It was truly an incredible year for cinema. 2015 provided us with re-imaginings of old franchises, unorthodox studies of brilliant and trouble geniuses and both micro and macro examinations of justice in a sometimes harsh and unfair world. Without further ado, these are my 15 favorite films of 2015 (in alphabetical order)…
BRIDGE OF SPIES — Too many people take Spielberg for granted, but no one knows how to deliver a film as important, emotional and unendingly entertaining as he does. Scripted by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers, Bridge of Spies demonstrates the power of American values and ideals in the face of ever-changing popular American opinions. The perennial every-man Tom Hanks maneuvers and sneezes through U.S. justice system to the behind the iron curtain in the name of human decency. A wonderful examination of Cold war politics that resonates even louder in today’s tumultuous times.
CREED — I have only stood up and cheered in a few movies, and Creed was one of them. What could have been a cash-grab reboot is turned into an intensely personal examination of legacy and carving your path in life thanks to the passion of writer/director Ryan Coogler. You know where the story will end, but the characters are so wonderfully handled that it doesn’t even matter. Also, Sylvester Stallone is back in top form.
EX-MACHINA — Despite what you’ve heard, THIS movies has the best ensemble of the year. Sci-fi mastermind Alex Garland explores the nature of artificial intelligence in this heady, creepy and sexy extended Turing Test. Dohmnall Gleeson, Osacar Isaac and the other-worldly Alicia Vikander give their best work yet, shifting alliances, motivations and beliefs in the span of this tight and fascinating thriller. The stakes couldn’t be higher: what is that truly makes us human?
GOOSEBUMPS — Really, David? Yes! Goosebumps is some of the most fun I’ve had in a theater this year. Full of mystery and hi-jinks, this movie embraces the macabre insanity of its source-material… and even finds room for a deep well of emotion. Buoyed by a hilarious supporting cast, Goosebumps is fun for the whole family.
INSIDE OUT— Pixar movies are made of magic, and this one is no different. Pete Doctor, the ingenious world-builder of Monster’s Inc. and Up, turns his creative eye to the inside of a young girl’s brain. Don’t let the bright and cheery colors and voices fool you, Inside Out isn’t afraid to explore the importance of sadness — it’s part of what makes us human. We’ll laugh and delight in the Hollywood-like dream factory and the exploits of Bing Bong, but we’ll walk away thinking about the first time we ever moved away from what we knew as home.
IT FOLLOWS — What if STDs could kill you? I mean they can, but what if they stalked and murdered you? That is the monster afoot in the micro-budget horror throwback from David Robert Mitchell. Bracingly cool and stylish, Mitchell uses thrills and chills to explore a deep, dark terror in our everyday lives. If only all genre filmmaking rose to such a challenge.
LOVE & MERCY — I’ll be totally honest, I really didn’t care much for the Beach Boys before I saw this movie, but that’s what makes this movies so surprisingly satisfying. Focusing on two pivotal moments in the life of Brian Wilson, this film sees both the beauty of creative genius and the tragedy of mental illness taken advantage of. Featuring two transformative performances from Paul Dano and John Cusack, this inspiring picture had me singing Pet Sounds for weeks.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD — I have no idea how a 70 year-old man directed this movie. Brutal, operatic, wild and brimming with imagination, Mad Max is the action epic of the year… and that would’ve been enough. But, this film has bigger issues on it’s mind, bringing us a singular hero in Furiosa, protecting a group of escaped sex-slaves across the unforgiving desert. Everyone has a shot at redemption.
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL — Out of the 20 films I see every year at Sundance, there’s always just one that finds some avenue straight to my heart. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was that film. Genuinely funny and innocently creative, the movie demonstrates how the art of filmmaking has the capacity not just too express, but to heal. You, like the protagonist Greg, fight for a happy ending, but nothing will save you from the well of emotion that will rise from your gut and into your eyeballs. I’ve never witnessed a crowd so touched.
ROOM — This movie is a bit of a miracle. Exploring the aftermath of a kidnap, rape and imprisonment that leads to a child, Ma and Jack escape the clutches of their captor in the most explosive, tense and heart-wrenching scene of the year. But, that’s only half the movie, as we witness the messy complications that tragedy has on lives and those that are touched by it. Bring a box of tissues.
SPOTLIGHT — Not since All the President’s Men has journalism been so wonderfully portrayed onscreen. Following the investigative Spotlight team at the Boston Globe, the film brings into the minutia of a breaking story — in this case, the true atrocity of pedophile Catholic priests. Forgoing sentimentality or dramatic histrionics, Spotlight shows good people doing a good job, and in this case, doing right by the whole world.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS — What more can be said about the biggest movie of the year? J.J. Abrams hyperspeeds us back to a galaxy far, far away that perfectly balances a respect for the old and an ushering in of the new — the new being a host of excellent and sympathetic characters finding their place in the force. Fun, thrilling and full of wonder, the first part in this new series sets up a tale worth believing in.
THE REVENANT — There are some films that just baffle you on how they were made. The sheer brutality of the shoot, the depth of performance and the impossibility of the production mount to something that seems beyond comprehension. But against all odds, Inarritu did it. This masterful epic explores the spiritual underpinnings of justice and revenge, the indifference of nature and the boundaries we push to avenge the imbalance of losing a loved one. I’m still processing the beauty and horror of this magnificent film, but one thing is for sure — it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.
TRASH — Somehow off everyone’s radar, Trash is steeped in pedigree thanks to a script from the always emotional Richard Curtis and the Academy Award nominated Stephen Daldry. The Goonies meets City of God, Trash celebrates the power of the individual in making a difference in an unforgiving world. Following three orphans who stumble upon political corruption, this movie is filled with action, humor and heart, all while taking us to a corner of Brazil rarely seen or heard.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS — Do you like laughing? Watch this movie. Containing more vampire mythology than any Twilight movie, What We Do in the Shadows brings the mockumentary style of Borat and This is Spinal Tap to three vampire friends living in New Zealand. Life’s hard when you live on a diet of human blood, live forever and can’t go out in sunlight; but, it’s occasionally a riot and always hilarious thanks to the laugh-a-second script from star Jemaine Clement and director Taika Waititi.
Films I unfortunately haven’t seen yet: Youth, The Tribe, The Assassin, 45 Years, Son of Saul, Tangerine, Girlhood, Legend, Testament of Youth, Bone Tomahawk, Victoria and Lost River