2015 was one of the best years for film in a long time. It treated us to a diverse set of female stories, smaller films that made big waves, and the long-awaited return to a galaxy far, far away. These are my personal picks for the Top 10 movies of 2015.
I reviewed Brooklyn already for the blog, which you can see here. In short, it is my number one of the year because of its poetic and tender examination of what it means to leave home, led by an incredible performance from Saoirse Ronan. The sweeping, gorgeous film-making evokes classic Hollywood, as if Brooklyn stepped out from the very era it depicts
2. Ex Machina
Taking my review from Screenqueens: Ex Machina is one of the most daring, original and creative films of the year and one of the finest sci-fi films ever made. The film uses incredible practical effects and minimal CGI to craft a haunting realism. The gorgeous mountain exteriors and clinical futuristic interiors swiftly juxtapose the themes of nature vs. technology. The twist and turns of the story will leave you breathless and electrified. Ex Machina is a small film, almost like a play with its four-member cast, with big ideas. Ex Machina deftly explores the questions of ‘what is humanity? Is it merely the confines of our body or does it lie within the mind? Does the mind have a gender? Can societal gender roles extend to intelligent life?’ And, most importantly, it has Oscar Isaac disco dancing.
3. Son of Saul
Son of Saul is one of the finest achievements in cinema history, a top contender for Best Foreign Film and should be in the running for Best Picture as well. Son of Saul, (similar to, yet with some differences from Steve Buscemi’s fantastic The Grey Zone) journeys literally alongside, filmed from the shoulders or thirty inches near the head, of a concentration camp inmate named Saul. Saul discovers the body of his son and takes the risk of going out to bury his body properly. Director László Nemes makes the brilliant choices to shoot in film and in 35mm (a square). These choices craft a claustrophobic, overwhelming and intense experience and situates the viewer directly alongside the main character’s heart wrenching journey. Son of Saul, like its subject matter, is incredibly grim and intense. Yet it has a harsh beauty that makes for a riveting and personal piece of cinema.
Told from the perspective of a 5-year-old boy, the novel of Room seemed virtually unadaptable. Yet the author Emma Donahuge turns out a brilliant screenplay, led by director Lenny Abrahamson and the incredible performances of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Larson has rightfully been stirring up Oscar buzz for her work, but Tremblay also deserves to be recognized. The talented a young actor to gives a mature and nuanced performance. Room is both harrowing and hopeful, taking a grim subject (too familiar from our own world) and turning it into an uplifting cinematic journey.
5. Inside Out
I also reviewed this for the blog, which you can read here. Inside Out is a universal story that touches across generations, exploring the painful and beautiful nature of growing up. Inside Out examines not only the often conflicting emotions that you go through, but also what you must leave behind in order to move forward. Inside Out manages to carve a deep and poignant place in your heart, its emotional gravitas buoyed by the infectious humor from the colorful characters. Amy Poehler, Lewis Black and Phyllis Smith give phenomenal voice performance that expertly embody the emotions they portray. And personally, I can’t even watch this movie without crying the entire time. Inside Out is destined to become a childhood Pixar classic for years to come.
Spotlight is this generation’s All the President’s Men, portraying the excitement, pain, fear, anger and elation that is the whirlwind of investigative journalism. Spotlight follows the true-life story of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, journalists who uncover corruption and sexual abuse within the Catholic church. (For more on that subject, I highly recommend the documentary Deliver Us from Evil) The cast is fantastic, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Broadway’s Brian D’Arcy James, and particularly standing out is Mark Ruffalo. He deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Spotlight captures the old-school ethos of investigative writing, journalists who care about exposing the truth, rather than today’s culture of click-baiting, and the integrity of writers will do anything in their power to get it.
7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
It’s true! The hype surrounding Star Wars lives up, and the franchise has been redeemed from sins of prequel past. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is nostalgia negotiating with itself at its best, and in my opinion blows Jurassic World out of the water. (And you can take the fake-looking Mosasaurus with you) The Force Awakens is a joyous thrill-ride from start to finish, one that dutifully honors its predecessor (even if it’s virtually the same as a A New Hope…) It is also absolutely wonderful to have the cast of newcomers be two POC and a woman and all equally well-written characters. John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac have infectious energies that seem to make you even more excited than you already are to be watching the film. For such a popular franchise to have these achievements and serve a fantastic story (sadly, it is a feat in Hollywood today for them to do this…) makes the return to the beloved galaxy all the more sweeter.
8. The Walk
The Walk, directed by Robert Zemeckis, was absolutely breathtaking in IMAX 3D, likely the best I’ve ever seen in that format. Based on the real life story and subject of the documentary Man on Wire, Philippe Petit walked across the World Trade Center on a tight rope. The 3D format and Zemeckis’ adventurous camerawork truly puts you on the tightrope alongside him. My palms were sweating the entire time! It’s an effervescent tale, jubilant in energy yet also serving as a beautiful tribute to the towers itself. No doubt the horror of 9/11 is still on one’s mind when viewing, as it always is conjured whenever we see images of the towers. The Walk, especially in the last few tender lines, celebrates the towers’ beauty. The film manages to bring some light to the darkness that has shadowed that imagery for so long.
Meadowland is a searing portrait of the grief after losing a child. Although this subject has been explored time and time again with films such as Rabbit Hole and Cake, Meadowland takes it further. It explores just how far the physical and emotional tolls on someone can go. Meadowland’s structure is a series of vignettes, small and fractured glimpses into the characters’ shattered lives. Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson and captivating as the broken parents and Meadowland is as raw and searing as their wounds.
10. Slow West
The colors of the expanse pale blue skies and bright yellow grass pop and sparkle under John Maclean’s direction. This gorgeous Western manages to deftly balance the tenderness of young love, nuanced characters, splashy violent shootouts and absurdities. Slow West is the typical story of a journey across the wilderness on a quest told in an atypical way. Slow West brings a touch of whimsy that is not often seen in the genre, a refreshing and original western that shows the beauty and allure of days in the Old West.
Honorable Mentions: Carol, Legend, The Martian, Tangerine, Trainwreck
I have not seen The Hateful Eight, Anamolisa, The Revenant, or The Danish Girl.