This morning (well, last night if you’re Variety), the Online Film Critics Society released our final winners for 2015 in film. This is my first year as part of the group, and my first opportunity to vote in a recognized end-of-year award. I took it pretty seriously (arguably more than I should have) and between screeners and an aggressive theater schedule, I managed to see all of our nominated films save three. Neither The Revenant not Son of Saul managed to screen near me where I had access to go, and The Peanuts Movie was a simple casualty of scheduling. It’s frustrating that I couldn’t see The Revenant given its nomination in multiple categories, but barring that I feel I’ve managed to position myself as a pretty significantly informed voter.
I’ve included my submitted ranking for all of the categories below, as well as some commentary on my thoughts. The winners are in bold, and the films I haven’t seen and thus didn’t consider in voting are at the bottom of their respective lists and italicized. Keep in mind that I still have quite a few films to see before the end of the year, so my personal top 10/15/20 that I’ll be releasing in early January remains subject to change.
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant (Didn’t see)
Mad Max was in the lead for me from when it opened until last week or so, so it’s tough to quibble with it getting the win. Carol and Mad Max are definitely more of a 1A and 1B than a clear 1 and 2 for my best of the year, and I remain tickled that this completely crazy two hour chase scene in a desert reboot of a 30 year old franchise filmed by a 70 year old man has managed to capture the imagination of so many of us. There’s a pretty noticeable gulf between the top two and the rest of the field, though all of the films (I’ve seen) are certainly worthy of recognition in their own way. I’d love to have seen Ex Machina replaced by something like It Follows or Mistress America, but it’s difficult to truly be upset with any of the nominees in this case (that will be a running theme)
Shaun the Sheep Movie
The Good Dinosaur
Peanuts Movie (Didn't see)
Despite finding Inside Out to be a strong and assured return to form for Pixar (who immediately fell right back into the doldrums with the release of The Good Dinosaur a few scant months later), I was one of the few critics it seems who was not 100% over the moon with it. I preferred Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s beguiling Anomalisa, a film I still haven’t entirely come to grips with (I purposefully neglected to include a rating when I reviewed it this fall). Much like Best Picture, this was a two horse race, and while Shaun the Sheep Movie was a lot of fun in its Buster Keaton-y approach, with no discernible dialogue in the whole film, it didn’t speak to me the way its betters did.
George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
Todd Haynes (Carol)
Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)
Denis Villeneuve (Sicario)
Ridley Scott (The Martian)
Despite finding Carol a slightly better film than Mad Max: Fury Road, I can’t deny the directorial muscle that George Miller flexed in the deserts of Namibia as he put together his wild fever dream of an opus. I would argue that you can’t find a more confident and assured movie released in 2015 than Mad Max, a movie that knows exactly what it is and what it wants to be, and never bothers trying to waste its time doing anything else. With its practical stunts, insane camera tricks and editing choices, it had to be one of the most difficult films to direct as well, making
Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
Michael B. Jordan (Creed)
Matt Damon (The Martian)
Ian McKellen (Mr. Holmes)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant - didn't see)
If you really want an indication that 2015 was a year dominated by female-centric films and performances, look no further than the relatively anemic field for Best Actor. When putting together my list, I struggled to find six names I felt worthy (I personally was stumping for Jack O’Connell from the little-seen but excellent ‘71), compared to at least a dozen on my shortlist for the female categories. Fassbender is the best of the bunch (though it’s possible his Macbeth might be more impressive overall), and while I think both Jordan and Damon do good work, there isn’t the same excitement with this category compared to the female side of things.
Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
Brie Larson (Room)
Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road)
And for proof of how good a year this was for women, look no further than winner Cate Blanchett, one of the leads of my top film of the year, ranking fourth on my list of female performances. This was an outrageously good year for women in film, with career defining performances for Saoirse Ronan and Brie Larson, and a metric ton of other considerations, be they the women from Tangerine or The Duke of Burgundy or Mistress America or Clouds of Sils Maria and so on and so forth. What this means is that Blanchett is amazing and incredible and perfectly at home being fourth on my list. Of course, the more love for Carol the better, so I can’t complain.
Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
Sylvester Stallone (Creed)
Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina)
Benicio Del Toro (Sicario)
Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)
I kind of adore that we nominated Oscar Isaac’s bizarre performance as the reclusive tech genius inventor exercise obsessed alcoholic who provides the foil for Domnhall Gleeson in Ex Machina. No one is talking about this performance, and while it isn’t my favorite of the year, it is one that I believe deserves more recognition than it got (and to be fair, I had mostly forgotten about it myself until seeing the nominations, so I’m part of the problem), so kudos to my colleagues for recognizing it and doing something about it. I think Rylance gave my single favorite male performance of the year in Bridge of Spies, so it stings a bit seeing him not win, but he’s going to have a real chance at the Oscar and I doubt Isaac will even be considered for nomination, so this feels like a situation where I’m okay with how it ended up.
Rooney Mara (Carol)
Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria)
Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
Cynthia Nixon (James White)
Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)
In a perfect world, Rooney Mara would be in the Best Actress category where she belongs, leaving this category open to be rightfully won by Kristen Stewart, who gave the best pure supporting performance of any female this year. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and here Mara is in the Supporting category. From my perspective, the best way to handle this is to simply pick my favorite performance of the bunch, regardless of whether it deserves to be in the category or not. And Mara is neck and neck with Saoirse Ronan for my favorite overall female performance of the year (and overall performance at all, really), so she got the nod over Stewart. And again, I love all things Carol, so I’m never going to be upset with it getting a win.
Mistress America might be my favorite original screenplay for a couple of years, mostly due to its deliriously excellent extended farce sequence in Connecticut, but the script for Spotlight is excellent as well. It stands on the shoulders of giants like All the President’s Men and Zodiac, but it represents an excellent example of the form, and one that requires juggling an extensive cast in order to tell its story. The only script of the five I would probably exclude is Sicario, perhaps flipping it out for the excellent horror film It Follows, but they’re a step below Mistress America and Spotlight anyway.
More worthy love for Carol, which more than anything makes me want to read The Price of Salt and see how well it works as an adaptation in addition to its clear quality as a film of its own right. This might be the strongest category outside of the two actress awards, with five truly excellent scripts vying for dominance. It’s a good mix of big names like Nick Hornby and Aaron Sorkin alongside upstarts like Emma Donoghue and the winner Phyllis Nagy (both Room and Carol are their first feature scripts) and Drew Goddard (mostly known for his TV work). You can’t go wrong with any of these, but you can go most right with one of them, and Carol feels like the correct decision.
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant (Didn't see)
The way George Miller and editor Margaret Sixel conspired to manipulate the frame rate of each shot of Mad Max: Fury Road in order to make the absurd amount of movement and action discernable points to the sort of psychotic genius behind that film. Indeed, it was the only film in the category I even considered, with some of my personal favorites like Amy (a documentary, sure, but absolutely one of the best edited films of the year) and It Follows shut out of the nominations. Not more more to say, really. The right movie won.
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant (Didn't see)
This is not John Seale’s first rodeo, having previously won an Oscar for The English Patient back in 1997 (and has a long career with credits like Rain Man and Dead Poets Society). He also hadn’t DP’ed a film in five years, but apparently the allure of George Miller was too much to avoid. The reason why Mad Max: Fury Road arguably works as well as it does can be attributed to the balletic grace with which bodies and cars fly all over the screen, the exacting color correction and the overall madness with which it unfolds to the eye. All four of the five films I’ve seen here (and I’m certain a Lubezki-shot film will be gorgeous on the baseline) are beautiful, beautiful films, but nothing quite reaches the glory of Mad Max: Fury Road.
Best Foreign Language Film
Son of Saul (Didn't see)
The Assassin is a strong visual experience that left me rather cold from a narrative/emotional perspective, but I can see how it worked as a filmic experience for others. I was a much bigger fan of the emotional depth of both Mustang and Phoenix, films with absolute knockout endings that may not have the stark beauty of The Assassin, but stuck with me as experiences far longer. I wouldn’t be surprised if Son of Saul, which has essentially been winning everything everywhere, was left out simply because not enough of us managed to see it.
The Look of Silence
Best of Enemies
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
It felt strange not voting for The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer’s searing companion piece to my favorite documentary of 2013, The Act of Killing, but I loved Amy so much that it just didn’t feel right not putting it at the top. The true power of Amy lies in the fact that I could not have cared less about Amy Winehouse going into the film, but found myself captivated and utterly moved by both the experience and her as an artist. The Look of Silence is almost equally incredible, though the only thing that even slightly holds it back is that it is slightly more conventional than the Act of Killing from a filmic perspective. Clearly, though, this is a two horse race, with both of the horses more than worthy of the title.
So there we have it. I’m happy overall; my only real regret is not having the opportunity to see The Revenant and Son of Saul prior to the voting deadline. There’s still a busy second half of December upcoming, with reviews of The Danish Girl, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight, Joy and some movie about some wars in the stars or something still to come. After that, of course, comes my third annual weeklong Best of the Year extravaganza. No rest for the weary indeed.