Dear Anger, Sadness, Disgust, and Dan:
I applaud Dan’s valor and foolhardiness for parachuting into our conversation like a skydiving car in Furious 7—a movie that, as David rightly notes, suggests that if you just drive with enough heart, your several-ton vehicle can survive a leap between Dubai high-rises with little more than some light chassis damage. Physics is for suckers, apparently—a fantasy that seemed particularly irresponsible to promulgate given the death of Furious actor Paul Walker in a single-car crash that was judged to be the result of driving at a speed close to 100 miles per hour in a 45-mph zone. (Walker was in the car’s passenger seat; the driver, his friend Roger Rodas, was also killed.) Director James Wan’s choice to digitally recreate Walker’s image for the film’s last few scenes, using two of the actor’s brothers as body doubles with Walker’s face superimposed on their own, points toward a future in which a performer’s ongoing biological existence may no longer be required in order to synthesize his or her presence on screen. The makers of the final two Hunger Games films decided, blessedly, not to use this technique to round out the missing pieces of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance. Instead, our last-ever glimpse of that irreplaceable actor was poignantly inconclusive—a small, truncated part in a forgettable franchise installment. (A letter his character, Plutarch Heavensbee, writes to Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss contains a line that wrung more tears from me than all the woes of Panem: “I wish I could have given you a proper goodbye.”)
It’s true that no single movie this year conquered the broader cultural imagination the way Hamilton did when it hit Broadway, though I question Dan’s certainty that the Hamilton movie will also, by necessity, rule. If Tom Hooper, director of 2012’s Les Misérables and this year’s The Danish Girl, gets his prestigey mitts on it, I could see that vital, earthy musical devolving into a blur of powdered wigs, ruffled collars, and extreme canted close-ups up Lin-Manuel Miranda’s nose. But Ryan Coogler, the 29-year-old prodigy behind Fruitvale Station and this year’s unexpectedly urgent and passionate Creed, just saw the show on Broadway and has said he’d be open to helming a hypothetical Hamilton movie. That’s an adaptation I’d consider standing on an all-day line to see.
Another way to think of a scattered year in film is that 2015 was a year in which fans of nearly every genre could find an exceptional movie to rally behind. For connoisseurs of gonzo vehicular action and mind-blowing practical effects, that was Mad Max: Fury Road. (Though every critical case for that movie’s “feminism” curiously glossed over the gaggle of lightly clad supermodels whom Charlize Theron’s battle-scarred Imperator Furiosa was sworn to protect. As for all those less lissome women being used as human dairy cows back at Immortan Joe’s hellish Citadel? Screw ’em.)
If your tastes ran more toward family films, the year’s big revelation was Inside Out—which, I agree with Dan, belongs in the top drawer of Pixar masterpieces, though perhaps it hit home the most with viewers in possession of their own emotionally conflicted preteen. Moments that might strike childless viewers as schmaltzy—like the audience’s last glimpse of Richard Kind’s Bing Bong, a character who seems to have grated on David but whom I regard as one of the great fictional creations of the year—provided my 9-year-old and me with our first-ever experience of weeping together over a work of art. Only days after seeing Inside Out, I dealt with my own sense of loss in decidedly immature fashion, by ordering a stuffed Bing Bong online. He lives on my daughter’s bed, but every once in a while I bury my face in his pink plush tummy—it really does smell like cotton candy!—and reassure myself that, as long as people go on seeing Inside Out, he’ll never be truly forgotten.
Brie Larson first caught my eye a few years ago as the teenage daughter of Woody Harrelson’s extravagantly corrupt cop in Oren Moverman’s overcooked 2012 drama Rampart. She gave one of those supporting performances that make you remind yourself to pay attention to the credits to catch a minor player’s name. In 21 Jump Street, The Spectacular Now and Short Term 12, she continued making me pay attention. Finally, this year, she went from intriguing newcomer to movie-star-in-the-making, first bringing an unexpected depth to the potentially stereotypical role of Amy Schumer’s square married sister in Trainwreck, then transcending every other female performance of the year with her astonishing turn as the kidnapped and imprisoned young mother of Room. At 26, the childless Larson seems nonetheless to have grasped hard truths about motherhood, loneliness, suffering, and survival that many actresses decades her senior might have to resort to trickery to simulate. Every awards season I, a near-total awards agnostic, get emotionally invested in exactly one potential Oscar contender, and this year it’s Brie Larson for Room. (Luckily for me, she’s currently considered a favorite to win best actress, though that could all shift after the nominations are announced next week.) Even when the movie itself works the audience’s emotions a bit hard—both the omnipresent score and Jacob Tremblay’s voice over seemed, for the most part, unnecessary—Larson is never less than fully present, human and lovable, all the more so because she never asks for the audience’s love.
Dan, if your question about It Follows boils down to “is this crafty little indie horror flick so exceptional I need to see it, even if scary movies really, really terrify me?,” I guess my answer would be no. I live with a man who regards every film more suspenseful than Lady and the Tramp as psychically bruising, and I’d never try to lure him over to the dark side by traumatizing him with The Babadook, The House of the Devil, Mama, or any of the other high-quality spookfests I would classify under that “artisanal horror” label. Some people’s psyches just don’t require, or benefit from, that weird cathartic cleansing that a smart, beautifully paced horror movie can provide. But if you’re someone who derives pleasure from an artfully administered adrenaline rush, you could do worse than to follow the neo-Cronenbergian It Follows down its psychosexual rabbit hole.
Oh! I wanted to tell you all that I did watch American Ultra, the spy-spoof rom-com that Amy put on her 10-best list and that David subsequently (with great fondness, I’m sure) crossed her off his bar mitzvah list for so doing. My verdict: American Ultra is not a great movie, nor even, in many scenes, a good one. But it has a certain something that makes me understand why its peculiar mood might have stayed with Amy all year long. Eisenberg and Stewart (who have been coupled on screen before, in Gregg Mottola’s just-about-perfect Adventureland) sizzle and pop in each other’s company like a baked-out-of-their-gourds Tracy and Hepburn. Their performances elevate the movie, even if the elevated version never reaches great heights. I hope those two are signing a contract for a series of similarly off-kilter comedy-thrillers, and I would, if not run, at least walk fairly briskly to the next film of British-Iranian director Nima Nourizadeh. OK Amy, over to ze!
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