50 films from 2015 Seattle International Film Festival ranked - part 2 (#25-#1)
The first half of this comprehensive ranking of 50 films from the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival (which closed its 25-day run on June 7) stressed the size and scale of the longest film festival in the United States. "Part 2" will celebrate the films worth checking out from SIFF 2015.
Although the festival is over, some fan favorites and SIFF award winners are returning for encore presentations during the "Best of SIFF," which runs June 12-15. "The Dark Horse" won Golden Space Needle awards for Best Film and Best Actor (Cliff Curtis) in this true story of bipolar chess champion Genesis Potini who taught the game to thousands of Maori children -- it screens on June 12. Acclaimed documentaries "The Great Alone" (Grand Jury Prize) and "Romeo is Bleeding" will screen June 14. The cat-based innovative indie comedy "Chatty Catties" will close the encore presentations. To see the full "Best of SIFF" schedule and list of SIFF Golden Space Needle award winners, click here.
Despite watching at least one SIFF featured film per day during the festival, even I wasn't able to catch every movie on my "must see" list. Some of the movies I just could not find the time to see included "1001 Grams," "I Am Michael," "I Kissed a Girl" and "Sworn Virgin" or any of the featured ShortsFest programs.
That said, I was able to watch 50 SIFF films and the 25 movies on this list fall somewhere on the spectrum between good to incredible. These 25 films represent the joyous, heartbreaking and invigorating potential of cinema, powerful storytelling and dynamic characters.
#25: 'Mr. Holmes'
Ian McKellen brings a refreshing humanity to this iconic literary figure. The legendary Sherlock Holmes faces his greatest adversary yet - his failing memory - in this drama that challenges the core principles of everything the detective believes and values.
#24: 'A Brilliant Young Mind'
This moving story of an autistic genius is supported by arguably the best ensemble cast of any film at SIFF 2015. Asa Butterfield, Sally Hawkins, Rafe Spall and Eddie Marsan elevate this drama above its formulaic story and execute a moving and satisfying inspirational drama.
This beautifully shot and haunting portrait of a town absolutely embodies the deep pain of its residents and their struggle against their inner demons. This film's take on the human spirit and aspects of regret are closer to art than the usual hard-hitting, non-fiction documentary.
#22: 'Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll'
This eye-opening documentary is a celebration of music and a lamenting of its silenced artists. It beautifully reveals how vitalizing rock and roll can be to a society, as well as the ways Cambodian artists integrated their own values and culture into the global language of rock.
#21: 'Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine'
Members of Apple nation be warned: Steve Jobs does not escape this very critical documentary unscathed. Documentarian Alex Gibney lays out a very complex portrait of a brilliant innovator, whose business practices were also ruthless and cruel.
#20: 'Racing Extinction'
This doc succeeds in its very obvious mission: this is an astoundingly powerful & inspiring call to action. It clearly has an agenda and presents a convincing case for sustainable practices -- and lays out the consequences of polluting the food, water and air that sustains the entire planet.
#19: 'Love & Mercy'
This Brian Wilson biopic is as unconventional as Wilson's own approach to music. It earns movie "degree of difficulty" bonus points for masterfully pulling together two casts and designing an incredible sound experience to tell one story: the mental decline and rebirth of a troubled genius.
#18: 'The Overnight'
Beneath the surface of this hilarious and outrageous sex comedy is a sincere story of people desperately trying to connect -- even if they resort to a misguided attempt of a swinger's party.
#17: 'I'll See You in My Dreams'
This geriatric romantic drama takes the everyday elements of routine and isolation and tells an all-too-relatable story that is charming, funny and ultimately bittersweet.
#16: '7 Chinese Brothers'
If ever there was a comedy absolutely tailor-made for Jason Schwartzman, it is this offbeat, peculiar and disarming indie comedy. Anyone open to a fairly free-form comedy and character study of a charming, if inept, man-child will enjoy this gem.
#15: 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl'
This genre-defying "coming of age" story is a timeless, funny and emotionally honest story -- and one that will endure. It resists melodramatic angst and relies on brutally honest confrontations that ground this comedic drama with earnest and wholehearted moments.
#14: 'The Little Death'
In an impressive work of comedic alchemy, "The Little Death" effortlessly blends black comedy and raunchy sex punchlines and rolls out a bold work that is essentially and fundamentally a relationship drama.
#13: '3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets'
Part courtroom drama, part social commentary on race issues in America and part portrait of a family's struggle for justice after a tragedy, "3 1/2 Minutes" is an even-handed look at a complex situation.
Don't be fooled by the commercials: the action-comedy "Spy" has more in common with the Bourne films than any silly spy-genre spoof movie. This third McCarthy-Feig collaboration will definitely be in the conversation of best action-comedy of 2015.
#11: 'People, Places, Things'
This mild, calming and pleasant comedy works because Jemaine Clement exudes a goofy and subtle charm. For a comedy with very few obvious punchlines or one-line zingers, this warm and sweet movie is hilarious from start to finish.
This likable and sweet comedy does what surprisingly few movies ever do: it tells a complete story. Cobie Smulders proves herself as perhaps today's strongest "dramedy" star in this relationship drama that's kept buoyant (but moving) with heart and sincerity.
#9: 'Liza, the Fox-Fairy'
This complex blend of genres and tones is part supernatural drama, part light romantic comedy and part enchanting fable. This layering of textures and tones elevates "Liza" as a slightly eccentric and fantastical film.
#8: 'All Things Must Pass'
This is as much the story of Tower Records as it is an allegory of the brick-and-mortar/digital retail revolution and the evolution of the way people interact with their music collection.
#7: 'My Skinny Sister'
This sibling rivalry drama is a study in contrasts - two sisters (one chubby, one athletic), one who is celebrated while the other is overlooked, which becomes the foundation of a love-hate relationship. These intricately woven contrasts form a strong dramatic tension, that results in a compelling family drama.
#6: 'Romeo is Bleeding'
Art, social issues and life/death stakes are pulled together in this heart-wrenching and inspiring documentary. Layering "Romeo & Juliet" over a city's long-standing gang violence epidemic is just the brilliant set up for this gripping doc, which never forgets the deadly stakes at play -- and not every one featured in this documentary survives to the end.
This outrageous and raunchy tale of two prostitutes crackles with a vibrant kinetic energy. The true genius of "Tangerine" is how undeniably fun, engaging and surprising charming this misadventure -- and ultimately, this is a disarmingly sweet and moving buddy comedy (crack pipes and all).
#4: 'Corn Island'
This nearly wordless, foreign drama, set on a specific river between specific nations and against the backdrop of a very specific conflict, tells an eloquent and universal tale of survival. "Corn Island" is a master class in telling a rich and compelling story with virtually zero exposition or story cheats.
#3: 'Mistress America'
Gerwig and Baumbach's latest collaboration is an affectionate and hilarious swipe at the arrogance of youth and those struggling through the transition from young dreamer to adult -- all of which is driven by a self-involved, energetic whirlwind of a character (Gerwig) who keeps the story moving along at a frenetic pace.
Much will be said of this comedy's sharp wit, acerbic humor, keen social awareness and awesome soundtrack -- but at its core, this is a gripping narrative of identity, propelled by an incredible narrative and clearly defined/high dramatic stakes. This is confident, stylish and fun storytelling at its best.
The best film I saw during SIFF 2015: 'The Primary Instinct'
Taken at face value, "The Primary Instinct" is just a man on stage telling a story. But the man is a master storyteller and the story is a beautifully intricate, winding, complex, hilarious, philosophical and poignant examination of self and an analysis of why we tell stories. Stephen Tobolowsky's monologue takes everyday, personal moments and elevates them to philosophical universal truths about life on every scale. His anecdotes are universally relatable, his insights are incredibly/elegantly profound and his storytelling ability is second to none.
"The Primary Instinct" is simple - and absolutely moving in delivering a dynamic and compelling story -- which should be the goal of all film makers.