This list is meant to be neither authoritative, exhaustive, definitive, nor even “read” by anyone. Nor is it a list of what I consider the “objectively best” films of 2015. These are just the movies that I consider my favorites of the year. And it was a particularly good year.
Despite clocking more films than in any previous season, this list still represents only a tiny fraction of the immense amount of excellent cinema released in 2015. While I could have kept watching movies until my eyes bled, at a certain point one just has to say “enough” and join the rest of the world with Deadpool in 2016.
2015 also contained another milestone, marking the least respect ever felt for the Academy’s nominations in my lifetime. In the spirit of that, alternate awards are attached.
Here we go:
10. The End of the Tour, dir. James Ponsoldt
View Count: 1
Best Actor, Jason Segel
Part road trip movie, part arthouse drama, the plot of this film boils down to a five-day-long conversation between the late David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) and journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) on writing, authorship, entertainment, and what it means to create. Every actor brings their A-game, but Segel’s transformative performance is subtle and yet instantly sympathetic and captivating. Also, in preparation for the role Segel actually read the 1000+ page, endnote-filled Infinite Jest — and Leo thinks sleeping in a horse was difficult.
9. The Big Short, dir. Adam McKay
View Count: 2
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Big Short should be required viewing for the entire American public. Playing more like a documentary with elaborate re-enactments, the film intercuts the A-list-filled story with stock footage and fourth-wall breaks galore. Through some sort of storytelling miracle (or genius), director Adam McKay manages to condense the near-incomprehensible complexity of the collapse of the housing market into an ultra-tight film that is entertaining, educational, funny, and rage-inducing all at the same time. And the film’s biggest joke? When the final card reveals that nothing has changed.
8. Chi-Raq, dir. Spike Lee
View Count: 2
Best Original Song, “Prey For My City”, performed by Nick Cannon
Bold-As-Fuck Film of 2015
Chi-Raq may have been THE most divisive film of 2015 – love or hate, no one’s opinion fell into the middle ground. Embracing the style and structure of the ancient Greek play upon which it is based, 70% of the film’s dialogue is in rhyming verse, with Samuel L. Jackson as the Chorus speaking directly to the audience. Opening with the murder statistics that give the film its name and context, and led by a powerhouse performance from actress Teyonah Parris, it extrapolates the idea of a “sex strike” from the violence-ridden South Side of Chicago to its logical, extreme conclusion: a global movement for world peace. The zeitgeist-iest movie of the year, Chi-Raq is #BlackLivesMatter on the big screen – a product of the times and a necessary work of cultural reckoning.
7. I Smile Back, dir. Adam Salky
View Count: 2
Best Actress, Sarah Silverman
Realest Movie of 2015
Do not be fooled by the title or casting – I Smile Back is not a comedy by any standard. It is the most punishing film on this list, which may serve to explain the mixed responses it received from critics and audiences. In a career-altering dramatic performance, Sarah Silverman fully embodies the role of an upper-crust housewife/helicopter mother teetering on the edge of an abyss of drug addiction and depression. I Smile Back is uncompromising in its examination of both the immediate impact of mental illness on the family and the ripples it creates across generations, leaving the viewer begging its main character to make better choices even as she falls deeper and more uncontrollably into a darkness of her own making.
6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, dir. J.J. Abrams
View Count: 2
Best Bromance of 2015, Finn and Poe
Winner – The “Thank Yoda This Didn’t Suck” Award
Disclaimer: Episode VII’s position on this list is pure, unapologetic fanboy loyalty. Arguably the most anticipated release in cinema history, Star Wars: The Force Awakens had to deliver on global expectations with billions of dollars at stake and 40 years of mythological baggage weighing it down. By taking dead aim at the nostalgia-bone of its audience, the film succeeds at these mandates with flying colors (and one awesome X-Wing pilot). Is the movie filled with plot holes? Sure. Is it too long? Probably. Does the whole plot just set up for the sequel? Definitely. But do I still cry when ********? Absolutely.
5. What We Do in the Shadows, dir. Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement
View Count: 4
Best Comedy of 2015
Great, pure comedies were so few and far between in 2015 that The Golden Globes awarded The Martian with Best Comedy, something that has since become a late-night punchline. A horror-comedy-mockumentary about four vampires sharing a flat in Wellington, New Zealand, What We Do in the Shadows is an affirmation that there is still brilliant, original work to be done in the genre. By deconstructing not only the tropes of vampire fiction, but the form of documentary itself, What We Do in the Shadows is a smart, hilarious, multi-layered film that reveals something new with each successive viewing. Watch it in preparation for the upcoming werewolf-themed sequel, already titled with the promising pun We’re Wolves.
4. Anomalisa, dir. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
View Count: 1
Favorite Stop-Motion Film, All Time
No filmmaker tackles solipsism or existential angst like Charlie Kaufman. On a basic level, Anomalisa is about a one-night stand and its aftermath. However the protagonist of the film, a middle-aged customer service representative, is having a mental breakdown where every person he encounters has the same face and speaks with the same voice – that is until he meets the title character. Adapted from a radio play of Kaufman’s, with a cast of only three voices and containing the most realistic pair of swinging testicles in animation history, Anomalisa may be the most intimate, deeply felt representation of a human experience put to film in 2015.
3. White God, dir. Kornél Mundruczó
View Count: 3
Best Foreign-Language Film, Hungarian
Best Animal Performers, Luke and Bodie as “Hagen”
Best Animal Coordination, Teresa Ann Miller
Winner – “Ain’t Never Seen Nothin’ Like This” Award
Over 250 live, untrained, stray dogs storming the streets of Budapest as an organized army. Adamant that he would not use CGI, every single person director/co-writer Kornél Mundruczó approached about White God told him it was impossible – then animal trainer Teresa Ann Miller joined the project. Written as an allegory for the discrimination against ethnic minorities in Eastern Europe, the film’s canine protagonist struggles to find a new home in a world that either rejects or exploits him. Parallel to his story runs the coming-of-age tale of his 13-year-old owner Lili, a young girl who searches the streets for her best friend in vain while trying to learn to live with her estranged father. With some of the most beautiful and dramatic shot compositions of the year, and a third act that leaves jaws on the floor, White God is an unprecedented cinematic experience not likely to ever be repeated.
2. Inside Out, dir. Pete Docter
View Count: 5
Best Animated Film
Best Original Screenplay
Most Viewed Film of 2015
Winner – “Goddammit, Pixar” Award for Most Tears Shed
There are not enough sentences available to fully unpack the beautiful complexity that is Pixar’s and Pete Docter’s Inside Out – it demands multiple visits. On the surface, Inside Out is a children’s movie about a young girl adjusting to a new life in a new city, as shown through her anthropomorphized emotions in the colorful, theme-park-like imagining of her mind. Beneath that though is a touching tale of growing up, setting aside childish things, and learning that sometimes it is okay to be sad. Joyful and fun, soulful and bittersweet, the resulting story is a magic of metaphor that strikes right at the heart of any human with a pulse. Even five viewings later, I still cannot help but weep when ********* fades away. Goddammit, Pixar.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road, dir. George Miller
View Count: 4
Best Motion Picture of 2015
Best Director, George Miller
Best Cinematography, John Seale
Best Film Editing, Margaret Sixel
Best Production Design
Best Visual Effects
Best Sound Mixing/Editing
Best Costume, Hair, and Makeup Design
Winner – “Best Reboot of All Time, All Other Reboots Go Home” Award
Mad Max: Fury Road brings a long-dead franchise screaming back to life in a beautiful masterpiece of death and chrome, painted on a canvas of fire and blood. Embracing narrative simplicity, the entire plot of the film is contained in one long car chase, reducible to “everyone drives really far that way, then they drive back.” However rather than hurting the film, this simplicity serves the story, because in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Mad Max, life and death are determined by the most basic of needs, whether they be water, food, weapons, or, in the case of what drives Fury Road, the ability to bear children.
Foregoing the more typical grey, desaturated look that has defined big-budget genre films of the last decade, John Seale’s cinematography instead cranks up the color of the practical effects (and subtle CGI) to create a palette composed of nothing but different shades of orange and blue. The bright colors combine with the rapid editing and the center-framing of the action to create a visceral experience that grabs the viewer by the throat, throttling them with visual stimulation that never ceases until the final frame fades to black – yet it is the captivating performances and the powerful feminist action narrative that will keep audiences watching the Mad Max franchise for another 30 years to come.
The following films could not quite make the top ten, but they each deserved an Honorable Mention — listed alphabetically:
Amy, dir. Asif Kapadia
- Best Documentary
Beasts of No Nation, dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga
Best Supporting Actor, Idris Elba
Mad Respect, Cary Joji Fukunaga
The Diary of a Teenage Girl, dir. Marielle Heller
Best Use of Rotoscope
Room, dir. Lenny Abrahamson
Best Child Actor, Jacob Tremblay
Tangerine, dir. Sean Baker
Best Supporting Actress, Mya Taylor
Best Use of an iPhone
The Voices, dir. Marjane Satrapi
Most Criminally-Underlooked Film of the Year
Best Performance of Ryan Reynolds’s Career
First English-Language Film Directed by Marjane Satrapi
Alright. That’s it. The Oscars are over. No one cares anymore.
Go to bed.