Lists are always difficult. I find it nearly impossible to whittle down a large body of films into a list of ten. An honorable mention addendum would be longer than the top ten itself.
Additionally, I haven’t seen all the films I want/need to see from 2015. For example, as it stands now, The Revenant is in limited release, and won’t be widely available until after the New Year. It very likely could wind up being one of my top ten favorites of the year, but it can’t show up on this list.
Here are my top ten movies of 2015.
The gritty crime drama Sicario was completely overlooked in this years Golden Globe nominations, but it did receive a Palme d’Or nomination at Cannes. The film succeeds in being unnerving in spite of the visual beauty of its cinematography. Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins make this possible. The visual display of the film is accompanied by intense performances from Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro. Perhaps it is being forgotten in the award season buzz, but Sicario is definitely a worthwhile watch.
9. The Danish Girl
This period piece tells the story of the first person to undergo a sex change operation. Eddie Redmayne plays painter Einar Wegener, who hides a secret identity as a woman named Lili. As he brings Lili into reality more and more, it threatens to compromise his career and his relationship with his wife. It is a landmark role for Redmayne, who plays the part as elegantly and nuanced as one could imagine. Alicia Vikander, who plays Einar’s wife, gives a similarly strong performance, and it is these performances that carry the film.
8. The Look of Silence
In Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow up to 2012’s The Act of Killing, he continues his investigative look at the Indonesian genocide of so-called communists in the 1960s. Unlike The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence turns away from the killers themselves and focuses more on the citizens living in Indonesia today. Like its predecessor, it is a harrowing depiction of militaristic government rule and propagandism. Each scene brings its own terrifying reality. A scene in a school, where this propaganda is spread to the malleable minds in the seats, is particularly discomforting. The Look of Silence is not an easy watch, but it is a must watch.
7. Ex Machina
This taut thriller explores science fiction in a novel yet darkly real light. Caleb, a computer programmer portrayed by Domhnall Gleeson, is hired by the elusive inventor Nathan (Oscar Isaac) to run a series of Turing tests on an A.I. (Alicia Vikander). These three actors breathe electricity into the heart of this close-quarters film. Vikander, in particular, gives a breakout performance as the artificial intelligence that may be too intelligent for its own good. Deliberate pacing and a smart script, alongside the previously mentioned acting performances, make for a wonderful sci-fi thriller reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001.
6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
It’s nearly impossible to isolate the film from the massive hype surrounding it. But I can certainly say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is entertaining. It is a refreshing return to a galaxy far far away, one that could easily have been a trainwreck. J.J. Abrams–albeit safely–ran with the iconic universe and made a fun sci-fi spectacle that honors the original trilogy. As the buzz of this movie fades away, the film will not entirely hold up to scrutiny. As I have said, it feels like a re-tread of the 1977 Star Wars plot. As such, The Force Awakens isn’t breaking any new ground, and certainly will not prove to be a classic as the original trilogy of films are. Still, it’s nice to see the Star Wars universe done right again.
5. Bridge of Spies
Steven Spielberg leaves 2015 with his best film since 2005’s Munich. Bridge of Spies is a beautifully shot piece that highlights two phenomenal performances from Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, the latter of which deserves an Oscar for his performance. A strong script from the Coen brothers doesn’t hurt any, either.
Room is the fascinating adapted story of a boy raised in isolation, knowing nothing but a single room for the first five years of his life. Brie Larson plays the boys mother in a transformative role; one of the most passionate performances of the year by far. But it is young Jacob Tremblay that steals the show as Jack, the boy learning of the outside world for the first time. For a child actor, he gives a mesmerizing performance. Room is a powerful movie that is the true must-see of the year.
3. The Hateful Eight
Tarantino’s eighth film is right up there with the best of his filmography. It has the high-caliber script we expect from Tarantino, and the ensemble cast uses that script to embody a coterie of characters with intriguing pasts and bloody presents. Given its confined space and barren exterior, the film looks gorgeous. And it is accompanied by Ennio Morricone’s superb score. If nothing else, it is the best Western Tarantino has crafted (sorry Django).
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
Fury Road was the surprise critical hit of the Summer. Despite being an action film with virtually no plot, it blew people away. And there is good reason to this. George Miller returns to his cult favorite franchise Mad Max after 30 years, and he makes use of the since-enhanced technology to create a spectacle of lavish practical effects. The heavily saturated desertscape is lit up with a fireworks display of metal that has never been seen on film before. Mad Max: Fury Road is easily the best action film in years, and it is one of the best films of this year.
A tight ensemble cast. One of the best scripts of the year. Another strong film from director Tom McCarthy (the misstep The Cobbler notwithstanding). Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams both give career high performances. Right below them are Michael Keaton and Billy Crudup giving solid turns as well. Spotlight is the can’t miss award season film that truly packs a punch.
As always, thanks for reading
What were your favorite/least favorite movies of 2015? Let me know in the comments!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)