What an incredible year this was for film. The last days of December found me rushing from theatre to theatre or desperately searching Netflix for titles, trying to squeeze in every last movie I’d heard incredible things about – “must-see”, “can’t miss”, “one of the best films of the year” and so on. As many movies as I thought I’d seen in 2015, there were just so many more I’d missed.
So this list comes with the important disclaimer that I didn’t see nearly everything I wanted to. I didn’t see SON OF SAUL, I didn’t see ANOMALISA. I didn’t see CAROL or THE BIG SHORT or CREED or BROOKLYN or AMY. But I still managed to see so many that it’s pretty hard to narrow down a list to only 10 right now. Still, here’s my best attempt, and in no particular order (it was difficult enough to just pick 10, there’s no way I can actually rank them).
Wow. If lead actors Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are not nominated for Academy Awards for their incredible performances, I’m not watching the Oscars this year. Actually, that’s a lie – the Oscars are my Christmas. But in all seriousness, ROOM was one of the most powerful films I saw this year. The story of a mother and son who are held in captivity for years and are finally given the chance at freedom only to struggle to come to terms with life in the real world, I didn’t even realize the grasp it had on me until the tears started to flow about an hour in. And they continued to do so for the duration. It’s a simple story with a beautiful insight into the world and the relationships that bring out both the best and the worst in us. If you’re looking to have an emotional experience at the movies, it doesn’t get much better than this.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
I would thank director George Miller for rekindling my love for the decades-old story of the Road Warrior, but to be honest I had zero interest in the series. Until this past May, that is. Easily my top pick for “coolest movie of the year”, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD had absolutely everything I love about action movies: steady pace, stunning visuals, fascinating characters and great music. Also, Tom Hardy.
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL
I think I cried more at the movies than at actual life this year, and ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL was another reason why. When high school loner Greg (played by Thomas Mann, PROJECT X) is asked by his parents (Connie Britton, Nick Offerman) to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel) who’s just been diagnosed with leukemia, he begrudgingly ventures out of his socially isolated comfort zone and ends up gaining a life-changing friendship. Quirky, funny and tragic at all the right moments, it might not have achieved huge numbers at the box office – but this sweet movie and its fantastic cast certainly made an impression on all those who saw it. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (American Horror Story), it’s a coming-of-age drama that’s unlike any other.
It’s a rare thing to come across a truly excellent newsroom drama these days. And SPOTLIGHT is damn near perfect. The sobering true story of the small team of journalists working at the Boston Globe in the early 2000’s and their investigation of a major cover-up of abuse at the hands of priests by the Catholic Archdiocese, the film is a throwback to the glory days of journalism. With its star-studded cast (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci and John Slattery, all of whom play their respective roles with the degree of passion called for by such a script) and expert direction by Tom McCarthy, the film is sure to be a leader in awards nominations. And most deservedly so.
THE END OF THE TOUR
I’m going to tag this as one of the best movies this year that it seems no one saw. Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel (in a remarkable performance), THE END OF THE TOUR relays the five-day interview between Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky (Eisenberg) and writer David Foster Wallace (Segel) that occurred when the former joined the latter on his book tour in promotion of “Infinite Jest”. The conversations between the two are riveting, and my only regret is that I had neither a pause button nor notebook available to me at the screening. In my opinion, if a movie inspires me to run out and buy a thousand-page novel, that’s time well spent. The fact that I have yet to read said novel is irrelevant – the point is, I was inspired, even if just for a few moments…and “Infinite Jest” is now proudly displayed on my bookshelf.
Part science fiction, part thriller and all engrossing, the stylish EX MACHINA is written and directed by Alex Garland. It tells the story of Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a young computer programmer brought to the secluded mansion of his mysterious employer Nathan (Oscar Isaac) to perform a Turing test on a top-secret A.I. (played by Alicia Vikander). At first, Caleb thinks he’s won the lottery – but it’s not long before his sense of uneasiness takes over. His seemingly irrational attraction to what he tells himself is a robot is deeply unsettling and events at the lodge cause him to begin to regard Nathan with increasing suspicion. Their conversations on philosophy and humanity give the film a thoughtful charge and lead to bigger questions surrounding the dangers of nursing a God complex. EX MACHINA is both intelligent and sexy as all hell. Plus it has one of the greatest (and most unexpected) dance sequences in recent memory.
LOVE & MERCY
I’m going to tag this as the other best movie it seems no one saw in 2015 (see #5 above). A music biopic that turns the usual Hollywood formula on its stereotypical head, director Bill Pohlad’s approach to the story of legendary Beach Boy Brian Wilson aims to take you inside the mind of the tortured genius. Starring talented Paul Dano as the young Wilson and John Cusack as his older counterpart, LOVE & MERCY is a troubling and touching portrait of the man behind some of the 60s’ biggest hits and the people who made him who he is, for better or worse.
This is a beautiful film for pretty ugly subject matter. Not surprising, considering cinematographer Roger Deakins (SKYFALL) has a seemingly magic touch. But beyond its striking visual appeal, SICARIO is simply a good story with great actors. Emily Blunt is Kate, an FBI agent asked to join a task force designed to aid in the war on drugs at the US-Mexico border. Armed with a firm opinion of what’s right and what’s wrong and unwavering ethical standards, Kate is put to the test by her own team and forced to see an already deplorable situation in a much more bleak light. Also starring Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, the movie is intense, smart and brilliantly directed by Denis Villeneuve.
SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE
SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE is amazing. Essentially a silent movie for kids, it’s the story of a rebellious little sheep who takes off for an adventure in the big city and has to find the way back home for himself, his friends and The Farmer. From the team behind Wallace & Gromit, they already had me sold just by virtue of their approach to animation. It’s adorable, as are Shaun and his friends. But what put me over the top was the fact that my fidgety, limited-attention 7-year old absolutely LOVED it – and immediately wanted to see it again. And has been asking for it ever since. And the whole time it sat tucked away for Christmas morning, I had to physically restrain myself from cracking it open and watching it again by myself.
STAR WARS VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS:
Does this really need an explanation? THE FORCE AWAKENS is just as epic as everyone didn’t dare hope it would be. Thank you, J.J. Abrams.
INSIDE OUT: As both a moviegoer and a parent, I cannot overstate the value of a unique, intelligent film my kids will enjoy as much as me. Movies like this leave those like ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS with no excuse.
MISS YOU ALREADY: I avoid the dreaded “chick flick” like the plague. I’m so glad I saw this one and, as clichéd as it sounds, it made me want to hug my best friend. All the feels.
TRUMBO: Bryan Cranston. That is all.
THE MARTIAN: The movie that made me love Matt Damon again. I could have done without the poopy potatoes, but I acknowledge their significance.
Worst of 2015:
Ugh. Just ugh. And that goes for both. I already lost four hours of my life on those two, I’m not wasting two paragraphs as well.