FAQ About The Best Movie Of 2015

illustration by Brianna Ashby

illustration by Brianna Ashby

What was the best movie of 2015?
It was Magic Mike XXL.

I’m pretty sure it was Mad Max: Fury Road, wasn’t it?
Mad Max: Fury Road is an incredible movie, but the best movie of 2015 was Magic Mike XXL.

Magic Mike XXL looked like it was a bad movie. Is Magic Mike XXL a bad movie?
No, as I have said twice before, and will now say a third time, it was the best movie of 2015. Please do not make me go over this again.

I never even saw the first Magic Mike movie. What’s it about?
Thank you for asking. Magic Mike was a 2012 film about a ragtag group of male strippers in Tampa. The title character Mike is played by Channing Tatum, and the film was loosely based on Tatum’s real experiences as a male stripper in his late teens. In that movie, Mike becomes something of a mentor to a young stripper named Adam (Alex Pettyfer) and guides him through the dark underbelly of the entertainment industry in South Florida. Matthew McConaughey plays Dallas, their boss, and was critically lauded for his performance. Despite expectations, Magic Mike was a fairly serious and dark film that focused on substance abuse and the damaging nature of the male ego.

Magic Mike ends with Mike leaving the stripping business in order to pursue his dream of building custom furniture and owning his own company while his peers continue to strip and do a lot of drugs and feel bad about their bodies.

Okay, yikes. Doesn’t sound too fun. What’s Magic Mike XXL about?
Magic Mike XXL is a get-the-gang-back-together road trip comedy.

Wait, what?

I know.

So the gang’s all back?
You got it.

Mike?
Hell yeah. Mike is there, front and center.

McConaughey?
Uh, hm, no, he got very busy being a serious actor.

Alex Pettyfer? He seemed pretty important to the first movie.
Mm, no. He’s casually written out.

Then what gang? Who’s back?
Well, Mike, obviously, Channing Tatum’s character. Then there’s former pro-wrestler Kevin Nash as Tarzan. There’s Adam Rodriguez as Tito. Beautiful Matt Bomer as beautiful Ken (like the doll). Comedian Gabriel Iglesias as their MC, Tobias, and Joe Manganiello as Big Dick Richie.

Excuse me?
Joe Manganiello in a career-defining performance as Big Dick Richie.

His name is Big Dick Richie?
You’re wasting my time with questions like this.

So why does the gang get back together?
Well, the guys call Mike up to say hi as they drive north to Myrtle Beach for the annual stripper convention.

The annual what?
Stripper convention.

Is this a real thing?
I don’t know, Google it.

Is it, like, a competition of some kind?
No.

It’s, what, just a nonstop barrage of strip shows at a convention center for members of the public in South Carolina?
Yeah, I guess so.

Why does this matter?
It’s about the journey.

What?
Since the first film, Mike’s life has taken a sharp nosedive. He’s finally pursuing his dream job, but it takes up all of his time. He can’t afford to get health care for his single employee. Brooke (you know, “the girl”) left him. And when it comes down to it, none of these guys are doing all that well for themselves. Ken is struggling to make it as a commercial actor. Tarzan’s getting up there in age. Tito and Tobias are barely breaking even working on a food truck that serves frozen yogurt. Big Dick Richie is hopelessly single, unable to find a woman not intimidated by his, um, reputation. These guys are all troubled and frustrated, and there’s a hope that having one last ride together at the convention provides some clarity for them in their lives.

So this is a movie about aspiring small business owners who all happen to be male strippers?
They prefer “male entertainers,” but yeah, now you’re getting it.

Can I ask you about some scenes I heard about in this movie?
Sure thing, I’ve seen Magic Mike XXL five times this year.

Does Channing Tatum build furniture while dancing to ‘Pony’?
Absolutely. If you looked up “modern masculinity,” this is what would appear first.

Is there a scene where the whole gang takes MDMA and Big Dick Richie dances in a convenience store to a Backstreet Boys song?
Hell yeah.

Is there a sequence that takes place in Savannah, Georgia, where Mike goes back to visit a former employer of his named Rome who’s built some kind of stripper mansion and in order to win her trust again, Mike has a dance-off with Twitch from ‘So You Think You Can Dance?’
Yes, definitely. Rome is played by Jada Pinkett Smith.

Does Rome always refer to women as ‘queens’?
Yes, and this is crucial.

Why?
It is very easy to argue that Magic Mike XXL is a dumb movie, (Many movies are dumb!), but there are ideas, Big Ideas, presented in Magic Mike XXL that are not dumb. In fact, it’s one of the most progressive movies to come out this year. This isn’t a movie that panders to women; it’s a movie that worships women. Women aren’t talked down to. Women are respected. Hell, everyone is respected! It’s a movie about objectification that is also about respect and kindness. Imagine a movie where everyone actually really likes each other and wants each other to do well. Imagine a movie where a character literally says “it’s bad that no one listens to women.” Magic Mike XXL is a movie that believes women want and deserve good things, and in this universe, those good things are basically hot, nice, dumb men.

Is there a girl-role in this movie?
Oh, is there!

What’s her deal?
Her name is Zoe and she’s played by Amber Heard. She’s an aspiring photographer, but guess what, she’s just as stuck as the rest of the gang.

Makes sense. Do she and Mike have sex?
Actually, no. They don’t even kiss! Their relationship is kind of “not about” that.

What do you mean?
She’s sad and bisexual, and mostly Mike just wants to make her happy.

Hm, sounds selfless. This movie is weird?
I think you mean “great,” but okay.

How many times have you rewatched the final dance sequence?
I honestly can’t tell you because I don’t know anymore.

Okay, I think I’m pretty on board with this. Is there anything else you want to tell me about Magic Mike XXL?
When I talk to people who haven’t seen Magic Mike XXL, their excuses usually come down to one of these three different reasons:

1. I didn’t have time/get a chance to go. (Forgivable)
2. It looked bad. (Vaguely forgivable though I have just now proved this wrong.)
3. I am a straight man, and this movie is very clearly not for me. (Wildly unforgivable.)

I saw Magic Mike XXL three times in theaters, joined by men and women of any and every sexuality. No one disliked it. No one said, “this was a waste of my time and money.” We laughed! We clapped at the end! It is strange and sad to me that someone would deprive themselves a fun time at a movie theater because they think a movie is not for them based on false assumptions about who a movie is for.

Here is a true thing: as the credits rolled on my third viewing of Magic Mike XXL, I noticed my friend sitting next to me wiping tears off her face. There isn’t a single sad thing in Magic Mike XXL. It is maybe the happiest movie in existence. She was crying because she was so genuinely caught off-guard by the way men talk to and about women in this movie. That sounds crazy, but please believe me. There are so many movies about men who hate women! Excellent movies, no doubt, but still hurtful and frustrating in the way they portray relationships between men and women. And we did laugh at my poor friend, drying her tears, and she laughed too, but there’s something special and sad and, dare I say, magic about a movie that mostly just wants to make women feel good about themselves. I’m sorry if you missed it in theaters, but hey, it’s available to rent now.

When can I come over and watch it?
Anytime.

Does Elizabeth Banks have a cameo?
Haha, yeah.


Fran Hoepfner is a Contributing Editor at Bright Wall/Dark Room. She is a writer and comedian based out of the Chicagoland area.


The Lady Pays Off

illustration by Brianna Ashby

illustration by Brianna Ashby

In Carol, director Todd Haynes tracks the unbidden attraction and inexorable romance between two women in the 1950s. The pair, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) and Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara), are of different ages, classes and backgrounds, but the film’s drama centers on the conflict of their combined difference. In a period of postwar traditionalism, women are discouraged from considering desire or destiny because a woman’s life is a foregone conclusion. Marriage leads to procreation in order to buttress a husband’s career and home. Anything outside of that ambition is deemed a diversion or a pathology.

At the start, shop girl Therese seems to be an orphan, without parents or many confidantes, by default a self-authored creature unwittingly on the hunt for an ideal. Like anyone on the cusp of maturity, she proceeds by instinct, by intrigue, by chance encounter. The movie inhabits her point of view: Belivet’s last name is of Czech origin, and New York is cast with a central European kind of gloom, frosty and grey with intermittent bursts of luster and warmth. When Carol, glimmering and elegant, enters the children’s floor of the department store where Therese works, the younger woman cannot resist this captivating figure. Why and how could she? Carol is a creature as much as a woman, coated in golden waves, animal pelt and coral adornments. And Therese is willful but inexperienced; able to circumnavigate a dead end (a tour of Europe with her needy steady boyfriend becomes a cul de sac instead of a life expanding offer), eager to follow desire when she senses it. Carol, the woman, is a clue to Therese’s future—by engaging her curiosity, Carol captures Therese’s desire and her heart.

In the analogue 1950s, there are limited ways for lovers of any stripe to cross paths—through friends or through work (the way Therese meets the earnest boyfriend who can’t quite capture her imagination), in bars or by chance, which feels more fated when the meeting culminates in something passionate, as it does for Therese and for Carol. The characters’ interests and tendencies are telegraphed according to their tastes. “I never really had a favorite doll,” Therese responds to Carol’s query. Therese liked trains, and her childhood enthusiasms cue the audience to other possibly untraditional avidities. Carol purchases the toy train set at Therese’s suggestion and leaves behind a pair of gloves—a breadcrumb trail that allows Therese into Carol’s life and affections.

Under the name Claire Morgan, Patricia Highsmith composed the film’s source material, a novel called The Price of Salt, dreamt up after a fever and drawn from the experiences of a socialite lover who lost access to her family after involvement in a lesbian affair. The fictional story additionally follows a pattern evident elsewhere in Highsmith’s work (The Talented Mr. Ripley, for one) in which a fetishized acquaintance becomes the object of erotic fixation. In the author’s constructions, emotional energy keeps transfiguring and transposing from one enthusiasm to the next; and if thwarted, violence is the consequence. Here, however, the form is melodrama instead of thriller, and the tone is tormented rather than murderously desperate. Phyllis Nagy’s adaptation alters Therese’s professional aspirations from set designer to photographer, and the drama is established according to the young woman’s artistic values, dedicated to the totemic nature of gesture and composition.

In this codified world, the touch and the glance are weighted to convey everything that must remain unsaid. But if the conventions of melodrama are meant to elevate unvoiced feelings and illicit relationships by gesturing at their emotional weight, Carol instead gives us declarations and demonstrations. The dialogue is flatly explicative to let us know exactly how we are expected to view each scene. One of Therese’s Greenwich Village friends sits in a cinema’s projection booth jotting down notes on the film: “I’m writing down everything the characters say they feel that’s in contrast with their gestures.” The visual metaphors, for all the fuzzy filters and grainy resolution, are very clearly read.

The story is curiously spare on the reasons for the women’s attraction, but then, as an authorial standin explains, attraction is unprompted and inexplicable. “It’s either there or it’s not.” Therese is curious, Carol is knowing. After Therese returns the gloves, Carol takes her to a martini lunch, and Therese echoes the older woman’s entire order. Carol is a figure of desire, as an object to obtain and as a subject to be. “What a strange girl you are,” Carol murmurs as she vamps across the table. “Flung out of space.” Perhaps the remark is meant to demonstrate the sudden shock of her feelings. But it’s also an assessment of the pair of them, as women and as actors.

As Carol, Blanchett is both boldly assured and covertly lost. Her voice is deepened and authoritative, her body language at once contained and careless. Blanchett is the seducer in this story, which makes her behaviors sound faintly malevolent and aggressive. In fact, her Carol is spoiled and impetuous but as confused, perhaps, as Therese despite the difference in experience. She’s more an image than a person, an embodiment of the second sex whose life has been tailored to fit the male world.

In Haynes’ conception, Blanchett exists to be spied upon. The actress remains an odd mixture of elfin, alien and movie star that makes her endlessly watchable. In cinema, we can detect two styles of cinematic acting: in the first, personal charm and energy allow an audience to feel they know the actor. Inversely, there is a style of trace and detection, in which a performer’s skills and intelligence are poured into a character but never directed at an audience. It’s the difference between seeing someone through a camera’s lens and glancing at someone in a mirror, between direct address and eavesdropping. Perhaps it’s part of her face or part of her psychology, but Blanchett reflexively withholds; she is in the character’s circumstances but not in ours.

The performance connects with a larger question of cinema—is an audience meant to identify with a movie’s character through recognition or dissonance; and if not, what does a more abstract approach do for a story’s conflict and resolution? If the dramatic question is whether a woman’s romance, where no one is in search of man, is worthy of screen time—naturally the answer is yes. But the film is perhaps too beautiful despite the graininess of its images. The question about Carol is perhaps, why now, why this story told in this way in the context of comparable stories?

In Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue Is The Warmest Color (2013), Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a young French student, crosses glances at an intersection with a blue haired artist Emma (Lea Seydoux). Adele is compelled—by Emma’s style, her attitude, and her artwork—and seeks out the artist, initiating a romance despite the social inequities between the two. For Adele, Emma is an initiation to everything: to culture, socialization, ideas, and independence along with a newly broadened sexual identity. When her lover removes her affections and refuses her embraces, Adele loses everything. She is inconsolable, and the film follows the morbid grief that burdens Adele for the rest of the story and, one senses, beyond the narrative into subsequent chapters of her life. You have the sense she’ll remain marked by this experience for the duration of her life, that it will be not only a lens but a presence in every future relationship. Here is modernity: where every love story becomes the ghost story of other love affairs.

Like Carol, the film adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel Brooklyn is set in the same simplistic moral codes and unquestioned gender roles of the 1950s. Brooklyn’s heroine Eilís emigrates because Ireland offers neither husband nor a job. What she finds in America is crippling loneliness, a New Yorker’s sense of anonymity that is closer to death than to liberation. She’s rescued from isolation by a working class Italian plumber who attends local Irish dances. Eilís reciprocates the Italian’s attention, and we sense both genuine pleasure at finding kindness and decency; also, perhaps, a more pragmatic grasp at an emotional lifeline. In the romance, we witness the slow build of a reasonable commitment. When Eilís is called back to Ireland, her American life is unknown to everyone at home, and she finds herself offered a second chance to stay in her much missed homeland at the price of concealing a life she’s already committed to. Brooklyn doesn’t offer its heroine a greater emotional dilemma than Carol’s but it does a more complete job in dramatizing the conflicted feelings that its heroine suffers.

When Vladimir Nabokov wrote his tale of passionate pedophilia Lolita, he allegedly lifted the novel’s road trip structure from Highsmith’s novel about Carol. The anonymity of the journey suited his story; other transitory figures wouldn’t notice or couldn’t object to such a perverse pairing. The love stories aren’t equivalent, of course—what we see in Carol are characters punished for an outdated moral transgression and medical judgment. But while Lolita and its adaptation challenge us with a wry sophisticate of a narrator, the Haynes film loses Highsmith’s edge. As a point of departure, the film’s authors use characters who are broadly relatable—one for her beauty and glamor, the other for her innocence. The gateway to tolerance is through the eyes of two women who are traditionally straight, who’ve slept with or dated men.

Carol’s husband Harg knows his wife’s past and proclivities—her attraction to and involvement with women—and tolerates it. He’s part of that unlucky club of those helplessly controlled by an attachment to and need for Carol. Is she otherwise the perfect wife, or just a perfect image that he holds on to? It’s unclear, in part because the decade’s priorities make it so. On the advice of a journalist friend, Therese addresses her lens to people. Carol proves to be the perfect subject—she is always being viewed, appraised, approved or disapproved, valued or devalued. She is magnetic but a victim to her own appeal. It feels like she’s never been asked to be anything more than exquisite, and is surprised to discover the hidden hitches connected to that task. When Therese witnesses Harg’s undignified feelings and cruel outbursts, of which she is a collateral victim (“what are you doing with that shop girl?” he shouts with venom), Carol throws Therese out of the house. Here is the cruel pattern of their love triangle—Therese is attracted and repudiated; Carol is compelled and punished; Harg throws tantrums and then reasons.

Haynes has emulated the lush Technicolor of classic melodrama in other love stories (Far From Heaven). Here New York and Chicago are grainy and gray, as if filmed on a long lense in low light—as if the characters are being surveilled, to underscore the illicit nature of their intimacy. The culmination of the relationship is also the culmination of the jealous husband’s plot against his wife. He enlists a private detective, who follows the women as they travel to Chicago and persuades them to stop at a motel along the way, where he makes an audio recording of their lovemaking. In order to remain on good terms with her husband and to see her daughter, Carol is forced to choose between being a mother and being herself, that is to say to choose a role that negates her romantic and emotional affinities.

But Carol proceeds in controlled dramatic turns. A loss is compensated by a gain. Indignities are discussed but not shown. When Carol agrees to give up her child to maintain her emotional integrity, we’re not quite sure what this loss means because the girl has been onscreen in such limited interaction. We must take Carol’s loss on faith, since she remains so beautifully dressed and well positioned. Suffering is assured but also, it seems, rewarded: good careers and a rich cadre of friends are a beautiful indemnity. Therese begins as an impoverished spirit but matures with wisdom and poise. Carol gives her a camera and serves as a muse, but she doesn’t provide Therese with an eye. Therese does that for herself; Carol isn’t, luckily enough, everything to her. Perhaps the film fails its audience by endowing its heroines with too many strengths.


Karina Wolf is a Contributing Editor at Bright Wall/Dark Room. She has written copy and essays about food, fashion, film and art. She is the author of the children’s book The Insomniacs, and she lives in New York City.


Outside Inside Out, Looking In: A Parent's Reflections

© Disney/Pixar

© Disney/Pixar

Like many parents, I spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out why my kids are doing what they’re doing at any given moment. Some of this is simply part of the job—anticipating certain behaviors before they actually happen can save a parent a whole lot of time on the backend—but a large part of it, for me anyway, is also borne out of pure curiosity and awe. How on earth did I create these wonderful and fascinating human beings—and why in the world did they just do that.

In the absence of any real understanding, most of us parents make one of two common mistakes: viewing our kids as “little adults” (tiny-sized versions of people with mature brains, who can thus be reasoned with logically) or projecting our own childhood stuff onto them (I felt this way when that used to happen, so that must be how they’re feeling now). Both, for rather obvious reasons, miss the boat, no matter how well-intentioned. For whatever reason, it’s almost impossibly hard for us to get out of our own way at times, and see our children as they actually are.

Of course, all of this is even further complicated by the fact that what they are is constantly changing. While basic temperament is often set as early as infancy, a whole host of other personality facets develop throughout childhood. My kids are both shaping their environment and being shaped by it on a daily basis, learning and absorbing things constantly, and building autobiographical memories along the way. So, as much as my wife and I like to think we’ve figured them out, they’re always surprising us.

And, as Inside Out suggests, it’s only going to get a lot more complicated from here on out.

*

Eleven-year-old Riley is growing up. She’s trying her best to be happy, sensing how much this is expected of her and how badly her parents need it to be true. But she’s not. The family has just relocated from Minnesota to San Francisco, and she’s had to leave behind everything she’s ever really known. It’s hard enough to do at any age, but it’s especially difficult for someone approaching adolescence – even if Riley had stayed put in good ol’ Minnesota, a whole lot of change was still headed her way.

The genius of Inside Out, as most everybody knows by now, is that the majority of the film takes place not externally, but rather inside Riley’s brain. And that brain is, well, freaking out. At the main control panel, overseen by her five basic emotions—Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear, and Disgust—chaos erupts. Joy (Amy Poehler), a manic pixie fount of eternal optimism who ran the show for most of Riley’s childhood, has been accidentally displaced from central headquarters. She’s chasing after Sadness (Phyllis Smith), an Eeyore-like teardrop of melancholy that none of the other emotions seem to know what to do with. With Joy and Sadness gone, it’s up to Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) to temporarily run the show.

And, after they make a proper mess of things, the whole emotional system begins to malfunction. The various personality “islands” that have anchored Riley’s life begin to collapse. The center no longer holds, internally or externally. In desperation, Anger gives Riley the idea to run away, and she takes it. Meanwhile, Joy and Sadness journey together through various parts of Riley’s brain—Imagination Land, Abstract Thought, a Dream Production studio, an Unconscious prison, the Memory Dump—before finally catching The Train of Thought back to headquarters, hoping they’re not too late.

*

Finding words to describe any internal experience almost immediately makes that experience less confusing. If we can communicate something to ourselves or others, especially with a story or an idea, we can begin to make sense of it and better navigate the terrain. One of the very best things about Inside Out is the framework it provides to its viewers, taking big huge chunks of complicated neuroscience and psychology and breaking them down into an easily digestible and engaging narrative. Beyond how inventive and entertaining it is on its surface—how smart and funny and relatable the whole thing feels—it’s doing something even more important (and, hopefully, long-lasting): it’s giving us a new way to understand ourselves.

And while all of this is undoubtedly exciting, what’s even more exciting is the way an improved cultural understanding of these things—how emotions work, interact, and adapt to shape our everyday experience—could play out on a larger scale over the years to come. Imagine a world where Inside Out is a part of the common vernacular, a film every kid grows up with, internalizes, and uses to make sense of things.

This is not merely theoretical to me. As the father of two kids under the age of ten, I hope they absorb what Inside Out has to say, both in an educational sense and a thematic one. We’ve watched the film together twice now—first as a family in a movie theater when it initially came out last summer, and a second time earlier this week, when I told them I’d be writing about it and needed them to be my co-reviewers. They were immediately all kinds of excited—Joy is still the primary driver in their young minds—gathering up paper and pens “to take notes like reviewers do.” And they did their job well, each taking nearly three pages of notes about what they did and didn’t like—and how certain moments made them feel—throughout the film. I expected to get a few adorable tidbits from them for this piece, but what I hadn’t expected was how revelatory the whole experience would be, for all of us.

After the movie ended, they told me about the parts that made them happy and sad and scared, and how some scenes made them feel more than one emotion at once. They asked questions about why some emotions were left out of the story—especially Curiosity, which they both agreed is “one of the main ones”. They wondered where the piano parts of their brain would be, or the parts that liked to create things; they asked if their brains really had a “Memory Dump” where some memories go away forever. “I don’t think I like that,” my son said. “Is there a way to not have to have it?”

After talking things through with them, it seemed clear that while they enjoyed the film and laughed a lot, the larger overall message was not lost on them at all. “We need all the emotions,” my daughter said. “They all do important things.”

*

By the time Joy and Sadness finally get back to headquarters, Riley is on a bus to Minnesota. This is clearly a terrible idea, but without Joy and Sadness around, Riley has become numb to the world around her. The emotions need to get through to her quickly, to help her find another way to deal with her situation. Previously, this would have been Joy’s province, righting the ship through exuberance and can-do, buckle-up optimism. But after spending so much time with Sadness on their journey—and realizing that she is not only useful but essential—Joy steps aside and cedes control over to her.

And then Sadness steps up and saves the day.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Inside Out, then, is that it’s a big-budget, mass-market Hollywood studio movie that embraces sadness as a necessary thing. Think about the last time you saw a film, an animated kids film no less, that did anything remotely like that. Not a film that was sad, or portrayed sadness, but one that actually made sadness something of a hero; something that pointed toward embracing emotional congruence as the best way forward, rather than an endless pursuit of happiness. It goes against most every grain in American media and culture, where happiness is often promoted as the only thing worth aiming for and sadness is thought to be a sign of weakness. Inside Out says, clearly and loudly and repeatedly, that things just don’t work that way. We aren’t supposed to be happy all the time—we can’t possibly be—and the more doggedly we pursue an idealized notion of happiness, the less often we actually feel the real thing.

*

Recently, my daughter had to fill out a “self-inventory” sheet for a homework assignment, one of those fairly basic things we all had to fill out at some point as kids (“What is your favorite subject?”, “What do you like to do for fun?”). I sat next to her at the kitchen table as she worked her way through it, glancing over at her answers from time to time. One of the last questions on the sheet was “What do you like best about your personality?” She stopped to think about it for all of two seconds, before writing “I like that I am usually happy.” It was short and sweet and absolutely true. And, because we’d just watched Inside Out two days before, it kind of broke my heart. Not for the answer itself—I’m enormously glad that she usually feels happy—but rather for the future Her, the one who will somehow be turning eleven years old in just two years. Because that answer will change. Science says so, psychology says so, my own childhood says so. That “happiness baseline,” which makes up such a large part of childhood for those of us fortunate to be raised in even halfway decent environments, will decline. Not because of anything she does, or we do, or anyone else does. Simply because time will pass and she will get older.

I can’t pretend to know how I’ll feel when this happens, with either one of my kids. I can’t imagine it will be easy. I’m a sentimental guy with a photographic memory, and I can still vividly remember almost every single day of their lives. So much of it has been filled with happiness, mine and theirs. Sadness, anger, fear, and disgust too, sure, but mostly in small doses. So when it finally does happen, when they start to grow up and lose some of their natural childhood joy and self-confidence, I’ll likely need to watch Inside Out all over again. I’ll need a reminder that it’s okay to embrace my own sadness around the passing of time and all it takes from us, and that being with this sadness will eventually create the space within me for a different kind of joy. I’ll need a reminder that all of our emotions are necessary and important—that each one colors in the others and makes a life whole.


Chad Perman is the Editor-in-Chief of Bright Wall/Dark Room. He is a writer and therapist, living in Seattle with his wife and their two children.


Either it's Raining, or I'm Dreaming

photo courtesy of the author

photo courtesy of the author

Newlyweds talk to a fortune teller at a diner. An airplane travels back in time. A telekinetic goes gambling. The devil buys souls. The devil is imprisoned in the basement of a monastery. Astronauts disappear. Aliens land. Nothing is okay. Everything is okay.

These are the stories I began 2015 with. New Years’ Eve was a simple equation: The Twilight Zone and champagne in my brand new apartment in Los Angeles, hanging out with my cats on one of the few furnishings I’d managed to purchase.

Los Angeles during the holidays could have its own episode: mistletoe strung up beneath blue skies and palm trees, fake snow coating outdoor malls, tank tops with beaded holiday greetings. So it was fitting to start my first year in a new city with stories about extraterrestrials and ghosts and worlds that aren’t quite our own.

I’d moved to L.A. weeks before. I knew what 2015 would become before it even began: a year of navigating a new city alone, making new friends, finding new theaters and video stores and bookstores. New, new, new—no matter how much I hate and avoid new, that’s all anything I met would be. New.

Much of the new was exciting: I made friends; I drove the length of the coast, stopping off in Big Sur for a lunch overlooking the ocean; I drove my car to the beach and my feet into the sand; I went out for drinks and didn’t talk about murder; I had my first In’n’Out burger.

But still, I spent stretches of time alone. Any new place requires adjustment, and much of the move had been prompted by the need to be closer to family, after losing two of our own. This ongoing grief, combined with the loss of familiarity, often left me feeling out of joint, uncollected, misplaced.

Movies, as ever, were an easy fix.

I found a video store ten minutes south of my apartment that quickly became my favorite Friday afternoon destination. The store, Videotheque, is small and dense. Crossing the threshold is like walking into 1995. Shelves are loaded with DVDs and one small TV set in back plays Withnail & I on repeat. They stock deep cuts next to deep cuts next to deep cuts and organize movies by country and then by director, so when I found a new love, I could delve in, directly or tangentially.

And so that vertiginous feeling of moving forward while feeling stuck compelled me to look backward, to Francois Truffaut and Dario Argento and Wong Kar Wai. Directors telling stories that orbited loss and sadness and quietness in just the doses that I needed.

You said “I love you!” and I said “Stay!”

Before I left New York, a close friend found out I’d never seen Jules et Jim, and nearly disowned me. He'd bring it up every time he saw me, but the more he did, the more belligerently I refused to watch it. I wouldn’t be bullied into anything, I told him. No way, no how.

And then I moved to Los Angeles and didn’t have those regular conversations to look forward to. Trenches of time opened up, and I needed to fill them with cocktails of the new and the nostalgic. So I went to Videotheque and rented the Truffaut film. Finally.

Set in Europe before, during, and after World War I, Jules et Jim centers on a best friendship between Jim (Henri Serre) and Jules (Oskar Werner). Together, they discuss poetry and women. Interests and relationships are transient. Too much or too little or too nothing. Everything is gleeful and fleeting, too fun, too thoughtful. Until Catherine (Jeanne Moreau).

The three of them become inseparable. Both men love Catherine, but she drifts toward Jules, and Jules asks Jim to promise not to trespass. He doesn’t, even though he loves her, and then the war begins. Jules and Jim go to the front.

The promise and hope of youth is shattered by the war and cannot deliver, but the characters refuse to acknowledge the reality of what they’ve already lost. They persist into unhappy marriages, confused liaisons, disappearances, broken promises. Nothing lessened, nothing gained.

Watching it, I knew why my friend had been so shocked. The movie was perfect for me. Not only did it hinge on World War I—a war I find myself continually returning to, because of its devastating, shattering force within the context of the 20th century—but the friendships in the film are like magic, and that’s how I’ve always thought of mine. How impossible it is, to find someone who speaks the same language you do, and how important it is to hold onto, once you’ve found that.

Bad luck isn't brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds.

Horror films are new for me. For most of my life, I’ve been too scared. Or I thought I was too scared. I avoided them. Until I began grieving. I watched one terrible B movie with supernatural scares, and then another. I didn’t flinch. In fact, I found the experience oddly enjoyable. I liked not being scared. It gave me a sense of invincibility. I would rent a movie, buy myself a bottle of wine, and then curl into my couch for an evening of not-being-scared-by-the-scary.

Which is how I found Suspiria: Dario Argento’s horror film wrapped in a fairy tale. Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), small and diminutive and with the dream of becoming a professional dancer, goes to Germany to attend a prestigious ballet academy. The academy, however, isn’t normal. The first night she’s there, she can’t get in the front door, and so she goes to stay in town. What she doesn’t realize is that, inside, another student is being chased and brutally murdered. The academy is a front for malevolent and dangerous forces, and Suzy soon finds herself in their cross-hairs.

The world of Suspiria is neon. The walls inside the academy are bright pink. Skylights cast fluorescent rhombuses across the floors, violently patterned with optical illusions. Blood splatters aren’t anomalous in this landscape; they’re expected.

Which makes the horror of Suspiria especially vivid. What Suzy is facing—the witchcraft, the death—is bright and dangerous, but so are her desires. She wants to be a ballerina. She wants to study art and form. She wants to fit in, to be liked. To feel at home in a foreign country. She doesn’t want to die.

Movies like Suspiria are cut through with their own particular blend of hopefulness and naivety. We can still survive, the characters think. No matter what we’ve already seen, no matter what we know to be ahead, we’ll be okay. Even if they won’t be, they fight as if they will, and that’s everything.

This is what I attach to most, when watching these horror films, most especially Suspiria. They’re built so that viewers can face their own fears, their own mortality. They fear they quell buoys to the surface, and they handle it within the manageable space of two hours.

Facing them and not turning away can make a viewer feel limitless.

Everything will be okay.

It isn’t, but it will be.

Did I leave the tap running, or is the apartment getting more tearful?

On one of my first visits to Videotheque, I realized they stocked Chungking Express, an early Wong Kar-Wai film.

I rented it immediately and watched it that night. But watching it just once wasn’t enough. A few months on, I went back to the video store and rented it again. And then, another few months on: again.

Chungking Express is, as with all Wong Kar-Wai, both gentle and strange. The melancholy never leaves the screen. The characters’ losses are embodied by cans of pineapple and toy airplanes. They miss what they can’t have, and don’t notice what they do.

The movie is two separate stories told one after the other, both featuring two police officers in unrequited love. In the first, Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is left by his girlfriend on April Fools’ Day. For the next month, he purposefully collects pineapple tins that expire on May 1. He’ll give her the month to change her mind, he thinks, and if she doesn’t, then their love would be thrown away, along with the pineapple. If memories could be canned, he wonders, would they also expire? On May 1st, without the return of his ex, he tries to pick up a mysterious woman wearing a wig and sunglasses, but the encounter devolves. He watches old movies in their hotel room while she sleeps.

The second story is my favorite of the two: Cop 663 (played by a soulful, young Tony Leung) is recovering from his ex, a flight attendant, when he encounters Faye (Faye Wong), who works at a fast food restaurant in his neighborhood. Cop 663 pines for his ex, while Faye pines for Cop 663. While he works, Faye sneaks into his apartment and inspects his space and possessions. If he doesn’t notice her, or give her time to get to know him through conversation, this is the next best thing for her. She cleans, she tidies, she imagines how he fills the space when he’s there, she blasts California Dreamin’ and imagines herself in the spaces as well, alongside him.

Chungking Express is laced with absence and youth, sadness, and small graces. It’s about feeling lonely in a big city, and letting yourself build up fictions around the people you pass on the street.

That’s what this last year felt like. It was a year for small graces and gestures. A bottle of champagne. A package of books in the mail. Nothing was perfect, but my world became peopled and full as time went on. I took care of myself. I drove until my tank ran out, and then I drove some more. Learning the streets. Learning the new edges of my new home. Knowing that one day it will be that—my home—and allowing patience until I get there.

That old Joan Didion aphorism—“We tell ourselves stories in order to live”—has never felt more real to me than it did this year. We watch movies to begin to understand the meat of things, to test the boundaries of where we are, and try to push past them. Movies can be a kind of magic: They transform your sad and small emotions into something substantive and worth investigating. They provide a vocabulary for your experience, luring your secrets out like flower bouquets hidden up sleeves, or a never-ending scarf tugged out of your throat, up through your vocal chords.

Witches chase ballerinas. Best friends go to war. Wives take lovers. Wives disappear. The stewardess leaves, but someone else stays. The pineapple expires.


Kelsey Ford is a Senior Editor at Bright Wall/Dark Room. A recent Los Angeles transplant, via Brooklyn, her work has previously appeared in Her Royal Majesty and Storychord.


Ride Eternal

illustration by Michael Hay  

illustration by Michael Hay

 

Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth film in George Miller's Mad Max franchise. Thirty years beyond the Thunderdome, Miller returns us once more to this feral burnt-out fetishscape, now bigger and brighter than ever. It stars Academy Award winner Charlize Theron as the instantly iconic Imperator Furiosa, out-scorching the entire desert with her gaze, and Tom “Resting Concerned Face” Hardy as dust-up drifter Max Rockatansky, delivering all five of his total lines like a mumbly lion dad. Also featured: pasty fawn-mutant Nicholas Hoult—who manages to be surprisingly endearing for a character literally called a War Boy—and a bevy of beauties who would throw you straight out of a moving tanker truck for diminishing them to just that, leaving you to fend for yourself while they make their way toward the stronghold of a matriarchal motorcycle gang who spit fire over the sand dunes and grow seedlings in sun-bleached skulls.

For nearly the entire running time, these characters race around a super-saturated desert in nightmare doomcars, with fight sequences so finely tuned, character driven, jaw-dropping, and weirdly charming that it almost starts to feel like some post-apocalyptic hell-to-leather Buster Keaton film. It is completely insane and pure joy, the most gorgeously shot, masterfully crafted symphony of carnage in decades, and there are more named female characters than male. I fucking loved this movie.

A big part of my love for Fury Road comes from the same place as my love for the entire Mad Max franchise. I came late to the Wasteland, only watching the original three about a month before Fury Road came out, but I went down quick and I went down hard. For movies often (and not to say inaccurately) billed as absurd action-heavy/dialogue-light Ozploitation disaster flicks, they are remarkably well-crafted. They're super textural and lived-in, they feel real, and in a lot of ways that's because they are. Miller has been dropping jaws for 35 years with his stunt work, which began with the astonishingly scrappy Mad Max. The practical stunts were originally born from a combination of budgetary necessity and gonzo moxie, and despite exponentially increasing funds, Miller maintained this same approach through the stunning car chases of The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, and then kept barreling forward into Fury Road. Movies have changed a lot in the thirty years between 1985 and 2015. Today, lengthy CGI battles are de rigueur for the action genre, which probably explains why so much shouting went down over just how shockingly real Fury Road was: all the explosions, all the cars, all the flame-throwing guitars. It’s an old-fashioned technique—build it for real, do it for real, light it on real fire and drive it across the real desert—yet is so unconventional in modern movies that it winds up feeling novel and progressive.

This is at the core of what I love most about the Mad Max franchise: each film manages to present the deeply traditional in a way that somehow feels daringly original. It carries through from the practical stunt-work to the stories themselves, tales that would make Joseph Campbell smile with their simple Hero With a Thousand Faces core. The Mad Max films are a kind of modern myth-making, a notion that is present even in the way they treat continuity. If you sat down and tried to piece together a timeline for Max or his world over the course of the four movies, it wouldn’t add up. Instead, each movie functions like a different story someone is telling about Mad Max, the Road Warrior. He is an archetypal figure within a new mythos. It doesn’t matter if it’s the same sawed off shotgun that sparks and fails the first time Max tries to use it—what matters is that there is a gun like that, because Max has a gun like that. Just like Max has a leather jacket carried down from his days in the Main Force Patrol, and at some point he or someone near him will wind a tiny music box. In each Max story, there are certain symbols that are constant, like Orpheus’ lyre. What works in myths works for George Miller as well.

In Fury Road, all of this comes together in triumphant harmony. The classic forms and characters combine with old-school methods of filmmaking to create something akin to the loudest silent film you’ve ever seen, one in which the action and the movement of real human bodies in front of a movie camera tell you most of the story. But the primary reason Fury Road tips over into This Is My Favorite Movie Of The Year zone is because the story being told is socially progressive, both in content and in form—and is humanist down to its bones. Fury Road paints a terrible no-good future in brilliant color—saturated with whackadoodle detail as beautiful as it is perverse—combined with the message that this world’s brokenness can be healed once its people begin to recognize each other as equals. From out of this Wasteland comes a reminder that our own present society badly needs to hear: No one, regardless of gender, should be reduced to what their body has to offer. We are individuals possessed of heart and strength. We Are Not Things. And once we realize that, and support each other, we can save our world, too.

Inextricable from both its message and its method is the film’s up-front feminism. Of course, an inevitable Tall Poppy backlash emerged after the dust settled a bit, some of it coming from women who felt Fury Road was far less feminist than originally promoted. Funnily enough, the movie’s own marketing never presented itself as a consciously feminist film, the cast’s 50/50 gender split only being sussed out by close readers of IMDb, and Theron’s leading role merely extrapolated from the fact that she actually spoke in the trailers (oh Max) and shared the same amount of poster space as Hardy. It wasn’t until credible reports started coming in from the first screenings that this topic properly took off. And once it became clear that the plot was, quite literally, about women running the patriarchy under their wheels, weird cars in the desert were no longer the only things blowing up.

The arguments against Fury Road as a feminist movie are a bit of a mix, and honestly, sometimes a bit of a mess as well. I have rarely felt more like I was being gaslighted than when reading critiques of this movie’s gender politics that described a different plot than the one I watched. Once we set those aside, what emerges is a much more valuable conversation: what do we even mean by the term “feminist movie.”

There can be different grades of feminism in different works, just as there should be certain tenets followed in order to qualify, no matter the genre. A movie is not automatically feminist just because women best men in a fight. Then again, a movie is not automatically un-feminist because its plot line involves sexual abuse. It all depends on how it is handled, what the focus is. In Fury Road, the violence done to the Wives is never depicted onscreen — their suffering is never the entertainment. Instead, the story is about their triumph over that darkness through their own strength. They had been reduced to their bodily resources, yes, just as the War Boys were cannon fodder, and Max a Blood Bag, but it is the women’s adamant refusal to let this exploitation continue that drives the whole plot. “We are not things!” they shout to their would-be oppressors in their first scene. And then they spend the rest of the movie proving just that.

George Miller told the actresses playing the ex-Wives that they and Furiosa were the heart of the film, and they are. They’re the ones who care, they’re the ones who speak, they’re the ones who start shit and get it done. We talk a lot about the Bechdel Test, because even though movies can get cheap-ass technical passes if two women talk about ice cream for 30 seconds at some point, it’s still a useful way to throw a harsh light on the many films that can’t even manage to get that far. Fury Road aces the Bechdel Test over and over again, but it goes even further: it also passes the Mako Mori Test of narrative autonomy, also over and over again.

This is a film where the female characters get not just the lion’s share of the screenspace, but also complete narrative arcs that are their own, independent of men. Not counting the villains, who function as The Evil of Mankind, if you took our two good male characters, Max and Nux, out of the movie, Furiosa and the girls would still have motivations and character development and independent story arcs. But if you took the women out of the movie, the men aren’t left with a plot of their own. This is incredible to comprehend. I have spent complete minutes lost in wonder at how rare this is, in any movie. Without Furiosa, without the women she is freeing and the women she is returning to, who raised her to be the woman she is, this movie just does not exist.

Many Fury Road reviews have some variation on the line, “Furiosa drives the truck and the plot,” because that is absolutely true. Furiosa is seeking redemption for being complicit in an awful system. Over the course of the movie, she learns that the way to realize her goal is not to flee with some of the abused women, but to free everyone by breaking the system altogether, and rebuilding an oppressive society into one based on equality. It’s her mission that rehabilitates Max, who gets his own redemption only through growing to respect Furiosa, and fighting alongside her for her just cause. This Max is such a beautiful male action lead, because he embodies not the usual Lone Man machismo form of heroics, but rather the kind of heroism that comes from cooperation, understanding, and compassion — “Engage to heal,” as Miller had written on the wall of the production office. It’s telling that Max’s big heroic moment is not killing the Big Bad, but offering Furiosa his blood to use. By the end, she and Max have reached a place of mutual warrior respect, as Theron put it, and after they bro-nod at each other and Max silently fades into the crowd at a medium distance, the movie ends with us looking at Furiosa and the women, the camera close in on them as they rise, victorious. There couldn’t be a surer testament to whose story is being told.

Moreover, our protagonist is not the only female character to get her own narrative arc. Several of the girls do as well, pulling on layers of characterization, just as they pull on layers of boots and scarves and gloves as soon as they get the chance. The girls’ stories may not be as plot-driving as Furiosa’s, but they are still there and they are still their own. There’s The Dag, that lovable weirdo who bonds with The Keeper of the Seeds, learns about the sour soil and the seedlings, and moves from resenting the present to gaining a sense of history and hope for a future that she might be able to make green. In her story’s conclusion, poetic as it is tangible, The Dag carefully takes up the satchel of seeds, pressing her hand to the glass, like a promise to the old woman’s memory that she too will try to grow something beautiful in this blasted land.

And there’s wonderful Capable, whose understanding and compassion enables Nux to follow her lead away from a life determined by Immortan Joe. She has the wisdom and humanity to see Nux not as an off-shoot of the man who enslaved her, but as a lost, brainwashed foot-soldier who also deserves to be free. She comforts him as she does the other girls, and guides him to shininess with her steadfast moral beacon (and possibly a shared affinity for goggles). In a lovely bookend to her story, at the beginning Capable offers to take the first watch, and at the end she is the one to watch Nux when he asks her to Witness him. She pulls her closing fist to her heart, memorializing and honoring his life in the gesture she has learned from the Vuvalini.

And Cheedo, oh Cheedo – her narrative is the most deftly done. We first know Cheedo the Fragile as a delicate young girl, the one tries to run back to the men they are fleeing from, terrified of what will happen without the security that comes from a cage. The other women pull her back, dry her tears, remind her that she is not a thing to be locked away, but her own person with her own power. Then, in the last big battle, Cheedo once more reaches back for her old captors, pleads to Rictus to save her – but this time, after she has tricked him into lifting her across the gap between the cars, she rushes to the front, and reaches down to help Furiosa up.

All of these women get these unique narratives that show their character, their strength, and their development over the course of the movie. And, importantly, their stories are not about their relation to men, to Max or to Immortan Joe. (Capable’s narrative is entwined with Nux’s, but his character growth depends on her, not the other way around.) Neither are their stories forgotten in all the bright crashes and dust and Doof Warrior doofs – they all get final moments of their arcs, woven into the action. For me, that’s feminist. That’s encouraging, and that’s powerful. To give side characters cohesive story beats specific to them, that still serve the overall tone and sweep of the narrative – that’s what all, storytellers want to achieve. This is the gold standard, and it's achieved by a primarily female cast in a movie that is about three quarters car chases. It's a goddamn watershed for action flicks.

Fury Road is ultimately an allegory, a simple one about resources and humanity. But as with many of our oldest myths, it has launched complex discussions about our world today. It sets a new example for a way we can make movies, both in terms of its practical effects and the respect it gives to female narratives, showing that women can carry the plot of an action movie as surely as a truck can carry enough speakers to be heard from miles across the desert. I was nearly dancing down the street after I saw this movie, thinking about how every director in Hollywood was losing their minds over Fury Road, just howling into the night that this movie took them all to school, that it was a triumph, a masterclass, a blazing gem of nonstop hellbent orchestral action — and knowing that it was also so unabashedly, organically in support of women. Look at how it can be done! Look at how it can be beautiful, and fun, and the most exhilarating break-neck rush of a film to land in cinemas this year.


Tarra Martin has worked as a cooking show producer, podcast host, theater management assistant, barista, and writer. She is currently in the process of moving from NYC to Portland, OR, to pursue her interest in trees.

Sexuality and Crimson Peak

by Jessica Ritchey

artwork by Darya Kuznetsova

artwork by Darya Kuznetsova

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) isn’t your expected Victorian era heroine. She lives in Buffalo, New York with her father (Jim Beaver). Their sun-dappled world of oak-paneled drawing rooms and walks in the park is one of conversation and growth. She’s bright, speaks her mind, and is encouraged on both fronts by her adoring father. The rapidly expanding America of the early 20th century is reflected in Edith’s refusal to use the fountain pen gifted to her by her father, because her graceful handwriting will give her away as a woman. She instead opts to use the new typewriter at her father’s office. She's learned to navigate imposed limits.

Until the mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) arrives, looking for backers for a business venture that will restore his family fortune. After being rebuffed by Edith’s father, he turns his eye on Edith. He woos her, against the wishes of his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). After Edith’s father dies, she marries Thomas and returns to his family home with him. Allerdale Hall, a hideously beautiful mansion in the north of England, recalls the corpse of a once great ruler. A jagged hole in the roof lets in snow. Oily red clay bleeds out of the walls. It’s a country where everyone knows their place and secrets slowly spread through walls like mold. It’s the kind of place designed to crush and consume a person like Edith—and it speaks to the radical humanism of Guillermo Del Toro’s film that it does not.

For all the gore and terror of the horror genre, there is often a puritanical streak when it comes to the sexual proclivities of its characters. One of the many pleasant surprises in Crimson Peak, then, is how a woman’s ownership of her sexuality inadvertently causes a chain reaction that will save her life. Even if, as can only be expected in Gothic horror, she gets put through the wringer first.

It’s presented as only natural that she would wish to sleep with her new husband. Her growing consternation at waking up every morning to find herself alone and Thomas’s half of the bed unslept in, is all too understandable. When Thomas and Edith finally consummate their relationship—notably not in Allerdale Hall, but in a cozy room in the nearest village—Edith is not a trembling maiden being ravished by a brooding Byronic hero. She is in full control of their love-making. She rolls herself on top of her husband and the scene fades as she works herself to orgasm.

Their return to Allerdale Hall, radiant and laughing, causes a temperature change in Lucille. Volcanic rage erupts through her composed veneer. Lucille’s simmering jealousy of Edith is not only monetary; it’s sexual. Thomas and Lucille’s incestuous relationship is the poison root that feeds Allerdale Hall. They clung to each other to weather an abusive childhood. In adulthood, the pair have been unable to untangle themselves in favor of healthy, nurturing relationships. With no money to their titles, they seek out vulnerable, wealthy women. But for the first time, Thomas is falling for their quarry, which not only threatens the economic order Lucille has arranged, but their romantic one as well.

Thomas has also been irrevocably changed by the night in town. It was a healing encounter, and he’s doomed by that. He wants a life with Edith, but he still loves his sister. He foolishly believes he can have both and start over. Lucille wants to quicken Edith’s death; Thomas wants to stop her. He’s had enough. They’ve done too many monstrous acts in order to keep a house they both despise.

But a cornerstone of the Gothic is how the past is inescapable. He pleads with Lucille to reconsider killing Edith. She plunges the knife into him several times instead. Lucille crumples from rage to horror, as she cradles his dying body. Driven mad with grief for her brother, she chases Edith outside, to the front of Allerdale Hall. The sky is eerily white, the snow on the ground soaked through with red clay. They swipe and slash at each other, until Thomas’s ghost arrives. Taking advantage of Lucille’s momentary distraction, Edith kills her. She saves herself, claiming agency for her person and her future.

Edith and Thomas then share a goodbye, one of the most moving in Del Toro’s entire filmography. Thomas’s ghost, marble-white with a smoking wound in his face, looks at Edith with tenderness and regret for a life that could have been with her. Edith reaches out to gently stroke Thomas’s face. He leans into her touch for a moment and then disappears into the air. Thomas was unable to free himself from his past sins, but he is free from Allerdale Hall at last. Edith, with a gash across her cheek and a broken leg, limps to safety.

Edith is more than a survivor, a Final Girl in mutton sleeves. She is the author of her own story and her own body. She gives herself to Thomas because she wants to. She’s not punished for loving foolishly, but rather, allowed to rally her wits and will to survive. Crimson Peak has no interest in meting out judgment. It’s a beautiful, aching meditation on grief, mourning, and the scars our physical and psychic history leave on us. Allerdale Hall is the mind and body scarred by trauma, its ghosts walking memories begging not to be forgotten. And in a toxic environment, where sex contributed to moral decay, it is also sex that finally exorcises the ghosts of Allerdale Hall. An act between two consenting people done in love can be beautiful enough to chase out the darkness. Lucille meant to frighten Edith earlier in the film with her comment, said over a dying butterfly, that “beautiful things are fragile.” But she was wrong. Beautiful things can be strong too.


Jessica Ritchey is a writer based in the orbit between Washington D.C. and Baltimore. She credits a VHS copy of Singin’ in the Rain as her introduction to a love of movies. She has written for several web outlets, and can be found watching foreign classics in rapt silence at the AFI Silver or shouting things with the crowd at B-Fest on Northwestern’s campus. She believes that high and low culture are illusory barriers and that all art and storytelling is truly one big never-ending conversation. She occasionally remembers she has a blog at Sugarbang.


How Do You Say No to God?

illustration by Amanda McCleod

illustration by Amanda McCleod

It happens as an overnight epiphany, or a slow dawning, or a reluctant acceptance. A breaking point where your actions can no longer ignore your principles. One day, the world isn’t the place you thought it was—it’s darker, bleaker, streaked with evil impulses you hadn’t suspected were possible. Sometimes, it’s just more complex.

We all have different reactions upon learning that the world doesn’t fit our expectations. Some adapt, some lash out, some try and mold the world to fit an ideal. Not to pathologize criminals, but the rapist Catholic priests at the center of the Boston Globe's 2001 investigation probably couldn't reconcile their truly-held beliefs with their more basic impulses, and tried to figure their way through it by leaving a trail of shattered childhoods and lasting trauma in their wake. The reporters in Spotlight, finally seeing a grand old institution for the corrupt monster that it is, channel their newfound anger and upset into shining a light in the darkness. Telling the truth, to as many people as will listen. If they can't make the world right, at least they can try to show the rot in its foundations.

If this makes Spotlight sound like a chest-thumping film, one where the cast sits around and opines about how journalism is so important, then I’m doing it a disservice. On the surface, where the script is, Spotlight is actually a film about work. Named for the largely-independent investigative team at the Boston Globe, it's a film about extremely emotive subject matter turned into a job, conducted by means of halting interviews, wrangling government bureaucrats, long nights of research, and clinging onto a story even as the world conspires to take it away.

There's nuance in Spotlight’s approach to the work, though. All the characters in the film are based on real-life counterparts, some of whom still work at the Globe, so it's anyone's guess as to whether they capture each personality accurately—but there are distinct personalities, even as everyone works to the best of their ability. Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), the Globe's editor, wants to balance good reporting with the need to stay relevant in a world increasingly turning to a computer to get the news. Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) leads the investigation, even as he privately comes to terms with some prior decisions he's come to regret. Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) gets things done by letting his anger drive him, and can be explosive when people get in his way. Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James) are doing all they can to keep their job and home lives separate, and finding that it isn't always possible. The thrust of the narrative in Spotlight is always about driving toward a point where the news is fit to print, but there are subplots, too, glimmers of personal narratives that find their way in through echoes and expressions.

Still, the work comes first. And it's hard work. What separates Spotlight from so many stories about abuse is that, while the main narrative follows the journalists, the abuse survivors are also given room to speak, to hold legitimacy and not just be brushed off as hysterical or, worse, branded as liars. Even so, there's a tenuous relationship between reporter and subject. There's a telling scene where Pfeiffer has to ask one of the survivors exactly what happened, because he instinctively refers to it as "molestation". And while the word molestation can refer to something horrific, it’s also a word with alternative definitions that can mean something as innocuous as someone getting on your nerves. It's a sanitized word that might have initially been used to protect people, but ended up having the insidious side effect of lessening the impact of their story. Tellingly, in interviews with the press following the release of the movie, several of the leading actors referred to the actions of the priests concerned as - yes - molestation. We say "won't somebody think of the children" when we use language like "rape", but sometimes it betrays the fact that no one wants to think about the children.

So that's why, in a film with very little swearing, no violence and no depictions of sexual activity, Spotlight is rated R in the USA and 15 in the UK. The stories aren't sanitized, but neither are they salacious. There's a byproduct of getting the right story out there, and it's that the story is sometimes quite upsetting.

The most resonant scene in the film, for me, comes when Rezendes storms out of the newsroom because Robinson doesn't think the story's ready to publish. By this point, the team has identified ninety priests in the Boston area accused of rape. They've recognized that Cardinal Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston, is culpable in covering up the abuse. They can name and shame, and that's exactly what Rezendes needs, but Robinson stops him because they don't have yet have evidence of a wider institutional problem. And Rezendes loses it. Up until this point, Rezendes has—while remaining equally committed to the work—been the most fully rounded character, with moods and whims and regular flashes of brilliance. They're all people, but Rezendes comes across as the most likely to let his humanity get in the way of his job. He finds his way back, but it's a moment of rage because his gut is telling him that the men who shattered so many lives need to pay, and soon. Never mind what the head says.

The other members of the team struggle, though, too. Robinson is quietly dealing with the guilt of having had a glimpse of the same story years ago, but doing nothing about it. Pfeiffer breaks a long-held tradition of going to church every Sunday with her devout grandmother. Carroll discovers that a so-called treatment center for abusive priests is just a block from his house, in a neighborhood filled with kids, and has to contemplate the balance between protecting his children and keeping the story quiet. These are, after all, people reporting the story, and each brings their own personal baggage to the table.

This is why journalism, especially the kind of long-form investigative journalism depicted in Spotlight, is difficult. It's very easy to take someone down or assassinate someone's character—anyone with a blog and an attitude can do that. Using the press to attempt to enact real change is something else entirely, and requires a tender balance of discretion and calculation for maximum effect. When the Boston Globe broke the story in 2002, the reason it made waves and triggered dozens of investigations around the world was precisely because the extent of the scandal in Boston was so widespread that it immediately cast the rest of the Catholic church in a suspicious light. It wasn't just a rogue faction: later investigations confirmed that the cover-up went as high as the Pope.

The ending of Spotlight is bittersweet. In most countries, there is a statute of limitations when it comes to sexual abuse, and while the church’s strategy of paying survivors hush money is now something much less likely to fly, the worst that many of the priests accused had to endure was forced resignation; the best that many survivors can hope for is that their abusers are tried in the press.

Once the initial story broke, the Spotlight offices were flooded with tips from other survivors, and it eventually became one of the longest-running pieces of coverage the team ever produced. Before the credits roll, a list of other locations where major sex abuse scandals have been uncovered appears on the screen. It runs for three pages. My hometown was in the list. That has to count for something. There are no winners, though. Even as the story breaks, it doesn't appear that anyone is looking to destroy the Catholic church, or even necessarily reform it. That's the job of the world community. The job of the press is to shine a bright enough light on the world's problems that hopefully someone notices, and tries to do something to change it.

That’s why Spotlight is the sort of film where, despite the subject matter, you walk out a little more at ease, and a little more hopeful for the future. It’s so hard to talk about this film because it’s an aggressively realist depiction of recent history. Yes, there’s a script, and selective editing, and performances that, while never showy, are still nevertheless performances—but at its core, this is something that happened. What the film does, and what the team at the Globe did, is remind us that there are still people out there devoted to exposing the truth, getting it right, and holding authority figures accountable.

This planet and the people on it are complex, and hard to deal with, and when you grow up it can seem like there’s something new and horrible to incorporate into your worldview every day. On the worst days, things can seem hopeless, until you start to see the reactions of the best kinds of people. First responders at Ground Zero. Parisians opening their doors to strangers in the immediate aftermath of mass murder. Anyone who reaches out in the wake of terrible events, rather than withdrawing. And yes, in their own way, a team of four reporters who saw systematic evil and chose to speak out about it rather than to let it continue unabated. It all counts. It all helps to redress the balance. We can only start to make things right if someone’s lighting the way.


Christopher Fraser is the Operations Manager for Bright Wall/Dark Room and the author of two books. He lives and works in Massachusetts.


Elegance, Beauty, Anxiety and Torment

illustration by Brianna Ashby

illustration by Brianna Ashby

I don’t remember how I ended up in a Godard class as an undergrad at SFSU. I knew nothing of Jean-Luc. I had grown up in the deep-eastern suburbs of San Francisco, where the only vintage film in our pre-multiplex-era theater was a one-time showing of Andre de Toth’s House of Wax in 3D. Otherwise, afternoon-TV Godzilla films and early-HBO repeats of Clockwork Orange were about as international as it got in my hometown.

But somehow I stumbled into this Godard class, and once a week I’d drive out to the borderline of Daly City to listen to my disgruntled professor. Due to space limitations in the film department, he was forced to lecture in a tiny conference room while my class (and my friend Alan, a certified Godard-freak who wasn’t in the class but insisted on auditing) sat around a large oval table, watching 16 mm prints of Godard’s extensive 60s’ oeuvre, as if in a board meeting.

It wasn’t an ideal educational environment, but the intimate and nearly surreal setting felt almost like participating in one of Godard’s long, talky takes; by the end of the class, I was even starting to understand some French. I didn’t always understand Godard’s point of view—I was a naif while he was busy revolutionizing the film-narrative process in France—but his film language, that’s stuck with me.

I’m rarely reminded of Godard when watching modern movies, but Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent, a biopic that reads more like a time-travel historical dialogue shot by 60s-era Godard, comes pretty close. Besides the huge primary-colored yearly inter-titles to steer you through 1967-1976— designer Yves Saint Laurent’s most productive era—there’s a complete lack of hand-holding narrative on the pertinent details of this difficult prodigy’s life and work.

If you don’t know much about Yves Saint Laurent and his times, Bonello doesn’t really give a damn about instructing you. Instead he plunks you into a turbulent past, like time-travel without a handbook. And, like Godard, he’s far more interested in the visual mechanics involved in telling his tale. If you find yourself intrigued, as I was, you can always study up on the relevant details afterward—that’s what the internet is for. Saint Laurent just might be the first biopic to take that into consideration.

With biography, we tend to crave a coherent narrative, but Saint Laurent tells the story of a man with a distinctly atypical arc. He was running the House of Dior at age 22 and by 33 he had already absorbed the culture-altering dynamics of his time—class upheaval, civil unrest, war protests, women’s rights, gay rights—and found a way to translate it into fashion for the modern woman. Pantsuits, tailored menswear, tuxedo-wear, vintage-wear, exoticism—Saint Laurent envisioned a woman who was going places, who would need some real pockets to put her keys and cigarettes in, who moved with exuberance, particularly on the dance floor to the heavy beat of the Northern soul sound beneath a mesmerizing neon-lit ceiling.

The rules of Couture were breaking. Saint Laurent’s opening scenes take us into the starchy clinical world of his house of fashion, assistants crying at their machines when their seams won’t lay flat. Models’ measurements are recorded robotically as Yves (Gaspard Ulliel) spoons at his chocolate mousse, sketching gowns to classical music and briskly removing offending sleeves to make a garment “short, neat, precise as a gesture.” This is a rarified environment.

But then he’s in dark basement nightclubs, discovering modern-age muses: Betty Catroux (Aymeline Valade), all in black, his androgynous twin-soul, and vintage-wearing Bohemian LouLou de la Falaise (Léa Seydoux). Saint Laurent reads a letter from Andy Warhol as the camera pans around his elegantly mod Rive Gauche boutique: I love your tuxedo. I love your Mondrian dress. Fashion is as fleeting as advertising. That’s what makes it sublime. Today, on opposite sides of the ocean, we’re the two great artists of the second half of the century. Warhol complains that he’s bored by his success and recommends courting fame as an anecdote, as well as an exciting new band he’s producing. Saint Laurent puts the needle down on “Venus in Furs,” watching traffic go by his store window. In this way, with no explanation necessary—Warhol’s voice, the red shop mannequins wearing women’s tuxedos, the Velvet Underground—a period piece feels new. The screen splits with newsreel footage of the ’68 uprising in the streets of Paris and the civil-rights upheaval in the U.S., right alongside YSL collections — safari suits, elegant pantsuits, revealing sheers. Life informs fashion.

The business of the YSL brand, parlayed by Saint Laurent’s longtime on-again-off-again partner, Pierre Bergé (Jérémie Renier), is paid tribute to in a lengthy scene in both English and French (that I’m still attempting to decipher) between U.S. investors, a translator, and Bergé. The dramatic tension is muddled by the limits of language and cultural clashes between the Americans and the French. Godard, with his Marxist leanings, might have played it as absurd, but in Saint Laurent it’s merely disorientating, while still remaining respectful to the creative process. Bergé, who didn’t authorize this film, gets his due as the bulldogged backstage player with the intelligence to pull off a seemingly impossible partnership between art and commerce.

A linear biopic rarely portrays genius, or creativity, or addiction without resorting to dull clichés. Bonello seems aware of this deadening effect and concentrates instead on the visuals, creating a near-tableau aesthetic of gay orgies, dance clubs, jet-set Marrakesh parties, and lavish fashion shows. He certainly knew another movie on Saint Laurent was also in the making (Yves Saint Laurent, released the same year) and he purposefully avoids all the “rise to fame” tropes, dropping us straight into Saint Laurent’s success story, already in progress, and then proceeding to chop the narrative up even further, making Saint Laurent more of a memory piece of the past.

This jarring effect, reminiscent of Godard’s famous jump cutting, announces that we’re watching an idea of a man’s life, not an outright imitation. It’s a distancing technique that, along with the lush production design and understated acting, leaves an audience never quite knowing what to expect next, even if they know the story. And there’s a mystery left in the missing pieces.

The gaps in the narrative leave us with a dream of Yves Saint Laurent, one that’s obsessively observational, like the glances between oily but alluring Jacques de Bascher (Louis Garrel) and Saint Laurent across a crowded dance floor filled with undulating revelers. The camera languidly pans back and forth between them, in no particular hurry, until they walk toward each other and meet. Their attraction, like a drug, is emphasized—before the relationship slides into its downward spiral with squalor and snakes.

Saint Laurent’s various addictions, beginning with medication prescribed during his enforced hospital stay during the Algerian war, hijack the narrative during long scenes that force us to witness the mental and physical damage that results from his constant inebriation. A tightly wound Saint Laurent goes under, victim to anxiety, overwork, perfectionism, and Catholic guilt (hinted at by the crucifix hanging by the bed in his elegant but prison-like apartment).

Even a film as artfully directed as Saint Laurent can’t resist showing the opulent Russian Ballet collection from 1976 as the biopic “triumph of the artist” staple. But before we’re dazzled by that riot of color and splendor, we’re suddenly wrenched into the future. The timeline is askew — Yves is old, a recluse, worrying that he didn’t give back to his muses as much as they gave him. Confused as to who he’s lost along the way, his beloved French bulldog, the doomed De Bascher. A final glimpse of his would-be muse Talitha Getty (Jasmine Trinca) appears like an unsolved Technicolor crime scene from a noir mystery. The golden boy has gone to seed, surrounded by luxury, still sharp enough to know when to hang up his blue drafting pencils for good. Nothing lasts, including success. But then he’s a child, dressing the women in his family, producing fashion shows with paper dolls, unhappy because his efforts aren’t perfect. Back and forth in time, like memories as we age. It can be a frustrating experience for anyone unmoored by experimental narrative.

Watching the drearily eroding effects of time on elder Saint Laurent, before we return to a hard-won (split-screen) triumph from his past, is a risky narrative decision, and to some perhaps an infuriating one. But Saint Laurent isn’t a comfortable retelling. Instead it's a lavish and debauched one, steeped in our own modern history, a fearless creation—a choppy, frustrating, minimalist approach to a genius of fashion, a man every bit as difficult as the film portraying him. In that sense, it reflects him well.


Lisa McElroy.jpg

Lisa McElroy grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been writing and drawing since she could hold a pencil. Some of her favorite jobs over the years include: film editor, script supervisor, film-history researcher, art teacher (for kids). She writes and edits Wikipedia articles, with a focus on women in film and music. She’s currently writing screenplays and short stories and plays drums in her band, She Mob. Her blog is ten years old. That’s an old blog.


Drink and a Movie: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1988)

by Alissa Wilkinson

illustration by Brianna Ashby

illustration by Brianna Ashby

As a bred and born Yankee, I’ve always thought it was weird that we insist on celebrating Christmas as if we are in the middle of the sunniest season, all light and happiness. Christmas means being wrapped in blankets, buried in sweaters, lighting candles to scare away the darkness. And by the end of the year, I’m usually feeling less than light. I’d rather switch on Vince Guaraldi’s plaintive soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas than rock around the Christmas tree. I’ll take my Christmases melancholy, thank you very much.

The most melancholy of all Christmas movies is It’s a Wonderful Life, which barely escapes outright tragedy with a feebly happy ending, saved only by the existential knowledge imparted by Clarence the Angel that, well, it could have been worse. The rest are mostly cotton candy—pleasant, eminently revisitable, but sugary and full of nothing—Elf and White Christmas and A Christmas Story and The Santa Clause. I guess Die Hard is a Christmas movie, too, but—no.

When I think of movies to watch at Christmas, I go straight for an unconventional source: the 1988 British miniseries of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which my parents taped onto VHS from a PBS broadcast at some point. I probably wore it out with all my re-watching. There were sequels; the Silver Chair adaptation is probably the scariest movie I saw as a child.

But The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is dark and frightening, too, in its own right. You might remember the setup. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie are four English siblings sent away from London during the bombings to stay with a kind but scattered old professor in the countryside.

One day, the children are playing hide-and-seek and Lucy, the littlest, hides in a wardrobe she finds in an apparently abandoned wing of the house. The wardrobe is a portal to a land called Narnia, a snowy and silent land with talking creatures and a curious flagpole marking the path.

In Narnia, Lucy meets a faun named Mr. Tumnus. He brings her to his house, intending—as a spy, it turns out—to betray her to the White Witch. She rules the country with a frozen fist and has made it, as characters repeat throughout the story, a place where “it’s always winter, but never Christmas.” But Aslan the Lion is on the move, and spring is coming (a formula thatGame of Thrones rather obviously inverts).

Chances are you probably know where the story goes from there—if not from the same production that I saw, then from the 2005 Walden Media version, which, having presumably been sanitized for “family audiences,” is nowhere near as frightening as the one I grew up with. Lucy returns to her siblings, who don’t believe her, quite reasonably. Later her brother Edmund—who is quite the scallywag of the story—happens to end up in Narnia, too, where he meets the White Witch and famously trades his soul for a bit of Turkish Delight. Later, all four children end up in Narnia and three of them are spirited away by some human-sized beavers to a dam where they learn all about Aslan and the neverending winter. Meanwhile Edmund has slipped away and rejoined the Witch, jonesing for some more Turkish Delight.

This stretch of the film always delighted me most. The Beavers give the children a warm drink from a “singing kettle” that lulls them toward sleep, and I always wondered, what was that drink? I figured it was a wonderfully rich hot cocoa, but more magical. Similarly the witch gives Edmund a drink that warms him down to his toes. Later the children encounter Father Christmas and realize that with Christmas coming, the White Witch’s reign must be loosening its hold on the land; her power is crumbling. Good news, indeed. And he gives the children gifts.

But those gifts are a little like finding socks and new school pants, albeit a bit cooler: Peter gets a sword and a shield; Susan gets a horn that she can use to call for help, along with a bow and arrows; Lucy receives a pint-sized dagger (yikes!) and a magical healing cordial. These are not Legos for playing with. They are grown-up gifts that move the children from childhood to adulthood and signal an impending conflict. You don’t play with a dagger. You protect yourself.

The rest of the story is quite thrilling, but this Christmas shift to warding off danger is symbolic, and the children never really go back, even after they return to England many Narnia-years later. There’s something about the recurrence of Christmas, in the dark and with the candles, that reminds you of all the Christmases that happened to you before. Space and time compress. Christmas reminds me of my father—we’ll be spending our tenth Christmas this year without him, after cancer took him too soon—and it reminds me of all the versions of me I used to be, that I am getting older, that we’re all getting older. That nothing lasts forever.

By the end of the season I’m feeling not quite blue, but maybe a little silver, and I want to nestle into remembering that there is a fine tomorrow on its way no matter how dark today is. Which is why it’s worth watching to the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: it is a story of hard-won triumph, of sacrifice that brings joy, of love that hurts.

But I think now that we’re grownups, our silvery Christmases need a little bit of something to both deepen the melancholy and bring us just a little cheer. Probably something warm is in order.

So when you fire up your melancholy Christmas story of choice this year, try making something that will warm your toes. This is my favorite thing to drink in the chilliness, a twist on a traditional hot toddy. Usually a toddy involves black tea, whiskey, honey, and lemon—a fine cold remedy, by the way.

But here is what you want now. I keep the tea to honor the Pevensies’ Englishness, but twist it for the exotic idea of encountering a land not in our dimension, and throw in a bit of my own spark, too.

I call it a Tumnus & Kirke: first, make a mugful of ginger tea for each of your guests. You can concoct something from fresh ginger, but I recommend the tried-and-true Traditional Medicinals’ Ginger Aid, which has the added benefit of soothing your overindulgence in Turkish Delight earlier in the day. Add a shot of whiskey. It’s going to get hot, so you can go with the cheapest whiskey available in your cabinet (thereby offsetting your Christmas expenditures), or rum will work in a pinch. A dash of honey is indispensable.

Lemon will work for tartness, but another great option is a little dash of cranberry juice, which you might have kicking around at the holiday. Oranges also work. Even limes. Remember, Christmas is here, and that means winter’s ending soon. The White Witch’s power is crumbling.


Alissa Wilkinson is the chief film critic at Christianity Today and an assistant professor of English and humanities at The King’s College in New York City. Her writing appears in The Washington PostThe AtlanticThe Los Angeles Review of BooksPacific StandardMovie MezzanineBooks & Culture, and other venues. Her book How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World, co-written with Robert Joustra, is due out from Eerdmans in the spring.


BW/DR Staff Picks: The Best Films of 2015

Fran Hoepfner, Contributing Editor:

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

That Mad Max: Fury Road was not only good but really and truly fantastic was the singular biggest surprise, not just for me, but for everyone this year. It was incredibly intense and truly heartfelt, and Charlize Theron created one of the most memorable heroines in years.

2. Magic Mike XXL

Don't make me keep telling you why you should see this movie.

3. Sleeping With Other People

In terms of comedies and romances and romantic comedies, Sleeping With Other People was an unexpected gut-punch. Writer and director Leåslye Headland understands the way people talk and connect and love each other. Beyond the outstanding writing, this film had both the best soundtrack (yes, better than Magic Mike XXL) and the best use of slow-motion of any film that came out this year.

4. Slow West

Slow West is cool and weird and beautiful and funny. It's 82 minutes long. A perfect Western that kicks you in the shin on its way out. It's on Amazon now. Just experience it.

5. The Diary Of A Teenage Girl

In terms of performances, there was no more outstanding combination of actors than Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård (I'm serious), and Kristen Wiig. The three of them are profoundly tragic, occasionally funny, all painting a complex and unsettling portrait of female sexuality. I'm still rattled by this film.

Charles Bramesco, Contributing Writer:

1. The Duke of Burgundy
2. Tokyo Tribe
3. Clouds of Sils Maria
4. Youth
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
6. The Tribe
7. Crimson Peak
8. World of Tomorrow
9. Anomalisa
10. Eden

Lauren Wilford, Contributing Writer:

Room

Because some darknesses are so desperate and all-consuming, the possibility of rescue so remote, that the sudden light of salvation can blind you. Because things get better but they don’t get better. Because sometimes the people you love suffer heartbreak so unutterable that it would be obscene to try to enter into it: you have to hide in a wardrobe or stare at the bathroom door they’ve closed behind them, aching for the healing you couldn’t begin to offer. Because beauty and wonder, in spite of everything, quietly continue to assert themselves. Because you can’t go home, but after and amidst all the suffering, a new home will find you.

The End of the Tour

Because someday someone will fascinate you, haunt you, keep you up at night. They will have something you don’t, and it will drive you insane. You will study them, talk to them, see all of the things you have in common, and start to feel that you could have what they have, do what they do. You will think this is about them, but it is about you. You’ll fall a bit in love with them. You will get drunk on conversation and the idea that you are having real communion with someone you once thought of as a god. Your head will continue to swirl with theories of why they are how they are, and how they do what they do. You’ll get suspicious and disenchanted and defensive. And at the end of it all, you’ll find that you did, in fact, encounter something special. All of us talk about being a good person. You think you’re a pretty good person. But this was someone who had actually put in the rare work that goes into being a good person. Not a god, no, but with all the attendant qualifiers, a kind of saint, after all.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Because sometimes it feels like bad things are barreling at you in a malevolent hoard at a hundred miles an hour, and you need to smear engine grease across your brow as war paint and get in your rig and drive like hell. Because it’s not just for you, it’s for the ones you’re driving. Because sometimes you need one or two or eight shots of adrenaline to keep moving through the muck that stands between you and freedom, and to earn the kind of triumph that sends you crashing up through the roof: bloodied, stunned, thrilled, and as ready as you’re going to be for the fallout.

Brooklyn

Because the ghosts of your unlived lives are always there, ready to whisper in your ear all the lovely things that might have been if you hadn’t turned at that sign back there. You’ll ignore the whispers, or whisper questions back, until they demand a full-throated answer from deep in your body: yes or no. This life or that one. This you or that you. And you’ll crumple, or you'll rise.

Song of the Sea

Because people need to be who they are, but sometimes that comes at a real cost to the ones they hold close. Because sometimes someone leaves or changes for reasons that you never get to know, and all you have left is the grief. Because sometimes the one who needs to leave or change is you. Because we need to help each other do the strange, painful, beautiful things that we are born to do, and to fight those who would rather see us hemmed in, blocked off, turned to stone. Because transformation hurts, but transformation saves.

Kelsey Ford, Senior Editor:

Sicario
Inside Out
The Witch
Dope
Ex-Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road

Elizabeth Cantwell, Managing Editor:

The Best Films That I Saw In 2015, Which Were Not All Released In 2015; Please Remember That We Exist In An Age Of Streaming Now, Because Of Which Linear Time And Its Importance Has Nearly Been Eradicated:

1. Magnolia (1999)

I had never seen this movie before and then I did and it changed my life, end of story. (My husband and I have been talking about how very little these days seems to truly move us emotionally, but I was so moved emotionally by Magnolia that I kind of wanted to burst into tears every so often for a week afterwards for reasons of either joy or loneliness or intense anxiety.)

2. Selma (2014)

I found this film truly powerful, and managed to get caught up entirely in it even though I was sitting in a movie theater with a whole school group of teenagers. David Oyelowo's performance is incredible.

3. The End of the Tour (2015)

IF YOU WANT ME YOU WILL FIND ME CRYING ON THE COUCH AND HOLDING INFINITE JEST

4. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

About halfway through watching this I realized that my jaw was literally hanging open like some sort of cartoon character.

5. Marty (1955)

My husband had hip surgery and all he wanted to watch while he was immobile on painkillers on the couch was random old movies that no one thinks about anymore, so we watched this and I would really recommend this to anyone even if you have zero painkillers in your system because it is about loneliness and fear and taking chances and putting yourself out there even when you're not a movie star attractive extrovert confident person and Ernest Borgnine is really good and when was the last time you heard that phrase?

Chad Perman, Editor-in-Chief:

1. The End of the Tour
2. Inside Out
3. Room
4. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
5. Magic Mike XXL
6. Mad Max: Fury Road
7. Spy
8. Creed
9. Love & Mercy
10. The Hateful 8

Anna Sjogren, Contributing Writer:

Four Top Films, Four Haikus:

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

She wins, though one-armed.
He hands her the smoking gun;
She's a better shot.

2. Grandma

Wise Lily Tomlin.
Granddaughter is in trouble;
Help is on the way!

3. Spy

Undercover broads;
Few gadgets, plenty of wit.
Eat your heart out, Bond.

4. The Martian

Red planet, stranded.
A villain-less adventure:
Man versus the land.

Christopher Fraser, Operations Manager:

I'm the sort of person who logs every movie he watches, so I can say with confidence that I watched a ton of movies this year but barely any 2015 releases. Rather than go into detail for each recommendation, in the interest of keeping things snappy here's a few lists instead. But I liked all of these, at least.

Movies that actually came out this year:

Ex Machina, Alex of Venice, It Follows, Tig, Ant-Man, Steve Jobs, Spotlight (2015).

Movies that came out a little earlier that I only got around to this year:

The Congress, Frank, Metro Manila, Wild, Noah, Boyhood, Obvious Child, Gone Girl (don't hate me), Lilting, The Overnighters, Coherence, 20,000 Days On Earth, We Are The Best!, Citizenfour, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, The Guest, Force Majeure, The Book of Life, Life Itself, The Dirties, Whiplash, Predestination, Big Hero 6, John Wick, Tracks, Rosewater, The Imitation Game, Mr. Turner, Pride, Love Is Strange, Inherent Vice, Maps to the Stars, Lost River, Dear White People, While We're Young, A Most Violent Year, Clouds of Sils Maria, Faults, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, Mad Max: Fury Road, Good Kill, Cut Bank, Camp X-Ray.

Movies that came out prior to 2013 (a short list that betrays a shameful bias toward recent movies when it comes to my viewing habits):

Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Hugo (2011), The Raid (2011), The Emperor's New Groove (2001), Blue Velvet (1986), This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Magnolia (1999), Heavenly Creatures (1994), Wet Hot American Summer (2001), In the Mood for Love (2000), Byzantium (2012)

Andrew Root, Senior Editor:

Because I saw far fewer movies than I intended this year, a best-of list would be difficult to scrabble together. As such, here is a transcript of a conversation I had with my dear friend Kate during the closing credits of Avengers: Age of Ultron that was my favourite movie moment of 2015 (Spoiler Alert):

KATE: I don’t get it.
ME: What do you mean?
KATE: Quicksilver. Are they going to bring him back?
ME: No, I think he’s dead for good.
KATE: But they didn’t deal with any of the stuff from the comics.
ME: What stuff?
KATE: The twincest stuff.
ME: WHAT.
KATE: In the comics Quicksilver and the Scarlett Witch have an incestuous relationship. I wanted to see how they were going to handle that.
ME: What on earth made you think that the biggest franchise in the history of film would feature TWINCEST?
KATE: IT HAPPENED IN THE COMICS.
ME: Marvel is owned by DISNEY.
KATE: IT HAPPENED IN THE COMICS.
ME: They will never show that in a movie.
KATE: They might.
ME: They won’t!
KATE: ...they might.