Anyway, every passing year, as of late, it seems like the entertainment industry gets better -- smarter, more dedicated to elevating the mediums of tv and film, which are, in turn telling stories richer and more gorgeous than any other time in my lifetime, so far. And people are getting better at talking about it, too. There is a huge focus on show creators, show runners, writer/directors and critics, too. The discourse surrounding our favorite shows and films is elevated, too. Whether or not humanity will be strengthened by this feedback loop remains to be seen, but it's a hell of a time to be a fan of tv and film!
In alphabetical order:
CAROL Written by Phyllis Nagy and directed by Todd Haynes. Starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
I have loved Todd Haynes since my film-loving heart first expanded with the world of 90s indies. He was one of the first directors that opened my eyes to a visual tone. Carol, as a film, is wistful, simple and measured. The story and setting are easy to take on. But it's Cate Blanchett as the title character that lavishes sophisticated layers on top of depth on top of layers. She is the most authentic character I have seen all year, and in every single frame, too. Her every mannerism, inflection and eye line had me glued to my seat, I didn't want to move a muscle in case I missed the chance to process a transmission of some kind coming from her.
FARGO Created by Noah Hawley. Starring Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Jean Smart and Ted Danson.
Season 2 of Fargo took an already masterful show to new heights. There's not an episode that goes by that I don't marvel at the seemingly effortless way everything comes together, and so beautifully, too. There was a snowy forest scene that brought tears to my eyes in episode 207 because it was so visually arresting. Many weeks, I get finished watching the show and feel like I'm in a Breaking Bad state of mind. That is to say a thoughtful, wrecked, charmed, quasi-disgusted yet desperate for the next chapter kind of way. But the charm is much stronger in this one. Plus every episode fires on all 12 cylinders.
HANNIBAL SEASON THREE DVDS/BLU-RAY Created by Bryan Fuller. Based on the universe Thomas Harris created. Starring Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen.
It's, of course, no secret that I have deep affection for Hannibal. But until the Season 3 discs came out, I didn't fully realize how much love the creative team behind the show had for the fans. If you ever wanted to know what it was like, start to finish, with nearly every production member speaking on their contribution, to make the Great Red Dragon arc of this series, well, then these discs are for you! From many scenes from the actual writers room while they were beating out the story, to interviews with all of the actors and crew who had a hand in it, the third season of this show is revealed in all of its gritty gorgeous glory. There is a director/producer commentary on every episode of this season. ALL OF THEM, YOU GUYS. Who does that? People who know that their fanbase is full of art-obsessed film geeks who love homoeroticism, cannibalism and very fancy things.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell.
What can I say? I owe a debt to Quentin Tarantino that I could never repay in 10 lifetimes. He's probably the filmmaker that has had the biggest effect on the way I see and experience film, as an adult. Any year he releases a movie, is a good year in my book. The Hateful Eight, well, I haven't had that much fun in a movie theater since Django Unchained. And before that, Inglorious Bastards. There's a gentleman's embargo on discussing the film in print at the moment, which I would like to respect, so I'll end with this: if you're a fan, you cannot miss this. Tarantino is characteristically exuberant. And see it in the theaters where Tarantino has pulled off a feat of unparalleled commitment in how this movie is shown on the big screen.
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2 Written by Peter Craig and directed by Francis Lawrence. Based on the universe Suzanne Collins created. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth.
Well, for one, this movie has the best mercy kill of all time. But really this whole series, and its conclusion, has had a huge impact on me. I just love Katniss Everdeen so much. Her and her wicked cool bow and arrow. I really fell in love with Jennifer Lawrence though these movies. Plus, the story is so rousing, in multiple ways, and though the concept of The Hunger Games has been criticized for not being original exactly, I'd argue that nothing that came before it, took it to this level -- productions and all! Honestly, though, in some ways the series has a special place in my heart for the simple fact that it has made use of some of the finest actors and actresses over 35 without making a big deal about it. I shall miss it.
INSIDE OUT Written and directed by Pete Docter. Starring Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith and Richard Kind.
I saw Inside Out in the theater three times this past summer, the first being at an overpriced Fandango 'event' that showed a pre-movie short about Pixar and the making of the movie and followed the screening with a Q&A with Pete Docter and Amy Poehler, onscreen. I haven't been that devoted to anything since an X-Files convention I attended in 1997. I love Pixar, you guys. I can honestly say that watching this movie 100 times I would still only understand a fraction of its brilliance. The idea that we don't grow up until we find a place for sadness... I mean, is there a more sophisticated distillment of our human experience in cinema than that? Besides telling us who and why we are, the level of art this movie is working at, from the animation to the sound design to the casting, is staggering.
THE KNICK Created by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Clive Owen and André Holland.
Of all of my favorites this year, it's The Knick that permeates my thoughts most regularly. Probably because, when I'm not watching it, and doing most everything else in my life that I can wear headphones, I am listening to the bone-tingling score of both Seasons 1&2 by the incomparable Cliff Martinez. (Seriously, if you like movie and tv scores, this one will blow your mind.) Steven Soderbergh and company make this show the weirdest, most stylized, most affecting piece of tv, au courant. The ways our current society is reflected back to us will lead you to some interesting thoughts! Also, there is a precision to the show that can only come from the mind and heart of someone who will happily do three of the hardest jobs in the room in order to remove any extra bodies from the production. The Knick is craftsmanship at its finest.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Written and directed by George Miller. Starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.
The other movie I saw three times in the theater was Mad Max: Fury Road. It took me two viewings before I could even take in enough oxygen through the last act and understand it! What a spectacular piece of celluloid this is! It's so over the top in all of the best ways. If you watch the special features on the DVD, one of the producers says the secret to the movie's success, aside from George Miller, was the fact that 85% of what was on the storyboards in pre-production made it to the final product. 85%!!! That's unheard of in a production as choreographed and designed as this one. Essentially, we, as viewers, yet again, got to see the demented drawings come to life of one man's insane imagination. What a gift that movie is. If you buy into the world it's created, you are in for the ride of your life!
THE REVENANT Written by Alejandro Iñáritu and Mark Smith and directed by Alejandro Iñáritu. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.
Some of my favorite film directors are the ones who show incredible range: Ang Lee, Danny Boyle and now Alejandro Iñáritu. I should have seen it after Birdman, which was of course after 21 Grams. Those two movies of Iñáritu's couldn't be more different. The Revenant, when placed in that circle is actually almost too much to reconcile. It is a weather-beaten, snow-covered nightmare that is paced so exquisitely so as you can actually sit there and withstand it! The themes are so much richer than what you expect from the genre, and they make the movie that much stronger and effective. Not only that but the drama that was unfolding necessarily from the rigors of the production bled through the screen, too. To top it all off, the actors are in their finest form.
This was the year I discovered Tom Hardy. After his turn as Mad Max, I went back and re-watched his Christopher Nolan films, Peaky Blinders and pretty much everything I could find. I saw Legend and of course The Revenant in the same week and declared him as having had the best year of any actor I can imagine. He is always himself but that self is never the same. His portrayal of the Krays is astonishing. Also, who lives in the desert to shoot a movie, combating sand storms and the worst weather conditions ever then two years later, lives in the mountains in Canada to shoot a movie, combating snow storms and the worst weather conditions ever? Tom Hardy.
Thank you for reading. Most importantly -- Happy Holidays to all the writers and readers at Doux Reviews and all the best in 2016!