Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Best Films of 2015

Whew!  I went on a bit of a movie-watching bender over the past 36 hours, trying to scoop up as many of the missing films of 2015 that I could, and am officially ready to announce my Top 10 for the year (I already announced my Bottom 5 a few days ago on the blog).  Like with the worst of the year I didn't put them in a ranked order (they're alphabetical), but I highly recommend that you investigate all ten of these if you like to laugh, cry, and most of all enjoy fine cinema.  You'll note that every single one of these films has a female protagonist, which is unusual for me (I've never done that before with a film year), but appropriate considering this was clearly the year of the female-driven film, even if Oscar disagrees when they eventually crown Spotlight or The Revenant.  Without further adieu...

45 Years (dir. Andrew Haigh)

A deeply moving look at the hierarchies and intricacies of love and marriage.  Andrew Haigh has proven himself, with Weekend and Looking, a sharp observer of relationships and here we get the devastation of second guesses and suppositions.  Both Tom Courtenay and especially Charlotte Rampling dominate this in subdued, marvelous acting.

Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley)

Romance, especially big, complicated, straight-dramatic romance had largely gone out of fashion at the cinema until 2015, when films like Brooklyn brought it back.  Saoirse Ronan graduates to adulthood with the same level of ease that she portrayed in Atonement, and it pays off with a coming-of-age story that feels fresh, modern, and yet fully in its time-and-place.

Carol (dir. Todd Haynes)

I have never loved, but only liked, the films of Todd Haynes.  Until now.  Carol is the movie that made me a convert, and it's not hard to see why.  The film is that rare romance where you genuinely can't figure out how it will end until the movie actually gives us that answer (props to Phyllis Nagy on the wonderful screenplay), though all along you're breathlessly hoping that Carol and Therese end up together as Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara make a beautiful pair.

Clouds of Sils Maria (dir. Olivier Assayas)

This is what great acting and writing can accomplish-truly moving mountains.  Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart create something breathtaking in this look at celebrity, relationships, and aging.  The film came out so early in the year you'd be forgiven for thinking its time has passed, but Clouds lingers and comes back at you as it's too perceptive to disappear.

Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland)

This was a wonderful throwback to the Science-Fiction films of the 1970's, where instead of battling aliens or zombies, we instead find ourselves at battle with ourselves and our own hubris.  Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac create a terrific acting trio, frequently one-upping each other with second agendas and the introspection of forced claustrophobia.

I'll See You in My Dreams (dir. Brett Haley)

Age was a great supporting player in a lot of the best films of the year, and none more-so than I'll See You in My Dreams, a film that meditates on when we stop experiencing newness in our lives and when we pack up the adventures and risks of our youth.  Blythe Danner has never been better (and Sam Elliott never sexier) than in this romance about two people trying something learned and making it feel rich and unexpected again.

Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller)

The most vibrant action film I've seen in years.  Brimming with lush visuals (John Seale deserves a standing ovation to go with that Oscar nomination), the film is raw, humming with energy, and a complete shock after a year where Jurassic World brought a franchise's heat crashing down.  Everything works, and you find yourself eagerly awaiting every single impending scene.

Room (dir. Lenny Abrahamson)

Based on the amount of tears that came down my face, this was not the smartest date movie I've ever selected.  That's really the only complaint here, as Room is about as wonderful as movies can get, with a perceptive look into the world both of a sheltered, innocent child like Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and a magnificent turn as a woman who doesn't know what to do with her lost youth in Joy (Brie Larson, finally getting the kudos her career has been demanding for years).

Spy (dir. Paul Feig)

The funniest movie I've seen all year...the funniest movie I've seen in several years.  I literally could not stop laughing, and that only happens when you have Melissa McCarthy in top-form (and during the first half of the film, in a form I've never seen her embrace on the big-screen) and a supporting cast of Rose Byrne, Alison Janney, Miranda Hart, and (particularly surprising and delightful) Jason Statham all showing ridiculously well-honed comedic chops.

Testament of Youth (dir. James Kent)

When I keep internally saying the words "Waterloo Bridge" you are doing something right onscreen.  This is one of the most romantic and fully-felt films I've seen in years, with breathy and airy romantic gestures between Kit Harington and Alicia Vikander, who in a year where everyone was awed by her work in The Danish Girl and Ex Machina, won my heart personally forever with her Vera, so defiant and full of ambitions bursting to find their purpose.

And there you have it folks-my top ten of the year!  Share your thoughts on these films (and if you haven't seen any of them, it's time to start clicking that 'Add' button on Netflix) along with your Top 10 lists in the comments!

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