Up All Afternoon

with Kyle Anderson

Filtering by Category: Movies

This Week's Top 10: The Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century (So Far)

We just wrapped up an Oscar season where most all of my favorite movies of the year were relatively solid box office performers, but in 2018, my two favorite movies so far were economic clunkers. The first—Paddington 2—is relatively inexplicable, as it's a super charming kid-centric action comedy that works on all levels. But the second, Alex Garland's Annihilation, does make a lot more sense, as it's a complex cross-section of string theory, body horror and mental illness that doesn't necessarily scream a fun night at the pictures. 

But Annihilation is a remarkable movie, and I have been casually calling it the best science fiction film of the 21st century so far. But would it really top that list, and what are the other films in consideration for that title? That's the subject of this week's Up All Afternoon Top 10. 

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This Week's Top 10: Football Players As Actors

It's Super Bowl week, and while I have less than zero interest in the upcoming game between the Patriots and the Eagles, I do love me some Super Bowl-adjacent content. So in honor of this Sunday's event, let's take a look at the best performances by football players in film and television. I disqualified any players who played themselves (except for one very important exception), and I should note at the top that Dan Marino might actually be the worst actor in the history of recorded medium (his stuff in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is truly painful, and he's playing Dan Marino!). 

Also, a handful of Up All Afternoon listeners wanted Merlin Olsen on this list, but I've never seen Little House on the Prairie and my only association with him is in the confusingly terrible Joe Don Baker cop movie Mitchell. To the list!

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The Best & Worst Movies of 2016

I couldn't narrow it down to just ten. I saw more movies than ever in 2016, and even though there were plenty of stinkers (I had a harder time keeping my worst-of list to five), I kept having spectacular experiences at the cinema. Part of that owes to my new surroundings: In my first year in Los Angeles, I had access to a ton of wonderful movie theaters and LACMA's Film Club. Those venues obviously don't have any effect on the content of the films, but they do make the process of going to a movie theater a much more pleasurable one. (Plus you can drink in a lot of theaters out here, another boon for the system.)

So here are my favorites. I don't believe there were any major releases that I felt like I missed out on, though as of the time of this writing, I have a screener of The Edge of Seventeen that I have yet to watch and never did get around to checking out Passengers (hey, maybe it's good!). But after narrowing my list of 106 down to an exceptional 29, I settled on 13 movies that I genuinely loved in the last calendar year. 

13. Darling
A remarkably creepy no-budget mood piece, Darling acts as both an homage to the great real estate horrors of the past (most notably Roman Polanski's apartment trilogy) and as a continuation of those ideas brought into the modern world. Lauren Ashley Carter plays a caretaker charged with watching a old Manhattan townhouse that may be consumed by evil spirits (or maybe she just needs some fresh air). In the annals of Terrifying Movies About A Woman Walking Around a House, it's right up there with House of the Devil

12. Oasis: Supersonic
Obviously every piece of music in this rock doc, which tracks Oasis' run from unknown bar band to one of the biggest bands on the planet, is a total jam (and as it only incorporates the years that produced Definitely Maybe and (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, there's nary a dud in the bunch). The footage that makes up Supersonic, particularly the stuff from the group's pre-fame days, is both remarkable (you really do get a sense of where Liam and Noel's rivalry begins) and expected (obviously dudes with egos their size would be rolling cameras with the expectation that some day somebody would need it for a big time retrospective). But the thing that really makes Supersonic stand out is the way it captures the spirit with which people used to consume music. Sure, Oasis kept themselves on the tabloid pages with drug and sex exploits, but the only reason why anybody thirsted for more of these monobrows is because they cranked out anthems that could make you feel infinite. The idea that so many different types of people could come together and feel the same way about a rock band sometimes makes Oasis: Supersonic feel like a work of historical science fiction. 

11. Hell Or High Water
People treated this like a Western, and I guess it is considering the amount of dust and facial hair contained within. But Hell or High Water is also a heist movie, a meditation on the decaying economy of rural America, a pretty clear-eyed look at everyday conversations about race, and a heartbreaking portrait of brotherhood (both literal and figurative). Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster have the showier roles, but Chris Pine gives the performance of his life in the quieter part—in just about every scene, his eyes do more heavy lifting than Denzel Washington's histrionic speeches in Fences. The shootout is pretty incredible, but that potboiler of a showdown between Pine and Bridges that wraps up the film is unforgettable. 


10. Hail, Caesar!
Like most Coen comedies, nobody knew what to do with this when it arrived, but it's undoubtedly going to be remembered alongside The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading as unsung masterpieces. It would have made this list based on the Channing Tatum section alone, but the rest of the film—from its Old Hollywood set pieces to the elocution exchanges between Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes—is just as buoyant and joyous. 


9. Arrival
It is deeply possible that context is casting an interesting shadow on my reaction to this one: My wife and I went to a screening of Arrival the day after the election, and we mostly went to get away from the sense of dread that still hangs over everything (and got more intense on January 20). So maybe it was the hopelessness talking, but I adored this movie. It's about communication and cultural identity and, fundamentally, about the power of language. I liked it more when it was just a mood piece for the first hour (once that Renner narration—and thus the plot—kicks in, it becomes slightly less magical), but the revelations at the end pack an emotional punch that was both devastating and strangely hopeful. 

8. American Honey
I love Andrea Arnold's other movies (Fish Tank is a stunning character piece, and her Wuthering Heights actually took a text I hate and turned it into a compelling drama), but this is her greatest achievement. It's a true ensemble piece, held up by a raw and charismatic newcomer (Sasha Lane) and a dude I didn't think I would ever be able to care about again (Shia LaBeouf). It's gorgeous and sprawling and almost nothing happens, which makes it a perfect movie for me. But it also really understands the relationship between youth and pop music—the kids in the movie really seem to be fueled by the fantasies cast by Rihanna, Lil Wayne, Rae Sremmurd and the like, and as somebody who has mostly taken a dry, academic approach to the relative merits of those artists and songs, it was fascinating to see a group of people from a different part of the world react and relate on a more visceral level. 

7. Christine
The story of Christine Chubbuck is fundamentally dark (she shot herself on live TV; she died 14 hours later), and it could have been very easy to make this into a sensationalistic bit of opera (as much as I loved The People Vs. OJ Simpson, there's a Ryan Murphy-produced version of this movie that is super gross). But Christine is remarkable in its portrayal of Chubbuck as a three-dimensional human and not just a sensationalistic historical footnote. Part of that is the script: despite the fact that everyone knows how this movie ends, its structure lies in the emotional journey of Christine. The other thing that keeps it afloat is the work of Rebecca Hall in my favorite performance of the year. It's the realest representation of depression this side of BoJack Horseman

6. Everybody Wants Some!!
This is the kind of film that seems like it should be easy to make because it doesn't really have a plot or rely on any real story mechanics to make it run—it's mostly 90 minutes of dudes bullshitting. But the thing that makes Everybody Wants Some!! such a rare treat is that these movies are actually impossible to make because inevitably the characters all end up running together and because screenwriters tend to be completely at sea when not able to lean on traditional structural crutches. Linklater's script is so good that it makes everybody in the cast (most of whom are relative newcomers) seem like an inevitable star (and considering the hit rate for people who were in Dazed & Confused, that might actually be true). Nobody makes a movie about talking like Linklater, and the fact that each one of these characters has depth and empathy that is missing from movies where stuff actually happens. 

5. 20th Century Women
Another screenwriting triumph. The log line of this movie is "The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s," which is somehow both irritatingly vague and deeply incorrect. The specificity of the whole affair (the soundtrack, the clothes, even the way the sunlight shines through the vintage curtains) leads to an immersive experience that is on par with any fantasy bullshit you can conjure. At the center is a beautiful, breezy, sensitive, deeply charismatic performance by Annette Bening, a genius we do not deserve. 

4. Sing Street
The best musical of 2016. 

3. Jackie
Structured like a horror movie with the pacing and score to match, Jackie doesn't care about crafting a historical record or even about documenting Jackie Kennedy's interior life following her husband's assassination. It's about putting away those visceral moments—and there are many—for the sake of narrative. I love that the movie doesn't necessarily take a side—Jackie sometimes seems like a villain in her own movie—and that divide also splits the title character in two. Natalie Portman's performance seems cold on the surface, but it's really a marvel of Portman juggling a woman whose life was both incomparably mythic and unbendingly human. 

2. Green Room
Just a badass piece of white-knuckle survival with a stellar cast and a full-throated attention to detail. Green Room is exceptionally violent, but it's been a long time since I've seen a movie that knows exactly how to use the sudden explosions of brutality that dot the action. It's an exceptional sense of escalation that takes quite a bit of craft and control. It's not only a testament to director Jeremy Saulnier but also to the late Anton Yelchin, who delivers his best performance as a punk rock kid just trying to get home. It's hardcore and heartbreaking—my favorite combination. 

1. Moonlight
Everything that has been said about Moonlight is true: The performances—particularly the alignment of the three Chirons—are perfect, the soundtrack is lush, the visuals are lovely and amazing. The thing that really elevated Moonlight for me is the fact that it told a story that I had never heard before that took place in a corner of the universe I had never seen. How rare is it to sit down in a theater and be genuinely surprised by what unfolds? Moonlight started fresh and remained there. The fact that it's a truly important movie is gravy, but Moonlight will be remembered because it is pure cinema. 

Now here are some pieces of shit that we need not ever mention again. 

5. X-Men: Apocalypse
Not a strong year for comic book movies (DC was obviously disastrous, and though I know I enjoyed Captain America: Civil War, I cannot remember a damn thing about it), and this was aggressively not good. I did sort of appreciate Oscar Isaac's willingness to chew scenery, but nothing here—neither in the incomprehensible story nor the cheap-looking effects—had any weight. 

4. Cafe Society
There was a time when I considered Woody Allen to be my favorite filmmaker, and while I'll still ride for stuff like Love & Death and Manhattan, I don't think I get Allen anymore. I'm a high-strung neurotic who loves dry humor and old Hollywood, and I found this completely inert. Who is the audience for this movie if I'm out? Allen also made an ill-advised foray into streaming television in 2016 (Crisis in Six Scenes, on Amazon) that was made slightly less inane by an unfiltered performance by Miley Cyrus. But Jesse Eisenberg is no Miley Cyrus. 

3. Hacksaw Ridge
Hour one is all Andrew Garfield's terrible location-free accent warbling about faith and family while Vince Vaughn yells at him in the year's worst performance. Hour two is an entirely gratuitous series of battle scenes that have no sense of geometry. It ends with a mini documentary featuring interviews with the real people who are represented in the movie, a completely inexplicable choice that ends a terrible movie on a sour note. Also, Mel Gibson is still a piece of shit. 

2. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice / Suicide Squad
How is it that people who fundamentally do not understand why people love certain immortal comic book characters keep getting put in charge of quarter-billion dollar projects to put them up on screen? He gets no help from professional block of wood Henry Cavill, but Zach Snyder's vision of Superman is as fucking stupid as it is pointlessly bleak. That scene in Dawn of Justice wherein Bats and Supes yell about both of their mothers being named Martha is the worst scene in any movie last year. Meanwhile, I spent the first hour of Suicide Squad wishing that the story would show up, and then when that happened I wished we could go back to introducing every character another 19 times. I saw Nine Lives the same weekend I saw Suicide Squad, and you'll notice that Kevin Spacey as a horrible looking digital kitty is nowhere to be found on this list. 

1. Nocturnal Animals / The Neon Demon
These are the two worst times I had at the movies all year, and they both delivered similar experiences: Self-impressed auteurs wallowing in pretty nihilism and thinking that it's art. These are two exceptionally dumb movies that believe that they are smart, and there's nothing more infuriating to me than that. 




Kyle Anderson Answers The AV Club's 11 Questions

1. What's one question you wish an interviewer would ask you? 
Anything, honestly. I've spent most of my adult life interviewing other people, and I like to think that I'm pretty good at it. But in the few times when I've been on the other side of the microphone, I've been terrible at it. I suppose I'd rather be in control of the conversation (that's true in most of my life), but I would like to give myself over to somebody else's agenda once in a while. That's why I'm going through this exercise. So I guess the answer to this question is "Why are you so bad at this?" and the answer is "I'm a lunatic who wants to get better." 

2. If you could ride a giant version of an animal to work every day, what would you ride? 
My instinct would be some sort of cat (and not a jungle cat either—I'm talking about a giant, saddle-able version of one of my house cats), but I worry about the logistics of that. After all, my cats would probably only get about a block before curling up and grabbing a nap. Am I allowed to mount a giant bird? Because in that case I want to ride to work on a Kyle-capable falcon. 

3. What movie have you seen the most? 
I regret not having better statistics about my movie watching over the course of my life. There were a bunch of films that were in heavy rotation in my childhood: My brother and I inexplicably watched Clue on repeat (it was a VHS copy rented repeatedly from our local library). I've re-watched my favorite movie of all time, Dr. Strangelove, quite a few times, but I can't imagine it's the one I've watched the most. If I were to venture a guess, I would think the movie I have seen the most was one of the videos I got from my one shipment from Columbia House back in my teenage years. Columbia House was a mail order video service that gave you a handful of VHS tapes up front in exchange for tethering you to an overpriced monthly selection that you had to have the wherewithal to cancel. (They did the same thing with music—all the magazines I read in my youth were full of inserts touting "12 CDs for 1 cent.") I can't remember everything that arrived in my Columbia House box, but I do know that a copy of Men In Black was in there. I like Men In Black enough (and probably liked it slightly more in the late '90s), but the thing that likely puts it at number one on my list is the fact that I used to put Men In Black on in the background while i did homework. It was a pleasant movie that I could reasonably ignore, and it was the soundtrack to filling out my college applications. (Considering I only got into one school, perhaps I should have just worked in silence?)

4. What's a stupid thing that you incorrectly believed for a long time? 
I thought for a long time that the only real way to win a woman's heart was to smother her. That was my modus operandi for the better part of my dating life. I finally figured out how to play it cool just in time to meet the woman who would become my wife. I think back at how I treated old girlfriends (or, more particularly, women I pursued who wanted nothing to do with me), and I cringe. I was unfit for human consumption then. I'm glad I figured it out just in time. How I still got laid, I'll never know. 

5. What's the most interesting thing you've ever heard about yourself that isn't true? 
Everything I've ever heard about myself has mostly been true, and the untrue stuff has always been exceptionally boring. ("Hey, that guy is from Manchester!" when it turns out I'm from one town over—that sort of thing.) I suppose that during my freshman year of college, I remember hearing whispers among people who were also in my acting studio that I had a large penis, which is not really true. I mean, I'm not John Holmes or anything, but I'm doing fine. And in reality, that rumor was pretty common among that group. Not to lean into stereotypes, but there were very few heterosexual men in my music theater classes in college, which made the dating pool significantly small. When you add the fact that we were often walking around in dance clothes, it was easy for the women in the studio to let their minds run amok. So though I heard that rumor about myself, I'm pretty sure I heard that rumor about every other boob-loving dude around me. 

6. What's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten? 
It's probably something that remains relatively exotic to most people but would seem pedestrian to foodies. I like to think of myself as an adventurous eater, and as a result I don't consider a lot of what I've consumed over the course of my life to be all that unusual. But of course, there are plenty of people who cannot comprehend sushi, which is pretty boring (but delicious!) at this point. My answer is probably escargot, which I have only eaten in Paris and I count as a course within one of the most perfect meals I've ever had. (The main was some sort of duck that I've been chasing like a heroin spike ever since.) I've never eaten anything that was still alive (to my knowledge) and am not into chomping on bugs, so I feel like the truly adventurous in the food world would turn their noses up at this response. And I have attempted to eat durian, the Southeast Asian fruit that smells like a diaper-filled dumpster fire, but since I never actually got it past my lips I don't think it counts. 

7. What's the first concert you went to? 
In the fall of 1994, Tom Petty put out an album called Wildflowers. It was credited as a solo release even though most of the Heartbreakers played on the tracks. The first single was a song called "You Don't Know How It Feels," which featured the immortal bridge, "Let's get to the point, let's roll another joint." I had decided that it was my favorite song of all time, which is why I purchased Wildflowers and Petty's Greatest Hits on the same day. Petty was probably the first artist with whom I was fully obsessed, and I hungrily sought out interviews and documentaries and old footage and bootlegs to compliment my obsession. So when Petty arrived at the Meadows Music Theater in Hartford in the Spring of 1995 to tour behind Wildflowers, I had to go. My dad took me, along with my cousin Chris and his father Fran. We sat on the amphitheater lawn and joked about opening act Pete Droge (whose records I later adored), and left before the encore to beat traffic. Since Petty's songs were played on pop radio next to Jon Secada, I had no idea that Petty's followers would be such a hippie-centric bunch. That show was my first exposure to marijuana smoke, white guys in dreadlocks, and those goofy Cat in the Hat-style chapeaus. It was great. 

8. What's the most interesting opportunity you've gotten through your work? 
It's strange because it's another job, but the fact that I have my own radio show is only because of my work as a pop culture writer. My entire career has been more or less accidental: I took an internship at a magazine because it was paid and I was looking for something to do that didn't involve music theater, and that started knocking down the dominoes that led me to Spin, Rolling Stone, MTV, and Entertainment Weekly. I've learned and honed my skills along the way, and I'm deeply lucky that I found something that I like to do. But it does sometimes seem like all of that was leading up to my talking for a living and ultimately performing again. 

Of course, all those jobs have given me the opportunity to interview and spend time with some of the people I have idolized the most, like Iggy Pop, Billy Corgan, the members of Sleater-Kinney, and George Clinton. And all of my favorite shows I have ever been to have come because of work that I have done: Nine Inch Nails in a small club in Paris, Bruce Springsteen at a tiny theater in Austin, Metallica at the Apollo, Van Halen in the basement of Cafe Wha, and the bulk of multiple Lollapalooza performers from backstage. 

9. What embarrassing phase did you go through? 
I've gone through countless—after all, I was in a fucking ska band for a while in my youth and was deeply into Phish for a while. But honestly, the period of my life I'm most embarrassed about is my freshman year of college, when I tried on a whole bunch of personas all at once in a bid for universal coolness that ended up being painfully asinine. I dyed my hair black and started wearing a leather trench coat everywhere, probably in a bid to look like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix? But I was also getting into techno music and writing wannabe New Yorker short stories and reading Proust and drinking a lot of tequila and betting on football. It was an amalgam of nonsense that I'm glad is behind me. It's telling that I'm more embarrassed by that than by anything I did or wore during the ska phase. 

10. Have you ever stolen anything, and if so, what? 
You know what's weird? I always seemed to have a friend (or multiple friends!) who were avid shoplifters, though I never actually engaged in any of that myself. I did try a little petty larceny one summer, though. If I deemed a CD in Lechmere too expensive, I would replace its price sticker (which were very generic) with a sticker that was slightly cheaper. In doing this, I was often able to buy multiple albums in one sitting with my limited funds. I snagged a bunch of terrible records this way, mostly alt-rock also-rans from the mid '90s (Collective Soul's self-titled sophomore release and Better Than Ezra's Deluxe were definitely copped using this method). I ended up getting busted once because I thought Siamese Dream was too pricey at $13.99 and decided it should be $10.99. I still feel shitty about it. 

11. Who is the most famous person you have ever met? 
There have been a ton of famous people I've encountered over the course of my career, but it's hard to tell who I've truly met. Like, I've introduced myself and had interesting conversations with countless celebrities, some of them really truly huge. But even though I've interviewed Jerry Seinfeld multiple times, have I really met that guy? So I'm going to keep this answer away from my work and just focus on famous people I have met outside of the context of a brief, agenda-soaked interview. With that in mind, the answer is probably Joss Whedon, who I've had multiple non-work-related conversations with for some reason. He's a nice guy, and he almost certainly doesn't remember who I am, but I first approached him as a fan and have run into him several times since, and he always seems down to talk about whatever. Plus, I've seen him dance at parties. Dude is a good dancer. 

The Best & Worst Movies of 2015

I've been exchanging year-end movies lists with the same collective since college, usually in the form of incredibly long e-mails. But since this site now exists, I thought I might as well put everything out in the open. For a long time I went through a process of trying to pick 10 movies that I liked, and it usually ended up being three I adored, six pretty good ones, and one I definitely saw. But last year, I had about 18 flicks I genuinely loved, and I had a similar problem whittling down my list this year. Is it because the movies are better? Almost certainly not. Have I become slightly more discerning about what I see, often skipping blockbusters for the sake of making time and space for limited-run indies? That is true. Have I also become more intimate with my own taste, and do I more actively seek out movies I'm more apt to be enamored of? Also the case. Am I becoming less negative in my advanced age? Uh-huh, that too. 

Whatever the combination of criteria, I felt 2015 was a pretty good year at the pictures. Here are my 10 favorites and five that I wish I could scrub from my memory. 

The Bottom 5

5. The Revenant. This just keeps happening: I know for a fact I dislike every Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu I've ever seen. I know I hated Birdman, or Whatever the Pretentious Subtitle Was. I know I saw the trailer for The Revenant and thought, "That looks like shit on toast. Frozen shit on frozen toast." And yet I still bought a ticket and spent over two hours rooting for the bear. The Revenant is a complete storytelling failure, with no characters to speak of. Tarantino photographed the winter better, and Herzog does a far superior job of expressing the brutality of the natural world. Innaritu is a pretender, and I hate that he keeps getting positive reinforcement. 

4. Victor Frankenstein. What a pointless exercise. Harry Potter does a reasonable job but Professor X really dies on the vine. More here

3. Chappie. Mostly because I hate Die Antwoord. But it also sucks. More here

1. (tie) Sinister 2, Insidious Chapter 3. Hey everybody! We need to stop saying anything even remotely positive about middling mainstream horror movies. You feed them once, and they spawn! More here and here, if you are so inclined. 

The Top 10

10. The Big Short. I could watch movies centered around the financial crisis of 2008 forever, particularly if they are as breathlessly thrilling as Margin Call or as simultaneously funny and angry as The Big Short. Michael Lewis' book did a great job of taking a particularly bewildering set of circumstances surrounding a relatively obscure series of financial products and making readers understand exactly where everything went to shit. Adam McKay's film does an even better job, keeping the characters just slightly ahead of the narrative and putting everybody on almost equal footing. I know a lot of people thought those drop-ins from Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez were too cute, but I thought they really played into the central stylistic idea that the reason why we weren't paying attention to the collapse of capitalism was because celebrity culture was more interesting. Few movies have made me laugh so hard while simultaneously filling me with disgust for humanity. 

9. Ex Machina. I may be overrating Ex Machina because I was so thrilled by the fact that I legitimately didn't know where it was going most of the time. How often does that happen? How many movies have you walked into genuinely not knowing where it was headed? Even my favorite films on this list have a predictability to them, but Ex Machina did a solid job of setting expectations at a strange angle. The first third of the movie is understated and mysterious on purpose, with Oscar Isaac subtly bamboozling Domhnall Gleeson at his odd in-the-woods retreat before revealing Alicia Vikander and her robo-butt. The second act exploration of the possibilities of artificial intelligence and the moral questions it raises dovetail nicely with the increasing paranoia that develops between the two leads. Sure, the third act stand-off is a little rote, but the journey there was top-notch, and the feel of Ex Machina is unlike anything I've experienced recently, particularly in a sci-fi movie. Mildly unrelated: I think the acting awards at the Oscars should be based on a body of work and not a single role, so actors would have to submit every movie they were in during a given year in order to qualify. If that were the case, Gleeson would have a good claim on the prize, as he was excellent in every role he played in 2015, each time playing someone very different. Seriously, did anybody have a better 2015 than the dude who stole scenes in Ex Machina, The Force Awakens, Brooklyn and The Revenant

8. The Hateful Eight. AKA The Revenant, Except Actually Good. The complaint about The Hateful Eight seems to revolve around the idea that it's overstuffed, and anybody who says that is boring. Quentin Tarantino gets cut a ton of slack, but that's only because every single choice he makes is both deeply considered and completely off the wall. Of all the movies on this list, The Hateful Eight might be the one I'm still living with the most—I'm still thinking about the way Tarantino shoots the entirety of Minnie's Haberdashery, or the way Samuel L. Jackson negotiates with each of the people he welcomes into his carriage during the opening act. Those small script moments are easily eaten by the sudden blasts of violence or the immersive storytelling that dots the biggest moments of the movie, but they should not be ignored. I just keep thinking about how much everybody is fellating themselves over the beauty of The Revenant, but Tarantino does so much more with the landscape, and then also gives us a series of characters who feel fully lived-in, even if some of them just are a collection of tics. Every day I have a different opinion about who my favorite Hateful Eight performer is (today it's Jennifer Jason Leigh), which is a pretty nifty trick as well.  

7. Diary of a Teenage Girl. As sweet, smart, and thoughtful a movie you'll ever see about statutory rape, Diary presents a vivid portrayal of adolescent hormonal psychology and does a miraculous job of presenting a balanced picture of a relationship that the audience knows is wrong. It never judges teen Minnie (Bel Powley in a performance that would be legend-making if anybody had seen this movie), and only ends up casting a side-eye at middle-aged lover Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) very late in the film. Even if this movie didn't have any illicit sex in it, there would still be a compelling character piece about Minnie, Monroe, and each of their relationships with Minnie's mom Charlotte (Kristin Wiig). I know the Oscars for Production Design tend to go to historical epics or sci-fi universes, but nailing the strange between-epochs drabness of the mid 1970s should count for something. 

6. Crimson Peak. And speaking of production design: Obviously Crimson Peak looks stunning, with a slouching old haunted house and some genuinely spooky spirit effects. But there's also a deep-seated Gothic romance at its center, which is really the engine that drives this thing—a big step for Guillermo Del Toro, who is still far more interested in the way doorknobs look than in storytelling but does his best job yet in driving home some top-shelf 19th century madness. Also, this is my favorite Jessica Chastain performance yet. 

5. Sicario. One of the reasons I hate those types of horror movies mentioned in the worst-of list is because they trade on tension that is unearned, typically based around lighting tricks, soundtrack shortcuts, or a reliance on the audience's familiarity with the tropes of shitty horror movies rather than anything having to do with narrative. Sicario is the opposite. Outside of one bravura night vision sequence, a lot of Sicario takes place in broad daylight, and from the moment Emily Blunt's Kate gets drafted into an operation she never really understands, I never once unclenched my asshole. A lot of people got into Benicio Del Toro in this movie, but he's playing a character we've seen a bunch (and in the case of Traffic, a character we've seen him play before), but Blunt has to play both confident and bamboozled, and she's one of the best audience surrogates I saw all year. I was with her every step of the way, trying to suss out Josh Brolin's motives and balancing the need to follow orders with the nagging suspicion that those orders are not on the level. I was bummed when the flick abandoned Blunt three quarters of the way through to focus on Del Toro's manhunt, and was double-bummed when the audience I was with ended up rooting for Del Toro's character to murder children in cold blood. I haven't been with a group who watched a movie wrong like that since a bunch of bros booed the arrest of Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street

4. Inside Out. Pixar has been so good at multi-level storytelling for so long that it would be easier for it to become routine, but make no mistake: Inside Out is the best script of 2015. It's smart, it's funny, it's sweet, and most importantly it's real-feeling while still maintaining a clear sense of fantasy and wonder. There's enough for a bunch of different movies here—the trip to the dream studio, the train of thought, and the meta-adventure through Riley's subconscious could all be their own movies—but it never feels too busy. All of the voice acting is strong, and I think there's a true case to be made for Amy Poehler as a Best Actress nominee for her work as Joy. But the best thing about Inside Out is that it hits on a lot of cliched adolescent emotional tropes without seemingly cloying or exploitative. Or rather, they never actually feel like cliches, and in that sense Inside Out has a lot more in common with Diary of a Teenage Girl than you might think. Two other points: That stinger at the end where we got inside the cat brain is probably the best on-screen joke of 2015, and I really really hated the Lava short for reasons that I still can't quite put my finger on.  

3. It Follows. Like Sicario, I never got comfortable at any moment during It Follows, which is exactly how I like my horror movies dating all the way back to the original HalloweenIt Follows has enough meta fun with genre conventions to let you know there are smart people behind the camera but doesn't get bogged down in academics or double-turn gags when a good old-fashioned pursuit will do the job. The dream-like quality of the movie has really stuck with me, and its vision of suburbia is incredibly on-point (the way most small midwestern towns feel slightly out of time is a vibe I don't see in a whole lot of films, horror or otherwise). Maika Monroe is an absolute star here, both in playing the larger confrontational set pieces and the smaller character moments with her authentic-feeling group of friends. Also, and this should not be understated, she really runs convincingly, which is not something that can be said of a lot of actors. This scene was the most terrifying goddamn thing I saw in a cinema all last year, and it has stuck with me. Also, shout out to Disasterpeace, who crafted the best John Carpenter score this side of The Fog. 

2. Mad Max: Fury Road. Everything about this movie is perfect. The performances are all uniformly fantastic, and the characters are developed far more with actions than with any words. (Fury Road is almost entirely devoid of exposition, which is refreshing considering the amount of explaining shit that goes on in something like Jurassic World, which is a movie I liked but had some seriously leaden sequences of people talking.) It has a ton of memorable characters, not only Furiosa and Max and Nicolas Hoult's lovestruck War Boy, but also the Pole Boys and Immortan Joe and the Vuvalini and the War Pups and the goddamn Doof Warrior. The stunts were incredible. Lots of shit blew up, and I always knew why it blew up and what that meant for the people around said blow up. (Fury Road is basically the opposite of a Michael Bay or Zach Snyder movie, where everything keeps escalating with no consequences or specific purpose.) Hoult shouting "Witness me!" as he sacrifices himself actually got me choked up, because I was legitimately invested in his character's journey. Bonus points for being an amazing in-theater spectacle but for losing nothing in the translation to watching it at home on HBO Go. 

1. Dope. This is a sentimental pick, because obviously it's not a better movie than Mad Max or even It Follows or Inside Out. But it arrived just at the right time for me, as apropos of nothing I had decided to go back to watch a bunch of the post-Do The Right Thing entries in black cinema, which had a brief but impactful run in the early '90s indie explosion. So Dope works as a brilliant nostalgia trip for anybody who loved Juice or South Central or Menace II Society or Fresh or Boyz N The Hood, but it also functions as a meaningful meditation on how hip-hop permeates all facets of culture, and how that culture manifests in myriad ways. I would usually be upset that there are as many fake endings as there are, but Dope does such a nice job of splitting apart its story threads and weaving them back together that it's hard to get mad at it. Also, I now feel like I not only more fully understand certain aspects of black culture, but also teen culture—after watching Dope, I think I understand Snapchat now. Has there been a more miraculous moment at the cinema in 2015 than that? 





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