It was an odd year in film for me. From the massive hysteria of actually having a new Star Wars film drop (after several viewings, the surreality of it all still lingers) to the equally brilliant small films that have garnered not even close to as much attention but stick in my thoughts for so many inspiring reasons.
While there are too many films to mention, when it comes to those that just barely missed out on this list I will entertain the several that left a lasting impression: the year’s first great release, Kingsman: the Secret Service; the insightful and infuriatingly real Spotlight; the thrilling resurgence of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and the heartfelt, nostalgic Peanuts: The Movie. Without further digression, here are my picks for the best films of 2015.
#10 – Slow West
Coming from first-time director John Maclean, Slow West is a fairytale western inspired by the pantheon of Coen brothers’ films while infusing his own brand of surreal, devilishly dark irony that constantly presents his characters in increasingly dangerous situations. Michael Fassbender steals the film as he commands his screen presence as the outlaw Silas. Also noteworthy is the cinematography and great performance from Kodi-Smit McPhee as the hopeless romantic Jay Cavendish.
#9 – Creed
No one really expected how great the seventh film in the Rocky franchise was going to be. Teaming up for the second time in their careers, director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan bring an intensity and grit to the film that has been lacking since the inaugural first Rocky film. Between the amazing feat of art that is the “one-take” fight to the emotionally complex direction given to the cast (Stallone is exceptional and heartbreaking), simply put, I cannot wait to see Creed grow in his own films to come.
#8 – Ex Machina
Taking a sci-fi high concept and rigorously refining it into a pure cinematic achievement, writer-director Alex Garland crafts a future just around the corner and traps the audience inside. Cinematography by Rob Hardy is clean and cooly dissonant as the three main characters interact and discuss what it means to be human. This heady concept is what drives the story as Domhnall Gleeson’s character is chosen by billionaire philanthropist Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) to test the recently created A.I. ‘Ava’ for human characteristics. With what may be the greatest dance scene of all year and a dissonant soundtrack that only adds to the calculated manner of the film, it works as the best original sci-fi in years.
#7 – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Before going into this film I was expecting a feeling similar to that which accompanied The Fault in Our Stars. After all, they both seemed to be about the awkward experiences cancer brings to adolescence and the quirky characters that are teenagers. While the characters in Me and Earl do have quirks, they offer a burst of emotion that is all the while more realistic and heartbreaking than the former could offer. Based off Jesse Andrew’s novel of the same name, this Sundance favourite revels in Greg Gaines’ (Thomas Mann) love for film and understands the tropes that these films usually accompany.
#6 – The Revenant
Brutal, harrowing and uncompromising. Given the struggle that the production of the film faced, these words should describe both the end product and the hell the crew went through to make it. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and his cinematographer, two-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki, create such an immersive and treacherous world for the likes of Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hardy to inhabit that the simple revenge story engulfs the viewer until the unsatisfying and uncompromising ending ushers you out of the theatre wondering what the hell you have just witnessed.
#5 – Steve Jobs
A film that was unjustly skipped for awards this season, besides the beastly performance of Michael Fassbender as Jobs himself, the film presents a unique interpretation and rumination of the behind the scenes Jobs. Superbly written by wunderkind Aaron Sorkin turning in another fantastic script, the film’s three distinct set pieces provide ample scene chewing from all of the actors but possibly the most competently-made film to come out all year.
#4 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Without any shame I have to say that I absolutely loved the experience of The Force Awakens: the shot of adrenaline that accompanies the entire film from the opening words of the crawl to the film’s last shot. While not the most put-together or best-plotted film of the year, from the acting, directing and energy of the film it is by far the biggest event of the year, thus securing a position on this list.
#3 – It Follows
This surprising, “wow, that actually kind of terrified me,” movie genuinely kick started the year for me by offering a well-made, curious genre film. Focusing on the unfortunate consequences of a teenage sexual encounter, director David Robert Mitchell shows the plight of teenager Jay as she tries to escape her death at the hands of an STD (Sexually Transmitted Demon). If that concept doesn’t draw you in, the uneasy long takes and excellent score definitely should.
#2 – Sicario
The only movie that genuinely made me feel bad as I left the theatre this year, Canadian director Denis Villenueve’s tense cartel drama drips depression and beauty from the masterful cinematography of Roger Deakins. Following the exploits of Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) as she is drafted onto a squad tasked with taking down the Mexican Cartel, we experience the confusion and murky grey area that those not directly involved in the conflict must face as the audience is shown the extent of the violence caused on both sides of the conflict and powerfully shows the darker side of America’s war on drugs.
#1 – Mad Max: Fury Road
A burst of pure cinematic excitement and passion, Mad Max: Fury Road is the movie of the year by being the best example of genre filmmaking ascending by the numbers approach so often seen with reboots, remakes and the scores of action films released nowadays. We owe 70-year-old George Miller a fiery, guitar-strumming thanks for delivering the most enjoyable and purely authentic film delivered all year. From every standpoint this is the new watermark for action cinema and possibly choreography as a whole and deserves the Oscar attention and accolades it will receive.