Death is abundant in Tears of God, the feature-length debut from writer/director Robert Hillyer Barnett (co-written with Diamando Proimos), manufactured at the hands of others or cultivated within the familiar palms of their own. Either way, death is a pervasive condition afflicting the congregation of a small church (of sorts) nestled in the snow-covered, mountainous landscape where they worship and suffer; live and, ultimately, die.
A slumbering sojourn in the confines of intricate dreams and recollected memories, whether they be misappropriated and/or accurately depicted, the truth of which is far from discernible as the puzzle pieces of the film’s domestic investigation remain mostly unidentifiable.
At the beginning of this week I posted the first half of my Top 50 films of 2015 (#50 through #26). Today is the day I finish this list (and any further list-making endeavors until this time next year), here are the rest of my picks from 2015.
No other film has stuck with me, from this year, more so Brandon Colvin’s Sabbatical. I still find myself drifting off into the ether of my thoughts, reevaluating and dissecting the muted occurrences (as well as the circumstances of said occurrences) of Colvin’s film. I’ve talked about it extensively on various podcasts and even wrote about it for the site, but I was finally able to discuss the film with the man himself.
2015 saw a multitude of impressive releases, a bevy of which I unfortunately have not seen. A number of those unseen films I would assume would have ended up taking residence on this list, or not (you can never tell). Films like Kurt Walker's Hit 2 Pass (of which I've heard nothing but good things), Oppenheimer's The Look of Silence, Baumbach's Mistress America, Dumont's Li'l Quinquin or Guzmán's The Pearl Button. Even without seeing any of these aforementioned films, I would venture a guess that all are worthwhile in one way or another.
I saw a number of festival-run films yet to be distributed in the US, but yet not enough to warrant a stand-alone list, so I’ve decided to combine those yet-to-be-distributed films alongside a handful of honorable mentions from this year.
Now it’s time to cover the best of the best in terms of male performances from this year. I hate to keep piling it on when it comes to discussing the male performers this year, but I couldn’t help but notice the difficulty I experienced while compiling this list. Sure, there were a number of standouts but compared to their female counterparts the list of exceptional male performances were a bit lacking, in comparison.
Year-end list creating time is upon us. First up, a rundown of the best performances throughout the year from the female performers. Why the females, you ask? Because, I flipped a coin - keeping it simple. While creating both lists one thing became abundantly clear, the entries for female performances was far more robust than the male performances this year. It took me a while to whittle down the longlist, but through perseverance and an excessive, inordinate amount of time spent tweaking said list I’ve come upon an end product. So, in no particular order, here is a curated collection of my favorite performances from the year.
Giving the impression of operating from a place of aggressive indifference, Cameron Worden’s feature debut, The Idiot Faces Tomorrow, is a bizarre concoction of mixed film formats and styles forever staunch in its outright refusal to tip its hand in regards to intention and/or purpose. The Idiot Faces Tomorrow is a cinematic testament to giving exactly zero fucks when it comes to narrative cohesion, relatability, or anything that even comes close to garnering a descriptor resembling hospitable. Worden’s debut is the apex (or, perhaps more appropriately, the Marianas Trench) of unlikable character cinema.
We’ve covered a number of micro-budget Indie films from this year and one that I was lucky enough to catch was Christopher Jason Bell’s feature debut, The Winds That Scatter, during an exclusive 24-hour presentation of the film over at The Playlist back in mid-September. The film won the Best International No Budget Film Award at the Korea International Expat Film Festival and has been screening in various cities since. And, due to the arbitrary nature of the parameters of my year-end list, this won’t be the last time we mention Bell’s debut from this year.
Billed as a black as tar comedy, Nathan Silver’s 1990s period piece, Stinking Heaven, plays with the idea of a ramshackle commune of sorts, a house full of recovering addicts desperately attempting to overcome their addictions, as well as their pasts; although, I am not sure if tar is a black enough descriptor for the type of comedy found within the close quarters of this suburban home in Passaic, New Jersey.
Yet another indie Christmas-themed film thickly coated in an overall sense of bah humbug. Even the film’s title suggests a feeling of irritation towards the recent influx of holiday melancholy over the years. However, first-time writer/director Charles Poekel’s Christmas, Again reverses the trend with an uplifting tale of one man’s emotional turnaround at the hands of some old-fashioned Christmas spirit.
Gloomy and gritty, both in terms of content and aesthetics, Frownland revolves around Keith - a meek, socially-stilted man attempting to navigate the cruel circumstances of his life along with juggling the mounting social interactions with friends and acquaintances that leave him floundering and flailing endlessly, a deluge of awkwardness hemorrhaging forth from one uncomfortable situation after another. The discomfort-from-awkward-social-situations saturation point is immediately reached and exceeded within Keith’s first exchange with another person, continuing onward through various points of the discomfort spectrum.
One of my favorite films from this year - Christopher Bell's The Winds That Scatter - is currently available for free, streaming on Bell's Vimeo page, for the next 24 hours. Bell's film (which he produced, wrote, directed and edited) is, unfortunately, even more timely than it was back at the tail-end of September when I covered it on the site for our For Future Reference feature
Amid breeze-blown curtains wafting in open windows; amid the stovetop flames responsible for boiling and brewing, there is something transpiring in the constricted confines of an apartment kitchen, a narrow off-shoot barely retaining its sole possession - a dining table. Filmmaker Gina Telaroli, along with a group of friends and acquaintances, has transformed this small, familiar space into something different, its identity has been altered as the overall appearance remains recognizable with the usual occupational parameters of the room left intact as normal activity is replaced with staged imitations.
The narrative, co-written with Kate Johnston, found at the center of Empire Builder happens to deal with one uncomplicated action, an elementary development seen as inevitable based on the build and structure of the storyline. Throughout the entirety of the beginning portions of the film, there doesn’t appear to be much of an effort placed on shrouding what could happen in mystery and/or ambiguity. Swanberg and Johnston’s interests lie in the field of the emotional, taking the time to display the emotional states of each character in an unembellished fashion relying on nothing but the body languages amid solitude and socialization, oscillating between fleeting moments of reflection and intimate interactions of playfulness and consideration.