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The 20 Best Films Of 2015

The 20 Best Films Of 2015

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 You hear “cinema is dead” constantly. You also hear that movies are exclusively focused on superheroes and teen dystopias, and anyone wanting anything else has turned to the "golden age of television." To which we say: bullshit.

It’s not that there aren’t problems with cinema right now, but anyone who says that there aren’t enough good movies didn’t see enough movies or was seeing the wrong ones. From the multiplex to the arthouse, from hugely expensive blockbusters to micro-budget indies shot with tools you probably have in your pocket, there’s an enormous breadth and depth of great film in 2015.

We’ve been celebrating the year in film for a few weeks now, and as we reach the midpoint, it felt like the right time to unveil our list of the Best Films Of 2015. Last year, for the first time, we conducted a poll of Playlist writers and staffers, collating their top tens (10 points for first place, 9 for second etc, plus a bonus point for every list a film was on) into a grand group Top 20.

Last year saw “Under The Skin” as our runaway winner, with “Birdman,” “Gone Girl,” “Foxcatcher” and “Nightcrawler” also making the Top 10. This year, we’d wager that our final list is a more interesting, surprising and, frankly, better line-up. How did it unfold? Take a look below.

A quick note about our year-end coverage: We, like you and everyone else, haven’t seen “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” yet. J.J. Abrams’ Mystery Box remains firmly closed until the week of release. As such, like the National Board of Review or the New York Film Critics Circle or any number of voting groups that are forced to make their decisions without seeing it, ‘The Force Awakens’ won’t be appearing on the bulk of these lists for now. Once it’s been reviewed, we’ll be discussing in the film full and will indicate where it would have featured on these best-of lists retroactively. Other late December releases such as “Joy,” “The Revenant” and “The Hateful Eight,” have already been seen by at least one staffer, and though they aren’t featured here, those films will likely pop up in individual staff lists we’ll be running later this month.

Click here for our complete coverage of the Best of 2015

20. “The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Coming-of-sexual-age stories in cinema are usually reserved for boys becoming men, but when such films focus on young women, there’s often either a fuzzy haze of romance or the harsh glare of judgment on its protagonist. Marielle Heller’s 1970s-set “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is the rare film that deals frankly with its heroine’s experience of and appreciation for sex while never condemning her for her choices. At the film’s bursting heart is Minnie, played with wide eyes and a heady combination of maturity and naivete by Bel Powley. Despite being in her early 20s and British, Powley so perfectly captures Minnie’s San Francisco adolescent artist spirit that we’re eager to doubt the actress’s own biographical details. In addition to Powley’s breakout performance, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” marks a bold entry into filmmaking for writer-director Heller. Based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s novel, the adaptation handles the book’s challenging subject matter —Minnie’s affair with much-older Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), her mother’s boyfriend— with apparent ease. Beyond the strong screenplay, the film also incorporates animation from Sara Gunnarsdóttir throughout, a nod to both Minnie’s own cartoons and the original novel’s art. In other hands, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” could feel like a standard period film about a young woman’s sexual and artistic awakening, but Heller and Powley have made this a vital experience filled with creativity and wonder. [Read our review]

19. “Creed”

It was perhaps inevitable that the seventh installment of a long-dormant franchise would end up making our top 20. The surprise, with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” still under wraps, is that it turned out to be “Creed.” But if J.J. Abrams’ movie is even half as successful as reviving the ‘Star Wars’ milieu as Ryan Coogler’s was at giving new life to “Rocky,” we’ll be very lucky indeed. Focusing on Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), the son of Rocky Balboa’s former opponent and pal Apollo Creed, with Stallone’s veteran boxer moving into a role as the younger man’s mentor, the film delivers on the promise of Coogler’s debut “Fruitvale Station” and then some. It’s not that it reinvents the boxing genre —it’s hitting many of the same beats as many boxing movies since “Rocky” and beyond. But Coogler has such specificity in his writing (teamed with Aaron Covington) and such a clear idea of these characters and their journeys that it feels utterly fresh. And he shoots with a vitality (the one-shot boxing match has already passed into legend) that you need if you’re going to resurrect a dusty old war-horse like this. Not to rest on the kind of cliches that Coogler mostly avoids, but “Creed” packed an emotional punch like few other movies this year. [Read our review]

18. “The Assassin”

It’s been a long time coming for Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s new full-length feature film —over 7 years in fact, with the collective film world speculating each year whether that would be the one we see “The Assassin” grace screens. After 2014, hopes dwindled and it became an inside joke amongst the director’s fans. “Knock, knock. Who’s there? Not Hou.” But once it finally premiered in Cannes earlier in the year, the jokes quickly switched to chastened murmurs. The legendary Taiwanese master’s new martial arts film befits his reputation for meticulous mise-en-scene, methodical pace and liquid camera movement. Running just under two hours, the film tells the story of Nie Yinniang (the mesmerizing Hou regular Qi Shu) and her internal struggle between following her assassin’s instincts and following her heart. There’s no space to write about the narrative in the detail it warrants here, but Hou’s methods —synced with cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bing and production designer Wen-Ying Huang— turn the aesthetics into the story. Even while working within the confines of the traditional wuxia genre, “The Assassin” stands apart as wholly transcendental. No book, painting, or piece of music can truly replicate the kind of purity this film manages to miraculously achieve. The hazy narrative is very much part of the film’s philosophy; it is as liberated from convention as nature itself. Through phenomenal craftsmanship, scenes melt into one another and transport us in a trance to another time and another place, dissolving humanity and the natural world into a singular condition. This is cinema, folks: pure and anything but simple. [Read our review]

17. “Mustang

“Mustang” is one of those little miracles: a film from a first time feature director that arrives fully-formed, distinct of style and vision and utterly fearless. It’s a lot like its protagonist, Lale —unwavering, clear-eyed, determined. Loving the film is easy if you already agree with co-writer/director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s argument against the repression and control of women and their sexuality. But she and co-writer Alice Winocur skillfully lay out the ridiculousness of the situation—namely, the frantic, grasping attempts at control, starting with the inciting incident that snowballs into paranoia and destruction. As a story, “Mustang” is really more of a fable, one not just for women but for any kind of extreme control or repression. Ergüven places the audience in the girls’ perspective, thus making us one of the sisters, with the camera following the herd, peering out of windows and doors. We’re on the same level, draped in the piles of lanky limbs and manes of hair. It makes it that much harder when one by one, the sisters are systematically ripped away, married off, their vibrant girlish spirits squashed into wifely duties. The youngest, Lale, observes everything as she clings to the window bars, wriggles out of the windows, fanning her own spark of defiance. In a year when some of the best films demonstrated the hypocrisy and ineffectiveness of the last gasps of ruling patriarchy, little Lale is right up there with Imperator Furiosa as a badass feminist heroine. Vive la resistance. [Read our review]

16. “Tangerine

If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, sitting around on your ass waiting for someone to hand you money to make your feature is no longer good enough: Sean Baker took a hundred grand and a couple of iPhones and made one of the best movies of the year. The film received much of its acclaim thanks to its legitimately beautiful iPhone 5s photography, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the movie’s virtues, which back up what we suspected after “Starlet” —Baker’s one of the most interesting indie filmmakers working. Set over one long Christmas Eve night in L.A. (it’s a holiday classic in the making), the movie tracks Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), as they set out to find Sin-Dee’s boyfriend (James Ransone), who’s allegedly been cheating on her while she was in prison. Given that both the central characters are trans women and sex workers, Baker makes them three dimensional while also not ignoring their identities, and the film feels far more progressive than, say, the leaden “The Danish Girl." But more than that, it’s a raucuous, restless blast, feeling closer to a sort of’ 70s sex farce, the spirit of Hal Ashby and Peter Bogdanovich running through it, than anything else. After a lean 88 minutes, you emerge rejuvenated and with a renewed hope for the future of film. [Read our review]


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15. “The Tribe”
We need more bold, purely cinematic films like “The Tribe,” in which a shy boy arrives at a boarding school for the deaf and tries to find his place in the hierarchy of the school’s insular criminal community. Working in the mold of "difficult" Eastern European arthouse cinema, Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, in his debut feature, may give in to a certain level of monotone miserablism common in many films of its ilk, but it functions so well as a deeply allegorical, original piece of crime fiction that the overwhelming dread and grisly violence are simply inevitable, not forced or intended only to shock. Nothing can undo the intensely rigorous and stylish filmmaking on display in “The Tribe,” which plays like an even more disturbing combination of “City of God” and “Lord of the Flies.” The potentially gimmicky conceit —all dialogue is spoken through sign language with no subtitles— creates a unique, wholly cinematic world where the viewer’s perception of cinema is radically altered. Nearly all scenes play out in impeccably choreographed long takes, via a camera that rarely stops moving —its style is akin to Michael Haneke’s “Code Unknown” and features a similar foreboding, disquieting sense that things are going to end badly. Although its formalism is rigid, the film rises well above gimmickry to become a truly great, unique piece of cinema (and a very fine crime movie to boot), conjuring its own world, commenting on our own and giving the audience something that’s palpably new. [Read our review]

14. “The End Of The Tour
To be perfectly frank, it sounded like a joke, a sketch on “Portlandia” or something: a movie about beloved ’90s literary idol David Foster Wallace, starring Judd Apatow favorite Jason Segel. It’s kind of amazing that it even got financed. And yet “The End Of The Tour” turned out not be a joke: it turned out to be a smart, beautifully acted film that did justice to its subject, even if some believe that its subject would have been horrified that it existed. Based on David Lipsky’s memoirs of his time spent interviewing the writer for a Rolling Stone article, adapted by playwright Donald Marguiles and directed by James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”), the film works precisely because it never really sets out to be ‘a David Foster Wallace movie.’ You get real insight into the man, his work and his views on life, but Marguiles and Ponsoldt have used the source material (the dialogue is overwhelmingly from Lipsky’s transcripts) to make a great conversation movie, in the mold of Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ films, that happens to feature the acclaimed novelist. It’s really a movie about jealousy, about male competitiveness and friendship and about the mind of an artist and the loneliness common to such pursuits. And thanks to Ponsoldt’s typically sensitive, finely honed direction and excellent performances from both Segel and Jesse Eisenberg, it works beautifully even if you’ve never heard of “Infinite Jest.” [Read our review]

13. “Anomalisa”

In a great interview recently, Charlie Kaufman expressed the problems he experiences getting his stories made. His latest film, co-directed by Duke Johnson, was famously co-funded through Kickstarter, and is the first Kaufman theatrical release in seven years. Once you see how brilliant it is, “Anomalisa” makes that disheartening question of “why can’t we have more Kaufman films!?” sink that much deeper into melancholia. As his first foray into stop motion animation, the film plays in an even more creatively stimulating sandbox than the writer-director’s previous projects; the kind that allows for Tom Noonan’s half-soothing-half-creepy vocal timbre to represent the collective banality that surrounds us. Featuring stellar voice work from David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh (what a great year for her) and Noonan, the story is an existential crisis by way of puppets, and it’s just as hilarious, depressing, stunning, emotionally intelligent and intellectually emotional as it sounds. Immaculately handcrafted and wholly immersive, the film turns Cincinnati into a vortex of mediocrity that sucks Thewlis’ Michael Stone in, until, in the midst of a rapid succession of crises, a beautiful anomaly emerges in Leigh’s Lisa. Scored with Carter Burwell’s trademark poignant soundtrack and boasting one of the year’s greatest screenplays (where are all the screenplay nods, people?), “Anomalisa” would justify a bottomless well of funds for Kaufman’s next project in a perfect world. But as the film so resonantly explains, this is an imperfect world we live in, one full of trivial shit. At least we can count our lucky stars that these imperfections can at times get the creative cogs turning to produce an unforgettable film. [Read our review]

12. “Steve Jobs

An inspired, risky and unconventional biopic, "Steve Jobs" finds the unlikely team of author Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle convene on a story of the late Apple impresario, and channeling the best of their abilities in symphonic unison to create dynamic electricity in a three act neo-Shakespearean drama. Through an 1984 ascension, a 1988 falter and a 1998-set reclamation, Boyle and Sorkin chart the imperiousness, arrogance and genius of this tech trailblazer. Arguably the true auteur of the movie, Sorkin’s witty, rapid-fire dialogue crackles and is made human by the herculean acting of Michael Fassbender —one gets the sense he had to wrestle the script into a chokehold and consume it. The terrific supporting cast of Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg and Katherine Waterston, all working at the top of their game, make the movie radiate that much more. But perhaps the movie’s secret weapon is Boyle, who has spent a lifetime impelling visual propulsion, but instead here expertly channels the kineticism already on the page —an insightful and counter-intuitive move if there ever was one. An exhilarating and orchestrally-pitched drama about the cost of brilliance and an emotionally trenchant look at legacy and parenthood, “Steve Jobs” is an engrossing portrait of a relentlessly determined and dysfunctionally complicated tech titan. [Read our review]

11. “Ex Machina”

“The first great film of 2015,” we wrote in our review of “Ex Machina” back in January, when the film opened in the U.K. and that’s a risky claim. With literally hundreds of films still to open, you can look like a fool if December rolls around and everyone’s pretty much forgotten it. Fortunately, that’s not been the case with “Ex Machina,” the directorial debut of “28 Days Later” and “Sunshine” scribe Alex Garland, as taut, inventive and heady a sci-fi chamber piece as we’ve seen since “Moon.” Following a reclusive computer-genius billionaire (Oscar Isaac) enlisting the help of an employee (Domhnall Gleeson) to see if his new humanoid A.I. (Alicia Vikander) can pass for human, the film finds new life in the often-tired robot/singularity theme, thanks to airtight writing, three terrific performances (Isaac in particular stands out) and direction marked by a craft and confidence that belies Garland’s first-timer status. This film keeps you guessing as to exactly what it’s up to with every scene (no film was more carefully plotted this year), and reveals its true intentions only very late in the game. We can’t wait to see what Garland does for his next trick. [Read our review]


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10. “Son Of Saul

The list of first-time filmmakers who’ve played in competition at Cannes is a short one, and the list of those that won prizes is even smaller. That László Nemes’ debut “Son Of Saul” won the Grand Prize on the Croisette certainly marks it out for attention, but those who haven’t seen it yet (it opens finally in the U.S. next week) probably aren’t yet prepared for the gut-punch power and masterful filmmaking on display from the Hungarian director (a former assistant to Bela Tarr). The tremendous Geza Rohrig plays an Auschwitz Sonderkommando, a Jewish prisoner forced into aiding the Nazis in the concentration camps, who discovers what he believes is the body of his estranged child in the gas chambers and sets out to give him a proper burial. Filmmakers have been grappling with the horrors of the Holocaust for 70 years now, but few such films have been as powerful as Nemes’, who uses long, Lubezkian takes and astonishing sound design to throw you into a vision of the camps that take on an almost heightened level of nightmarishness, while never letting you forget that there is nothing even remotely heightened about it. Even if you’ve seen “Schindler’s List” or “Shoah,” this filmmaker makes you feel as if you’re bearing witness to those unprecedented atrocities, and thus makes sure that you’ll never, ever forget what happened. [Read our review]

9.Brooklyn

Brimming with charm, John Crowley’s “Brooklyn” is an earnestly sweet tale that never feels cloying or manipulative. It’s an old-school story told in an old-school way: Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis, a young Irish woman who leaves her small town for New York, where she finds a new home and a new love with an Italian man (a sigh-inducing Emory Cohen) in her new neighborhood. “Brooklyn” is simple, never deviating from its central characters or introducing obstacles into their path for obstacles’ sake. The wide range of emotions felt by Ronan’s Eilis feels earned within the film, and the actress’s blue eyes clearly communicate each of her thoughts. She has previously wowed us in films like “Hanna” and “Atonement,” but her work here feels like a new level of adult achievement. Shot by Yves Bélanger, it’s a golden look at 1950s Ireland and New York City, filled with François Séguin’s perfect production design and Odile Dicks-Mireaux’s gorgeous costumes. But the film isn’t all sweetness and light; Eilis’s early days in New York are dominated by loneliness and isolation, and the event that sends her back to Ireland sent us into tears. However, it’s impossible to leave “Brooklyn” feeling anything but joy, as well as the desire to immediately see it again. [Read our review]

8.Spotlight

Tom McCarthy has been producing relatively solid dramedies for a handful of years. But this year, we got a peek at a couple of new sides of the director. The first was the godawful Adam Sandler fiasco “The Cobbler” (which occupies a spot on our Worst Of The Year list). But the second was this incredibly sure-footed and rigorous take on the Boston Globe team that broke the news of the sexual abuse scandal and cover up in the early aughts. McCarthy snagged an impressive cast for the gig (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber), all of whom are in top form and none of whom dominate the film, which is just how it should be. “Spotlight” is the definition of an ensemble film —it’s a story of teamwork and trust and one of the finest depictions of journalism since “All The President’s Men” (a connection that has been made repeatedly, but happens to be true). Despite being as exacting as it is, “Spotlight” manages keep the plot moving and maintains some of the sharpest tension of the year. It’s a film of moral quandaries and ethical obligations, where the city of Boston stands as one of the most compelling characters. It’s easy to imagine “Spotlight” in the hands of a different director, prone to overstuffing the film with melodrama and exploitation of this tragedy. Fortunately, we got McCarthy’s: it’s a deeply affecting, satisfying film and an impressive technical achievement. [Read our review]

7. “Room”
Nothing about director Lenny Abrahamson‘s previous work could have prepared us for the emotionally visceral gut punch of “Room.” Based on a best-selling novel by Emma Donoghue, who also adapted her book for the screen, this picture is about Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a loving, energetic, and imaginative 5-year-old boy who spent his entire life imprisoned in a ten-feet-by-ten-feet room with his mother (Brie Larson). In order to raise Jack in this horrific environment with any semblance of normalcy, Ma makes him believe that the room is the only place that exists in the world and that all the people and places he sees on TV are in a different galaxy. All of the information we get about Ma and Jack’s predicament builds up to one of the most pulse-pounding, nail-biting, any other review buzzword cliché-generating sequences we’ve seen in a long time. Even though the thriller elements are laid to rest about halfway through "Room," there’s still a tremendously engaging emotional journey ahead, where Abrahamson smartly avoids every trap for conventional melodramatics that the basic story elements would seem to lay out for him. The performances from everyone involved are extraordinary, especially for a story that’s ripe for hysterical dramatics. Tremblay carries the entire emotional weight of the picture with an exceptional display of natural empathy and energy, and Larson’s more than his match. The premise suggested a film that could have been almost impossibly bleak if Abrahamson put a foot wrong: instead, it’s deeply human. [Read our review]

6. “Inside Out

The last few sequel-heavy years aside, Pixar has built up such a reputation for brilliance that when the studio makes a film deemed only ‘pretty good,’ as with the currently-in-theaters “The Good Dinosaur,” you can feel disproportionately disappointed. But that certainly wasn’t the reaction to "Inside Out," released earlier this year and which is certainly Pixar’s most ambitious film and easily one of its best. Set inside the head of young Riley, whose emotional turmoil after moving to San Francisco sends the personifications of Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) into the deepest recesses of her mind, it’s a remarkably mature yet accessible look at what makes us tick and which grapples with an elusive truth —sadness isn’t just unavoidable, it’s necessary— that so-called grown-up movies would cross the street to avoid. But this being from Pixar, and in particular from “Up” director Pete Docter, it’s also a total, well, joy —bright, exciting, funny (was anything funnier this year than the film’s closing credits? Or the gum commercial? Or the ‘abstract thought’ section? or (repeats ad infinitum)… "Inside Out" is fleet-footed, light of touch, beautifully voiced and impossibly touching. The bar’s been raised once again. [Read our review]


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5. “45 Years”

Between his tremendous breakthrough with “Weekend” and his gorgeous work helming much of HBO series “Looking,” we’ve had our eyes on British director Andrew Haigh for a while. But no one was prepared for “45 Years,” a serious step up for the director and one of the very best relationship movies in a very long time. The film focuses on the run-up to the titular wedding anniversary of an elderly, seemingly happy married couple (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay), and the fractures that appear when the body of his ex-girlfriend, who died in a mountaineering accident and has been frozen in the ice for half a century, is discovered. It’s perhaps a contrived set-up (based on David Constantine’s short story), but that’s the last thing in Haigh’s film that’s anything less than utterly truthful, particularly when it comes to performances from the two leads that come close to being the best roles of their 50 year careers. European in style without being austere (it’s a textured, tendered film, even funny in places), beautifully lensed throughout, it’s perhaps above and beyond anything else a ghost story about how the past can haunt and change us long after the fact, how time shifts and changes us, and how unearthed secrets can make you reevaluate everything in your life. [Read our review]

4.Carol

Given the commensurate lack of buzz, it’s possible you missed the boat on the exquisite-ness of Todd Haynes’ superb HBO mini-series “Mildred Pierce.” But lets not be nags: everyone’s on board the Haynes train this year, and that’s just gravy for all of us. Haynes’ delicate, nearly-note-perfect “Carol” is a swooning, romantic picture that makes you feel the grace notes of trembling desire in between words and between the eventually requited kisses and passionate moments. It is a movie about the unspoken moments of desire, the subtle gestures, the furtive glances, and the batted-eyelashes we have to decode when falling in love, but are too deep in a place of vulnerability to play our hand. Immaculately crafted, tremendously acted and rendered with consummate care and control, “Carol” is about the inexpressible, and the aching yearns of early, unformed loves and all the fragility it entails. It’s a directing masterclass, its two leads Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara deliver tour-de-force performances of restraint, and its score and cinematography (by Carter Burwell and Ed Lachman respectively) gorgeously underscore all the pangs of implicit heartache with musical dolor and frosty visual reflection. With this impeccably made movie, Haynes, perhaps belatedly, is crystallized as one of America’s greatest living directors. [Read our review]

3. “The Duke Of Burgundy”

Nothing in our poll of contributor voting surprised us as much as the strength of support for “The Duke Of Burgundy.” We figured it might make the list somewhere, given our rave review, but we didn’t imagine that an experimental art film about a sadomasochistic couple would appear on more lists than any film bar our winner, much less make the final top three. But then again, it is fucking brilliant. A significant step up for director Peter Strickland even from his excellent last movie “Berberian Sound Studio,” it is, like three of our top five, a relationship movie, in this case set in a world seemingly without men and focusing on the relationship between Evelyn (Chiarra D’Anna) and Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), two lepidopterologists (scientists studying butterflies) who are deeply in love but are increasingly strained by Evelyn’s highly submissive sexual tastes. Which might make it sound intimidating and unrelatable, but one of the film’s many pleasures is the way that it makes a seemingly extreme situation utterly relatable and deeply moving. Strip away its gorgeous design and more expressionistic elements, and you’ll find a deceptively sly, sexy and playful picture, an impossibly tender love story beautifully performed by its two leads, and which tackles universal truths in the most specific way imaginable. [Read our review]

2.Sicario

Denis Villeneuve cements his status as one of the most exciting working filmmakers with his furious, visceral thriller “Sicario.” Following the grim one-two punch of his gloomy, arresting “Prisoners” and his whatsit of a doppelganger flick “Enemy,” “Sicario” emerges as Villeneuve’s most assured and distressing work to date. A tale of inexorable moral compromise unfolding along the godless Cartel city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, “Sicario” is ultimately the story of Kate Mercer, a driven and resolutely unsentimental FBI agent who finds herself repeatedly thwarted by her male superiors when she agrees to enter this Southwestern heart of darkness. Villeneuve has an almost eerie ability to stage set pieces of prolonged, heart-stopping tension —as he does in a bullet-ridden showdown set at the U.S./Mexico border— and his work here with Roger Deakins, who also gave “Prisoners” its dark, glistening patina, is some of the best work either has ever done. Emily Blunt is a force of raw, elemental pain as Kate, Josh Brolin is wonderfully slimy as her annoyingly laid-back supervisor, and rising star Jon Bernthal has a scene with Kate in a motel room that ranks as one of the most terrifying we’ve seen all year. But it’s Benicio del Toro, as a man whose soul is all but a bygone thing, who quietly steals the show here. His Alejandro is a man of no allegiances, who, with his pointed goatee and predatory body movements, appears to be more wolf than man. “Sicario” follows Alejandro’s grim, precise footsteps: it’s coiled like a snake, with a bite just as deadly. [Read our review]

1. “Mad Max: Fury Road

The Playlist’s 2015 pick for the best film of 2015 didn’t dominate to the extent that “Under The Skin” did last year, but from very early on in the voting process, it was clear what was going to come top. And what else could it be? Uniting everyone from highbrow cinephiles to explosion-happy genre fans (the film featured on all but two of the seventeen lists submitted), George Miller’s fourth movie in his post-apocalyptic franchise was an absolute wonder, literally the best action movie in decades, and a classic even before the title character (Tom Hardy) has had his mask removed. Stripping down to the absolute basics —it’s a chase movie in the same way that Buster Keaton’s “The General” is a chase movie— barely ever stopping to catch a breath while building a fascinating world through side-details and establishing complex characters through action, the director gifted us all with an adrenaline shot of pure, unfiltered cinema. One that returned grace and beauty to the summer blockbuster. One that wasn’t afraid to get weird, like the blue-tinged section in the mudlands that feels almost like a Tarkovsky movie. One that stealthily put a woman at the heart of a testosterone-filled, gas-guzzling actioner. One crafted at a level that suggested that 95% of movies simply aren’t trying hard enough. Miller’s already started talking about potential further ‘Max’ movies, but there’s part of us that wants him to let it alone, because returning with something as utterly perfect as “Fury Road” is a big, big task. [Read our review]

What else did Playlisters vote for that didn’t quite make the cut? Just missing out on the top 20 was David Robert Mitchell’s woozy, inventive horror “It Follows,” Olivier Assayas’ meta-psychodrama “Clouds Of Sils Maria,” Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous Gothic romance “Crimson Peak,” Noah Baumbach’s delightful farce “Mistress America,” Cary Fukunaga’s powerful “Beasts Of No Nation,Damian Szifron’s hugely enjoyable “Wild Tales,” Thomas Vinterberg’s finely-honed “Far From The Madding Crowd,” and Roy Andersson’s beguiling “A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence.”

Not all staffers had seen “The Revenant,” “Joy” and “The Hateful Eight” by the time voting closed, but only Inarritu’s film registered on one poll of those that had, suggesting they might not have made the cut if they had (it’s worth noting that other late-year openers like “Anomalisa” and “45 Years” did, while last year films like “Selma” and “A Most Violent Year,” which also hadn’t been widely screened yet, cracked the Top 20). We have all seen “Star Wars,” and we all hated it. Joke! 

Also clocking up a vote or two, but not racking up enough points to make it onto our final list, were “Bridge Of Spies,” “Heaven Knows What,” “The Good Dinosaur,” “The Walk,” “Magic Mike XXL,” Spy,” “James White,” “Victoria,” “Youth,” “Tokyo Tribe,” “The Look Of Silence,” “Eden,” “Queen Of Earth,” “Entertainment,” “Tu Dors Nicole,” “Bone Tomahawk,” “Arabian Nights,” “What We Do In The Shadows,” “Slow West,” “Heart Of A Dog,” “Ballet 422,” “Timbuktu,” “Experimenter,” “The Pearl Button,” “Cartel Land,” “L’il Quinquin,” “Listen To Me Marlon,” “Dope,” “The Night Before,” “Phoenix,” “Jauja,” “The Forbidden Room,” “Hard To Be A God,” “Mississippi Grind,” “Breathe,” “While We’re Young,” “Cobain: Montage Of Heck,” “The Martian” and “White God.” In other words, it’s been a good year! 

What do you rank as your favorite films of the year? Let us know in the comments below.

Click here for our complete coverage of the Best of 2015

— Oliver Lyttelton, Rodrigo Perez, Kimber Myers, Nikola Grozdanovic, Oktay Ege Korak, Gary Garrison, Katie Walsh, Nicholas Laskin, Erik McClanahan

VOTERS: Ken Guidry, Oktay Ege Kozak, Erik McClanahan, Charles Bramesco, Nicholas Laskin, Oliver Lyttelton, Charlie Schmidlin, Kenji Fujishima, Kimber Myers, Rodrigo Perez, Jessica Kiang, Gary Garrison, Nikola Grozdanovic, Katie Walsh, Russ Fischer, Cory Everett, Kevin Jagernauth

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Comments

Dylan Schwan

Regarding your Tangerine paragraph and as an aspiring filmmaker, let me know where I can find $100,000 and I’ll make a feature film. What a dumb statement.

DG

Yeah, I also laughed at the notion of $100,000 being an casually accessible resource for DIY filmmakers

jesse wylie

i’ve only seen 12 of your 20, but overall it seems to be a good list. i would rank "spotlight" closer to the top. of all of them, "the end of the tour" is the 2015 film i’m likely to remember 20 years from now.

Nathan Duke

I’ve seen a lot of people in various places defending 2015’s film slate. Although I haven’t seen four or five big films that haven’t opened yet, the year (so far) is likely my least favorite of the century so far. That being said, there are a handful of movies I really liked. Typically, even in an "off year," I can put together a top 10 of movies I really liked – which is to say that, no, cinema isn’t dead.

Bud

You gave Macbeth a glowing review upon release and it doesn’t even warrant an honourable mention?

Silga

I’ve seen some of your honorable mentions in 2014 and won’t include them on my own Top 20, but I have to say that Wild Tales, Timbuktu, Clouds of Sils Maria, What We Do in the Shadows and Phoenix are all great films, worthy of a mention regardless of when they were released.

My own Top 20 of 2015:

1. Our Little Sister
2. Ex Machina
3. Carol
4. Trumbo
5. The Martian
6. Youth
7. A Bigger Splash
8. The Duke of Burgundy
9. Tangerine
10. Listen to Me Marlon
11. Spectre
12. The Lobster
13. Sunset Song
14. While We’re Young
15. Truman
16. The End of the Tour
17. The Measure of a Man
18. Brooklyn
19. Mad Max: Fury Road
20. Irrational Man

Honorable Mentions: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Program, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Trainwreck, Chevalier, Danny Collins, Mia Madre, Welcome to Me, The Voices, Men & Chicken, Suffragette, Room, James White, The Assassin, Bone Tomahawk, Mistress America.

Kundalinirising

The Night Before being mentioned or voted for at all seems like a joke.

Dave

If you don’t have the wherewithal to raise 100k for a film in this day and age, you should just stick with your office job. Seriously.

Dheep'

Yes, the 100 Grand statement was really dumb. ("Hey Mom, I write for a Blog on the Interwebs. I’m someone. I now get to make Vapid, Lofty Statements & proclamations cause as we all know, if it’s online well, it’s something all right." PS -"I’ll bring the pie for Xmas" "This year I can afford it"…Little Jimmy)
But you have to remember – this is from the same "Staff" who put JOBS on the best of 2015 list. If ever there was a Movie that din’t need to be made, it was Jobs. Maybe even more so than BURNT. Geez.

Delroy Lynton Jackson

Those Indiewire box ticks

20. Teen girl moans
19. Black Lead
16. Black & Trans
15. Disability
14. Indiewoffle
11. Feminism
9. "Strong" female Lead
8. Men are bastards
4. Lesbian Propaganda
3. Lesbians / trys hard to be edgy
2. Super Strong Female Lead
1. Ditto

Jess

I agree that Spotlight is far too low. I definitely would place it above the slightly Oscar bait-y Carol.

Jackie

Commenters here always focus on the dumbest sh**t. STFU please and lets talk movies.

Troutrou

Solid list, 2015 definitely a good year for movies: sorry Bret Easton Ellis.

jimmiescoffee

‘it follows’ ?

Cameroon

Actually, my top ten would be very similar to The Playlist’s, which is kind of an anomaly. Fantastic write-ups! Thrilled by your Sicario love – it’s a monumental movie that will be appreciated properly down the road.

Chase

$100,000 grand – it like, grows on trees, man. STFU.

fable jay scorcher

What about The Lobster? Was it not that great is or being considered 2016?

henrique rodrigues

well, thank god you’ve decided for all of us that cinema isn’t dead. what a brave fellow.

Kenny ritchie

Being UK based, still anticipating the release of Creed and Bone Tomahawk. However buy favourite 2015 movie so far was Sicario. Looking forward to watching it again on the small screen. Mad Max: Fury Road for me simply never delivered. Visually stunning, but empty on emotional content. 2016 is already looking to be a more rewarding year for cinema.

Franka

It Follows is mentioned in the honorable mention section. Remember this is a group vote tally, not necessarily a "lets decide together what should be on the list and why" per their introduction.

Michael Smith

It’s hard to believe that the Brian Wilson biopic Love&Mercy didn’t even rate an honorable mention. An extraordinarily difficult approach to the subject matter that was amazingly almost completely successful.

N Quinn

I don’t understand how you can call the characters in Mad Max complicated? What exactly is the big deal about this film? It’s exciting as long as it doesn’t stop. But every moment where the action stopped is so dull and stupid. This movie has no real subtext. It’s really superficial to proclaim Mad Max ‘the best film of 2015’.

Delroy Lynton Jackson

still deleting criticism…….

Bud

Delroy, I know, it’s getting so impossibly hard to be a straight, able-bodied white male these days, isn’t? We’re being oppressed almost to the point of extinction, and to have critics raving about films not having us as the centre of attention is the final ignominy.Hopefully Lord Trump will set everything straight.

drake

the best list i’ve seen and i love that you put the disclaimer about the big 4 films that haven’t been seen by a majority of people and even critics

stephenM

No one voted for Blackhat? You put it on your best action movies of the decade list, but none thought it was among the 20 best of this year?

Truthy McTrutherton

so much box ticking going on here.

It’s about the film not the issue you want to shove down people’s throats

Nick

Yo, cool, just lemme borrow that hunnid thou then

Cameron Johnson

Of the movies I’ve seen, it’s been a strong year, especially considering all the acclaimed movies I still haven’t seen. Most of favorites made this list or the honorable mentions, and my favorite was #1. Satisfied.

My only disagreements are The Tribe (good but overrated, but certainly memorable so not a big complaint) and Inside Out (liked it, didn’t love it, not the Pixar masterpiece everyone else seemed to see – it’d make the bottom half of my Pixar ranking).

James

My top 20 films
20. Timbuktu 19. Creed 18. The Martian 17. Sicario 16. Black Mass 15. Beasts of No Nation 14. Shaun the Sheep 13. The Wave 12. Grandma 11. Going Clear 10. Amy/Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (tie) 9. It Follows 8. Youth 7. Mad Max: Fury Road 6. Gett: The Trial of Vivanne Amasalem 5. Room 4. The End of the Tour 3. The Look of Silence 2. Spotlight 1. Inside Out

James

To be fair there are a slate of films I haven’t yet seen including Carol, the Danish Girl, 45 Years, The Hateful Eight

An outside contrib

given it was a poll vote of a lot of random people that dont work together, many of whom havent even met and no consensus — "how do we feel about the poll data tally?" — how does it become box ticking thing? that would need further discussion, conversation, debate, etc., none of which actually happened, let me assure you.

Ridley Virdeh

So don’t you think Charlize Theron’s performance rated her name being mentioned in your plot summary of "Fury Road"?

Dana J

"Straight Outta Compton" – not even a mention?

Alessandra

What about Macbeth and The Lobster? Throughout the year you’ve been saying they are two of the best movies of the year and yet they aren’t even mentioned in the last paragraph?

RP at The Playlist

The Lobster doesn’t officially come out until 2016, so it was excluded here. I think the person that reviewed Macbeth liked it much more than most of us did (good, not great IMO).

White Dude

Please more people share their top 20 lists. I’m trying to go aggregate like Nate Silver Also please more white dudes express their feelings. Also best way to make a 100,000 is to flip houses. Your Welcome

Andrew Rodriguez

What about Krampus? That was one of the best horror fils of all time! It’s a great blend of horror and dark humor, and at it’s heart, houses a true Christmas film!

warren

Creed? Really? another rocky movie? I still think the first was the best and all the rest are just the same story over and over again how can that be good? Oh I guess you did not see the first. I can still remember when my dad took me to see the first it was hot and the air conditioning was not working but 1/4 way through i had forgot about anything we cheered we cried it was awesome.
I am with the others as well, put me on the short list for that extra $100,000 and i too will make a movie for you.

pete

Why not just wait until the year is actually over to do this?

Edward Agadjanian

No Hateful Eight or The Revenant? Just overrated blockbusters and art films? This is laughable…

Jean

2015 was full of nothing when it came down to movies and this list right here proves that.

Will.I.Am

I visited your web page. But, as soon as I saw that you picked Under the Skin for last year’s best movie I immediately stopped reading your list. Get a grip!!

at

sicario is a brilliant movie its place is well deserved

Get Real

The Revenant has been in wide release for 3 weeks now, how have all staffers not seen it????

THIS IS THE #1 MOVIE OF THE YEAR BY FAAAAAAR. Push the release of the list back until everyone has seen the best movies of the year.

Stehako

Pretty good list! Pretty rad to see ‘Duke of Burgundy’ at #3, it made my top 20.
For a simplified reaction here is my top 10:
10. Carol
9. The End of the Tour
8. The Walk
7. The Hateful Eight
6. Sicario
5. The Force Awakens
4. Steve Jobs
3. Inside Out
2. Ex Machina
1. The Revenant

lol

ROFL what a joke list, mad furiosa was horrible

Joseph

Thank you so much for including The End of the Tour, which is my personal favourite film of the year. It’s a real gem of a film, and deserves a wider audience.

avenger07

what is it with the madmax overhyped love? i just dont get it, wouldnt make my top 30 best of the year, and Sicario 2nd? please! film is decent but doesn’t make any decent top 10 best list.

Brian McInnis

This list is worse than asshole cancer.

Brian McInnis

Kudos for having the balls to put the Undisputed Worst Film of All Time in the #1 spot.

Logan

Great list overall. I definitely agree with Mad Max: Fury Road being the best movie of the year. That film transcended genres, very impressed. Cinema is certainly not dead.

h

THank you for putting Mad Max Fury Road in number 1

Mindaugas

super s*itty list

Pankhuri

Revenant should be in the top 10 .! Such a shame it’s not in 1st or 2nd position.

Lola

Wow! Mad Max as the 1st? Seriously you guys need to watch a bit more non US movies.creepy list ..the only thing that really worth here is Son of Saul … too way American. ..

Calum Colburn

If this list was toilet paper it would be unworthy of my anus. It’s utter trash and should be at best discarded; at worst utterly destroyed. You people are idiots. Much Love :)

AB

Worst movie list I’ve ever seen…

Valorius

What the hell did i just read, and why did i do it?

avenger07

Don’t agree on Mad Max being #1, never understood the hype such forgattable car chase movie, understand how The Revenant isn’t here due to this list being made before it’s launch.

Dark World

Moreover, this structure is not exciting tension, as in ‘Hostel’ was the case, but rather boring, amateurish and acted; particularly by pop idol Sky Ferreira who plays the best friend of Justine and her remark ‘activism is so gay "seems to express the attitude of Roth.
Fortunately, the patience of the horror fan is indeed rewarded once ‘our friends’ with their plane crashing into the jungle. It quickly becomes one of the group picked out and made part of the daily menu. The top chef of the cannibals, an old woman with scary eyes, puts it on a large stone, subject to loud cheers from the village members, beginning with her ritual slaughter. Without anesthesia course. They go to work systematically, and of course it is as fine as the victim is long in life. Maybe the meat tastes differently or less well. In any case, one for his eyeballs, tongue, limbs, torso, and head stripped of the rest of his body, with an awl or well-sharpened machete. While watching the other Western benefactors in their cage cartoonenter.blogspot.in

Rocksteady

Dylan, DG, shut up. Just go and shop around to several investors who’ll fund such an extremely low budget. You obviously have no clue how film works so shut up.

Nangi

Dylan, DG. Just go and shop around to several investors who’ll fund such an extremely low budget. You obviously have no clue how film works so shut up.

Bhodsike

Koon bhodsike and nadar chr list banaya hai

Fazal Mohamed

Hello

shailesh lokare

Hindi

Et

This list was made by either a female or a gay man

Ang

Before seeing the list (and its the 1st for the 2015 movies) I said: "if they have Mad Max 1st place, I close it…

DARK SOUL

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Chuckl8

"Mad Max: Fury Road" is your favorite 2015 film?

Do your parents know that you kids are using their laptop again?

Jayana

are you kidding me!!!!!where the bridge of spies & revenant.this can not be real.

Bernardo

Max was awesome.40 years of seeing movies, and not sure I have ever seen anything else like it.

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Anthony

FYI Mad Max is jus awesome

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