Best of 2015

2015 FILMS

By David Ferguson

best of 2015 Greetings again from the darkness. Had a modern day Rip Van Winkle awoken from a 40 year slumber in 2015, he might have concluded it had been but a brief cat nap. Movie theatres packed ‘em in with such 1970’s throwbacks as Star Wars, Rocky, Mad Max, Lily Tomlin, Russian hockey, Fisher/Spassky, the Cold War, Marlon Brando, Mother Teresa, a society-jarring investigative journalism movie, and a hand full of interesting Westerns. There was even a menacing shark (ok, a Mosasaurus) and a documentary on the hope that Elvis is still alive. The only 70’s icons that seemed missing were a disco ball and Charlie’s Angels (though a re-boot is rumored).

The first ever $11 billion box office year eclipsed expectations and provided not just some exciting blockbusters, but also quite a few creative and interesting smaller films, indies and documentaries. For the year, I reviewed 234 movies that were released during 2015. The vast majority of these proved to be interesting, emotional and/or entertaining, with the best of the bunch jolting the cinematic experience by bringing something new. Among those blazing new paths of risky filmmaking: Sean Baker shot Tangerine with iphones, Sebastian Schipper and Sturla Brandth Grovler shot 2-plus hours of Victoria in a single take, Laszlo Nemes used shallow focus and sound to create the frenetic feel of Son of Saul, and Doug Aitken compiled 62 one minute films shot on a cross-country train ride for Station to Station. Chances are good that, regardless of your movie tastes, you can find more than a few in this most recent vintage that will deliver some viewing pleasure.

Rather than an arbitrary Top 10 list, my preference is to present the natural break. You will notice that this year’s “Best of” list is broken into two sections: my Top 5 movies of the year, and the Next Best 12 movies (in alphabetical order). You will also find a brief description of each, as well as a link to the full review for the Top 5. As always, your feedback is welcome!

BEST OF 2015

  1. SPOTLIGHT   spotlight2By combining many elements such as a gripping true story; a wonderfully talented ensemble cast; expert writing, directing, editing, and cinematography; and flawed heroes facing off against unconscionable villains, it’s difficult to ask much more from a film than what writer/director Tom McCarthy delivers in this look at the process of investigative journalism. It left me drained … although I still use adjectives.   https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2015/11/12/spotlight-2015/
  2. THE REVENANT   revenantTrue artistic visionaries not only see the world differently than the rest of us, they find a way to challenge our expectations and senses … even when working within the framework of a true story. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu brings us the relentless and thrilling survival story of frontiersman Hugh Glass (in a stunning performance from Leonardo DiCaprio). The bear attack alone is worth the price of a ticket (and a reminder to heed the Park Ranger warnings in Yellowstone)   https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2015/12/28/
  3. INSIDE OUT   inside out2Once again, Pixar does what they do better than any other studio. Very few parents will survive this one with dry eyes (I didn’t), and even the youngest of kids will be fascinated by the sights, sounds and action involving a multitude of interesting characters (emotions). Bing Bong is responsible for bringing back generations of forgotten imaginary friends. Millennials may not be affected, but give them a few years (or a kid)!    https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2015/06/18/
  4. THE BIG SHORT   big short2In the mold of Spotlight, here’s another “we wish it wasn’t true” story. Director Adam McKay brings his comedic touch to this explanation-for-the-masses look at the mortgage crisis of 2008. His deep cast includes Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling in off-beat roles, as they walk us through the process of how banks and investment firms twisted our economy into the knots that cost many of us jobs, homes, chunks of our retirement savings, and whatever trust we had in “the system”.   https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2015/12/24/
  5. BROOKLYN   brooklyn2How about a beautifully romantic and timely reminder of the adjustments and cultural challenges facing immigrants? Saoirse Ronan delivers one of the many outstanding performances by a lead actress this year, and we can’t help but root for this pensive and thoughtful and enchanting young lady … even as she frustrates us with her emotional and flawed decision making.    https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2015/11/19/

 

NEXT BEST (alphabetical order):

AMY – touching and powerful documentary on the all too brief life of Amy Winehouse, a musical genius and emotional trainwreck

CAROLCate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are excellent in this period piece on the challenges faced by two lesbian lovers

CARTEL LAND – excruciatingly tense documentary from inside the various official and unofficial real world border wars against the drug cartels

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel comes alive thanks to Carey Mulligan (as Bathsheba Everdene), Matthias Schoenaerts and director Thomas Vinterberg

grandma2 GRANDMA – when Lily Tomlin says “Because I’m her grandmother”, no other explanation is needed. Her scenes with Sam Elliott are heart-breaking and among this year’s best

45 YEARS Charlotte Rampling delivers a knockout performance in this soulful and raw look at the damage caused by secrets in a long-term marriage. It’s written and directed by Andrew Haigh, who seems to be providing a cautionary lesson

ROOM – emotional turmoil peaks as Brie Larson (superb as usual) frantically plots the daring escape of her 5 year old son (played by this year’s breakout child star Jacob Tremblay). Mom and son experience very different new beginnings.

SICARIO – gripping suspense and thrilling action combined with deceit, back-stabbing and the complex world of drug cartels on the U.S./Mexico border. It also features the year’s most uncomfortable family dinner scene

SON OF SAUL – the unusual filming style of director Laszlo Nemes heightens the tension of the already dreadful environment at Auschwitz, as we follow Sonderkommando Saul in his attempt to have his son’s body properly buried

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS – director J.J. Abrams accomplishes the nearly impossible by awing “normal” movie goers, while not alienating Star Wars fanatics

TANGERINE – much more than “the iphone movie” (it was filmed entirely with iphones), viewers have connected with the plight of the two transgender leads as they battle their way through the streets of Los Angeles

THE MARTIAN – director Ridley Scott is pushing 80 and also still pushing the envelope, as Matt Damon promises to “science the s*** “ out of his being stranded on Mars. One of this year’s most popular movies and the most creative in fertilizing potatoes

 

BEST OF THE REST (surely you can find something to watch!)

ANOMALISA, ANT-MAN, BEASTS OF NO NATION, BONE TOMAHAWK, BRIDGE OF SPIES, CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA, CREED, DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, ECHOES OF WAR, GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE AMSALEM , I SMILE BACK, IT FOLLOWS, JOY, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, LOVE AND MERCY, MAD MAX: FURY WORLD, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION, MR. HOLMES, 99 HOMES, PAWN SACRIFICE, SLOW WEST, SOUTHPAW, STEVE JOBS, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, THE SALVATION, TRUMBO, TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT (2014), VICTORIA, WILD TALES (2014), WOMAN IN GOLD, YOUTH

 

RECOMMENDED DOCUMENTARIES (Interesting people and topics)

ALL THINGS MUST PASS: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOWER RECORDS

BATKID BEGINS – 5 year old cancer patient becomes a superhero

BIG MEN – Kosmos Energy in Ghana

DANNY SAYS – cultural impact of Danny Fields

DEEP WEB – the impact of the dark web

FRAME BY FRAME – four Afghan photojournalists

HE NAMED ME MALALA – she pushes for education of girls globally

KILLING THEM SAFELY – tasers in law enforcement

LAMBERT & STAMP – unlikely managers of The Who

MADE IN JAPAN – Tomi Fujiyama, Japanese Country & Western star

MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED – analysis of U.S. education system

RED ARMY – the Soviet Union hockey dynasty

SUNSHINE SUPERMAN – bio of BASE jumper Carl Boenish

SWEETHEARTS OF THE GRIDIRON – The Kilgore Rangerettes, since 1940

THAT SUGAR FILM – the evils of the sweet stuff

THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION

THE WOLFPACK – movies teach the Angulo brothers

THE WRECKING CREW – the famed studio session players

 

 

MOST DISAPPOINTING (not necessarily the worst, just expected more)

ADULT BEGINNERS – lackluster script for a comedy ensemble

BY THE SEA – ultimate narcissism from a narcissist

OUR BRAND IS CRISIS – lazy filmmaking and acting

TRUTH – obvious attempt by Mary Mapes to justify mistakes

 

I look forward to hearing about your favorites of 2015, and feel free to pass this along to other movie lovers.

SEE YOU AT THE MOVIES!!

 

TWITTER: @fergusontx

 

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