Normally, you’d see lists like these at the tail end of a year, or within the first week of a new one. That would ideally be the case for us, but unfortunately, MediaBrewPub isn’t a full-time commitment for us (though it can be, if you’re a rich benefactor á la Abel Magwitch and want to support us). That being said, January tends to be the month when I attempt to watch as many films from the previous year that I wasn’t able to catch in theaters. January has now passed, and the time has come for me to finally release this list. Perhaps it isn’t as comprehensive as it can be, but given my budget and spare time, it’ll do.
When compiling my top 10 films for 2015, I felt compelled to revisit the list from 2013 I wrote nearly two years ago, partly to check how it was formatted, but mainly to see how it holds up. Looking at it now, I’d only take out Gravity since that film is clearly meant to be experienced in the theater (in IMAX 3-D, no less) for full effect and is less enthralling on home media. Taking its place is The Wolf of Wall Street, which I’ve warmed up to significantly. There is some shuffling around, but here’s what it would look like today.
- Before Midnight
- 12 Years a Slave
- Blue is the Warmest Color
- The Act of Killing
- The Wind Rises
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- The Wolf of Wall Street
- Short Term 12
I also realized that I never published my top 10 for 2014 last year. Life has a knack of throwing wrenches in the works, so I was caught up with a lot of things then. But hey, better late than never, right? Here it is below.
- A Most Violent Year
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
How do you determine what films (or any medium, for that matter) make it into a top 10 list? The truth is, it’s generally different for every person. Some simply go for what movies they liked the most or found the most entertaining. Some select those that exemplify daring, innovative filmmaking. Some choose what moved them the most. Some pick out movies that they think will truly stand the test of time. Some prefer movies which tackle subject matter that deeply interest them. As for me, my lists tend to touch upon all of these criteria, but every single film that makes it in has affected me in one way or another.
Simply put, 2015 was one of the best years in film that I’ve ever experienced. I can’t remember the last time there were this many quality films, and I was tempted to even extend this list to a top 15 or even 20. The fact that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Steve Jobs, Brooklyn, and even Mad Max: Fury Road were eked out by the eventual top 10 speaks volumes about how many great films came out last year. That’s not even counting films like Z for Zachariah, Bridge of Spies, Creed, The Tribe, and The Big Short, all of which impressed me so. What’s more, I’ve yet to see films that many have raved about, like Tangerine and The Assassin. I truly believe that the more I see such films, the more likely this list will change. Without further ado, here are my top 10 films of 2015.
The Hateful Eight
What can you do with a group of downright despicable and irredeemable characters? If you ask Quentin Tarantino, he simply pits them against each other, but he doesn’t let the true conflict manifest in a physical standoff, where fingers rest uneasily on the triggers of revolvers. Instead, he sets that conflict entirely in the mind, where each individual responds to hate with hate of his or her own, firing off lies, truths, and detestable language in a nerve-wracking immoral chess match that determines life or death. Hate means survival; hate may beget hate wherever it goes, but that doesn’t matter a damn if you can count on it to resolve conflict.
Perspective means everything. Director Lenny Abrahamson and screenwriter Emma Donoghue masterfully portray the worlds of Room through the eyes of five-year-old Jack, who was born in and has lived in a single room with his mother, a rapist’s captive. Every frame is seen from Jack’s perspective, and from each one we truly understand his desires and emotions, from curiosity and fear to anger and joy. A child’s understanding means so much in this cathartic and intense picture, as from that we are able to immediately comprehend the inner turmoils of the people around him, even when no expressions are seen and no words are spoken.
Is loneliness a product of the people around you, or is it self-imposed? That’s the question hanging over self-help author Michael Stone, though he never seems to ask it. It’s easy to feel sympathetic towards him, and directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson carefully construct his surroundings to make it so. But once the time is right, they turn the tables on their audience, and it is then that the gravity of that question becomes exposed. Who could have known that a movie featuring stop-motion puppets would result in one of the most human films of 2015?
A black and white law will progressively lose its power when put to work in a world of gray. In Sicario, that world is the drug trade, and that loss of power is intelligently shown using its three lead characters, who not only breathe naturally in this complex tale, but also brilliantly personify ideas of how to combat a network of violence. Director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan keenly wade into these gray waters to show how far this conflict’s ripples extend and how deep it goes on a personal level, effectively proving that it is much too complicated for a black and white law to navigate through this rough and stormy sea.
Son of Saul
I’ve seen my share of films that portray the Holocaust, but László Nemes‘ Son of Saul does so in an incredibly unique way that makes the cruelty much more horrifying. This harrowing picture follows Saul, a Jew who helps dispose bodies from gas chambers, as he seeks a rabbi to give whom he believes is his son a proper burial. The camera’s shallow focus and a narrow field of vision illustrate Saul’s numbness and resolve to tune out the atrocities being committed around him, and although we don’t clearly see what’s going on, the blurriness, combined with the sounds of gunshots and screams, is enough to give us a sickening idea.
Never passing up the opportunity to unsettle its audience, Alex Garland’s directorial debut proves to be a stunning, thought-provoking piece of cinema. The cold, claustrophobic environment enhances the characters’ eccentricities and distrust, and their attempts to cajole one another build upon already high levels of anxiety. While the film certainly is a fascinating Frankenstein-like tale about the nature of artificial intelligence, another equally compelling subject bubbles beneath it: men’s attitudes toward women, regardless of what their intentions are.
In a time where journalism is associated with clickbait and sensationalism, Spotlight is a breath of fresh air, determined to show us what the craft really entails. This is a profession defined by repetition and stubbornness, all to coax key information out of one’s subjects whilst minding sensitivity. Telling the truth has its share of opponents, who can have both a subtle and powerful presence. To write a story can mean parsing through sheer masses of information over a sprawling period of time. Not only do writer/director Tom McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer handily capture these aspects, they also condense a riveting true story into a breezy screenplay that never fails to communicate the magnitude of the reporters’ task.
Pixar gave feelings to feelings, and it has resulted in their most ambitious, creative, and most empathetic work to date. To create a vibrant world out of the human mind sounds like an odd idea on paper, but director Pete Docter effortlessly pulls it off, populating that world with elements that dazzle and humor. Those elements are in service only to the story, which keeps us completely invested in well-rounded characters both large and small, to the point where the outcome of a tale has never mattered so much. Precisely delivering emotional punches, this is not only a cathartic knockout, but also the famed studio’s finest achievement.
The details seen in a romance make up the language of love. These details – such as glances, the brush of fingertips, the attention being paid, the seemingly insignificant expressions – can be overt or subtle, and they say so much about a relationship. In Carol, sometimes that’s all that can be expressed, especially when the couple it portrays is out in the public eye. And yet, there’s incredible emotion hanging on every little body expression. That being said, their relationship is grounded and tangible, as we feel every slight touch and catch of breath, mind every slight hand motion, and perfectly comprehend the characters’ reactions to those details.
What happens when an old flame enters into a seemingly perfect marriage? You can certainly expect sparks to fly, but what if that flame has been long dead? Kate and Geoff are a week away from celebrating their 45th anniversary when they receive shocking news: the perfectly preserved body of Geoff’s former girlfriend Katya has been found in the Swiss Alps, where she was lost nearly 50 years ago. As Geoff becomes progressively withdrawn, Kate begins to notice that Katya – despite her death – has been like a ghost in their marriage, influencing it in ways that she never could have realized. A beautiful, devastating film that strips bare the human heart and explores the delicate relationship between past and present, 45 Years is the best film of 2015.
And there you have it, folks. If you’ve yet to see any of the above films, I highly recommend that you do so. Just as 2015 was an excellent year in cinema, may 2016 bring us similar fortunes!