2015 was a year of careening highs and lows at the movies, but it’s comforting to know that some of the right flicks are still standing come Oscar season. Not enough, because, you know, #OscarsSoWhite, but some. I couldn’t restrict my Top 5 best-of to just a top 5, because the 6th best movie of 2015 is too good to omit from any list honoring the year’s best work.
1. “The Revenant” (Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Though we all poked fun at Alejandro González Iñárritu’s grueling process, there apparently was a method to his madness. So much Oscar-ing. I haven’t grimaced through an entire movie like this since the first “Saw” (helmed by the director of the #5 movie on this best-of list). Every shot in this movie was beautiful. It’s often hard to lose yourself in a movie with so many well-known actors, but that is not the case in “The Revenant.”
2. “Beasts of No Nation” (Director: Carey Fukunaga)
“Beasts of Nation” is great for what it is: a campy, whimsical coming-of-age film. PSYCH. “True Detective” season 1’s Carey Fukunaga delivers a gut-wrenching, heart-sickening look into the world of a child soldier (Abraham Attah). I was relieved to learn that the child actors didn’t have to actually be there on the shoot days for most of the bloodiest scenes. The characters they play are afforded none of these luxuries, and like the movie’s cub characters, the audience is forced to grow up fast. Characters who appear strong on the outside, are exposed to be as weak and as lost as the people they hurt. By the end of the movie we don’t know who the real exploiter is, the Commandant (ruthlessly played by Idris Elba), the Supreme Commander, or outside foreign interests.
3. “Ex Machina” (Director: Alex Garland)
This is not a movie about humanity and AI. This is a movie about how a woman (albeit a fem-bot, played by the ubiquitous Alicia Vikander) was able to obtain her freedom by pitting male egos against each other. Written and directed by Alex Garland, the character’s moral ambiguity is something that can be debated even after a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th watch.
4. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Director: George Miller)
It’s great to see another feminist action movie, in the tradition of peak James Cameron. A movie whose heroines (especially Charlize Theron’s Furiosa) were so bad-ass that they saved an entire population from a tyrannical psycho warlord (with Mad Max sort of just along for the ride). George Miller ratcheted up the intensity quotient to 11 on this one, starting almost right way when he totally Ned Stark-ed us with the pregnant woman dying at the beginning.
5. “Furious 7” (Director: James Wan)
James Wan accomplishes what Michael Bay could only dream of, a nonstop action extravaganza with substance. Sure there’s explosions, cars, and chicks (the classic recipe for a Bay movie), but what it dishes up in plasticity it makes up for in heart. Women are given the freedom to be not only centerpieces, but intelligent, beautiful, badasses in their own right. Plus who didn’t tear up during the “family” montage at the end?
6. “Tangerine” (Director: Sean Baker)
Rarely (if ever) does a film like this get to be made. A gritty, hilarious, uncomfortable, unflinching view into the daily life of some of society’s most forgotten people, African American trans sex workers. You may have driven by them, sat on the bus next to them, or even asked them for directions, but there are moments here–such as an explosive confrontation in a donut shop–are thrust into your face as unapologetically as the personalities of the characters themselves.
1. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” (Director: Francis Lawrence)
Aside from Philip Dan Webster’s super-cool art direction and Kurt Swanson and Bart Mueller’s super-cool costuming, “HGMK” was a one-hour-too-long cash grab. The only saving grace is that Jennifer Lawrence is a pretty decent actress and managed to almost make us care about the Peta/Gale love triangle. Also Woody Harrelson’s wig.
2. “Spectre” (Director: Sam Mendes)
EVERY. BOND. MOVIE. EVER. MADE. WAY. TOO. MANY. OUTFIT. CHANGES. Also, a question for Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux): why the FUCK would you sleep with someone who might have just killed your father?!? Plot 0/5. Gadgets 3/5.
3. “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” (Director: Joss Whedon)
Maybe it was the weird pacing, or the unnecessary sappy exchange between The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow (ScarJo) or the weird relationship between Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) felt borderline incestuous at moments. Also, how has Quicksilver died in this universe, but still alive in the “X-Men” universe? Is it because Fox owns the rights to “X-Men” (through a deal with Marvel pre-Disney) but somehow Marvel retains the rights to Quicksilver, and thus was played by two different actors? Also a super huge letdown is the very tame, adulterous romance between Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow. Why is he married? And why is he married to a basic from Ohio (Linda Cardellini)? What do they even have in common? Also why did it need to be mentioned that Black Widow is barren? So she kills people on a regular basis, but what really keeps her up at night is the fact that she can’t have biological kids? HAVE YOU NEVER HEARD OF ADOPTION?
4. “Jurassic World” (Director: Colin Trevorrow)
Not only was this literally a remake of the first movie, but with the amount of product placement we were forced to endure it felt like a long Mercedes commercial with a few dinosaurs scattered throughout. All of the human-to-human relationships lacked any real connection. There was literally ZERO chemistry between Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt. The screenplay was atrocious. Why would the military even want to weaponize raptors?? WE HAVE DRONES! I can’t even write an articulate blurb about this. I’m actually angry thinking about it. WHY DID BDH HAVE TO RUN IN HEELS THE ENTIRE MOVIE??? NO ONE WOULD FUCKING DO THAT.
5. “Paper Towns” Director: Jake Schreier)
Black Santas. Prom. Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I just gave you everything you need to know about this movie. So.. you’re fucking welcome.