True “original” screenplays were in short supply last year, which is telling for several of my picks. Things have shifted, there is now an aggressive MO by studios big and small to explore the previously explored, and by and large that’s been a bummer. There are plenty of exceptions that prove the rule (documentary and narrative movies alike), many of which cracked my top 10. That being said, movies like “It Follows,” “Ex Machina,” and “What We Do In The Shadows” get preferential treatment in my book.
10. “Steve Jobs” (Director: Danny Boyle)
I’m a sucker for Sorkin dialogue. While “Steve Jobs” doesn’t quite live up to its spiritual predecessor, “The Social Network” (also penned by Sorkin), in terms of its story or direction, the imaginative structure, solid performances, and snappy execution of the script are enough to squeeze into my #10 spot.
9. “Cobain: Montage of Heck” (Director: Brett Morgen)
This was a deep and haunting look into the life of a man who had clearly had enough of what the world could offer. In terms of sheer devastation, I’d be hard pressed to find a more stirring film this decade.
8. “What We Do in the Shadows” (Directors: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi)
What if the cast of “The Real World” were vampires from various time periods and one of them was Jemaine from “Flight of the Concords?” That would be funnier than “The Martian.”
7. “It Follows” (Director: David Robert Mitchell)
The best friend of a good horror film is extraordinary music. Disasterpiece provides a score that harkens back to the heyday of ’80s horror and sets a brilliant tone for a film that would be lesser without it.
6. “Room” (Director: Lenny Abrahamson)
A rushed and less realistic second half had me hesitant to include “Room” on this list, but this film stuck with me and man, that kid (Jacob Tremblay) was incredible.
5. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Director: George Miller)
I can’t say much that hasn’t already been said about “Fury Road,” but I will say that this was the most fun I had at the movies this year. In a year jam-packed with sequels and reboots, “Mad Max: Fury Road” was by far the most artistically successful.
4. “The Revenant” (Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu)
I don’t care about the survivalist complaints about “The Revenant.” It was badass and there’s no way around that. This is the best offering from Iñárritu since “Amores Perros,” which isn’t saying much. Yes, it’s bleak as usual for Iñáritu but it moves toward an inevitable confrontation that doesn’t disappoint.
3. “Sicario” (Director: Dennis Villeneuve)
On paper, “Sicario” sounds like the same cartel film we get almost annually nowadays since “Traffic” (it even curbed the latter movie’s breakout star). What sets it apart are brilliant performances and suffocating tension throughout. An unexpected pivot in the third act will turn some viewers off but allowed a recently misused veteran actor showcase his strengths.
2. “Spotlight” (Director: Tom McCarthy)
The strength of “Spotlight” lies in the fact that it has an agenda but only argues from a journalistic point-of-view rather than the sensationalist point-of-view so many other agenda-driven films would (see: “99 Homes”). The best ensemble of the year (Batman, the Hulk, Sabretooth, Rachel McAdams) doesn’t hurt either.
1. “Ex Machina” (Director: Alex Garland)
This film sparked by far the most conversation and debate in my household this year. It’s rare that artificial intelligence and technological singularity is explored this smartly and pragmatically. Alex Gibney’s “Ex Machina” is tightly scripted and focused on its themes; and twists and turns abound with clear influences but simultaneously completely original.
Honorable mentions: “Inside Out,“ “Avengers: Age of Ultron,“ “The Big Short,“ “Love & Mercy,“ “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”