We’re knee-deep in awards season. The Oscar nominations have been announced. We will showcase 3 of those films at our Oscar Fest just one day before the big event. We love spectacle as much as the next library.
But we celebrate the underdog, the minor key, the off beat…those the big awards neglect. What follows are films that Oscar is not going to hip you to. In other words, great movies that have a bit of an independent feel — much like our Sunday Films we show at 2 p. m. at the Main Library every month. Or what we delve deep into the last Wednesday of every month at 1:30 p. m. in our Independent Spirits Film Series.
Drum roll, please: some of the best under-seen under-awarded films of 2015. All available from your library (suggested award category precedes title in bold):
Best Picture, Acting: Love & Mercy
In 1966, Brian Wilson broke away from the Beach Boys surfin’ image to create one of the true masterpieces of recorded music, the deeply-personal Pet Sounds. How this album came to be as well as Wilson’s struggles with mental illness are explored in perhaps the best film of the year. John Cusak’s work as the older recluse Wilson is every bit as compelling as Paul Dano’s portrayal of the sensitive genius in his youth. Paul Giamatti plays the hiss-worthy psychiatrist that tried to lock Wilson away while Elizabeth Banks plays his savior. All handled with sensitivity and class, you don’t see the Mansons, nor do you see Brian gutturally screaming as he hurls tape against the wall. One masterpiece deserves another. Love & Mercy is it. If you want to delve deeper, listen to my podcast on the subject.
Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Editing: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Adapted from the book of the same name, this punchy, stylish film retains the humor of the book while wisely excising the self-deprecating “this book sucks” self-referentiality. A high school senior has learned to survive under the radar and get along with everyone by becoming friends with no one, aside from his “colleague” Earl, with whom he makes hilarious remakes of classic films…all until his mother tasks him with befriending a dying girl. The authenticity of the teen voice is dead-on. The soundtrack is carefully chosen and deployed (mostly Brian Eno’s 70’s work). The cinematography is breathtaking and expressive. The editing is sharp and fun. A thriller in a much different way than 7 Minutes is, this is the kind of movie that crackles with such energy that it reminds you what you like about the movies. And why you love them.
Best Original Screenplay: D Train
James Marsden and Jack Black star in this bizarro buddy comedy whose sweetness handily sets off its few disturbing scenes. Black plays a lovable loser in a quiet, frustrated life whose existence seems to hang on collecting RSVP’s at his high school reunion. If he can bag Marsden, the former class king….who is a comparative big-shot (in his eyes anyway) due to a Banana Boat ad, the rest of the class will be there. The lengths Black goes to do this are sad, sweet, and disturbing. All leading to believable, relatable character development, very human comedy, and an extremely satisfying ending.
Best Acting: Mississippi Grind
In a very different buddy movie, Ryan Reynolds plays a young, charismatic gambler to Ben Mendelsohn’s desperate, haggard gambling addict. Both performances are surprisingly deep in an old-fashioned film (think 70’s buddy pictures) filled with as many twists and turns as the trip down the Mississippi River they take to try and change their luck.
Adapted screenplay, acting: The End of the Tour
Yet another buddy movie, but a real meeting of the minds. Jason Segal deserves recognition as disturbed genius author David Foster Wallace. Jesse Eisenberg is very solid as the aspiring novelist interviewing him for Rolling Stone. Similar to The Clouds of Sils Maria, we see Eisenberg and Segal merge and separate in fascinating (and very believable) ways. The film offers few clichés and many genuine, tender, and troubling moments. James Ponsoldt is a director with a soft, evocative touch. And he’s one to watch; Ponsoldt also directed Smashed, a compelling film about alcoholism. And one of the best films of 2013, in The Spectacular Now.
Editing, Visual Effects: 7 Minutes
Shot right here in Everett, featuring many local residents (including some police as themselves) and local sights — including the neighborhood around both library locations, civic pride is not the only reason to see this movie. Loaded with likable character actors, a creative flashback structure, and dripping with style, 7 Minutes is a tense, thrilling, heist-gone-bad film that will keep you guessing until the very end. For more on 7 Minutes, listen to my recent podcast.
Screenplay, Actress: Mistress America
In 2005, Noah Baumbach won dozens of awards for his breakout film The Squid and the Whale: Checking in with him ten years later, Baumbach has been quietly and consistently making some of the most affecting portrayals of modern, young thinking people. Last year’s While We’re Young pondered that aging process via two couples at different ends of the spectrum. This year’s entry is just as warm and witty an adventure into the thoughts of striving, thinking people. Since Baumbach connected with screenwriter, actress, and muse Greta Gerwig (above left), he’s been cranking out stories like this sweetly sensitive coming-of-age tale centering around a young woman (above right) and her desire to become somebody…perhaps even the person to her right.
Documentary: Call Me Lucky
A very compellingly crafted documentary about angry political stand-up comic Barry Crimmins carries a whiplash twist. We begin with great contemporary comics from David Cross to Margaret Cho lionizing Crimmins for not only his quality of material, but for also helping them get a start in the business. This amusing portrait of a great funny man then develops to the not-so-funny. Exploring Crimmins’ anger at the Catholic church, we also come to learn his impact on outlawing online child pornography. A funny, fascinating, disturbing portrait of a film, Call Me Lucky should be recognized widely, but won’t. But that’s what this list is all about, isn’t it?
And the obligatory it-was-new-to-me / very close to 2015 / they had me fooled, in ascending silliness of award order: Production Design, Kids’ Movie Adults Could Enjoy: Paddington, Acting, Extreme Twisty-ness: The Guest, Screenplay, Utter Creepiness: Ex Machina, Acting, Perhaps Creepier: Prisoners, Local: Laggies, Best use of James Franco: True Story, Peerless Brilliance: Mr. Turner, Best use of Bill Murray: St. Vincent.
Your turn: what are some of your recent favorites?