I have seen more films this year than any in years past. At least in terms of new releases that I can relate to this list, which mind you, has been going back and forth on my Google doc for the past week and a half. As I type this, I did another change and will most likely change it again once this sentence has been completed (edit: this is true). But, I’m excited about that. I’m happy to experience so much cinema and hope that by placing some of these films on the list, that the few readers I have will seek them out throughout this coming year because missing them in time for awards season is silly. A lot of movies won’t win awards, but are resonant and poignant for the current climate of society. Seek these out and without further ado: my top 15 films of the year (and various sub-categories).
Paddington is one of those pleasant surprises that I love to find, especially when it happens to be a kids movie. I get so disheartened by some of the lazy efforts out there today, it is always refreshing to see a film that can work for both parents and adults while not taking itself too seriously and knowing how to have fun. In a time when movies like to dive into the darkest depths, it is refreshing to know that we will always have Paddington here to pick us up and roll down the stairs in a bathtub flood.
14) Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Rogue Nation is an exercise in quality, old school action filmmaking and shows that Christopher McQuarrie is a director with a voice that needs to be heard more often. It has brains in its moves and emotions in its plot, but mainly it reminds you that action’s past can work just as well in the present as it did before.
13) Bridge of Spies
Bridge of Spies is Spielberg, Hanks, and the Coen Brothers reminding you what good, professional filmmaking can look like while putting on a clinic in bringing home the past to help you learn about the present. It is a lesson in empathy and a soft warning to the acts to come. But most importantly, it is a prestige picture that does more than just looks good for the prom, and it is wonderfully hopeful to see these movies challenging themselves to be more than last night’s dinner.
12) What We Do In The Shadows
What We Do In Shadows takes the mockumentary format made popular with the films of Christopher Guest and the television shows such as The Office and Parks and Recreation and creates a vampire movie that has as much heart as it does bite. Growing funnier and funnier with each viewing, this comedy shows that new life can be breathed into even the most overdone genres and the most aged characters.
11) When Marnie Was There
When Marnie Was There is another example of an animated film not needing that medium to tell the story, but using it to its advantage to make something more out of the tale. It is a film about female friendships, or just friends in general, and how our own insecurities can force us to think that we are against the world on our own or are isolated. It is a heavy film for children, but like Inside Out, one that carries an important message in terms of growing up and becoming your own person.
It is a lesson about ourselves and how we can decide to form our own being or ignore it and feel like we face the world alone.
10) Slow West
On the outside, it is a fun ride that has moments of humor and honesty that akin to the classics that it takes from. But at its core, Slow West is a large pill to take for the American West and the harsh realities that were faced out there. The shootouts don’t always end with the heroes walking away, the villains sometimes win, and lives are lost, which is something the western knew so well and the blockbusters of today don’t realize.
Slow West takes these truths in stride and excels at telling a story that is both harsh, but impressively uplifting, at the same time.
Chi-Raq is not perfect, but neither are we, and neither is this world. We have the power to change what is happening and by sitting idly, we allow nothing to happen. The cast speaks to the camera — almost as if no camera were there — and forces us to understand the climate of the situation. Chi-Raq may not be perfect cinematically, but it works perfect as a call to action and a wake-up to the society we have built for ourselves.
The ending of Phoenix is what people remember, but the build-up and utter tragedy of the whole story consumes you and calls for meditative thought and reflection. The perfection of Nina Hoss’ last seconds on screen chill your heart, but the time up to that point is as poignant and sad as that final song.
This may not be my favorite movie of the year, but it is easily one of the most well-made. McCarthy crafts a story that is as sharp as the actual reporting done, and creates an atmosphere that is seeped in the importance of information and facts. Journalism has re-branded since the days of the Boston Globe investigation of the Catholic Church, but Spotlight is a reminder of its most basic tenets — tenets that reign supreme in life as much as newspapers.
There is no other film like Tangerine. The energy, the performances, the sentimentality is all put together into one satisfying look at two lives in Los Angeles at this given moment. The characters are rich and real, the story is simple and sharp, and the directing puts everything together under one harmonious bow. You will leave Tangerine with a smile — and the hankering for a donut.
Carol is a story about people in love and the intimacy between the two characters is so amorous and heart-aching that it is difficult to feel for the clear danger of pushing forward with the relationship. At the same time, it is so impassioned that it seems like a crime to even ignore the clear connection that these two people have.
It is sometimes hard to depict romance in art in its most intimate states, instead filling this space with more fantasy rather than anything drenched in fact, but Carol understands the nuances of love and the tragedy and exhilaration that comes with it, and that is as inspiring as anything a fantasy romance can do for you.
4) Ex Machina
Ex Machina is never an outright horror film, instead it is an outright sci-fi film that creates fear in the minds of the people watching it. Maybe that is a testament to your own will and insecurity, but that’s the point and the one that Nathan makes with Caleb. It is about the fear of abandonment, and most importantly, the fear that as men there is a chance that maybe not every girl wants you and that she may have an ulterior motive. Or just the fact that she just isn’t that into you.
3) Inside Out
It is easy to slide Inside Out into the children’s category because of the pretty colors and goofy characters, but there is so much underneath the surface that comes up to challenge us throughout the film that we further realize how special the medium of animation is. It is able to challenge us just the same as a live-action hard drama or true to life story, but it also feeds to our imagination and our emotions, which is what Docter and Pixar do in this lovely film.
Creed is a story about progress and the merits of legacy, and weaves these two lessons together expertly. Thanks in part to the fluid, entertaining filmmaking by Coogler, this entry into the Rocky franchise may be one of the best yet. Michael B. Jordan is an absolute star and he works off Stallone with ease. It may be too much to ask for another set of movies in the mold of Rocky for Adonis, but with Coogler and Jordan in tow, there is something more to say.
1) Mad Mad: Fury Road
Mad Max Fury Road is a balls to the wall, unhinged, insanity-fueled dive into hell, and one that I will gladly take at any point in time. The action is awe-inspired, the stunts re-define the genre, and the story is the best of the series so far (as is the movie). It is tough to put labels on anything that just came out, but box office withstanding, it would be safe to bet that Fury Road will have an impact on the action genre for years to come with the hope that Miller keeps coming back to this series and doing it over again for the foreseeable future.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
Magic Mike XXL
- Far From The Madding Crowd
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens
- The Hateful Eight
FAVORITE MALE PERFORMANCE
- Sylvester Stallone, Creed
- Robin Williams, Boulevard
- Jason Segel, The End of the Tour
- Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina
- Michael B. Jordan, Creed
BEST FEMALE PERFORMANCE
- Nina Hoss, Phoenix
- Brie Larson, Room
- Rooney Mara, Carol
- Phyllis Smith, Inside Out
- Rinko Kikiuchi, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
- George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
- Ryan Coogler, Creed
- Todd Haynes, Carol
- Sean Baker, Tangerine
- Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies
- Ending of Phoenix
- First official fight in Creed
- Oscar Isaac dance in Ex Machina
- Chasing Furiosa for the first time in Mad Max: Fury Road
- Gas station dance in Magic Mike XXL
- Joy realizes we need sadness in Inside Out
- The actual walk in The Walk
- Song at the Christmas dinner in Brooklyn
- The initial meeting in Carol
- Opera fight in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation