If the films of 2015 have a common denominator it’s the
fearlessness with which filmmakers approached the medium and took it in new
directions proving that innovation is still possible and that not everything,
both in content and form, has been explored. From a comedy shot entirely on an
iPhone starring transgender actresses, to a film in sign language designed to
be screened without subtitles, to a stop-motion animated feature that emanates
more humanity than most live-action efforts, to a new immersive vision of the
Holocaust from an emerging auteur, or a Brazilian hand-drawn musical odyssey
about the dangers of the modern world, all granted us experiences unlike
anything we’ve previously
It’s hard to tell how many films I watched this year but I’m
sure they were many. From that vast pool of cinematic works the 30 films below
are the ones that stood out the most and remained ingrained in my memory as
rewarding, delightful, moving, and even harrowing accomplishments. There were also films that simply didn’t connect as strongly with me as they did with other journalists and audiences, thus they don’t appear here. This is after all, like all of them, a very personal and subjective list of the films I loved.
Even with such an extensive list there are still other great films that
deserve to be mentioned such as “The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet,” “Christmas, Again,” “Mistress America,” “Entertainment,”
“Felix and Meira,” “Victoria,” “Mustang,” “The Wolfpack,” “Xenia,”
Estonia’s Oscar-nominated “Tangerines,” “Buzzard,” “The Salt of the
Earth,” “Guidance,” “Cheatin’,” “Black Souls,””The Mend,” “Shaun The Sheep Movie,” or “’71.” One can only hope audiences will discover them and be compelled by their singular perspectives.
What were your favorite films of 2015?
Special Mention: “World of Tomorrow”
Don Hertzfeldt‘s thought-provoking and visionary Sundance-winning short “World of Tomorrow” is easily the best short film of the year, animated or otherwise. This 17-minute science fiction journey is a mind-bending study on the essence of humanity and how technology’s ferocious advances to know and control it all endanger our ability to notice what’s truly meaningful.
30. “It Follows”
The best horror film of the year proves that an intriguing
premise embedded into an intelligently written screenplay can bring a
refreshing point of view absent in most studio productions. Director David Robert Mitchell takes classic genre conventions and twists them into a
terrifying tale with morally ambiguous undertones.
29. “The Gift”
Wearing multiple hats Joel Edgerton demonstrated his
storytelling and acting talents in an unpredictable psychological thriller that’s
as unassuming as it’s disconcerting. An old friend reappears in a married man’s
life apparently seeking to rekindle their past bond, but soon enough his good
intentions will unveil much more sinister motives that makes us question who
the real villain is. A stunning and perversely brilliant film that thrives on
its misguiding simplicity.
28. “Heaven Knows What”
An accomplishment both in technique and emotional power, “Heaven Knows What” is an eye-opening experience brimming with unflinching truth. From the streets to the screen, the unbelievable story of Arielle Holmes is a fascinating example of the rare occurrence when cinema and reality blend almost seamlessly.
27. “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet”
Spearheaded by producer Salma Hayek, director Roger Allers and 8 of the world’s most talented independent animators took Gibran’s timeless poems and assembled a cinematic out-of-body experience that deconstructs our existential yearnings and translates them into mesmerizing animated wisdom.
This emotionally devastating character study put Josh Mond
in the director’s chair for the first time and allowed Christopher Abbott and Cynthia Nixon to delve into career-defining roles as a mother and a son
struggling to accept each other’s shortcomings in the face of impending
tragedy. Mond’s debut is an unforgettable portrait of unconditional love
25. “The Big Short”
The financial crisis and the white-collar criminals behind
it are examined in an outrageously humorous and dynamically constructed
adaptation of Michael Lewis‘s book. Director Adam McKay crafted his own visual language to paint a
picture of capitalism in America that’s as brutally honest as it’s infuriating.
His entire cast, in particular Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell,
play along in this satirical exposé.
24. “The Second Mother”
Anna Muylaert’s crowd-pleasing, yet thematically complex gem delves into the intricacies of class in Brazilian society through the eyes of an endearing live-in maid. Regina Casé, in an Oscar-worthy performance, becomes Val, a diligent and humble housekeeper that has worked with the same wealthy family in Sao Paulo for many years and who only questions her role within this environment when her strange daughter comes to visit.
23. “Kumiko The Treasure Hunter”
Losing grip on reality Kumiko, a solitary Japanese woman, leaves
her monotonous and life and her adorable bunny Bunzo behind to search for the
money Steve Buscemi’s character hides in the Cohen Brothers’ film “Fargo.”
Knowing very little English and with no American contacts, she ventures in the Minnesotan wilderness. Armed
with Rinko Kikuchi ’s outstanding performance, David Zellner and Nathan Zellner managed to create an endearing and poignant adventure at the intersection between fiction and reality.
22. “When Marnie Was There”
Notably current while still unequivocally timeless, Studio Ghibli’s latest film was confected with equal doses of heart-rending drama and life-affirming beauty. More than just a visually delightful tearjerker, “When Marnie Was There” is an animated lullaby that reassures our broken hearts will eventually heal- even from the most indomitable tricks of fate.
READ MORE: Review: Wondrous ‘When Marnie Was There’ is One of Ghibli’s Most Profoundly Moving Works
21. “The Hateful Eight”
Sharp dialogue and the search for violent retribution are
Tarantino staples, and in his latest Western the revered director channels
these through a group of deceitful characters confined to a single location.
Race relations are examined via the peculiar interactions of the murderous
bunch – each with their ulterior motives and frightening reputation. With a
magnificent score by Ennio Morricone, impeccable cinematography by Robert Richardson, and tonally perfect
performances by the ensemble cast, in which Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell are the highlights, “The Hateful Eight” is a highly entertaining addition to Tarantino’s selective filmography.
20. “What We Do in the Shadows”
This masterful mockumentary capitalizes on the general public’s obsession with reality shows and the allure of vampirism and its promise of eternal life. Four ancient bloodsuckers share a house in Wellington, New Zealand and decide to let a crew film their day-to-day routines as vampires living in the modern world. What ensues are a series of intelligently written occurrences that transform every known convention about these creatures of the night into hysterical gags.
19. “The Revenant”
To say Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest is breathtaking would be an
understatement. Emmanuel Lubezkii’s work is absolutely astonishing. No other film
this year captured this much beauty in every single frame. The Mexican-born
Oscar-winning director has reached a new level of artistry here. Leonardo DiCaprio, in one of the best performances of his career, plays Hugh Glass, a
man who escapes death to take revenge on the man who killed his son.
18. “Inside Out”
Pixar ventured into the difficult task of decoding the
complexity of the human psyche in one of their best features to date. Emotions take
on humanoid form in the brain of a young girl adjusting to life in anew city. Joy,
Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust must work together to shape her blossoming personality.
“Inside Out” also gifted us Bing Bong, who will go down as one of the most
memorable animated characters to ever grace the screen.
17. “Ex Machina”
Artificial intelligence crosses the boundaries of mere
functionality to become self-aware and to replicate the behaviors of mortals in Alex Garland “Ex Machina.” The provocative screenplay evolves into a
fascinating and often unsettling dissection of what it means to be a human
being and the seemingly godlike power that comes from creating technology that
resembles such qualities. Alicia Vikander is riveting as Ava – a mysterious
16. “The Diary of a Teenager Girl”
Bel Powley is this year’s acting revelation and Marielle Heller the woman behind this charming, uncompromising, and original coming of
age film, is one of most exciting new directors to emerge in recent memory. Burgeoning
female sexuality is treated without moral judgment or shame, and it’s instead embraced
in an empowering manner that overflows with truthfulness and charisma. Both
Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgård are outstanding in substantial supporting roles.
Despite being banned from filmmaking by the Iranian government, Jafar Panahi continues to bravely expose the political and social problems of
his home country with films shot in secrecy. “Taxi” takes the director through
the streets of Tehran as he picks up an array of passengers with distinct
concerns, beliefs, and opinions on the Islamic nation’s current situation: a young
girl trying to make a “distributable” film, a guy who considers selling pirated
films a cultural campaign, or a pair of elderly women whose fate depends on the
survival of a couple fish. Though scripted, each encounter exudes honesty.
14. “The Duke of Burgundy”
Intoxicatingly atmospheric and full of evocative imagery, Peter Strickland’s follow up to his similarly unusual debut “Berberian Sound
Studio” looks at the psychology of sexual desires with a seductive gaze. The line dividing power and submission
is blurred and interchangeable between two lovers whose turbulent relationship
is juxtaposed with the nature of butterflies. Eroticism derived from
degradation and punishment is elegantly approached that suggest more than it explicitly
The final sequence in this new collaboration between
writer/director Christian Petzold and actress Nina Hoss is one of the best
conclusions ever written. It’s subtle, yet strikingly revelatory. Departing
from a Hitchcockian mistaken identity plot from the point of view of a
concentration camp survivor, Petzold delves into Germany’s post war sentiments
of guilt and the beginning of the long road to rebuild a superficially and
morally shattered nation. “Phoenix” is also a love story coated in betrayal and
the harsh realization that, when tested, even the strongest bond can be
destroyed. Hoss gives an awards-deserving, restrained and perfectly nuanced performance.
Today, perhaps more than ever, a film like Abderrahmane Sissako’s spellbinding “Timbuktu” is imperative. Capturing some of the most beautiful African landscapes ever seen on film and delicately arranging his stories to create a tapestry of human experiences, Sissako’s latest doesn’t abide by any political or religious dogma. Instead, his vision preaches openness and denounces the terrifying absurdity of the world according to extremist.
READ MORE: Promoting Tolerance: Abderrahmane Sissako on ‘Timbuktu’ and a Different Kind of Islam
11. “The Voices”
Playing Jerry, the most charming serial killer you’ll ever meet, Ryan Reynolds gives the best performance of his career in Marjane Satrapi’s wonderfully insane horror comedy. Adding to his already outstanding work as the lovable, if unstable young man, Reynolds also voices both of his character’s opinionated pets. Stay tuned after the film for one of the most ridiculous credit sequences ever.
READ MORE: Too Insane To Ignore: Marjane Satrapi On Her Fascinating Sundance Horror-Comedy ‘The Voices’
Using one of the most cosmopolitan and complex cities in the world as
his canvas, Mexican filmmaker Alonso Ruizpalacios delivered an audaciously original story
that delves into many unique aspects of Mexican society wrapped up into a road
trip adventure that helps two estrange brothers reconnect.
It’s a revitalizing work,
and one of the best Mexican films of the last decade.
9. “Me and Earl and
the Dying Girl”
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Sundance champion is a tonally nuanced and
visually inventive work that ingeniously beguiles you to fall in love with
every instant of its strangely imaginative magic. This tragicomedy invokes
tropes from a familiar realm and deconstructs or tailors them to the uniquely
poignant circumstances of it’s characters. It’s nothing short of a cinephile’s
dream come true.
8. “A Pigeon Sat on a
Branch Reflecting on Existence”
Constructed of gorgeously understated vignettes, which guide us through
the grandeur of life by methodically focusing on the smallest but most resonant
instants of it, “A
Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” by Swedish
writer/director Roy Andersson won the Golden Lion at last’s year’s
Venice Film Festival. Delving into a wide range of quotidian dilemmas via
darkly comedic exploits, this episodic tour de force is as insightful as it’s blissfully
entertaining and distinctively stylized.
Baker‘s riotous and perfectly
acted latest film shot on an iPhone “Tangerine” centers on Alexandra (Mya Taylor) and Sin-Dee (Kitana
Kiki Rodriguez), two
transgender sex workers on Santa Monica Boulevard who struggle to get by while
dealing with heartbreak, revenge, and their dreams.
Baker captured an unseen side of Los Angeles
through the eyes of two equally underrepresented characters who get a chance to
showcase their comedic brilliance.
6. “The Look of Silence”
For “The Look of Silence,” the indispensable companion piece to “The Act of Killing,” director Joshua Oppenheimer focused on the survivors, specifically on a brave family that persevered through the immeasurable pain that quietly permeates Indonesian society even half a century after the genocide. The subjects here are often quiet and contemplative, but their anguish transcends even when words fail to describe their tumultuous sentiments.
READ MORE: 12 Things Joshua Oppenheimer Wants You to Know About ‘The Look of Silence’
In “Anomalisa,” a delicately melancholic observation on loneliness and the flawed human condition, acclaimed writer-director Charlie Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson use stop-motion animation to tell a story of small proportions and big ideas. These existential observations include our fears, failures, insecurities and our desperate need to be loved by someone who can look pass our conspicuous scars.
READ MORE: Human at the Seams: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson Make Yearning Tangible in ‘Anomalisa’
4. “The Tribe”
“The Tribe,” by Ukrainian debutant Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, is a film that communicates with its audience in a non-verbal manner. There are no subtitles or any other way to know exactly what the characters on screen are saying, but that’s never an issue for it to powerfully make its message heard. It’s the purest form of cinema because it can be shown anywhere in the world without modification, and the devastating result would be the same.
READ MORE: Interviewing Yana Novikova, Star of ‘The Tribe,’ Was a One-of-a-Kind Experience
3. “Boy and the World”
Alê Abreu’s “Boy and the World” is unequivocally the best animated film of the year. Drawn with the finest ends of an artist’s heartstrings and painted with the colorful essence of undefeatable hope, Abreu’s utterly lyrical, visually captivating, musically driven, and extraordinarily sophisticated treasure is the animated equivalent of a childhood dream that thrives on sweet innocence and the pure ability to see the world truthfully for its dazzling beauty and its man-made dangers. As it continues to spellbind the globe with its unconventional artistry and thought-provoking observations, an Oscar nomination would be a more than deserved crown jewel.
Exquisitely photographed and fueled by the two best
performances of the year, Todd Haynes “Carol” depicts an ethereal and ravishing
romance that’s sure to take your breath away. Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett
play two women from opposite worlds that meet serendipitously and fall madly in
love for each other in a time yet unwilling to accept them. Carol (Blanchett)
is a wealthy mother and wife whose desires are used against her threatening to stripped
her of what she loves the most. On the other hand Therese (Mara) is a working
class girl discovering herself and who finds the strength to follow her true
instincts in Carol. Heartbreak has rarely been portrayed with such a delicate
touch, thoughtfulness, and sincerity. Beneath the glossy Christmas-tinted
frames is a story as universal as it is particular in which a single pleading
look disarms you. Few films will make you feel such tangible and pure yearning to
connect with another soul as Haynes masterwork does.
1. “Son of Saul”
First-time director László Nemes decided to look at the terrifying apparatus behind the Holocaust from the perspective of the Sonderkommando, a group of men whose experience was exponentially more harrowing than that of the average victim. Nemes focuses on a particular man, Saul (Géza Röhrig), a fictional character created from the limited information available on this special group and the filmmaker’s artistic sensibilities.“Son of Saul” is not only the best film of the year, but also the most ambitious debut in ages. Both conceptually and visually, the dynamic, yet organically contemplative vision of one man’s ordeal as he walks through the gates the hell is the work of a master auteur.