All in all, 2015 was a pretty decent year for film. It didn’t quite reach the heights of 2014, which I think had three American cinematic masterpieces (“Birdman,” “Boyhood,” and “Whiplash”). I’m not sure there was one true masterpiece this year, and there were some major disappointments (“The Revenant,” “The Hateful Eight”), but with that being said, I did enjoy quite a few flicks. Here’s my top ten of the year, followed by my bottom five.
10. “What Happened Miss Simone?” (Director: Liz Garbus)
Nina Simone was a once-in-a-lifetime musical genius and her story is a fascinating and timely one. It makes for the best documentary of the year.
9. “Applesauce” (Director: Onur Tukel)
This Woody Allen-esque film is the best outright comedy of the year but no one saw it.
8. “Maps to the Stars” (Director: David Cronenberg)
This scathing take on Hollywood is a return to form for David Cronenberg. I have to admit, sometimes Julianne Moore’s appeal can be lost on me, but I really loved her performance in this.
7. “The End of the Tour” (Director: James Ponsoldt)
David Foster Wallace was an incredibly compelling person, and Jason Segel does a surprisingly great job of capturing that. I loved the exploration of that very rare experience of- what happens when you achieve what you’ve always wanted?
6. “Anomalisa” (Directors: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson)
Charlie Kaufman has us experience the world through the eyes of an incredibly sad, pathetic puppet-man, and it’s some of the most inventive storytelling this year.
5. “Ex Machina” (Director: Alex Gibney)
“Ex Machina” is such a well crafted movie. The cinematography, score, pacing, and performances are all excellent, and I found the film’s exploration of what makes us human, fascinating. I look forward to whatever Alex Garland does next.
4. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Director: George Miller)
This was my favorite theatre experience of the year. In a sea of hackneyed, stale action movies, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a unique and truly exciting gem. For a movie that’s essentially one long action set piece, I was surprised at how engaged I was by the end of the film. It felt dangerous. It felt like it had actual stakes. It really put into perspective how lacking the world of American action movies is right now.
3. “Carol” (Director: Todd Haynes)
How “Carol” didn’t get nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards boggles me. It includes arguably career-best performances from movie stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as the film’s star crossed, lesbian lovers. The set design and costumes are as good as it gets. With its beautiful 16mm film capture, it’s absolutely the best looking film of the year (eehhhh, screw “The Revenant” and its one-trick-pony, wide-angled, slutty camera work). This is an issue film! Maybe its underwhelming Oscar reception is a sign that we’re maturing as a society and we’re finally past homosexuality being a hot-button topic? I don’t know, either way, we should never really take the Academy Awards too seriously.
“Carol” is an incredibly mature and expertly crafted film about two people who take the big leap and fall in love during a time when their particular kind of love was treated like leprosy. At it’s heart it’s a film about romance against all the odds, and it’s fascinating.
2. “James White” (Director: Josh Mond)
While “Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl” was the trendiest cancer movie to come out of Sundance this year, “James White” was the most honest one. Christopher Abbott (from “Girls”) delivers a powerful, career-making performance as the title character, a self destructive young man who’s prone to alcohol abuse and violence, but redeems himself when he sacrifices his own well-being to take care of his dying, cancer-stricken mother.
As James’ mother, Cynthia Nixon deserved more awards attention for being brave enough to portray someone dying in the least Hollywood way possible. It’s an ungraceful and vulnerable performance.
This is not an easy movie. It captures the slow, messy, and heartbreaking experience of watching a loved one die in the most realistic way I’ve ever seen on film. In doing so, it is also one of the most beautiful films of 2015.
1. “Beasts of No Nation” (Director: Carey Fukunaga)
It’s a shame that “Beasts of No Nation” hasn’t made more of a splash in the year-end awards and lists, because I can’t think of a single cinematic experience this year that hit me harder. It’s not a perfect film, and I don’t even think its the best made movie of the year (that would go to my #3 pick), but Cary Fukunaga’s descent into the nightmarish world of African child soldiers floored me.
Idris Elba does some of his best work as the vile but charismatic Commandant, the rebel leader of an army that uses child soldiers, but the real find here is Abraham Attah as Agu, the child through whose eyes we experience this entire world.
There’s a scene near the end of the film where Agu, now rescued and essentially with PTSD, struggles to express his experiences to a crisis-counselor. It’s the best performance in the best scene of any movie this year, and all by a kid who had never acted before. I loved this movie. It’s a shame that much of our desensitized society disagrees.
Bottom 5 (in no particular order):
“Knock, Knock” (Director: Eli Roth)
Keanu Reeves endearingly gives his (very limited) all here, but it’s for naught. Eli Roth is a terrible person.
“The Hateful Eight” (Director: Quentin Tarantino)
Quentin Tarantino’s worst film by a landslide. When he started to narrate his own film, I almost walked out of the theatre. I should have.
“Love” (Director: Gaspar Noe)
Gaspar Noe has nothing left to say as a filmmaker.
“Youth” (Director: Paolo Sorrentino)
For a movie that’s supposed to take the perspective of a man in his late 70’s who’s lived an entire lifetime, it’s incredibly immature.
“White God” (Director: Kornel Mondruzco)
I don’t know what else to say besides this movie is insufferably stupid.