I am happy to report that 2015 was another vibrant, inspiring year for cinema. While the year’s film landscape may be dominated by the fairly stellar return of the galactic juggernaut better known as the Star Wars franchise, the idiosyncratic, singular visions of a score of filmmakers would better represent the year’s achievements. From Mali to Mexico City to the South Side of Chicago, important films were made outside the Hollywood system and at a remove from genre conventions.
As we approach Oscar night, it should be noted that the nominees for the Academy Awards once again highlight how lacking in true diversity the industry remains. Whether it relates to which artists receive award nominations or, perhaps more important, which artists are supported in creating work, Hollywood remains a (straight) white boys’ club, one desperately in need of a greater variety of voices and perspectives.
As with any year, there were promising films I simply have not gotten to yet. To name a few: Brooklyn, Creed, In Jackson Heights, Son of Saul, and Taxi, are 2015 movies I still look forward to viewing.
Without further ado, here is the 2015 film list:
TOP TEN (in order):
Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako): Sissako’s masterpiece looks at this famed multicultural city of learning and trade as it suffers during an occupation by fundamentalist invaders. The movie’s patchwork of incisive stories and its quietly poetic style demand a world of tolerance, humility, and forceful humanism.
The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-Hsien): Hou’s plot may at times confound, but this wuxia-inspired martial-arts flick set in medieval China brims with cinematic lyricism via textured, potent visuals and expert, tone-setting sound design. A consistently powerful lead performance by Shu Qi paces this elliptical, mesmerizing, dream of a film.
Carol (Todd Haynes): Haynes’s astounds with this flawless, finely orchestrated love story of two women in a world (1950s New York City) not ready to accept who they are. The grainy, expressive Super 16mm cinematography of DP Edward Lachman reminds us that celluloid is far from dead.
The Revenant (Alejandro González Iñárritu): This is no perfect film — the third act feels too much like a Liam Neeson revenge vehicle — but it is undoubtedly a work of art, an epic-scale canvas detailing early 19th Century fur trappers and foreign armies overtaking the west, thereby destroying the cultures of indigenous America Indians and despoiling the natural environment.
Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven): A well-crafted debut feature that serves up a classic tale of societal and generational conflict in provincial Turkey. Ergüven sustains the sort of originality of perspective and freshness of voice often lacking in such early-career films.
Tangerine (Sean S. Baker): Baker’s exuberant, zany comedy about transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles functions as American independent films more often could — with non-traditional casting, crafty filmmaking, a nitty-gritty sense of its world, and, deep down, a big, generous heart.
Ex Machina (Alex Garland): An expertly performed, dexterously executed sci-fi thriller set in the hermetically sealed, middle-of-nowhere palace/laboratory of a billionaire software CEO/mad scientist. Hitchcock meets Philip K Dick.
Chi-Raq (Spike Lee): Lee’s re-imaging of Lysistrata to violence-plagued Chicago is at times overly campy and caricatured, but the film is likewise bold and humorous, inventive and necessary. Where are the other filmmakers confronting the scourge of gun violence?
The End of the Tour (James Ponsoldt): Jason Segel impresses as late writer David Foster Wallace, and Ponsoldt’s movie resurrects the art of conversation, embracing the power of its tête-à-tête, writer-on-writer bull sessions.
Güeros (Alonso Ruiz Palacios): The spirit of Godard is repurposed in Ruiz Palacios’s rollicking, clever coming-of-age picture set during a student protest in Mexico City, 1999. So many scenes stand out and remain with you, months later.
HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order): The Big Short (Adam McKay); The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller); Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad); Sand Dollars (Laura Amelia Guzmán & Israel Cárdenas); Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)
BEST GENRE FLICKS (not mentioned above):
Creepy Thriller: Goodnight Mommy (Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala)
Horror: It Follows (David Robert Mitchell)
Historical Drama: Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg)
Sci-Fi: The Martian (Ridley Scott)
Action-Adventure: Everest (Baltasar Kormákur)
Action-Crime: Black Mass (Scott Cooper)
Action-Geo-Political: Sicario (Denis Villeneuve)
Article written by Brendan Rose