Tag Archives: Best of 2015

Best Movies of 2015

It’s January 2, but top ten lists are still cool, right? Here are my favourite films of 2015.

The Keeping Room

10. The Keeping Room

I was surprised how much The Keeping Room stuck with me after seeing it at TIFF 2014, since it is in some ways not much beyond a standard home invasion thriller. But something about the setting, the actresses, and the tone left this one lodged in my brain all year. Director Daniel Barber creates a tense thriller that also manages to be a slow-burner, which is always a combination that I admire. Meanwhile, screenwriter Julia Hart crafts a script more nuanced and revealing than the film’s plot-driven story should allow. Combine all of that with the film’s absolutely gorgeous use of lighting and you’ve got an atmospheric and unforgettable cinematic experience.

LA

9. Little Accidents

I watched Little Accidents relatively early in the year and really enjoyed it. I was surprised to find how much it stuck with me as the year progressed, from Boyd Holbrook’s breathtaking performance to director Sara Colangelo’s delicate handling of material that could have become very melodramatic. I really don’t understand the largely negative reviews.

Peace Officer

8. Peace Officer

I saw documentaries about Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin this year (both of which were excellent), yet the most captivating and charismatic non-fiction subject of 2015 for me was easily Peace Officer’s William “Dub” Lawrence. (Dub is pictured above in his younger days.) The hook of Peace Officer is that Dub is a former sheriff who instituted Utah’s first SWAT team… and then 30 years later watched that SWAT unit kill his own son-in-law. However, the film spends relatively little time on that incident, then branching out to explore the drastic increase of police militarization in the United States. It’s a captivating and extremely timely exploration, and also extremely strong as far as documentary filmmaking goes. I personally left the theatre shaken, and I can only hope that more people will check out this vital film.

Sils Maria

7. Clouds of Sils Maria

What a wonderfully beguiling film from the great Olivier Assayas. I’m not sure there’s another working director this good at exploring the process of aging and what it can do to a people at any stage in life. Clouds of Sils Maria covers that territory more obliquely than Summer Hours or Something in the Air, but it’s no less captivating. It may be his best film yet.

Eden 2015

6. Eden

One thing that struck me about Mia Hansen-Love’s Eden, having seen it over a year ago at TIFF 2014, is how difficult it is to represent out of context. None of the publicity stills from the film do it justice (luckily I found the website of the film’s still photographer, Carole Bethuel, for some lovely images that do capture the tone of the film), and the trailer seemed to be hinting at some sort of Greta Gerwig-driven romance film that just doesn’t exist. And indeed, listening to the synopsis about a drug-fuelled DJ from the ‘90s, nothing about Eden sounds spectacular. But with her third film, Hansen-Love crafts something that feels both sweepingly epic in its timeframe and achingly intimate in its scope. This is not a movie about the ‘90s house scene, but rather a love letter to the music from one (fictional) player within in the movement.

Far From the Madding Crowd 2015

5. Far from the Madding Crowd

Can all period pieces be directed by Thomas Vinterberg? At face value, Far From the Madding Crowd seems like it fits the costume drama formula, but Vinterberg offers his own subtle flavour. I loved everything about the film’s visual style, and it’s so much less stuffy than this adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel could have been. Romantic, dramatic, and smart.

Tom at the Farm

4. Tom at the Farm

This Xavier Dolan film has been kicking around for a while, but finally got a U.S. theatrical release after the success of his last film, Mommy. It’s funny that this is the one Dolan entry that struggled to find distribution, as it’s arguably his most accessible film yet. It’s my personal favourite of all his work, combining his visual flair with a Hitchcockian slow-burn thriller. The atmosphere makes it an edge of your seat psychological thriller, despite the fact that not all that much is happening. Whether you’re a Dolan fan or decidedly not a Dolan fan, don’t let this one slip by.

Mustang 2015

3. Mustang

I’ve already written about Mustang at length, but Deniz Gamze Erguven’s debut feature is one of the year’s absolute best. It also makes an interesting companion piece with Crystal Mozelle’s documentary, The Wolfpack, also from this year, as both films explore groups of siblings coming of age in an oppressive household. Both movies are worth checking out, but despite being fictional, Mustang is the one with true, haunting emotional resonance, as well as a sly sense of humour.

99 Homes

2. 99 Homes

It seems that a running theme of this list is “unlikely thrill ride”, and 99 Homes follows that trend. From the intense eviction sequence early on straight through to the end of the film, director Ramin Bahrani crafts so much genuine tension from what is essentially a human interest story. The way he sets up the cat-and-mouse dynamic is so taught that I felt like I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. With Michael Shannon deservedly scooping up some Oscar buzz for his performance, hopefully 99 Homes will gain the audience it deserves.

The End of the Tour

1. The End of the Tour

This film is in no way a “thrill ride” in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, it is virtually plotless and mostly is about two neurotic men having a few conversations with each other. However, I didn’t have a more captivating and ultimately moving film-watching experience in 2015 than I did with The End of the Tour. I could write a few thousand words on why I liked this movie so much, but for the sake of keeping things relatively brief, I’ll just say that everything – from Jason Segal’s revelatory to performance as David Foster Wallace to the film’s little gut-punch of a coda – is perfect in my eyes.

Top 10 Movies of 2015 (so far)

I’ll admit that I have a bit of a “best of the year” list fatigue. Ranking things and top 10 lists have just been done so many times that, depending on your tolerance to start with, it gets old at some point. However, one type of list that I still do appreciate is the “halfway of the year” lists when it comes to movies. This is simply because, frankly, most of the movies that make these lists get forgotten by the time the end of the year rolls around. Most of the big “serious” movies and the awards season contenders get saved for a fall release, and those tend to dominate critics’ lists. So why not celebrate the high quality films that had the misfortune (?) of getting an early-year release.

There’s tons of stuff that I just haven’t caught up with yet, and I also excluded anything I’ve seen at festivals that hasn’t gotten a U.S. theatrical release yet. That said, here’s my list of the top 10 movies I’ve seen that have been released in 2015.

Kingsman

10. Kingsman: The Secret Service

Way more fun than it has any right to be, Kingsman pays homage to the British spy films of yore while still maintaining the whip-smart, breakneck action movie pace that studios seem to think young audiences require. (But would you really expect anything less from the director who brought us Kick-Ass?) A little bit goofy and a little bit serious, Kingsman has style for days. It also earns major points from me for offering up Colin Firth as an unlikely but extremely dapper action star; his scene in the church set to “Free Bird” is easily the best scene of the year so far. Kingsman doesn’t really say anything new, nor does it seem to offer any kind of self-reflexive critique of its own gleeful violence. But then again, when the movie is this slick and entertaining, it doesn’t really need to.

Inside Out

9. Inside Out

I didn’t have the same transcendently emotional experience with Inside Out that some people did, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. Funny, sad, and poignantly real, it feels like it’s made more for the adults in the audience than the kids. Growing up is sad in ways we can’t always quite pinpoint, and Inside Out takes a both fanciful and subtle look at what’s behind those seemingly unavoidable shifts in the way we view the world around us.

Son of a Gun

8. Son of a Gun

This is another pure popcorn pick. Because while Son of a Gun does offer some refreshingly gritty (and unmistakably Australian) bleak style that could almost get it mistaken for something a little bit arty, at its heart, it’s just a big ol’ heist movie. But the key here is that first-time director Julius Avery happens to do the heist genre really, really well. He finds a nice balance of over-the-top thrills and more intimate moments of human interactions, somehow making the movie seem both action-packed and thoughtful at the same time. Throw in some gorgeously bleak cinematography and you’ve got another fine (albeit Hollywood-ized) entry in the Australian crime movie genre.

Black Sea

7. Black Sea

Submarine movies are fun, right? Well, if you’re watching Black Sea, you better think so. Kevin MacDonald’s solid undersea caper is kind of exactly what you’d expect; it’s a bunch of dudes in a sub. And things don’t always go well. However, MacDonald has such a clear, unwavering vision that it still feels fresh. Black Sea is somehow both elegant and campy, a combination which is only heightened by the talented Jude Law chewing on a little scenery and sporting a Scottish brogue. Plus any movie where Ben Mendelsohn’s character is described as a psychopath by way of introduction is legally obligated to be good.

What We Do in the Shadows

6. What We Do in the Shadows

Think vampires are played out? Think again. This mockumentary from the Flight of the Concords team follows a group of flatmates who also happen to be vampires, and hilarity ensues. As well, the filmmakers seem to understand the limits of the movie’s premise and keep things concise and fast-paced to avoid redundancy. Full of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it visual gags and a whole heap of deliciously deadpan humour, What We Do in the Shadows is one of the wall-to-wall funniest movies I’ve seen in a while.

Mad Max

5. Mad Max: Fury Road

I saw Mad Max: Fury Road just two weeks after it came out, and already it felt like I was late to the party. With all the insane praise that had been heaped onto it in that short time, I figured there was no way it could live up to the hype. But, much to my surprise, it was pretty much as fantastic and madcap as everybody said. At this point, there’s not much to add to the conversation but to say that if you’re skeptical because it doesn’t seem like your “type” of movie, give it a try anyways. Flamethrower guitar forever.

Little Accidents

4. Little Accidents

Here’s one that sailed by right under the radar. While Sara Colangelo’s debut feature got criticizes by some for being too Sundance by-the-numbers, I thought her meditation on the far-reaching effects of a small-town mining tragedy was a compelling and beautifully shot human interest drama. It also features a superb performance by Boyd Holbrook as a stoic man who gets thrown into the middle of the drama simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Little Accidents will feel familiar to those well-versed in recent indies, but it’s also an extremely well-told entry into the canon.

Far From the Madding Crowd

3. Far From the Madding Crowd

Thomas Hardy’s classic 1874 novel has been adapted for the screen several times before. I can’t tell you how Tomas Vinterberg’s (The Hunt) new re-telling stacks up by comparison, though, as this is the only version of the story I’m familiar with. However, I’d have to imagine it’d be difficult to beat Vinterberg’s sweeping, moody take on this story of an independent women and her three potential suitors. With breathtaking cinematography and costume design as well as an engaging and relatively fast-paced (no really!) narrative this is a very, very good costume drama. Even if you don’t think you like period piece-y romances, this one is well worth a watch.

Eden

2. Eden

Mia Hansen-Love’s Eden, on the other hand, is a completely different type of period piece. This one takes place in the 1990s examining the French house music scene. Co-written by Hansen-Love and her brother, Sven (who was himself a DJ in the ‘90s), Eden is a sprawling take on what happens when you overstay your welcome at the party. It’s woozy and beguiling in the best way, taking a slow-burn approach to its quasi-coming-of-age narrative. Eden is at once a lovely tribute to a music scene and a harrowing tale of one man’s journey through it.

Clouds of Sils Maria

1. Clouds of Sils Maria

Well, I didn’t mean for it to end up like this, but we’ve got a husband/wife duo in our top two spots. Mia Hansen-Love’s husband, Olivier Assayas, has been bewitching arthouse film fans with his movies for a long time now, offering up excellent character studies with films like Summer Hours, Clean, and Irma Vep. Now, the already great filmmaker has perhaps topped himself with this oblique portrait of two fascinating women. Juliette Binoche is great as always, while Kristen Stewart (who has already proven to be quite good in films like Camp X-Ray and Still Alice) once and for all announces herself as one of the best young actresses working with her spiky, nuanced turn here. Clouds of Sils Maria may seem simple on the surface in terms of story, but there are a lot of layers at play. This is the type of movie that begs for re-watches, and I can’t wait to return to Assayas’ impeccable new gem.