2015 has been over for a week now, but I have just now caught up with enough of the end of the year fare that I feel confident compiling my best of the year list. As always, this list is by no means comprehensive, and reflects as much my personal favorites as what I think are the “best” films of the year. Here are the honorable mentions, in alphabetical order, some of which I reviewed, some of which I just didn’t get around to writing about.
“Ant-Man is a necessary corrective to the trajectory of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, telling a superhero story on a smaller scale, actually shaping it as best it can into a heist film, while still maintaining a necessary level of stakes involved so that the story still has some significance to the greater MCU.” (And no cities were destroyed!)
Brooklyn is probably the best pure romance of the year, and one of the best to come along in the last few years. Saorise Ronan gives her impressive inner strength and fortitude as she is caught between two lives, her old one in Ireland and her new one in America. Satisfies the heart and the mind. The kind of romantic film that others should aspire to, but the majority don’t. Why does this make $21 million at the box office when lesser romantic films make three times that? Demand better, female audiences!
“Cinderella, not just in a way that makes her a paragon of virtue but because she loves her deceased parents and wants to honor them, actively practices turning the other cheek. She returns hate with love and grace and kindness. In this sense, it reminds me of Selma, and the power of Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of love and peace over hate and violence; the packaging and the form of the message may be drastically different, but the content is similar.” (It’s a surprisingly Christian story!)
Clouds of Sils Maria
A rumination on the dynamic of age as it relates to female actresses, Clouds of Sils Maria is a beautifully shot film that also has three strong performances from Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Grace Moretz. Surprisingly, Stewart’s may be the best of the three.
Diary of a Teenage Girl
A brutally honest portrait of a teenage girl in the 70s who discovers sex, starting an affair with her mom’s boyfriend who is more than twice her age and the emotional ramifications of that. Based on a graphic novel, it presents the story without judgment, is morally complex, and doesn’t shy away from it’s difficult material. Bel Powley is a name to know going forward.
The Duke of Burgundy
The BDSM film that 50 Shades of Grey could never even hope to be. Exists in it’s own unique world where there are no men. The story structure plays with the audiences perception of the relationship structure between these two women. While there is some explicit content (oral sex is shown, there is talk of “human toilets”), there is actually no nudity. One of the few erotic movies that offers anything of substance beyond mere titillation.
End of the Tour
Got this movie for free on Amazon to stream back during the holiday season, finally caught up with it a few days ago. Makes me want to read Infinite Jest. Eisenberg does a great job portraying a writer who is envious of the acclaim and praise that his subject, David Foster Wallace, is receiving. Segel is great as Wallace, a man trying desperately to hang onto whatever normalcy he can maintain in light of his newfound celebrity and people fawning over him. The periods they get to “bro out” together over five days are enjoyable.
“Everest, despite the tragedy at the center of the story, is a breathtaking cinematic facsimile to the real life experience of climbing Mount Everest, and the closest that most will come to climbing that high and seeing that kind of beauty.” (This film was amazing in Imax.)
“The parachuting cars out of a plane and later jumping a car between skyscrapers, however ridiculous in theory, are pulled off effectively in the universe that this franchise has created for itself. And that is the success of the Fast & Furious franchise, they have discovered a formula and do not do too much to mess with it. Whereas some of the earlier installments fell short, the last three movies in particular have excelled in the stylized chaos of the action.”
Really wish I had written about this one. Totally intended to, but got lost in the shuffle of a busy September for me. It’s a classic, old school thriller from the 80s and 90s that they just don’t make much of anymore. It’s about a couple who is harassed by a man with a connection in his past to the husband. A surprising against-type performance from Jason Bateman too, which actually works. Written and directed by Joel Edgerton, one of the main actors.
“I loved the way that the film toys with its audience in constantly keeping you on your guard as to who you should be trusting and believing, the Mother or the twins.”
“Kingsman: The Secret Service is a well-made, enjoyable, stylized action movie that strikes a good balance between its action and its humor. With knowing nods to old spy movies of the past, Kingsman is a kinetic update of those action spy movies, and proof that not all spy movies have to be somber thrillers of espionage. Saving the world can be a whole hell of a lot of fun.”
“Brian seems to hear music everywhere, like he is touched with this gift, but it ends up being something he indulges too much and it begins to become unwieldy. On top of this, the drugs seem to open doors for him in his mind that he can’t entirely shut. A scene at the dinner table after “Good Vibrations” has been released shows how Brian’s mind hears music in everything, but it quickly becomes a cacophony of noise that drives him mad.”
“Learning to be less beholden to logic and reason ends up being the heart of the story. Holmes sees no room in his life for fiction, part of the reason he intends to write this true accounting. His interactions with Roger (the boy) and his recalling of his last case bring about a certain degree of change in him, producing a level of humanity and graciousness toward others that he had perhaps neglected or rejected in the past as niceties were too fictional and, thus, trivial for him.”
Best way to describe this movie is that it’s like Before Sunrise with a sci-fi twist to it. Like, a poor man’s version of Before Sunrise. A young American guy falls quickly and madly in love with a mysterious woman in Italy who harbors a dark, primordial secret. A surprisingly sweet, romantic film, currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
The Stanford Prison Experiment
Probably the one most famous psychological experiments ever conducted, this movie is a dramatic account of that experiment, showing how quickly things can spiral out of control, how drunk people can get on power, how easily human adapt and accept their condition, and how maybe the experiment was doomed from the start. Lots of talented young actors involved in this film.
Straight Outta Compton
The second movie of the year (after Love & Mercy) to teach the lesson that you should not associate with Paul Giamatti if yyou are in the music industry. Tells the story of N.W.A. with great performances from Ice Cube’s own son as Ice Cube (with a great, memorable early scene on a school bus involving gang members) and Jason Mitchell as Easy-E in particular. Culturally relevant to the world of today given the racial tension between black people and police.
If you can get past JGL’s French accent this movie is a real spectacle film. Based on the (better) documentary Man on Wire, it’s about the street performer who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in the 70s. Truly a sight to behold on the Imax, it’ll probably struggle to find an audience going forward as I’m not sure how well the sheer size of it all will translate to living room screens.
“Baumbach strikes an amusing balance of this weird, in-between stage that Josh and Cornelia find themselves in as they start to act younger than they really are, trying (and somewhat failing) to look, feel, and act in the cool, carless, hipster manner that Jamie and Darby seem to pull off so easily. There is a clear sense from both of them of trying to fend off time and taking the step into the next phase of their lives, and the arrival in their lives of this younger couple is a welcome escape.”
A Hungarian film about a dog that leads an uprising to get back to the teenage girl who owned him, it’s loaded with a lot of political and cultural commentary about Hungary that I’m not going to pretend to know all about, but the humanization of Hagen (the dog) is endearing. Might be a tough watch for anyone who owns a dog, as Hagen is abandoned and suffers at the hands of some cruel men.