Every year is a good year for movies. Don’t be fooled by those who say otherwise because they’re probably not exploring their options too tough. The consensus for 2015 seems to be that this was a down year, which kind of boggles my mind. How can that be when we’ve had such visually distinct films as Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Crimson Peak, and more? How can that be when Pixar delivered on the promise of their most ambitious film, Inside Out? How can it be when friggin’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out this year and turned us all into kids again? Nah, I don’t buy it. Sell that nonsense to someone else.
As you know I like to keep a running tally of the movies I see each year, and I’m currently sitting at 271 with only a few days to go. Makes putting together this list both easier and more of a headache. If there’s a common thread between the films I chose it’s forcing the audience to take a second look. Whether it’s looking at war differently like Beasts of No Nation, or adolescence like Mustang, or motherhood like Goodnight Mommy, most of the movies on my list force you to think again, and maybe even think differently.
Changing things up a little bit this year, partially due to time but mainly due to my desire not to repeat myself. What’s the point of writing reviews if I’m just going to come here and tell you what’s great about the movie? So I’m keeping the entries short and sweet, focusing on what made the most immediate impact. And really, these “Best of” lists are all about the movies that had the biggest personal impact on us, right?
So here we go. Enjoy the show.
#20- Goodnight Mommy
Practically an advertisement for abstinence, the twin horrors at the center of this Austrian thriller are the scariest kids since Children of the Corn. Dark, torturous, and ominous from the start, only watch this if you never want to be a parent ever.
#19- Best of Enemies
Thank you, Nell Minow, for putting me on to Best of Enemies. She knows somebody like me would pay good money to watch conservative icon William F. Buckley get smacked down, and revisiting how badly he get rope-a-doped on national TV by Gore Vidal still makes me smile devilishly. Only documentary of the year I’d happily watch again and again.
The best Rocky movie since the first one. Period. And yes, it definitely is a Rocky movie in all of the ways that matter. From the heart, the toughness, the emphasis on family; all of it. Creed, like Rocky before it, is about leaving it all in the ring and living life the same way. If there’s a more invigorating scene than Michael B. Jordan’s jogging montage I don’t know what it is.
#17- People Places Things
I can’t believe how much I love this movie. It’s got precocious kids all over the place. And Jemaine Clement. These are things I don’t normally like, but People Places Things is the sweetest and one of the funniest movies of the year.
#16- Five Star
A little authenticity goes a long way, and the incredible performance by gangster-turned-actor James “Primo” Grant in this gritty tale of street legacy is what separates it from the more polished urban dramas.
#15- Crimson Peak
Suffered from terribly miscalculated marketing, that much is undeniable, but Guillermo Del Toro’s lurid, lush Gothic romance was a visual treat you couldn’t turn your eyes away from. Plus it features the most icy-awesome Jessica Chastain ever. I’d kill for her to give me that kind of shade.
The superior of the year’s two foreign films on girlhood (the other ironically titled Girlhood), Mustang had me wanting to bust through the screen and rescue the five spirited girls from the conservative Hellhole they were trapped in.
#13- Ex Machina
The best sci-fi is weird, funny, and forces us to think about our current society in a different way. Ex Machina does all of these things, plus it has the most awesome dance scene of the year (sorry Naomi Watts but you’re a close second) and Alicia Vikander. And Oscar Isaac. And Domhnall Gleeson. Combined they had like two thousand movies in 2015.
Did you see how exquisitely Cate Blanchett was dressed? Who the heck wouldn’t fall in love with her? Todd Haynes’ camera certainly did.
#11- Inside Out
Finally, a movie that attempts to tell us guys what exactly is going on in a woman’s head! Surprise! The whole thing’s an amusement park. A crumbling amusement park. Pixar needed this stroke of brilliance after the last couple of years afflicted with “sequel-itis”.
The most stinging rebuke of the failed war on drugs is also the year’s most white-knuckle experience. As Emily Blunt’s naive young agent falls down the rabbit hole of violent government excess and corruption, exemplified by an overconfident handler (Josh Brolin) and mysterious “bird dog” (scariest Benicio Del Toro ever, and he was The Wolfman!) we can’t help but feel the same futility she must have felt.
#9- The Hateful Eight
Part of me wants Quentin Tarantino to make something other than Westerns. But then he does them so damn well! From the glorious Ennio Morricone score, to the stunning cinematography (see it in 70mm!) to the rabble of ornery cusses all crammed together waiting to fill one another with lead, The Hateful Eight is a nearly flawless love letter to the Westerns of old.
Those who claim Victoria is a one-trick pony, that being its 2-hour-long single shot, aren’t acknowledging HOW FREAKING AMAZING THAT ONE TRICK IS!!! No seriously, there isn’t a cinematic feat quite like it this year, but I also fell for the arc of the central love story which goes from Before Sunrise to True Romance at the drop of a hat.
#7- Far from the Madding Crowd
Carey Mulligan. Matthias Schoenaerts. Thomas Vinterberg. It’s like they made a movie just for me. And that I’m a sucker for a sweeping romance only made it more likely this would be high on my list. I’m also a sucker for any film in which a woman can be courted with a live lamb.
#6- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
One of two Sundance films to crack my top 10, this was the most enjoyable film about illness since The Fault In Our Stars, which it shares much in common with from a thematic standpoint. But it’s also unexpectedly nimble visually, riotously funny thanks to a stellar comedic cast, and acknowledges the healing power of really good cinema.
#5- Beasts of No Nation
Cary Fukunaga’s devastating war film would be too tough to watch if it wasn’t so beautiful. To see children losing their innocence in a shower of blood and bullets is unbearable but that’s the point; to make you think about the real costs of armed conflict around the world. On a side note: Idris Elba is so damned charismatic here I woul probably follow him into certain doom.
#4- Mad Max: Fury Road
I went into George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road not at all a fan of the previous films, and exited a total convert. A breakneck 2-hour thrillride through Miller’s warped imagination, the film also marks a welcome turn away from CGI effects and into the practical. Let’s hope it stays that way.
#3- The Revenant
The most breath-taking film of the year, Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu’s grueling survival thriller put Leonardo DiCaprio and Co. through their paces, but damn was it worth it. Shot mostly using natural light, the cast and crew endured brutal weather patterns and an overlong production. Normally such stories are the deathknell of a film, but this is the rare case where the difficulties seem to have made it better. I watched it again recently on a small portable DVD player and it’s still awesome to behold. There may never be another film that looks quite like The Revenant. Just hand cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki his third straight Oscar already! Just hand it over!
#2- Star Wars: The Force Awakens
How in the name of Kylo Ren is Star Wars: The Force Awakens not my #1 film of the year? Well, it’s just not, but it was damn close. While we all love J.J. Abrams’ obvious adoration for the original trilogy, it’s that he isn’t so busy looking backward that he forgets to move forward that makes this movie so special.
I saw Brooklyn at Sundance back in January and haven’t been able to forget it. I have an appreciation for simple stories told well, and that’s what this is. Nick Hornby’s concise adaptation, along with John Crowley’s smooth direction paints a beautifully vivid picture of America as a place of hope and opportunity. Saoirse Ronan, in what I think is an Oscar-worthy performance, has never been better, capturing the fear, loneliness, and eventual strength of a homesick girl trying to find her place in the world. Brooklyn is a truly timeless story that reflects the best of what cinema has to offer.