Oh, no, not again. It's nearing the time for year-end lists and hearing from various guilds and groups to create a vague consensus over the best of this year's movies. (And music and restaurants and people and TV and everything.)
More than many of those other media, with the movies this often means the onset of a collective amnesia as if nothing happened before September or so. Yet as always, one could easily come up with an extremely credible and exciting list of the year's best from the earlier parts of the year. And one of the best parts of the evolving media landscape is that many of those films — such as the spring's surprise hit "Ex Machina" — are already on disc or even some of the various streaming/download services.
Some of these films will likely appear in my own year-end best-of list, though that is not what this is about. Instead of the relentless narrowing that happens at this time of year, all our movie talk being funneled into at most a dozen or so titles, let's not forget the outstanding work from earlier in the year.
For me 2015 in some part was simply the year of the Wiig, as actress Kristen Wiig captured a spectrum of emotional complexities in role after role. She gave one of my favorite lead performances in "Welcome to Me" as an unbalanced woman who makes a personal reckoning out of an autobiographical talk show. She also handed in one of my favorite supporting performances in "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" as a mother caught between her responsibilities as a parent and her own needs for personal freedom and growth. Even in a small role in "The Martian," as a NASA PR exec, she brought a fragile warmth and humanity to simple moments such as when she touches someone's shoulder just before a rocket launch with a mix of anxiousness and reassurance.
There also was Kristen Stewart's spellbinding performance in Olivier Assayas' "Clouds of Sils Maria," in which she plays the beleaguered assistant to a demanding grande dame actress played by Juliette Binoche. The movie is a playfully layered take on performance and persona, and Stewart, who won a French César award for the role, at times seems to be directly addressing the audience for their presumptions about her.
Anyone looking for other French films from earlier in the year should also seek out "Eden," Mia Hansen-Løve's melancholy look at holding onto your dreams too tightly amid the French electronic music scene of the 1990s and 2000s. There was also Bertrand Bonello's "Saint Laurent," a jewel-box gorgeous biopic on Yves Saint Laurent that features "Spectre" star Léa Seydoux as one of the designer's muses.
Among my favorite male performance of the year is Kevin Corrigan in "Results," which also has standout turns by Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce. Written and directed by Andrew Bujalski, the movie sneaks up on you, as all three main characters reveal unseen nuances, vulnerabilities and cracks in the fissures of how they present themselves, while the story repeatedly reorients the viewer. Set within the world of personal fitness trainers, the film reveals itself as a clear-eyed but kind-hearted take on love and money. "Results" is a marvel of screenwriting and execution brought to life by three outstanding performances.
Michael Shannon in Ramin Bahrani's "99 Homes" as a Florida real estate foreclosure hustler is more demonic, scary and evil than his turn as super villain General Zod in "Man of Steel." But Shannon invests his role in "99 Homes" with a sense of tortured ambivalence that makes this monster also all too human.
You could easily fill out a top 10 list and beyond with pre-prestige season titles, including the street-level theatrics of "Tangerine" and "Heaven Knows What"; the enigmatic blizzard of mysteries in "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter"; the rom-com in reverse of "Sleeping With Other People"; and many others.
And it's not just at the art house that certain films have gone overlooked and/or underappreciated. Take "Ricki and the Flash," directed by Jonathan Demme, written by Diablo Cody and starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer and Rick Springfield. It is a genuine, heartfelt story of love and reconciliation, at times predictable but never false.
When I think back over the year I am surprised to find that the movie that keeps popping into my head and which I keep reaching to put on now that it is on home video is Cameron Crowe's "Aloha." Marred before release by being unexpectedly swept up in the scandal around last year's hacked Sony emails, the film is disjointed and uneven, cramming too much story into its running time. (It would likely play better longer.) There is also the odd and unfortunate idea to have Emma Stone play a character who is part Chinese, part native Hawaiian and part Swedish.
And yet. The movie casts a strange spell, with a loopy pull and energy that I find idiosyncratic and infectious. There are a few scenes among Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams and John Krasinski that are among my favorites of the year and a holiday party in which Stone dances with Bill Murray that is sort of the holiday party of anyone's dreams.
For me what "Aloha" brings up most is all the problems of modern movie-going in that it gets to the root question of what we want from the movies. Are movies meant to conform to some ideal of who we are and how we present ourselves to the world, or are they an exploration? The movie is far from perfect — its flaws even becoming part of its ramshackle charm — but it is also far better than it is generally given credit for and mostly just demands that you give it a chance to work its weird ways.