There were 8 films nominated for Best Picture this year -- Brooklyn, The Big Short, Room, Spotlight, The Revenant, The Martian, Bridge of Spies, and Mad Max: Fury Road. I haven't seen Brooklyn (no appeal to me), Room (looks very difficult to watch, but I will try to catch it on TV) or Bridge of Spies (there is some appeal, I plan to catch on TV). Of the others, I liked them all, actually, but if I were to rank them in order, my least favorite was Spotlight, which not only won Best Picture but also was positively reviewed by just about every single person who saw it. It was really tough to even find a negative review, although a few mentioned that it played out a bit like a glorified TV movie, which it sort of felt like to me. Not that I didn't enjoy it, my review would have been positive too, but I wasn't quite riveted by the story (which I kind of knew all about) or at least not about the reporters uncovering the story, rather than the priests and the victims, which seems the more compelling story to me, and alas, I actually fell asleep in the theater before the ending. Which yeah, maybe that keeps it from being such a positive review. In my defense, it was a drinking theater with comfortable chairs and it was after midnight but yeah, something tells me I wouldn't have fallen asleep under those conditions in Mad Max.
My favorite movie of 2015 wasn't in the Best Picture race, though (which sets it apart from 2014, where my favorite three films -- Whiplash, Boyhood, and Citizenfour -- were all in the Best Picture or Best Documentary race). I had hopes that The Revenant would take the mantle and when I finally watched it last week in Los Angeles's amazing ArcLight Cinemas experience, I was pretty convinced 20 minutes in this would be the greatest movie I ever watched. That opening sequence, shot in just a few long continuous shots, was brilliantly executed and immediately riveting and those perfectly placed arrows zipping through the necks of the fur-trappers under attack by misplaced Indians, on a big screen with the sound to match... wow, just wow. That's the brilliance of the moviegoing experience in a nutshell. And right up to the point that - spoiler alert, but I can't imagine you haven't heard of this - Leo is attacked by the bear, it's just a perfect, momentous action flick. Sadly, it doesn't quite sustain that momentum through a bloated middle and some unnecessary dream sequences that took me out of the film and I kind of couldn't wait until the climactic battle I knew had to be coming, some 2 1/2 hours in. It's a great film, don't get me wrong, but with a few more edits (something Inarratu isn't known for) I think this could have been brilliant. Alas, it's not my favorite Best Picture nominee, nor my favorite film of the year. Read on for that list and a spoiler-free review of 10 Cloverfield Lane.
Vague Space Top 10 Films of 2015
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. The Revenant
4. The Stanford Prison Experiment
6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
7. The Big Short
9. Paper Towns
Yeah so Victoria is a German film by director Sebastian Schipper that was out in limited release last year and is now available on Netflix, and I think everyone in the world needs to watch it. Like now. Like turn off your computer, fire up your Netflix, and go watch this movie. Don't read anymore about it. Anywhere. Because the more "pure" you are going into it the better. I'll try to keep this review brief because of the need to go in "fresh", as much as possible, as the twists and turns in this film are just Oscar-level brilliant. It's gotten very positive reviews and sports a solid 7.8 out of 10 on imdb but really all of that sells it short. It's the best movie of 2015.
So what little I can tell you is that it runs 138 minutes, a lot of the dialogue is in English (which disqualified it from eligibility for Best Foreign Film at this year's Oscars) and that it was shot in one continuous cut. Yeah. That last part sets it apart from any movie I've ever seen (if not ever made). In fact, the unbroken filming that was largely faked in 2014's Oscar-winning Birdman is actually in effect here, it actually happened. Schipper and his cast tried two previous times before getting it right, the whole movie, without edits (!) in one unbroken camera shot. Like how the fuck did that happen? And it's not two people sitting in a room or something, this movie follows a group of characters through a bunch of settings all over Berlin, starting in the early bar-closing hours of a late night and ending in the opening hours of a morning, 2+ hours later. I have no idea how they did it. I marvel at the skill. And the effect is not just a gimmick, it adds palpably to the suspense and the tension that builds as each event unravels on the screen and you are right there with the characters -- not just watching them -- a brilliant tactic I have never seen. It's stunning. I will give one brief warning while revealing nothing of the plot (I do strongly believe it's best to not know anything of the plot at all, even the genre) but the first 20-30 minutes are very much different than what the film becomes, and while I had no problem with the opening, it may turn off some viewers because not a whole lot "happens", and there's a lot of German and subtitles but hang in there -- hang the fuck in there -- because it turns into the greatest movie of last year.
Finally (this has become a long ass post) I'd like to review what I think is an early frontrunner for 2016 movie of the year ... 10 Cloverfield Lane. Much like Victoria, the less revealed about the film, the better, and everyone who hasn't quite heard about this movie might be better off not knowing the connection to the movie with a similar name made 8 years earlier, but for what it's worth, even if this was titled 10 Mockingbird Lane, it would be brilliant (and maybe just maybe better, but I actually enjoyed the connection and it all came together kind of perfectly for me, save for one kind of ridiculous scene at the end). Anyway, most of the movie is a "bottle" episode, inside a bunker with John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Ramona Flowers of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and John Gallagher Jr. (from Newsroom). Winstead's character is the focus, and we open with her leaving her boyfriend behind, getting in her car and driving, and literally from the moment of the opening title sequence (done so so brilliantly), this is a spectacular work of a great first-time director (Dan Trachtenberg). I listen to a movie podcast called "Slash Filmcast" and the guys that do the reviews are very good friends with Trachtenberg so it's kind of cool to see just a regular film-geek dude pay his dues and get the chance to direct a JJ Abrams production, and to do it so well. I don't want to reveal anything else of the plot but I was really impressed by how riveted I was (like in Victoria and much of The Revenant, but not Spotlight as much), just drawn into the story, at the edge of my seat, as the plot twists and turns in the confined space and you don't know whether to trust John Goodman's character or be afraid of him, or both. This is not a simple movie and its characters do not have simple motivations, and for that, the twists and turns are all earned, and absolutely thrilling. Go see it.
So in conclusion. Go see 10 Cloverfield Lane at the theaters. Now. And if The Revenant is still playing at a theater near you (it is), go see it on the big screen while you still have a chance. But before you leave the house, before you do anything else, set aside 2 1/2 hours to be amazed by Victoria, one of the best film experiences of recent years.