James Canellos ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Movies Editor
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of 2015 is that this was a year where Hollywood actually made a lot of very good films. The Martian, Straight Outta Compton, Star Wars: The Force Awakens were all exceptionally crafted and resurged some faith in the big blockbuster – for now at least. While this list does not contain the previously mentioned films, it is worth noting that they were very good films, which says a lot that they didn’t break this top ten list.
Was any other film this year more visually pleasing or as gleefully bonkers? Director George Miller rejuvenated his 1979 passion project in the biggest way possible, thanks to the use of practical effects, some brilliantly choreographed action sequences, and a new iconic female lead (Charlize Theron’s intense Furiosa). In a post-apocalyptic Australia, a drifter (Tom Hardy) and a rebelling driver (Theron) flee and fight against a tyrannical ruler and his worshippers. What this film lacks for in story more than makes up for in pure cinema splendor. It’s one of the rare franchises that felt necessary for a reboot, and after nearly thirty years since Miller’s last Mad Max film, it’s a beautiful return to form.
Todd Haynes has a knack for portraying the limitations of a time period with films like Far From Heaven and I’m Not There. Carol joins Haynes’ filmography as most tragic yet hopeful depiction of the blossoming romance between a young aspiring photographer (Rooney Mara) and a free-spirited married woman (Cate Blanchett). Instead of speeding through their relationship, Haynes delicately tends to the details between these women and refuses to rush through any steps along the way to their affair. Bolstered by two of the best performances of the year by Mara and Blanchett, Carol is a beautiful testament to accepting what lifestyle you want and the sacrifices you’re willing to make for it.
Do you ever wonder what vampires are really like in the modern age? Look no further than this hilarious New Zealand mockumentary about three vampire flatmates (Taika Waititi, Jermaine Clement, and Jonny Brugh) bickering over chores, getting into nightclubs, and cleaning up the humans they kill. Shadows takes on every vampire trope and turns it into a brilliant gag that’s delivered perfectly by its hilarious vampire trio. Repeated viewings are recommended to catch the jokes you may have missed from laughing too much. Waititi shines brighter than a vampire should as the more uptight and hopeless romantic of the group.
7. Ex Machina
The line between artificial intelligence and self-awareness has never been blurrier than in Alex Garland’s directorial debut. The beautiful yet mysterious A.I. in question is Ava (Alicia Vikander – having an amazing year) whose reclusive billionaire creator (Oscar Isaac) selects the unassuming Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to evaluate whether or not he thinks Ava displays human qualities. The remoteness and play-like setting of Ex Machina gives this soon to be science fiction classic a personal yet cold distinction. Fitting perfectly with a philosophical debate about those who play God and those who merely pretend.
It’s very hard to pinpoint what makes a great “American” movie. Is it the landscape, the culture, or the retelling of historical stories that have made the United States? While films like those maintain aspects of America, Brooklyn is the one that actually captures the experience of living and being a part of America. When Irish immigrant, Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), arrives in Brooklyn she tries to avoid homesickness as she quickly falls for a charming plummer (Emory Cohen). Ronan marvels as the restrained and closed off Eilis, giving audiences a character who can say so much with a glance in those sky colored eyes. Brooklyn is a mature examination of the sacrifices that are made to start a new life.
It’s difficult to find beauty in a ten-by-ten foot moldy shed that a mother and son call home. With the careful direction from Lenny Abrahamson there is nothing but hope and wonder to behold in Room. The titular “Room” is a shed that kidnapped Joy (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) have been confined to. Joy has been able to manage with her limited amount of resources that are provided by her abusive captor Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). By splitting the film into two parts Abrahamson gives an entirely new and harrowing perspective on the delicate situation this mother and son must go through. Larson and Tremblay give two of the best performances of the year and have some of the best on-screen chemistry between a mother and her child ever depicted in film.
Lightning rarely strikes twice in the same location. As of lately, with all the reboots and prequels it feels tedious to await a film that can match the same magic as its predecessor. Creed does just this, delivering a lyrical account of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the out-of-wedlock son of Apollo Creed who vies to create a name for himself with the help of the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). With sensitive direction by Ryan Coogler nothing feels stale or repeated, it’s acknowledged from the start the big shoes that Adonis must fill. If the breathtaking final fight doesn’t get you cheering, the quietly fierce performance from Jordan and the vulnerable Stallone should do the trick. Creed takes all the themes and fun that made everyone a fan of Rocky and elevates it to a generation of children dying to mold their own legacy.
3. Inside Out
Pixar has the rare ability to bring critics and audiences together on a certain film. Inside Out may be one of the most unanimously praised film this year, and it deserves all the acclaim. This candy colored animated creation explores the mental conflict that arises when pre-teen Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) moves from her home in Minnesota to San Francisco. Her emotions, Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader) brace themselves for the roller coaster of changes that come with maturing. Inside Out is one of the select movies that’s targeted at children but is just as enjoyable for adults. Director Pete Docter isn’t afraid to tell its younger viewers that it’s okay to feel sad, it’s a necessary part of growing up.
After single mother, Diane (Anne Dorval), decides to deinstitutionalize her ADHD stricken teenage son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), she seeks the help of an introverted neighbor (Suzanne Clément) to home school the trouble-prone teenager. Director/ writer Xavier Dolan presents the film in a 1:1 aspect ratio, giving Mommy an uneasy claustrophobic atmosphere and the sense of being cornered. These characters are trapped in a purgatory that feels unbreakable, especially Steve who grows more unstable with each scene. Dolan may be incredibly young but he asks the toughest questions that no parent wishes to face. The hardest being, when is it time to institutionalize your own child?
“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse a child,” says Stanley Tucci’s overworked lawyer. A line like this sets the pace of how urgent a film like Spotlight is, especially in an age where the most trending topics often include stories that fall into obscurity. Tom McCarthy’s true story follows the Boston Globe journalists who uncovered the priest molestation scandals that were hidden from the public by the local archdiocese. McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer embrace that the newspaper industry and the journalists on screen can easily fall into the same category as the Catholic Church in terms of withholding information from their followers. McCarthy carries some of the best attributes of a great journalist with Spotlight – he’s thorough, sharp, and tells one hell of a story.
Notable Runner-Ups: The Martian, The Gift, Clouds of Sils Maria, It Follows, Trainwreck, Beasts of No Nation, Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Anamolisa.