2015 was a crazy year for a lot of us here at Flixist. There were some major changes inside and out. On my end, I moved across the country and have been getting into new digs for the past ten months. I’m loving my new life right now, and now that I’m finally settled it’s time to get back into movies. It’s taken a bit longer than I thought to catch up to all of 2015’s releases and I still haven’t seen everything. Some notable misses include: Carol, The Revenant, Brooklyn, Macbeth, and The Danish Girl.
But even with those big exclusions, I’m pretty confident that my favorite films of the year wouldn’t have changed around too much (and I’ve got to get this list out sometime, haha). Like years before, this ended up being a mix of big releases and smaller independent films that managed to have an impact on me. This year, I decided to choose films that I couldn’t stop thinking about long after they ended. Rather than choose films based on some weird critical stance or something, I just went with my gut. I don’t know if we’ll agree on everything, but I hope you’ll read along anyway.
With all of that said, here are my choices for the Top 15 films of 2015.
30-16: Tangerine, The Voices, Everly, Welcome to Me, Predestination, Turbo Kid, It Follows, The Good Dinosaur, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, True Story, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Inside Out, Trainwreck, Sicario, Sleeping With Other People
15. The Intern
You can argue that Robert DeNiro’s name doesn’t have the same amount of drawing power that it used to. What was once a name synonymous with fantastic work is now a name for someone who seemingly accepts whatever project gets put on his desk. The Intern at first glance seemed like yet another cash in for DeNiro, but instead holds a surprising amount of depth within. It has one of the best screenplays of the year with a nuanced platonic relationship between its two leads, layers of depth to DeNiro’s character that’s only really hinted at (he cries at one point, and it’s wonderfully mysterious and never talked about), and it’s just unique. It’s a story that’s been kind of done before, but not in this fashion. A breath of fresh air from everyone involved.
14. The Martian
The Martian checks all the boxes of a standard crowd pleaser. It’s based off a best selling book, Ridley Scott is director, it’s got a great cast, and it allows Matt Damon to charm us for two hours straight. I would’ve preferred a greater sense of his isolation (that’s why it’s not higher on this list), but I do like what we’ve gotten instead. Charming performances made all that science easily digestible, and it was just a good time. There were very few films last year with honest to goodness “happy endings,” so this stood out all the more.
13. Ex Machina
In this ever advancing technological age, philosophers and scientists alike question the nature of artificial intelligence. If technology ever advances to the point where we can create and shape sentient beings, how much of that artificial nature is truly man-made? Films like Blade Runner and even Terminator have explored this theme before, but the question has never been posited better than it was in Ex Machina. With enthralling performances (and the one Alicia Vikander should’ve really been nominated for), Ex Machina is an intimate exploration of inanimate things. Also, Oscar Isaac’s disturbing yet erotic dance number is one for the record books.
I’m usually skeptic of films based on true events. Something always gets lost in translation and muddies up the final product. Spotlight has zero of these issues. As its title suggests, Spotlight is laser focused in its premise and what it wants to get across. Driven entirely through dialogue and excellent camera work as its docu-drama presentation invokes a sense of urgency as the deadline to story break gets closer and closer. Intense, gorgeous, and full of sleights that can definitely be ignored if you don’t pay attention. It’s gripping from beginning to end.
11. The Final Girls
There’s been a rise in meta-narrative films over the last few years. Thanks to the “ironic” nature of millenial pop culture, it’s become popular to break film genres down into their cynical core components and ridicule them. I expected the same with The Final Girls. When I found out the film was about a few kids getting trapped in a horror film, I figured I was in for the same kind of “let’s avoid stupid horror mistakes” that films like Cabin in the Woods and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil perfected years before. Instead, the film delivered a sincere and heartbreaking story of dealing with the loss of a loved one. And of course, it’s also pretty funny.
10. The Hateful Eight
You know what you’re getting with Quentin Tarantino. Both an auteur and a gore junkie, Tarantino’s films all have a distinct style and flair. You also know the film’s probably going to be great. It’s not higher on this list thanks to his usual trappings (I wish he didn’t resort to violence for every finale now), but it earns its place by being a technical marvel. I didn’t get to see it in 70MM, but what I did see was absolutely gorgeous. And it’s a film entirely focused on the dialogue that’s made him famous. The Hateful Eight has some masterful tonal work and I had no idea whether I should laugh or cringe. It spends its run time messing with your expectations, and by the time the end rolled around, I had no idea I sat there for three hours.
9. Straight Outta Compton
Biopics are rarely done well. Either they get the facts wrong, or they focus on the wrong period of time, or they just aren’t interesting enough of a subject to work. While Straight Outta Compton definitely has some of those pitfalls, it’s the most entertaining biopic I’ve ever seen. Encapsulating a time period, a rap group, and a cultural movement all into one nearly seamless package is a filmmaking marvel. It’s also got a litany of fantastic performances from actors who I hope go on to do great things. I can’t wait to see what the main trio of O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, and Jason Mitchell do next.
8. Cartel Land
Honestly, I was torn between Cartel Land and Sicario. Both tackle the seedy underbelly of the cartel world, but only one gets into its real gritty nature. As Cartel Land shines a light on a shadow world that’s so often ignored, it also teaches people cultures they probably don’t understand. Sure worshiping gang leaders through narcocorridos and legends seems weird at first, but when you understand how intense of a fear a society can be put through, you’ll realize how people can try to find the positive within the negative. It’s frightening how Cartel Land numbs you to the pain within its short time span and even more so when it restates how very real it all is.
As the general glut of popular cinema fights to become more diverse, no film challenged the state of the industry more head on than Felt. With popular TV and film culture becoming more enamored with sexual aggression and violence in order to get attention, Felt reminds us of our follies. Cranking up the film’s intimacy to an almost intimidating degree, the viewer and subject are caught in a constant battle of agency. Diverting your gaze will only succumb you to aggression while falling into the film’s visuals is further stealing its main character’s power within. Featuring a magnetic performance from Amy Everson, who only worked on the film as an art project, Felt was one of the most enlightening experiences I had last year.
I always look forward to animated films every year. Animation can do things we could never hope to do with normal cinematography, so I always wonder what surprises are in store. I had no idea that 2015 would bring me an animated film that changed how I looked at myself. Anomalisa at surface level is about a man bored with life who meets someone who changes his life for a moment. But there’s so much going on underneath. An exploration of a self-centered ego, the use of stagnancy to enhance the awkwardness of the entire situation, and having only three cast members fill an entire world full of people is just sublime. That’s really the only word I can use to describe Anomalisa.
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
Who would’ve guessed that a Mad Max sequel decades in the making only to be stuck in development hell for four years would go on to be one of the best films of the year? Mad Max: Fury Road is so good, you can really only use buzzwords to capture its magic. Every cheesy and overplayed adjective absolutely means something here. “Gorgeous”? I’ve never seen a desert look better? “Action packed”? The film is a two hour chase scene. “Gripping”? Absolutely. All while putting the focus on the badass Furiosa and her army of equally as badass women. I hope it’s not another hundred years before we get the next Mad Max.
Isolation films always do a number on me. One of my greatest fears is to be stuck into some kind of solitude, so films of that kind always hit me harder than usual. But Room isn’t like every other isolation film. Rather than wallow in the peril of the moment itself, the characters are always looking outward. This comes through especially in its two leads as Brie Larson portrays a woman with a damaged underbelly and its young lead, Jacob Trembley, keeping up with her every step of the way. He turns in the best child performance I’ve seen in some time. Room is dark, highly emotional, and incredibly uncomfortable. Yet, I couldn’t look away.
3. What We Do in the Shadows
A lot of my favorite films last year were smaller releases. None smaller perhaps than What We Do in the Shadows, a quiet “blink and you’ll miss it” release that I ended up watching four times. It’s been a long time since I watched a film and instantly re-watched it right after, and I’m happy this was in my life. Packed to the brim with jokes (so packed you’ll need a re-watch to catch them all), fine tuned comedic performances, and a well realized world (I can’t wait for that werewolves movie), What We Do in the Shadows is a brilliant time. I want to quote it endlessly here, but I’ll limit myself to my favorite: “If you are going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it.”
As 2015 saw an increase in diverse storytelling (though I hope 2016 improves even more), Dope was a story as diverse as they come. Following a unique protagonist caught in a story we’ve only seen a few times but told in a fresh way, the film was entertaining from beginning to end. Plenty of films try so hard to catch the “youth” culture, but watching Dope seamlessly blend new visuals with nostalgic music and themes was astounding. It was just great to see a real underdog win for once. All in all, Dope was well…dope.
No matter how many films I watched before and after this, I still can’t get Creed out of my head. In fact, even as I jot this down I’m reminded of how fantastically it nails everything. It’s a reboot, yet an epilogue to another story. It’s a sequel, yet can stand all on its own. It’s reminiscent of the past, yet never feels like a retread. Creed managed to capture the same vibe as the original Rocky saga, reminded you how great of a big dumb lug Rocky Balboa was (and how emotionally present Stallone could be given something he really cares about), was culturally relevant as it really should be used as the spearhead of a new cinematic movement, and is ultimately a technical marvel as it changed the way boxing films should be shot forever. Creed was my favorite film of 2015 and could very well go on to be my favorite of the decade.