MCN Columnists
Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

Thirty Favored Features For 2015 (And Twenty More)

1. Carol (Todd Haynes) Haynes may have crafted his best feature, merging intelligence and emotion in a rich, immersive canvas. A society woman in an unsatisfying marriage, Cate Blanchett’s Carol is matched for emotional perplexity by Therese, Rooney Mara’s younger shop clerk and photographer manqué. What does it mean when the two of us are in the same room, they venture in a succession of gestures, ventures and setbacks. Hayne’s lapidary precision embraces the fall, the fear, the luxuriant allure of longing and maybe lasting love.

2. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson) All too human.

3. Taxi (Jafar Panahi) A film about films and filmmaking and a filmmaker barred from making films by a filmmaker who worships films and is barred from making films, Jafar Panahi’s blissfully kind, effortlessly wise third feature since being sentenced to silence by the Iranian regime is an elegant, minor-key masterpiece. [More.]


4. It Follows (David Robert Mitchell) “Your disease… it’s inside me,” to appropriately appropriate words from David Lynch.


5. The Mend (John Magary) Magary’s directorial debut is dauntingly, tumultuously, blindingly, batshit great. In modern-day New York, a figure arrives in our consciousness, after the shattering shards of a hopeless, hapless shrieking match of a breakup. He has had a drunk or a few. Then we find him, Mat (career-best Josh Lucas), on a couch, at a party, he’s all-but-homeless, a couch surfer, someone’s brother, kind of a ruffian, certainly a hairball. And a talker. He does not chat. He holds forth. He’s an American parallel to the bleak wisecracker named Johnny at the center of Mike Leigh’s apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic Naked, beyond offensive, from bullshit beyond shibboleths, articulating misery or misgivings to everyone reluctantly around him, repellently magnetic. (Netflix Instant.) [More.]

FURY ROAD6. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller) The most terse: J. G. Ballard notoriously dubbed The Road Warriorpunk’s Sistine Chapel”; invaluable Vulture critic Bilge Ebiri nodded to the novelist in tweeting out Fury Road as “the Sistine Chapel of action filmmaking.” To which I add: headlong, berserk, bonkers, boisterous, bountiful and big-hearted. The monumental valleys of the Namib Desert pass for Australian outback, a backdrop of bold screaming color, its teeming denizens all seem sickened by radiation poisoning to one degree or another. But beyond the masterful motion, the linear but so-dense canvas, the near-faultless spatial acuity of each action setpiece, the frenetic and terrible beauty of the maniacally precise physical detailing, Miller’s politics also shout. There are kinds of chattel in the world and the future we have prepped for ourselves: water, oil (or “guzzolene,” as it’s called here) and chattel. Max’s forward propulsion—not to call it a journey—is in the service of the escape of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, skull cropped, cheekbones streaked with black oil, equipped with a prosthetic arm) with a procession of fertile women she’s caravanning beyond the wasteland to the green landscape of her youth. Max joins a revolution in the service of woman, and of the future they might build from the ashes of a masculine Inferno. “Look at them,” a character admires, “So shiny. So chrome.” [More.]

Phoenix7. Phoenix (Christian Petzold) Fassbinder’s postwar dramas are necessary epics in their own long-established right, but the late master would have certainly saluted a movie that not only toys with his Marriage of Maria Braun, but also Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Franju’s Eyes Without A Face, the bold Technicolor schemes of dramas by Sirk and certainly at least a dozen more movies I’ve never seen. But Phoenix rises above influence, transforming itself into melodramatic heaven on its own magnificent flight. [More.]


8. Ex Machina (Alex Garland) Deceptively simple social comedy deeply invested in ideas about artificial intelligence, the nature of desire and the mind-body divide. But cheekily glib, oft-vulgar banter between its two male characters—a billionaire inventor (Oscar Isaac) and the so-bright employee/programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) he’s chosen for a one-man Turing Test—and a female robot (Alicia Vikander) that can flirt, think and scheme—likably mask the intended profundity. [More.]

Hard-to-be-a-god9. Hard to Be a God (Aleksei German) Decades-in-planning and years-in-production epic is cryptic, insurgent, vital, near-pilotless and nigh-on-unfathomably dense in its creation of grotesque medieval horror centuries in the future, on another, faraway planet observed by a scientist who is forbidden from interfering in the affairs of the populace. (Well, maybe.) [More.]

10. Heaven Knows What (Josh and Benny Safdie) Superficially a story about heroin and homelessness, rocked by wakeful terrors, but it’s about something far worse, far more toxic. Harley is a young woman, an unfinished child, on the streets of modern-day New York City. She’s wide-eyed, more than a waif, but lost to a terrible addiction: a crude brute of a boy named Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones). Love and heroin: which is Harley’s worse addiction? The opening of Josh and Benny Safdie’s third feature finds her on the street, lost to a kiss, but soon in need of help. What could kill her? What she believes: that she has a freighted case of true and fated love, or at least a willful misapprehension that nothing matters more than him. “Would you die for me?” Ilya asks Harley in a scene so harsh and cold: then kill yourself right now. Do that for me, he tells her. And Harley thinks that’s love: she’ll do it. She goes to a bodega, shops for the cheapest of razor blades, and after the next scene, the stakes are set, for the characters, and for the audience. Arielle Holmes has an uncommonly expressive face, with lovely prominent teeth that peek from the rare smile, large eyes with small bright pupils, and an avid presence: she’s not fluttery or feral, but fearful and electric. [More.]


11. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien) Hou’s movies teem with tactile glories, eddies of visual strophes, the stillness of faces, the tension of bodies transfixed, the swirl of color upon color, the seething heat of regret settled into the body. The Assassin is warm to the touch but cool with intellect.Despite the rich sensations of the ninth-century-set panorama of court life and martial arts, The Assassin resists empathy. The camera is often at great distance, with battle scenes erupting abruptly in the middle or even greater distance, and moments of emotional openness between characters are captured by candlelight and seen through drowsily-in-motion scrims of colorful muslin. Stillness thwarts the screen. Shu Qi stands in and moves with blissful calm, her character’s mission heavy on her small shoulders since a small girl. A fifth, fourth, even third viewing, I eagerly fear that The Assassin will bring me to tears. For a first glimpse, the successive raptures of Mark Lee Ping Bing’s cinematography suffice. [More.]


12. Son of Saul (László Nemes) In one man’s mind, multitudes, and a single child.

my golden days13. My Golden Days (Arnaud Desplechin) Space, time, banter, first love, lasting laceration.


14The Big Short (Adam McKay) Bristling, bustling farce-cum-polemic about the guys who foresaw the 2008 banking meltdown coming in the form of the subprime mortgage scam is filled with rabble-rousing goodness and the kind of intelligent but off-center laughs you hope to land from the director of Anchorman. And a whole lot more politics: subtext and undercurrent in McKay’s filmography becomes a rushing comic river of prickling comedy. [More.]

Tangerine315. Tangerine (Sean Baker) A brash, vivacious screwball comedy of West Hollywood street life, told in the course of several blocks across several hours as Christmas Eve moves from day to dusk to dark of night and ache of heart. Sean Baker’s is a bold, intimate challenge to mild-mannered contemporary notions of independent filmmaking. There are camera moves you’ve never seen before, but the characters are even more gratifying: The opening line, “Merry Christmas Eve, bitch!” is one of the raucous story’s politest bursts of frank language. [More.]

DukeOfBurgundy-Sidse-Babett-Knudsen_PLB_00116. Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland) A movie about movies and about butterflies and two lovers deep in the woods, dense with influence, about decadence and desire, the third feature by Strickland, The Duke Of Burgundy dabbles as well in entomology, taxonomies, field recordings, roleplaying and domination. In a European never-neverland (shot in Hungary, largely in a fancy, secluded turn-of-the-century house), the apparently dominant Cynthia and the seemingly submissive Evelyn venture into a larger world confined to the presentations of butterfly scholars (only women), but mostly remain at home, engaging in ritualistic sadomasochistic roleplaying. Burgundy is a keen pastiche of 1970s Euro-sleaze and high art, and looks amazing on the big screen, calmly florid, precise yet bonkers, bristling with detail. It’s preposterous, delirious and delicious. [More.]


17. In The Shadow of Women (Phillippe Garrel) You ruin yourself.

Clouds-of-Sils-Maria-still-318. Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas) Binoche’s performance matches Assayas’ visual style, alternately brittle and supple, while Stewart is laconic yet electric in conveying her character’s quiet, emphatic passion for her boss. Kristen is a radical energy in the midst of a fine film. [More.]

QueenOfEarth19. Queen of Earth (Alex Ross Perry) Perry hews to his brusque, winsome antagonism. Drawing from deep wells on cinephilia and, it seems, cynicism, Perry is relentless toward his characters, and his depiction of cinematic female hysteria, somewhat after the fashion of Roman Polanski, is in line with the coruscating fevers of Knife In the Water and Repulsion. [More.]

Tugba Sunguroglu-Doga Zeynep Doguslu-Elit Iscan-Ilayda Akdogan and Gunes Sensoy in MUSTANG. photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group_{5ae14754-f136-e511-8d05-d4ae527c3b65}_lg20. Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven) “Everything changed in the blink of an eye. One minute very thing was fine, then everything turned to shit”: the opening narration from the mouth of Lale, the youngest of five headstrong orphaned sisters in Mustang, a provocative yet joyous film only partially about a society’s quaking fear of female sexuality. A self-conscious fairytale, it’s one of 2015’s smoothest, most confident directorial debuts, superficially a Turkish Virgin Suicides, but very much the 37-year-old Turkish-French director’s own wild creature, drawing upon western European cinematic sensibilities as well as the verdant yet rustic setting in a Turkish backwater, Inebolu, a town on the Black Sea six hundred kilometers from Istanbul.

Untitled Michael Mann Project

21. Blackhat (Michael Mann) Late Period filmmaking. Only Mann’s fingerprints will unlock meaning. In the swirl of imagery, the plot is propellant for perfumed abstraction. This whas not the thriller audiences expected. Malware infects Chinese nuclear plans and United States futures markets. Apocalypses could be in the offing, mostly in photogenic Asia. Imprisoned hacker Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), a blond bulk of a man who keeps a bevy of books by Baudrillard, Foucault, Lyotard and Derrida in his cell, is matched in his physicality against the impermanence and ephemerality of data. Against the wishes of his FBI handler, played with humorous distrust by Viola Davis, Hathaway joins forces with a Chinese agent (Wang Leehom) and his sister (Tang Wai) with whom Hathaway shares several Mannish romantic interludes, as much perfumed motion of skin and muslin as desultory heat and desire. Mann loves the look of night in contemporary digital representation, offering smeary beauty that may disappoint those who remember the 35mm-originated precision of color and light in movies like Manhunter, Thief and Heat. Action setpieces begin with the wired intensity of the shootouts of Heat, but dissolve into sensation: reflections against water, shadows against pavement at night along deserted stretches of highway in Hong Kong, heroes and villains passing behind pillars and glass and all manner of foreground occlusion, a lyrical mannerism more suggestive of the flow of meaning and physical disassociation and dissolution than any macro-effect digital representations of the path information might take along a circuit board blown up to the size of city blocks. There’s an aerial shot of Hong Kong by night, which follows a briefer one, that goes on for what seems like minutes, taking in a black-to-burnt-red-and-orange sunset and the striving endless bristle of skyscrapers and festive points of light that are ships and ferries in the bay in a way that seems like this digitally shot movie has itself become intoxicated on the sensation of pure information. [More.]

22. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy). -30- to all that.

endofthetour23. End Of The Tour (James Ponsoldt) Dave refers to a “fuckup quotient” early on, and Lipsky points out, “You agreed to the interview.” Motives are revealed as the men’s reserve peels away; they want words to not only be understood, and as their voice, but as figures of admiration. It’s some sort of seduction. They’re not outsmarting one another, the two Daves, they’re pushing and pulling and pinching to find a common ground, which only ancillarily is about selling that titanic brick of a book, clutched to the heaving bosoms of “obscenely well-educated” young men. Diffidence rises to modest disdain at the cultural artifacts they encounter, and Dave says, “I don’t know about you, but I will love to leave this planet.” Segel sad-eyes for a second and Ponsoldt, quick observer of behavior that he is, holds that second longer. Ponsoldt is a flick-of-the-wrist editor. Foreshadowing? More world-weariness in a few words. [More.]

Diaryofateenagegirl24. Diary of A Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller) She learns; she learns better, and she learns well, but the movie is about becoming, not being judged, and not about judging oneself. Like all tightrope walks, The Diary Of A Teenage Girl is fearless, and mostly breathtaking. [More.]
45+YEARS_copyright+Agatha+A.+Nitecka copy25
. 45 Years (Andrew Haigh). We all have secrets. Some stay kept. Most should.

guy-maddin-forbidden-room26. The Forbidden Room (Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson) Maddin goes more madly Maddinesque than ever with an eye-popping, mind-throbbing palimpsest of film-historical apocrypha, aided and abetted by elder poet John Ashbery. To attempt synopsis would be to tempt word salad at apex, swirling into its ever-concentric concatenation of vivid, vibrant visions of forms of filmmaking that resemble fever dreams past, but exist only within its own cloud of visual perfume across two hours of unceasing melodramatic phantasmagoria. [More.]

Entertainment127. Entertainment (Rick Alverson) Turkington lavishes his scalp with unguent and spray, dons a comb-over as skullcap, drinks and drinks from so many cocktail glasses, wanders through unlikely tourist attractions consisting of ruins under the bright desert sun, by night telling his brutal insult jokes to audiences who have armor for skin, and late, late at night attempting to reach his young daughter on the phone. It’s the closest emulation of a waking nightmare in an American movie in a very long time. The anxiety is generalized, but it’s also as specific as Hell. [More.]

InsideOut5488b2dee574328. Inside Out (Pete Docter) The streamlined storytelling startles for many reasons, but most for the ease with which it executes its improbable premise—“mind workers,” or cartoon figures inside the head of 11-year-old Riley, and how they define her emotional state—and makes it wholly accessible and very, very funny. Reportedly informed by extensive research with scientists in multiple fields, Inside Out is provocative about how emotions and memories drive the other characters as well. The quick glimpses inside Riley’s mother and father’s minds are terrific, too, and the device culminates in one of the most hilarious, logical, inspired, nearly perfect final scenes all year. Inside Out is also boldly designed, the use of color running hot and cool at just the right moments.

Mistress-America29. Mistress America (Noah Baumbach) Baumbach turns muse-partner-fellow screenwriter Greta Gerwig into a delightful, deliquescent, never-defeated and never-deflated Jean Arthur for the twenty-first century, as another incarnation of her energy and off-kilter wit is unleashed upon a Manhattan-Brooklyn of the romantic mind. For my money, or at least my mood the night I saw it, Mistres America landed like $10,000 of finely-focused therapy. (So this is narcissism!) Gerwig’s Brooke is akin to many modern Manhattanites of the past fifty years: from somewhere else but born to the island. Or at least to the lure of the lore and the lingo. From a Times Square red-carpet entrance to late-night laughter in the warm embrace of the East Village’s Veselka Ukrainian restaurant, Brooke is many tributaries. Her finger’s in pie after pie, her identity known to all but herself, a regular whirla-Zelig-gig. She’s a perpetual-posture machine, who says things not to hear herself talk, but to offer the soft sizzle of a second’s affirmation to her listener, even if what she says is errant nonsense or rank absurdity. (How do they know this woman so well?) Brooke’s also taught herself an epic range of faux sophisto-speak, from “I’ll refresh our screwdrivers” to “I love filing—satisfying!” There’s always time for another variation of Gerwig’s gift for pluperfect enunciations. When Brooke says simply, “I like to drink,” you can almost hear in the syllables the way she’d quick pull-gulp wine, gin, wine. Later, after Tracy’s garnished the sidewalk with the night’s refreshments, the mix of genuine concern and prickly amusement in Gerwig’s “Oh no! Did I feed you too much liquor?” is epic. [More.]

30. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams) Or, “The Unfuckening.” [More.]

31-50, alphabetical

Brooklyn (John Crowley)
By The Sea (Angelina Jolie Pitt)
Chevalier (Rachel Athina Tsangari)
Creed (Ryan Coogler)
Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve)
The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino)
The Kindergarten Teacher (Nadav Lapid)
Macbeth (Justin Kurzel)
99 Homes (Ramin Bahrani)
Office (Johnnie To)
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson)
Results (Andrew Bujalski)
The Revenant (Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu)
Room (Lenny Stephenson)
Sicario (Denis Villeneuve)
Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle)
Straight Outta Compton (F. Gary Gray)
Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako)
The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)
White God (Kornél Mundruczó)


outonealternatethree613x463OUT 1, 1971 (Jacques Rivette) The modesty of its gestures and the grandeur of its madness, mingling conspiracy adapted from Balzac’s “History of the Thirteen,” notions of performance, galling acting exercises of the era performed by double, warring troupes, impacted jealousy, labyrinthine intrigues, counterculture quiddities, sudden gunfire and remarkable experiments with time and duration are unaccountably moving. [More.]

UEW06cWWSUntil the End of the World, 1992-2015 (Wim Wenders) Wenders does not punish Claire. His then-partner Dommartin extends the grace of her physical performance as the trapeze artist in Wings Of Desire: the way she moves! Coiled, tensile at rest, on the balls of her feet as she walks across a frame in a miniskirt patterned like a Buckminster Fuller geodesic design, she provides lithe counterpoint to the lassitude of other characters. She begins as a sybarite in a black Louise Brooks wig with architectural bangs: when she whips it off, a cascade of thick blonde curls erupt and the film is freed, just as in Wenders’ Kings of the Road when the narrative was loosed only by a character taking a seriously successful shit on a beach, each figure freeing themselves physically to whatever may come next. Now a lustrous epic masterpiece of effortless science fiction, with giddy film genre borrowings, and futuristic prediction turned period piece, World first spun in a shorn, shattered version of 179 minutes that satisfied no one, especially Wenders. Time is of the essence: set in 1999, shot in 1990-91, released at a compromised, unsatisfying 179 minutes in 1991, Wenders’ dream is only just now released in an integral, near-five-hour walkabout. [More.]

about-elly-1024x683About Elly, 2009, (Asghar Farhadi) College friends meeting at a villa by the water for a couple of days relaxation, maybe a little romance, is the setup, and all seems placid and cheery. But as events suddenly shift the stakes, the procession of faces, figures, reactions, comprise the poetry of Farhadi’s splendid filmmaking that only begins with his taut, tingling scenario. This is masterful, assured, even thrilling work, a thing of beauty and mystery. [More.]

Rebels-Of-A-Neon-GodRebels of the Neon God, 1992 (Tsai Ming-liang) the spare visuals are lovely, such as a footchase through the exotic neon tackiness of Taipei street markets, and light that plays off a flooded apartment floor rippling over darkened walls. Tsai’s essential visual vocabulary came nearly fully-formed. [More.]


Sanjay’s Super Team (Sanjay Patel)
#thisisacoup (Theopi Skarlatos)
Bad at Dancing (Joanna Arnow)
Bite Radius (Spencer Parsons)
The Walk, last 25 minutes (Robert Zemeckis)
Blood Below The Skin (Jennifer Reeder)

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon