2015 was a very, very good year in film, and though I haven’t seen everything (CAROL, THE REVENANT come to mind), the list of good films can go on and on (BROOKLYN, SPOTLIGHT, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, SICARIO, 45 YEARS, CALL ME LUCKY, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, THE END OF THE TOUR, THE GIFT, BRIDGE OF SPIES, THE MARTIAN, SHAUN THE SHEEP, AMY). That's a hell of a list of films, and yet they're not part of my top 10. It is a year where I could have just as easily made a top 20. Even more surprising is that many of the worthy titles this year weren't just little indie gems that the Oscars bring to light, but star-studded, big budget Hollywood events.
2015 is not a year with a surplus of classics, but one of the most competent years in recent memory. The scope of films is also refreshing. Horror, sci-fi, westerns, comedies, biopics, documentaries, sports, animation, low and big budget all stand side by side with a range of movies to offer.
Here’s to hoping 2016 can follow it up.
#10 WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS:
I’ve always held the firm belief that a really great comedy in film is the toughest type of genre to succeed in. This years WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is a hilarious mockumentary about 4 vampires living in a flat together. It is endlessly quotable and calls for multiple viewings. Considering that both vampire and mockumentary movies are pretty well worn territory, SHADOWS gives us the perfect mix of intelligent and dumb humor while still feeling fresh.
#9 COP CAR:
The Coen brothers didn’t release a film this calendar year, but newcomer Jon Watt’s COP CAR sure feels like a film with their heart in it. Kevin Bacon stars as a dirty cop whose car has been stolen by 2 very young boys looking for a joy ride. That ride turns ugly fast, and what follows is a gritty and entertaining ride through the Colorado landscape.
#8 BONE TOMAHAWK:
Hollywood has made some great westerns over the last ten years, though people seem to be missing them (whether it’s intentional or not, I don’t know). Nonetheless, BONE TOMAHAWK, led by Kurt Russell and Patrick Wilson, is a powerful one. On the hunt for two people stolen by a remote and virtually unknown Native tribe, this Western trails into horror territory by its final act and gives us a unique piece of filmmaking unlike most westerns before it.
#7 GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF:
HBO’s documentary on the history of the church of Scientology does everything a good documentary should do: GOING CLEAR informs, engages and fascinates. The words of current and former members of the church will leave you speechless, particularly if you have little knowledge of the history of Scientology.
#6 THE LOOK OF SILENCE:
Joshua Oppenheimer creates a companion piece to his terrific film, THE ACT OF KILLING (2012). Oppenheimer stuns us with a look at a country that still feels comfortable and, in some cases, proud of its 1970s genocide of supposed 'Communists.' It follows one man and his quest for truth regarding his brother’s murder, and his search is impossible to look away from.
#5 EX MACHINA:
Alex Garland (28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE) has been writing some pretty cool stuff over the last decade. EX MACHINA combines his talent for writing with his promise for directing (his first time). A fascinating but grounded tale of the relationship between man and machine (classic science fiction) that still manages to feel real, gripping and new.
#4 INSIDE OUT:
Pixar delivers another classic film, and this time it’s not just a film about morals or the exhausted message of making a difference in the world, but one that confronts human emotion. A film that presents something for young and old audiences to seriously consider and discuss. INSIDE OUT wants kids to know that it’s okay to feel sad, and while that may sound simple, few other children's films have taken that risk. Plus it’s truly imaginative and funny as we’ve come to expect from Pixar.
#3 STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS:
Unreasonably high expectations were met for the franchise that has limped along over the last two decades under George Lucas. This time around, J.J. Abrams delivers a breath of fresh air into STAR WARS universe. Abrams stays true to the original films while adding pieces that feel like they’ve always belonged to the franchise. I never thought STAR WARS would make my top ten, but it does for the pure fact that THE FORCE AWAKENS, while a good film on its own merit, made me feel like a kid again and it delivered all I hoped a STAR WARS film could and should deliver.
ROOM, based on the successful novel by the same name, presents one of the dreariest scenarios possible (mother and son held hostage in a room for 7 years) and makes it totally captivating and endearing. Brie Larson and newcomer Jacob Tremblay both give unforgettable performances that will move you to your core. It’s hard to find any flaw in the lovingly made movie about the bond between mother and child.
#1 MAD MAX: FURY ROAD:
The high-octane, irresistible and endlessly re-watchable MAD MAX: FURY ROAD rises to the top of my list. Sure, the fandom of STAR WARS might make THE FORCE AWAKENS the most remembered film of 2015, and the dramatically overhyped JURASSIC WORLD may have reined box office king for most of the year (until STAR WARS came along), but MAD MAX is an immediate classic. It is the rare example of Hollywood getting big action and a storied franchise right (thanks in large part to George Miller’s unflinching vision). FURY ROAD represents unhinged imagination seen to fruition, and it results in cinematic bliss.
MOVIES WORTH NOTING:
Though most people skipped it, STEVE JOBS gave us the director/writer team of Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, 127 HOURS) and Aaron Sorkin (THE SOCIAL NETWORK, MONEYBALL). Their combined powers plus the performances of Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet make it a fascinating, though indulged and abbreviated, look at the life of the man behind Apple.
We also saw two releases regarding the most recent failures in the American economy, particularly concerning homes and banks and how they responded to the crisis. Both THE BIG SHORT and 99 HOMES, while vastly different, give us an entertaining look at what goes wrong when too many people in control stop paying attention.
The year also gave us some good scares. CREEP (on Netflix) and IT FOLLOWS are sure to give you the willies while also playing with the horror genre.
While Pixar’s INSIDE OUT has deservedly received a lot of love, their second release, THE GOOD DINOSAUR, should not go unnoticed. It is a quality release that charms all ages. ANOMALISA, from Charlie Kaufman (ETERNAL SUNSHINE, ADAPTATION), provides an animated movie for adults that does everything we’ve come to expect from the eccentric and witty visionary, even if not quite living up to his past work.
The well-received CREED lives up to the hype. A movie that initially appears to have no right existing, little lone working, exceeds all expectations and has justified the franchises continuance.
If you haven’t seen the indie gem ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, give it a shot. A movie about teens that doesn’t play down to the age group it’s about. EARL is funny, touching and packed with heart. When it comes to foreign films, PHOENIX, a German noir, is a complex, but original film worth checking out (available on Netflix).