As we come to a close on 2015, it’s time to reflect on the best films of the year. Most of the year felt underwhelming but it ended up being a struggle to contain my list to only 10.
With that being said, I wanted to name a few films that just missed my top 10, in alphabetical order:
99 Homes: Andrew Garfield stars as a man who loses his home during the housing crisis and begins working with the broker (Michael Shannon), who was responsible for taking his house away. A small film that nobody saw, 99 Homes is a tense drama from start to finish.
Carol: A film of forbidden love and stolen glances, Carol is exquisitely crafted and acted. Cate Blanchett can do no wrong and she is commanding as Carol, an older woman who falls for a young shopgirl (Rooney Mara) in 1950.
The End of the Tour: A wonderfully human piece of writing and acting, Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segal are excellent together as David Lipsky and David Foster Wallace, respectively. Lipsky wrote a piece on Wallace as he was doing a press tour for Infinite Jest. Segal is a revelation as the author.
Spy: When Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig are together, they strike comedic gold. Spy was the flat-out funniest film of the year and another great showcase for McCarthy’s talents.
The Voices: A very little film that many may not have heard of, The Voices stars Ryan Reynolds as a man who kills people and talks to his cat and dog (who often encourage him to kill people). It is as wonderful and depraved as it sounds.
Starting at 10 and working to the best film of the year, here are my selections:
- Tangerine: Bold and brash, raw and real, Tangerine is one of the most vibrant and brazenly entertaining movies of the year. It all sounds like this year’s gimmicky Sundance hit; A movie about two transgendered hookers, all shot on an iPhone 5. Instead of playing like a gimmick, director Sean Baker has created one of the most alive films of the year, which places us on the streets of Los Angeles with Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor). Both actresses are hilarious in their debut roles. Tangerine is an unique experience, a total call to arms for those who think there are no more original ideas in Hollywood.
- Straight Outta Compton: F. Gary Gray’s N.W.A. bopic follows a familiar trajectory: a group of dreamers fuel their passion and rage into their music, become wildly successful and fall apart when egos clash. Even so, Straight Outta Compton is an exciting 150-minute film, filled with energy in every frame. Ballyhooed for being too sanitized, Straight Outta Compton captures the time of N.W.A.’s rise to fame with great authenticity. The entire cast of newcomers delivers great performances but Jason Mitchell stands out and does nomination-worthy work as Eazy-E.
- Truth: Not a lot of people cared for this film. In fact, it sits at a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes. I found Truth enthralling from beginning-to-end, featuring yet another great Cate Blanchett performance. She stars as Mary Mapes, the 60 Minutes producer, who put a story together in 2004 questioning then-President George W. Bush’s service in the military. Her story was delivered by Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and the harsh criticism they faced ended their careers. Truth is a great journalism film.
- Steve Jobs: Maybe you’ve had enough of Steve Jobs, which is why nobody saw this exceptional piece of filmmaking. Danny Boyle directs this stunning film, from an Aaron Sorkin script, and brings great energy to the story. Told at three separate product launches, Steve Jobs plays like a wonderful three-act play. Michael Fassbender is commanding in the titular role, with great supporting work from Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels. For a movie about the creation of computers, Steve Jobs is thrilling.
- Grandma: All year long, Grandma has been a sweet, sentimental favorite of mine. Lily Tomlin gives one of the best performances of the year as an abrasive grandmother, who must help her granddaughter collect money for an abortion. Like Tangerine, the film is all set in a day in Los Angeles and we stomp the pavement with the characters. At a scant 79 minutes, Grandma is a brisk and refreshing slice of life.
- Sicario: Director Dennis Villeneuve is a master of elevating the been-there procedural. He did so with Prisoners (2013, which was on my top 10 list) and now with Sicario. Helping greatly is master cinematographer Roger Deakins, who gives this tale of the drug trafficking a seedy, authentic look. Emily Blunt does some of her best work yet as an idealistic FBI agent thrown into the dangerous world of drugs. Benicio del Toro does standout supporting work as a shady operative.
- Room: Brie Larson stars as a woman who was captured when she was 17 years old and kept trapped in a garden shed. In her captivity, she gave birth to a son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Larson and Tremblay are the best pair to come out of any movie this year. Larson is maternal and electrifying and the young Tremblay is astonishing as her son. The entire movie is told through his vantage point and he gives a performance of uncommon depth – not to mention he was eight years old when he shot the film.
- Ex Machina: Alex Garland’s directorial debut is assured and confident, slick and mysterious. A young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) gets the chance to go to the chilly, remote home of an eccentric billionaire (Oscar Isaac), who is working on creating a life-like A.I. (Alicia Vikander). Things get weird but that’s all I’m going to say on this one because if you haven’t seen it yet, you need to.
- Amy: Asif Kapadia’s Amy was one of the most devastating works of art to come out of this year. He chronicles the life of the late Amy Winehouse and was given access to a breadth of footage, which made the film feel personal and invited us into the singer’s tragic world. The majority of the movie is told in voiceover narration set to clips of Winehouse, foregoing the typical talking head documentary style. Amy is a celebration of a monumental talent, undone by her demons.
And the best film of 2015 is…
- Spotlight: If you have asked me what movie to go see in the past month or so, all I could suggest is Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. The film chronicles the Boston Globe’s reporting of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and does so passionately and gracefully. The subject material is bound to turn some people away but no other film evoked a multitude of reactions out of me than this film. You will feel angry and disgusted but thankful that this team of reporters cared enough to bring catharsis to the victims. Featuring the best ensemble cast of the year, including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Live Schrieber, Spotlight is thrilling and the most important piece of work to come out of 2015.