Arts Review, Movies

My Top Five Films in Too Many Categories

My Top Five Films in Too Many Categories featured image

Anyone who wants to go all Sinatra and belt out that “it was a very good year,” better talk to me first. Quite honestly, it was a disappointing twelve months for art and mainstream cinema. I didn’t see one eye-popping masterpiece in the whole year apart from an avant-garde documentary, a genre I adore but that hardly makes an impact on contemporary society. The new era Star Wars did arrive to pep up the inner twelve year old in many of us—just in time for the holidays!— but it was a hardly a surprise; in fact, it was a safe if amazingly well executed continuation of a beloved series. Most of the studio-released films this year were sad, predictable and boringly obvious in their appeal—and the indie films on view weren’t great either.

That’s what happens when many of the interesting talents film talents migrate towards television, which funds the best documentaries and terrific dramatic series. Was there a better drama about US politics than the mini-series Show Me a Hero, very many docs to compare with The Jinx, a finer relationship series than The Affair or a quirkier indie-feeling show than the second season of Fargo?

Still, there were some fine films released during the year—and, of course, the holiday season, with its potential Oscar winners, helped to rescue matters a bit. Star Wars is a must-see but didn’t make any of my top five categories—I don’t do special f/x—and Tarantino’s Hateful Eight only works for those of us who enjoy a revival of a blood soaked version the Western. But The Big Short is brilliant and it a couple of early December releases Youth and The Danish Girl certainly have great moments.

Films in 2015 that rocked my boat, without threatening to capsize it, were Room, The Look of Silence, The Forbidden Room, A Pigeon Sits on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Diary of a Teenage Girl,

Anomalisa, Mistress America, Sleeping Giant and Listen to Me Marlon. If you’re counting, that’s nine. My number one film of the year is Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog.

Yes, you’re right. I’m practically alone in my choice. But that’s fine. Isn’t it fun for you to read about a film you should see but isn’t on most top ten lists? What do I love about Heart of a Dog? It’s a doc with a heart and a beautiful, benign head. It is a playful, musical, casually honest meditation on mortality.

In recent years, Laurie Anderson’s mother, her dog, Lolabelle, and her husband, Lou Reed have died. Anderson is an essayist, not a gushing memoirist, so she focuses on Lolabelle, her beloved rat terrier in this very personal doc. If you can’t figure out that her love for Lolabelle translates to other family members, then this isn’t the film for you.

Like all great essay films, Heart of a Dog is propelled by a displaced narrative voice offering stories from Anderson’s past, accompanied by bits of humor, autobiographical details, philosophical digressions and odd facts—in this case, about dogs and Buddhism.

Anderson fills the screen with her own drawings of Lolabelle, herself and others; moody photography of landscapes; old super-8 footage; and a wealth of other visual material. Most are rendered in brown and gold, giving a burnished look to the film. It grounds the film by offering optical correlations to Anderson’s occasional flights of fancy. Ultimately, Heart of a Dog is about the acceptance of self, which allows one to give love to others. It sounds treacly, but it’s not, thanks to Anderson’s mature voice, which guides us to her philosophical understanding of the world.

I’ve divided my top fives into the following categories: Best Picture; Actor and Actress; Supporting Actor and Actress; Director; Script, Canadian Film, Animation, First Feature, Foreign-language film and Documentary. They’re all films worthy of your time—especially now, when most are out on DVD or VOD.

I look forward to a more astonishingly successful film year in 2016 and hope you have enjoyed the majority of movies you did see this year. If I’ve been a guide at all, I am most pleased.

Best Picture
Heart of a Dog
The Big Short
A Pigeon Sits on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Best Actor
Tom Hardy, Legend
Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight
Tobey Maguire, Pawn Sacrifice
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Best Actress
Brie Larson, Room
Greta Gerwig, Mistress America
Blythe Danner, I’ll See you In my Dreams
Bel Powley, Diary of a Teenage Girl
Maggie Smith, Lady in the Van

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Sam Elliott, I’ll See You in My Dreams
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Jacob Tremblay, Room
Alexander Skarsgard, Diary of a Teenage Girl

Best Supporting Actress
Rachel Weisz, Youth
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Hana Saeidi, Jafar Panahi’s Taxi
Lola Kirke, Mistress America
Winona Ryder, Experimenter

Best Director
Laurie Anderson, Heart of a Dog
Roy Andersson, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Noah Baumbach, Mistress America
Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson, The Forbidden Room
Hou Hsiao-Hsien, The Assassin

Best Screenplay, adapted or original
Laurie Anderson, Heart of a Dog
Emma Donoghue, Room
Charles Randolph & Adam McKay, The Big Short
Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig, Mistress America
Marielle Heller, Diary of a Teenage Girl

Best Canadian Film
The Forbidden Room
Sleeping Giant
The Price We Pay
The Amina Profile
Wet Bum


Best First Feature
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Sleeping Giant
Ex Machina
Infinitely Polar Bear
James White

Best Animated Feature
Shaun the Sheep Movie
Inside Out
The Good Dinosaur

Best Foreign-Language Film
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
The Assassin
Jafar Panahi’s Taxi
A Girl Walks Home at Night
Arabian Nights

the-look of silence
Best Documentary
Heart of a Dog
The Look of Silence
Listen to Me Marlon
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus

Tune in to hear Marc Glassman’s Art Reviews
Friday’s at 9:07am on Good Day GTA.

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