As anyone who I’ve kept up regular contact with will probably know, my interests have shifted a bit from music to film (what I got my degree in) – hence a shift in this blog. I watch a lot more movies than I do listen to music at this point (I’ve seen well over 100 films from 2015 this year just to put things into perspective). Hopefully those who retain an interest in this blog and my writing and filmmaking and other stuff find this list at least somewhat interesting and maybe check out some of these films (if you haven’t seen them already).
I’ll start of with 10 films that I really liked (the runner-ups I guess) and then my favorite short film released this year before getting into the actual top 15.
10 Additional Films:
Anomalisa (dir. Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson)
Bone Tomahawk (dir. S. Craig Zahler)
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (dir. Marielle Heller)
The Duke of Burgundy (dir. Peter Strickland)
Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland)
Inside Out (dir. Pete Docter)
Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller)
Magic Mike XXL (dir. Gregory Jacobs)
The Treasure (dir. Corneliu Porumboiu)
Yakuza Apocalypse (dir. Takashi Miike)
Best Short Film:
World of Tomorrow (dir. Don Hertzfeldt)
Don “The Master” Hertzfeldt returned this year with another short that pretty much encapsulates life and existence in general in under 20 minutes. His stick-figure drawing mixed with a newfound use of computer generated imagery just feels like a natural fit. Full of color set against these simplistic drawings, he manages to convey so much with so little.
Top 15 Films of 2015:
15) Creed (dir. Ryan Coogler)
Here’s the thing, I’m not even really a fan of the Rocky movies. None of them do a whole lot for me, for as widely liked and respected as they are, they aren’t films that hold a high place for me. Now going into this film (having been a fan of Coogler’s first film Fruitvale Station and grown into a fan of Michael B. Jordan) I was hoping it would be enjoyable – and that was about it. But I found myself really invested in the characters and what was going on, despite how much the film makes use of the boxing formula. Throw into the mix the great boxing scenes (that one-shot!!!), surprisingly great acting (Sly is really, really good!!!), and being actually fun to watch (it is a popcorn movie at its core) and you get a great and entertaining movie.
14) Sicario (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Mr. Villeneuve has really come into his own as a filmmaker in the last couple of years. Ever since his 2010 film Incendies was nominated for an Oscar, he’s really developed into one of the most interesting filmmakers working today. Following that one up with the one-two hit of the dark and brooding thriller Prisoners and the surreal fever-dream Enemy, his take on a drug cartel/drug-trade film proves to be one of the best crime thrillers released this year. Full of some of the tensest scenes you’ll see all year (that traffic-jam man…) and shot with typically astonishing imagery by Roger Deakins, along with a grade-A cast delivering some of their strongest work to date as well and my personal favorite score from this year, this proved to be the best and most brutal thriller of the year – hands down.
13) The Hateful Eight (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
To those who know me, my feelings towards Mr. Tarantino and his filmography are quiet well known. While I think he is a perfectly fine filmmaker, he is by no means one of my favorites (I will readily admit to saying that I find him quite overrated in my opinion), he has made several films which are perfectly enjoyable and fun to watch but I find his pacing, more often than not, to be exaggerated and often quite lacking in terms of restraint. This new film is his longest, yet for me, it was his best since his 1992 debut Reservoir Dogs and his most purely enjoyable since his Kill Bill films. It’s by far the man’s most nihilistic and politically observed film to date but it also makes use of genres that I tend to typically find more interesting (whodunit & horror) while in disguise of a western. It boasts typically stellar performances from the cast, most notably a stellar Walton Goggins, and extremely fun dialogue. It’s probably the most fun I’ve had watching a Tarantino in a long, long time.
12) James White (dir. Josh Mond)
An exceptional directorial debut from Josh Mond with stellar performances from a committed cast – including a breakout one from rising star Christopher Abbott. The film itself is an intimate character portrait focusing on the titular James White, a twentysomething attempting to survive after his father passes away and his mother faces the reemergence of a series illness. Whether he tries to deal with it through heavy drinking and partying in New York City or away during a trip to Europe, he is unable to fully remove himself from the responsibilities of adulthood forever. It’s remarkable how committed to both tone and reality the filmmakers and cast were because James is by no means a easy to like protagonist and is more often than not quite hard to tolerate, but as we spend more and more time with him and the walls begin to come down he becomes perhaps the most sympathetic character to appear on screen all year.
11) Steve Jobs (dir. Danny Boyle)
What can one say about Mr. Aaron Sorkin’s prowess as a writer that hasn’t already been stated by hundreds of other sites already. The man is without a doubt one of America’s greatest screenwriters. So I guess what little I’ll add to the already enormous amounts of praise that this film got (although it did receive little love from audiences – for shame) is that the performances and direction are spot on. We all know how great Michael Fassbender is, and while picking out a favorite or what one could consider to be his best, his performance as the titular Steve Jobs here is definitely among them. He literally disappears into the role, not so much physically – but by the end of the movie I had forgotten I was even watching him act. It just felt like I was watching Steve Jobs. Then you have great performances from the likes of Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, and Jeff Daniels (among others). Boyle is a director who is very flashy and his films are usually full of energy (though camera movement as well as quick cuttting), but here he really pulls back on all those ticks to make the piece, as a whole, feel more constrained but never stagy.
10) The Forbidden Room (dir. Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson)
I’m by no means an expert on the work of Mr. Maddin. The handful of films I’ve seen from him thus far have all given me very different results (in terms of how I feel towards them – just to clarify). But whatever my proclivities towards his oeuvre may be, his latest (and first in collaboration with Evan Johnson) is undoubtably the best I’ve seen from him thus far. As with all of his work, aesthetically, he draws upon silent and early sound cinema but the actual narrative presented here is a Russian doll of a film that features stories within stories within stories in a constantly unfolding manner. I realize that may just sound like a headache and a half of a film but not only is it engaging, it’s completely absurd and hilarious.
9) The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
This was one of my most anticipated films of this year. With a great ensemble cast and a strange, Greek art-house director making his first film in the English language and with a premise as bizarre as this one – how could I not be? And the film did not disappoint. As with all of Lanthimos’ films, this one occupies some strange world of the absurd where the craziness of the idea isn’t that far off of reality itself. Essentially it’s a science-fiction romantic comedy played extremely straight and dead-pan (perhaps my favorite type of comedy) with performances from a fully dedicated cast (including a career highlight from Colin Farrell as the lead). It’s funny, it’s tragic, and it’s moving – what more could you want from a rom-com?
8) Cemetery of Splendour (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Like all of Weerasethakul’s films, Cemetery of Splendour features an elegiac and meditative pacing that makes his work quite unlike anyone else’s. Making surrealism feel more natural and ordinary than what one probably expects from the “genre/style”. Indeed the tone of the film is fitting given that it focuses on a woman who begins a relationship with a soldier diagnosed with a sleeping disease. It would be very understandable if you were to simply drift off to sleep while watching this, as there’s certainly nothing immediate going on here. It’s deliberate pacing lulling the viewer into a calm before smacking them in the face with a hell of an ending.
7) Mistress America (dir. Noah Baumbach)
I used to have quite a contentious relationship with the work of Noah Baumbach. To date I still find the majority of his early work quite annoying, but ever since I saw Frances Ha I’ve warmed to his filmography. Since that film came out, I’ve gone back and watched the films he made in the mid-to-late 2000s and have found them much warmer and inviting than I once did. In addition to that both films he released this year (this film and While We’re Young which was released earlier in the year) were very well made and entertaining and relatable – I liked them both a lot is the core of what I’m saying here. This film here is perhaps his most likable yet, with the always fantastic Greta Gerwig (who co-wrote this film with Baumbach) and up-and-coming Lola Kirke providing a great dynamic that is both funny and relatable but not softballing the darker edges present in either of their characters.
6) Arabian Nights (dir. Miguel Gomes)
If there was one director whose work grew on me this year, it was that of Portuguese critic turned director Miguel Gomes. His fusions of documentary and fiction are some of the most interesting and realized I’ve seen in quite a while. I say his work grew on me mainly because having seen Tabu, his film from 2012 which I didn’t care for at all, aside (which I still need to rewatch, this and his 2008 film Our Beloved Month of August both really impressed me. This film in particular, a six-plus hour epic split into 3 chapters/films that explore the socio-political climate of Portugal between 2013-2014 through various vignettes which include everything from a docudrama about a director attempting to make a film just like this (the director played by Gomes himself), a wandering criminal in the wilderness, a documentary about finches, a group of politicians who grow large penises, and many more. For as long as it is, I personally found it always engaging, fascinating, and more often than not, hilarious.
5) Embrace of the Serpent (dir. Ciro Guerra)
A total surprise from this year. I had read like one review from when this played at Cannes and when it played at CIFF I knew I had to catch it just cause it sounded so cool. The story of two separate expeditions into the Amazon Rain forest in search of a mystical plant both connected by the same native man who leads the explorer further into the jungle. It’s a film that is incredibly psychedelic in its presentation, often hypnotizing. By channeling some far reaching influences it feels less like the typical adventure film and more akin to something like a Fitzcarraldo or Aguirre, the Wrath of God if Ken Russell had a hand in the script. It’s totally intoxicating and a real gem worth seeking out.
4) Entertainment (dir. Rick Alverson)
Rick Avlerson has slowly and steadily been developing into one of the most interesting filmmakers working here in the US for several years now. Starting his career off with two small indie dramas before taking a hard left-turn with 2012’s The Comedy starring Tim Heidecker. Exchanging quiet and somber tones for a much bleaker and harsh style that featured much more verbose and unlikeable characters which proved to be both a breakout and a breaking point, depending on who you ask. Entertainment feels like an extension of his previous film, this one also co-written with Heidecker (who has a small role in this film as well), but this time actually utilizing that mean and angry sense of humor that seemed absent in the ironically titled previous film. Gregg Tuckington excels at playing a version of his own Neil Hamburger character here while simultaneously playing a character who’s own psyche is breaking down before us. It’s hilarious and weird and awkward in all the best ways.
3) The Revenant (dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
More of an experience than a film. Following up the awards heavyweight that was Birdman, Iñárritu strips everything back (conceptually) to as simple a story as you could tell. The only adjustment is that he wants to tell this story in as grand and sweeping a way as possible. I’ve seen people bring up the likes of Malick, Peckinpah, Tarkovsky, and others – mainly as ways to criticize the film – as well as leveling allegations of pretension against it as well. What Iñárritu does here, in somewhat of a counter-intuitive way is make a film that indeed channels the influences of the filmmakers mentioned above, but also presents them in a way that is totally in line with his own style that has developed over the course of his filmography. It’s a film that is relentless and features cinematography more in line with that of Hard to Be a God than anything Tarkovsky ever did. Perhaps too pretentious for it’s own good but that’s part of the charm and why I love it.
2) Queen of Earth (dir. Alex Ross Perry)
For the longest time, this was my film of the year. Only recently has this been usurped. Queen of Earth is the type of film that originally made me a cinephile. It’s a dark psychological drama that draws upon the likes of Polanski and Bergman while retaining Perry’s own unique use of language. It’s a film that I had the pleasure of watching once with my parents who both had very different responses to it. My father really enjoying how absurd and twister the film became and my mother growing more and more annoyed with how annoying she found the two women at the center of the film. Obviously I’m on the side of my father, but the complaint about the characters is something that I know does turn some people off – and is an aspect that I myself had to overcome in Perry’s previous work but think really developed into something special here.
1) Carol (dir. Todd Haynes)
This is a film that not only met my expectations but totally blew them out of the water. I had heard the praises sung for this film ever since it premiered at Cannes and was eagerly anticipating its release. As a fan of Todd Haynes’ previous films as well as the two leads I expected it to be good – but nowhere near this good. It’s probably the most affecting love story I’ve seen since Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy. Blanchett and Mara have incredible chemistry yet it never feels exploitative, as the “lesbian love story” tag might lead some to believe. It’s incredibly affecting and heartbreaking with central performances (really every performance here is fantastic) that make me want to weep for how subdued and vulnerable they are. Edward Lachman’s cinematography here is fantastic, yet never showy while Haynes’ direction is understated. It’s a beautiful piece of work that I hope everyone goes and sees for themselves.