2015 was an overall respectable year for cinema, particularly for horror and science fiction! Here’s some thoughts I had on what I felt were the year’s best offerings.
Beasts of No Nation
The Final Girls
But there can only be ten….here we go!
10. The Visit (d. M. Night Shyamalan)
Coming into the year, who could have predicted that a film by M. Night Shyamalan would have finished on any top 10 list that was not involved with the Razzies? Although I think people have been too hard on his work over the years, 2015 marked a true return to form for M. Night, as he nailed a genre so many filmmakers try and fail at – horror-comedy. And he did it by utilizing simplicity with The Visit’s visual techniques and eerie sound design, plus a plot twist that’s downright embarrassing, because myself nor any other movie buffs I’m close to ever saw it coming – despite its obviousness! Hat tipped to you, M. Night Shyamalan! Keep them coming! My review: https://filmautonomy.com/the-visit-2015/
9. Knock Knock (d. Eli Roth)
Less of a horror movie, this is a film perfectly designed for those with voyeuristic tendencies, who take great pleasure in watching other people suffer through painfully awkward or uncomfortable situations with potentially devastating consequences (Blockbuster never had that category lining the walls!). Knock Knock is a movie that had to hit all the right marks with its minimalistic cast and setting, to tell the story of a good man’s deconstruction that was slow and hard-to-watch, but even harder-to-look-away-from. The performances and Roth’s subtle-yet-thinly-nuanced direction did just that! And, of course, a threesome rarely hurts any movie! My review: https://filmautonomy.com/knock-knock-2015/
8. Kingsman: The Secret Service (d. Matthew Vaughn)
Full disclosure: I’m not the least bit into modern James Bond movies, but I found Matthew Vaughn’s hyperactive, cheeky homage to the genre to be an absolute thrill ride! It relishes in the absurdity and fun that the few recent Bond films I have seen fail to do, as they seem to always take themselves so damn seriously. Taron Egerton and Colin Firth’s chemistry is wonderful in their respective pupil/mentor dynamic, and Samuel L. Jackson turns in a brilliant performance as an unlikely supervillain. This movie is good ol’ delightful fun, the way movies with smarmy, wisecracking British superspies trying to save the world should be! Plus the controversial joke at the end totally worked for me! Stephanie’s review: https://filmautonomy.com/kingsman-the-secret-service-2014/
7. The Hateful Eight (d. Quentin Tarantino)
People always seem to mock my appreciation for Oliver Stone’s U Turn, but one of the great things about that film to me is the perpetually underlying tone of impending doom for all the players. It’s a movie all about duplicity and complex motivations, but it never seems like there will be any real winners in the end. The exact same can be said about The Hateful Eight, which is less a traditional Western and more so a mystery that happens to have a Western setting. This splendid cast is terrific and, similar to all of Tarantino’s best previous works, the film plays with tension and expectation masterfully. Austin’s review: https://filmautonomy.com/the-hateful-eight-2015/
6. The Martian (d. Ridley Scott)
Ridley Scott’s previous sci-fi outing (and I know I’m not alone in thinking this)….well, it didn’t go great. But the sins of Prometheus were cleansed by this survival-in-space odyssey starring Matt Damon, who does a wonderful job carrying the film, mostly with his naturalistic everyman charm and wit. While most of The Martian is a fascinating study of iron-willed ingenuity and determination, the last twenty minutes brim with white-knuckle intensity during a last-ditch effort to rescue the movie’s hero. Austin’s review: https://filmautonomy.com/the-martian-2015/
5. Room (d. Lenny Abrahamson)
Chemistry is so important in so many facets of our everyday lives and the relationships we build, but in a movie which primarily revolves around a mother and her son…it is unequivocally paramount. As an audience member, we have to buy into the relationship, invest in it and – in the case of Room – ultimately root for its survival. For this film to work, Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay had to turn in the performances of their lives – and they did just that. This is a unique and beautifully-crafted film about bravery, discovery and how even our own vast world – as daunting, mysterious and confounding as it can be – cannot come between the love of a mother and her child. My review: https://filmautonomy.com/room-2015/
4. Sicario (d. Denis Villeneuve)
Tone. Why do movies like Training Day or Das Boot or Double Indemnity work so well? It’s the same reason Sicario works – the mastery of tone from opening frame to the closing fade. From its literally explosive beginning to the final scene, there is a sense of distrust and looming fear that things are never really exactly as they seem, and that creeping, unsettling feeling haunts the film throughout in nearly every moment. Admittedly, I wasn’t a huge fan of Prisoners, but with his underrated Enemy and now this movie, I eagerly anticipate Villeneuve’s future projects. Stephanie’s review: https://filmautonomy.com/sicario-2015/
3. Mad Max: Fury Road (d. George Miller)
It’s a bold approach, I must say. A Mad Max movie with the titular character in just a supporting role – and it totally works! The best movies not only teleport us to worlds like a post-apocalyptic Earth, but they also take us along for that ride with intriguing, multi-layered characters. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is the perfect navigator for this wild escape in the futuristic desert. The tremendous cast and Miller’s brilliant direction took a film that could have simply gotten by with its built-in fan base and dazzling spectacle, yet were still compelled to add intensity and heart to give it humanity and substance. Those efforts result in a film that could have been easily dismissed, but is now unforgettable. Stephanie’s review: https://filmautonomy.com/mad-max-fury-road-2015/
2. It Follows (d. David Robert Mitchell)
I absolutely adore this film, which spent most of 2015 at the top of my list. Every year dozens of terrible horror movies fill up multiplexes, and you know what they frequently fail to do? Scare anyone! It’s also true that most American horror films are generally not the least bit scary, forcing many horror fans and enthusiasts to seek their fright fixes from foreign shores. But similar to 2013’s The Conjuring, David Robert Mitchell’s vision is not only terrifying; it’s also just a great overall film, even for people who aren’t usually into horror. It grapples with teen themes such as blooming sexuality, isolation derived from affliction, and relying on friends when feeling abandoned by adults. There’s a heart and innocence congruent with the narrative that elevates our sympathies for Jay (Maika Monroe) and her loyal friends, far more than what we’d usually feel in most forgettable horror flicks…or movies in general, for that matter. And that ending is perfection. My review: https://filmautonomy.com/it-follows-2014/
1. Best of the Year – The Revenant (d. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Trust me, I’m just like you. I got sick and tired about hearing how difficult The Revenant was to shoot because of the natural lighting thing, how badly supermodel seed-planter Leonardo DiCaprio had to (voluntarily) suffer through the production and get into character by eating a bison penis or whatever the hell it was. Look, bottom line, if you dig your Aunt Caroline’s pineapple upside down cake, you don’t really care about the specific type of brown sugar she uses, whether or not she refrigerates the eggs or how she dices the pineapples – no one cares! We just want to eat the goddam cake! It’s the same thing with movies…what did all those painstaking ingredients amount to? I have to say, the end result was phenomenal! This was entrancing cinema from the very opening shot to the closing credits with a testosterone-fueled revenge odyssey that had just enough sympathy embedded into the tissue of its narrative. There are shades of classics like Unforgiven, Braveheart and Dead Man throughout. The brutal battle scenes and fight choreography are unflinching and merciless. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is (per usual) gorgeous, textured and haunting – he truly creates images that stay with the viewer for a long time. And, yes, DiCaprio is absolutely awesome…although I thought a barely recognizable Tom Hardy is just as equally impressive! This is a dazzling meditation about how far the amalgamation of rage and love can push someone far beyond the edges of their physical limits and sanity…and we’re lucky enough to venture along for the ride.