With the Oscars announcing their best films of the year, I give you my take on this year in film. 2015 was the best year in film for this young decade with some truly great films and a few awesome surprises. Acknowledging Ten (and 6 honorable mentions) films is truly not enough but I hope you enjoy my take on the best films of the year.
The latest from Todd Haynes is just about what you would expect from the Far From Heaven director. The film is well acted all the way around and the 1950 art direction is the perfect back drop for this love story.
Kingsmen: The Secret Service
Matthew Vaughan’s ode to the spy movies of old (mostly James Bond) as he mixes the visuals of a superhero film and the tone of a Connery/Moore Bond film. With the disappointment of Spectre, it was nice to see a great Bond film this year (even if it was in spirit alone).
Love and Mercy
Chronicling Brian Wilsons tragic tale of stardom and dependency, Love and Mercy is a great biopic about one of the great musical talents of the past 50 years. Both Cusack and Dano give solid performances as Brian Wilson in a love letter to Wilson’s genius and personal triumphs with mental illness.
Inarritu follows up the skillful Birdman with The Revenant, a historical epic set in the harsh wilderness of the Dakotas. Leo is great as always but the wilderness, the cold is the real star as The Revenant stands with The Grey as one the best man vs. nature movies of the past couple of years.
Steve Jobs is much less a biopic than it is a dramatization of all that is a person, event, or thing. I don’t think you will walk out of the film knowing the man more but you will see a film that is crafted to show the brilliance of innovation and the human aspect that is often lost in it. This is an actor’s movie with the film continually going from conversation to conversation. Danny Boyle, Sorkin, and Fassbender is a pretty good combo and Steve Jobs doesn’t disappoint even if it isn’t the most factual biopic.
What We Do In The Shadows
The best pure comedy of the year, this New Zealand Mockumentary details the trials and tribulations of living in the vampire community. This is a fresh type of comedy for anyone who is looking for their Flight of the Concords fix.
The Top Ten
This movie is exactly where the Rocky films needed to go with the aging Sylvester Stallion’s Rocky Balboa coming full circle as a mentor for the next generation. The last Rocky film was actually decent even if its plot was very unrealistic but here, we are back to a storyline that won’t divide audiences. Ryan Coggler directs the next tale in the Rocky series as Rocky Balboa isn’t our main fighter anymore, Micheal B. Jordan plays the illegitimate child of Apollo Creed and the film follows his struggles and triumphs with living with that family name. Stallion is brilliant, Coggler is a high profile director in the waiting, and Jordan is ready to carry this franchise forward.
9. Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens
The biggest film of 2015 is an inspired welcome back to one of cinemas most enduring sagas. Star Wars is back and back in spectacular fashion with a mix of old and new with a fresh new direction for the series. J.J. Abrams was the right man for the job as the film improves on almost every negative quality that plagued the prequel trilogy. Even in a time where sequels and prequels can become very tiresome, Star Wars never drags and does justice to the story we all fell in love with.
This 1950s drama is the perfect blend of a historical piece and a romantic/coming of age story. This isn’t the first film from 2015 that fits that bill (Carol) and Brooklyn compliments that film very well but it is the slightly better of the two. Ronan gives a subtle yet powerful performance as her character grows in awareness and self confidence throughout the movie. Good thing the role fits her well because Brooklyn hinges on the audience connecting with the lead character. The art direction and cinematography are masterful but it is a simple, slow, and character driven study that makes Brooklyn one of the best romantic films to come out in awhile.
7. The Big Short
One of the funniest films of the year actually deals with the financial meltdown of 2008 and the collapse of the housing market. Adam McKay is best known for his slap stick comedies but here he brings his humor to some very serious and troubling events in our recent past. The cast is great with three of the four heavy weight actors turning in fantastic performances: Bale, Carrel, and Gosling. The humor and a screenplay, that is able to explain terminology and wall street dealings in simple terms, will keep the audience’s attention even when things get really complex. The Big Short shines a light on the crash of the housing market with some quick wit and the perfect amount of sentimentality for a generation that has felt its affects dearly.
6. Beasts of No Nation
The Netflix film was the hot topic of the film industry when it was released on Netflix in mid October but it has simmered as of late with very little attention during award season. Even if it might be more important in regards to its method of release, Beasts is one of the most emotionally draining and powerful films to come out this year. Telling the tale of a young boy, named Agu, whose family is killed and who is forced to become a child soldier, the movie is brutal in its depiction of war and the emotionally toll it takes on Agu. Give credit to Idris Elba who is chilling as the Commandant but the best performance of the film is that of Agu, played by Abraham Attah. Watching Agu go through hell and back is one of the most harrowing and rewarding cinematic experiences of this solid year in film. Beasts of No Nation is a great fictional representation of child soldiers and one of the best war films in recent memory.
If you watched the previews for Sicario, you would have been expecting Sicario to be a high octane drug war thriller. Sicario is defiantly a drug war thriller and has its high octane moments but it is a slow burn of a film that results in one of the best twists in recent memory. After Prisoners, it was not hard to see that Denis Villeneuve is a talent but this is his first truly great film. The real focus of Sicario is the cartels and the very human response to them. Sicario explores one of the most tragic and straight up evil events that is happening in our modern day and it does it better than those that have come before with a smart script and actors that give weight and detail to their roles. Don’t make no mistake even at number 5, Sicario is a perfect example of why 2015 is such a strong year in film.
4. Inside Out
It took Pixar awhile but it seems that they might have found their touch again with the brilliant Inside Out. Chronicling a 11 year girl as she moves from all she knows to a new life in San Francisco, the emotions joy, sadness, disgust, anger, and fear all get tested to limit when Riley starts to shut down emotionally to the drastic life changes. Pete Doctor directs his third Pixar film and Inside Out plays much like his previous two other films with a fun storyline that tugs on the heartstrings. Inside Out is a fast and fun 95 mins but it is its intuitiveness, its awareness of its subject that make it, like almost all Pixar films, more than just a kids movie. Films like Inside Out are what make Pixar great.
The best ensemble piece of the year with Keaton and Ruffalo shinning, Spotlight will go down as one of the best examples of journalism in film. Detailing the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal of the early 2000s, Spotlight keeps the main focus on those that broke the story to the mainstream media. Tom McCarthy writes (along with Josh Singer) and directs this powerhouse of a drama that hits hard when the film shows the impacts of this great injustice. Spotlight though wouldn’t work without the brilliant ensemble who carries each twist and turn with equal measures. Ruffalo is especially great here as he is able to embody a quirky personality with the restrain to not overshadow what his character’s purpose is. The sharp screenplay and exceptional acting fits perfectly to the weight of the story the film is trying to tell. Spotlight is a great tale about those who spoke for the silent, it is a great tale of the power journalism.
2. Ex Machina
Continuing the trend of strong science fiction films, Ex Machina stands with Moon, District 9, Gravity, and Looper as modern day sci fi classics. Alex Garland weaves a sci fi psychological thriller as a tech genius creates what he believes to be the first AI life form and recruits a man to verify. What proceeds is a series of tests, mind games, and a tour de force climax. Ex Machina is the farthest from turn off your brain entertainment as relationships continue to become muddled and people get drawn closer and then torn apart. Films like this one are why the genre of science fiction has grown to what it is. It is this type of smart filmmaking that continues to explore the questions we have not had answers for yet. Another classic sci fi film and a dark look into the possibility of AI.
1. Mad Max Fury Road
The biggest surprise of the year has to be that Mad Max Fury Road is a masterpiece that can stand with any film of this century. Yea I’m way over hyping this film but the big idea is that Fury Road is the most fun I have had the movies and is the type of big epic filmmaking I have, as so many others have, fallen in love with over the years. George Miller has made a great Mad Max film before (The Road Warrior) but he has more toys to play with this time around as the cinematography, visual effects, and the action are turned up to 10. The action is ridiculous as the movie continues to top itself over and over again until the movie ends with the craziest and best action scene of the year (all time?). Miller is able to go over the top with almost everything except for a fairly simple and gratifying plot. The plot actually has Mad Max play second fiddle to Furiosa who is leading a group of females from their ruthless dictator captor and that story gives the emotion and the weight to all the madness. Most films will get just the action right or others will get just the story right but Mad Max Fury Road gets both right. The spectacle on screen is so much of what makes Fury Road an action masterpiece but it is the story, the human elements that will keep Fury Road relevant for decades to come.
Thanks for getting this far and hopefully you may have found some future movies to check out. In closing, below is what I would have nominated at the Oscars if I had a choice. Hope you enjoy.
My Nominations for The 2016 Academy Awards (Winners in Bold)
Mad Max Fury Road
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Michael B. Jordan, Creed
Michael Keaton, Spotlight
Jacob Tremblay, Room
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Nina Hoss, Pheonix
Rooney Mara, Carol
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Charlize Theron, Mad Max Fury Road
Best Supporting Actor
Adam Driver, Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Oscar Issac, Ex Machina
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
Best Supporting Actress
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Sarah Paulson, Carol
Mya Taylor, Tangerine
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina