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Best Films of 2015

Chris Campbell

Early in the year I was able to get to see Inherent Vice after seeing it appear on some "best of" lists for 2014. It's a strange thing sometimes making up a list of the best films since some films appear at festivals and then get released the next year. So how do you set a cutoff point for what is a film from the year and what is not. I prefer to be more literal and only include films that I saw in the calendar year. Ideally that will include most of the films that are showing up on other lists, but with many films it's a challenge to see them, especially when they don't get wide release.

The other challenge is remembering what you've seen during the year and what stood out as you see more and more. So right after I saw Inherent Vice I started my Best of 2015 list on Letterboxd and added the films that I thought were the best. The list grew with films added throughout the year and I narrowed that down to 25 films since it's better to highlight more films to see.

Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston in Queen of Earth

Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston in Queen of Earth

It was a year of nostalgia with the year ending with J.J. Abrams' sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy mirroring and reworking the style of the originals. At the beginning of the year Paul Thomas Anderson had his grainy and fun counterculture Pynchon adaptation Inherent Vice with a late early 70s vibe. George Miller gave a burst of energy and creativity to action films with Mad Max: Fury Road drawing on silent films and his previous three Mad Max films to create one of the most exciting films of the year. David Robert Mitchell brought an 80s sensibility to the arty horror film It Follows with Kubrick-inspired visuals and a synth-heavy score. The ghost of Kubrick also haunted the anti-comedy Entertainment in the visuals and tone of Rick Alverson's dark road movie. Roman Polanski's psychological horror films of the 60s inspired the odd tone of Alex Ross Perry's Queen of Earth. J.C. Chandor crafted a tense crime drama modelled on classic 70s films with A Most Violent Year. The highlight at the end of the year was Todd Haynes' gorgeous and lovingly-constructed Carol which looked and felt like a film from the 50s.

Joséphine Japy and Lou de Laâge in Breathe

Joséphine Japy and Lou de Laâge in Breathe

Carol and Inherent Vice were two of the great adaptations of novels that made it to the screen in the past year. Phoenix was a masterful slow-burn of a film from Christian Petzold based on a novel about a woman who survives the Holocaust to return to those who betrayed her. Thomas Vinterberg brought a modern sensibility to his adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd with a strong central heroine played by Carey Mulligan. Lenny Abrahamson took the challenging source material of the novel Room and played with time and space to give one of the more memorable and moving experiences of the year with remarkable performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Mélanie Laurent adapted Breathe into a claustrophobic coming of age story about two young women in her impressive debut directing a feature film.

Along with Laurent's Breathe, there were other great feature directed debuts with Alex Garland's clever science fiction thriller Ex Machina and John Maclean's lyrical and darkly beautiful revisionist Slow West. But there were also some interesting films where more established directors explored themes in innovative ways. Sean Baker shot Tangerine with an iPhone in his highly energetic collaboration with Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor and the streets of Los Angeles. Céline Sciamma's Girlhood was lyrically shot with an impressive ensemble cast following the coming of age of a young woman in the outskirts of Paris. Sebastian Schipper's technically impressive and surprisingly thrilling Victoria shot entirely in one unbroken take, moving through pre-dawn streets of Berlin into the morning. Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen gave Pixar's Inside Out a depth and complexity in brilliantly conveying feelings and memories in an animated film that deeply resonated with many people. Don Hertzfeld created one of the most memorable and visually exciting films in World of Tomorrow by adding new digital techniques to his minimalist animation style.

It was a great year for auteurs to tell their stories as well with Jacques Audiard having another film about outsiders adapting to life in France with his moving and complicated Dheepan. Radu Muntean brought to life another powerful Romanian New Wave film with One Floor Below concerning itself with the themes of responsibility and morality as a man deals with the consequences of not speaking up. Apichatpong Weerasethakul returned to his familiar themes of ghosts and history with the beautiful and meditative Cemetery of Splendour. The ZellnerBrothers cleverly combined urban legends and the Coen Brothers' Fargo into the haunting character study Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter. Jeremy Saulnier's tense Green Room had memorable characters in a horrific confrontation with rural skinheads as a punk band witnesses a murder and get trapped backstage. Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement made the brilliant vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows with a gentle core surrounding the humour and horror. With The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos brings his idiosyncratic style and themes to his first English language films with his pitch-black humour and intensity along with Hollywood stars for one of the most disturbing satires of relationships that you'll ever see.

The top ten:

Inherent Vice

A shaggy dog of a story with a grainy look, oversized performances, and a fantastic soundtrack, Inherent Vice was the first film added to my list and a film that I enjoyed more each time I watched it. The quirkiness of Paul Thomas Anderson is a perfect match for Thomas Pynchon's novel and it's another outstanding performance from Joaquin Phoenix as the stoner detective at the centre of the film.


Even if it wasn't one of the most technically impressive films of the past few decades in happening in one unbroken take, Victoria would be a great film. But it is a masterful film as well as being a monumental achievement for the actors and cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen. With a story that becomes clear as the film progresses, the one-take approach gives a real and kinetic energy to what we see as we follow a woman through a night where her life changes dramatically after she gets caught up in a bank heist.


An anti-comedy shot with dedication and craft with carefully composed frames, unsettling subject matter, and a strong central performance from Gregg Turkington as a bad stand-up comedian on a tour that doesn't seem to be going well at all. It's a film filled with existential dread and understated humour that makes it more of a reflection on the human condition.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

A Japanese woman unhappy with her life finds hope in searching for the buried money from the film Fargo and tries to figure out where it is. Blending an urban legend, a classic film, and a cross-cultural clash results in a powerful film about determination, loneliness, and the search for meaning in the world. The soundtrack is dark and ominous as we see the landscapes of her surroundings in Japan and in America as she goes on her quest and meets a series of odd people. As the central character Kumiko, Rinko Kikuchi brings a remarkable depth and warmth to her portrayal of a woman lost in the world.

It Follows

A deliberate and artistic horror film with innovative shots and a synth-heavy score, I loved the retro feel of the story of a young woman followed by creatures who seek to kill her. An understated metaphor about sexually transmitted infection that embraces and extends the themes of many 80s horror films, it's cool, calculated, and brilliant in the control and the telling of the story in a timeless way that never clearly establishes the time period where it is happening.

Ex Machina


A science fiction film that explores the idea of artificial intelligence in a clever way that plays on expectations built from other films in the genre while subtly subverting them. More psychological thriller than science fiction, it's a fascinating film in that the whole thing plays out differently the second time you watch it. The story and situations are carefully constructed and with great performances from Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and the always reliable Oscar Isaac, it's a thoughtful film that makes you think.

What We Do in the Shadows

A mockumentary about vampires living in New Zealand that uses the premise to tell a story that is also surprisingly sweet. Lovingly directed by Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement (who also star in the film), it bases the story in reality within the fantastic premise along with a seamless blending of effects to build a dynamic world of interesting characters.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Visually compelling with a breathtaking pace, the best action film of the year is an almost wordless chase through a desert wasteland. The universe of the film feels worn and logical and the carefully crafted and practical stunts and effects add a level of excitement to a non-stop journey that plays with colour, sound, and expectations to show that it's still possible to create a great film that is both popular and has a bit of thought behind it too.

The Lobster

One of the oddest premises of the year and one of the most brilliant and dark combination of an auteur sensibility with more mainstream stars, The Lobster is a satire about relationships with a relentless commitment to the ideas of the film that is deeply disturbing. Integrating many of his regular contributors with bigger stars in an elaborate world filled with arbitrary rules and a dream logic brings a strange coherence to everything that we see as the ideas go to their extreme and inevitable conclusion.


Lush and beautiful with a story from the 50s that feels present in the look, wardrobe, and even dialogue and performances, the style is an integral part of the effect of the entire film. With Carter Burwell's best score since Fargo and some stunning cinematography from Ed Lachman, it's a film that feels like a great Hollywood classic even upon the first viewing.

Here are the rest of my top 25 films of 2015 with links to my Letterboxd diary entries for each of them: - Cemetery of Splendour - Inside Out - Slow West - Room - One Floor Below - Tangerine - Dheepan - Girlhood - Phoenix - Breathe - Green Room - Far From the Madding Crowd - World of Tomorrow - A Most Violent Year - Queen of Earth

What are some of your favourites from the previous year?

How to Enjoy a Film Festival

Chris Campbell

It's fall and that's when film festival season starts up around these parts with the Atlantic Film Festival and a whole range of other festivals new and old that will be lighting up the screens in the region and around the world. How can you get the most out of a film festival by seeing great and challenging films while not getting exhausted and overwhelmed?

You need to have a plan and maybe even do some homework before it starts and with the lineups of festivals coming out every day, now is a good time to get ready.

Look at the Schedule

Aside from the films that are playing, take a look at the dates and times of the festival to see how it fits into your life. How much time can you spare to see films and other events? Some people will try to see as much as possible, while others will just have time to see one or two things. (I'm in the former category.)

By looking at the schedule you can see if those are days that you work or if you can catch something before or after work. Many festivals will have different streams and patterns with events and screenings happening simultaneously. Find out what fits with what you like and your own schedule before you realize that you won't be able to make it to the screenings.

Get a Pass

If you can afford a pass it is the best way to go. It gives freedom to change your mind with your mood or after hearing about a different film. I alternate between elaborately-planned days and spur-of-the-moment decisions to see things. Sometimes you see something heavy and want to follow it up with something a bit lighter, other times you may see something and then want to dive back in to the theatre again.

Festivals have different types of passes, so as you start to figure out what you want to see and how much time (and money) you have, you can figure out which pass or individual tickets work best for you. Depending on the screening and festival, passes and tickets will also get you in to parties, receptions, and panels. These can be great and give you a break from sitting in a theatre for hours and hours, as well as some great conversations and food and drink.

Really Look at the Schedule

As soon as possible I look through the full lineup of the festival to see which films are playing and if I recognize anything. I'm a big fan of Letterboxd and keep track of what I've seen and what I want to see through their watchlist feature. So when I read about an upcoming film that seems interesting I'll add it to my watchlist. Start to make a list of things that you want to see using a notebook or an app so you can make some decisions later.

When you look through the lineup of films, drill down to look at the names of the directors and actors. Finding familiar ones can give you an idea of the type of film it could be and whether it will be interesting to you. After the initial pass you can start to do some more research (using IMDb, Letterboxd, and Indiewire) to see what other people have written about the films or see what they've done before. If you have time you can even watch some of their earlier work to get an idea of what type of work they do. After doing some research and watching some films look through the schedule again to see if there is anything that you have missed. I always seem to miss things. There are always obscure gems or directorial debuts hiding in the films that have been carefully chosen for a festival.

Make a Plan

Start to make your own schedule with the list of films you want to see. It's important to have a list of films you want to see so you can look at it if something changes in the festival schedule or your schedule. This gives you the ability to quickly change your plan when something is cancelled or you decide to go for a drink or a meal instead of a film. This gives you options.

Map out your festival experience by starting to schedule the films that you want to see using a calendar. It can be on paper or electronic. I will usually overbook my schedule to delay making decisions. If there are two films I want to see at the same time I put both of them on my schedule and make the decision later. Make sure to check the running times of films as some choices will eliminate later choices as there may not be time to get to the second film before the first finishes. Films never start early, but with a lot of screenings delays are inevitable so always be early and never be late if there is something that you really want to see.

See shorts and documentaries and foreign films especially if you don't usually watch them. Shorts give a more condensed, intense experience in a limited time frame. You can see a range of films and see emerging talent early. With documentaries you can choose based on the topic (as well as the filmmaker) to expand your horizons in that way. With foreign films you get a glimpse into a different way of making films and telling stories. Subtitles can be challenging at times, but for me it's always worth the effort as you discover directors and actors and film movements that you never knew about. A film festival is a gift that keeps on giving in providing a guide to more films and filmmakers to explore during the rest of the year.

I'll make my schedule on my computer and sync it to my phone and make sure I have the location, synopsis, and running time of the film in the schedule. That way I can quickly see when, where, and how long the film is. With introductions and ads, there can be 5 or 10 minutes added on to the time for a screening, so keep that in mind. By having my schedule synchronized to my phone and iPad and laptop I can check it and adjust it as things change. Some people have it all done on paper which is great when you don't have cell phone service (which happens often in theatres) and having a paper copy of the full schedule or program guide can be good for looking things up too.

Eat and Drink

While I won't schedule it as formally, it's important to eat, so figure out the spaces in the schedule where you will get something to eat. It can be expensive to eat out all the time and can also change your plan dramatically if things are busy and you need to wait for food. I'll always have some good energy bars (high in protein) and a water bottle so I stay hydrated and nourished physically (cinema nourishes your soul). Popcorn can be great at a movie, but after the second or third film in a row with popcorn your lips will be dry and that is not fun. Better food and a nice break for a meal and conversation can truly enhance your festival experience.

Sharing a meal or a drink with someone is a great way to share what you think and feel about the film. Maybe there is something that you missed or something that they missed. Reflecting and talking is a way to learn more about the films you've seen and can help you adjust your schedule or plan to see other films. A good meal also can give you a burst of energy before diving back into the theatre to see something else.

Make Notes

It's important to keep track of what you've seen and what you think of the films when you see a lot. I make sure to have a notebook with me to jot down notes (as my phone is off) during a film or right after a film. I used to keep track of all the films in a notebook, but now I use Letterboxd and Your Flowing Data to track the films. As you start to see more and more films it is easy to forget something you've seen (especially in shorts programs that could have 10 or more films). Jotting down quotes or actor names or directors is good as a reminder of things to check out later too.

Writing reviews on sites like Letterboxd or tweeting out impressions or sharing things on Facebook are good ways to share what you've seen too. This can help other people too as they can find out more about great things or films and filmmakers that they didn't know about. Find out the hashtags that a festival is using and follow it and share things there (or mute it if you don't want to know about it). As you share and see what others have shared it can help you figure out things that you have missed that you may want to check out later. Sometimes it can take months or even years before a festival film shows up in theatres or is available for rental, so this may be your chance to remember to keep an eye out for that obscure Turkish film everyone was raving about last year.

Take Chances

While it's good to have a plan and know what you are seeing and why, it's also important to leap into the unknown at times. Take some chances and see things that you know nothing about. It can be a great experience as you can find something new and different. You may also find things that you do not like and that is ok too. The key is trying to balance it all out between having a plan with no surprises and a chaotic experience. I tend to choose something more obscure instead of things that are more popular as the popular things will probably be easier to see later.

A film festival can be a wonderful experience. You see things you would never see and meet great people who share a love of films. Every festival is different with a different focus, but the common thread is a love for discovering new films and bringing that love to an appreciative audience. Have fun seeing films and sharing them!

86th Academy Award Predictions

Chris Campbell

I'm lucky to have some wonderful friends and when it comes to talking about films and Hollywood and how the industry and pop culture intersect I know Kendra (@halifaxfilmgal on Twitter). She is the ultimate film fan and while her primary means of online interaction is via Twitter, the 140 character limitation means that you don't get to have more extended snarky discussions of films. So before the Academy Awards this year you'll get to read through some of her picks and mine and we'll see how accurate they are. But it's all meant in fun and hopefully it will provide you with a bit of entertainment too.

The Academy Awards are a strange thing and in a perfect world they would not be around. The whole thing is a bit strange, but the great part and what I love about it is how it enables a conversation about films to begin. But usually the conversation revolves around the people that we see on the screen and the actors are a very important part of the whole process. But most of it isn't concerned with actors, but with stars, so it's not really about films most of the time. It's part of the marketing campaign for films where subtlety and craft are not always recognized. The bigger things seem to stand out with major physical transformations of actors being highlighted more than a performance with a solid emotional core. The same seems to occur with direction and many of the technical categories. While the names of the categories include "Best", it's a very subjective thing, so it's really "What Most of the People Voting Agree Upon". That is why predicting what will win can be a bit of a challenge, and probably one of the reasons people enjoy watching the show.

The Independent Spirit Awards nominations are overall more to my taste in terms of films, but they're not as popular as the Academy Awards. But that niche is much more suited to my sensibilities. It's also where a lot of the categories are filled with films that make sense to me for being recognized. But the Oscars have a longer history and are wildly popular and a lot more people have an opinion about them, which is why so many people share their opinions about what the Academy chooses.

Over time people usually don't remember a lot of the winners. Maybe the nominees, but not so much the winners. Just looking through who won last year made me realize how I forgot about some films and didn't remember ones that won. When you look back 5 or 10 years some of the films are completely forgotten, while others that were nominated seem to be much better. It's fascinating how some films seem dated rather quickly, but other films seem a bit too early.

Ten years ago the big winner was The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King which won in many categories including Best Picture, Directing, and Editing. It's a running joke about the length of the ending of the final film in the trilogy, and I wouldn't hold it up as an example of a film that wisely cut things in the right way. For Actor it was Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, Ben Kingsley in House of Sand and Fog, Jude Law in Cold Mountain, Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, and Sean Penn in Mystic River. Over time I would say that Bill Murray should have won, but it was Sean Penn who took home the award. Goodfellas lost out to Dances With Wolves for Best Picture, Director, Editing, and Adapted Screenplay in 1991. People like Dances With Wolves and it's easy to understand why something that is more challenging to watch like Goodfellas wouldn't be chosen. But with the benefit of hindsight, it's clear that Goodfellas is one of the top films out of Hollywood and by Scorsese. Here are the picks we have for the major categories for the 86th Oscars:

Best Picture


Will Win: Gravity

Should Win:12 Years a Slave

A year in which it's legitimately difficult to choose a clear winner from three films doesn't happen very often. Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle are all acceptable winners in a weaker year but I think the Academy will side with the majesty of Gravity over the heavier subject of the devastation of slavery.


Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

I may be overly optimistic, but there is a real opportunity for the Academy to make a statement with Best Picture this year as a partial corrective to the somewhat embarrassing history of cinema with pro-slavery films forming a major part of it. If past patterns hold, something absent of politics like Gravity should win, or a flashy, but mediocre film like American Hustle could be the compromise. Over time I think that Her may be seen as the most significant achievement of the year though.

Best Director


Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón

Should Win: Steve McQueen

Cuarón has the momentum and the DGA, this usually translates into the Director Oscar. However, nothing would make me happier to see McQueen win. A small part of me still wishes Scorsese could have this Oscar because Wolf of Wall Street is actually a better film than The Departed.


Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón

Should Win: Steve McQueen

The consensus is that Cuarón will win and while Gravity is an amazing technical achievement, the film itself left me cold. Steve McQueen took a challenging topic and infused it with humanity and created memorable scenes and performances of power and permanence. Scorsese and Payne are also two directors operating at the height of their powers with films that expand their oeuvre in interesting ways.

Best Actor


Will Win: Matthew McConaughey

Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Leonardo DiCaprio

One word - McConaissance

If I was the Academy, I'd have a three way tie and give them each the Oscar. Ejiofor broke my heart. Leo was his manic best in the most fun performance of the year. McConaughey has the momentum, the 40lb weightloss and the prevailing winds in Hollywood really like to hand an Oscar to an actor that successfully reinvented himself. Call it the "Travolta Factor."


Will Win: Matthew McConaughey

Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor

The key to winning an Oscar for acting isn't subtlety, so physical transformations and more extravagant performances tend to be rewarded. Matthew McConaughey was solid in Dallas Buyers Club, but he was also solid in Magic Mike and many other films so he deserves an award. But Chiwetel Ejiofor has been turning in great lead and supporting performances in indies and dramas for over a decade with little recognition. With 12 Years a Slave he's starting to get the recognition he deserves, but I'm afraid he won't be taking home a little golden statue.

Best Actress


Will Win: Cate Blanchett

Should Win: Amy Adams

It's all about Cate this year, no matter that Amy Adams was the heart of American Hustle and of Blue Jasmine's lowly three nominations, this one would be the most deserved. The only question that remains is whether or not Woody Allen's name will actually be mentioned out loud.


Will and Should Win: Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett is utterly compelling in Blue Jasmine and formed a fierce core to a film that could have been much less than it was without her.

Best Supporting Actor


Will Win: Jared Leto

Should Win: Michael Fassbender

Fassbender's vitriol personified slave owner might stay with you forever but Leto's feisty Rayon is everything one could require of a supporting actor. He made McConaughey better just by being there.


Will Win: Jared Leto

Should Win: Michael Fassbender

Fassbender forms the core of Steve McQueen's two previous features and like Hunger, he appears later in the story, but is vital to the way it all unfolds and opposite Ejiofor it makes for some compelling and unforgettable scenes. Jared Leto was solid with a physical transformation thrown in as well, so that provides an edge for him.

Best Supporting Actress


Will Win: Lupita Nyong'o

Should Win: Julia Roberts

If I were an Academy member, I would have voted for Roberts for an absolutely fierce turn in August: Osage County even when all the attention was on Meryl Streep but in this category Oscar voters love the new and beautiful giving tragic, heartbreaking performances.


Will Win: Lupita Nyong'o

Should Win: Sally Hawkins

The Academy seems to like rewarding great work from younger actors in the supporting categories and Lupita Nyong'o is amazing and will deserve her award. But a fantastic and often overlooked component in the success of Blue Jasmine is Sally Hawkins' performance opposite Cate Blanchett. She's the anchor that provides the counterpoint and springboard for the heights that Blanchett reaches.

Best Original Screenplay


Will Win: Her, Spike Jonze

Should Win: Her

Jonze created a riveting fairy tale of a future we're not that far away from where technology is invisible and you can fall in love with software. How could we not want to honour a screenplay for that? Her has the best chance here since it's missing from Director and Actor and has too much competition in Production Design.


Will and Should Win: Her

Her is a deceptively clever film by Spike Jonze that is kind of set in the future, but is very much in the present, summing up the zeitgeist of the time in a way to tell a simple story about moving on. As I've said before I think that as time goes by the recognition of Her will grow. While it should be recognized in more categories, the Screenplay category is often where more innovative work is recognized.

Best Adapted Screenplay


Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

It's hard to choose between Captain Phillips and 12 Years a Slave here but since I still think Gravity is the likely Best Picture winner, Adapted Screenplay might be an official apology statue given to 12 Years a Slave since Captain Phillips, while admired seems to have a better chance in Film Editing.


Will Win: Philomena

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

In another year Philomena would probably receive more recognition, but it's a fascinating story that makes you feel good, and if 12 Years a Slave receives a lot of other awards, this is a category that could provide a nod to a more traditional film that deals with issues in a human way.

Film Editing


Will Win: Captain Phillips

Should Win: Captain Phillips

There's great work to be admired in all nominees in editing this year but keeping the story tight and tense in Captain Phillips gives it the edge.


Will Win: Captain Phillips

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

Captain Phillips constructs a tight, tense story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and that's why it will probably win. But with 12 Years a Slave the structure and varying rhythms manage to make the journey bearable and powerful in an often subtle way.

Production Design


Will Win: American Hustle

Should Win: Her or American Hustle

I hope the old white guys don't pick Great Gatsby. I can live with American Hustle but would prefer the more subtle but brilliant Her.


Will Win: The Great Gatsby

Should Win: Her

The old white guys are going to pick The Great Gatsby or maybe American Hustle. Subtle production design that contributes in an essential way to the story in the way that it does in Her becomes invisible when Academy members cast their ballots.

Foreign Language Film


Will Win: Great Beauty, Italy

Should Win: The Hunt, Denmark

As always a lot of great foreign films didn't make it to the final five, but I can live with either win here with slight preference given to the quietly devastating Hunt. Go Mads!


Will Win: The Great Beauty, Italy

Should Win: The Hunt, Denmark

I've only seen The Hunt, but it was one of the best films of the year with a performance from Mads Mikkelsen that really should have been also recognized with a Best Actor nomination.

Original Score


Will Win: Gravity or Philomena

Should Win: Her

Her is the only nominated score that impressed me out of these five. I'm guessing it won't win.


Will Win: The Book Thief

Should Win: Her

I'm guessing here since the scores didn't stay with me that much except for 12 Years a Slave and Her, but I'm not one of the people voting, so I'm thinking that there may be some recognition for John Williams again.

Original Song


Will Win: Let it Go, Frozen

Should Win: Let it Go

Happy from Despicable Me 2 comes close in the cute factor but no song was better than Let it Go from Frozen. Plus who doesn't want to see Robert Lopez be only the 12th person in history to win an EGOT Grand Slam of show business (EmmyGrammyOscarTony).


Will Win: Let it Go

Should Win: The Moon Song

I'm going with the crowd here again in a category that is a remnant of the days were every film had a song or two in them to provide a break for folks when they watched the film. The Moon Song is actually the only song I've actually heard of the nominees and I like it, but it's a perplexing category to me.

Documentary Feature


Will Win: The Act of Killing

Should Win: The Act of Killing

If the Academy is in "feel good" mode then we'll see 20 Feet From Stardom here, leaving the more interesting and devastating Act of Killing out in the cold. Someday in a perfect world, AMPAS will fix the Documentary category and force members to actually watch all the nominees.


Will Win: 20 Feet From Stardom

Should Win: The Act of Killing

It was a good year for documentaries and for the first time I was able to watch all of them before the awards. While I hope that The Act of Killing is recognized for telling a powerful story in a unique way, 20 Feet From Stardom is easy and fun and I don't think that the Academy enjoys too many challenges in one year.



Will Win: Gravity

Should Win: Gravity

I have yet to see Philippe Le Sourd's work in Grandmaster, said to be the closest competition for Emmanuel Lubezki here but since Lubezki's already won the ASC Award as well as a pile of others for his work on Gravity it's hard to see how he could lose. ...Besides, have you seen Gravity!?


Will Win: Gravity

Should Win: Inside Llewyn Davis

With last year's winner being Life of Pi, I don't hold out much hope for the skillful capturing of light and performances to evoke a mood as opposed to computer-enhanced motion capture, so until the category is divided between actual cinematography and computer-enhanced, it's a cold technical achievement that will take home the award.

Visual Effects


Will Win: Gravity

Should Win: Gravity

Gravity might as well have been nominated 5 times in the FX category, all others are irrelevant except for Pacific Rim which isn't even here. ...Besides, have you seen Gravity!?


Will Win: Gravity

Should Have Been Nominated: Pacific Rim

Without the effects there isn't really anything there when you look at Gravity. The best combination of effects and visual storytelling to me was the unnominated, but oh-so-fun Pacific Rim.

Animated Feature


Will Win: Frozen

Should Win: Frozen

In the absence of Pixar, it's all about Frozen. I'll eat a snowman if Frozen doesn't win.


Will Win: Frozen

Should Win: Gravity

The smoothest, best animation of the year was in Gravity, but Frozen is the film that everyone loves for this, so that's what I'll go with too.

That's all we've got and now all that is left is to watch the show, eat the snacks and share some snark on Twitter.

Top Ten Films of 2013

Chris Campbell

2013 was a good year for films. While not much really blew me away as some of the films last year did (Rust and Bone, and Holy Motors to name two), there were great films to see. The year saw solid films from established filmmakers like Joel and Ethan Coen, Martin Scorsese, and Woody Allen. There were great second features from Shane Carruth, Richard Ayoade, and Derek Cianfrance along with distinctive films from Noah Baumbach, Park Chan-wook, Steve McQueen, and Claire Denis. The films I narrowed down to ten are ones that made an impression on me and that I'd see again (or have already watched multiple times). The fascinating thing is that my appreciation of the films grew over time and with second viewings. Sometimes a film seems great when you see it and then it fades quickly. Others stick with you, and you admire the subtlety of the performances and filmmaking.


This past year was the year that I saw the most films I've ever seen in a year. My goal was to see an average of a feature film a day and I reached the goal. You can see a more detailed breakdown of the film at my Letterboxd 2013 Year in Review. So many films make the lesser ones disappear from memory rather quickly. One other thing we can check due to obsessive tracking is how many films have been rewatched. So looking at that gives a slightly different picture. If you look at the films I've watched multiple times the list of top recent films looks like this: three viewings of Pacific Rim, Zero Dark Thirty, and The Place Beyond the Pines; two viewings of Frances Ha, Room 237, Side Effects, Stoker, and Upstream Color.

But the top ten list is not meant to be objective, but to highlight films I enjoyed and want to share, so in keeping with spirit, I narrowed it down to ten, with a nicely-sized collection of honourable mentions. So here are the films I loved the most and would like to share with you.


Frances Ha

Evoking the feeling of an indie film from the 80s, Frances Ha is a gorgeous character study cowritten by director Noah Baumbach, and star Greta Gerwig. It's a nostalgic film for those who love film and for anyone who has tried to figure out who they are and what they want to be when they grow up. A lovely portrait of friendship and growth and the compromises along the way to becoming who you are.


Upstream Color

Shane Carruth's second feature, Upstream Color, is beautiful and mysterious. Unlike his previous film, Primer, the focus is on emotion rather than science with an almost hypnotic structure. It's one of the few films I wanted to watch again as soon as it was done. What seems complicated at first becomes simpler the second time through. It's not for everyone, but if you want to immerse yourself in a film that works on a purer cinematic level, there are few films like this one.


The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance follows up his small and emotionally devastating Blue Valentine with the sprawling, ambitious drama The Place Beyond the Pines. Moving between a larger cast of characters it's filled with fantastic performances all around as it constructs a multigenerational portrait of cycles of violence.


The Double

An adaptation of Dostoyevsky doesn't seem like a logical second film to make after a nostalgic coming-of-age story like Submarine, but Richard Ayoade crafted a beautiful, quirky, surreal film with The Double. Visually inventive with a pitch-black sense of humour it's a melancholy portrait of a character dealing with himself. Really looking forward to watching this again.


12 Years a Slave

The most accessible film by Steve McQueen so far is 12 Years A Slave, and much like his previous two films, Hunger, and Shame, it proceeds deliberately and carefully to build emotional momentum. By the time we get to the end of the film it becomes emotionally devastating without being overly dramatic. It's a precisely-crafted look at slavery on a human level with a complex and layered performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor telling Solomon Northrup's story.



The first English-language film from Park Chan-wook is the Hitchcockian gothic puzzle of a film, Stoker. One of the most beautifully-shot films of the past year, it's also quite disturbing. The film creates an elaborate world of deception, lust, and murder filled with symbols and after seeing it I took a page of notes trying to map the patterns and symbolism of the film. It's very dark, but fun if you like the stylized shooting style and melodrama of Park Chan-wook and another chance to see Nicole Kidman at her icy best.



Speaking of dark portraits of humanity, you can't get much bleaker than Claire Denis' accurately named Bastards. The story is enigmatic and elliptical with relationships implied and information parcelled out gradually. It's another powerful and deeply disturbing film about family, power, abuse, and revenge from a filmmaker at the peak of her powers.


Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen has had a nice string of recent films that seem to be energized by their settings. The city in Blue Jasmine is San Francisco, but the fiery core at the heart of this film is Cate Blanchett who is utterly compelling as Jasmine. With the usual strong ensemble cast, it's an Allen film that starts to push and change the conventions that he has established for his films as it builds to an inevitable conclusion.


Inside Llewyn Davis

The latest Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, was one of the films I have been looking forward to the most, so when I saw it I went in with expectations. After the film I felt that it was good, but not great. But then I kept thinking about it. The same thing happened with many of their earlier films too as I loved them more as I thought about them and watched them again. Inside Llewyn Davis is a more muted and mature film with the same wry sense of humour, but it's built much more around the central character with ellipses in the story that we need to fill in for ourselves.


The Wolf of Wall Street

The final film in my top ten was also the final film I saw in the theatre for 2013 and it was Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street. This is another film surrounded by high expectations and it was stylistically more subtle than I thought it would be, but content-wise it is one of Scorsese's rawest films. The brilliant narrative conceit of the film is the unreliability of Jordan Belfort who is undermined by repeatedly showing how what he is saying is not true. It's a playful film about horrible people that is another look at the American dream from one of the greatest filmmakers still working today.

Those are the ten that I narrowed it down to, but there were more films that were great in the year.

One amazing film was technically not a film, but a miniseries, Top of the Lake, co-directed by Jane Campion and Garth Davis. It's a detective story that goes in different directions with a strong core performance from Elisabeth Moss as a detective in New Zealand who is investigating the disappearance of a young girl. Another film that should be on the list, but is technically a 2012 film was Catherine Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty which is the superbly crafted dramatization of the hunt for, and killing of Osama Bin Laden.

Two documentaries stood out for me as well. The first is Room 237, the divisive documentary about Stanley Kubrick's film, The Shining. It's sort of about The Shining, but it's really about the way that we construct meaning as the subjects of the film explain their elaborate theories about the film and how it relates to the world. The most unique film of the year, or probably the decade, has to be The Act of Killing, which is hard to describe. Allowing Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their war crimes in the form of American film genres that they love creates an oddly disturbing look at genocide through a warped lens. It's horrifying and utterly compelling.

Another fictional film about evil is the dark, surreal Dutch film Borgman, written and directed by Alex van Warmedam. It's a deadpan, precise allegory about evil in the world with a strange sense of humour. A more stylish look at evil is Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives, which is one of the most beautifully-shot films of the year, and a slow-motion revenge film constructed mostly of glances.

Finally there are three films that I enjoyed from established filmmakers who challenged expectations were Pacific Rim, Side Effects, and The World's End. With Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro created a blockbuster film that wasn't filled with product placement and created characters with a little more depth than the rest of the blockbuster films which pushed it out of theatres. Steven Soderbergh directed the very clever Side Effects which starts out as one film, but cleverly subverts expectations and becomes something else. Soderbergh cleverly blends elements of Polanski's Repulsion with a critique of pharmaceutical companies in his own confident way. The conclusion of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, Edgar Wright's The World's End, had the elements of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but took a more mature approach to look at growing old and how the world changes as we grow up. It's funny with science fiction elements providing the framework in a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy that resists the impulse to repeat what has been done before.

How I Watched

One advantage of collecting statistics is that you can see patterns and analyze how viewing habits are changing. The way that many people see films is changing with smaller screens and more options. Here is the breakdown of how I saw the films that I saw:

  • 134 films watched on my TV (with 60 via Apple TV)
  • 63 films watched on my MacBook Pro
  • 59 films watched in theatres
  • 56 films watched on my iPad

In terms of sources for the films it generally breaks down like this:

  • 84 films from MUBI
  • 80 films on DVD
  • 78 on Turner Classic Movies
  • 45 films on Netflix
  • 39 in movie theatres
  • 29 via iTunes
  • 20 via film festivals (with 14 from the Atlantic Film Festival)
  • 8 streamed or purchased for download from other sites

Favourite Films of 2012

Chris Campbell


Every year there are a lot of great films and it is good to make up a list of the films that I really enjoyed. It's funny, but over time it seems that it has become a bit easier in making up the list. The number of films is kind of arbitrary. There is no reason to limit it to ten films, but that seems to be the general rule. It's really not about making up a list, but sharing your love of films with people, so in that spirit here are some of the films that really made me think and moved me and made me laugh.

Holy Motors

I was looking forward to Leos Carax' Holy Motors for a long time. I wasn't sure what it would be like or even if it would work. His previous films have all be interesting, but flawed, but they were always magnificent failures that had utterly transcendent moments. With Holy Motors, his first film in over a decade it seems that he worked quickly and came up with something that is lighter and more fun than anything I've seen in a long, long time. It's episodic and a bit rambling, but in a strange way it is the most focussed of his films. It is about filmmaking and acting and it is so much fun that I can't wait to see it again.

Rust and Bone

Every one of Jacques Audiard's films that I've seen have resonated with me on one level or another. They take people from the margins and put them through harrowing situations. The premises are always fascinating and really close to melodrama, but somehow through the writing, acting, and direction he manages to make them utterly compelling. So when I heard that with his latest film, Rust and Bone was about a street fighter and a killer whale trainer, I knew that it was probably going to be a lot more than the premise would suggest. It gripped me right from the beginning and completely devastated me by the end. Powerful, beautiful, and remarkable, it was amazing and unexpected.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Quiet spaces and indirect narratives are something that I like and with Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan it is a film that I didn't know much about and was fascinated by as it slowly emerged before me. Mostly set at night with people driving through the countryside it is about a murder and finding a body, but that's not really what it is about. I wasn't sure who the main characters were, but gradually it became clear and emotionally powerful. It works slowly and deliberately and it stuck with me for days.

The Loneliest Planet

A few years ago I saw the film Day Night Day Night, directed by Julia Loktev and set in New York with a young woman who is preparing to detonate a suicide bomb. Frustratingly oblique with little dialogue and information, it kept me transfixed throughout. Then I heard about her latest film, The Loneliest Planet with different subject matter, but it has the same naturalistic style and control. The smallest detail can become significant and this time the story focusses on a couple hiking through the mountains in the country of Georgia with a guide. Most of the film consists of them walking and we see the evolution of the relationship as they hike. It's slow and beautiful and haunting.

Killing Them Softly

After seeing that the director of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford had another film coming out with Brad Pitt, I was anticipating it eagerly. But this time Andrew Dominik changes things up and while it is visually interesting, there is a tightness and focus to Killing Them Softly that was unexpected. It's built around a series of scenes with characters mainly talking about their lives, but it is punctuated through bursts of violence. A different character study that is challenging, but rewarding.

Magic Mike

While the film was marketed as being about strippers (and there is a bunch about strippers), Magic Mike is part of Steven Soderberg's ongoing series of films that work in a naturalistic way within genre conventions that feel like they are from the 70s. With Magic Mike Soderberg begins the film with the old Warner Brothers logo and he shoots it in a controlled style with the actors being loose and improvisational. It's a character drama disguised as a film about strippers and it's yet another confident film from Soderberg.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

There were rumblings about Beasts of the Southern Wild from the festival circuit and I was very glad when it showed up and it surprised with in the understated tone and magical realism of the story. Much more moving that I thought it would be it was a unique look at an isolated community with an inventive approach to cinematic storytelling with an ensemble cast and confident direction by Benh Zeitlin. Quite magical.


My most-anticipated film of last year had to be Looper with Rian Johnson teaming up again with Joseph Gordon-Levitt for their second film since Brick (one of my favourites). With Looper Johnson was telling a time-travel story with film noir elements, so it looked as though it would be good and it was. Very good in fact, so I went to see it a couple of times in the theatre and kept enjoying it more each time. Crafting good science fiction that makes you think and forms a compelling thriller is a challenge and Johnson rises to it.

Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley is intriguing and challenging as a filmmaker. Choosing diverse projects to direct she had Take This Waltz which I really liked for the complicated portrait of Michelle Williams, but with her documentary Stories We Tell it was an emotional and beautiful look at her mother and how her family related to her. A dazzlingly complex and personal image emerges as it shifts and changes over time and filtered through the memories and experiences of everyone who surrounded her. It's an amazing documentary that manages to tell a great story and make a statement about the nature of truth.

The Hunt

There is something about Scandinavian cinema and the combination of melodrama and naturalism that seems to work really well for me. This year I was glad to see The Hunt from Thomas Vinterberg who created the truly stunning The Celebration which kicked off the Dogme 95 movement. While The Hunt doesn't work within the Dogme restrictions, it's a carefully constructed story about a man in a small town wrongly accused of a crime and how that completely disrupts his life. At the centre of the film is an amazing Mads Mikkelsen with a great supporting cast. It's a great drama that is subtle and challenging.

I'd been working on this list for a while and in 2 sessions I sat down and wrote about these films without looking at my list to see what stood out for me and it came out to ten. But looking at the full list there are a few other films that were great and deserve honourable mention. My honourable mentions would be the odd comedy Wrong, the Pixar drama Brave, the fun Scottish whisky heist film The Angel's Share, Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways, and Steve McQueen's Shame. In the strange gap between festival screenings and release there are some films that were on lists last year, but they didn't get widely distributed until this year. So in that category I would include Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse, Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Steven Soderberg's Haywire.

Hopefully I'll write bigger reviews of some of these films, but let me know what you saw and loved last year.