Published on January 1st, 2016 | by Dan Gvozden0
Top 10 Films of 2015
When looking back on my year at the cinema in 2015, I can’t help but be disappointed with the output, especially when put in direct comparison to my experiences in 2014. That said, I’m left with a ton of optimism about the state of cinema because if one thing is clear about 2015 it’s that we’ve rarely, if ever, seen a more diverse and inclusive offering of films. This is the year that Hollywood fully embraced the feminine hero and took risks with films aimed at minorities that paid off big. I can only hope that this trend continues into 2016.
It is an exciting time to be a cinephile and to share your love of film with that world. So in that spirit, I present my top 10 films of 2015, from the 247 I saw this year:
10. “The Hateful Eight”
If you wanted to watch a film in 2015, presented through actual film running through a projector, chances are you’d be out of luck. Yet, just like Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, moments after its apparent death, film projection was resurrected by director Quentin Tarantino. The 70mm roadshow of Tarantino’s eighth film, aptly titled The Hateful Eight, was the return to form for the director that I so desperately desired and an unbeatable cinematic experience at the theater, complete with overture and intermission. At three and half hours, the film is a lengthy, controlled epic, the likes of which are rarely released; but instead being the typical sweeping western, The Hateful Eight is a mystery chamber drama between eight incredibly well-realized characters. Tarantino’s control over his story can sometimes be borderline arrogant, but for me there’s no greater pleasure than knowing I’m in the hands of a master craftsman.
9. “Ex Machina”
Alex Garland’s directorial debut surprised me with its incredible balance between a commitment to presenting a grounded science fiction concept and finding the inherent drama within. Computer programmer Caleb is invited, by lottery, to a remote facility to test the mysterious Nathan’s latest android, named Ava, to determine whether she’s the world’s first artificial intelligence. Backed by three outstanding performances by Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina twists and turns in a completely unusual manner, with crisp, clean visuals that create an otherworldly atmosphere that quickly becomes hypnotic.
Shot on an iPhone, there is no film that better captures the energy and spirit of the independent film world than Sean Baker’s Tangerine. Following a day in the life of trans sex workers Sin-Dee Rella and Alexandra, this comedy begins when Alexandra accidently reveals to Sin-Dee that her boyfriend/pimp Chester has been cheating on her. This sends Sin-Dee on a wild chase to find Chester and give him a piece of her mind. The film has an incredibly unique visual style and larger than life personalities that grated on me at the start. However, Tangerine’s comedic bent and incredible precision slowly won me over to the point that I was hugely emotionally moved by the protagonists’ friendship and devastated by the destructive nature of their work.
7. “Inside Out”
After a string of less-than-perfect films, I thought the Pixar magic had run out. Then they released Inside Out, their best film yet. By personifying emotions inside of a young girl’s mind and tying their actions with serious consequences in her life, every single detail in the film became incredibly important and interesting. Pixar packed this world of the mind with some truly hilarious and thoughtful ideas that always made obvious sense. Not only did this brilliant creative team invent a new way to talk about mental health, they’ve crafted an incredibly entertaining film that can be viewed by kids but is intended for adults.
6. “The End of the Tour”
My Dinner With Andre proved that sometimes a great conversation can make for great cinema. The End of the Tour happens to feature dozens of great conversations between David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), as the former interviews the latter for Rolling Stone following the release of “Infinite Jest.” The film’s performances are so sharp that every word, gesture, and look takes on a different meaning and as the two become actively competitive and antagonistic towards each other, the film becomes a tug of war as each tries to get what they want without crossing the line.
5. “The Revenant”
Last year, Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. That he followed that film up with the harrowing and beautiful The Revenant, a stupendous, nearly-silent, action film that is not only more thoughtful than Birdman but also more technically accomplished, completely astounded me. Iñárritu’s vision of Hugh Glass’s tortured journey towards revenge across a hellish Lousiana Purchase landscape is uncompromising and Leonardo DiCaprio commits himself to the role to the point that The Revenant becomes nearly painful to watch.
Few films ever surprise me in the way that Victoria did, so the less said about it the better. What I can say about the film is that it became famous for its incredibly unique filming style, with the final film consisting of only one single continuous shot. Yes, for its two hour and fifteen minute runtime, Victoria never cuts and never releases the audience from the grip of its naturalistic performances and unfolding drama. Don’t read anything more about Victoria, give it a rent and succumb to this wonderful rollercoaster ride through the power of raw cinema.
Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s stop-motion animated film looks unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, often teetering on the uncanny valley of photo-realism while also embracing the raw materials of their puppets. Supported by and despite the animation style, Anomalisa emerges as the most human and nuanced film of the year as it explores the innate difficulty and ultimate importance of human connection and the dangers of cynicism and self-imposed loneliness with a sense of humor and a touch of madness.
2. “The Look of Silence”
Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated 2012 documentary, The Act of Killing exposed the horrors behind the mass executions in Indonesia and the men that continue to be celebrated within the country for committing these unspeakable crimes. The Look of Silence tackles the genocide from a different and entirely more personal angle. Oppenheimer follows the young optometrist Adi as he confronts the men responsible for killing his brother. This film stares directly into the face of evil and realizes that perhaps even evil doesn’t blink. It’s a film that needs to be seen by all and one that made me come to terms with my own evils.
1. “Mad Max: Fury Road”
In era of blockbusters that seem factory produced to stimulate audiences and exploit nostalgia (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World), Mad Max: Fury Road powers ahead to the beat of its own wholly unique drum and captures the spirit of big blockbuster entertainment better than any film this decade. This is a non-stop thrill-ride that doesn’t rely on the trappings that trip up most modern action films. Director George Miller perfects the Mad Max formula with the help of Cirque du Soleil stuntmen, pulse-pounding musicians, jaw-dropping visuals, tactile practical effects, intricate production design, and the best action choreography this side of a flame-throwing guitar, all without trading on nostalgia for a second. As if being the perfect action spectacular wasn’t enough, Miller throws out the script that says men have to dominate the action drama and allows Charlize Theron to steal the show as the indomitable Furiosa.
11. The Big Short
14. 99 Homes
15. We Come As Friends
19. Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
20. Love and Mercy