Hello, readers! Last week I gave you the stinky turds of 2015, so this time I’m flipping the glass over to half full now and giving you the ten best films of the year.
As bad as 2015 seems like it was, and it sure had some rough patches along the way, it still wasn’t without its share of stellar pictures. The Big Short, Creed, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, The End of the Tour, Ex Machina, The Gift, It Follows, The Martian, Sicario and Spy were some of the best the year had to offer, and what’s even better is that the best of the pack also represented a wide variety of genres – indies, blockbusters, horror, comedy (sometimes a mix of both), thrillers, sci-fi, action, drama and biopics. However, though those aforementioned films came close enough to merit a much-deserved mention, they weren’t top 10 best.
So let’s get started with the best and brightest of anno Domini 2015, starting with…
10) Goodnight Mommy
It’s not the only film to focus on the bond between a mother and her son(s) that you’ll see on this list, but it’s far and away the creepiest of the two. The Austrian thriller was unfortunately the victim of a “horror-ized”, spoilerific American marketing campaign, which led to many horror fans being disappointed by the horror film it is not (2014’s The Babadook received a similar marketing treatment and subsequent backlash). Still, as far as tense, disquieting thrillers go, Goodnight Mommy stands at the top of the pack, relying more on mood and atmosphere than dialogue and score to do so, and packing an extra emotional wallop through its examinations of family, trust and the way this film constantly challenges our character alliances. Can’t think of anything to get your mom next Mother’s Day? Treat her to this film.
9) The Hateful Eight
Though we are given some occasional shots of Colorado’s breathtaking scenery, Quentin Tarantino goes back to his small-scale roots with his vulgar, blood-soaked ode to Agatha Christie, a one-setting whodunit fueled by an all-star cast, witty, profanity-laced banter and Spaghetti Western legend Ennio Morricone’s ominious score. Featuring Tarantino regulars Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern and new additions Jennifer Jason Leigh and Demian Bichir, The Hateful Eight takes it time and builds up the tension through Tarantino’s trademark dialogue and eccentric characters in slow-burn fashion, but those who know the filmmaker’s penchant for violence knows he isn’t one to shy away from an orgy of bloodshed in even his smallest pictures. When that guns blazing third-act does finally kick into gear, it definitely doesn’t disappoint.
8) What We Do in the Shadows
Overall, 2015 was a pretty lousy year for comedy, but it wasn’t without a few gems. Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s vampire mockumentary revitalizes both the vampire and mockumentary genres with great refreshing wit, riffing on monster folklore through a variety of gut-busting jabs, from a funny take on the vampire’s need to be invited into a hot club to a gang of rival werewolves who treat their condition like an AA support group. Even better, though the film doesn’t shy away from the brutality of vampires, it’s in no way mean-spirited about it, and instead provides us with a bromance between the five vampires and their one human friend Stu that’s actually quite heartfelt and endearing. What We Do in the Shadows may not have received the wide reception like Melissa McCarthy’s Spy, but like the Little Engine That Could, it eked its way to the top as the funniest film of the year.
7) The Revenant
Anyone that has cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki attached to their project is at least guaranteed to be one of the most beautiful looking films of the year, and there are very few DPs who can make cold, dreary and gray look as gorgeous as the back-to-back Oscar winner does here (I’m thinking a three-peat is in Lubezki’s future). Alejandro G. Inarritu’s followup to his Oscar-winning Birdman is just as grim and brutal as the frozen wilderness Hugh Glass treks through to avenge his son’s death. Anchored by Inarritu’s unrelenting, misery-wallowing tone, Leonardo DiCaprio’s intense, physically demanding performance and Tom Hardy’s tortured supporting turn, The Revenant may be nothing more than one 2 1/2 hour long journey, but it sure is one hell of a trip. The bear attack alone is worth it.
6) Steve Jobs
Even with a director like Danny Boyle and acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin on board for a biopic on the late Apple co-founder, this is what truly makes Steve Jobs the great film that it is: Michael Fassbender looks absolutely nothing like Jobs, and yet his performance is so magnetic, you don’t care. Backing him up is a superb supporting cast that includes Kate Winslet, Sorkin regular Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) and a revelatory dramatic turn from go-to stoner comic Seth Rogen. Though it only covers a small part of Job’s life – three key product launches – Sorkin’s great dialogue and Boyle’s unique style come together in forming a terrific adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s biography that’s just as bold, unruly and unconventional as the man they’re remembering.
5) Mad Max: Fury Road
Tom Hardy, in his second appearance on this list, sure had some big shoes to fill in following Mel Gibson’s star-making turn in the first three Mad Max flicks, but he does great justice to the iconic role of Max Rockatansky. Not to be outdone, Charlize Theron proves to be just as much Hardy’s equal, and maybe even more so as the scene-stealing Furiosa, the film’s badass heroine that would do Ellen Ripley proud. At the end of the day, though, the true star of this film is franchise creator George Miller who’s delightfully maddening vision can be best described as chaotic beauty (if not for The Revenant, you could argue this is the most beautiful looking film of the year). For those that may have initially thought that 70-year-old Miller would lose a step in the action genre because of his age, Fury Road succeeded and then some in proving those naysayers wrong. Sorry, Star Wars, Avengers and Jurassic World, you were fun, but you all don’t hold a candle to Miller’s full-throttle freak show.
4) The Tribe
No spoken dialogue, no subtitles – you’d think the studio heads would run you out of the building for pitching an idea like that, yet Ukrainian filmmaker Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi’s feature-length film debut is a compelling drama that sticks with you long after you’ve seen it. Revolving around a student gang within a boarding school for the deaf that deals in crime and prostitution, The Tribe‘s grim tone won’t appeal to everyone and requires patience from its viewers, but those seeking a unique film experience will find that even in its silence, the film speaks incredible volumes, a true testament to Slaboshpytskyi’s direction and his immensely talented cast. Love it or hate it, either way you certainly won’t forget it.
3) Inside Out
Throughout its 20 year filmography, Pixar’s been no stranger to the top 10 best list, and this film once again effortlessly proves why the animation giant is the king of its craft. A journey inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley, Inside Out features all the lively characters, colorful animation, meticulous world-building and boatloads of heart we expect from Pixar, while also exploring the complex emotions and social anxieties that are par for the course during adolescence. Exploring emotionally hefty territory isn’t anything new for Pixar, but they sure kick it up an extra notch here. It’s a beautifully animated, deeply moving adventure that will charm the kids and resonate tenfold with the adults.
Like Goodnight Mommy, Room also explores the bond between mother and son, just not in as creepy a manner. Led by a career performance from the lovely Brie Larson and a breakthrough turn from co-star Jacob Tremblay, Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her own novel is a gripping story of the love and bond that holds a mother and her son together in spite of their horrific confinement in “Room”, a 10×10 shed that director Lenny Abrahamson masterfully transforms into one of the most imaginative landscapes of the year. Without giving anything away, even after Room becomes a thing of the past, the film never once loses steam and only grows more compelling as a character study. Don’t let the film’s small scale fool you; it’s a profound, powerful experience.
So here we are at the #1 spot. Any guesses at what it might be? I’ll give you a hint. It doesn’t involve dinosaurs, the Force or a third time’s even less the charm attempt at a certain superhero quartet. Drum roll, please…
You know you have a great top 10 best list when it’s difficult to decide which of the top two films should get the #1 spot. This year it was honestly hard for me to decide between Room and Spotlight, but in the end I gave it to Tom McCarthy’s riveting, thrillingly-paced drama of the Boston Globe’s 2001 uncovering of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. Covering an investigation this comprehensive, McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer could’ve risked losing the audience’s concentration, yet McCarthy and a uniformly excellent cast – Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber – skillfully guide us through each revelation. Every turn, every interview, every newly acquired document – there’s not a single moment to be found in this film where I wasn’t fully engaged. Out of all the films about investigative journalism, Spotlight is by far one of the very best.
And there are my picks for the best of 2015. That’s my list and I’m sticking to it. Agree or disagree? Feel free to let me know your favorites of the year in the comments sections. Here’s to 2016 delivering films that are just as strong!