Countdown: 25 Best Films of 2015

by George Wolf

It was going to be a top ten, but next thing you know, I’ve got twenty-five favorites this year, with a few special mentions for the deserving.

GUILTY PLEASURE: Vacation. It had its rough spots, but I laughed.

HIDDEN GEM: Slow West. It was a great year for Westerns, and this less-is-more beauty was a big reason why.

DON’T UNDERSTAND THE LOVE (aka The Blind Side Award): The Martian.  Matt Damon brings the usual charm but everything else is lost in space.


25. Clouds of Sils Maria

Juliette Binoche and Kristin Stewart shine in this story of an actress confronting both her past and future. Full of subtle complexity, it offers sly insights that sneak up on you, and an exceptional cast to make them stick.


24. Bone Tomahawk

A horror cannibal western? Thank you S. Craig Zahler, and well done.


23. Tangerine

Much more than just “the iPhone movie,” Sean Baker’s in-the-moment look at life “on the block” is brash and daring, funny, subversive, insightful and poignant.


22. Phoenix

A gripping story of loss, hope, regret and resignation, told with simmering emotional power by director Christian Petzold.


21. Straight Outta Compton

This is a musical biopic with some pretty high stakes and a pretty big payoff. It’s at once a universal story of expression, and an intimate American journey, as vital to its own time as it is to ours.


20. Trainwreck

The funniest movie of the year, and a wonderful big screen breakout for Amy Schumer (and some guy named LeBron).


19. Love & Mercy

A wonderfully abstract take on the life of Brain Wilson, led by a masterful turn from Paul Dano.


18. Mistress America

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig deliver an offbeat, fast paced dialog-fest that’s equal parts self-delusion satire and love letter to the written word.


17. The Hateful Eight

Retro stylings, wicked humor, a deliberate pace, and thirst-quenching frontier justice mark Tarantino’s robust mix of Agatha Christie whodunit and violent social commentary.


16. Sicario

Badass Emily Blunt, flippant Josh Brolin, and haunting Benicio Del Toro anchor Denis Villeneuve’s visually mesmerizing tale of moral ambiguity on the Southern border. Intense.


15. Bridge of Spies

Spielberg, Hanks, Coen Brothers, historical drama…you can guess how that works out.


14. Brooklyn

A luminous story of love, home and commitment, bursting with beauty and a heart-piercing lead performance from Saoirse Ronan.


13. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Maybe you’ve heard of it.


12. It Follows

David Robert Mitchell serves up the best American horror film in years. It’s creepy, smart and stylish, with scares that won’t easily vanish.


11. The Tribe (Plemya)

Don’t like subtitles? Great, you won’t find any in this gripping tale of survival told entirely in Ukranian sign language. An unforgettable experience.


10. The Big Short

The director of Anchorman and Talladega Nights grabs a stellar cast and tackles the housing crisis with conscience, wit and outrage.


9. Anomalisa

Charlie Kaufman’s proposed animated short becomes a wondrous feature that utilizes powerful subtlety to explore the challenge and mystery of human connection.


8. The Revenant

Innaritu, DiCaprio and Hardy take the journey toward redemption to the out of doors with a brutally gorgeous, punishingly brilliant film.


7. Inside Out

Once again, Pixar examines the changing phases of life with charm, humor, and a subtle intelligence that can’t help but give you a fresh appreciation for all the jumbled feelings that make life worth living.


6. Spotlight

Writer/director Tom McCarthy and a brilliant ensemble address the Catholic Church abuse scandal with a welcome dignity. This is as observant a film as you will find, delicately crafted and brimming with sincere, multi-dimensional performances. It is required viewing.


5. Steve Jobs

What if they gave a great movie and nobody came? Director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin craft a challenging and ferocious look at the wages of genius, carried by a masterwork titular performance from Michael Fassbender.


4. Mad Max: Fury Road

To say that George Miller has stepped up his game since he left us at Thunderdome would be far too mild a statement. Mad Max: Fury Road is not just superior to everything in this franchise, it’s among the most exhausting, thrilling, visceral action films ever made.


3. Ex Machina

What an irresistible treat Ex Machina is – smart, seductive and wickedly funny, boasting glorious visuals, stirring performances, and big ideas guaranteed to linger like a dream you just can’t shake. It’s a stunning directorial debut from veteran writer Alex Garland, with a can’t-look-away performance from Oscar Isaac.


2. Room

Director Lenny Abrahamson creates a meticulously crafted, lived-in world – a world that should look like nothing we have ever seen or could ever imagine – that manages to resonate with beautifully universal touches. The undeniably talented Brie Larson gives a career-defining performance, but it is young Jacob Tremblay who ensures that the film won’t soon be forgotten.


1. Carol

Oh, Carol, what a mesmerizing, captivating, utterly beautiful web you weave. Director Todd Haynes has crafted a keenly insightful love story full of bittersweet grace, propelled by two glorious performances. Expect Oscar nominations for both Cate Blanchett as unhappily married Carol, and Rooney Mara as the department store clerk awakened when Carol visits her counter at Christmastime. A meticulously crafted time piece akin to Haynes’s wonderful Far From Heaven, Carol aches with restrained longing and love. Exquisite.

What’s Not to Love?

The Hateful Eight

by Hope Madden

“You only need to hang mean bastards, but mean bastards you need to hang.”

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but 2015 may have been the year of the Western. The brilliant, underseen films Slow West and Bone Tomahawk kicked things off, with the amazing The Revenant just around the corner. But it’s the latest from Quentin Tarantino that solidifies the theme, and something tells me The Hateful Eight won’t be counted in the underseen category.

Though not exactly the soul mate of his 2012 near-masterpiece Django Unchained, H8 is certainly a Civil War-era shooting cousin. Set just after the War Between the States, Tarantino’s latest drops us in a Wyoming blizzard that sees an assortment of sketchy characters hole up inside Minnie’s Haberdashery to wait out the storm.

Throwback stylings, wicked humor, a deliberate pace, and thirst quenching frontier justice mark Tarantino’s eighth picture – a film that intentionally recalls not only the more bombastic Westerns of bygone cinema, but many of QT’s own remarkable films.

Kurt Russell (sporting the same facial hair he wore in Bone Tomahawk) is a bounty hunter escorting the murderous Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to hang, but they won’t make that last stage to Red Rock because of this blizzard. Hell, they may never make it to Red Rock at all.

With the genuinely gorgeous wide shots of a blizzard chasing a stage coach through a vast Wyoming countryside, all set to Ennio Morricone’s loudly retro score, H8 opens as a true Western, but it soon settles into something closer to an Agatha Christie-style whodunit. Although I’m not sure Christie ever got quite so bloody.

Minnie’s Haberdashery is populated by a lot of familiar faces. Sam Jackson, who’s never better than when he’s grinning through QT’s dialog, excels in a role that keeps the era’s racial tensions on display. Meanwhile, Mr. Orange Tim Roth does his finest Christoph Waltz impression.

Walton Goggins is especially strong as Rebel renegade Irskin Mannix’s youngest son Chris, but it’s Leigh who steals the film. She’s a hoot in a very physical performance unlike anything she’s delivered in her 30 years in film.

Most of Tarantino’s career has been about re-imagining the films that have come before. With The Hateful Eight, he spends a lot of time rethinking his own work. Much of the film plays like an extended version of the “Stuck in the Middle with You” scene from Reservoir Dogs, reconceived as a bounty hunters’ picnic.

As is often the case, QT breaks cinematic rules left and right. Sometimes these risks pay off, sometimes they don’t, but even at 3+ hours, the film never gives you the chance to get too comfortable.

This is not Tarantino’s most ambitious film and not his most successful, artistically, but it is a riotous and bloody good time.


Fright Club: Best Horror Films of 2015

The year is over and the time has come to assess the damage. What were the best the genre had to offer in 2015? New Zealand came up big, while new filmmakers, creepy twins, and potentially contagious horrors kept us awake this year.

Not that this was an easy list to compile. We enlisted the assistance of Senior Filmmaker Correspondent Jason Tostevin for some wisdom, which led to some polite disagreement, but we thank him all the same! Listen to the whole argument, errr, podcast HERE.

5. What We Do in the Shadows

In the weeks leading up to the Unholy Masquerade – a celebration for Wellington, New Zealand’s surprisingly numerous undead population – a documentary crew begins following four vampire flatmates.

Viago (co-writer/co-director Taika Waititi) – derided by the local werewolf pack as Count Fagula – acts as our guide. He’s joined by Vladislav (co-writer/co-director Jemaine Clement), who describes his look as “dead but delicious.” There’s also Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) – the newbie at only 187 years old – and Petyr. Styled meticulously and delightfully on the old Nosferatu Count Orlock, Petyr is 8000 years old and does whatever he wants.

Besides regular flatmate spats about who is and is not doing their share of dishes and laying down towels before ruining an antique fainting couch with blood stains, we witness some of the modern tribulations of the vampire. It’s hard to get into the good clubs (they have to be invited in) or find a virgin. Forget about tolerating the local pack of werewolves (led by the utterly hilarious alpha Rhys Darby).

The filmmakers know how to mine the absurd just as well as they handle the hum drum minutia. The balance generates easily the best mock doc since Christopher Guest. It was also the first great comedy of 2015.

5. Deathgasm

That’s right – it’s a good, old fashioned Kiwi Tie for 5th place.

New Zealand teenage outcast Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) knows he and his friends are losers, so of course they start a band to get loud and be cool! But when their rocking involves playing an ancient piece of music known as the Black Hymn, they unwittingly summon an evil entity and the body count starts rising.

In his feature debut, writer/director Jason Lei Howden, a veteran of Peter Jackson’s special effects team, borrows heavily from Shaun of the Dead-style pacing and camerawork while managing to poke some blood-spattered fun at the “devil music” stereotypes often thrown at heavy metal.

You’ll find plenty of laughs, some rom-com elements, and winning performances from both Cawthorne and Kimberley Crossman as Medina, the school beauty who can also swing a pretty mean ax.

Clever and surprisingly self-aware, Deathgasm is fine excuse to feed your inner metalhead.

4. Bone Tomahawk

In a year rife with exceptional Westerns, this film sets itself apart. S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut embraces the mythos of the Wild West, populating a familiar frontier town with weathered characters, but casting those archetypes perfectly. Kurt Russell and Richard Jenkins, in particular, easily inhabit the upright sheriff and eccentric side kick roles, while Patrick Wilson’s committed turn as battered heroic lead offers an emotional center.

Zahler effortlessly blends the horror and Western genres, remaining true to both and crafting a film that’s a stellar entry into either category. Bone Tomahawk looks gorgeous and boasts exceptional writing, but more than anything, it offers characters worthy of exploration. There are no one-note victims waiting to be picked off, but instead an assortment of fascinating people and complex relationships all wandering into mystical, bloody danger.

Because the true horror is a long time coming and you’re genuinely invested in the participants in this quest, the payoff is deeply felt. This is a truly satisfying effort, and one that marks a new filmmaker to keep an eye on.

3. Goodnight Mommy

There is something eerily beautiful about Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s rural Austrian horror Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh, Ich seh).

During one languid summer, twin brothers Lukas and Elias await their mother’s return from the hospital. They spend their time bouncing on a trampoline, floating in a pond, or exploring the fields and woods around the house. But when their mom comes home, bandaged from the cosmetic surgery she underwent, the brothers fear more has changed than just her face.

Inside this elegantly filmed environment, where sun dappled fields lead to leafy forests, the filmmakers mine a kind of primal childhood fear. Their graceful storytelling leads you down one path before utterly upending everything you think you know. They never spoon feed you information, depending instead on your astute observation – a refreshing approach in this genre.

The film is going to go where you don’t expect it to go, even if you expect you’ve uncovered its secrets.

2. The Nightmare

An effective scary movie is one that haunts your dreams long after the credits roll. It’s that kind of impact most horror buffs are seeking, but even the most ardent genre fan will hope out loud that Rodney Ascher’s new documentary The Nightmare doesn’t follow them to sleep.

His film explores sleep paralysis. It’s a sleep disorder – or a label hung on the world’s most unfortunate night terrors – that’s haunted humanity for eons. And dig this – it sounds like it might be contagious.

Ascher’s a fascinating, idiosyncratic filmmaker. His documentaries approach some dark, often morbid topics with a sense of wonder. His films never push an agenda, and he doesn’t seem to have made up his mind on his subject matter. Instead, his is open-mided approach which, in turn, iinvites the audience to follow suit.

It’s not all earnest sleuthing, though, because Ascher is a real showman. What’s intriguing is the way he draws your attention to his craftsmanship – like framing a shot so you see the speaker not head on, but in a large mirror’s reflection, then leaving the reflection of the cameraman’s arm in the same shot. Touches like this never feel amateurish, but they don’t really feel like a cinematic wink, either. Instead it becomes a way to release the tension, and remind you that you are, indeed, watching a movie… a heartbreaking, terrifying movie.

We spend a great deal of time watching horror movies, and we cannot remember an instance that we considered turning off a film for fear that we would dream about it later. Until now.

1. It Follows

David Robert Mitchell invites you to the best American horror film in more than a decade.
Yes, It Follows is the STD or horror movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted yet another cautionary tale about premarital sex.

Mitchell has captured that fleeting yet dragging moment between childhood and adulthood and given the lurking dread of that time of life a powerful image. There is something that lies just beyond the innocence of youth. You feel it in every frame and begin to look out for it, walking toward you at a consistent pace, long before the characters have begun to check the periphery themselves.

Mitchell borrows from a number of coming of age horror shows, but his film is confident enough to pull it off without feeling derivative in any way. The writer/director takes familiar tropes and uses them with skill to lull you with familiarity, and then terrify you with it.

Mitchell’s provocatively murky subtext is rich with symbolism but never overwhelmed by it. His capacity to draw an audience into this environment, this horror, is impeccable and the result is a lingering sense of unease that will have you checking the perimeter for a while to come.

Isn’t It Bromantic?

Point Break

by Hope Madden

Just like a shiny new toy waiting to be unwrapped, Point Break is available for your viewing pleasure this Christmas Day.

Kathryn Bigelow’s 1992 MTV Award winning surfing/bank robbing/pathway to enlightenment classic wears some new trunks courtesy of director Ericson Core (Invincible).

Johnny Utah (yes, that’s still his name) was a YouTube phenom thanks to some extreme mountain biking and whatnot, but tragedy and guilt motivated him to change his life. One man-bun later, he’s a fledgling FBI agent with a nose for extreme sportsman heists.

Dude, I totally think those bank robbers are trying to perform the Ozaki 8.

That’s right, they’re not common criminals. They are extreme eco-warriors and poly-athletes.
Well now they’re just making words up.

Luke Bracey seems at times to channel Keanu Reeves, his predecessor in the rich and meaty role of Utah. Indeed, he boasts the sun kissed locks of a young Patrick Swayze as well as the utterly wooden acting presence of Reeves – quite a combination.

In the role of Jedi Master Bodhi is Edgar Ramirez, an actor who, in fact, has talent. You won’t see evidence of it here, though, as he struggles through dialog, such as, “All you see is lines. All we see is truth.”


Replacing the spunky Lori Petty in the role of Utah’s love interest is Teresa Palmer as Samsara. Look how adorably enlightened she is! She climbed a rock pile – yay!

But you don’t come to Point Break (either version) for the acting. If you can make it past the insufferable masculine posturing, the film looks great. Yes, the first two set pieces rip off the Mission Impossible franchise, with a little Fight Club robbery thrown in later, but who has time for originality?

The scenery is stunning, the stunts genuinely impressive, and Core is wise enough to limit dialog and plot to a minimum, allowing plenty of time for filling the screen with sky, valley, waterfall, and mountain top – you know, everything a real man conquers. For enlightenment.



Not So Young and Restless


by Hope Madden

Like writer/director Paolo Sorrentino’s 2013 Oscar winner The Great Beauty, his latest effort, Youth, offers a visually sumptuous rumination on aging and regret.

Michael Caine leads a marvelous cast as Fred Ballinger, a retired composer who’s done with life. He’s wasting time at a luxurious Swiss hotel, sharing a room with his daughter (Rachel Weisz) and hanging out with his longtime pal Mick (Harvey Keitel).

Keitel and Caine shine. A fragile, passionate Keitel delivers his strongest performance in decades as the over-the-hill filmmaker grasping for one last “testament.” Meanwhile, the more restrained Caine is no less heartbreaking. Together they tease out a lived-in friendship that’s a bittersweet joy to watch.

Weisz, equal parts vulnerability and fire, joins a delightfully sly Paul Dano in support of the geriatric leads, all of them part of an unusual and high-brow population at this resort.

A parade of images, both grotesque and gorgeous – and the absurdity of that mixture – is the essence of the film. Sorrentino’s channeling a couple of compatriots with this one. You see the influence of Fellini in many ways, as Sorrentino gives life to poet Pavese’s quote, “The closing years of life are like the end of a masquerade party, when the masks are dropped.”

He’s helped immeasurably by cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, whose lens finds glamour and decay in equal measure, giving the film a dreamy cinematic quality. David Lang’s evocative score emphasizes the hypnotic quality of the visuals. It’s a visual and aural feast, though the concept that aging men see lost vitality encapsulated solely in the image of beautiful young women is wearisome.

This is a film marked, more than anything, by one concentrated feeling: longing. Sorrentino captures this beautifully, and his cast is more than capable of breathing life into characters saddled with a yearning for what is lost.

Segues into elegantly whimsical moments of fantasy are particularly enjoyable, but Sorrentino’s greatest triumph here is the sucker punch awaiting audience and characters alike with the introduction of Jane Fonda’s character.

A salty, aging diva, Fonda offers a swift kick to all this languid, self-congratulatory cinematic nonsense. She’s a blistering triumph, garish and glorious.

There are slow spots and questionable indulgences, but Youth, with the help of a stellar veteran cast, showcases something rarely offered in modern film – the power of age.



Bloodying Lines

Over Your Dead Body

by Hope Madden

When you’re watching a film that blurs the line between art and reality, a story where actors in a play find that their real lives eerily begin to mirror the drama on the stage, you might think you can guess where things will take you. Unless that film was made by Takashi Miike. If that’s the movie you happen upon, all you know for sure is that things will, sooner or later, turn really ugly.

Such is the case with Miike’s 87th film, Over Your Dead Body. (He’s actually made four more since this one!)

The film begins slowly, but so did Audition, and that one eventually took audiences places we were ill-prepared to go. Something to keep in mind if you find yourself antsy during the first act.

Working from a script by frequent collaborator Kikumi Yamagishi, Miike employs unusual sound editing to immediately create a nightmarish atmosphere.

Miyuki (Ko Shibasaki) and her cheating boyfriend Kousuke (Ebizo Ichikawa) land the leads in a Kabuki style ghost story.

On stage and off, the lovers’ path is a rocky one, and Miike’s approach leaves you forever wondering whether you’re seeing any kind of reality – is this a hallucination? A descent into madness? Hell?

The ambiguity feeds the film’s horrifying dreamlike quality, but Over Your Dead Body is not all atmospherics and guessing games. The movie takes its first turn toward the supernatural when it introduces a creepy doll, but reminds you what you’ve signed up for once Miyuki starts rummaging around the utensil drawer.


Profoundly uncomfortable yet hypnotic and elegant, it’s a combination few manage quite like Miike. Over Your Dead Body is not the satisfying genre effort of Audition, nor is it the visceral wonder of 13 Assassins, and it lacks the macabre humor of many of the filmmaker’s previous collaborations with Yamagashi. The leaden first act doesn’t help, either, but you can expect a hell of a payoff. As always.


Great Dane

The Danish Girl

by Hope Madden

Tom Hooper is a proven director. He followed an Oscar for The King’s Speech with an impeccable reimagining – perfectly theatrical and cinematic – of Les Miserables. He now turns his attention to the true life tale of what is likely the world’s first transgender surgery.

The Danish Girl is the gorgeously appointed, elegantly acted portrait of artist Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne – proving himself a chameleon of the same caliber as Tom Hardy or Tilda Swinton). His wife Gerda (a remarkable Alicia Vikander), an artist of less fame, needs a favor: her model has cancelled.

What begins as a favor – some silk stockings and fancy shoes – turns into a game for Gerda, but something else entirely for Einar.

The film works best as a study of marriage in turmoil, as Gerda’s riot of conflicting emotions is beautifully articulated by Vikander. Hers is an authentically tumultuous, tender and human performance.

Redmayne – Oscar winner for last year’s The Theory of Everything – is a fierce and nimble talent, no question. His graceful turn here is filled with vulnerability and longing. But The Danish Girl – and Redmayne’s performance, in particular – may be too restrained, too dignified for its own good.

Vikander’s character is fascinating from the beginning, and her fiery yet tender performance drives the film. But that’s kind of the problem. It’s Lili, the woman Einar is determined to become, that we should care for more, learn more about. The Danish Girl should be her story, but it really isn’t.

The fault is hardly Redmayne’s. He evolves slowly from a passionate if delicate husband to an even more delicate yet burgeoning woman, but he never invites us into Lili’s head. She’s an enigma.

The film never truly belongs to Gerda’s story, either, and the lack of true focus leaves the lovely film feeling superficial.

The story itself is astonishing, bordering on unbelievable. Lili Elbe was pioneering and tragic, fragile but fearless in a time when her journey was utterly unimaginable. The Danish Girl has a lot to offer, but it needed quite a bit more of Lili’s spirit if it was to leave a lasting impression.


Modern Day Sacrilege


by George Wolf

“The NFL owns a day of the week. It’s the same day the Church used to own. Now it’s theirs.”

That’s one of the best lines in Concussion, made even better because it’s not only a blunt reminder of how much America loves football, but a de facto admission that the film’s message may be modern day sacrilege.

Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian-born brain specialist who, while working in the hallowed gridiron ground of Pittsburgh, first identified CTE, the deadly brain disease afflicting former football players. He’s also the man who just recently proposed a ban on the sport for anyone under the age of 18.

(Pause for laughter).

Writer/director Peter Landesman seems more confident in driving home the dangers of football’s controlled violence than in turning Dr. Omalu’s story into a consistently compelling narrative. Highlights of ESPN’s old “Jacked Up!” segment roll in the background as Dr. Omalu demonstrates how the brain reacts to collision, describing one effect akin to “pouring wet concrete down kitchen pipes.”

These punches land, but then the film can’t decide if it wants to be 60 Minutes, Forensic Files or All the President’s Men.

More precisely, it tries to be all of them, exhibiting the same scattered focus that plagued Landesman’s script for Kill the Messenger, another true tale of a crusader under fire for his unpopular discovery. With Landesman also in the director’s chair this time, the reins are even looser, most damagingly in the one-note depiction of Omalu.

Smith delivers a committed, thoughtful performance that may be the best of his career, but he is hamstrung with a script that gives his character zero layers that aren’t heroic. Support from Alec Baldwin as Omalu’s colleague Dr. Julian Bailes, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Omalu’s wife, is similarly underplayed. Only Albert Brooks, in a scene-stealing turn as the head of Omalu’s pathology department, finds some moments that break convention.

Concussion carries an understandable sense of quiet outrage, but muddles its own case with cliches and curious wrinkles in the game plan. There’s a gripping movie in here somewhere, and no doubt the Church of the NFL is happy it wasn’t found.



Miracle Worker


by George Wolf

Joy professes inspiration from “stories of daring women everywhere.” It was written and directed by a man. How’s that go down?

Pretty smooth, thank you.

It doesn’t hurt that the writer/director is David O. Russell, his headliner is the no-time-for-b.s. Jennifer Lawrence, and much of the story is true.

Lawrence is Joy Mangano, the inventor and home shopping guru who was a struggling single mom when she came up with the idea for the “Miracle Mop” in 1990. Deep in debt from startup and production costs, her tenacity won over an exec at QVC, you like her now?

Of course, Joy’s actual path to success is a bit more complex, and it’s presented with a more high concept approach than we’re used to from Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle). Some amusingly cast fantasy sequences help introduce us to the various players in Joy’s wacked-out family, including a soap opera obsessed mother (Virginia Masden), a father jumping into online dating (Robert DeNiro) and an ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez) who dreams of being the next Tom Jones.

They all rely on Joy for a place to live, and for seemingly every answer to any daily problem. Though Russell flirts with kitschy excess in letting us into Joy’s world, the tone eventually strikes a relatable nerve. The respect for hard-working single mothers seems genuine, and the breezy reminder that we all have crazy-ass families is hard to resist.

Lawrence completely sells it, because that’s just what she does. The bone-tired exasperation of ambitions trumped by responsibility is evident early on, but Lawrence never lets the flicker of defiance to completely leave Joy’s eyes. When her fortunes begin to turn, the dreamlike elation over sudden success feels sweetly authentic.

Russell again shows his touch with actors is among the best in the business. Yes, he’s working with some of his favorites (Lawrence and DeNiro are joined by Bradley Cooper as the QVC exec giving Joy her big chance), but Russell’s entire ensemble seems both perfectly cast and completely invested, all carving out distinct characterizations.

Trimming twenty minutes would be ideal, but Joy has plenty on its mind. It throws a bit of magic at one woman’s success story, taking effectively subtle digs at consumerism, sexism and reality TV in the process.

Daring women, hear Joy roar.




Fright Club: Love Them or Hate Them

At long last, the keeper of the keys for Killumbus Horror joins Fright Club, with the topic of her own choosing. Bridget Oliver decided we should discuss the most polarizing filmmakers in horror, so here you have the Love Them or Hate Them list. Note, we are not talking about filmmakers whose personal lives make them hard to stomach. (We’re looking at you, Roman Polanski.) No, these are movie makers whose cinematic output have made them polarizing figures. The three of us have differing opinions about the 5, so be sure to check out the full podcast HERE.

5. Tom Six

After a handful of middling Dutch comedies, Tom Six stumbled upon inspiration – 100% medically accurate inspiration. Yes, we mean the Human Centipede trilogy – a set of films that doubles its ridiculous, bloody, unseemly intensity with every new episode.

For a lot of viewers, the Human Centipede films are needlessly gory and over-the-top with no real merit. But for some, Six is onto something. His first effort uses a very traditional horror storyline – two pretty American girls have a vehicular break down and find peril – and takes that plot in an unusual direction. But where most horror filmmakers would finish their work as the victims wake up and find themselves sewn together, mouth to anus, this is actually where Six almost begins.

His next two efforts in the trilogy are more consciously meta and more clearly referential of the controversy he caused with Episode 1. Much like Last House on the Left, the Centipede films seem to be addressing the abundance of almost unthinkable but true life violence available for public consumption, turning that into something so bombastic and fictional that it’s almost safe to watch.

Not everyone (George, for example) buys that theory. For many, Tom Six makes movies that people simply don’t want to sit through.

4. Ti West

Because West’s films are not, in and of themselves, particularly controversial, his inclusion in this list may seem counter intuitive. But West’s early work suggested a promise that he has failed to live up to, or so several of us seem to think.

West’s first film, The Roost, starring Tom Noonan (hooray!), was a low budget affair that worked mostly because of a peculiar style and ingenuity. It seemed to mark a filmmaker who could benefit from a little real cash flow and some time to develop an idea. For a lot of people, the filmmaker’s next effort, The House of the Devil, proved the director’s mettle.

Not for everyone, though. We see House of the Devil as one of those horror movies that people who don’t like horror really enjoy. It’s a short film extended far beyond its natural length, and though it boasts some excellent cast mates (Noonan, again, along with Mary Woronov and Greta Gerwig), it’s a long slog. The rest of West’s catalog offers a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns. While many (including Bridget) are eager to see whatever it is West is ready to put out next, MaddWolf thinks he’s outstayed his welcome.

3. Rob Zombie

Here’s where the real heavy-hitters begin, because if there is one filmmaker who’s caused the most divisive response from our listeners, it’s Rob Zombie.

We enjoy Zombie’s particular knack with casting. His giddy affection for horror and other cult film genres is on full display with every minor and major piece of casting in every film, and for that reason alone, true horror fans must enjoy his work. On the other hand, his greatest successes – Halloween, for instance – are often his worst films.

Though The Devil’s Rejects is a very fine genre effort, his version of Halloween was nothing more than an arrogant correction of John Carpenter’s genre classic, and the very polarizing Lords of Salem was his ill-aimed attempt to model classic Italian horror.

2. M. Night Shyamalan

Shyamalan is clearly not known solely for horror, but he’s a tremendously polarizing filmmaker who dabbles in horror. His The Sixth Sense was not only nominated for two Oscars (directing and writing), but it was one of the most popular films of 1999. The filmmaker went on to write and direct his personal masterpiece, Unbreakable, followed by another wonderful effort, Signs, before bottoming out completely.

For the next 13 years, Shyamalan did little more than embarrass himself. But just this year he made a humble but genuine comeback with The Visit – a return to his twist ending horror shows. It’s a modest film, but refreshingly lacking the pretentiousness that has marked most of Shyamalan’s work in the last decade and a half.

Though definitely flawed, the film boasts a fine cast, a lot of creepy tension, and the kind of twist ending you should have seen coming but simply did not. That is, it marks a return to form, however low key, for a filmmaker that seemed to have all the promise in the world before he lost his way.

1. Eli Roth

Who else?

There was a thread about The Green Inferno on Bridget’s Killumbus Horror facebook page that just about broke the internet. Bridget had to remove it, not because those posting were being too hostile toward Roth, but because the comments turned a bit vitriolic toward other posters. This is a guy people love to love and love to hate.

We have to admit that we’re in Camp 2. Though both Hostel and Hostel 2 are decent efforts, Roth is a filmmaker whose timing is far superior to his actual talent. Hostel was released at a time when the world was just beginning to understand that torture was now actually on the table as an acceptable, even encouraged, strategy. Roth’s film tapped into the zeitgeist – forgive our pretentious vocabulary – and spawned a decade of horror porn followers.

But Roth has struggled to follow the popularity of his torture porn epics, and recent efforts like Knock Knock and The Green Inferno, attempts to push the genre envelope, come off more as neutered versions of Seventies films.

Join us next week as filmmaker Jaston Tostevin helps us count down the best horror films of 2015. Until then, stay frightful, my friends.