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TV/Film List

The Top 15 Films of 2015: Transverso's 2016 Oscars Best Picture Picks

TV/Film ListEthan WilliamsComment

With the Oscars finally arriving tonight, it’s time to take a look back at the incredible year of film that was 2015. For every superhero sequel there were plenty of indie smashes, and it was easy to find art at the multiplex as easily as it was in your local arthouse cinema. So let’s look back at the movies that will shape the film world for the next few years.

15. Phoenix

A riveting psychological thriller set in the ruins of postwar Germany, Phoenix is a hypnotic slow-burn that builds its tension deliberately and devastatingly. Nelly is a Holocaust survivor who had her face disfigured in a concentration camp and when she returns to her hometown to find her lost love, she finds he may nothing may ever be the same. It takes cues from Rainer Fassbinder and Alfred Hitchcock, but manages to morph into its own cerebral mystery that results in an absolutely stunning final scene that’s among the year’s best.

14. Bridge of Spies

Steven Spielberg may be the closest thing our generation has to Frank Capra, a filmmaker who tries to unearth what it really means to be an American while not shying away from the darker underbelly of our culture. So while it might be interpreted at first as simplistic or unsubtle, Bridge of Spies is an intricate deconstruction of the peril that Cold War attitudes placed our world into. Given a biting wit by writers Joel and Ethan Coen, Spielberg uses America’s sweetheart Tom Hanks to craft a beautiful slice of Americana, bolstered by his confident direction and an excellent and understated Mark Rylance performance.

13. Sicario

Timely, nail-biting and cerebral, Sicario is yet another masterpiece of unbridled, heart-stopping tension from director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy). An unflinching look into the heart of darkness at the center of the Mexican drug war, Sicario keeps the audience in the dark just long enough until its razor wire tension explodes in a third-act confrontation that will leave your jaw on the floor. The Oscars should be ashamed for not nominating Brolin or Blunt but especially Benicio del Toro in one of the highlights of his career.

12. The Big Short

Propelled by one of this year’s sharpest and most inventive screenplays, The Big Short proves director Adam McKay’s talents lie beyond just Will Ferrell vehicles like Anchorman. The financial collapse of 2008 is a subject of fascination for McKay (touched upon in his underrated The Other Guys) and takes full advantage of the big budget and star-studded cast of The Big Short to tell this story in its entire tragic fullness. While some of the explanation may feel like condescension, the directorial flair that McKay presents his story with keeps things fresh and funny but with the dramatic weight the subject deserves.

11. Tangerine

As much as Tangerine could’ve just been “the movie shot on an iPhone,” it manages to transcend and become so much more. It’s an epic exploration of the Los Angeles underbelly on Christmas Eve, told through the eyes of two lovably rambunctious transgender prostitutes. The iPhone cinematography gives it a wonderful kineticism of life and verve, but its two leads give it a warm heart at the center. It’s hilariously madcap with just a hint of melancholy about finding your place in this world, but Tangerine is a sweet portrait of an unusual friendship told with some awesome filmmaking technique.

10. Love & Mercy

One of the best biopics in recent memory, Love & Mercy is a stunning recreation of the dizzying highs of creating one of pop music’s greatest records ever in Pet Sounds and the soul-crushing lows of Brian Wilson’s subsequent mental dissolution. By intertwining the two award-caliber performances of Paul Dano and John Cusack as two eras of Wilson, Love & Mercy crafts a heartbreaking arc of redemption through the power of love and music. recording sequences alone are worth the price of admission (supplanted by a great electronic Atticus Ross score) and it’s a career high for every actor involved, especially Dano and Cusack.

9. Crimson Peak

All of director Guillermo del Toro’s finest films are about the relationship of innocence vs. brutality, and Crimson Peak is indeed another visual masterpiece from one of the few living visionaries left in genre filmmaking. Moreso a Victorian melodrama than a straightforward horror film, Crimson Peak is a testament to Del Toro’s intricate craft, building another terrifying world within Allerdale Hall, full of shadows and ghosts. It's an old school kind of horror told with unapologetic camp and nobody is better at crafting atmosphere or creatures than Del Toro. Hail to the king, baby.

8. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

While it may have been impossible to top the heights of the Burj Khalifa from Ghost Protocol, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is a roundly satisfying addition to one of the greatest modern action franchises. Mission Impossible is a series that understands scale more than any other and once again crafts some of the year’s most awe-inspiring action setpieces that simply suck the breath right out of you. Tom Cruise once again throws himself in the jaws of death for our amusement and Rogue Nation takes the best elements from all four of its previous installments to form a supremely entertaining summer blockbuster and one of the year’s best action films.

7. Inside Out

Just when it seemed PIXAR might be in a creative lull, a film as fresh, funny and inventive as Inside Out comes along. The concept of one’s emotions personified as little people inside your head is already quite a clever idea, but Inside Out’s screenplay grows this concept into one of PIXAR’s funniest and most moving films ever. It never offers easy answers to some of life’s toughest problems but is still a valuable portrait of how to deal with the combating emotions within ourselves. And with a cast this perfect, it’s no wonder it brings you to tears of both laughter and sadness.

6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It is a small miracle that The Force Awakens manages to feel so organic, natural and so thoroughly a part of the Star Wars canon so instantly. Yes it’s great to see more practical effects, location shooting and overall more competent direction, but the characters are what make us truly love Star Wars and The Force Awakens creates them with marvelous aplomb. It’s the most solid foundation fans could’ve hoped for and a cast and crew of marvelous talent did what most thought was impossible: make the entire world love Star Wars again.

5. The Hateful Eight

After a few false starts and script leaks, it seemed unlikely that Quentin Tarantino was ever going to get around to making his next Western, but somehow it arrived and was bigger and badder than anything we could’ve hoped for. Shot “In GLORIOUS 70mm” as the posters loved to proclaim, The Hateful Eight was incredibly heartening to see so many turn out for the roadshow 70mm film screenings, a cinematic event unlike anything seen in America for the last 40 years. Not to mention that the film itself is one of the director’s finest, assembling some familiar faces from the Tarantino oeuvre and shoving them in a snowbound cabin as their wits slowly whittle into blasts of blood-soaked brutality. Beautifully shot by Robert Richardson and given the year’s best score by the maestro Ennio Morricone, the elegance is contrasted by one of Tarantino’s screenplay, one of his most black-hearted treatises on the nature of humans. Three hours simply whizz by and we’re left with a landmark for Westerns, Tarantino and the medium of film itself.

4. The Look of Silence

Documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to 2012’s groundbreaking The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence somehow manages to eclipse and become an even more important piece of cinema than its predecessor. The Act of Killing was a sickening snapshot of how people who committed some unforgivable atrocities manage to live with themselves, but The Look of Silence manages to make that pain even more immediate and disturbing by having a survivor of the massacre face his persecutors in front of the cameras. The interviews are pulse-pounding, cringe-inducing, absolutely revelatory bits of cinema and once again Oppenheimer has crafted a gorgeous, gut-wrenching document that is both important and artful. If you only watch one documentary from last year, make it this one.

3. Carol

Few movies are ever as gorgeously photographed as Carol but even fewer manage to pack such a devastating emotional punch. The forbideen romance between Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett) sounds like the stuff of pure melodrama, but becomes the most purely affecting relationship depicted onscreen this year. The breathtakingly composed shots are given the dreamlike qualities of memory, as if groggily recalling the nostalgic minutia of romance: the lingering gaze of a lover, the offhand smile, the squeeze of a shoulder. Not since Her has a film managed to capture the thrill of falling in love but also the heartbreak of separation. It's a gorgeously orchestrated piece of filmmaking, one that plants a tender ache in the heart that doesn't fade quickly.

2. Ex Machina

With all of the recent success of sci-fi on the blockbuster scale, Ex Machina is a refreshing reminder that the best science fiction stories are based in exploring big ideas and not necessarily on visual spectacle. First time director Alex Garland, screenwriter of such recent sci-fi classics as Sunshine, Dredd, and 28 Days Later, is certainly no slouch in the visual department, but Ex Machina is more interested in exploring the dynamics between its three main characters. It’s an absolute delight to watch its intricate plot unfold, throwing twist after turn up to one of the year’s most shocking endings. It’s heady science fiction at its finest and it rewards rewatch after rewatch. Drop everything and watch it as soon as possible.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is a once in a generation event. A movie so pure in its unbridled creativity and filmmaking boldness deserves every amount of praise one can muster. At its core just a chase film with a feminist bent, it manages to transcend and become so much more. Director George Miller takes his incredible apocalyptic fairy tale begun over thirty years ago and creates even more dazzling mythmaking out of the nuclear wasteland. Visual storytelling is rarely this simple and coherent in a modern action film, but it’s also hardly ever this fun. No film was as viscerally exciting, visually bold and unabashedly badass as Mad Max: Fury Road.  It set the film world on fire and will probably dominate the conversation on action cinema for decades to come. Perfectly paced, perfectly shot, perfectly edited and bathed in sound and fury, Mad Max: Fury Road is one of this decade’s absolute finest.

Honorable Mentions:

Steve Jobs

The Martian



The Wolfpack

Bone Tomahawk


The Assassin

World of Tomorrow

The End of the Tour

10 of the Best Musical Cameos on TV

TV/Film List, Music ListEllen WilsonComment
Jack White on Portlandia

Jack White on Portlandia

1. The Shins on Gilmore Girls 

Gilmore Girls is known for their fast paced dialogue and countless pop culture references, often mentioning numerous artists an episode, so it would make sense that Rory and co would stumble upon a hip new band playing in a club while on spring break. James Mercer and band play "So Says I" for an uninterrupted minute and a half, which is a pretty impressive amount of airtime for television. Rory and friends don't arrive until the last song, though, so we can assume they are the worst concert goers ever. Shortly after you can hear "The Laws Have Changed" by The New Pornographers while Rory and Paris uncomfortable try to fit in with the club-goers stating, "no one can sniff out the hip like we can." 

2. The Decemberists on Parks and Recreation 

The Decemberists get about 30 seconds of airtime playing "Crane Wife 3" at the Pawnee-Eagletown unity concert. While they might not have gotten as much airtime as deserved the entire episode was full of additional musical guest such as Jeff Tweedy, Ginuwine, and Yo La Tengo. 


3. Jack White on Portlandia 

Jack White magically appears on the Portlandia sketch "The Studio" in which Fred's character portrays a man who has a "top notch" studio with overwhelming similarities the studio used when recording the Beach Boy's album Pet Sounds. Jack White magically appears and silently watches Fred's character as he struggles to make sense of it all. The lack of dialogue from White makes his facial expressions even more hilarious and one of the best musical guest Portlandia has locked down. 

4. Britt Daniel of Spoon in Veronica Mars

Britt sings a karaoke version of the song appropriately titled "Veronica" by Elvis Costello. The Spoon song "I Summon You" was also featured in the same episode. You can read more about Britt's decision to do the show here

5. Death Cab For Cutie on The OC 

Death Cab was famously the favorite band of OC stud Seth Cohen, despite Summer's less-than-flattering analysis, "it's one guitar and a whole lot of complaining." When the band finally appears they play a show at the infamous fictional venue, The Bait Shop, and were featured on the official soundtrack. 

6. Prince on New Girl 

Prince, the majestic being himself, guest stars in an episode of New Girl. In the episode, he plays himself and gives Jess (portrayed by Zooey Deschanel) relationship advice. The highlight, though, is when the The Purple One asks, "Do you like pancakes?" 

7. Beck on Futurama 

After Bender is hospitalized he discovers Beck's disembodied head is occupying the bed next to him. Beck then loans Bender a set of neck-mounted robotic mini-arms, and the two go on tour together as Bender uses the arms to scrape across his mangled body and earn the position of Beck's washboard player. As the episode continues, Bender writes a song about broken robots, and the duo decide to put on a benefit concert in San Francisco to help all the disabled machines. While helping Bender write a song about his feelings, disembodied Beck explains how emotion is an important part of his musical process as well, saying, "When I'm upset I write a song about it. Like when I wrote 'Devil's Haircut,' I was feeling really... what's that song about?"

8. The Beach Boys on Full House 

The Beach Boys have a long standing friendship with the Tanner family, appearing in not one, not two, but three separate episodes. The most notable episode is the one in which DJ wins two tickets to the Beach Boys show but has the tricky decision of picking which family member to take. Naturally, The Beach Boys show up and invite the whole bunch along (except for baby Michelle) to the show where they sing and do some sort of a line dance on stage. 

9. Radiohead on South Park

In this particularly dark episode, Cartman vows to take revenge after being tricked by eighth grader Scott Tenorman. Upon learning that Radiohead is Scott's favorite band, Cartman writes a letter to Radiohead claiming that Scott is a victim of "cancer, in his ass" and the British rock band visits South Park just in time to watch Scott cry after hearing he ate his parents.  

10. Sir Paul McCartney on 30 Rock 

In one of these two brilliant episodes of 30 Rock, Sir Paul McCartney appears as himself to prove the point that "it's live TV, anything can happen." The look on Alec Baldwin's bewildered face as Paul McCartney grins and slaps Baldwin's face makes this one of the best moments of 30 Rock's entire seven season run.