Top Ten Films of 2015:
It’s been a strong year for film, both in popular blockbusters and little seen indies. As usual, there’s a whole slew of features (45 Years, It Follows), documentaries (The Look of Silence, Amy) and foreign films (Son of Saul) that I haven’t seen yet, and in the coming months as I catch up this list could look very different. But from where I sit now, here are the ten best films I saw in 2015.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
To simply call Mad Max: Fury Road the greatest action film ever made weirdly feels like faint praise. Because while, yes, the action sequences are relentless, pulse-pounding and, with their reliance on practical stunts and effects, exciting in ways that most blockbusters are merely busy, they are only one part of what makes the film so special. Fury Road is also a masterwork of world building, with everything from the script to the performances (Charlize Theron’s already iconic performance as Furiosa especially) to the cinematography to the production design so perfectly calibrated that it feels like a direct link into an alternate dystopian universe. Within this world, between (and even during) the action, Miller manages to weave a heady parable about the dangers of unchecked environmental disaster, of hyper masculine fascism, of religious extremism and, most powerfully, feminist strength and its potential for rebirth. This is widescreen fantasy at its most transporting, executed with such craft and passion that it makes other films of its size look downright silly. So, Mad Max: Fury Road is not just the greatest action movie ever – it’s a masterpiece, through and through, and easily one of the best films of the decade.
Spotlight is set in poorly lit newspaper offices and dumpy courtrooms. Its characters are dressed in business casual and eat leftover takeout. It’s a tale of journalists doing the hard work of journalism – specifically, unearthing clergy abuse in Boston. And it’s absolutely riveting. The ensemble cast – from Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci down to actors with only one or two lines – is uniformly spectacular. Tom McCarthy, who wrote and directed, places the film so firmly in our recognizable reality that its revelations feel both disturbing and deeply true.
3. The Big Short
Not only does The Big Short attempt to explain the financial crisis of 2008 in terms that are neither confusing nor boring, but it also tries to get us to root for guys who see the shitstorm coming and try to profit from it. And – surprise – the film not only works, but it is one of the more entertaining (and infuriating) films of the year.
Anomalisa is despairing and hilarious, mundane and creepy, misanthropic and wildly romantic. Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion feature reveals itself slowly and evaluates loneliness and isolation in a way no film ever has before.
As written by Nick Hornby, Brooklyn is a luscious old school romance that boldly looks cliché in the eye before smartly turning away and blazing its own path.
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara play lovers who never deny who they are or express shame for their desire in this lush melodrama from Todd Haynes.
A chaotic, almost farcical, but is ultimately a touching tale of love, friendship and acceptance in the Los Angeles transgender community.
8. Beasts of No Nation
Taking place in an unnamed African nation where children are recruited to be soldiers is both horrific and dreamlike – Oliver Twist meets Apocalypse Now.
A nerve wracking, fascinating and brutal look at the drug war on both sides of the Mexican border.
10. Love & Mercy
An atypical music biopic featuring Paul Dano and John Cusack playing The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson at very different points in his life.