When I reflect upon my experience with a film (and let's be honest, a great many films are not even worth reflecting on), I fall back to these three simple criteria: 1. What did this movie set out to achieve? 2. Did it accomplish those goals? and 3. How well? I find that this works, eschewing all other notions—at least at first—save for this trio of basic rules, because you might get complete satisfaction out of a Bill Zebub movie, or a Jerzy Skolimowski film, but you would rarely if ever compare those vacuum-housed paragons to one another. All the movies on this list are "masterpieces," within their self-appointed frameworks, give good resonance, working alternately as comedies, dramas, with moments of great suspense, and of course, terror; harmonizing the elements I look for always, in any cinematic endeavor.
With movies, as with music, these lists are not focused on 2015 the calendar year, though I do always strive to be current; it's more about what thrilled me personally and thoroughly in the past 12-month time frame, with at least half an eye on latest and / or greatest. As always, entries are in no particular order.
Ryan Gosling aims for high craft and mostly succeeds with his first directorial feature, a fable set in rural USA, in a dead town that's been mostly flooded and abandoned. Visual / structural nods to David Lynch and Gosling's collaborator Nicolas Refn are here, but there's a unique visual & storytelling voice too, complete with muted-yet-vibrant color. It's a to-die-for cast as well; everyone from the mesmerizing Ben Mendelsohn, as a wicked, lecherous bank-loan officer, whose character also runs the local Grand Guignol / burlesque club, where desperate and broke single Mom (played by Mad Men boob goddess Christina Hendricks) takes a job in desperation, to those also plucked like diamonds from the talent pool—the great Barbara Steele, Gosling's Mrs. Eva Mendes, and cult-cinema it-girl Saoirse Ronan. Nicely otherworldly, blending simple beauty, grotesquerie, and unique visual concepts (the rowboat ride through submerged streetlights is a highlight), Lost River holds up to multiple viewings, and makes one realize that this heartthrob actor also has some promising talent behind the camera.
Sterling character actor Leland Orser plays a shit-show of a cult deprogrammer, his life in shambles, living out of his car and stealing meals; this guy has not a damn thing to live for, and the one thing he was good at has led him into misadventure and undeniable failure. Along comes a lifeline, in the form of desperate parents who entreat the broken nebbish to help them get their daughter back from a mysterious cult. The "victim" in question, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), has a ripened sexuality and a quiet force of will that only complicates matters, and nothing goes down quite as expected, Faults ending up being a tight little thriller with a spooky, downbeat ending. Highly recommended.
What We Do In The Shadows
It's hard to imagine anyone disliking this movie, so perfectly poised as it is, as a crafted & clever horror-comedy piece, one that feels effortless, full of hard laughs, and similar to The League of Gentlemen BBC series in that it was made "with love," by comedians and writers with a clear appreciation and knowledge of the horror genre. Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement leads a trio of vampires, old and well-traveled, with fringy, difficult personalities (even for vampires), who are now bound to a tatty house in Wellington, with their sire, an aged nosferatu, living in an upright casket in the cluttered basement. This premise alone is a pisser, and the movie seizes upon an arterial range of vampire-vaulted satire like no other I have seen. From a hilarious fashion montage, to arguing over dishes, to etiquette lessons on victim-taking, "swearwolves," and breaking in unwanted new initiates, What We Do… is quite simply the best horror comedy of recent years, and I can't think of a damn thing bad to say about it.
electronic score by Disasterpeace also keeps It Follows surging forward, marrying to the film as the best Carpenter and Goblin soundtracks have to their respective high points.
V/H/S sequel segments
High time I talked about this. While it's generally accepted amongst genre fans who liked (or loved, as I did) the first V/H/S horror anthology film that the original was gold, and the sequels declined in quality with each release, and that much is true, there are several sequences within those two sequels that are not only of great merit, but if combined would have made for a much finer, more comparable and worthy sequel to V/H/S the first. They are, notably: Safe Haven by Gareth Evans, a Welsh-born director who mostly works with Indonesian actors (as in The Raid: Redemption); his segment, set inside the HQ of a suicide cult, is more jam-packed with memorable scenes, and moments of high tension & wild gore than most feature films. Jason Eisener's Slumber Party Alien Abduction, the one V/H/S 2 segment I've watched over and over, a perfect short that's perhaps the scariest treatment of this subject I've ever seen. The camera is mounted on a little terrier, and through economic & clever use of sights, sounds and colors, we are in the horror with a big sis, her boyfriend, and a group of kids who all fall prey at a lakeside house to powerful alien invaders. Nacho Vigalondo's Parallel Monsters; the director of the memorable Timecrimes gives us a delicious alternate-universe story, typically Spanish (or should I say Catholic?) in that the other "we"s are engaged wholly in sin and debauchery, blood and sex, with a decidedly anti-Xtian societal norm; it's an exciting idea that in its limited time plays out perfectly. Lastly, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead's Bonestorm, which I could see inspiring some haters, but this fast-moving segment of SoCal skateboarders with head-mounted GoPros, who retreat just south of the Mexican border to find a place to ride and stunt unbothered, and end up getting very bothered by a numberless horde of rotting, undead esqueletos, is super-effective and satisfying.
L'il Quinquin - Master of the heavy-yet-light hand, French director Bruno Dumont (whose California-set third feature Twentynine Palms blew a lot minds, mine included), often obsessed with matters of faith, once again takes on the insular world of French provincials (as he did with both Humanité and Flanders), this time with humor (dark as always), charm and bleak realities. Created as a four-episode miniseries, rendered on Netflix as one long film, L'il Quinquin has fascinating characters, an odd murder mystery, and a nicely "hung" ending.
Dark Star - H.R. Giger's World - Wholly satisfying for any fan of Giger's paintings and creations, we get a view inside the life and home of this iconoclastic illustrator, painter and sculptor. Shot shortly before his passing, we see a truly humble artist, surrounded by his loved ones, friends, and works—the ride on his personal, self-built backyard mini-rail system being a superb highlight. All the biographical high (and low) points and curiosities are also addressed, without feeling episodic, and with a lens of true kindness and deep respect for its subject.
Best actor: Ben Mendelsohn, Mississippi Grind
Best actress: Nina Arianda, Rob The Mob
Now, as to music, there's a lot that I love and even more that I like…. These are releases that wowed me enough though, front to back, that as stated above resonated throughout my year and likely will reach far beyond. That said, though I keep copious notes, there's the genuine chance that I innocently forgot something (for example, Excepter's Familiar appears here, where it should have been on the list for 2014.) A lot of great music came out this year and last, and in some cases the brilliance of things creeps up on me…. Regardless, this may look like a big list, but it's a mere surface scratch of the mass of music I listened to, liked, and/or played on the radio this year:
Devilspit - Grim, Hateful and Drunk | Impalers - Psychedelic Snutskallar | Necrovulva - all | Zavod - all | Human Bodies - No Life + MMXIII-MMXIV | Bog Oak - A Treatise… | Contact - First Contact | Excepter - Familiar | Young and In The Way - When Life Comes to Death | Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom - Seven Bloodied Ramparts | Night Bitch - s/t 10" | Vorde - Vorde | Shaved Women - Just Death | Caïna - Setter of Unseen Snares | Nekromantiker - Nekromantiker | Ides - sorry, nothing | v/a - Frozen In Time II: Music to Accompany the Films of Ingmar Bergman | Cretin - Stranger | GIDIM - all | Leather Chalice - all | Vilkacis - The Fever of War | Vivisektion - Gaskammer Edict | Arvo Zylo - Falling Tower, Terrible Fountain | Blood Rhythms - Assembly | Sektarism - split LP w Darvulia & s/t CD | Heavydeath - X - Solus in Mortem / VIII - Futility & Death | Mueco - Demo 2013 | Mocoso - Demo 2014 | Dark Blue - Pure Reality | Ashencult - Black Flame Gnosis | Svffer - Lies We Live | Limbs Bin / Two Million Tons of Shit - split | Anasazi - Nasty Witch Rock | Volahn - Aq'Ab'Al | A.M.S.G. - Anti-Cosmic Tyranny | Haare - Musta Magia | Kyle Eyre Clyd - Pale Dawn Creeps | Ramlord - splits with Cara Neir, Krieg, 7" EPs | DDAA - Hazy World | NRIII - Gnashed | Spitzenqualität - all | Dumal - Dumal | Alexandra Atnif - .A:A. mix.1 | Krasseville - Nous Sommes Faux | Encounters - Prolonged Nostalgia | Orthank - Rotting World | Belus - Demo MMVV & Anicon / Belus split | Volkmort - Traces of Doom | Uniform - Perfect World | Night - Night | Disasterpeace - It Follows OST | Nocnitsa - Reveling of Foul Spirits | Unholy Two - Talk About Hardcore | Good Willsmith - Aquarium Guru Shares the Secret Tactic | Nuit Noire - Inner Light + Deluge of Starlight | Sinoia Caves - Beyond the Black Rainbow OST | Recreant - Still Burn | Husere Grav / FRKSE - split LP | Miller / Camfield / Merzbow - No Closure | Justin Marc Lloyd - Your | This Colony Is Sleeping In - Stay / Gone | Moon Pool and Dead Band - MEQ | Faustian Funeral - Demo | Vetala - The Lord of Eternity | Makoto Kawabata - Astro Love & Infinite Kisses | Ateh Gibor Le'olam Shaitan - Ritual II | Aktisa - Grands tyrans | Grausamkeit - Satan's Addicktion & Pure Madness | Unspeakable - Under the Black Spell | Cape of Bats - all | Black Cilice - Mysteries + Old Oaths | Warground / Hithaeglir - split | DA - Artcore Action Heroes | Drew McDowall - Contact | Long Distance Poison - Human Program | Tyrants of Hell - Haggard and Rotten | Serpentine Path - Emanations | Sapthuran - Hildegicel | Vomit Breath - Confessions of a Necrophiliac Priest | Expander - Laws of Power | Askeregn - Monumenter | Viands - Temporal Relics | Life Stinks - You're Not Gonna Make It | Clandestine Blaze - New Golgotha Rising | Crowhurst - Give In | Crowhurst and Bonemagic - Dedicated To Wheeler Winston Dixon | Slugga - all | One Master - Reclusive Blasphemy | Summoning - Old Mornings Dawn | Oppression - Sociopathie & glorie | Nudity - Astronomicon