Well, 2015 is long over and it’s time for me to put down my top films of the year. I always find this a fun task, although I also always find myself opening this list with a few caveats. Naturally this list is comprised only of movies I saw. I missed Brooklyn, Room, Look of Silence, Tangerine, and didn’t see Hateful Eight in time, all of which I could’ve seen breaking my list. I also missed The Revenant, which probably wouldn’t have made it anyway. I also think that in most ways a list like this is a ridiculous and meaningless exercise, but I also find it to be a consistently enjoyable mental puzzle. These are the best movies I saw this year, they were all great for different reasons, and on any given day any one reason might appeal more than another. That being said I’ve done my best to rank these as truthfully as I possibly can, both based on my perception of their quality and my personal tastes and preferences. There’s an ever-entertaining art to balancing the two, and I think that’s where the fun of these sorts of lists stems from.
Before we get into the main list, my top twenty of the year, I wanted to first cover some…
The Assassin was a damn tricky movie for me. It was, quite possibly, the most beautiful movie I saw all year. I’ve thought about individual shots and compositions from this movie regularly after seeing it. It also might have been the most boring film I watched all year. It almost lulled me to sleep at one point, and that’s a legitimate first for me. It was so beautiful though.
Queen of Earth
Queen of Earth was a pretty lovely and tense Roman Polanski inspired film. Other than some nitpicked complaints about the editing, I didn’t have much in the way of complaints about this film. It would definitely require another viewing to properly decode, which I haven’t done and might have kept it from cracking my list. As it stands, this movie stayed just an iota away from really grabbing me.
This Shakespeare adaptation kind of grew on me in retrospect. I liked it upon first viewing but found it a little distant, in a slightly unsatisfying way. It was certainly stunning visually, but it felt like it didn’t quite tackle Shakespeare’s style with any fervour. As time has worn on though, the powerful symbols and thudding pace have grown on me. I’ve certainly thought about it a fair bit. There’s something thunderous and epic about it, like an Earth song.
That’s it for my honourable mentions; time to tackle my top twenty of 2015!
If I’m being perfectly honest, Inside Out only just made my list. It seems like almost everyone liked this movie more than I did. It just didn’t fully engross me in some ways; I felt like at a few key moments it just missed fully embracing its own premise. All that being said, the premise is brilliant, and generally well handled. I didn’t mist up when the goofy sidekick faded away, but other emotional beats really worked for me. I can see why this would make it higher up on others’ lists, but in this case I thought it was a few shades away from being something I would personally love.
Goodnight Mommy reminds me a lot of Borgman, except with a twist that’s not completely buried in the abstract. This psychological horror film was nothing like I expected, but it was so brutal and menacing and sticky that I couldn’t help but like it. Plus the twist is immensely satisfying, surprisingly so. It’s a delightfully cruel horror movie that never feels crass or desperate.
Speaking of psychological horror, The Gift nicely satisfied my appetite for almost Hitchcockian horror this year. It’s another 2015 horror movie (I saw it the same day as Inside Out and FantFourStic which was pretty damn 2015) that feels cruel and brutal without ever feeling inelegant. I liked it a lot.
2015 didn’t just do horror well, it did action well too. At times. One of those times was Kingsman. From the great performances to the awesome action to the thematics to that damned church scene, Kingsman is a pretty delightful ride of a film. It’s super entertaining without being hollow.
Another horror movie I liked a lot in 2015, despite the obnoxious wave of hype that crashed against the shore and became a splash of backlash. It has an original premise that serves as a lovely horror metaphor, some great music, and some scarring moments. Basically everything you could want.
Speaking of horror – The Nightmare! This movie has to be on my list, because it literally kept me awake and scared through a whole night. The only movie that made me mistrust my own mind this year, and also the only one I might never ever watch again. Sleep paralysis sucks you guys.
Sion Sono’s kaleidoscopic genre-defying film burst its way from anonymity to getting a spot on my list. It’s surprisingly like a Grant Morrison comic in, well, a whole host of ways, so that was pretty awesome. Plus a whole bus filled with schoolgirls gets cut in half. What more could you want in a movie?
Like Inside Out, most people liked The Martian a bit more than me. I still like this movie more on paper than in actuality. I like what it stands for and what it tries to do and what its influence might be. However the final result is sort of an entertaining B for me. There’s nothing wrong with the film, but I was hardly left blown away. It’s really good, and I’m glad there’s a movie like it out, but I didn’t love it.
Now Bone Tomahawk I loved. It’s a western of the talky masculine variety that also has cannibalistic cavemen. Maybe it was a little short on the sense of quality the films in my top ten had, but I still loved it. Kurt Russell and cannibals and cowboys. That’s just too fucking damn cool.
And now the very top ten of 2015!
Ex Machina was awesome and pretty much perfect (except for that dream sequence). The performances were amazing, the concept was great, and the powerful metaphor at the heart of the film was excellently realized. It’s a stellar film.
So Steve Jobs has to be the most underrated film of 2015 right? No one went to see this movie, which is a bloody shame because it was a damn good biopic. The polar opposite of something like Trumbo, which was plagued by the most typical biopic problems ever. The smart script behind Steve Jobs smartly sidesteps these problems by utilizing a unique narrative device that allows for fun directorial decisions to boot. An excellent biopic, and an excellent film.
So The Tribe, the sign language movie, should’ve been a hollow gimmick. I’m just going to quote myself: “The Tribe is a stupendous film. Not only is it shockingly, gloriously, brutal but its stylistic choices are all perfectly contextualized when the movie is viewed as a holistic whole. The lack of an understandable language elegantly works with the fly-on-the-wall perspective frequently suggested by cinéma vérité to create a single tonal effect. The movie casts the audience as a voyeuristic fly incapable of even understanding human language. It makes this audience-as-a-fly watch these grim scenarios in semi-comprehension, which somehow makes the acts displayed feel more raw, more surreal, and more disturbing.”
Spotlight is one of 2015’s great docu-dramas. It may essentially just draw on the language of All The President’s Men, but its decision in that regard was a wise one. That particular style fits the real-life narrative perfectly, and it helps lend the movie the weight and power the topic deserved.
The Big Short
Speaking of awesome 2015 films based on real life events… It’s possible The Big Short was the most surprising film of 2015, for me. I thought it would be good, but not THIS good. It has its own, confident, style and approach, when I expected a Scorcese riff. It’s a goddamned fun, informative, gripping film filled with unusual touches and great needle drops. Fantastic performances too. Basically everything about it was fucking awesome.
This is one of those awkwardly released movies that sort of doesn’t exist in 2014 or 2015. IMDb claims it’s a 2014 film but also says it was released in January of 2015. It certainly came out in 2015 in this great northern country of Canada, so it’s making my list for this year. This is another movie that I feel I need to watch again, but as it stands I thought this movie was brilliant.
Is Creed too high on my list? I find myself wondering that. Is it really any more meaningful a movie than Bone Tomahawk? Maybe not, but I was still thoroughly engrossed by this Rocky spin-off.
Out of everything that came out in 2015, Crimson Peak might be the one that most tipped in the direction of personal preference. Guillermo Del Toro’s amazing gothic horror scratches a whole host of personal itches. I loved it close to unconditionally. Conditionally however it might be Del Toro’s best English language release yet.
Sicario is the perfect kind of grim. Elegiac, brutal, profound, and beautiful. It’s nauseating and tense and wonderful. It both caters to my personal tastes and is a fully realized piece of art.
Mad Max: Fury Road
What hasn’t already been said about the fantastically singular meeting point of art and entertainment that is Mad Max: Fury Road? It’s the best film of 2015, hands-down.