Well here we are again. Another year of film over, a new one just beginning. Happy New Film Year, everyone. That’s what you all celebrate, right?
And what a year it has been. From the enourmous to the micro, we have seen movies of all shapes, sizes and colours this year: groundbreaking docs, Hollywood blockbusters, black-and-white foreign films, movies shot on 70mm film, movies shot on iPhones, stop-motion animation, sequels, prequels, reboots and spinoffs, we’ve had them all.
It’s been a big film year for me personally too. I covered two film festivals for Monday Magazine (Victoria and Vancouver), did my best to see as many movies in the cinema as I possibly could and all told saw well over 100 2015 releases. And I’m a lightweight in the criticism world.
When it came time to putting together this list, I honestly wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Sometimes a few clear winners emerge throughout the year and I know early on they will be hard to knock out of the top spots. This year, it was anybody’s game. I knew I’d seen a lot of amazing stuff, I just didn’t know what would make the cut and what I’d have to regretfully leave off.
Despite 2015 delivering four of the highest grossing movies of all time (Jurassic World, Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens), I found most of the Hollywood blockbusters this year underwhelming, and I’m not one of those, “I don’t like Hollywood movies” types of guys.
But this allowed a lot of smaller films to shine through and I do believe this was a truly great year for indie films, especially from the United States. My list is filled with movies from directors I’ve never had on a best of list before, and more than one first-time directors. I like that. That’s promising.
Every year I have to insert this disclosure: I have not seen everything released in 2015, including some biggies. The H8ful Eight and The Revenant were not released wide in time for this list. Same story with Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa. Also, I have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but it didn’t make the list. Sorry!
Without further ado I humbly submit to you my choices for the Best Films of 2015:
10. Carol, directed by Todd Haynes
Meticulous is a good word for Todd Haynes’ quiet tale of forbidden love, both in the director’s attention to detail and in the pace of the film, which never rushes its characters or goes for easy emotional payoffs. This can make Carol a challenging watch at times, but its rewards run deep as Haynes once again evokes Douglas Sirk to explore the confinements of social norms and the power of love to break through them.
9. Clouds of Sils Maria, directed by Olivier Assayas
Sometimes one of the greatest joys in film is simply watching two talented actors play off one another, pushing and pulling each other, challenging each other to be better than they could ever be on their own. And the seemingly mismatched pair of Juliette Binoche and Kristin Stewart did just this is Olivier Assayas marvelous film about an aging actor getting ready for the role she never wanted to play. And for those of you thinking “Kirstin Stewart?!” you clearly haven’t seen Clouds of Sils Maria yet.
8. Eden, directed by Mia Hansen-Love
With so many movies guaranteeing the rewards of talent and drive, Mia Hansen-Love’s tale of anti-fame feels refreshingly honest. Young Parisian Paul is pursuing his dream of becoming a DJ and nothing will stop him; not his unsuccessful love life, not a drug habit, not his mother’s pleas for a practical vocation and not even constant disappointment. Eden, a punchy film full of great performances and music, knows not everyone makes it big, and that Paul’s story is still meaningful and worth telling.
7. Creed, directed by Ryan Coogler
On the other hand, everyone loves a winner. And Creed is a true underdog champion, a film that has no right to be as good as it is, coming as the seventh film in a franchise most considered down for the count at various points. But in the hands of director-actor team Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Creed ended up a film that stays true to its roots while also achieving a new and improved contemporary sensibility. Both a crowd pleaser and something special in and of itself, Creed was one of the best times I had at the movies all year.
6. Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley
It’s far too easy for nostalgic movies to slip into gag-inducing sentimentality, but John Crowley achieves the rare balance of an old-fashioned movie that feels genuinely warm. This is due largely to Saoirse Ronan’s magnificent turn as an Irish immigrant to the titular city in the 1950s, but it’s also due to a reliance on story, characters and place over cheap tearjerker moments and intelligence-insulting plot twists. The tears come naturally in this one, and feel all the sweeter for it.
5. Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy
As a procedural film about the Boston Globe’s uncovering of a Catholic Church sex scandal in the early 2000s, Spotlight is a hum dinger, full of unveiled clues, dark secrets and heated newsroom debates. But Tom McCarthy’s film achieves something more by investigating not just the horrific abuse, but also the community groupthink that allowed it to go on for so long. With a steady hand, Spotlight deftly implicates us all in this dark chapter.
4. Mustang, directed by Deniz Gamze Erguven
There were few scenes more joyous in 2015 than the opening of Mustang, a perfect slice of youthful bliss as a group of children frolic on the beach after school. Which makes it all the more harrowing when the movie switches gears into a tale of five sisters kept imprisoned at home as they are married off one by one by their uber-traditional family. Equal parts enraging, exhilarating and tragic, Mustang is brave, powerful first film from Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven.
3. Ex Machina, directed by Alex Garland
There’s something about a tight, perfectly assembled film with a limited setting and a finite number of characters that really clicks with me. Let’s call it 12 Angry Men-ism. Alex Garland’s debut film, the tech thriller Ex Machina is a perfect example of this, with each part so expertly placed to create an incredibly cohesive whole, all leading to an explosive finale. Equal parts exciting and thought provoking, Ex Machina has something to say and knows exactly how to say it.
2. The Look of Silence, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
A companion piece to Oppenheimer’s 2012 doc The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence turns the tables and looks at the Indonesian genocides of the 1960s from the point of view of the victims, taking this horrible chapter of history head-on through the story of one family. Unflinching and courageous, the film confronts the perpetrators of these horrors and takes a long hard look at what human beings are capable of doing to one another, and the lasting effects. A hard watch, certainly, but an important one.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road, directed by George Miller
You have to love a movie that exceeds high expectations. With George Miller returning to his own badass trilogy of apocalyptic mayhem, and Tom Hardy taking the reins from Mel Gibson as Mr. Rockatansky, I had high hopes for Mad Max: Fury Road. What I didn’t expect was for Miller, at age 70, to show everyone the future of action movies and for Charlize Theron, as Imperator Furiosa, to emerge as the true lynchpin of this operatic celebration of chaos and cinematic excess. Full throttle from beginning to end, Fury Road is also an example of the perfect execution of an ambitious vision; Miller clearly knew what he wanted, knew how to get it and absolutely nailed it, delivering the best movie of 2015.
Best Indie Movies About Street Life: Tangerine (directed by Sean Baker) and Heaven Knows What (directed by Ben and Joshua Safdie)
Best Comedy: What We Do in the Shadows (directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi)
Best Animated Movie: Inside Out (directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen)
Best Canadian Movies: Le bruit des arbres (The Sounds of Trees) (directed by François Péloquin), Tu Dors Nicole (directed by Stéphane Lafleur).