So my goal for 2015, seeing as I graduated college and had no immediate job prospects, was to watch basically every movie of note that was released in the calendar year. While I did end up breaking my own personal record for new movies watched in a year, I ended up lucking into a job in August that took away most of my free time during the part of the year where most of the more interesting films are usually released. The result being that this year’s list is both shorter, and features fewer great movies than previous year end lists. I missed several acclaimed films released at the end of the year that had a strong chance at making this list, and from August on didn’t watch as many smaller films as I generally do. So, apologies for not having quite the best list this year, but for now, here are the 16 movies that stuck with me the most from 2015.
I didn’t think too highly of Phoenix when I first watched it a couple of months ago. I didn’t dislike it by any means, but it kind of blended into all the other movies I was watching at the time. In the months since it has grown on me significantly and I’m very interested in watching it again. The film’s plot bears an interesting resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo in its depiction of obsession with the past.
15. White God
Perhaps the most original film I saw last year, White God tells, for lack of a better term, the story of a dog rebellion. It sounds silly and preposterous, but White God plays it completely straight and the result is a unique, one of a kind experience, as the trailer (somewhat clumsily) shows https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIGz2kyo26U.
The way that the filmmakers are able to effectively realize their vision for this film, despite the obvious practical difficulties of directing up to a hundred dogs at a time, and still create a truly impressive film is one of the most praiseworthy achievements of last year in terms of movies.
14. Wild Tales
Don’t worry all you subtitle averse people out there, this is my last Foreign film in this article. A brilliant, hilarious, movie from Argentina, Wild Tales is an anthology film, telling 6 short stories about the effects of revenge (among other themes), all of which are great in their own way. Full of black humor and colorful characters, Wild Tales was one of the most fun discoveries of 2015 for me.
More and more often, studio blockbusters these days lack two necessary ingredients for successful filmmaking: a strong director allowed to do what he wants to do, and a sense of telling its own story and nothing else. Creed succeeds magnificently at both. Not only does it feature some of the most virtuosic filmmaking of any Hollywood film this year, but it tells a truly effective story at the same time. Michael B Jordan gives one of the best performances of the year, and Ryan Coogler establishes himself as one of the more intriguing new directors to emerge recently. While I think Stallone’s possible Oscar win is a travesty, Creed on the whole is a winning example of popular filmmaking done right.
12. It Follows
It Follows has one of the most inventive concepts for a horror film I’ve ever seen, and is handled capably enough to become one of the best films of the year. While I think it doesn’t play as well on multiple views (although it by no means becomes bad), It Follows is among the best made of recent horror films. The music and performances in particular are top notch in relation to the generic, cheap examples of the Horror film that generally receive wide releases.
11.The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Just kidding, here’s one more foreign film that I watched literally this morning on the recommendation of Cineblather “editor” James. A hilarious, absurd Swedish film reminiscent of Forrest Gump, The 100 Year Old Man is a story of the namesake old man as he escapes his retirement home, and immediately fumbles into the possession of millions of dollars, leading to much hijinks and mayhem. At the same time, the old man narrates his life up to that point, covering many key moments in world history that he has also stumbled into. It’s a delightful, oddball film that I very much enjoyed.
10. Ex Machina
While I’m not completely sure Ex Machina is as smart as it, and many others, believe it to be, it’s a very inventive, extremely immersive science fiction film that features 3 of the best performances of the year. Alicia Vikander in particular might be my favorite supporting performance of the year. Oscar Isaac and Domnhall Gleeson occupy most of the screentime and, as 2 of my favorite actors, also turn in admirable work. I think the most impressive aspect of Ex Machina is its production design, and the makeup/effects used to make Vikander’s Eva character look so real, supposedly done without the use of CGI.
9. Steve Jobs
While most of the talk of Oscar snubs this year centered on Creed or Straight Outta Compton (in Creed’s case for legitimate reasons, for Compton more for political reasons IMO), Steve Jobs certainly deserved more than its 2 acting nominations. While screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is someone people either love or hate, his prowess at writing fast paced, hard hitting dialogue is 2nd to none. Aided by strong directing from Danny Boyle and a great central performance from Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs is arguably the most entertaining of this year’s “prestige” films.
Carol is arguably the most critically beloved film of the year, and for good reason. While I didn’t personally respond to it in the same rapturous way as did many others, I still highly value and respect its exquisite craftsmanship. Todd Haynes, a director I’ve never quite understood the praise for, directs the crap out of this movie, and the performances from Blanchett and Mara in the lead roles are as good as any from 2015. In terms of pure filmmaking prowess, Carol is as good as anything from last year, but again, I personally found it a little too distant to rank it higher than this.
Michael Mann is one of the truly great modern directors, blending a hugely stylish directorial personality with one of the most cerebral and interesting minds in moviemaking, Blackhat is his latest triumph. Unfairly maligned for its opaque narrative and at times, almost avant garde in its depiction of the networks and grids that run the modern world, Blackhat is, in my opinion, the best thriller of 2015.
6. The Revenant
The likely Best Picture winner this year, The Revenant is a film I’m surprisingly mixed on despite ranking it this high. I’m in awe of the technical abilities on display from director Alejandro Innarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (one of my favorite artists in the industry), but I’m split on its narrative virtues and I’m not nearly as high on DiCaprio’s likely Oscar winning performance as most. Predictably, if you know me well, I much prefer Tom Hardy’s deranged supporting performance and Domnhall Gleeson’s overmatched captain in terms of acting highlights for this film. That being said, The Revenant is one of the most immersive movie experiences of 2015, and as realistic a depiction of frontier life as I’ve ever seen in a film.
5. Magic Mike XXL
I’ve tried to hide the fact that this was one of my favorite films of the year for awhile now, but I can’t hold it back anymore. This was one of my favorite films of 2015! No film from last year better conveyed the pure joy of creation, and friendship than did this odd little film about a group of male stripper’s last performance. Seriously, this movie made me care about its characters more than any other film of last year. I will fight people over this movie (not physically of course, I’m not Channing Tatum).
The other Best Picture frontrunner this year along with The Revenant, the two films are almost polar opposite films stylistically. Where The Revenant is an almost awe inspiring display of virtuoso cinematography, Spotlight takes place almost entirely in cramped newsrooms. Whereas The Revenant has very few dialogue heavy scenes, Spotlight is almost entirely made with conversations, arguments, and interviews. What Spotlight does better than The Revenant, in my opinion, is keep its stylistic elements in better service to its story and characters, and also has a more interesting thematic approach.
Spotlight might be the best written film of the year(my vote is for Inside Out), as well as the best acted. If, on Oscar nomination morning, the Best Supporting Actor category had been entirely actors from this film, I wouldn’t have been too upset. Liev Schreiber and Mark Ruffalo are the highlight in my opinion, but Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, and Rachel McAdams are all exceptional as well.
3. Bridge of Spies
If The Revenant is a cinematographer masterclass, and Spotlight is a writing and acting showcase, Bridge of Spies has to be considered the directorial equivalent. Steven Spielberg, as good as ever in his 29th film, draws every bit of tension and intrigue out of a story that could have been an otherwise run of the mill thriller. Bridge of Spies shows off so much of Spielberg’s underrated versatility. Just in the opening scenes, he masterfully pulls off a 10 minute, mostly dialogue free chase across New York, and then in the next scene makes a conversation about insurance fascinating. I’ve long maintained that Spielberg is not only among the best ever action directors, but one of the best at shooting conversations between 2 people. That later skill is on full display in Bridge of Spies, which I wish was up for many more awards than it is. Tom Hanks, in particular, turns in one of my very favorites performances of 2015.
2. Inside Out
While Bridge of Spies, Carol, Spotlight, and The Revenant are almost unparalleled technical displays of filmmaking craftsmanship, Inside Out is every bit as accomplished, and has the added benefit of having, in my opinion, the best screenplay of the year. When it comes to Oscar snubs this year, nothing was worse than Inside Out not being featured in the Best Director lineup. It’s the only one of the 80ish movies from 2015 that made me shed a tear.
- Mad Max: Fury Road
It’s weird that my top 2 choices for best film of 2015 were both major blockbusters, considering I get less and less enthralled with popular entertainment as I get older and more misanthropic, but for my money, no film released last year was so much better than its genre contemporaries than this was. We see movies like Bridge of Spies, and Spotlight every year pretty much; great dramas are made far more often than great action films, and something like Fury Road comes around much less often. Of my favorites images of 2015, at least 3 or 4 of them come in Fury Road. From the flamethrower guitar to the henchman on pikes, this movie has more memorable images than any other film from 2015. It’s not all eye candy though, Fury Road has an incredibly understated screenplay that keeps the narrative simple, but kinetic, perfectly balancing the action with stops for the audience to catch up. The acting is as good as can be expected in this type of movie, and Junkie XXL’s deliriously over the top score is just the icing on the cake. I’ve seen this movie 4 times and its shown no hint of slowing down.