MY TOP 10 MOVIES FOR 2015
Every year I look back on all the films I saw and try to rank them as best I can. I watched over 100 theatrical movies so it can be a daunting task. Reviews are written shortly after having seen the film but the decision to rank everything I saw happens much later. This is an emotional decision influenced both by how I felt about the film at the time but also how it fits in now with everything else I saw. Star ratings are a guide but they don’t tell the whole story. The written review is always a better indication of how I felt.
With that said, here are 10 films I really enjoyed in 2015 followed by 10 more honorable mentions. 2015 was a great year, although I seem to say that every year.
At the heart of Brooklyn is Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant played by Saoirse Ronan. It has been said that eyes are the window to the soul. Director John Crowley utilizes this to his advantage. Sometimes the camera simply lingers on Saoirse’s expressive face. Her countenance speaks volumes, but there’s also a sophistication just in the way she carries herself. She recalls classic Hollywood with her hypnotic presence. What makes Brooklyn so affecting is the fully realized portrait of American life, as seen through her eyes. The entire composition is rather profound.
This is a meditation on love, to ponder how a parent takes the best of a bad situation and makes it presentable for their child. Rather than exploit the experience for the obvious emotional pain, she celebrates their close relationship. Author Emma Donoghue has found a unique way to detail the tender bond between a mother and her son. Room‘s exploration of love is so heartbreakingly original, it’s cathartic.
Carol is an exquisite drama that manages to capture a moment in time, not as it really was, but how we romanticize it to be. The polite nod, the gracious smile, the unspoken thought, all confirm a cultivated behavior that complements a rich visual tableau. Whether it be costumes so luxe, you can almost feel the fabric’s texture or a set design so vibrant, you believe you could step right into the frame, the display is presented with such incredible detail the screen positively bursts with the spirit of the age.
4. The Gift
What energizes the story is how Joel Edgerton’s screenplay extracts tension from the unknown. That queasy feeling you get when things are a bit off kilter but you’re not really quite sure why. The drama allows the audience to simmer for awhile in this sinister stew. I didn’t realize how much I enjoy being on edge. By the shocking climax, The Gift pushes you to the absolute brink.
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon – Starring Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman.
There’s no faster shortcut to give a narrative weight than death. The construct threatens shameless sentimentality but the way this drama unfolds, it never succumbs to that. The story slowly works its way into your heart to become a delightful charmer. Greg and Rachel are essentially forced to be together, neither particularly wanting the other’s company. It’s their accidental relationship that forms the heart of the picture.
6. Inside Out
Directed by Pete Docter – Starring Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black.
Every emotion is the key to a well adjusted human being. Pixar staddles the line between presenting it all as something a young child can comprehend but allowing just enough depth to captivate the adults in the audience. It’s still pretty straightforward, but there’s beauty in simplifying a complicated subject. Inside Out makes it all seem effortless.
Directed by George Miller – Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne.
Plotwise it’s a race to there and back again. But it’s Colin Gibson’s production design, John Seale’s cinematography, Junkie XL’s immersive score, and Jenny Beavan’s costumes that define this movie. The look is absolutely bonkers. It’s a testament to the visual and aural overload that it propels an adult like me into giddy exuberance. Mad Max: Fury Road is an all out pedal to the metal, full throttle chase with nothing held back.
The unveiling of a recognizable broken down old spacecraft shouldn’t bring tears to an adult man, but I’m embarrassed to admit it does. The recognition is what sells the picture. This is satisfying nostalgia pure and simple. Sure wrapping up a present in a bright shiny package with a big red bow isn’t innovative, but gosh darn it, it sure is appealing, and that’s exactly what I love about this film.
Tangerine pulses with the unique voice of independent film. The narrative beats with a vitality rarely seen in contemporary cinema. It’s vibrant and funny and yes at times pretty bleak. The humorous touch sometimes undone by the grim truth in the ongoing predicament of the two protagonists. One minute we’re laughing at an amusing aside, the next we’re slapped into harsh reality by dead seriousness. The humanity on display is pretty heartbreaking. Tangerine encapsulates the atmosphere of LA 2015 and distills this into a poignant chronicle for the present generation. Tangerine is the quintessential LA movie for the modern era.
What David O. Russell has done with the saga of Joy Mangano is a visionary appropriation of the facts. The director has creatively imagined Joy Mangano’s memoir as a modern day fairy tale. But Joy isn’t some woman waiting for her prince charming . She improves the very mire of her own existence with her entrepreneurial enthusiasm. The chronicle demands that we reconsider how inspirational fantasies from the likes of the Brothers Grimm, are still happening today. The hard working resolve of a single mother with a dream manifested as a glorious paean to female empowerment.
Bubbling under the Top 10
12. The Revenant
13. Goodnight Mommy
14. About Elly
16. Ex Machina
17. Bridge of Spies
18. Love & Mercy
19. The Age of Adaline
Worst of the Year
I chose what I see so I usually avoid movies I think I’ll hate. However I still manage to see some pretty dreadful films. That can be anything from an offensive “comedy” where I never laughed to a pompous arthouse film with nothing interesting to say.
I should note that Welcome to Me was too minor to even earn a review. I just linked that title to its IMDb page.