For what it’s worth, I subscribe to the Guillermo del Toro school of my relationship to film (see below). I prefer “favorites” over “best” for year end lists and that includes the warts and all blemishes that make movies feel real and human to me. I also can’t really speak to the subjectivity of “best” per se because opinions are like assholes and everyone’s got one, but I know what moved and stayed with me.
Favorite movies don’t have to be perfect movies. Like in any relationship, Love is what makes them stick around.
— Guillermo del Toro (@RealGDT) December 29, 2015
READ MORE: Check Out All OF Our Best Of 2015 Coverage Here
I haven’t written a best-of year-end list for two years running now (here’s my 2012 list) because I’m just usually spiritually drained and feeling a little mentally challenged by year’s end after all our exhausted Best Of Year coverage. The same is true for 2015, which is why I’m probably the last person to write my list, but I’ve decided to try and forge ahead despite feeling I don’t really have anything valuable to say. As usual, trying to rank art is a fool’s errand, but hey, it’s what we all do, so let’s just get on with it. The resolute formula for me is always experience and resonance, but with a bend towards that echo: a movie not only has to make a big impact in the moment, but is has to have a long-tail enduring quality, and if it doesn’t stick with much deep resonance in the heart, mind, and soul there’s probably a reason for that. 2015 had plenty of riches. This is what stuck with me the most, bearing in mind most top 10 (or 20 lists) can change on any given day. And yes, I’ve seen “The Lobster,” thank you for asking, but I stick to 2015 release date rules only.
TIE 20. “Wild Tales”
The timing of Damian Szifron’s “Wild Tales” was a bit unfortunate. Most saw it long ago in 2014, but it’s official North American release was just this spring, so it’s been largely forgotten, sadly. But man, it is a hell of a debut and a hilarious, pitch-black examination of retribution, rage, frustration, and the incensed impulses that drive our sense of fairness and justice that is just dripping with delicious irony (cut up in six different vignettes, one of the better one-director omnibus films). If you’ve ever experienced road rage, been outraged by the inconsideration or of your fellow discourtesy man, or cackled with insane frustration at a day full of the shittiest luck ever, this movie is built for you. [Oli’s review from Cannes]
TIE 20. “Mad Max: Fury Road”
I certainly have plenty of issues with “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The protagonist of the movie is its weakest character and Furiosa is actually who I’d love to follow in a sequel (or at least have them both together again), its early flashbacks to Max’s pre-apocalypse life are a bit inelegant, the Xtreme Sports score is a bit much, and while there’s little dialogue in the film, when people open their mouths, it can be kind of clunky (see the on-the-nose scene about “looking for hope and redemption”). Still the layering of culture in George Miller’s run-and-gun action opus and how it’s presented—at a blazing and unrelenting 500mph—is both rich and inventive. ‘Fury Road’ is essentially a breakneck chase movie, but one where you learn about the characters—their motivations, their fears, and dreams and the highly detailed societal norms of warlord Immortan Joe’s cult following— while the movie barrels forward. Hierarchy is quickly established, including barbarically pragmatic roles for women, slang is dropped yet never elucidated, martyrdom mythologies are gleaned, and the way this civilization functions is inferred along the way, but never actively explained. Plus of course, it’s a visceral firecracker of “holy shit!” ferocity, stunts, and I-can’t-believe-they-pulled-that-off dynamism. Come for the blistering, full-tilt action, stay for the thought-provoking consideration of the post-apocalypse. Witness me, indeed. [My review]
19. “Queen Of Earth”
The rise and evolution of indie filmmaker Alex Ross Perry has been exciting stuff. ARP always showed promise, he’s a fierce writer, but when great, professional actors joined the fray, they made his material really sing. “Listen Up Philip,” was a fantastic riff on gifted literates like Philip Roth, Woody Allen, and Noah Baumbach and their acerbic characters, but for his follow-up to that critically acclaimed effort, Perry zagged left when some might have expected him to zig right. His poisonous, but twisted, “Queen Of Earth,” a kind of claustrophobic psychodrama homage to Roman Polanski and Robert Altman films like “Images” or “Three Women,” and is akin to Woody Allen following up “Annie Hall” with “Interiors.” It’s a bold move to follow a celebrated comedy with something darker, more cerebral, and this psychologically agitated. Set in a deceptively tranquil upstate lake house, Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston (one to watch in 2016 and soon to be a huge star) deliver tremendous performances as two bffs who’s fragile relationship begins to aggressively metastasize over the course of a weekend while the already delicate party (Moss) begins to mentally unravel. “Queen Of Earth” and its examination of narcissism and privilege is also deliciously arch and acidicly funny; Perry’s playfulness with hysterical tone and point of view is impressive stuff. There’s a tart aftertaste to this melodrama, but it’s mischievous, wry, and haunting. I can’t wait to see what he does next. [My review from Berlin]
Road movies are almost always about the journey to discovering yourself. Rick Alverson’s dark, twisted, angry, and hilarious “Entertainment” totally deconstructs that paradigm with a bleak and funny tale about a directionless and alienated comedian (Gregg Turkington) who becomes so lost along his voyage, he pretty much disappears into the abyss by the end. It’s extremely misanthropic and provocative, but man, does it feature some deeply fucked up laughs. Ultimately a scathing social critique about our accelerated, empty culture and the deep disaffection and disillusionment it engenders, some critic I can’t remember called it (to paraphrase from memory) a caustic existential howl into the nothingness and that nails it. [My review from Sundance]
Talk about imperfect, Gaspar Noe’s provocative 3D sex film is it, but there’s something in its low-lit wistfulness that lingers. It includes cameos by the director, character’s named after him, and other seemingly narcissistic elements (though I think they’re more tongue-in-cheek than many give them credit for), but beneath the layers of its provocation — stereoscopic jizz, ejaculating dicks, bouncing boobs, and incessant fucking — is a genuine and melancholy story about loss. It’s essentially a wistful, rainy-day reflection on the past filled with bittersweetness and regret, and scored and shot with a genuine empathetic tenderness. Anyone who’s ever loved can relate to its heartache, especially in its melancholic, beautifully shot third act where the sun goes down on all the painful memories of our mistakes. [Jess’ review from Cannes]
16. “Son Of Saul”
The directorial debut of the year? Hard to say because there were so many fantastic debuts in 2015, but László Nemes’ “Son Of Saul” was an outstanding achievement, albeit a hellish one. There’s little to love about a holocaust movie and this one in particular is essentially like rat’s running around in the maze of Dante’s “Inferno,” but it’s impact is undeniable. “Son Of Saul” is literally hell on earth, and it follows an Auschwitz prisoner who’s job it is to burn the dead. But the mostly silent man goes on his own nightmarish odyssey when he comes across the body of his dead son and becomes hellbent on finding a rabbi who will help him arrange a proper, but clandestine, burial. Featuring long, horrific takes that weave through the labyrinth of fiery abyss, “Son Of Saul” is an unspeakably harrowing and visceral experience, but at the very least the searing drama, which burns its mark on your soul, introduces us to a brand new filmmaker who surely has many great things to come. [Oli’s review from Cannes]
The “Inside Llewyn Davis” of French House movies, Mia Hansen-Løve’s sprawling two-hour-and-10 -minute “Eden,” about the life of a French garage DJ over the course of some 10-odd years, isn’t quite as centered on failure as the Coen Brothers musical masterpiece. Yes, it has great bangers beats and moments like the formative days of Daft Punk, but it’s a very mature, grown-up piece of work, nostalgically looking back on the halcyon days of being young, the hopes, the promises, and the way your dreams and life’s plans don’t always go the way you hoped. It feels… maybe not worth its exorbitant running time, but upon its melancholic conclusion and reflective look at the salad days, “Eden” reveals itself to be poignant examination of the changing seasons of life; a bittersweet and autumnal look at life lived on the edge of irresponsibility and hedonism and the lost loves that marked the days of our youth. [Nik’s review from TIFF]
14. “Heart Of A Dog”
With pain, suffering, loss, and love comes wisdom, but also a deep curiosity into who we are and what comes next in the next life. Idiosyncratic musician, filmmaker, and spoken word artist Laurie Anderson has already been deeply inquisitive throughout her exploratory artistic career, and with “Heart Of A Dog,” her first feature-length documentary, Anderson uses the death of her dog as jumping off point to examine… well, everything. An lyrical essay and a moving meditation on life and death and the moments that define as people, Anderson contemplates her dog, who he was, and how he lived and saw the world. But in considering that life, she goes far beyond her beloved canine and looks at the world around us, and makes gentle connections about the human condition and the current state of humanity. Her impressionistic thoughts ponders the aftermath of 9/11, both human and political, her half-remembered childhood, and more. In sharing her story, her upbringing, discussing our shared catastrophies and the deaths that have shrouded her life, Anderson illuminates the corners of life with sublime and poignant grace. [Gary’s Telluride review]
13. “Cartel Land”
An extremely layered portrait of the war on drugs, one the greatest strength of Matthew Heineman’s engrossing doc — aside from his remarkably intimate, unprecedented access, and its gorgeous visuals — is the manner in which the complexities of the drug war in Mexico are illustrated by the slowly revealing and gradually changing grip the audience has on all the character’s moralities. Everyone is not who them seem at first; virtuous men are revealed to have dubious motivations, self-righteous soldiers’ bigoted ideals eventually come to light, and valiant folk heroes fighting the good fight betray all good will. As the engrossing “Cartel Land” unfolds it becomes heartbreaking and tragic as self-interest always ends up outweighing the greater good. It’s a shocking and distressing experience to watch the embodiment of hell was paved with good intentions tile up before our very eyes. [Katie’s review from Sundance]
12. “The Duke Of Burgundy”
Got an underloved genre of cinema? Deconstructionist Peter Strickland will uncover it, love it, and make a delicious feast of outre cinema for you. He tackled Giallo by way of sound mixing for the cineaste lovers’ “Berberian Sound Studio,” and for his latest film, the luxuriously styled “The Duke Of Burgundy,” Strickland looked to shocking ‘60s exotica, lurid ‘70s surrealism, and bizarro horrors, plus the overall worlds of soft-core sexploitation cinema. Channeling an erotic collage of the wonderfully strange and desirous cult films by Jess Franco, Luis Buñuel, Rainer Werner Fassbender, and Robin Hardy’s “Wicker Man,” the sensual and sumptuous ‘Burgundy’ delves into fetishism, voyeurism, and kink via the S&M relationship between two lesbian lovers. Gorgeously baroque in its aesthetic presentation, with an florid and faithful mysterious psyche-folk score, Strickland’s picture is a tactile cinephile’s delight and hypnotic trance for all the senses. [Nik’s review from TIFF]
11. “The Assassin”
A wuxia assassin movie that barely features any martial arts or fighting is perverse, but maybe that’s the mysterious beauty of filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s remit. A film that took forever to mount (maybe five years?), while certainly an enigmatically told, maybe even a little confounding — its narrative comes into focus like the pieces of a slow-moving glacier — “The Assassin” was certainly a worthwhile wait that rewards the patient viewer. More tone poem than action film, Hsiao-Hsien’s picture is essentially an arty melodrama about choosing between love or duty — a deeply conflicted assassin falls prey to a crisis of conscience, and it’s loaded with the baggage of personal history. As a punishment for going soft on an early mission, said killer’s (Shu Qi) resolve is put to the test by her master — the one that kidnapped her from her family at an early age. She must kill a man from her past (Chang Chen), but it turns out the military governor is one she was once betrothed to. Now, “The Assassin” isn’t at all this linear or clear, it’s a lyrical, gorgeous-to-look, and totally indirect, but as the narratively softly falls into place, one dreams along with the picture. Ravishingly crafted in every aspect of costume, art direction, style, and aesthetic, “The Assassin” is the rare picture whose contemplative mood and stunning-to-witness visuals make the experience of drifting through its exquisite clouds more compelling than any story it could dare tell. [Jess’ review from Cannes]
Charlie Kaufman might just be making the same film over and over again: protagonists wracked by deep existential crisis that force them to question their place in the universe and the point of it all. But with the animated “Anomalisa,” both bizarre and very tender and human, co-directed by Duke Johnson, Kaufman proves there are a million ways to skin the same cat with deep wells of emotion and ironic, dark laughs. Kaufman takes a sad and skewering look at the hospitality industry from both sides — the monotonous and ultimately depressing drone of manufactured smiles and obligated cordiality, and the deadening reversal of being on the receiving end of soulless accommodation. This alienating milieu is the brilliant and often hilarious stage for the crippling crisis of the movie’s protagonist Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) a customer service guru scheduled to speak at a convention for fellow professionals in the anonymous purgatory of Cincinnati. Desperate, and unable to connect on any level, Stone finds perhaps a oasis of hope in Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a shy and self-defeating woman. Their affair, and Stone’s hotel nightmare, is both hellishly mundane and hysterical, while achingly dolorous and melancholic. You’ve nothing like this cinema, let alone animation, and its a deliriously dark and yet soulful trip worth taking. [My Telluride review]
9. “Mistress America”
Noah Baumbach explores the dark side of ambition in his hilarious “Mistress America,” which sends up both millennial entitlement and false thirty-something, “I’ve finally got it figured out” wisdom. Pound-for-pound it might have the best witty lines of dialogue in any Baumbach film and both its leads, Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke, are comedic revelations. Stylistically the film is a lot of fun, mixing a John Hughes ‘80s tenor with the screwball comedies of Peter Bogdanovich and the mini-sub-genre of things going awry throughout the five boroughs of New York (see “After Hours,” “Something Wild,” etc.). Co-written by Gerwig, who does her best modern update on the elastic energy of Carol Lombard, “Mistress America” also has a lot on its mind. The comedy thoughtfully examines the complex dynamics of sisterhood and the casualties of war when making art from personal experiences, all the while never losing its charms or sense of sharp humor. Delightfully observant and fleet-footed, the pillowy synth score by Dean & Britta gives it that extra little edge into greatness; the character’s dreams and aspirations mirror that excited, first-time-in-New-York sensation of walking on air. [My review from Sundance]
It’s always lovely to discover new voices from all over the globe, and French-Turkish filmmaker Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s “Mustang” was another terrific directorial debut. Much has been made of the expressive, teenage-girl-centric film being indebted to Sofia Coppola, and while it’s a compliment, it’s almost giving short thrift to Ergüven’s own distinctive voice. Granted, there are surface similarities, “Mustang” centers on five teenage girls, much like “The Virgin Suicides,” but the similarities mostly end there. Coppola’s movies, even “Marie Antoinette,” usually center on adolescent alienation and disaffection, and “Mustang” is really about a loss of innocence due to the rigid patriarchal society in Turkey. “Mustang” focuses on the struggle for voice, identity, and choice through the bonds of sisterhood — each girl has to watch another sibling get married off to another man she doesn’t know and doesn’t want. And worse, most of them aren’t ready for adult life yet — they’re still discovering who they are human beings, let alone ready to be married. Quietly feminist without hammering it home, Ergüven paints a regrettable yet evocative world where female liberty hasn’t fully broken through yet, but poignantly points to a horizon of hope beyond outdated cultural modes of thinking. [Jess’ review from the Fortnight section in Cannes]
7. “Steve Jobs”
It didn’t connect in wide relasee, but I unapologetically loved the fierce velocity of the Aaron Sorkin-penned, Danny Boyle-helmed “Steve Jobs.” I’ve never been a huge Sorkin acolyte, but the rapid fire, rat-a-tat frisson of idea was a delight. And witnessing Michael Fassbender’s hyper-intelligent Jobs juggling three conversations and thoughts at once, fired back with frisbee-to-the-forehead accuracy, delivered such terrific bolts of engrossing lightning. Audaciously (and brilliantly) told — unconventionally crafted, three product launches stand in for the rise, fall, and reclamation beats of the Apple impresario’s professional narrative and dovetail with his personal story — it was easy to hang off every word spoken by this tour de force troupe of performers (Fassbender is typically tremendous, but so are Jeff Daniels, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, et al). An unvarnished look at the unrelenting vision, megalomania, and restlessness of Steve Jobs — the face off between Jobs and John Scully might be my favorite “action scene” of 2015 — the knock on the film is that Sorkin’s script is really the only thing that works, but the truth it’s Danny Boyle’s most gracefully directed movie and channels the inherent kineticism and never tries to form its own. While Sorkin is the star player, the first violin chair, every story needs a conductor to guide the orchestra. It’s Boyle artful direction of the narrative’s operatic qualities that makes for a complementary symphony about the cost of genius. [My review from Telluride]
6. “Lil’ Quinquin”
We talk about enfant terribles we love to hate and hate to love like Gaspar Noe, Harmony Korine, Lars Von Trier, and Micheal Haneke, but austere French provocateur Bruno Dumont is generally so self-serious, unpleasant, and divisive, he drove away such a comparable audience arguably before they could even ever cotton to his uncompromising and caustic rigor. Such a pleasant delight then is “Lil’ Quinquin,” Dumont’s TV mini-series/five hour murder mystery set in an idyllic coastal French town. Part detective story — replete with an inept Inspector Closeau figure played by the hilarious twitch-faced, non-actor Bernard Pruvost — part comical farce, but also dark existential drama, “Lil’ Quinquin” chronicles the life of a young rapscallion, the titular Lil’ Quinquin (Alane Delhaye), while the local bumbling keystone cops try and solve the mystery of who is stuffing human body parts into dead livestock. It’s as grim and funny as it sounds, occasionally laugh-out-loud hilarious and other times unsettlingly grisly and bleak. Dumont’s ultimately enigmatic film comments on the absurd, inscrutable nature of horrific violence and that insidious, unknowable evils can be found in even the most seemingly tranquil places. [Nik’s review from Cannes 2014]
2015 was the year filmmaker Todd Haynes rightfully ascended to his spot as one of the top-tier American directors, and having admired his work since the beginning, I couldn’t have been happier to see it (and to some degree because his HBO mini-series “Mildred Pierce” was just as good, but didn’t get the same rapturous ink, sadly). Adapting Patricia Highsmith’s lesbian love tale, it occurs to me that the crime of the movie, Highsmith’s forte, is the forbidden love itself, and the punishment is the aching secret, off-limits desire the two women must discreetly dance around and struggle with. Full of coded, surreptitious, and delicate glances and gestures, “Carol” is as immaculately performed as it is crafted. There’s much talk about “who’s the lead” of the movie, Cate Blanchett or Rooney Mara, but the reality is on top of its impeccable craft (god, the beautiful score and cinematography; there’s not enough words), “Carol” pulls off a subtle and graceful point of view baton pass shifting in line directly with the vulnerability and dynamics of power in this relationship. To be honest, I find the film ever so aloof and distant though; all those frosted panes of glass being a little bit much. And if it had landed an emotional gut punch like I wanted, I feel like the movie would easily be number one on this list. But such is the formidability of Haynes film — aesthetically dispassionate and removed, but still drawing you in magnetically. [Jess’ review from Cannes]
A near perfect film from writer/director (and actor) Tom McCarthy, if there was a consensus vote for the Academy and critics about what film should take Best Picture, it would surely be “Spotlight,” and deservedly so. Perhaps the definition of unshowy, subtle, get-in-there-do-the-job filmmaking — and therefore a little unsexy in some corners of the film world — “Spotlight” is a fantastically crafted workhorse of tone, tension, and control that rolls up its sleeves, puts in the hours, and never relents. About the Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the sexual abuse conspiracy in the Boston Catholic Church, “Spotlight” quietly acts as a love letter to the heroism of investigative journalism, but always resists the temptation to ever lionize its reporters. The restrained ensemble cast is terrific, too. Actors like Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams put in realistic, unobtrusive performances, but an additional treat is to see how deep and amazing its supporting cast is too. Liev Schrieber, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James, and Billy Crudup all deliver incredibly nuanced and subdued turns. If there was an Oscar for Best Ensemble, “Spotlight” would win it hands down. I guess, Best Picture will have to do. [Jess’ review from Venice]
The problem with pervasive feminism in cinema is… well, absolutely nothing. Just look at the movies on this list; 2015 was a fantastic year for female protagonists. But a feminist viewpoint may have misunderstood Denis Villeneuve’s hauntingly crafted “Sicario.” Many lament that Emily Blunt’s capable FBI character Kate Macer lacks agency and is a patsy in this story about the American intelligence inter-office war on drugs in the blackened cartel lands of Mexico. But that’s kind of the point. The gloomy “Sicario” is about the terror of powerlessness, a lack of control, and the futility that comes from fighting an unwinnable war, and that’s communicated almost relentlessly with its aesthetic despair. Mercer is steadfast in her value system, but is forced to watch brutal and sickening compromises every step of the way until it’s all too late. Morally bruising, “Sicario” subverts all your expectations: it defies the notion of the kick-ass lead (male or female), the audience who expects the hero to right wrongs, it gives egalitarian space to its protagonist’s fall from grace, and it acts like a film noir — Mercer’s strength of idealism and sense of justice is also ultimately her undoing. Multi-layered and tragic, “Sicario” isn’t unlike many classic film noirs where the detective goes down a dark trail and is ultimately undone by a path they thought they could handle. But Villeneuve’s bleak and viscerally stressful movie, shot with glorious, anxiety-riddled control by Roger Deakins and imbued with distressing dread by Johann Johansson, is about peering into the darkness of what shouldn’t be seen. In Blunt’s case, it’s witnessing the horrors of how the government and the laws she swore to uphold are perverted beyond recognition in the name of quote unquote justice. She discovers, much to her shock in the end, she hasn’t got the stomach for this merciless milieu, but that’s less a comment on her feminine strength as it is a testament to her idealistic values — Blunt’s a virtuous lion, but cartel land is only for the most heartless jackals. It’s her “Chinatown.” Moreover, “Sicario” is just breathless, muscular, powerhouse filmmaking that will make the likes of David Fincher blush. There’s a reason someone like Villeneuve has been handpicked to helm the new “Blade Runner” film, and the pulse-pounding intensity and panicky heart of darkness doom of “Sicario” is exactly why. [Jess’ review from Cannes]
A gentle movie about inherently good people, little conflicts, zero antagonists, and a fairly uncertain and passive protagonist: on paper “Brooklyn” should not only not work, and it’s amazing it got made at all. But this is the beauty of the soft and humane persuasions in this classically composed and sincere drama. Defying nearly every screenplay convention, John Crowley’s tender adaptation of Colm Tobin’s Irish immigration novel (adapted by Nick Hornby on the page) is a elegant and special little gem. On the surface it’s about choosing between two men, another layer deep it’s about the throbbing pang of homesickness and the alienations felt from losing our warm sense of familiar comforts and spiritual equilibrium (no one likes their life upended). But really, “Brooklyn” centers on identity and our yearnings to understand who we are and what our place is in the world. It does so through our nostalgic relationship to the ever-changing notion of what we define as home. Featuring Saoirse Ronan in an outstanding, career-making performance as a Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant trying to navigate her way through 1950s Brooklyn, she has left behind a past life — the innocence of her youth in Ireland. In her present is her unfamiliar and uneasy life in Brooklyn. Love, circumstance, and fate intervene, and Eilis is gently pushed into the future, but not before saying goodbye to her youth, family, and innocence. Impeccably put together, gorgeously shot by Yves Bélanger, and featuring a wistful score full of longing by Michael Brook, on top of being emotionally rich, “Brooklyn” is also affectionately crafted and exquisitely detailed. Heartbreakingly bittersweet, “Brooklyn” is lovely and sweet, but it’s emotional punch comes from its astute recognition of how we grieve for the departed fragments of our lives we can never return to. [Our review]
1. “45 Years”
Have you felt it? There has been an awakening. OK, that’s not a line of dialogue from Andrew Haigh’s brilliant “45 Years,” but perhaps it’s apropos for a film about a crack in the past that disrupts the seemingly tranquil life of an elderly couple about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary and wakes them up to the lie that has shaped their lives. 2015 was the year of the immaculately crafted drama, emotional and human and so delicately drawn (see “Brooklyn” and “Carol”), but Haigh (“Weekend”) stepped up like no other with his mature, patient, and devastating sophomore effort. Emotionally rich and incredibly well-observed, “45 Years” is also brilliantly constructed on a narrative level. A unexpected letter arrives and changes everything, or really, shatters an illusion. Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) discovers that the body of his former fiancée, who died in an Swiss Alps mounting climbing accident some 50 years ago, has been found perfectly preserved in ice. This unlocks a tsunami of dormant memories in Geoff and puts him into a soft, but discernible tailspin he tries to hide. Meanwhile, as his wife, Kate (an astonishing Charlotte Rampling in what is the best performance of the year), learns more about this former flame, and what she truly meant to Geoff, she recognizes it as a ghost that haunts their marriage and begins to believe she’s lead a life of second best. There are horror film qualities to the movie too — imagine you’ve learned your entire sense of false bliss has been built upon a lie. All the while the movie works as a thriller, a time bomb ticking down to the day of their anniversary that takes place five days from the day of discovery from this literally once-frozen-memory in time. Beyond the perfect metaphors, the subtle borrowing of genre and ace architecture of story, “45 Years” is just so wouding. A symphony of gut-wrenching emotions plays on Rampling’s face and behind her eyes and in its very English manner, the movie charts the taciturn sentiments we as people cannot express or articulate. Heartbreaking to its core, “45 Years” is about the damage done. Haigh’s film posits that we keep secrets from the ones we love the most, but the price of those emotional revelations and betrayals are irreparably devastating. [Jess’ review from Berlin]
On the last page, an honorable mention section, some housekeeping notes on the rest of the year, and some unposted top 10s from previous years if you care (and I won’t fault you if you don’t).
Honorable Mention: Also Worthy
Look, it was a great year for movies. The insane volume alone usually means that’s going to be the case almost every year ,and 2015 was no different. In no particular order: Guy Maddin’s “The Forbidden Room” was another one of the Canadian filmmaker’s patently demented and delirious dream fantasias worth pruning in. “Bone Tomahawk” was probably the best surprise of the year for me, and one of the best directorial debuts. I found “Clouds Of Sils Maria” captivating, and its two leads were excellent. “Slow Learners” was one of the kind of romantic comedies I generally kind of dislike, but it was disarmingly funny and I’d love to see more from its charming leads (especially the underrated Sarah Burns). The enigmatic, be-careful-what-you-wish-for qualities of marriage dramedy ”Digging For Fire” were beguiling. “Results” wasn’t quite perfect, but the cast — Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, and in particular Kevin Corrigan — were terrific.
I was mixed on Spielberg’s “Bridge Of Spies” at the time, and still am, but man, is it so amazingly crafted it deserves a shout-out. “Stanford Prison Experiment” absolutely rocked me in theaters and was probably one of my favorite movie-going experiences at Sundance earlier this year (Michael Angarano is so good in it). Other films worth your time include Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” (Oscar Isaac needs to do comedy, his is so brilliant in it); Jafar Panahi’s playful, “Taxi,” Alejandro González Iñárritu’s brutal meditation on a world without mercy, “The Revenant”; the bewitching horror, “It Follows”; Bill Pohlad’s unconventional Brian Wilson biopic “Love And Mercy”; Michael Mann’s visually engrossing “Black Hat”; Christian Petzold’s “Phoenix” (Nina Hoss is always incredible); Ryan Coogler’s familiar, but well triumphantly crafted “Creed”; James Ponsoldt’s “The End Of The Tour.” Additionally, pretty much every film on our The 25 Best Films You Didn’t See In 2015 list is worthwhile too.
Documentary wise “(T)error” and “Meru” are phenomenal and I’m glad they topped our Best Documentaries Of The Year list. Also great were Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Junun”— the best music concert I didn’t actually attend in 2015 — “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” (some of which was so sad it made my weepy), and the moving Ethan Hawke documentary/tribute-to-his-mentor, “Seymour: An Introduction.” Wim Wenders’ can be a frustratingly uneven filmmaker, but “The Salt of the Earth” is one of the best things he’s made in a long time. I also thought Amy Berg’s “An Open Secret” and “Prophets Prey” were absolutely chilling, and she’s becoming a formidable filmmaker that Hollywood is going to have to take notice of soon. And a final shout-out to one more belated, freewheeling doc experience, “A Poem Is A Naked Person,” from the late great Les Blank.
Sebastian Silva’s dark and funny look at the impending anxieties of parenthood in “Nasty Baby” was great. It’s twist tests all suspension of disbelief, but it’s ending— just that fucking look the protagonist gives his child at the end — is well worth any chafing that the film provides. Also, “Hyena,” “Far From The Madding Crowd,” and “Unexpected” were also a nice, tender little surprises (which I wrote about in more detail here).
Best TV Of The Year
“Transparent,” which if it was a movie I’d put at #1 or #2 on this list (which I did in years past, see below), and “The Knick,” which had a phenomenal finale and some killer late-season episodes.
Bit Of A Disappointment
Despite an incredible cast and a director who’s incredible promise has yet to be totally fulfilled, “Macbeth” is too oppressively cold and damp, taking liberties with the original text (which I adore) that I didn’t love.
“Mississippi Grind” — Ben Mendelsohn is amazing, but Ryan Reynolds is not, and it has too many goddamn endings.
Not At All My Tempo
A lot of filmmakers I love went awry this year.
“99 Homes” — Michael Shannon rules, but otherwise the righteous anger is overwrought and treads on Ramin Bahrani’s former facility with subtlety.
“Maps To The Stars” — A disaster of tone and a mess of a movie from what is normally a master filmmaker. Easily David Cronenberg‘s worst. Also a brutally laughable CGI scene that is unforgivably bad.
“Manglehorn”— David Gordon Green at his most undisciplined.
“Final Girls” — Winky, meta, self-satisfied horror that believe it’s as clever as “Scream.” Awful.
“Man Up” — To be fair, I don’t really care for most of these kinds of cloying, romantic comedies. This one is not much different even with the charming Lake Bell as one of its leads
“Crimson Peak” — Great style and look, but…
“The Big Short” — While it inevitably is an outraged portrait of American grotesqueries and greed, it’s such a mess of style, tone, and point of view in getting there it’s impact is constantly dulled.
“American Ultra” — Just dreadful.
In case you’re curious about “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” this basically sums it up, though there are additional thoughts on this podcast. And again, because I didn’t post my top 10 lists for two years running, and I need a reference point now and then, I decided to drop them here for myself. So for myself, here’s how I felt about 2014 and 2013 at the time (lists probably would have changed upon examination, but I’m not examining).
2014 Top 15
15. “Two Days One Night”
13. “Listen Up Philip”
12. “The Double”
09. “The Knick”
06. “Inherent Vice”
05. “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
02. “Only Lovers Left Alive”
01. “Under The Skin”
2013 Top 15
15. “Afternoon Delight”
14. “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”
13. “Prince Avalanche”
12. “In A World”
10. “The Past”
09. “American Hustle”
07. “Upstream Color”
05. “Frances Ha”
04. “All Is Lost”
03. “Inside Llewyn Davis”
02. “Stories We Tell”
01. “Top Of The Lake”
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