Year in Review: The Best Films of 2015
It’s been another outstanding year at the movies. Hollywood dished out some amazing blockbusters, funny women took over the screen, and the Western made an astonishing comeback. Some of the best movies this year went on to rank among the top grossing of 2015, while others have yet to open locally – but that only means that we have something to look forward to during the move drought that is January. But before we dive into the greatest of the year, here’s a list of the best films you almost certainly did not see. Fear not – you can rectify that situation by finding these on demand, online, on Blu Ray or DVD.
Best Movies You Probably Missed:
- Bone Tomahawk: Kurt Russell’s second Western this year is a slow train to horror.
- Mistress America: Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach re-team for a talky image of self-delusion and an ode to the written word.
- Slow West: A powerful less-is-more Western sees innocence amid decay with a magnificent cast including Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn.
- Tangerine: Make this one a Christmas tradition – a day in the life has rarely been so raw, charming, or strewn with the word “bitch.”
- The Tribe: Harsh, dark, and brilliant – the film gives you no hint at what’s being said, requiring that you comprehend the action on a more primal level.
- Turbo Kid: A retro-futuristic Saturday morning kids show on acid, this film will overjoy the ten year old boy inside each of us.
- The Nightmare: Good God, this is scary! This documentary on sleep paralysis will, I promise, make you afraid to go to sleep.
- How to Dance in Ohio: Filmed right here in Cbus, this is a moving and beautifully told coming of age tale.
- Mississippi Grind: Two gamblers – one a smooth talking charmer (Ryan Reynolds) and the other a desperate loser (Ben Mendelsohn, having an outstanding year) – team up for a high stakes road trip to New Orleans, taking all the action they can along the way.
Honestly, there are too many underseen gems to list, but that’s a good start. But before you hit up Netflix or Red Box, time to run through the very best films the year had to offer.
And here are the ten best films released in 2015.
10. It Follows
David Robert Mitchell invites you to the best American horror film in more than a decade. It’s the STD of scary movies, but don’t let that dissuade you. Mitchell understands the anxiety of adolescence and he has not simply crafted yet another cautionary tale about premarital sex. He borrows from a number of coming of age horror shows, but his film is confident enough to pull it off without feeling derivative in any way. The writer/director takes familiar tropes and uses them with skill to lull you with familiarity, and then terrify you with it. [CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW]
9. The Hateful Eight
Retro stylings, wicked humor, a deliberate pace, and thirst quenching frontier justice mark Tarantino’s eighth picture – a film that intentionally recalls not only the more bombastic Westerns of bygone cinema, but many of QT’s own remarkable films. Kurt Russell is a bounty hunter escorting the murderous Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to hang, but they won’t make that last stage to Red Rock because of this blizzard. Hell, they may never make it to Red Rock at all. H8 opens as a true Western, but it soon settles into something closer to an Agatha Christie-style whodunit. Although I’m not sure Christie ever got quite so bloody.
Badass Emily Blunt, flippant Josh Brolin, and haunting Benicio Del Toro anchor Denis Villeneuve’s visually mesmerizing tale of moral ambiguity on the Southern border. Villeneuve walks a line between thoughtful drama and all out action film, never abandoning character while still creating arresting, unforgettable action sequences. The opening scene will stay with you, while two different visits to the border – one above ground, one below – are pure cinematic genius. [CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW]
7. Inside Out
At their best, Pixar films resonate with both infectious fun and relatable emotion, and with Inside Out, they return to the “secret world” theme they know well. There’s no denying this is just a brilliant premise – a look at the emotions running the switchboard inside your brain – boasting perfect execution by a veteran team. The voice talent is stellar, particularly Lewis Black (Angry? Who’d have thought?) and Phyllis Smith, who makes Sadness a lovable, unlikely hero by reminding us that sometimes, it’s okay to be sad. And that’s the real beauty of Inside Out. While you’re laughing at those silly emotions, the film is gently tugging at yours. Once again, Pixar examines the changing phases of life with charm, humor, and a subtle intelligence that can’t help but give you a fresh appreciation for all the jumbled feelings that make life worth living.
Oh, Carol, what a mesmerizing, captivating, utterly beautiful web you weave. Director Todd Haynes has crafted a keenly insightful love story full of bittersweet grace, propelled by two glorious performances. Expect Oscar nominations for both Cate Blanchett as unhappily married Carol, and Rooney Mara as the department store clerk awakened when Carol visits her counter at Christmastime. A meticulously crafted time piece akin to Haynes’s wonderful Far From Heaven, Carol aches with restrained longing and love.
5. Ex Machina
What an irresistible treat Ex Machina is – smart, seductive and wickedly funny, boasting glorious visuals, stirring performances, and big ideas guaranteed to linger like a dream you just can’t shake. It is the directorial debut from veteran writer Alex Garland, and instantly marks him as one of the most promising dual threats in film. The ever-versatile Oscar Isaac is mesmerizing in a tour de force performance that dares you to look away. Sci Fi and horror films have long provided glimpses into a particular generation through the fears and anxieties that manifest on screen. Anchored in science, sex, and creation (sound familiar?), Ex Machina is an insightful, deliciously fun time capsule we need to open right now.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
To say that George Miller has stepped up his game since he left us at Thunderdome would be far too mild a statement. Mad Max: Fury Road is not just superior to everything in this franchise, it’s among the most exhausting, thrilling, visceral action films ever made. Tom Hardy delivers a perfect, guttural performance as the road warrior. As his reluctant partner in survival, Charlize Theron is the right mix of compassion and badassedness. Hardy’s a fascinating, mysterious presence, but Theron owns this film. There’s real craftsmanship involved here – in the practical effects, the pacing, the disturbing imagery, and the performances that hold it all together – that marks not just a creative force at the top of his game, but a high water mark for summer blockbusters. [CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW]
The Catholic Church sex abuse scandal is a difficult cinematic subject to handle with integrity. Luckily, a filmmaker of Tom McCarthy talent chose to tackle the topic with this magnificent film. His inroad is the 2002 Boston Globe story that exposed systemic, generations-long abuses in Boston and the surrounding areas. With understated grace and attention to the minutia of journalism, Spotlight sidesteps melodrama at every turn, never glorifying its reporters or wallowing in the lurid. It poignantly grieves the loss of faith that haunts not only the victims, but those confronted with the systemic cover-up and enabling of the abuse. This is as observant a film as you will find, delicately crafted and brimming with sincere, multi-dimensional performances. It is required viewing.
2. The Revenant
Based loosely on the true tale of 19th Century American frontiersman Hugh Glass, the film treks behind Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio – who can take a beating) as he crawls across hundreds of the most formidable miles to avenge a mighty wrong. With no more than 15 lines in English, DiCaprio manages to capture the essence of this grieving survivor brought to his most primal self. Tom Hardy is once again an utterly compelling presence as Glass’s nemesis John Fitzgerald. Other actors might have read this character as flatly backwoods evil, but Hardy never forgets Fitzgerald’s humanity, giving the villain depth, humor, even sympathy. After winning the Oscar last year for Birdman, director Alejandro Innaritu takes the human journey toward redemption to the out of doors with a brutally gorgeous, punishingly brilliant film.
Director Lenny Abrahamson creates a meticulously crafted, lived-in world – a world that should look like nothing we have ever seen or could ever imagine – that manages to resonate with beautifully universal touches. The undeniably talented Brie Larson gives a career-defining performance, conjuring emotions so tumultuous as to be nearly impossible to create, but does it with rawness that feels almost too real. But it is young Jacob Tremblay who ensures that the film won’t soon be forgotten. Where did Abrahamson find such a natural performer? Because an awful lot rests on those wee shoulders, and it’s the sincerity in this performance that keeps you utterly, breathlessly riveted every minute, and also bathes an otherwise grim tale in beauty and hope.
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