I like looking at the movies of a given year and seeing if I can find some kind of insight into our culture. Sadly, more often than not, when you look at the movies of a given year you tend not to find much coherence. Sure, there are always broad statements to be made like ‘Year of the Woman’ or ‘Year of the Biopic’ or ‘Rise of the Blockbusters’ or some other such nonsense.
2015 is no exception. Attempting to find some coherence of themes or insight into the culture of 2015 is relatively futile. There are hints of ideas like the growing number of respectful dramas about the transgender community, “Tangerine,” “The Danish Girl,” among others but beyond a minor link in themes. there isn’t much that unites the movies of 2015.
The lack of unity of themes or insight into the culture doesn’t mean this has not been a good year at the movies. In fact, 2015 is an above average year at the movies with at least three movies that I can count as legit masterpieces and several other films that will stick in the back of my mind for years to come.
Before we delve into the best movies of 2015 let’s get the annual tradition of Honorable Mentions out of the way. The number of Honorable Mentions in a given year is a great way to discern just how good a year it has been at the movies and I have what I think is a pretty great list of movies that nearly made my Top 10 of 2015…
The Big Short, Spy, Trainwreck, Mistress America, Grandma, Magic Mike XXL, The Gift, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, Bridge of Spies, Sicario, Joy, Black Mass, The Walk, Concussion, Straight Outta Compton, Love & Mercy, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Room and The Peanuts Movie.
Now on to The Top 10 Movies of 2015…
10. Inside Out: Sweet, smart, sensitive and funny, “Inside Out” is everything that a Pixar movie promises to be.
9. Trumbo: Bryan Cranston is unquestionably the star here as blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo but there is something to be said about the incredible message about learning from our past mistakes as a country. The black list as depicted in Trumbo is a black mark on the soul of America and a reminder that the politics of fear lead to the death of liberty and all that America stands for, something that needs to be remembered in 2016 when presidential candidates go out of their way to demonize people who merely disagree with them.
8. Carol: Todd Haynes beautifully weaves the tragedy of bigotry through a forbidden love affair and how something as simple as wanting to live in the open and in love threatened to destroy everyday people. It’s a harrowing message because Carol is set only 60 years in our past and the politics of fear and bigotry that threaten Carol and her lover are still in the mainstream, even if they are now being shouted down more and more.
7. Cinderella: “Cinderella” is on this list because it is an incredibly powerful and inspiring story for young girls like my beloved niece Maisey and darling God-Daughter Charlotte, and because Director Kenneth Branagh took what could have been a throwaway remake coasting on the power of it’s well known name and premise and infused it with remarkable artistry and a resonant message.
6. Ex Machina: One of the most challenging and modern movies of 2015, “Ex Machina” asks big bold questions about technology and ethics while never losing sight of the thrills and chills of a classic sci-fi thriller.
5. Brooklyn: Featuring arguably the best performance by any actress, “Brooklyn” starring Saorise Ronan also happens to be incredibly beautiful and romantic on t0p of being deeply moving and resonant. Were it not for the number 2 movie on this list I would be saying that there was no better Cinematography in any other movie in 2015.
4. Queen of Earth: I actually saw “Queen of Earth” after I had announced my Top 10 Movies of 2015 on my radio show. The film was such a powerful experience for me that I had to re0pen the list and place it on the list. Director Alex Ross Perry’s exploration of relationships, grief and depression, works on your mind, melts into the corners of your psyche and acts on you like few movies you’ve ever seen. It wasn’t until the film was over that I realized how much the movie had taken up space in my mind. It was a bizarre and incredible experience.
3. Spotlight: “Spotlight” is an old school, mainstream drama that works despite its familiarity and conventional approach. The story of “Spotlight” is so powerful and memorable and the performances so perfectly adept and meaningful that it rehabs the entirety of the sub-genre of newsroom movie from a series of familiar cliches to something reminiscent of the noble quests of 70’s flicks like “All the President’s Men.”
2. The Revenant: Much of my appreciation of “The Revenant” comes from Leonardo DiCaprio’s remarkably studly lead performance. Having to overcome his boyish handsomeness to play a believably rugged tracker who survives unending torture to seek revenge on the man who killed his son, DiCaprio finds the perfect mix of animalistic brutality and calculated cunning. Add DiCaprio’s manly performance to the incredible direction of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s and Emmanuel Lubezki’s mind blowingly beautiful cinematography and you have a movie that rises from manly thriler to out and out masterpiece of filmmaking.
- Steve Jobs: I have never been a big fan of Danny Boyle’s kinetic, vibrating, and colorful style of direction but when mixed with Aaron Sorkin’s rapid fire dialogue and a game cast of brilliant performers suddenly his style becomes an asset rather than a deterrent. It turns out that Sorkin’s wonderful verbiage is perfectly suited to Boyle’s quick cut, constantly moving style of direction. That Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogan happen to also be brilliant playing people who are relatively well know to the public, only adds to the remarkable genius of “Steve J0bs.”