Dana Harris, Editor-in-Chief and General Manager
In alphabetical order.
Why stop-motion animation for the tale of a corporate executive who briefly finds love, only to be undone by his own limitations? Because it perfectly suits the dryly funny worldview of writer/co-director Charlie Kaufman, and allows for flights of fancy that provide a heartbreaking illustration of the conceit that gives the film its perfect title. And, yes, it has the most explicit puppet-sex scene since "Team America," but here it’s neither shocking nor funny; it’s tender and moving.
Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain last brought us "No," his humorous look at the battle to defeat Augusto Pinochet; this time he ups the stakes considerably with "The Club," which is based on the world of defrocked priests who are assigned to live in a remote group home rather than face their crimes. His political and intellectual sensibilities are at the fore in this drama that’s generous in its criticism and compassion for all concerned.
"The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
This film is a miracle on so many fronts: It’s a pitch-perfect adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi-autobiographical graphic novel, and it presents a view of a young woman’s sexuality that owns both its power and its confusion. Star Bel Powley is nothing less than a revelation and actress-turned-filmmaker Marielle Heller turns in an astonishingly assured debut.
It sounds like the most impossible pitch, even for Pixar: A trip inside the mind of a pre-adolescent girl as she comes to terms with life’s difficulties for the first time. But trust Pixar to have the wisdom to see the possibilities, and here they’re realized in ways that are equally funny and heart-tugging. Major bonus points: A movie all about a young lady’s brain earned $850 million worldwide.
The last film of documentary master Albert Maysles is a fitting end to a glorious career. His portrait of style icon Iris Apfel is more than a look at the influences that informed this colorful fashion iconoclast; it’s infused by the spirit of two whip-smart octogenarians going toe-to-toe, each backed by a lifetime of experience as brilliant free-thinkers.
"Mad Max: Fury Road"
The raw, unfettered energy in this flamethrower of an epic doesn’t feel like a sequel, much less one directed by a 70-year-old visionary. But that’s exactly what George Miller’s movie is, fueled by plenty of jaw-dropping random weirdness like the manic crowing of Nicolas Hoult’s Nux to the impenetrable force that is Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. And while there’s no Oscar for character names (Rictus Erectus! Toast the Knowing! Cheedo the Fragile!), Miller’s screenplay (written with Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris) deserves them.
Fox was delighted when they discovered their Ridley Scott thriller scored so well with the female quadrant, but the key to its success lies in the umami of a fifth user group: The XKCD crowd. Unlike most sic-fi epics, this one didn’t sacrifice logic for thrills and got the NASA seal of approval. And, it did something few films have done before by showing the world that scientists are smart and funny.
Journalists can always be suckers for movies about their own kind, but "Spotlight" goes a step further in Tom McCarthy’s thoughtful, measured approach to capturing the quiet hard work of investigative journalism. And his cast is uniformly excellent, from Michael Keaton’s flawed and hard-nosed editor to Rachel McAdams’ portrayal of life as a shoe-leather reporter. Weird to think that in another decade or two, this could seem like a period piece.
"Straight Outta Compton"
This movie could have been just awful, and probably would have been if the stars didn’t align to give us all the elements the made it, well, sing: An airtight script, sharp direction and editing, and most of all the ensemble cast that could portray these icons of rap without seeming like parody. Yes, the role of women here is fairly pathetic (as one critic said: bitches, girlfriends, and bitches who become sympathetic girlfriends), but I don’t doubt that’s how the principals then saw women in their world. Still a great movie.
This is a movie that helps keep the dream of indie film alive as we move into 2016. Shot on an iPhone, on the streets of scary Hollywood, starring transgendered actresses in their feature debuts, the energy in this film could power a week at Burning Man. Produced by the peripatetic Duplass brothers. and directed by Sean Baker, it’s as much a love letter to the power to create as it is to Los Angeles itself.
Eric Kohn, Deputy Editor and Chief Film Critic
Eric Kohn’s Eccentric "Other" Top 10 List of Moving Images in 2015
My top 15 list of movies released this year is immutable, and there are literally dozens of other movies released over the past 12 months worth celebrating as well. These include "Girlhood" (a moving, gritty coming of age story that’s also a love letter to the streets of Paris), "Ned Rifle" (Hal Hartley doing what he does best), "Cheatin’" (Bill Plympton, same deal), "’71" (a bracing war drama) and "Magic Mike XXL" (essentially Minelli in the 21st century).
But cinema isn’t a world that any of us exclusively reside in. Here’s a look at some of the other moving image experiences that left an impact on me this year.
1. "Tales From the Borderlands"
Even if you haven’t warmed to video games, you may still want to check out this alternately silly, rambunctious and charming episodic game, which you can easily get on your smart phone right this second. Telltale’s riff on the "Borderland" franchise follows a bunch of would-be scam artists and entrepreneurs on a cross-planet journey in search of profit. Their odyssey, a kind of steampunk Hope & Crosby romp, is beautifully written no matter how you choose to progress through its multifaceted narrative. It’s also got an iconic side character in the deadpan companion to the presumed protagonists, the faithful droid-like creation known as Loaderbot. Imagine a Transformer with the disarming personality of C-3PO and you might get an idea for the amusement factor in store, which gives way to much richer developments in the emotional conclusion.
But more than that, "Tales From the Borderland" also points to the next phase of popular storytelling — there’s no question that the Telltale folks have crafted a wonderful narrative, but it’s one that allows players to feel like they’re both watching and experiencing it at once. If this is the future of entertainment, I’ll all for it. Bring on the VR revolution!
2. "World of Tomorrow"
Technically cheating since this is indeed a movie, but short films rarely get a chance to be showcased this time of year, so screw it: Don Hertzfeldt’s colorfully inventive time travel chronicle (which won prizes at Sundance and SXSW) is the DIY animator’s most accomplished work since his groundbreaking Oscar-nominated "Rejected." Go rent it on Vimeo and luxuriate in its cosmic wonders; rinse and repeat.
3. "Fallout 4"
Bethesda Studios’ latest entry in the post-apocalyptic gaming franchise that started in the nineties is another incredible open world with an epic story rooted in the player’s personal decisions, this time combining the personal quest of a parent who’s lost his son with the material of a hardboiled detective story. Plus, the usual recipe of mutants, radscorpions, radiation poisoning and mini nukes. "Fallout 4" lets you experience the end of the world by surviving it with some semblance of hope. It’s the finest narrative of its type this year that’s not "Mad Max: Fury Road."
Sorry, "Star Wars," but Brian K. Vaughan’s ongoing fantasy series is the only distant fictional universe I anticipate these days. With a scale matched only by its disarming humor and intelligence, the veteran comic book writer outdoes his own "Y: The Last Man" with this marvelous science fiction accomplishment.
5. "The Show About the Show"
Caveh Zahedi’s self-reflexive web series, which has so far only posted three episodes, is the provocative diary filmmaker’s most exciting project to date: The folks at BRIC TV gave Zahedi carte blanche to make anything he wants, so each episode is basically just that — a chronicle of his interactions with the network and actors about the creation of the show itself. Hilarious, strange and often boundary-pushing in its exploration of creative ambition, it’s also wonderfully inventive and one of the most intriguing surprises of the fall.
6. "Broken Age"
With his point and click adventure games for Lucasarts in the nineties, Tim Schafer was one of the smartest popular entertainers of the nineties (even Spielberg was a fan), though he’s rarely given credit for it beyond the insular world of the gaming community. With his indie company Double Fine, Schafer has only grown more ambitious, and the two-part fantasy-adventure "Broken Age" — which takes place in a distant future land and involves two wildly different characters, one of whom is voiced by Elijah Wood — is a brilliantly inventive form of interactive storytelling. Get it on your iPad to soak in the gorgeous, painteresque landscapes and don’t spoil the puzzles with an online walkthrough; this is a brain teaser in which the teasing is part of the storytelling experience.
7. Season 19 of "South Park"
From gentrification to Trump to the cannabalization of media by advertising, the show engineered to enlighten and offend in equal doses reached the apex of its startling run with his extensive, season-long arc. (I’m not sure I’ll ever enter Whole Foods without feeling a twinge of guilt again.) Trey Parker and Matt Stone emerged as the great satirists at the end of the 20th century; they’re already the preeminent ones of the 21st.
8. "Jessica Jones"
The most intriguing genre experiment of the ever-expanding Marvel franchise, "Jessica Jones" is an absorbing detective story with a rich ensemble, sumptuous mysteries and a terrific showcase for Krysten Ritter that just so happens to take place in the MCU.
9. Harrison Ford’s Publicity Campaign for "Star Wars"
At this writing, I have yet to experience the latest look at a galaxy far, far away. But I already nominate Harrison Ford for most hilarious shill of the year on the basis of his recent publicity campaign, which includes a jab at Donald Trump and the best response to a bland promotional question ever when Jimmy Fallon asked him if returning to Han Solo made the actor emotional: "No. I got paid." Sorry, Trump, but the real truth talker of the fall shot first.
10. "Jeff Ross Roasts Criminals"
Who needs a Vice special when you have this disarmingly goofy yet incisive and humanizing peak inside the broken penal system? Ross’ ability to toy with his incarcerated subjects while foregrounding their heartbreaking situations is one of the great, under-appreciated activist statements of the year.
Kate Erbland, Managing Editor
A process movie for people not necessarily enamored of process movies, Tom McCarthy’s best film of the year (best both for him, apologies to "The Cobbler," and for the rest of the field) fires on all cylinders and breathes brutal life into a story not intuitively made for the big screen. Featuring an all-star ensemble that ably embraces the true meaning of "supporting," everyone gets a chance to shine in "Spotlight," but the story is always at the front and center. It’s the real deal.
My one big cinematic regret for 2015 is that I didn’t catch John Crowley’s captivating "Brooklyn" when it debuted at Sundance in January, instead waiting until September — a lifetime! — to catch up with the gorgeously rendered and lovingly made coming-of-age story. Star Saoirse Ronan lights up the screen as a young lady going through a time of major transition (look, I don’t like to include Britney Spears references for the hell of it, but come on, this is basically the period version of "I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman"), one who emerges on the other side with grace, charm and admiration to spare. Another stellar ensemble cast pumps up the film’s power, but it’s Emory Cohen who steals the show, a heartbreaker the likes of which Hollywood rarely sees these days.
Perfection transmitted in a glance, passion told by a sigh. It’s the most romantic movie of the year.
4. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
A bruising experience from start to finish, no film was more eye-popping and entertaining this year. That it’s filled to the brim with subversive storytelling and ass-kicking characters is just a bonus. Witness me!
There’s no other way this story could be told. A deceptively simple tale about a disaffected dude and the little lady who turns it all around for him, it’s the animation aspect of Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s gloriously emotional feature that forces you to confront expectations of humanity. Almost too real.
6. "Ex Machina"
Just like the stop-motion puppets of "Anomalisa" seem almost more human than human, Alicia Vikander’s wide-eyed robot Ava somehow seems more curious, unique and emotional than any other human who populates Alex Garland’s endlessly layered feature. Plus, Oscar Isaac dancing.
It earns all those too-easy pull quotes: "A knockout! A winner! It will KO your heart! Bring the smelling salts!" This is how you do a reboot.
8. "The Revenant"
Leonardo DiCaprio’s growling, raspy, Oscar-hungry performance isn’t his best, but it’s definitely his most gutsy, but even it can’t take away from the stunning visuals and jaw-dropping sound design of the world’s most horrific survival tale. Pumped up by the year’s best long-take battle, "The Revenant" will haunt me for years to come (even if I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing).
9. "Mistress America"
Dizzy, silly, strange and unrepentingly screwball, Noah Baumbach’s latest only gets better with more watches, though Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke are pure magic right from the start.
10. "The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
The most necessary film of the year. More like this, please.
1. "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
The relentlessly charming "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" is perhaps the entertainment world’s best antidote to the current spat of so-called "peak TV" that, while totally great!, can also be totally bleak (looking at you, "The Leftovers" and "Show Me a Hero" — we’ll talk later). The Ellie Kemper-starring Netflix comedy series is wrapped up in candy-colored dreams and endless good cheer, but that doesn’t keep it from imparting some important wisdom about life (and not just life lived inside the confines of a bunker), while also being so damn funny that you almost can’t handle it. They alive, dammit, and so is this show.
2. "Jessica Jones"
As Marvel has steadily seeped into the cultural consciousness, it’s proven ever more difficult to avoid the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its many-tentacled arms. For fans of the MCU, new additions like "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones" have been a boon, but they’ve also provided a handy new entry point for people who aren’t disposed to see their related films on the big screen. As someone who happily eats up most MCU offerings, "Jessica Jones" has been a welcome chance of pace on many fronts: She’s one of the MCU’s most interesting characters, the show takes a real-world approach to PTSD and its feminist underpinnings are maybe the best thing to come out of the franchise, well, maybe ever.
3. "The Leftovers"
After a mixed bag of a first season, HBO’s dark drama hit its stride in its sophomore outing, neatly pulling together storylines, characters, themes and ideas while also moving most of the action to a brand new location. It was a bold move, but one that paid off hugely, allowing viewers to find new people and things to love while also reinvesting in established characters and ideas. The show may still be dark as hell, but now it’s got real purpose for its moodiness.
FX’s own "Fargo" also mixed things up this year, moving its action back to the swinging late seventies and introducing to both new characters and younger versions of beloved old ones. Despite knowing some of the things that would befall our group — cancer, murder and something about a massacre — the show has managed to keep surprising and delighting its audience. Considering the constraints placed on it in terms of both tone and family trees, that’s it’s own special sort of accomplishment, but that it does it while still being so fully itself is nearly a miracle.
5. "Better Call Saul"
No one was more doubtful of this "Breaking Bad" prequel than me, no one. "How could this possibly work?" I would yell at my television. "Why is this happening?!?" I would mewl. And then I was proven wrong, so very wrong, by this canny and funny and sad and original and wholly unique spin on a show I already loved, capped off with a performance by Bob Odenkirk that somehow blends together both humor and absolute heartbreak.
6. "Mad Men"
Peggy Olson came up with that Coke ad, as fueled by her and Stan’s consummated love, and I don’t want to hear another word about it.
7. "Show Me a Hero"
The only problem with Oscar Isaac becoming a huge, massive, giant star is that it means it’s all the more unlikely we’ll get to see him in a heady, thoughtful HBO miniseries about the ins and out of public service ever again. Savor this one.
8. "Silicon Valley"
As the giddy humor of the first season slipped into the thundering pain of the second season, fans of the HBO comedy series were left to contend with the unshakeable feeling that our heroes will never be able to actually keep things together, no matter if said "things" involve such sundry details as bad energy drinks and worse home engineering. The show is still hysterical, but now that pain in our belly, well, it comes from a different place.
9. "The Last Man on Earth"
A brilliant idea executed perfectly. After a few bumps in its first season, "The Last Man on Earth" continued to plow on, taking risks, depending on characters to make wholly terrible decisions and plundering a deeply sad premise for something so original and amusing that we hope it never ends.
10. "Bar Rescue"
The guiltiest of guilty pleasures and the platonic ideal of what a reality show can and should be. Stock characters, recycled plots, a host with an ego the size of Jupiter and more screaming than is necessary and advisable, "Bar Rescue" has everything and it packages it all up inside a rat-infested, mold-soaked bar rag, wielded by the angriest bartender in the worst "work appropriate" clothes imaginable. Perfection.
Liz Shannon Miller, TV Editor
1. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
I feel like the movie I saw the most last year is the one I should list first. It was fun and yet also impactful and so someday I’d like to see Tom Hardy in an Aaron Sorkin movie where he has 100 pages of dialogue but right now I’m okay with the Tom Hardy I have. So for right now, here is something of perfect execution, full of imagination, and never once lacking in ambition. A master work by a master (which just so happens to include a guy playing a flame-throwing guitar).
Dear Ben Travers, I owe you a huge thank you. When the first full trailer for "Room" came out, you said immediately in our internal Indiewire chat room that it revealed some major plot details. I thus didn’t watch said trailer, and thus when I did end up seeing the film, I was on the edge of my seat for every goddamn minute. This movie is a tiny marvel that owned my soul for two hours, and I would have been quite content to spend many more, with these characters and this story. Ben, as a thank you, please enjoy what I’ve listed as Number 3. (Which might have gotten there anyway, BECAUSE…)
Boxing movies have this one amazing advantage to them: They’re so clear, just so direct, in their plot arc. There’s a big fight, and then there’s the build-up to it and stuff happens along the way, but it’s all about win or lose, the inescapable conflict. "Creed" takes that, owns it and then elevates it in ways that make it human and personal. It’s tough to truly explain. But fortunately, I can just sit there and enjoy the ever-living crap out of it.
If "All the President’s Men" is one of your favorite movies, you’re doomed to love this. If a fascination with the post-Internet evolution of journalism proves interesting, well, boy, you’re also in luck. But here’s what actually matters with "Spotlight" — it doesn’t go for the tears. It doesn’t try to make you weep. Instead, it’s brutally honest. The most horrifying moments of the film aren’t the confessions of the abused people at the heart of this story. The worst bits are the end cards. That’s when you want to cry.
5. "The Martian"
This is a movie for nerds. I am a nerd. I am a nerd for the original novel written by Andy Weir, I am a nerd for Drew Goddard’s dialogue, I am a nerd for Ridley Scott’s filmmaking and I am a nerd for science and the potential that lies in further exploration. I am here for this.
6. "Magic Mike XXL"
Here is what I Tweeted to the world, leaving the theater after seeing "Magic Mike XXL," which I will hereafter refer to as "this summer’s best film that wasn’t ‘Mad Max’:"
Every guy in this summer’s best film that wasn’t "Mad Max" is a hero, and never has a celebration of masculinity also been more celebratory of women. This movie is love.
Hey, look at that, a simple, heartfelt story, beautifully told. I wish I’d been more enraptured by it, because it did have so much charm at the beginning. But while the last act left me a little cold, "Brooklyn" felt singular in a way that only comes when you really try to appreciate performance, appreciate moments. That’s often what you remember, after all. The moments of films.
8. "The Walk"
I didn’t see this one coming! I really only saw it because I was trying to avoid some crappy traffic on a Friday evening, and not only did I enjoy the heist-style execution, I’ll be frank — the ending got to me. Mankind is a species of achievements, and "The Walk" captures that spirit so thoroughly — and also captures just one of the facets of 9/11 that made it America’s open wound.
9. "Welcome to Me"
I’d like to read from a prepared statement: Director Shira Piven took a lady’s strange and made it into art. This is something worth celebrating. We need more movies like this. We need more movies this weird that are also so honest.
The critiques about how director Judd Apatow’s influence guided this movie into its feel-good reformative (yet not necessarily earned) ending are very fair. But this is Amy Schumer’s goddamn year, and this movie gets blunt about female bad behavior in a way we don’t see at all too often. Sometimes "Trainwreck" is sad and sometimes it is brutal. But of all the movies ever made to risk reviews featuring a terrible pun title, this one easily escaped that trap. (If only because John Cena was so funny. God bless you, John Cena.) So happy you happened this year, "Trainwreck." We need movies like this, always.
(Indiewire’s official Top 10 list for 2015 will be coming out soon, but in order to avoid redundancy — and single out a few more excellent titles — TV Critic Ben Travers and I will both be including alternative lists for this roundup.)
1. "Mr. Robot"
With a few months between me and the season finale of Sam Esmail’s at times quite stunning series, I feel that I didn’t love this show, because it wasn’t a show that seemed to demand my love. But while at times the plot twists didn’t shock me like I think they were supposed to, it was exquisitely made, brilliantly acted television.
2. "Mozart in the Jungle"
The Amazon Originals bench got very, very deep in 2015, and unfortunately this means some great shows got overlooked. Especially series released in the dead zone of Christmas and New Years. But that doesn’t make this well-made dramedy about the unclassy lives of classical musicians any less compelling, especially given how damn good this cast is.
3. "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"
Some of the best character acting on television is happening every week on this show, and we don’t talk nearly enough about that. The ensemble’s chemistry just gets better and better, with jokes to match.
4. "Playing House"
A really nuanced portrait of female friendship is at the core of this little seen but charming series, which also features a stellar supporting cast. If you haven’t descended into the complicated but good-hearted Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair’s complicated lives, it’s a treat worth discovering. (Honorable mention here as well for "Broad City" — also about two very funny women, albeit with a very different tone and approach. It had a great second season.)
5. "Project Greenlight"
Despite a relatively underwhelming ending (and an even more underwhelming final product) the return of this series brought with it not just some damn compelling reality TV — it also triggered some incredibly important conversations about the importance of diversity in front of and behind the camera. Matt Damon didn’t think it was "Project Greenlight’s" job to change the current state of the industry, but it might have actually started the process.
6. "The Mindy Project"
The original premise of "The Mindy Project" was very much built on creator Mindy Kaling’s unabashed adoration of classic happy romantic comedies. But here in Season 4, things are very, very complicated, and thanks to some brave choices made by the writers the show became extremely compelling — and sad.
Here are the facts: I watched the HELL out of this show. I watched it at least twice. It’s lingered in my mind in a way that’s quite pleasant. I really liked everyone involved. And I’m really excited to see Season 2, hopefully in 2016? So yeah, "Sense8." It belongs on this list.
I watched the first few episodes of this back in the spring, and liked it but didn’t get hooked in by what felt like an overly serialized format. However, catching up with the rest of the first season revealed a slowly but confidently built overarching storyline with some pretty bold plotting choices. Can’t wait to see how they build upon it in Season 2.
9. "Difficult People"
This show is built for a very specific kind of person, but it turns out I am that kind of person, and I want to be friends with Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner quite badly. I’ll settle for watching them yell at a dumb world that doesn’t recognize how brilliant they are, though. (Shoutout here as well for "Billy on the Street," which has delivered some insane moments of pop culture parody with its verite stunts.)
10. "Arrow"/"The Flash"
Greg Berlanti’s CW-friendly twist-filled superhero adventures are worth analyzing for the way they’ve been experimenting with the concept of the television crossover — it’s a structural feat that’s so far held together reasonably across multiple series (hell, technically over multiple networks). But also, they’re also truly enjoyable, watchable television. For those looking for the fun of great engaging comic books on TV, this is it.
Ben Travers, TV Critic
1. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Constantly pulsing with feminist ferocity and imagination, "Mad Max: Fury Road" depicts a world we’ve never seen in a way we’ve never seen it. Director George Miller put everything and the kitchen sink (read: car-top, guitar-playing mute) into his fourth "Max" and somehow managed to streamline the 120 minutes to fly by at top speed sans bumps. "Fury Road" is a necessity for more than just action fans. It’s an encapsulation of modern fears, both specific to California and worldwide, told with addictive gusto. Ride on, Max (and all hail Furiosa).
A thoughtful consideration of the most human challenges facing immigrants both past and present, "Brooklyn" finds added life in its fresh central voice — Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish woman in search of a better future in America is torn up over commitments to family, faith and country. Ronan is as utterly captivating in the lead role as the script is a joy to see play out, but at its heart, "Brooklyn" is a powerful tale about finding, defining and understanding your home.
Profound in its direct presentation and simple metaphors, "Anomalisa" adds up to so much more than it leads on, sitting in your mind for days and weeks after the credits roll. In many ways, Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman’s foray into stop-motion adult animation plays like an elongated short film, but the power of its characters, design and drama end up making the 90-minute run time feel all too short. Of all the franchises and tentpoles launched in 2015, this is the story I want to see more of in the future (even if its nearly perfect as is).
A true vision emerges in Ryan Coogler’s artfully-crafted "Rocky" spin-off, "Creed," a film so magnificently structured it matches the formula of the films that came before it while breaking new, emotionally-charged ground for everyone involved. A triumph bound to make fans proud and newcomers gripped, Sylvester Stallone deserves an Oscar for his most commanding work since "Cop Land." He digs into the character he’s lived in for six films prior, making Rocky more than he’s been but just who he was. Bravo to all involved.
Pulsing with life while portraying the worst ways to die, "Sicario" is a thoughtful jolt of reality from a director who’s become a must-watch auteur. Deceptively simple with its story (and aided in said deceit by an apt plot), this exemplary thriller subtly layers its character development in service to the overarching lesson, making for a both a controversial and fully satisfying climax.
6. "Steve Jobs"
A beautiful machine only if you want to take it apart, "Steve Jobs" utilizes all of the classic biopic beats — jumbled up and spit out in an innovative new order — to try to find the heart behind a brilliant mind. Aaron Sorkin’s script comes close and the performances do him proud, all combining to make this version of "Jobs" an exhaustingly distant icon worth dissecting.
7. "Ex Machina"
Exquisitely crafted and lovingly rendered, "Ex Machina" presents a dystopian future right around the corner with equal doses appealing possibility and outright horror. The twists pay off narratively, but are even more enticing to dwell on after they happen, making the film equally fascinating on second (and third) viewings.
8. "Inside Out"
Lush, imaginative and as suitably challenging for adults as it is children, "Inside Out" opens up so many doors you almost want to fault it for not exploring each one. Yet its allegiance to the central story is both admirable and necessary, creating an endless amount of fresh, necessary discussions to be had long after the film ends.
An incredibly efficient and effective story about the intricacies and perils involved with our most trusted form of storytelling, "Spotlight" rarely steps away from its central conceit (and suffers slightly when it does). Barring a distractingly ticky
10. "The Voices"
Bold in tone if not wholly original, "The Voices" marks another outstanding performance by Ryan Reynolds. The talented thesp not only portrays an empathetic killer with equal touches menace and innocence, but also provides unrecognizable voices for his talking dog and cat (who act as angel and demon, respectively). The animals steal the show, making up for a "been there, done that" feel to the character’s psychological profile, but "The Voices" still has plenty of new things to say.
[I have not been able to see "Carol," "The Hateful Eight," "Joy," "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" or, of course, "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens."]
(As mentioned above, because Indiewire’s official Top 10 list for 2015 will be coming out soon, this is an alternative list for this roundup.)
1. "The Leftovers"
I’m sorry, but I just had to list this at No. 1. You all know by now there’s no other show in contention, not for me and not in 2015. Watch it.
The Duplass brothers can do no wrong, and this HBO comedy gets all the details of 30-something family life right. Throw in a few award-worthy turns from Melanie Lynskey and Steve Zissis, and you’ve got yourself a premium cable version of must-see TV.
3. "Public Morals"
Edward Burns bursts onto the TV scene with an addictive and entertaining TNT drama that also just so happens to be one of the best new shows of the year. Spot-on casting, beautiful set design and some impressive direction make it your moral obligation to give this one a shot.
4. "Red Oaks"
Amazon has a number of original series you need to be watching, not just "Transparent." So start with "Red Oaks," an ’80s set comedy soaked in nostalgia without being overwhelmed by it. Co-creator Gregory Jacobs and EP Steven Soderbergh have made quite the joyful foray into scripted comedy.
If you think Matt LeBlanc’s career ended with "Friends," you’re probably a character on "Episodes" — except then you’d be too smart and self-aware to make such a crazy assertion. The Showtime comedy deserves all the awards it’s earned to date, and then some.
Remember when I told you to watch more Amazon Originals? Time to flip over to "Catastrophe," a six-episode half-hour comedy with characters so strong you won’t believe how long this quick season stays with you.
7. "Ash vs. Evil Dead"
Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell made a surprisingly smooth transition to TV, perhaps because they didn’t bother to change much — just a more diverse cast and even more Deadites. What a treat.
8. "The Last Man on Earth"
Will Forte’s Fox comedy made a serious rebound in Season 2, making its lead character the endearing protagonist and his "friends" the ones who need to earn our love. So far, it’s working beautifully.
Always unique, always very much its own series, Ray McKinnon’s gripping human drama continues to bewitch viewers with its sweeping cinematography and Southern stories.
10. "Fresh Off the Boat"
As delightful as ever, this ABC sitcom has proved in its second season that it’s got the legs to become one of your weekly staples.
Zack Sharf, Editorial Assistant
1. "Ex Machina"
A three-person morality play about sexual politics gets a science-fiction sheen in Alex Garland’s stimulating and seductive psychological thriller. You won’t find better acting this year than Alicia Vikander, cooler dance moves than Oscar Issac’s or effective twists that remain organic to the story while building its themes. "Ex Machina" was made to be observed and studied, and it continues to morph and surprise with every viewing.
2. "Inside Out"
The best Pixar movie ever made is also the most profound movie of the year. It cuts to the deepest parts of your heart by unlocking the mind and all of the complicated emotions that need to be embraced if we want to grow up. How’s that for a children’s movie?
3. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
George Miller is the year’s most out-of-control madman, and thank god for that. "Fury Road" creates its own film language, packing so much subtext and character building into its non-stop car chases and explosions that to watch it is to discover just how bold action filmmaking can be when executed in the right hands. God bless you, Mr. Miller.
This 140-minute long take heist movie hits you like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Part romance, part action thriller, "Victoria" is an immersive landmark. Come for the long take and stay for a lead performance that dazzles.
5. "Son of Saul"
Sustained long takes, a gut-wrenching lead performance and an ambiguous screenplay all add to the unrelenting nature of this POV Holocaust drama, but its true power lies in its sound design. "Son of Saul" doesn’t just show you the horrors of the concentration camps, it brings you there in all its overwhelming chaos.
Tom McCarthy knows a powerful story when he sees one, and he knocks this Boston Globe drama out of the park simply by letting the true story tell itself with as much nuance and investigative detail as possible. It’s a journalism drama for the ages.
This romance is so sublimely acted and impeccably directed that it sweeps you off your feet like a dream. One glance between Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara packs more passion than any movie or show this year.
Ryan Coogler’s masterpiece crowdpleaser never stops bringing you to your feet again and again and again. Few films make you feel so alive and so invested in the success of its characters.
9. "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck"
No film this year manifests the subconscious of its subject as true-to-life as Brett Morgen’s radical Kurt Cobain documentary. It’s a viewing experience as manic, frightening, daring, hardcore and flat out genius as Cobain himself.
10. "It Follows"
Not since "The Shining" has a horror movie been so relentlessly unnerving in every detail, from its off-the-rockers lead performance to its artistic direction, score and indecipherable sense of time and place.
1. "The Leftovers"
A legendary season of television that took more narrative risks in some episodes than many shows do in five seasons. Watching "The Leftovers" is the most singular viewing experience on TV. Nothing else feels like, nothing else challenges like it and nothing else tops the powerhouse dynamics of its remarkable ensemble.
2. "BoJack Horseman"
Television’s most uproarious comedy is also its most razor sharp Hollywood satire and, believe or not, its most sensitive drama about depression. And it stars a cartoon anthropomorphic horse. If that doesn’t prove the power of television, I’m not sure what does.
It’s jaw-dropping how the second season of "Fargo" ranks with the top tier of Coen Brothers work, despite the fact Joel and Ethan aren’t even involved. Noah Hawley nails the spiraling themes and unbearable comic tension that are the hallmarks of a Coen Brothers masterpiece, and he’s created one of the all-time great Coen Brothers characters in the form of Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine).
4. "Show Me A Hero"
The great David Simon returned to HBO with another searing true story of emotional and social politics, weaving together layered stories of Yonkers residents and the controversial election of Mayor Nick Wasicsko. Only Simon can make the nitty gritty details of councils and zoning laws have the weight of a life-or-death thriller.
The meanest show on television got even more vicious in its perfect fourth outing, where zingers flew like knives as Selina Meyer (the incomparable Julia Louis-Dreyfus) showed her ruthless colors in the pursuit for the presidency. This cast tears each other apart, and it’s a thrillingly comic feast to behold.
Television’s most complicated and vibrant family got richer, messier and more complex in an outstanding second season that proved just how fearless and sensitive this ensemble can be. Jeffrey Tambor gets all the awards love (and deservedly so), but Season 2 is an actor’s showcase for the whole family.
7. "You’re the Worst"
Funnier, darker and more personal than its stellar first season, "You’re the Worst" survived the jump to FXX and the risky move of putting its central romance under the same roof, thanks to daring character developments and genuine heart.
8. "The Jinx"
However much Andrew Jarecki screwed with the timeline, nothing can take away from the fact that "The Jinx" was the addictive shocker of the year. Endlessly mysterious and intriguing, "The Jinx" proved nonfiction entertainment is for the masses.
9. "Game of Thrones"
Television’s greatest chess game continues to dazzle even if it’s not the most consistent show. With some of the best acting pairs on screen (seeing Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage together for the first time was certainly worth the wait) and a new level of technical wizardry (the battle of Hardhome is a masterpiece hour), "Thrones" is still the biggest spectacle in entertainment.
The Duplass Brothers’ mumblecore sensitivity served them well in the wonderful debut season of their HBO comedy-drama. Nothing here breaks new ground, but four revelatory performances — Mark Duplass, Steve Zissis, the sublime Melanie Lynskey and Amanda Peet — make cliche hit you where it matters most: the heart.
Emily Buder, Community Manager, Writer
1. "The Tribe"
The sheer audacity of this film — sign language sans subtitles — would be worth its place on the list, but it’s the brutal execution and story that linger. "The Tribe" is a reminder of the power of the nonverbal cinematic language.
2. "Son of Saul"
Only a masterful filmmaker could pull this one off. László Nemes’ taut direction sends "Son of Saul" off the Holocaust film charts and into new territory. The decision to stay tight on the protagonist without ever featuring a wide shot keeps us squarely in the subjective experience of Auschwitz. Intricate and unflinching sound design help to render this an unparalleled harrowing experience. I have never walked out of a theater accompanied by so many dazed moviegoers caught in the purgatory between reality and nightmare.
3. "The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
Finally, an American film about a teenage girl discovering sex — from her point of view! Bel Powley is fascinating to watch as she discovers the relationship between vulnerability, sexuality and self-worth. Her confident performance is what grounds the film in truth.
4. "Ex Machina"
This sci-fi has all the right elements: Mystery, red herrings, left-of-center humor, strong characters, steady pacing and wonder at the human condition. Not to mention that it’s beautifully shot. Nothing makes me more satisfied than a well-done entry into this genre.
An incredible story told with precision and grace, "Spotlight" has brought the sovereignty of journalism back to the forefront of cultural conversation. The strong screenplay cleverly makes use of its ensemble cast and somehow manages to circumvent sensationalism. In this stunning procedural, the art is in the story itself.
6. "The Revenant"
Nearly 180 degrees from "Spotlight" is "The Revenant," which exists in the realm of pure cinematic experience. The film is breathtaking in every sense of the word: full of beauty, cruelty, wonder and the gaping maw of nature. It’s two and a half hours that simultaneously feel like twenty minutes and an entire lifetime.
7. "Cartel Land
The best documentary of the year, "Cartel Land" is a riveting experience through and through. At certain junctures, the narrative coalesces so well that the film plays like an action-drama. The cinematography is striking, especially in the context of a fast-paced documentary.
8. "The End of the Tour"
I’m a sucker for a well-written and performed tête-à-tête; make the characters writers and I’m sold. Jason Segel’s performance in this film is an outstanding and underappreciated achievement, but it’s ultimately the script and sensitive direction that shine.
The feminist film of the year, "Mustang" tows the line between darkness and vivacity. The story, which plays like a fable, is as inspiring as the mostly first-time actors that bring it to life.
10. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
I never thought I’d see the day when an action movie made my top 10. Alas, here it is! This film exceeded my expectations in every way possible. The impeccable steampunk design enhanced what could only be described as a fiery tone poem that’s a feast for the eyes and the adrenal glands.
Steve Greene, Special Projects Editor
An admission: I rarely ever treat a top ten list as a collection of The Best. If anything, I borrow a theoretical guide from Filmspotting’s Adam Kempenaar: If all of the year’s films were in danger of being lost, which ten would I save?
So, this year, I’d grab an instant children’s classic for the next generation of youngsters ("Paddington"). For anyone facing love’s crazy curveballs ("Brooklyn"), they might need reassurance that it could easily be worse ("Far From the Madding Crowd") and that they’re handling those universal complications in a relatively rational way ("The Voices").
I’d pick a pair of reminders of our capacity to stare down the most vile parts of our human nature, whether through systematic evaluation ("Experimenter") or through a confrontation of the parts of our past we find most difficulty relinquishing ("Phoenix"). For fans of the double feature, a stranger-in-a-strange-land twin bill of richly-drawn women looking for meaning in the stories they create themselves ("Man from Reno" and "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter").
No round-up of the year in film would be complete without at least a few documentaries. In the opening months of a landmark election campaign, it’s invaluable to remember the power that political discourse has on the national consciousness ("Best of Enemies"). And when that discourse is increasingly built around easy labels and quick condemnation, there will always be power in quiet, patient observation and the enduring value of empathy ("Stray Dog").
1. "Stray Dog"
2. "Man from Reno"
3. "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter"
4. "Best of Enemies"
6. "Far from the Madding Crowd"
9. "The Voices"
1. "Rick and Morty"
After an impressive freshman season, this feather in Adult Swim’s cap once again showed an impressive, universe-spanning range. Even though each episode finds its level of Deus Ex Rickina (free idea for a Season 3 episode title, guys) to bring it back to its warped suburban homeostasis, the show manages to use every inch of its intergalactic canvas. Deftly moving between moments of utter chaos ("Total Rickall," probably 2015’s crowning achievement), utter terror ("Keep. Summer. Safe.") and utter sincerity (Jerry and Beth’s marriage counseling), "Rick and Morty" is almost impossibly self-assured.
Speaking of shows in complete narrative control, the exploits of life reviewer Forrest MacNeil grew exponentially perilous this year. Led by the sublime Andy Daly, Season 2 of the show-within-a-show conceit ushered in a cadre of TV’s finest supporting players to help deliver the five-star goods, from Allison Tolman to Lennon Parham to the delightfully diabolical James Urbaniak. No other show this year mined more legitimately shocking moments by bursting through the boundaries of its own insanity.
Over its all-too-brief six-episode arc, "Catastrophe" manages one of the year’s most underrated minor miracles: To fashion a lived-in relationship between two strangers in less time than it takes to sign up for the account that would let you watch it unfold. Much as the two lead characters aren’t looking to each other for grand, elaborate shows of affection, the show sidesteps the expected romantic comedy pitfalls by making conversation the show’s defining centerpiece. Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s written and delivered dialogue never means to serve its own brashness, but represents it in a way that shows of its type all too often ignore.
4. "BoJack Horseman"
Many of this year’s best sitcoms managed to oscillate between the uproarious and the devastating, but none of them managed to stretch as far in either direction as BoJack. "Let’s Find Out" was superb and "Escape from L.A." was emotionally enervating, but the show also found the space in between to skewer the LA improv hierarchy, monstrous former sitcom stars and chickens. It also ruminates on the nature of loneliness more thoughtfully that any of its dramatic peers, animated or otherwise. (And Paul F. Tompkins’ Mr. Peanutbutter continues to be one of TV’s great joys.)
5. "Parks and Recreation"
For a show that survived through network turmoil and the public ascendancy of its co-stars, this season of "Parks and Rec" was more of an appreciative goodbye hug than a self-congratulatory wave from a passing parade. Orbiting around "Leslie and Ron," a glorious two-hander for the ages, the Pawnee swan song was everything fans could have hoped for, and all without straying from what made the show one of comedy’s most welcome bright spots for over half a decade.
6. "You’re the Worst"
For all its impressive, trash-juice-fueled character work, "You’re the Worst" thrives on its LA-based specificity. Jimmy and Gretchen’s exploits are intrinsically tied to (and possibly a symptom of) the atmospheric engine that drives the city itself, all perfectly encapsulated in the heart-mincing "LCD Soundsystem." It’s a world where buffoons and pure souls can coexist, where its most captivating inhabitants are desperately trying not to get pulled in either direction.
Anyone worried that Noah Hawley and Co. were going to rest on their snow-dusted laurels were assuaged within seconds of the opening of the FX drama’s second season. Yet even after zooming back a few decades and populating its periphery with no end of unsavory characters, "Fargo" has retained the small-town misadventure DNA that made its first 10 episodes such twisted fun. Bokeem Woodbine grabbed the Most Interesting Man on Television mantle, used Lewis Carroll for his acceptance speech and now we all live in a better woarld for it.
8. "Master of None"
The highest compliment you can give “Master of None” is that it works from start to finish. But that smooth, confident storytelling doesn’t come from a lack of daring or by staying huddled in the realm of the safe. Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang ground every episode in a “scenes from a New York life” framework that lets one man be the epicenter of his own story without the whole endeavor feeling self-indulgent. It’s a portrait of a commercial actor as a young man, but it makes sure to give Dev’s inner circle the star treatment also. Suitcase turtles for everyone!
9. "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"
Hard to kick off a series with a show-stopper, but boy did (newly-minted Golden Globe nominee!) Rachel Bloom and "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" announce themselves with "West Covina," a glorious musical encapsulation of the infectious spirit and subtle sharpness that make this a far more well-rounded series than its billboards might have suggested. There’s no indication that Rebecca will ever fully subdue the obsession that gives the show its title, but the show is constantly finding more reasons to care about her and the other inhabitants of this unassuming haven somewhere east of Pasadena. At its core, this is the sorely-needed network TV antidote that in a just world, additional seasons will allow to flourish into something truly extraordinary.
10. "Last Week Tonight"
From Trevor Noah’s tremendous work in his opening months at the helm of "The Daily Show," to the nightly entrées of unpredictability served up by Stephen Colbert on his new version of "The Late Show," 2015 has been a banner year for late-night TV. But there’s something about the laser-sharp focus that John Oliver’s crew has been able to bring to Sunday nights that makes it feel like the most vital of the bunch. Now two seasons deep, it’s not just self-referential, but also self-accounting. By keeping its past subjects on the horizon of the collective social consciousness, is moving past viral rants and ephemeral indignation towards an entity that’s becoming more and more of a lasting part of our national discourse.
Chris O’Falt, Filmmaker Toolkit Editor
The Masterpieces, #1 – 4 (In Alphabetical Order)
Todd Haynes puts aside the intellectual and filmmaking conceits of "I’m Not There" and "Far From Heaven" and makes a film that captures the magic of falling in love and how dangerous that must have felt to two lesbians in 1952.
The peak inside locals rising up to take back their towns from murderous cartels would have been enough to make this a great episode of "Frontline," but this film is also a well shot thriller with a hero straight out of Greek tragedy. I enjoyed this doc the way I enjoy a great Michael Mann film.
"The Look of Silence"
Possibly the most riveting and revelatory reaction shots ever caught on camera.
"Mad Max: Fury Road"
While making animation films, George Miller was liberated from practical constraints and able to put the camera exactly where he wanted. Then, somehow, at the age of 75 he went to the dessert to attempt the same thing (complete with 40 setups per scene) with a live action, high speed, post-apocalyptic chase film and got a studio to pick up the $150 million tab. This film’s mere existence feels like miracle.
Tier Two: I saw probably 20 good-to-great films that could have fit in #5-11, but these are the seven that stuck with me and that I’m likely to give a second viewing in the near future.
5. "Respire (Breathe)"
This year we received a handful of interesting glimpses into the complex emotional lives of teenage girls, but this film doesn’t just help you understand those emotions, it makes you feel them.
The spirit and energy of these five sisters is 2015’s cool summer breeze, which is why their being bridled (a metaphor I’m assuming the title invites) in the name of religion feels like such a violation.
Going down into those tunnels I felt like I was crossing over into a moral no man’s land, which is what I often feel like reading current events. A great cinematic accomplishment that turned moral compromise into an engaging mystery and experience. (h/t Steve Collins)
The rare "music of a generation" film that authentically recreates the vibe and invites you hang out in it. It has the drug-induced "it all turns to shit" story beat required of the genre, but the real melancholy comes from the disappearance of the protagonist’s youth and with it the sense of possibility. Ah, the French.
9. "Clouds of Sils Maria"
I didn’t think that much of this film while I was watching it, but it stuck with me and enveloped my thoughts — much like those damn clouds — for weeks afterward.
10. "Magic Mike XXL"
The joy of performing, the joy of giving and receiving pleasure, and the pleasure of making a movie — "Mike" might not be Vincente Minnelli, but it’s a step in the right direction.
11. "It Follows"
I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight this year’s message in bottle reminding us how good genre filmmaking can be.
Honorable Mention: I wanted to include "Amy," "Listen To Me Marlon," or "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck," but I had trouble separating these films. All three inventively play with form to bring us inside the inner life of these tortured souls.
Most Unique Viewing Experience: "The Forbidden Room." I have zero insight into this film, but having it wash over me and allowing my imagination to roam free was two of the best hours I had this year.