In Retrospect: A Belated Look at the Best Movies of 2015

Best Of 2015

I tend to post my end-of-year retrospectives during the first month of the following year. I like to wait until January so that I can catch up with anything I may have missed during the mad dash of December. Moreover, since I’m not trying to meet any deadlines, why worry? It’s what I’ve been doing for the last three years and it’s what worked well for me. Obviously, 2015 was a little different, and that’s why you’re reading this in February. Here’s why…

After what was a mostly magnificent year for me—highlights included memorable trips to Chicago, Alaska, Seattle, and to Washington DC to see my niece—I had the rug pulled from under me in December. The ad agency I’d been working at for over three years abruptly went out of business. There were no warnings, no heads-ups, no nothing! On December 3, 2015, over 100 employees of the agency once known as CommongroundMGS were told that they had no jobs, and because of the owners’ mismanagement of funds, they were to receive no severances, no unused vacation pay, no refunds of expenses, no nothing! We were simply given a letter whose contents boiled down to a sad-face emoticon, and politely asked to collect our belongings and leave the building. Merry Christmas, right?

I don’t know how you’d react in a situation like this but for me, December was a month rife with stress, frustration, and as you’d expect, a little anger. Naturally, movies, as much I love them, were not top of mind. While I like to think of myself as a resourceful and resilient individual, I wouldn’t have been able to get through the month without the help of my friends, and especially my family. They’re the reason I was able to push through the suck smiling. That being said, there’s a silver lining to this story: I have my health, I have my family, and I have a new job. As things slowly gain stability, and I try to push forward, I only hope every person who was thrown out on the streets that day finds their silver lining, and more importantly, gets what’s due to them.

 

And now… back to your regular scheduled programming.

 

*

 

 

Letterboxd-2015-in-review

When it came to the year in film, things were a little more straightforward than my bumpy personal universe. I watched exactly 100 films in 2015, just counting 2015 releases, although I could have sworn it was more than that. When you include older releases, Letterboxd states that I watched 233 films over the course of the year. That’s about 19 movies a month, and 4.5 movies a week (OMG nerd!). If you want an even more detailed breakdown, check out my Letterboxd page. The wizards there do all the calculations. It’s pretty cool and nerdy fun. I’m also happy that I set out and accomplished The 007 Collective – the series in which I watched and reviewed all 24 movies in the wildly uneven James Bond series.  I still haven’t figured out what I’m going to do a as a follow-up this year but suggestions are welcome!

Like I stated in my 2014 and 2013 retrospectives, it goes without saying that this list is incredibly personal. No movie makes the cut because I felt it was “important” to include. I don’t care to make any political statements or push forward any causes when I make a Best of list. You cannot be true to yourself if you succumb to that crap. Moreover, I don’t pick one foreign language film, one animated film, one documentary, one “minority-led” film, or one genre film for the sake of pleasing those looking for “eclectic” or “unique” lists. We have the Library of Congress for that.

Ever had one of those years in which no movie really speaks to you? Well, 2015 was one of those years. Although I watched 100 new releases over the course of those 12 months, nothing absolutely floored me. Some came close but there wasn’t a film I adored so much that it left the rest of the pack in the dust. No The Social Network, no Before Midnight, no A Separation. Because of this, I had a difficult time figuring out my favorite of the year. The list you see below is probably the eighth or ninth incarnation of my original draft. I’d love to call it my final draft but who knows how I’m going to feel about these movies a few months down the line. But again, we live in the now so this is it…

 

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 Click the titles of the movies to view their trailers.

 

20-mistress-america

MISTRESS AMERICA

Think John Hughes meets Preston Sturges but with delusional, white upper-class millennials. I laughed, I laughed again, and then I laughed some more. Noah Baumbach needs to only make movies written by and starring Greta Gerwig from here on out.

 

 

19-magic-mike-xxl

MAGIC MIKE XXL

The year’s best bromance delivered the goods for the ladies, AND for anyone looking for a good time. Yea, XXL is big, dumb and goofy but it’s all in good fun. It doesn’t take itself seriously and neither should you. Take it away, Joe!

 

 

 18-what-we-do-in-the-shadows

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS

Fuck The Martian – this was the funniest comedy of 2015. Imagine Count Dracula, Nosferatu and Lestat living together as roommates and bickering about whose turn it was to do the dishes. Yea, it’s one-note but it works. Now repeat after me, “We’re Were Wolves, not Swear Wolves.”

 

 

17-brooklyn

BROOKLYN

A magical and vibrantly shot tale of an Irish immigrant’s experience of growing up, falling in love and finding her way in 1950’s Brooklyn. Saoirse Ronan says more with her eyes in one scene in this movie than Academy Award-winning thespian Sir Eddie Redmayne does while shaking like a poloroid picture in both his garbage Oscar-approved performances.

 

 

16-ex-machina

EX MACHINA

A slick, stylish, and intellectually stimulating thriller that explores the distinction between humans and A.I., while also touching upon gender politics, our contemporary fears of privacy, and the ever-encroaching role of technology in our lives. Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander give performances worthy of Oscars. If only Oscars were worthy of them.

 

 

15-bridge-of-spies

BRIDGE OF SPIES

Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is an understated and staunchly old-fashioned picture in which words, not bullets, keep the drama brewing. Tom Hanks takes center-stage but it’s Mark Rylance who kills it with his understated turn as a Soviet spy. This film is proof that even the art of diplomacy can make for entertainment in the hands of a master filmmaker.

 

 

14-the-big-short

THE BIG SHORT

An exceptionally entertaining, energetic, and eye-opening look back at the why’s and how’s behind the financial meltdown of 2007-08—as seen through the eyes of the people who saw it coming, and then profited from it.

 

 

13-mi5

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION

Like its manic predecessor and fiercely committed leading man, the effortlessly elating Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation aims to please—and it succeeds in style. I’d like to call it the best action movie of the year but there’s that other one. Anyway, bring on M:I-6, and step on it!

 

 

12-son-of-saul

SON OF SAUL

The best movie about the Holocaust since The Pianist, Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes Son of Saul—which is shot mostly in extreme close-up—covers two days in the life of Saul Auslander (a masterful Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian Jew working as a member of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz, as he tries to salvage some form of humanity by burying the body of a boy he thinks is his son. Devastating doesn’t even begin to describe this film.

 

 

11-amy

AMY

The year’s best documentary functions both as a hymn to the remarkable talent of Amy Winehouse as well as a cautionary tale about the price of fame and the power of the media to destroy.

 

***

 

10-beasts-of-no-nation

BEASTS OF NO NATION

Jesus Christ, this movie is horrifying. Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation is a harrowing and uncompromising look at how children in war-torn African nations are turned into mass-murdering soldiers. The setting may be Africa but this is a story applicable to any conflict-torn region around the world today. The fact that this often difficult to watch but essential film was virtually ignored by the industry is proof of how flawed the awards system is. Idris Elba’s performance as the merciless yet charismatic war lord who rules over his platoon of adolescents like a God will be what most people will come away talking about but it’s young Abraham Attah’s performance as the little boy who goes from an energetic, soccer-loving tot to a machete-wielding zombie that stays with you.

 

 

09-mommy

MOMMY

With Mommy, his Cannes Jury Prize-winning tragic-comic sensory experience, Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan firmly establishes himself as one of the brightest faces of world cinema. In a sentence, Mommy is a miracle of filmmaking—a bravura work that depicts the explosive nature of dysfunctional families as well as the hardships parents endure to protect their children. It’s a film that mesmerizes with its style, twisted humor, raw emotion and unforgettable performances.

 

 

08-room

ROOM

What if a child spent his entire existence living in a single room? Now, what if this child was suddenly released into the world? How would he adjust to this new environment? How would this affect his psyche? Room, Lenny Abrahamson’s tender drama is an exploration of these questions as well as a powerful look at the unwavering bonds parents forge with their children. Buoyed by gut-wrenching performances from young Jacob Tremblay and the incomparable Brie Larson, whose performance is the acting performance of the year, this was perhaps the most moving film I watched in 2015.

 

 

07-inside-out

INSIDE OUT

Pixar struck back in a big way with Inside Out, the studio’s smartest, funniest and most moving film since Wall-E. The brainchild of writer-director Pete Doctor, the creative genius behind Up and Monsters Inc., Inside Out meshes the emotion-driven storytelling of the former with the meticulous world-building of the later as well as the buddy-comedy aspects of Toy Story to tell the story of what happens inside the mind of a 11-year-old girl. Oh, and Bing Bong, man.

 

 

06-creed

CREED

Along with being the most rousing and exuberant surprise of the year, Creed also accomplished these five things: A) It rejuvenated the dormant Rocky franchise. B) It reinforced that Michael B. Jordan is a bona fide superstar and acting titan, C) It proved that Ryan Coogler is a prodigious filmmaking talent with a huge career ahead of him and. D) It reminded us all that whenever he’s not making those expendable Expendables movies and Rambo knock-offs, Sylvester Stallone can be one hell of an actor. Welcome back, Sly, and please stay!

 

 

05-carol

CAROL

Todd Haynes’ Carol is a fever dream—an intoxicating drama that enraptured me with its exquisite filmmaking and its intimate story of forbidden romance and longing in 1950’s New York. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are unforgettable as a married woman and young shopkeeper who unexpectedly find themselves falling into a whirlwind romance that eventually threatens to destroy both their lives. But rules don’t matter when you’re in love. Todd Haynes, Phyllis Nagy, Ed Lachman, Carter Burwell… take a bow.

 

 

04-sicario

SICARIO

Sicario was the scariest movie I watched in 2015—a disturbing, suspenseful and cynical look at the escalating war on drugs. Directed with verve by Denis Villneuve and immaculately shot by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, the film throws you into a world beset with characters whose intentions are never quite clear. By the time the film reaches its finale, I was left wondering whether there’s anything to be hopeful for in this God forsaken world. Buoyed by terrific performances from Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro whose towering, unforgettable turn as an enigmatic drug consultant gives the film its pounding pulse.

 

 

03-spotlight

SPOTLIGHT

The most important movie of the year was also the year’s most engrossing (and understated) one. Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight tells the true story about how the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe Spotlight team uncovered the decades-long cover-up of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church—specifically in the Boston archdiocese—and how their investigation eventually created shockwaves around the world. What makes Spotlight great isn’t the story but rather how McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer tell it. For a movie about such an important subject, it is surprisingly, and refreshingly, devoid of sensationalism and grandstanding. It’s power comes in powerful ensemble cast and from its informative and riveting screenplay that dives deep into the nitty-gritty, detailing the paint-staking process of investigative journalism—from interviewing the victims and the perpetrators to fighting the system that enabled the atrocities. As a character states, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”

 

 

02-mad-max-fury-road

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Mad Max: Fury Road is a fucking blitzkrieg. A relentless balls-to-the-wall, adrenaline-pumping action epic that immerses you into its crazy world without an iota of spoon-feeding and tedious world-building, and then pulls you into a full throttle carnival of madness for two straight hours, leaving you exhilarated and in a daze. What George Miller, Margaret Sixel, John Seale and company accomplished here will be taught in film schools for years to come. There really is nothing more I can say about this movie than countless people have already said before. It’s the best action movie of the decade.

 

 

01-revenant

THE REVENANT

A.K.A. the most hated movie of the year (at least among most film critics I know). Okay, not the most hated but easily the one most have bashed to death. Apparently, according to some critics, if you love or like this movie, you deserve to be mocked for it because it’s a bro/meat head movie. I can’t say I agree with that but I will support the criticism that it’s a problematic film. The Revenant is many things: savage, grueling, bloody, epic, mesmerizing, visceral, haunting, ambitious and immaculately crafted, but it’s also ridiculously flawed, a poster child of misery porn cinema, a product of a filmmaker who worships at his own alter, and of course, two-and-a-half hours of Leonardo DiCaprio grunting and moaning in desperation for that elusive Oscar. Still, the fact that this movie worked for despite these glaring issues—the half-hearted “subtext” about Native Americans genocide never works—is testament to the resolve of D.P. Emmanuel Lubezki and Leonardo DiCaprio… okay fine, and writer-director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, to pull off their ambitious vision. Speaking of AGI… the man may be a pompous shit with an ego the size of Alaska but I’ll give him props for one thing: He’s got cojones. Ballooning the budget of your passion project from $65 million to $135 million, getting into daily tussles with your cast and crew, and having a major trade dub your production a “living hell” are all signs that you’re in deep shit. But coming out of that figurative cold with a box office smash and acclaim from your peers?  Woof! That’s some James Cameron territory. One day, it’s going to bite him in the ass but it’s not today. Anyway, I digress. Two months into the New Year, The Revenant continues to be the one 2015 release that I keep going back to. Perhaps I’m enamored by the grandiosity of its ambition and behind-the-scenes story more than the actual film itself. Maybe I’m just a meat-head. It may not be as exciting as Fury Road, as engrossing as Spotlight, as touching as Carol, as disturbing as Sicario, as heart-breaking as Room or as rousing as Creed but it stands atop of this list because it simply was my favorite.

 

 

Honorable Mentions:

Best of Enemies, Diary of a Teenage Girl, 45 Years, The Hateful Eight, Love & Mercy, The Martian, 99 Homes, Phoenix, Slow West, Spy

 

PERSONAL BALLOT A.K.A. IF I HAD AN OSCAR BALLOT:

BEST PICTURE

the-revenant-2

  1. The Revenant
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. Spotlight
  4. Sicario
  5. Carol
  6. Creed
  7. Inside Out
  8. Room
  9. Mommy
  10. Beasts of No Nation

 

BEST DIRECTOR

mad-max-george-miller

  1. George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu – The Revenant
  3. Denis Villeneuve – Sicario
  4. Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
  5. Todd Haynes – Carol

 

 

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

creed-michael-b-jordan

  1. Michael B. Jordan – Creed
  2. Paul Dano – Love & Mercy
  3. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
  4. Géza Röhrig – Son of Saul
  5. Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs

 

 

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

brie-larson-room

  1. Brie Larson – Room
  2. Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
  3. Sairose Ronan – Brooklyn
  4. Cate Blanchett – Carol
  5. Emily Blunt – Sicario

 

 

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

michael-shannon-99-homes

  1. Michael Shannon – 99 Homes
  2. Idris Elba – Beasts of No Nation
  3. Benicio Del Toro – Sicario
  4. Oscar Isaac – Ex Machina
  5. Sylvester Stallone – Creed

 

 

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

elizabeth-banks-in-love-mercy

  1. Elizabeth Banks – Love & Mercy
  2. Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina
  3. Kristen Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria
  4. Marion Cotillard – Macbeth
  5. Rose Byrne – Spy

 

 

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST

spotlight

  1. Spotlight
  2. The Big Short
  3. Magic Mike XXL
  4. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
  5. The Martian

 

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

spotlight-2

  1. Spotlight – Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
  2. Inside Out – Pete Doctor, Ronnie Del Carmen, Meg LaFauve, Josh Cooley
  3. Sicario – Taylor Sheridan
  4. Mommy – Xavier Dolan
  5. Ex Machina – Alex Garland

 

 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

carol-thumb

  1. Carol – Phyllis Nagy
  2. Room – Emma Donaghue
  3. The Big Short – Adam McKay, Charles Randolph
  4. Creed – Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
  5. Beasts of No Nation – Cary Fukunaga

 

 

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Amy-Winehouse

  1. Amy
  2. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
  3. The Look of Silence
  4. Best of Enemies
  5. Listen to me, Marlon

 

 

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

mommy-movie

  1. Mommy
  2. Son of Saul
  3. Phoenix
  4. The Assassin
  5. Victoria

 

 

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

inside-out2

  1. Inside Out
  2. Shaun the Sheep: The Movie
  3. Anomalisa
  4. The Good Dinosaur
  5. The Peanuts Movie

 

 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

the-revenant-cinema

  1. The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
  2. Carol – Ed Lachman
  3. Sicario – Roger Deakins
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road – John Seale
  5. Creed – Maryse Alberti

 

 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

cinderella-costumes

  1. Cinderella – Sandy Powell
  2. Brooklyn – Odile Dicks-Mireaux
  3. Mad Max: Fury Road – Jenny Beavan
  4. Carol – Sandy Powell
  5. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – Joanna Johnston

 

 

BEST FILM EDITING

fury-road

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road – Margaret Sixel
  2. Creed – Claudia Castello, Michael P. Shawver
  3. The Revenant – Stephen Mirrione
  4. Spotlight – Tom McArdle
  5. Sicario – Joe Walker

 

 

BEST MAKEUP

fury-road-3

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Revenant
  3. Crimson Peak
  4. Ex Machina
  5. Mr. Holmes

 

 

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

bridge-of-spies-prod-design

  1. Bridge of Spies
  2. Cinderella
  3. Crimson Peak
  4. Carol
  5. Mad Max: Fury Road

 

 

BEST SCORE

carol1

  1. Carol – Carter Burwell
  2. Sicario – Jóhann Jóhannsson
  3. Creed – Ludwig Göransson
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road – Junkie XL
  5. The Revenant – Ryuichi Sakamoto

 

 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

the-walk

  1. The Walk
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road
  3. Ex Machina
  4. Ant Man
  5. The Revenant

 

 

BEST SOUND MIXING

fury-road-2

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Revenant
  3. Love & Mercy
  4. Creed
  5. Sicario

 

 

BEST SOUND EDITING

fury-road-4

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  3. Ex Machina
  4. Inside Out
  5. Sicario

 


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/147217969″>2015 Salute to Cinema</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/benzuk”>Ben Zuk</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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7 responses to “In Retrospect: A Belated Look at the Best Movies of 2015

  1. Don’t worry, I liked the Revenant. Not the best of the year, but definitely one of the better ones I saw this year. But, yes, waaay better than Sicario. 😉

      • Oh, yea! I remember reading her review. She liked it a lot more than you. Its wins tomorrow are going to hurt it in the long run. Winning Best Picture does a lot more harm to a film’s legacy than good – especially popular ones that are divisive in the film criticism community. After all, we’re the ones who write about these movies 20 years from now.

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