2015 has come to a close. We’ve had a really strong year in film, and it was frustrating to kill some of my darlings here. However, I feel very good about this list. Though a descending order of pieces of art is hard to rate, list, and give a number to, I’m basically happy with the order here, too. In any case, looking back over this selection, I’m really glad all these movies were made. And I can’t wait to re-watch them all. Here are my Top 10 films of 2015.
I knew of Tangerine only from tweets and blurbs coming out of Sundance last year, and probably caught wind of the “shot only with an iPhone” gimmick – or rather, supposed gimmick. The film looks great, has a propulsive energy throughout, and takes us into areas and lives of people from the streets of East L.A. that we’ve rarely spent time with. Tangerine follows a handful of characters, a couple of transgendered prostitutes, a pimp, a cab driver and all the people they’re entangled with. It’s a hilarious, surprisingly touching and genuine film. And it’s lots of fun.
9. Montage of Heck
Nirvana was a cornerstone in the foundation of my teenage life, something I’ll love forever because it made me feel less alone. Kurt Cobain is one of my top five, alongside Tupac, Stanley Kubrick and two others I haven’t decided on yet. His life story is somewhat of a tragedy, in a classical sense. Whether you read Heavier Than Heaven, listen to his music or watch documentaries on the guy, he feels like one of our collective mythical characters, doomed by the stars, born to be afflicted with pain, and gone before his time. Montage of Heck is the best film on Kurt Cobain ever made. It’s long, and thorough, and inventively constructed. The soundscape and visual creativity of the film make it more cinematic than the term ‘documentary’ may imply to some.
8. The Hateful Eight
The latest Quentin Tarantino film will probably never reach the upper echelons of his filmography, in my eyes, but I was entertained throughout and appreciated this being a step up from Django. For context, I thought Inglourious Basterds was a masterclass in elongated tension, suspense, and release, and I was fairly disappointed by Django’s slack, loosened grip on it and the sloppy structure that plagued the pacing in that second half. The Hateful Eight is far better than Django, as its inherently tighter by being trapped in one room, thereby automatically restraining QT a bit. It’s not compact by any means, but it never wasted enough time not to warrant its running time for me. It was comforting and cozy in that haberdashery, no doubt. The mystery is barely there, sadly, but certain scenes reach the highs of top Tarantino. The disappointment – if there is any – is that it just isn’t, and will never be, as good as his other, actual great films.
7. Steve Jobs
People didn’t come out for Steve Jobs, but that matters none. After all, films are made for more than Opening Weekend, and this will find its place in history as a very energetic, exciting, visceral version of what was happening behind the scenes of Steve Jobs as business-man and supposed visionary. Michael Fassbender is a legend, and the Aaron Sorkin script ensures a playful comfort that brings some levity and action into the mundane. It’s not The Social Network, but it’s not trying to be. Steve Jobs is all about penetrating that cold exterior of ‘geniuses’ and actually getting into the humanity. Danny Boyle successfully does so with a colorful, child-like enthusiasm and all the Pop he can add to this collage of visual flurry.
6. Straight Outta Compton
I love Hip-Hop, it’s been there for me since I was 11, and I’ll never live without it. N.W.A. is one of the dopest groups of the culture, some of the founding fathers of the ‘modern’ era of 90’s rap I was molded by, and just generally comprised of some of the coolest emcees of our time. Not only could Ice Cube and MC Ren out-rap anyone back then, but they had swagger, and they were cool, brash young dudes. F. Gary Gray, who directed Cube in It Was A Good Day and Friday, does a remarkable job here. Every scene shines and looks incredible, has some backbone to it, and moves the story along. Sure, the way some of those seminal scenes of Hip-Hop history are portrayed (particularly in those last twenty minutes) can fall flat for some and seem more fabricated and staged than others, but even the weakest ones make me smile, cause I love this shit. Fuck The Police.
A good science-fiction film is a rare thing, never mind one that inches close to greatness. Strangely enough, the last time I felt this way was when a previous script of Alex Garland’s, Sunshine, was adapted. Back then it was Danny Boyle who took control of Garland’s story. This time, however, Garland himself grabbed the directorial reigns and directed this debut, which features Oscar Isaac as an ego-maniacal, genius inventor billionaire and Domnhall Gleeson as his lab-rat. This is where we got Alicia Vikander from, and you can see why, as her portrayal of, essentially, a machine, is perfectly calibrated. Great electronic score, delicious visuals, and a really great performance by Isaac. I honestly can’t wait to see it again.
Carol is a classic story. You’ve heard or read or seen this before – two people from different social classes find each other one day. They meet again, and begin to realize how special one another is, and a relationship forms that will define their lives forever – at least a seminal part of it. Of course, there are obstacles, its not easy, and there is pain to sort through. Perhaps it’ll never be perfect, but it would hurt not to try. Todd Haynes has made a visually gorgeous film, one in which you can feel the fuzz of film and the grain of tangible life in New York in the 1950s. It’s delicious. The story is simple and classic, and perfectly acted by the two leads, Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. After I’m Not There and Carol, Todd Haynes is quickly becoming one of my favourite filmmakers.
Amy is a perfect film. Like many of you, I knew of Amy Winehouse as a tabloid joke and as singer of two or three Number 1 radio singles. This film wipes that slate clean, and begins by introducing us to Amy as a young girl who just loves to sing and make music. It’s genuine, sympathetic, and happy. Once we’ve fallen in love with this girl enough, and want nothing but joy and love and life for her, Asif Kapadia takes us down – slowly, terribly. You watch this movie and actually believe it could end any other way than it does, but it can’t, and it won’t. Comprised entirely of personal and public video footage, Amy is an artful piece of effort-laden work and reaches the highs of Kapadia’s previous effort, Senna. A beautiful, depressing film that is as much about sex, drugs & rock ’n roll as it is about human beings and what our vulture-esque, predator-like, cold-blooded media landscape does to them.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
This is bar-none the most incredible goddamn action movie I’ve seen in a long, long time. A hundred people went into the desert and stayed there until they returned with an action movie for the ages. All the stunts are practical, the colors pop and the choreography is tight. The story is so basic and direct, there isn’t a single speck of room for bullshit. There’s a chase going on, and we’re hanging on for dear life. The quiet, stoic Max is played perfectly by Tom Hardy, but surprisingly – and welcomingly so – its Charlize Theron who shines the most. ‘Imperator Furiosa’ has an inner life that we’re constantly curious about and eager to find out about. The world created here is classic Mad Max, but honestly, it’s never been better. What a lovely day.
I almost entered the new year without having seen Dennis Villeneuve’s latest. I’m not sure that I’ll look back on 2015 and think of this particular film as the best of them all, but I loved this unwinding political action-thriller experience. Every shot is considered and stunning, often poignant, in its shot-composition and thematic tie-ins. The realism it conveys in both action situations and ‘mundane’ office meetings in forgetabble government buildings is ultra-disturbing, at times. Josh Brolin’s character plays exactly the kind of emotional detachment and manifest destiny ego of these guys that don’t need warrants, don’t care about the Geneva convention, and will fucking murder you if you oppose their agenda. This is a cold, dark world, and as Emily Blunt discovers it, we do alongside her. Benicio del Toro is absolutely incredible. There’s a dinner scene we’ll remember for years, and a tone that feels far too real to dismiss this as a mere action-thriller.