Jonah’s Top Films of 2015

If there is one thing 2015 taught cinephiles, it is taking chances with ideas and how you want to execute them can create huge results to the finished film. Whether it is utilizing the art of stop motion animation, reviving a meditative approach to a martial arts story, shooting a film completely on an iPhone, using real dogs, or foregoing digital special effects, there were many gambles that paid off for both the filmmaker and audiences.

There were too many great films in 2015, so I did not contain my list to a traditional top 10, instead you get a top 14, that’s one more than last year’s list.

Also, quite a few films came close to being on the list but just didn’t quite make the cut, all definitely worth seeing. They are: Animals, Buzzard, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Mistress America, and Sicario.

Now, to my list:

About Elly – This film is nearly perfect, not only in terms of its story, about the disappearance of woman during a beach getaway for a group of young, middle class Iranian families, but also because it gives humanity to a population most American-based media outlets do not show.Whenever any foreign policy is being discussed in terms of Iran, all stakeholders should sit down and watch About Elly. This film actually was released in 2009, but did not make it to US theaters until 2015.

Anomalisa – NOW PLAYING AT CINEMA CENTER - A small story with enormous ideas told in beautifully rendered stop motion animation, co-directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson are mostly concerned with the mundane, day-in-day-out routines that trap all of us, and the sweet escape an anomaly to these habits can provide.

The Assassin – There is a moment in this film when fog overcomes a character who stands silently and still on a mountain side. It is a rare occasion in film where as a member of the audience, I wish the long scene would have lasted longer, and just one more example of director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s power to make a wuxia film beautiful and brilliant.

Ex Machina – More stageplay than anything else, this talky sci-fi film goes delves into a Turing Test, which determines intelligence in a computer and whether a human can distinguish the machine from another human being. Oscar Isaac is the stand out performance, playing an eccentric internet billionaire, and Domhall Gleeson fills in for the audience, asking questions about what exactly is going on. However, it is Alicia Viklander as Eva, the next generation artificial intelligence machine that anchors the emotional core of the film.

Inside Out - Pixar is back in form with this entertaining lesson about the value of sadness, and how it is needed for any amount of joy to have resonance. It is an important lesson, and one that is easily forgotten.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter – Kumiko lives in a where where she can mistake a scene from a fictional film as a documentary, and a calling to seek out buried treasure. It is a stressful ordeal to watch this woman give up her life in Japan on the chance she may succeed in her quest through a harsh winter in Minnesota and South Dakota, meeting characters along the way, many of whom want to help her, though the language barrier keeps them from being successful. Cervantes was definitely a literary godparent to this movie.

Mad Max: Fury Road– So much has been written about this film already, so this will be short: it is a perfect action movie from start to finish.

Phoenix – The devastating portraits of every character in this film are painted with broad brushstrokes of trauma that makes some plot holes and logic problems forgivable. Sometimes messy is fine, and there was nothing quite as messy, both in terms of physical debris and psychic turmoil as Europe after World War II. There is no denying the ending to Phoenixis perfection and impactful.

Room – You cried, I cried, we all cried when we saw this film. Having never read the book or really knowing anything about the film, I was surprised by the commitment of the actors, who basically perform a kidnapping chamber piece for the first half of the film. I am always happy when a film bucks conventions, as well as changes the rules that were established by the narrative in the first act.

Tangerine – Yes this film was shot on an iPhone 5. It is also the most perfect screwball comedy/Christmas movie about transgender prostitutes in Hollywood ever shot.

Victoria – The stunt of this film, being shot in one continuous take, almost seems unnecessary for the first hour of the film when we get to know Victoria and her new friends in Berlin. But when it all hits the fan, there is no way anything than a one-shot take would suffice.

What We Do in the Shadows – Funny and sweet, even with the buckets and buckets of blood. I would probably let Taika Waititi’s Viago live in my house as long as he promised to do light housework and not eat me. A mockumentary about centuries-old vampires all living together in New Zealand may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but the flatmates meeting at the beginning of the film makes you giggle and you will continue to do so everytime you think about it.

White God – They used real dogs! A fable about the treatment of animals, immigrants, and other marginalized groups, White God does not allow anyone to escape brutality, but there are also moments of triumph and grace. The dog that played Hagen, the leader of a dog uprising in Budapest, gave a better performance than most human actors receiving award season praise.

World of Tomorrow – “It is a sad life, Emily Prime.” In just 17 minutes, this animated short film - told in a sporadic, sketchy style – entertains, perplexes, horrifies, and makes you smile. I can’t even after seeing it, and you won’t be able to either.


Upcoming Cinema Center Films – Memorial Day Edition

Summer is upon us. While this time of year is generally devoted to films with say, a more “popcorn” vibe to them, the independent scene has some really interesting films to offer as well.

As always, go to our Future page for any additions:

Dior and I –Opening May 22nd
This documentary follows Raf Simons of the Christian Dior fashion house, with a privileged behind-the-scenes look at the creation of his first haute couture collection. This film shows the strength of a unified vision and using that to bring together a large group of creative, and opinionated, artists.

Iris – Opening May 29th
Continuing the fashion theme, we will be screening the last film of famed documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, perhaps most famous for his film “Grey Gardens.” This is a touching and funny look at Iris Apfel, a 93-year-old style guru.

Remake: Movie Posters Based on the Films of the Coen Brothers Auction & Sale
May 29th, 7pm $5
For Cinema Center’s spring fundraiser, we asked local artists to create an original movie poster of their favorite Coen brothers film. Prints of the posters will be for sale, and a signed and numbered, framed edition will be auctioned. Local band the Snarks take the stage at 9pm. The evening concludes with a screening of the film “Barton Fink.” Bravas food truck will be on site for the event.

About Elly –Opening June 5th
This film from “A Seperation” director Asghar Farhadi was actually filmed in Iran in 2009, but it is just now finding wide distribution. It follows the lives of a group of middle class Iranians and how the mysterious disappearance of one of their friends impacts them all.

Slow West – Opening June 12th
More and more revisionist westerns are coming out of the indie scene, and this one looks particularly interesting with comparisons to Wes Anderson and the Coen brothers. Michael Fassbender stars as a bodyguard to a 16-year-old Scottish boy looking for his true love in the American west.

I am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story– Opening June 19th

It is amazing for anyone to hold a job for more than 45 years, but what makes Carroll Spinney even more interesting is that at 80-years-old, he has no intention of taking off the giant, yellow Big Bird suit. This documentary follows its subject from his bullied childhood to children’s public television icon.

Video Rental Stores: Long Live the New Flesh

I didn’t come to love movies in the theater.  After the first memorable experience I had in the theater (seeing “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”), I was hooked and couldn’t wait to go back. But, it was at home, like so many kids who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, where the love story between film and me began.

Sometimes I describe my dad as an early adopter, but in retrospect I think he was a bit of a collector/hoarder of new technology. When most people were waiting for VHS (or Betamax) to drop to a somewhat affordable price, my dad brought home the RCA Video Disc Player. Here is a fun commercial for the device:

Now that isn’t a Laser Disc player. That’s an actual analog home video player, not all that different than vinyl records. The discs could only hold an hour’s worth of a movie on each side, so either the discs had to be edited or they had to be put on multiple discs. I still remember walking around my house with the double disc set of “The Ten Commandments,” holding them like the title tablets. Sometimes there was a title card to flip the disc at the halfway point of movie, sometimes the film just stopped mid-scene.

The video discs weren’t available at many stores, so often I had to hunt for them with my dad, who would take me in the backroom of electronic stores (this was before Best Buy or even when other department stores started carrying tech products), where either a haphazard display space was made, or there would be a sort of swap meet with other cinephiles, trading and selling their favorite movies on the off chance you happened to have a copy of the second disc of “The Godfather.”

My mind goes straight back to those places if I get a whiff of ozone bouncing off of a concrete floor. Or if I come across a really interesting DVD stand at a flea market.

Eventually, the home video wars were won, for a time, with VHS beating both the limited Video Disc and the superior Betamax. The portability and affordability of VHS created a whole new industry, home video, and soon every film release was sold in stores months after it left the theater, creating a whole secondary market for film exhibition.

It didn’t take long for trips to the video rental store (another new phenomenon made possible because of VHS), to become a favorite activity of mine. When my dad and I went to electronic stores to scavenge, buy or barter Video Discs, it was sometimes a bit of a dark and dingy experience, but our video rental store, Video Stop on Hobson Road off of East State, was bright and filled with covers on the video tape boxes jammed with images and colors.

And there were the cardboard displays. They were so cool. So many kids I grew up with did not become acquainted with Freddy Krueger from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” films, our parents would never allow us to watch them, but we learned about him from the larger than life displays in the horror section of the rental store. I’m pretty sure the stories we made up in our heads were far scarier than the movies turned out to be.

Recently on the public radio magazine show “Here & Now,” a film historian was describing a program at the Yale University library where a massive archival project is underway of VHS tapes. Are they archiving forgotten silent films or something from the French New Wave only available in VHS? Heck, no. They are preserving grindhouse horror and exploitation films with titles like “Cellar Dweller” and “Shock ‘Em Dead.”  You can hear the story and learn about the project here:

Horror films typified the VHS format, and also gave rise to the new distribution system – straight to video. Grabbing attention with scandalous cover that had off kilter fonts and bold colors, the video rental store was the last stop for many of these straight to video films. These were movies that many artists had poured their soul and creativity into, spending countless hours in production, and were not given a chance in theaters because of marketability concerns or budget restraints.

But they found new life in the video rental stores. I remember being at Delmar Video, which is still in operation in Fort Wayne, and stopping cold in my pre-kindergarten tracks at a huge display that mimicked the cover of the horror film “Ghoulies,” complete with an enormous toilet and the ghoulie sticking its head out. It was both shocking and funny, and I am sure that one image has embedded itself into my psyche and planted the seed that would eventually turn into my sense of humor.

Even though the home video market as a whole is waning, and the video rental store is all but extinct, it always makes me smile when I see how all the ways it stills has an impact on other film lovers.

Just look at the poster for the critically lauded horror film “It Follows,” which Cinema Center is opening at 11:59pm tonight.

It's perfect. This is just the kind of poster that would be up at the register at Video Stop, or there would be a mini postcard size version given to customers with their receipt. Sure the film itself was influenced by great horror films from the ‘70s and ‘80s, but it also evokes that feeling of joyous discovery, looking at something that you might not understand and are probably too young to see, and to want to take it home even more because of that. VHS gave me that feeling, and I am forever trying to recapture it. At least I can look at this poster and delight in the fact that it appears David Robert Mitchell, the director of “It Follows,” is doing the same thing.

Jonah Crismore is Cinema Center’s executive director and battles an addiction to physical media.


Upcoming Cinema Center Films – February 2015

Oscar fever is spreading now that the nominations have been announced, and it is only going to get worse in February. All the films nominated for Academy Awards can be found here:

Here is what we have scheduled for February, and don’t forget to go to the Future page for additions:

 Women Make Movies
Starting January 30th, in partnership with the IPFW Women’s Studies Program, we are having a 3-day, free film festival highlighting movies from all around the globe about women, made by women filmmakers. For a complete “Women Make Movies” line-up, check out the Events page.

Opens January 30th-February 1st

Two Days, One Night
Marion Cotillard was a surprise Oscar nomination for Best Actress this year for her portrayal of a woman desperate to regain employment in this French film. The film created a lot of buzz and garnered praise at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Opens February 13th

On February 20th, come celebrate the movies with Cinema Center at our annual Oscar Party fundraiser. Food will be provided by JK O’Donnell’s, beer and wine will be available for sale, and excellent local selections for the silent auction will ready for your bids! The night will conclude with a special screening of Oscar favorite “Boyhood.”

Oscar Pary – February 20th, starts at 6pm

In honor of its recognition by the Academy, we are bringing back “Boyhood” for a special limited engagement. The film screens as part of the Oscar Party on February 20th, and will continue through Oscar night on February 22nd.

Opens February 20thand plays through February 22nd

...and don't forget Inherent Vice is opening tonight!


Film Nexus Vol. 9: Force Majeure

Quite a bit has been written regarding the supposed death of the foreign language film market. The reasoning behind this is very complex, with those singing dirges for foreign film pointing out everything from the American audience doesn’t like to read subtitles, to countries that were once movie-rich like France and Italy, have stopped rolling camera because generous government subsidies have dried up leaving many projects unfunded.

Since it is true that foreign language films are having a harder time getting on screens in the United States, I am really excited that Cinema Center is premiering the Swedish black comedy “Force Majeure,” starting today. 

As a film community, we must come out and support movies from all over the globe, it not only makes us more film literate, but also allows for us to see stories and issues from wholly new perspectives.

In honor of tonight’s opening of “Force Majeure,” I have put together a short list of fairly recent foreign language films that everyone should check out on Netflix, where anyone can see that foreign film is very much alive and well:

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)
This Mexican film about two young men who go on a road trip with an older woman helped usher in a renaissance of Latin American filmmakers, as well as explode the careers of director Alfonso Cuaron, and star Gael Garcia Bernal.

City of God (2002)
Growing up as a quiet, creative individual has the potential to make anyone an outsider, but in this film, it can be dangerous. Rocket is an aspiring photographer in one of Rio de Janeiro’s most dangerous slums and is surprised as anyone when he discovers his camera is both a salvation from the drug lords, and his possible escape from poverty.

Fallen Angels (1995)/ Days of Being Wild (1990)
Three words: Wong Kar Wai. In 2001, he directed one of the greatest films of all time – “In the Mood for Love.” These earlier films are both beautiful, and extremely original, in their own right, and show off a talent that was just on the cusp of his greatest masterpiece.

 Force Majeure” opens January 9th at 6:30pm.
Jonah Crismore is Cinema Center’s Executive Director and can't think of any witty quips.
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