Here is the part where I am supposed to say whether or not 2015 was a good year for movies. Of course it was. Every year is a good year for movies. It’s just that seems year have to dig a little more to find the stuff worth admiring.
These twelve months actually required less foraging then many have claimed. Despite October being a month of – relative – financials bombs and other quality pictures disappointing in the box-office all year, mainstream cinema offered worthwhile choices. That people skipped Meryl Streep tearing it down in Ricki and the Flash, Michael Fassbender mesmerizing once more in Steve Jobs or ignored a second helping of The Kings of Tampa with Magic Mike XXL isn’t the same as those movies being lackluster.
The best of the best is what is the name of the game today; a silly task as ever. The way one feels about a film may improve or fall, that is variable. However, the exact minutiae that forms to decipher which great movie is greater than another is constant. These ten won’t be the same in a month. I guarantee. I will like something a smidge better come February to bump one of these off the list. Additionally, I will catch some release I either hadn’t had time to see or even heard of in the weeks to come too. This is a fool’s errand. But it’s the errand we will be participating in each and every December.
Let us begin in the obvious spot, at number one, the only specific ranking I make….
Fuck it. I’m doing a tie.
Carol & Mad Max: Fury Road
Ties are for cowards, idiots or both. Fine by me. I have no interest in pretending I know which film is better, even by these arbitrary matters we hold to. I know this though; Carol and Fury Road swim in my head like no other movies this year. Both have that rare magic that enchant and beg to be re-watched immediately upon their conclusion.
Fury Road was my favorite film of the year until the past few days. It might be again in a few days. It’s the action movie done to perfection, with shocking amounts of emotional and thematic depth. George Miller, frankly, embarrasses nearly every other director working in the genre, as he composes insane shots and fluid madness without sacrificing character along the way. The images have already been burnt into my brain, be it of the last seconds of life of a fallen comrade or the throes of ecstasy of hope rising to the skies above.
Carol is oddly similar. Sure, there are a few less car chases. Nonetheless, it too has hours to mine under its rather obvious surface of two women trying to love one another in a world not fond of that idea. Both films are built on glances and nods, with words rarely needed, baring the powerhouse duos of Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron charging through Valhalla in the former and Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara venturing towards the Midwest in the latter. There is also the monster that is one’s past chasing each of our pairs. The present can’t be had with any bit of happiness without overcoming that beast, and as evil as Miller makes his demon, Carol director Todd Haynes shades his as abstruse. For as symbolic as Fury Road manages to be, it is not life in the manner it is for Carol. In our world today, the daily obstacles can’t exactly be run-over. This trouble pushes Blanchett and Mara through their days, both difficult and dreamy.
Shot with precision. An ensemble with few peers. Directed with originality and a call to the past. Carol and Mad Max: Fury Road are the answer to why I go to the cinema. What else could be number one with these two trouncing about?
John Crowley’s Brooklyn is effortless character work on screen, with a mighty ensemble that you love to cheer on, hate and fall for. Leading that cast is Saoirse Ronan in a performance of pure emotion. Her depiction of our titular heroine is honest; a stunning display of joy, anguish and intelligence clashing with one another. It all springs from Colm Toibin’s novel, with fellow novelist Nick Hornby’s words and structuring giving it all a cinematic life. A film I will be delighted to watch over and over again, memorizing its rich dialogue and weeping fresh tears.
Clouds of Sils Maria
Age ain’t nothing but a number. And that number says you’re too old. This is one of the main themes and concepts Juliette Binoche’s Maria Enders confronts in the new Olivier Assayas piece of genius Clouds of Sils Maria. With a career defined and launched by a part she played decades ago, Maria finds her self tied to that role once more as she deals with a world, particularly but not solely a cinematic one, that views her as an “older actress.” Debating and discussing what that contains with her assistant Valentine (a terrific Kristen Stewart), Binoche gives a performances for the ages, which is nothing new for her, with master filmmaker Assayas placing the right pacing, words and mood down for her to play with.
Cobain: Montage of Heck
Blending animation, interviews and raw footage of a life struggled through, Brett Morgen’s documentary of the musician that defined a generation, or at least a white-hot era, is in many ways a horror film. We don’t just see the warts of Kurt Cobain’s life, Morgen lets the track marks and ramblings take center stage. Alongside it though are the conflicted ethics, moral stances and musical genius. Too many of these kind of projects are a series of talking heads spouting, “That man/woman was a one of a kind talent,” in fifty different ways, as the actual person gets lost. Morgen gives us the man.
Far From the Madding Crowd
Funny, romantic and brimming with quality drama, Far from the Madding Crowd is the best movie of 2015 that seems to have no fan-base. People liked it. Thought it was well acted. Then forgot it. For a movie with this stirring of a group of actors, led by a never-been-better Carey Mulligan, this is bewildering. Vinterberg stages his adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel with a well-worn grit that never reaches to be taken as a reinterpretation. It is what it is; period filmmaking done right.
The Look of Silence
In following up his monumental dive into the killers who took over Indonesia and have ruled it since, director Joshua Oppenheimer has turned his view askew. Those that committed this infamous genocide still take up space in the frame, but this time the focus gets specific. Oppenheimer hones in on one family’s loss, how it happened, how it affects them to this day, as well as those same things from the vantage point of who committed the atrocity. This isn’t just gripping. It’s a blunt stare into the darker recesses of humanity’s nature and the compromises we make to justify them to get onto the next day.
Magic Mike XXL
A film of basically unbridled joy and energy, Magic Mike XXL provides the same kind of blissful excitement one would get from the great musicals. That it happens to be about male strippers heading to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; oh well. Channing Tatum and the boys return sans Steven Soderbergh, who is still providing his typically perfect, thriving cinematography. At the helm is Gregory Jacobs, who doubles down on the spectacle and embraces the sensuality in a manner the first picture only played with for a moment here or there. This is a movie that knows a complex narrative or even stakes aren’t necessary when characters are this fun and the vibe thrives.
A woman survives being taken to a concentration camp and having her face destroyed, only to find that life’s most astonishing troubles are still ahead. This is the beginning of Christian Petzold’s haunting and tense Phoenix. Strapped to the back of a towering piece of acting by Nina Hoss, the movie weaves an artful melodrama of betrayal, confusion and blind love, with Petzold making the unbelievable powerfully potent.
Queen of Earth
As the saying goes, we hurt the ones we love the most. In writer-director Alex Ross Perry’s latest, this thought gets center stage as two friends hit rock-bottom in back-to-back summers and aren’t exactly there for one another. Those two would be played by Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston in arguably the year’s best pairing, which is saying something with all that’s been given to us in 2015. Moss is mesmerizing as a woman slowly losing her grips on sanity after the worst year of her life, but let’s not forget Waterston’s work as the fed-up and bewildered friend trying to deal with it all. Perry presents this almost cruelly, with a frigidity that requires an ice-pick to properly penetrate. It’s an endeavor worth digging at.