Here’s a look at CineSnob.net’s Top Ten Films of 2015 from editor Kiko Martinez and critics Jerrod Kingery and Cody Villafana.
For the umpteenth year in a row, the calendar comes to a close and I’m left thinking about how disappointing the year in film was. It’s particularly surprising since midway through the year, I was actually thinking about how good the year had been so far. Then award season came around and nothing jumped off the screen. Nonetheless, here are the movies that resonated with me the most in 2015.
10. The Hateful Eight
It may be super long and a touch gimmicky, but Tarantino’s 8th film is bloody, mostly solid goodness. The script is trademark Tarantino, with great dialogue for most of its characters to chew on. Walton Goggins is a particular treat, and Demian Bichir’s piano flub is one of the biggest laughs on the year. It’s mid-pack Tarantino, but that’s good enough to land in the 10 spot.
9. The End of the Tour
Fewer films stuck with me longer than James Ponsoldt’s “The End of the Tour.” A true gift for anyone who loves long, philosophical dialogue, “The End of the Tour” features one of the best scripts of any film this year. It’s also a lights out performance from Jason Segel as enigmatic author David Foster Wallace. There are so many little nuances and character decisions that watching Segel become entirely immerse is a worth it in itself.
8. True Story
This one is a bit of an anomaly, as I’m probably the only critic in the free world who really dug this film. I found the cat and mouse game of this true crime captivating and really pushed forward through a great performance from James Franco. It’s raw in its storytelling and certainly doesn’t pull any punches. Maybe I’m dead wrong about this, but ignore its mid-40’s Rotten Tomatoes score and give this one a fair shake.
7. Finders Keepers
Sporting by far the oddest logline of any film this year, this documentary about a man who found a human leg in a smoker and tried to use it as his claim fame…and the man who tried to get his leg back, was by far one of the most memorable films of the year. This crazy story, which is incredibly enough, even more nuts than it sounds, is tightly told in well made, hilarious fashion. It’s a fascinating look at addiction, loss and perhaps best, the childish desire to be “famous” at any cost. This film has cult favorite all over it, and could reach “The King of Kong” levels in due time.
6. Straight Outta Compton
This film may deserve the award for “most surprisingly good” film of the year. Going in with no reference point, knowledge, or frankly, interest, F. Gary Gray brought fistfuls of energy and excitement to what could have been a very conventional musical biopic. It’s the best film in that genre perhaps ever, and the sequence in which Ice Cube records the epic diss track “No Vaseline” gets my vote for best scene in any movie of the year.
5. The Look of Silence
Affecting and powerfully shocking, this follow-up to the much-lauded “The Act of Killing” is, in my estimation, the much better film. Watching the courageousness of a man confronting cold blooded killers responsible for the death of his family members makes for scenes so tense you can’t even fathom moving a muscle. It’s a horrible reminder of atrocities, but simultaneously encouraging to watch someone stand up. Look for this one to seriously content for Oscar gold.
As someone who doesn’t really care for horror films on any level, “Spring” straight up floored me. Of course, the film is more Richard Linklater than Wes Craven, but that doesn’t change the fact that co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead crafted a beautiful romantic tale in the packaging of a monster/horror film. It’s moody, gloriously shot, and incredibly well-written without feeling gimmicky or phony. Do yourself a favor and check out the film that made me re-think horror as a genre.
3. The Lions Mouth Opens (short film)
Normally I wouldn’t put a documentary short film in my top 10 list, but it feels unfair to not include the film that gave me the most visceral emotional reaction of any film this year. Packing in more feels in 30 minutes than most films can in 90, this documentary about actress Marianna Palka and her decision to get tested for Huntington’s Disease is about as powerful as anything you can see. Once again, director Lucy Walker (“The Crash Reel”) makes an unexpected film that makes me “feel” more than anything else and finds a spot upon my top 10.
2. The Martian
I can’t really think of another film this year that I just flat out enjoyed more than “The Martian.” It’s a return to form that I honestly didn’t think Ridley Scott had in him at this point in his career. The film is elevated by a smart and tonally perfect script by Drew Goddard, but made into something truly special by Matt Damon’s charismatic and funny performance. It may be a bit of a crowd pleaser, but “The Martian” is one of the best film experiences of the year.
Simply put, “Spotlight” is a masterclass in filmmaking. Everything about it, from the script, to the acting, to the pacing, is spot on. But further than its technical aspects, it’s just a fantastic movie. Mark Ruffalo shines and gives my personal favorite performance of the year. The movie also pulls no punches and sheds a light on a terrible story, doing so with dignity and class. One of the best films about investigative journalism in recent memory, “Spotlight” is far and away the premier film of 2015.
To borrow my colleague Cody Villafana’s typical refrain, 2015 was kind of a shit year for movies, at least as far as I was concerned. Both Marvel offerings whiffed this summer, and “The Revenant” mistook its real-life stunts for great storytelling. Sadly, one of the most fun movie-going experiences I had this year was seeing “Entourage” because it was so soul-crushingly awful that it came right around to being fun somehow.
10. Jurassic World/Star Wars: The Force Awakens (tie)
While the big blockbusters of 2015 didn’t compare, quality-wise, to their 2014 counterparts (that summer had “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” after all), this year’s two biggest movies were nostalgia-fueled returns to form for franchises that have been in the doghouse for the better part of 2 decades, Star Wars and Jurassic Park. While no one would argue that either film was the epitome of originality, both were fun (and comforting) enough that it didn’t really matter.
9. Man vs. Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler
An official selection of this year’s Fantastic Fest, this classic gaming doc plays as a kinder, gentler sequel to “The King of Kong,” complete with roles for Walter Day and Billy Mitchell. It’s another story of a normal guy, Tim McVey, trying to reclaim some former glory at the hands of an arcade game. This time, though, the game is Nibbler, a mostly-forgetting snake game that’s more a test of endurance than skill.
Screenwriter Nick Hornby spins a sweet tale of a young Irish girl finding love out on her own in 1950s New York while also wrestling with the strong gravitational pull home has on her future. Though the story is somewhat slight, great performances from Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen anchor the love story firmly enough to keep the movie from flitting away.
A simultaneously riveting and shaky movie tethered with great performances by Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay. Like Larson’s character, the film doesn’t quite know what to do when reintroduced to the real world in the second half, but by that point Larson has cemented herself as a front runner for the Best Actress Oscar.
6. Straight Outta Compton
A confidently fierce musical biopic about one of the most dangerous rap groups of all time set in one of the most dangerous times to be a black male in Los Angeles that, sadly, still relates to events happening today. An unimpeachably great first half more than makes up for a second half that seems more concerned with glossing over the indiscretions of executive producers and subjects Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. And man, that music!
5. The End of the Tour
A quiet road trip/buddy movie about a profoundly brilliant author, David Foster Wallace, who seemed to yearn for a normal life away from the massive celebrity his success could offer him. Jason Segel’s portrayal of Wallace may have sanded down the abrasive edges of the late author’s real life persona too much for Wallace’s real life friends and family, but I like to think Wallace was really shy about the notion he could just ask Alanis Morisette on a date.
4. The Big Short
Like “The Wolf of Wall Street” with a moral compass, “The Big Short” gleefully apes the hedonistic Scorsese film to tell the story of the housing crisis that crippled the world economy, destroyed some big banks, and made a handful of shrewd investors very rich off the suffering of many. As the one guy who really feels bad about it all, Steve Carell gives a much better performance here than his funny-nosed caricature he was nominated for an Oscar for in last year’s “Foxcatcher.”
3. The Martian
Sure, the NASA scenes on earth are mostly served up in a giant bowl of corn, but Matt Damon gives his best performance in years almost entirely alone as an astronaut stranded on Mars. Director Ridley Scott—back from the crap movie grave—and screenwriter Drew Goddard wisely inject humor in what could have been just another dull realistic sci-fi slog.
God damn did I love this movie. Who knew “Rocky 7” could possibly be so electric? Director Ryan Coogler and stars Michael B. Jordan and an almost never-better Sylvester Stallone hit tons of familiar beats along the way, but with a style and freshness that evokes the nearly 40-year-old original film and makes you forget the ‘80s cheese the franchise devolved into before Jordan was even born.
Take it from me: newsrooms are mostly boring. But when you have a juicy story to sink your teeth into, it can come alive. Tom McCarthy’s tale of the Boston archdiocese sexual abuse scandal, set in the age of giant, boring computers, manages to be riveting without overdramatizing the politics involved in breaking a story that can take down an institution (for a comparison, the San Antonio equivalent of the Catholic Church would be the Spurs) that is beloved in the city. There’s maybe one too many characters for this ensemble to flow with maximum efficiency, but the all the moving parts are a wonder to behold.
After scraping through 189 films over the last 12 months, here is a look at my picks for the best films of 2015.
Sweet, funny and delightfully acerbic, watching actress Lily Tomlin do her best work since earning an Oscar nom for 1976’s “Nashville” is monumental in itself. As a grandmother driving her pregnant teenage granddaughter around town to find the money she needs to get an abortion, this pro-choice dramedy is a charmer.
9. The Revenant
Oscar-winning director Iñárritu (“Birdman”) takes a harrowing tale of survival and revenge and gives five-time Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) the most physically demanding role of his career, which he effortlessly disappears into. It’s the most beautifully shot film this year, with two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (“Gravity”) behind the camera turning bear attacks into poetry in motion.
8. The Second Mother
Household dynamics are agitated in this Brazilian film when the estranged daughter of a live-in housekeeper moves in with her mother and the family she works for. Themes of classism and motherhood run deep as lines are crossed and characters maneuver their way through uncomfortable domestic situations.
Devastatingly sad, this extremely well constructed documentary on talented British musician Amy Winehouse, who died in 2011 at the age of 27, takes a heartbreaking and eye-opening look into celebrity culture and reveals the iconic singer’s downfall with admiration and insight. Director Kapadia (“Senna”) uses powerful archive footage and interviews to paint a striking portrait of a tragic spirit.
6. Ex Machina
Spellbinding, unique and oftentimes humorous, this directorial debut by Garland (writer of “Sunshine”) is in the same quiet realm of the sci-fi genre as recent movies “Moon” and “Source Code.” When a tech programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a contest to meet his company’s reclusive CEO (Oscar Isaac) at his remote office location, he is introduced to a unique brand of artificial intelligence. It’s creepy, compelling and asks some interesting questions about the power of human sexuality.
The most viscerally engaging film of the year stars Emily Blunt (“Edge of Tomorrow”) as an idealistic FBI agent recruited to work with a mysterious government agency that is crossing into Mexico and the darkest corners of the drug war. Blunt and Oscar winner Benicio del Toro (“Traffic”) are terrific, and director Villeneuve (“Prisoners”) keeps the thriller pumping with brutal momentum. Add some breathtaking cinematography by 12-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins and a terrifying and brilliant score by Oscar nominee Jóhann Jóhannsson (“The Theory of Everything”) and the wasteland created south of the border becomes all too palpable.
So much of what makes this exceptionally moving drama by director Abrahamson (“Frank”) work is the world he and screenwriter/novelist Emma Donoghue establish in such a confined space where a mother and son (Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay) are held captive in a backyard storage shed. The relationship between Larson and Tremblay’s characters is genuine, and the fact that the film is told through the eyes of a child gives it a sense of innocence that touches the soul without being overly sentimental.
3. Steve Jobs
It might have been a failure at the box office, but Oscar-winning director Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) creates a wholly original biography on late Apple founder Steve Jobs that is worthy of the tech genius’ contribution to the computer industry. Broken into three professionally defining acts over the course of his career, Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) pens the type of fast-paced, clever and sardonic dialogue he lives for, but also gives Jobs (Michael Fassbender) a series of personal demons to exorcise, all of which give fascinating depth to his larger-than-life character.
2. The Look of Silence
A follow-up to his 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary “The Act of Killing,” director Oppenheimer delivers an even more heart-wrenching narrative in this intimate companion piece. Raw emotion rises to the surface as we follow an Indonesian optometrist, whose brother was murdered during the country’s 1965 genocide, as he bravely confronts the men who carried out the killings. The discomfort during these meetings is chilling.
Expertly paced, absorbing and featuring the most impressive ensemble cast of the year, this print journalism procedural about the award-winning Boston Globe team of reporters who uncovered a long history of corruption and sexual abuse inside the Catholic Church will forever be mentioned in the same breath as other top-tier newspaper films including 1976’s “All the President’s Men.” Credit director/writer McCarthy (“The Visitor”) for avoiding sensationalism and turning investigative journalism into an art form.
Honorable Mentions: Bridge of Spies; Cinderella; Clouds of Sils Maria; Creed; Far from the Madding Crowd; 45 Years; Love & Mercy; Manson Family Vacation; Mustang; Trumbo
CINESNOB.NET’S CONSENSUS TOP TEN LIST
2. THE MARTIAN
3. THE LOOK OF SILENCE
4. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
6. THE END OF THE TOUR
7. STEVE JOBS & THE LIONS MOUTH OPENS (tie)
8. SPRING & THE BIG SHORT (tie)
10. EX MACHINA