50 films from 2015 Seattle International Film Festival ranked - part 1 (50-26)
For 25 days, the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival screened hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of feature-length and short films. Even the final day of SIFF (June 7) boasted more than 30 films - which is more than other film festivals have during their entire festival run.
A pure "SIFF 2015 by-the-numbers" analysis is daunting. More than 450 feature-length and short films from 92 countries were screened during the festival. That's more than 190 feature-length films - including 70documentaries - and more than 160 short movies. Movies began screening as early as 10 a.m. and as late as 11:55 p.m. for the weekend "Midnight Adrenaline" series. Since most movies only had two screenings, scheduling conflicts made seeing every single movie on a "must-see" list difficult.
Tackling the biggest film festival in the nation (also recently named one of the 10 best film festivals in the country by USA Today) is a daunting task -- one that meant going to the movie theater nearly every day for 25 straight days, and often running out of one film as it ended and hurrying into another screening just as it began. For my part, I was able to catch 50 films from the SIFF lineup - which included 11 documentaries and 39 narrative stories. It would take 80 hours and 3 minutes to watch all 50 movies back-to-back-to-back. Fifty films is still a drop in the bucket compared to the whooping 170 feature-length films featured during SIFF. (For a playlist of trailers of films screened at SIFF 2015, click here.)
Not everything I watched was awesome -- so here is the bottom half of this overly comprehensive list, ranking the worst (#50) movie all the way to the some beautiful storytelling (#26).
#50 (aka, 'the worst film I saw at SIFF 2015'): 'Manglehorn'
David Gordon Green's latest snoozer is a painful exercise in watching Al Pacino do a bad imitation of Pacino. Were it not for the always incredible Holly Hunter, "Manglehorn" would be a completely unwatchable snoozefest of Pacino sleepwalking his way through a movie that has practically no plot or energy.
#49: 'A Rising Tide'
There's probably some justifiable way to file a class-action lawsuit against the marketers of this sloppy melodrama for "bait and switch" fraud. This is not the "rebuild after Hurricane Sandy" drama it is billed as or aspires to be -- this is just a poorly scripted made-for-TV romantic drama.
When the film doesn't care about resolving the central plot that kicked off this movie - then why should the audience? Even a disappointing or false conclusion to this story would have been more palatable than the frustrating non-ending that "Strangerland" abruptly crashes into.
Theoretically, this is a horror-slasher where some scout bullies are picked off one-by-one -- but "Cub" is almost an hour of plot set-up, 10 minutes of anti-climactic nonsense, followed by a completely unearned ending.
This twisted, intriguing scenario - "50 strangers get picked off one-by-one" - is absolutely undermined by some very questionable, over-the-top "acting."
#45: 'A Matter of Interpretation'
The line between "surreal captivating" and "surreal frustrating" is thin, but clearly defined. This dramatic comedy initially compels -- before spinning into an exasperating mess.
#44: 'Personal Gold'
This documentary should be far more inspiring or moving than it is - but its mechanical/serviceable dry recounting of events leading up to the 2012 Olympics fails to move the needle at all.
#43: 'Cop Car'
This glorified B-movie is somehow incredibly flat and pretty boring -- basically it's just some kids out joy riding with Kevin Bacon waiting by his police radio. A movie about a corrupt cop hunting two juvenile delinquents should be more energized than this patience-testing "thriller."
#42: 'The Wolfpack'
This odd, half-formed documentary frustrates because it simply leaves way too many questions unanswered. "Wolfpack" seems content in telling half a story, without ever fully digging into the most interesting character in this movie: the father.
#41: 'Cooking Up a Tribute'
Sigh. OK, this culinary documentary is perfectly fine - but it lacks anything that could raise it above "interesting." There are no dramatic stakes at all - at the end of the day, this restaurant will reopen after its global tour and be none the better or worse.
The two most noteworthy aspects of "Boulevard" are Robin Williams' nuanced performance and how very boring this character study drama is. Unfortunately, Williams' performance simply cannot compete with the overwhelming lack of energy that "Boulevard" suffers.
This brooding and atmospheric thriller is a sociopolitical sermon dressed up as a noir-murder mystery. "Marshland" is a masterfully shot work of cinematography, but its murder mystery plot is half-hearted and the subtext isn't sharp enough to be considered biting.
#38: 'Gemma Bovery'
The contrast between this rather dull derivative adaptation against the acute observations of Gustave Flaubert's literary masterpiece does this flat series of coincidences no favor.
There's more right than there is wrong with this oddly-paced, meandering rom-com -- but just barely. Its trio of main characters keep "Results" interesting, even when the story starts to sputter and stall occasionally.
#36: 'Sleeping with Other People'
This anti rom-com so clearly set out to break every trope of the romantic-comedy -- before betraying itself and giving into a predicable and disappointing ending. If the last 15-minutes simply did not happen, "Sleeping with Other People" would rank among the great bittersweet comedies - and not merely be just another sex comedy that tried too hard.
#35: 'A Second Chance'
"Second Chance" suffers some serious storytelling deficiencies and way too many convenient plot points that reeks of lazy writing. While the story itself may be flawed, a strong performance from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau ("Game of Thrones") combined with a morally grey scenario kick off some interesting talking points and leave the movie's premise up for debate.
#34: 'When Animals Dream'
This is a beautifully executed (shot/directed/acted) deranged take on a girl's sexual awakening -- except that the entire story is propped up by pile of story inconsistencies or flat-out plot holes.
#33: 'When Marnie Was There'
The latest Studio Ghibli offering is undeniably a visual masterpiece of animation -- but the meager narrative depth and energy just does not match the quality of this film's stunning visuals. It's beautiful, but dramatically shallow.
#32: 'Chatty Catties'
This peculiar "talking cats" indie comedy earns bonus points for ignoring practically every storytelling rule - and still executing a funny and interesting story. The main human character is frustrating and its ending has a very unexpected twist - a creative film from concept to execution.
#31: 'Before We Go'
This unassuming romantic drama doesn't set out to redefine or challenge its genre - this is simply a charming and light story, from the initial "meet cute" to its sweet ending.
This quiet, French take on the superhero genre is patient storytelling done right - it emphasizes nuance over bombastic plot points in this compelling fugitive metahuman story.
#29: 'End of the Tour'
Jason Segel deserves every accolade for his touching, humane performance as iconic novelist David Foster Wallace. This film is not the typical biopic that attempts to summarize a troubled author's life -- the "End of the Tour" feels much more like a sincere conversation with the "Infinite Jest" author.
#28: 'License to Operate'
"License" effectively balances tragedy and hope in this documentary of an embattled culture. This documentary established the deep passion and commitment these ex-gang members have in their new mission: to stand for peace in their community.
#27: 'The Summer of Sangaile'
What "Sangaile" lacks in definitive plot points, it makes up for with emotionally true moments. This coming-of-age romance strings together an emotional narrative that allows Sangaile to gradually transform into an entirely new person.
#26: 'Slow West'
This wry, pensive and atmospheric Western is as much an homage to the genre as it is an open defiance to conventional storytelling. "Slow West" embraces the shoot-em-up thriller aspects of a typical Western, but adds a tone that is as deliberate as it is saturated in dry humor.