Here we are at the end of another year. As always, there have been highs and lows in the film world. In 2015, however, there were more than 10 films that I liked so much I felt like giving them a place in the sun. So, here are my top 13 films of 2015, along with some honorable mentions.
Mad Max: Fury Road, The Big Short, Deep Web, Green Room, April and the Extraordinary World, Ant-Man, Klown 2, Creative Control, Batkid Begins, Cartel Land, Inside Out, Salt of the Earth
Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay: what a team! Joan Allen needs to be in a lot more. Please put her in more things, anyone who is reading this and has the power to do so. Larson plays a woman who was kidnapped while still a teen and has been locked in a garden shed for seven years, giving birth to a son (Tremblay) during that time. Larson has picked up numerous Best Actress trophies already for her riveting performance, and Jacob Tremblay recently won a much-deserved Best Young Actor/Actress Award at the Broadcast Film Critic’s Awards, where he gave a heartfelt and beautiful speech. See Mike Muniz’s review here: https://filmautonomy.com/room-2015/
12. The Hateful Eight
I’ll be honest folks, it’s 3am and this is my last entry (I write out of order much of the time). I’m just going to refer you to Austin Sanders’ review, which I wholeheartedly endorse. The only thing I’ll add is that I’m ecstatic to see Walton Goggins be given such a large role in a major film, and I hope that it signals his breakthrough. Take it away, A-man: https://filmautonomy.com/the-hateful-eight-2015/
11. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
The Mission: Impossible franchise has had its ups and downs. This fifth installment is its best yet. See my review here: https://filmautonomy.com/mission-impossible-rogue-nation-2015/
Director Asif Kapadia takes the same approach in this documentary about ill-fated crooner Amy Winehouse that he did in he previous documentary, Senna – he uses abundant archival footage and has no talking heads, which makes this film immersive and intimate. See my review here: https://filmautonomy.com/amy-2015/
9. The Revenant
This one probably doesn’t need much of an intro, as it’s already had a successful opening at the box office and has picked up a slew of awards, including Golden Globes for Best Director, Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Best Director (Alejandro Iñárritu). I have my issues with the film and Iñárritu in general, but cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki elevates the material to new heights with his visionary style. See Lauren Marie Paterson’s review here: https://filmautonomy.com/the-revenant-2015/
8. Peace Officer
Winner of both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Award at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival, Peace Officer examines the role of an increasingly militarized police force in modern American society. What makes it unique is that it does so through the eyes of retired Sheriff William “Dub” Lawrence. Sheriff Lawrence created and trained his rural state’s SWAT team, and then 30 years later he watched in horror as that same SWAT team killed his son-in-law, in a standoff that still haunts him. This event led him to investigate similar cases of needless deaths at the hands of the police. What he finds is often shocking, heartbreaking, and infuriating.
While Carol certainly got snubbed in two major categories, one of the most popular and well-reviewed films of the year was nearly shut out at the Oscars. Creed’s sole nomination was for Best Supporting Actor (Sylvester Stallone). While I think he’s very deserving, lead actor Michael B. Jordan was certainly also deserving of some love. So, too, was writer/director Ryan Coogler, who took what could have been a mediocre cash grab and injected it with heart and style. Anyone questioning why Coogler deserved serious consideration for Best Director should watch the fight scene between Creed and Leo “The Lion” Sporino again. Not to be overlooked, Tessa Thompson contributed not only a solid performance, but also several lovely songs on the soundtrack. Speaking of which, I had hoped to see at least one of these on the ballot as a Best Original Song nominee, but it seems like the magic which captivated critics and audiences this year didn’t translate to Academy voters, which is their loss. We’ll be seeing a lot more from all of the team involved in this one. See my review here: https://filmautonomy.com/creed-2015/
6. What We Do in the Shadows
In one of my early reviews for Film Autonomy, I gave this film an 8/10. I’d probably bump it up to a 9/10. This is a mockumentary about vampires, which in theory sounds like two concepts that have been done to death in this new millennium being haphazardly slapped together. However, in the hands of Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement (both of whom co-wrote, co-directed and co-starred in the film), both genres have new life breathed into them. In the words of Viago, one of the vampire protagonists, “This is SO. MUCH. FUN!” See my review here: https://filmautonomy.com/what-we-do-in-the-shadows-2014/
5. Men & Chicken
Another film that hasn’t seen a wide theatrical release yet (Drafthouse Films has acquired it) that I had the pleasure of seeing at Fantastic Fest. From director/screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen (The Green Butchers, Adam’s Apples) comes a film that is just delightfully twisted enough to be at a genre festival like Fantastic Fest, but still grounded enough in reality to have emotional depth. Mads Mikkelsen (a frequent actor in Jensen’s films) is nearly unrecognizable in appearance and manner one of two brothers (the other played by the extraordinary David Dencik) who set off to meet the man that might be their father. When they arrive at his house, they end up finding far more than they could ever have expected.
In my opinion, the most shocking snub at the Oscars this year was the omission of Carol from the Best Picture and Best Director rosters. Todd Haynes is my favorite living American director (yes, I’m aware that Martin Scorsese is alive), and after years of amazing work in film and television, it seemed like there was no way he’d be ignored for this masterpiece. But, much like dinosaur breeding in Jurassic Park, the Academy found a way. Both lead performances from Cate Blanchett (for my money, the best actress of her generation) and Rooney Mara are stellar, subtle, and heartbreaking. See Patrick McDonald’s review here: https://filmautonomy.com/carol-2015/
A masterfully crafted investigative drama that had me pining for more films like it. Spotlight deservedly picked up the award for Best Picture at the Broadcast Film Critic’s Awards (more important and prestigious in the film world but less well-known than the Golden Globes). It’s hard for me to single out a favorite cast member (though the Academy singled out theirs) as this film is a true ensemble effort. Since several of my other favorites that were eligible for the Oscars got shafted, I am rooting for this to be the dark horse upset on the big night. I agree with my co-contributor, Patrick McDonald, on his rating of this stellar effort: https://filmautonomy.com/spotlight-2015/
2. The Witch
While The Witch has yet to arrive officially in theaters, I was lucky enough to see this Sundance hit at Fantastic Fest in 2015. I don’t want to give too much away, as I expect to write a full review soon, but I encourage anyone who loves a beautifully crafted drama, an expertly paced thriller, and/or a good scare or two to check it out. It’s not just for horror fans, it’s for people who love great cinema. In addition to great turns by the adult leads, it also features staggeringly good performances from its teen and child actors.
1. The Look of Silence
The companion piece to the Academy Award-nominated The Act of Killing examines the flip side of Indonesian genocide by focusing on the family (and more specifically, the brother) of one of the victims of the death squads, who are still in power to this day. Director Joshua Oppenheimer and his team (many of whom must remain anonymous in the credits for their own safety) worked on this set of films for over a decade. This film, like its companion piece, is not only a gift to cinema, it’s a gift to humanity. No, I’m not being hyperbolic.