Before getting into the list, I just want to give a list of 2015 releases that I haven’t been able to see yet, either because they’ve only played at festivals or I just haven’t had the time to. If something’s not on the main list, please look here. Hopefully I’ll see them eventually, but for now, here’s the list: Dheepan, The Lobster, The Assassin, The Tribe, Victoria, Where To Invade Next, The Witch, The Danish Girl, Rams, A War, Macbeth, Youth, Trumbo, The End of the Tour, The Gift, Theeb, Dope, Love & Mercy, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Mustang.
When choosing these movies, I thought about a couple different things; rewatchability, the weight of any issues I had with the films (e.g. a boom mic visible vs. a horrible performance, one being a more significant factor than the other) and how much I enjoyed them. This was a hard list to make. While some films were pretty solidified in where I wanted them, #8-2 were all being moved around a bit, and it was very hard to compare some of the films because of their difference in genre. (How do you compare a Holocaust drama to a coming-of-age high school film?) I still had to leave quite a few films worthy of being here off the list; It Follows, (inconsistent) Bridge of Spies, (enjoyed the main plot more than the subplot) Brooklyn (don’t need to rewatch), The Revenant (too long), Shaun the Sheep Movie, (fun but forgettable) Creed, (bad villain and out-of-place scenes) Mad Max: Fury Road (didn’t live up to expectations), Star Wars: The Force Awakens, (too familiar to A New Hope) Inside Out, (predictable) and Hitchcock/Truffaut (too different since it’s a documentary) were all great. Lastly, and most importantly, you will disagree with this list. I present; my top 10 films of 2015.
#10: Mistress America - Noah Baumbach, who co-wrote my favorite animated film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, (the other writer being Wes Anderson) wrote and directed this hilarious and upbeat comedy. It's very quotable and features an upbeat score that keeps the movie flowing and energetic. The film goes by very fast, with a less than 90 minute running time, and it's definitely worth every minute.
#9: Beasts of No Nation - Beasts of No Nation is a depressing, hard-to-watch film, but it’s so well done that it’s hard not to like. While I personally think #OscarsSoWhite is a bit overblown, I do know that Idris Elba not getting nominated for Best Supporting Actor is a snub. And I better see Abraham Attah in more movies soon. The filmmaking here is exquisite. Gary Joji Fukunaga, the director and writer of this film, also wrote and directed season 1 of True Detective, which is highly acclaimed. Surprisingly, this one hasn't been getting much attention at awards shows, and I think it definitely deserves it.
#8: Spotlight - This film is not only an important watch for anyone not familiar with the story, it’s extremely well executed. It doesn’t just rely on you knowing it's an important subject. It clearly shows how it is, how abuse decades ago is still affecting the victims, and how the cover-up was deliberate and massive. The entire ensemble is great, and it had me on the edge of my seat, dying to know everything by the end. The direction is so held-back and simple, giving a matter-of-fact feel to the film, which is very effective. If it’s between the Revenant and this at the Oscars, I know where my vote would be going.
#7: Anomalisa - Charlie Kaufman is a brilliant screenwriter, and it shows again here. His metaphorical approach to writing is always interesting to watch, and this film is filled with a lot to think about. Of all the films on this list, though, this is the least accessible to a mainstream audience. It's an R-rated stop-motion film with penises and oral sex, along with a cast of three people, but it's very integral to the story. Some people will call this film "weird;" I call it mind-bending.
#6: Ex Machina - Smart, stylish, and mysterious, Ex Machina kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time and was always unpredictable. Its atmosphere is something to be admired, as well as great performances from the entire cast. I'm still thinking about it, and I can’t wait to see more of Alex Garland’s directorial work, along with catching up on his previous writing credits.
#5: 45 Years - What a fascinating look at marriage. Kate and Geoff, the two main characters of the film, are fascinating and unpredictable. The direction here is impeccable, with many small and subtle moments coming back to play later in the film. The story may be simple, but it's also powerful. I love every last detail of this film.
#4: Son of Saul - This film is hard to watch, but I hope you do, because it treats you like a smart human being. Its subject, the Holocaust, is not forced into your face, and it instead focuses on our protagonist, Saul. Géza Röhrig as Saul was my favorite male performance of the year; he embodied his character so well that it hasn't gotten out of my head. It may be yet another film made about the Holocaust, but it stands out from the bunch as an absolutely outstanding piece of art.
#3: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - This movie appealed to me the most on a personal level this year. However, it's personal appeal doesn't change its outstanding quality. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's first feature film features stunning direction, honest representations of high schoolers, great acting, and is hilarious, mainly through the parodies of classic films that Greg and Earl make. Since this movie didn't even make its $8 million budget back, I cannot recommend this one enough, and I would suggest that you go see it. Like, right now.
#2: Sicario - From the opening scene to the ending credits, Sicario stunned me. Not just in the horrifying story, (which could have easily been a pretty standard action movie plot) but in the great direction by Denis Villeneuve and the creative, beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins, capturing night better than almost any cinematographer working today. The performances are also great, particularly Emily Blunt. Unfortunately, only Deakins has been getting attention for his work. (Deservedly so, of course) If there's an awards contender that people have been missing out on this year, it's this fantastic piece of work.
#1: Carol - I could talk about Carol for hours. The fantastic performances from Kyle Chandler, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. (Mara giving my favorite performance of the year) The excellent writing by Phyllis Nagy. The fantastic direction of Todd Haynes, making every shot be like its own painting, telling an individual story. The moving ending, with a sweeping score. Everything about Carol is magnificent, and it's the best movie of the year.