willems and as a well-meditated examination on what we do when morality escapes us. It’s certainly a slow film, deliberate in almost ever sense and content to stay sullen at every given expense. But through this does the movie speak to the woe-some, burden soul, trying to find life again in the wake of death.
7. Louis C.K.: Live at the Comedy Store
While not quite on the high-mark of Louis C.K.’s best stand-up specials like Hilarious or Live at the Beacon Theater, or even his amazing FX series Louie for that matter, Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theater is still yet another brilliantly astute examination of life, its woes and whatever oddities and ramblings come in its wake from the 47-year-old comedian celebrating the high-point of his career. Whether its talking about the layers of people misunderstanding his friend’s family’s interlaced racism or talking about the details through which one jacks off a female rat, C.K. is as ferocious and biting a comedian as ever, and like a gift which keeps giving, C.K. delivers another fine display of his skilled storytelling on stage.
6. Love & Mercy
An affectionately handled but intelligently reserved portrait of Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson, Love & Mercy is a passionately tender and heartfelt examination of one’s dedication to their art, in the wake of personal struggle and mental wrought. Featuring John Cusack’s best performance in years, what makes this so captivating is how it avoids the cliches of music biopics and, therefore, is enthralling even though it’s based on real-life events. Fascinating, heart-wrenching and more emotionally sincere than most inclusions in the genre, this music biopic is music to the ears.
5. What We Do in the Shadows
Both vampires and the mockumentary format are becoming quite stale these days thanks to repetition. So leave it up to one-half of Flight of the Conchords, Jermaine Clement, and his Eagle vs. Shark director, Taika Waititi, to bring life back into the undead with their hilarious What We Do in the Shadows. Briskly packed with as many clever asides as possible, even when the movie gets tiresome it’s so jam packed with great belly laughs that it’s hard to complain. Add in its rich attention to character and mythology, and you have not only the funniest movie of the year so far but one of the best vampires lores to come in ages.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
In a day-and-age when tentpole reboots are almost required to become as formulaic and monotonous as possible, to see 70-year-old George Miller not going recapture his original spunk but accelerate it to the ninth grade — all while making a plot not only coherent but highly thoughtful — is a pure wonder. Distinctly envisioned, tightly edited, astoundingly filmed and bursting at the steams with energy, Mad Max: Fury Road is an exhilarating and progressive action-thriller, and just the kind of movie you’re typically dying to see in the theater.
3. Me & Earl & the Dying Girl
I described this one as “a John Hughes movie birthed by the love child of Jean-Luc Godard and Wes Anderson,” and I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s astoundingly confident teen dramedy is a weeper not unlike its fellow Pittsburgh-shot YA adaptation likes The Fault in Our Stars and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but through its own quirky voice and acute vision, this Jesse Andrews adaptation becomes one of the most well-polished and vivacious coming-of-age films in some time. Through its fantastic cinematography, heartfelt performances and bouncy energy does Me & Earl & the Dying Girl sing, and what a lovely voice does it sing with.
2. Inside Out
While I’ve enjoyed every movie Pixar’s put out so far — and, yes, that includes Cars 2 — I’ll be the first to admit the company hasn’t brought their A-game to the plate since their incredible (and one-time finale to the series) Toy Story 3 back in 2010. Bogging themselves down with unnecessary remakes and one original tale (Brave) which only live up to some of its full potential, with Inside Out the CG company is back to their vibrant, masterful selves. While not quite as good as, say, WALL-E or Up, that’s not to short the film for its ever imaginative story which is both mature and enjoyably childish, expressive but reserved and featuring one of my favorite characters seen on screen this year with Lewis Black’s Anger.
1. Ex Machina
The kind of intelligent, lyrical sci-fi tale which is only rarely seen at the cinema today, screenwriter Alex Garland’s directorial debut Ex Machina is just the kind of movie to stick with long after its over and make you contemplate the intercity of its high-minded society that’s, scarily, not too far away from ours. Featuring some astounding performances from Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander and among the best grounded visual effects brought to the screen thus far, it’s the best of both sci-fi worlds, and hopefully a reminder to Hollywood of how important it is to remember the second part of A.I.
With the goodies out of the way, I think it’s time to get the bad ones listed too. What do you guys think?