So I was going to wait until I saw The Revenant before doing my 2015 write-up, but I got impatient. I’m sure it’s good, and I’ll share my thoughts once I have seen it.
All things considered, 2015 was a solid year for film. I don’t think there was anything particularly groundbreaking per se, unlike last year’s crop of Boyhood, Birdman, and Goodbye to Language, but there were plenty of solid, well-crafted pictures from directors at the top of their game. I think one of the biggest indicators of a great year is when there are a number of films that I feel genuinely awful about leaving out of the final list. But that’s how life goes – not everyone gets to make the cut. So before we get into the list proper, here are my honourable mentions, in alphabetical order:
And now, my ten favourite films of 2015.
Up-and-coming Australian director Justin Kurzel takes a massive stride forward with an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Scottish play that is the definition of cinematic. While remaining mostly faithful to the text, the film has a somewhat postmodern narrative structure, which I love, swaying back and forth, irreverent of time and space, like Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England, except more easily digestible (and yes, I did just call Shakespeare more easily digestible than something else). Kurzel brings a ghostlike and ethereal feel through the film’s hellish and ominous atmosphere, embellishing the tragic emotion of the story, and Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard excel in the lead roles. One of the best and most creative Shakespeare films I’ve seen.
9) Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Yes, the hype machine surrounding this one was ridiculous, and yes, it is derivative of previous films in the series. But J.J. Abrams put his heart and soul into this production, and it works like a dream. The Force Awakens is fun, exciting, adventurous, and engaging, and it breathes new life into an ailing staple of the cinema. The new characters are wonderful as well, presenting intriguing possibles for story arcs, and I’m looking forward to growing with them over the next few films. Great sci-fi/fantasy will always have my love.
8) The Hateful Eight
I was privileged to see Tarantino’s latest film in 70mm, which included an overture, an intermission, and a big programme full of beautiful stills and information to help understand the meaning and significance of the presentation. It felt like a real event, a performance – the way it’s meant to be. Tarantino has transcended his role of director to become a curator of cinematic experiences, and I can’t recommend it enough. The film itself is also great, not the director’s best, but that’s not saying much at all. It’s energetic, hilarious, and intimate, contrasting with the spectacle surrounding it in a fascinating way. Tarantino remains in a select group of directors still batting a thousand, especially at this stage of his career.
Icelandic director Grímur Hákonarson’s Rams, the story of two feuding brothers facing a disease crisis within their flocks of sheep, was one of the unexpected pleasures for me this year. An unassuming production from a nation beginning to find its place in the film world, it’s as confident and sure-footed of a picture that you’ll ever see. Hákonarson has an eye for gorgeous images, suspense, and sharp humour, while his frank presentation makes the brothers’ relationship alive and felt. It’s screening at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival and receiving a limited release in the United States later in 2016, and you won’t want to miss the chance to see it.
The story of The Boston Globe’s investigation into allegations of molestation by Catholic priests, Spotlight is a doozy of a film. The procedural direction is nearly documentarian, making the audience feel as though they’re a part of the investigation alongside the reporters, and I felt that the ending packed an emotional gut punch. It’s great to see Michael Keaton’s career revived after Birdman, and Mark Ruffalo continues to blow me away with another living performance. Spotlight is a dramatic testament to the necessity of investigative reporting. Expect it to be the Academy’s pick for Best Picture.
This thriller from Argentina, an adaptation of another Argentinian picture from 1960 entitled La Patota, was one of the most heartrending and bold films I saw in 2015. It’s a difficult film, gritty and grimy to its core, but it boasts one of the most moving, heartfelt, and astounding messages of unhinged love and forgiveness I’ve had the privilege of witnessing. Dolores Fonzi impresses as the titular character, the rock-solid cornerstone upon which the film rests. Paulina will shake you to your core.
The latest film from German director Christian Petzold, Phoenix‘s yarn of a disfigured Auschwitz survivor in search of her husband strikes an odd but compelling balance between dramatic thriller, tragic romance, and holocaust redemption story. Nina Hoss is stunning in her lead performance as the survivor, Nelly, taking us on a subtle yet profound journey, while Petzold directs with a delicate harshness. It’s as compelling a film there was this year, frustrating and taut all the way to its flooring conclusion. See this as soon as you can, it’s on Netflix right now.
3) Mad Max: Fury Road
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding this one right now, being one of the few action films ever to dominate critics’ best of lists, if not the only one, but it’s fully deserved. Mad Max: Fury Road is bonkers, a feverish descent into utter madness. Its premise is audacious (a two-hour car chase), and the stunts and effects are top-notch, making it visceral and rapturous like nothing else. The film’s world feels real and lived-in, and perhaps the biggest surprise of all is its thematic weight. While Tom Hardy is great as Max, Charlize Theron and her band of breeders steal the show. George Miller’s work here is one of the directorial achievements of the decade, let alone the best of the year.
2) It Follows
For the longest time, horror has been one of the most sullied and abused genres, so perhaps it’s partially that background which makes It Follows stand out so strongly. In its own right, though, It Follows is a darkly shining example not only of the richness that can be achieved through horror but through independent cinema in general. The minimalist style is utilised to near-perfection, making it overpowering in spite of its subtlety, and it just keeps getting better with repeating viewings (the opening scene is far more terrifying the second time you watch it). One of the most genuinely haunting horror films in years.
As soon as I saw Room, I knew I wouldn’t see anything better this year. It took me through the palette of emotions in such an organic way; I feel as though I must have been in tears every five to ten minutes. To be fair, I was heavily blindsided by the film, not knowing its premise before walking into the theatre, but I think it was better that way. I identified then all the more strongly with the film’s central figure, five-year-old Jack (portrayed tremendously by Jacob Tremblay, I can’t overstate the quality of his performance), and it made the journey that much more confounding and poignant. Brie Larson also gives my favourite female lead performance of the year (a year full of top-class turns from actresses across the globe), and the backbone in Emma Donoghue’s script is deserving of riotous praise. It is without any doubt or question that I can present Room as my favourite film of 2015.
For an interactive version of this list, check it out on my Letterboxd profile.