As we countdown the seconds, minutes and hours until the end of 2015, it seems appropriate to look back on the world of cinema and what movie stood out to become the best films of the year. There were a couple of milestones achieved from the resurgence of 70mm to the re-launch of the “Star Wars” franchise courtesy of the House of Mouse. While 2015 had a number of sequels to offer moviegoers, there were also several films that stood out because of how original they were. I was able to catch up on the majority of films that came out this year (with the exception of a few titles that are considered 2015 releases, but will not be released until 2016). Enough talk, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and check out what I consider the best films of 2015.
Close, but no cigar: Before we get into my top ten films of the year, I have reserved this spot for five movies that nearly made the final cut. These five films deserve special kudos for being as great and memorable as the movies featured on my top ten list.
“Amy” – One would expect the type of music documentary that VH1 use churn out in the late 90s called “Behind the Music.” However, it becomes a little more than that in the hands of an outstanding documentarian like Asif Kapadia. With “Amy,” he goes skin deep into the life of Amy Winehouse, who passed away in 2011 after losing her struggling with some addicting and dangerous habits plus bulimia. Just like his last film “Senna,” which was also about a talented prodigy who died young, Kapadia does not use any video from his interviews with Amy’s family, friend and acquaintances. He uses the audio from the interviews as he constructs the documentary through archival footage and old home video to show viewers the life and death of the late talented singer/songwriter. “Amy” is now streaming and available on home video.
“Brooklyn” – At the center of John Crowley’s emotionally powerful movie is an outstanding performance from Saoirse Ronan, who plays Eilis, a young Irish lass who immigrates to New York in the 1950s. While “Brooklyn” is essentially a period film, it tells a timeless and lucid story about leaving home, finding happiness and falling in love. This movie will instantly connect with those who have followed in the footsteps of Eilis whether they came from another country or not.
“Ex Machina” – Screenwriter Alex Garland (“28 Days Later,” “Dredd”) made his directorial debut with this fascinating sci-fi tale about a young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) who is selected to spend the weekend with the reclusive tech genius (Oscar Isaac) of the company, but he soon finds out that he will be evaluating an AI robot (Alicia Vikander). This is an intelligent take on what make us human and a cautionary tale of what happens when the perfect embodiment of artificial intelligence just wants to break free. The performances from Vikander, Isaac and Gleeson are terrific and there are top-notch aspects of the production such as the production design and the score. “Ex Machina” is now streaming and available on Blu-ray/DVD.
“Sicario” – Directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”), this devastating and refreshing look at the war on drugs features several sequences that permeates with tons of tension as if there is something ominous is about to occur. Featuring superb performances from Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro, the film is about an eager FBI agent (Blunt) who is enlisted to work on a special ops team led by CIA undercover officer (Josh Brolin) and his mysterious partner (Del Toro). Not only does this movie boosts powerful acting, but it also features some terrific cinematography from Roger Deakins and a unique yet mesmerizing score from Johann Johannsson.“Sicario” will be available on home video January 5th.
“What We Do In The Shadows” – The funniest film of the year and the funniest horror film to come out of New Zealand since Peter Jackson’s “Braindead” comes from the guys who brought you HBO’s “Flight of the Concords.” Jermaine Clement co-starred, co-directed and co-wrote this faux mockumentary with Taika Waitit about three vampires (Clement, Waititi and Jonny Brugh) in New Zealand who are struggling with modern life and the mundane things whether it is paying the rent or getting into a nightclub. Anything and everything about the mythology of vampires are perfectly spoofed in the movie. Even though some might see this movie as nothing but a series of vignettes and/or skits about vampires, there is enough story in “What We Do in the Shadows” that keeps it thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining. “What We Do in the Shadows” is now streaming and available on home video.
The ten best movies of 2015
10) “Inside Out” – After Pixar’s lackluster efforts in recent years like “Cars 2” and “Monsters University,” they have finally hit a home run with their latest effort, “Inside Out,” thanks to filmmakers Pete Docter (“Monsters Inc.,” “Up”) and Ronaldo Del Carmen. This animated film literally takes you inside the head of a young girl named Riley, where her emotions are physical manifestations that try to live together in peace. After Riley and her family move to San Francisco, it becomes a little more difficult for Riley and her emotions to adjust to her new life. The pitch-perfect voice casting are perfect representations of the emotions they play whether it’s Amy Poehler’s Joy, Phyllis Smith’s Sadness or Lewis Black’s Anger. There are also brilliant and uniquely funny concepts courtesy of the inventive filmmakers that showcase how the mind works when it comes to things like nightmares and the mind’s subconscious. “Inside Out” is now available on home video.
9) “Phoenix” – Filmmaker Christian Petzold channels Hitchcock with his latest movie with this tale of a physically scarred concentration-camp survivor (Nina Hoss) who searches a war-torn Berlin in search for her husband (Ronald Zehrfeld) who is suspected of betrayed her to the Nazis. With all the award talk recently, it is a shame that Hoss’ name is more prominent as she rightfully deserves all sorts of accolades for her riveting performance-within-a-performance. The last scene of the film featuring Hoss singing “Speak Low” is both emotionally powerful and heart-wrenching. “Phoenix” is now streaming on Netflix.
8) “Creed” – Don’t call it a comeback…call it a revitalization of an old franchise. Sylvester Stallone reprises his iconic role, Rocky Balboa, but he does not take center stage. Instead, he passes the proverbial torch to both actor Michael B. Jordan and filmmaker Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”). The former plays the son of the late Apollo Creed as he decides to follow in his father’s footsteps by first seeking out the man who went the distance with Apollo four decades ago. The latter manages to blend the past with the present as “Creed” is more then just a movie that service the fans of the “Rocky” films. “Creed” is now playing in South Florida theaters.
7) “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” – Another film franchise that managed to invoke the memory of its predecessor this year. To say that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was the most anticipated movie of the year is an understatement. Helmed by J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek”), this is a refreshing re-introduction to the world that George Lucas created decades ago and this film puts the prequels directed by Lucas to shame. Familiar faces like Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leah (Carrie Fisher) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhem) are back for the ride, along some fresh faces in Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is now playing in South Florida theaters.
6) “White God” – There is not an image more memorable in motion pictures this year then the sight of 274 dogs running rampant on the streets of Budapest in “White God.” The movie is about a dog named Hagan who is abandoned by the father of his 13-year-old master, Lili. While Lili searches for her dog, Hagan is struggling to survive dogcatchers and other oppressors. “White God” is a powerful and emotional film that manages to showcase a terrific animal performance while giving moviegoers something to think about of how society treats dogs. “White God” is now streaming on Netflix and available on home video.
5) “The Hateful Eight” – What do you get when you take an Agatha Christie mystery, set it in post Civil War Wyoming and featuring some deplorable and morally corrupt characters? You get the eight feature film from filmmaker Quentin Tarantino starring actors QT have worked with before like Samuel L. Jackson (“Pulp Fiction”), Kurt Russell (“Death Proof”), Tim Roth (“Reservoir Dogs”) and Michael Madsen (“Kill Bill”). Shot in glorious 70mm, “The Hateful Eight” finds two bounty hunters (Jackson and Russell), a prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a man who claim to be a sheriff (Walton Goggins) stranded in a cabin during a blizzard surrounded by colorful and egregious characters. It is a nasty little Western that have tons of blood and great dialogue, which is expected from Tarantino. “The Hateful Eight” is now playing in South Florida theaters.
4) “Spotlight” – Destined to become a top contender for this year’s Best Picture Oscar, this movie is based on the true story of how the Boston Globe exposed the massive scandal within the Catholic Church and the role the Church played in covering it up. Director Tom McCarthy captures every nook and cranny about newspaper journalism circa 2001, before technology and social media changed the world of journalism. The film also features an impressive ensemble that includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams and Stanley Tucci. “Spotlight” is now playing in South Florida theaters.
3) “Mommy” – At the age of 25, filmmaker Xavier Dolan has crafted a masterpiece in the form of his latest movie, “Mommy.” The film itself is a beautiful and endearing portrait of a love-hate relationship between a mother (Anne Dorval), her bipolar son (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) and their neighbor (Suzanne Clément). Shooting the movie in a 1:1 aspect ration, Dolan also uses different cinematic tools to uniquely tell this story. With terrific performances from Dorval, Pilon and Clément to boost, “Mommy” also features an outstanding soundtrack that perfectly matches the mood of the film’s characters whether it is Celine Dion’s “On ne change pas” or Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” “Mommy” is now streaming and available on DVD.
2) “Carol” – Todd Haynes’ spectacular film about a married woman (Cate Blanchett) and a shopgirl (Rooney Mara) who fall in love with one another in the 1950s is perfect from Blanchett’s and Mara’s flawless performances to Edward Lachman’s gorgeous 16mm cinematography. This is the closest thing in cinema to show you what it feels like to fall in love courtesy of Haynes’ filmmaking prowess whether it changing the speed of the camera or using certain shots to convey the feelings of the characters. “Carol” is now playing in South Florida theaters.
1) “Mad Max: Fury Road” – It took nearly a decade for filmmaker George Miller to revisit the post-apocalyptic world of “Mad Max” and bring into the 21st Century. Filling the shoes of Mel Gibson in the role of Max Rockatansky this time around is Tom Hardy. Hardy’s Max teams up with a one-armed renegade truck driver by the name of Imperator Furiosa, who is searching for safe passage not just for her, but for the “wives” of a ruthless warlord. Despite Hardy as the title character, the film really belongs to Theron, whose character belongs next to other characters such as Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor as one of cinema’s most powerful female action heroes of all time. “Mad Max: Fury Road” not only has some of the greatest action and car chase sequences to be portrayed on the silver screen, but also memorable and unforgettable characters aside from Max and Furiosa like Immortan Joe, his War Boys and a flame-throwing guitar-playing figure that accompanies Joe and his gang like a traveling, yet demented minstrel. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is now streaming and will be available on home video.
Honorable mentions: “About Elly,” “The Assassin,” “Crimson Peak,” “Flowers,” “It Follows,” “The Look of Silence,” “Lucha Mexico,” “Mistress America,” “The Revenant,” “Room”