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Readers' Picks: 20 Best Films From the Year of the Goat

We asked both our readers and regular moviegoers at local alternative film venues like DeciBel and Saigon Outcast to weigh in on the top three films from the Year of the Goat. The results are in and American films dominated your favorite films of this year.

1) Mad Max: Fury Road (USA)

There is an almost sadistic pleasure in watching a 70-year-old filmmaker castigate younger blockbuster-driven directors and school them on how to make a larger-than-life, refreshing action film. George Miller puts Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) at the center of this two-hour cat-and-mouse-chase across the desert, where stunning visual effects and insane stunts add to the thrill of the plot. At her side, Max – played by Tom Hardy – becomes an almost secondary character who finds himself compelled to help her and several other female “slaves” in their escape from a tyrannical society. A post-apocalyptic film that carries the aesthetics of a graphic novel, Fury Road was one of the biggest surprises of the last year, so much so that not even the conservative Academy Awards could ignore it.

 

2) Ex Machina(UK/USA)

Author and screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, The Beach) makes his directorial debut with Ex Machina. A sci-fi film in theme but a psychological thriller in execution, Ex Machinadives into one of the most intriguing topics of the genre: artificial intelligence.

In Garland’s film, however, this takes the form of the riveting – and unusual – sexualization of the beautiful creations by genius Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). The reclusive Nathan lives in a secret paradisiacal location, whose natural beauty and lavish design are not enough to hide the eeriness of its owner. Nathan randomly recruits a computer programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), to run a Turing test on one of his androids, Ava. Both the performances and the development of these three characters are what make Ex Machinaso intriguing and also what keeps the audience wondering what the true motives of each of them truly are.

 

3) Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (USA)

Although Vietnam did not seem to echo the fanatic worldwide adoration of the latest Star War installment, The Force Awakens still made number three on Saigoneer readers' list.

Forget George Lucas’ sequels (or prequels, depending how you look at it): The Force Awakens is the legitimate descendant of The Return of the Jedi. Director JJ Abrams captures the spirit of the original Star Wars trilogy by balancing nostalgia with new plot points in the world-famous galactic saga. For those who grew up with Star Wars, it will be hard not to cling to your inner child when Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca and Princess Leia (now General Leia) appear on screen, but the film also introduces worthy new characters – Finn, a converted storm trooper, and the hardy scavenger Ray – in the battle between good and evil, which is now embodied by the First Order.

 

4)The Martian(USA)

Matt Damon is astronaut Mark Watney on a mission to Mars in the latest film by Ridley Scott. Watney is stranded on the Red Planet after his crew believes him dead and are forced to quickly abandon their mission due to a dangerous windstorm. Unlike in Blade Runnerand Alien, Scott takes an entertaining and optimistic approach in this survival-adventure sci-fi flick that sees Damon’s character – an expert botanist – use all his strength and inventiveness to find sustenance on the red planet. Although The Martianhas an A-list cast – Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig and Danny Glover, among the others – it is a one-man show for Damon who manages to pull off the role of believable hero by creating a relatable but never dull persona.

 

5)The Revenant(USA)

Emmanuel Lubezki should have got first billing in this film. Not to take anything away from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s direction or Leonardo DiCaprio’s muscular and almost-silent performance, but it is hard to believe that The Revenant would have worked without the visual bravura of its cinematographer. A revenge-survival story inspired by the true adventures of frontiersman Hugh Glass, The Revenant relies on recreating the ominous and stark beauty of the relationship between man and nature, and it does so by slowly transporting the audience to a time long past. It is a journey back through hell to a primitive human state in which the overwhelming isolation of mankind seeps through the long panoramic shots and Glass’s frightening survival attempts.

 

6) Inside Out (USA)

The brain is one of the most mysterious parts of the human body, so the fact that an animation made it accessible to children, engaged adults, wowed critics and made millions of dollars on the way is an achievement on its own. Pixar consulted renowned psychologists Paul Ekman and Dacher Keltner to take us on a funny, endearing, inventive and comprehensive adventure inside the brain of an 11-year-old girl, Riley, during an unsettling time in her life. Here, five emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger – show us how her memories are formed and stored but, most importantly, how they shape who she is and how her recollections change as she grows up. Joy might seem like the hero of the story, always trying to keep Riley happy, but it is Sadness who is the true star of the show. Unlike many of Pixar's other unrealistic cartoons, Inside Outalso embraces the negative emotions of human beings, which are an essential component – and often a helpful one – of what makes us who we are. What a wonderful, intelligent film for everyone. Bravo, Pixar! Bravo!

 

7)Me and Earl and the Dying Girl(USA)

Anyone who says that they had a great time during their teenage years is either lying, in denial or oblivious to their surroundings. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon presents a story that is both excruciatingly real and weirdly funny.

Greg, played by Thomas Mann, has decided that his safest bet to get out of high school – and also college – unscathed is by not building any deep or meaningful relationships with anyone, including his long-time "coworker" Earl, with whom he films amateurish remakes of classic art films. Greg’s plan might just work, until his mother forces him to hang out with Rachel, one of his estranged schoolmates, who has been diagnosed with cancer. Gomez-Rejon’s clever direction allows moments of hilarity through quirky animations and surreal dialogue, especially with the kid’s parents, but he never sugar coats the underlying theme of the film: the enduring impact that human relationships – negative ones included – have on us, even after death. Me and Earl and the Dying Girlwas last year's darling at the Sundance Film Festival, bringing home both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award.

 

8) Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck(USA)

This is certainly not the first documentary or film based on the legendary lead singer of grunge band Nirvana, but it is surely is the best. Filmmaker Brett Morgen’s piercing ability to enter the life of his subject was already proven in The Kid Stays in the Picture(about Paramount producer Robert Evans), but in Montage of Heck he truly recreates the life, creativity and soul of Kurt Cobain.

The first authorizedcinematic biography of the American singer, Montage of Heck, follows the life of Cobain from childhood to his premature death by using family photos, home movies, writings, interviews and collected archival footage. At times painful and distressful, the film is a pure documentation of a musician that still fascinates the collective consciousness.

 

9)The Lobster (Greece/Ireland/UK/Netherlands/France)

If George Orwell wrote a romantic version of 1984, The Lobster would be it. The setting of the first English-language feature by Yorgos Lanthimos is a familiar dystopian future, in which people have to be in a couple or they will be moved to the Hotel. Here, they must find a compatible partner within 45 days or they will be turned into an animal of their choosing. The key word here is “compatible”: like an online dating website, in which people believe that sharing hobbies or home towns are the winning criteria for a happy relationship, the Hotel’s management does not accept that two individuals can form a solid, loving relationship that will lead them to become “good citizens”. A funny, moving satire of today’s visions of love, The Lobsterreceived the Jury Prize at Cannes, earned seven nominations at the British Independent Film Awards, as well as a win for Best Supporting Actress Olivia Colman, and took home the top honor for Best European Screenwriter at the European Film Awards.

 

10)Love & Mercy(USA)

To label Love & Mercya biopic about The Beach Boys' cofounder Brian Wilson would not only be misleading but also a disservice to the imaginative storytelling of director Bill Pohlad. This fact shines through most heavily in Pohlad's casting choices: Paul Dano and John Cusack. The two actors don't look alike, nor do they try to in their portrayals of Wilson at different stages of his life. Dano plays Wilson during the 60s, right after his first panic attack, when the singer withdrew from the band’s Japanese tour so that he could focus on composing their new album. Cusack portrays Wilson during the late 80s, when the musician was deep into therapy with the unorthodox and manipulative psychotherapist Eugene Landy (played by a scarily convincing Paul Giamatti) after suffering from auditory hallucinations and a mild form of manic-depression. What Love & Mercysuccessfully does is to open a door into Wilson’s head that might surprise even the biggest Beach Boys fans.

 

11) Everest(USA)

12) Mommy(Canada)

13) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2(USA)

14) Straight Outta Compton(USA)

15) A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night(USA)

16) Bridge of Spies(USA)

17) Salt of the Earth(France/Italy)

18) Spectre(UK)

19) A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence(Sweden/Norway/France/Germany)

20) Inherent Vice(USA)


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