So I’m later than last year with this list, but earlier than usual, so I suppose that counts for something. I’ve decided to break the mold a little and extend my Top 10 list into a Top 20, because as the Terminator franchise has taught us: more is better. But this isn’t just an excuse for me to hold your attention a little longer. It’s a way to celebrate what an incredible year in film 2015 was. Out of the 276 first time watches this year, 102 were new releases (if anyone wants to sponsor me with movie theatre gift cards I’m open to it). You can check out my full list and ranking at: http://letterboxd.com/richard_newby/list/2015-film-ranking/
Top 10 (portions of some entries originally published at Audiences Everywhere )
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Almost without warning, 70-year old George Miller revolutionized what action films are capable of both in terms of narrative and spectacle. This is a watershed moment in action filmmaking that hasn’t been seen since The Matrix. Mad Max: Fury Road allows Miller to usher in a new and distinct visual style, one that washes away the dull gray and brown color palate we’ve come associate with a world gone rot, and replaces it with bright bursts of color and operatic grandeur. There is a beautiful, handmade quality to George Miller’s wasteland, and I can promise you that no matter how many times you’ve seen fictionalized depictions of our world post-nuclear holocaust, you’ve never seen anything like Mad Max: Fury Road.
2. It Follows
While most horror films can’t resist a deflating backstory, David Robert Mitchell knows that the most successful aspects of horror are the things that can’t be explained. But that doesn’t mean the film is without answers or meaning. While it’s easy to state the film is an allegory for STDs, it’s also something far more complex than that. It Follows aims to capture sexual anxiety, in the form of the willingness to engage in the act, and the questions of what comes next. The whole film is built on that adolescent notion of feeling different after sex, of growing up while being haunted by something younger and older than oneself. It Follows is a beautiful, intimate, and transformative experience that will leave you shaken.
Just as John G. Alvidsen’s film did almost 40 years ago, Ryan Coogler’s Creed situates us in place and character, putting emphasis on relationships and self-examination over ringside noise. The facades of familiar Philadelphia locales have been slightly revamped and given new coats of paint, our familiar characters are older and a little worse for wear, the tunes have changed to provide the movie with a pulse of its own, and our lead character’s background is drastically different from Rocky’s, but underneath all of these necessary changes is that same beating heart reminder that the legacy of Rocky has always been about more than boxing. Creed is big-hearted drama at its best, and the cinematic celebration of identity and legacy that we’ve been waiting for.
4. The Revenant
With The Revenant Alejandro G. Innaritu creates a tonal poem of human survival. This is a visceral experience, one that emphasizes what is felt moreso than what is told. Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as Hugh Glass is that of an open wound, physically, emotionally and spiritually raw, and a profoundly affecting look at humanity at its most basic and primal nature. While it’s production has garnered constant attention for almost a year, the lengths that Innaritu, the crew, and the cast went through doesn’t lessen the film’s impact or emotional stakes. In fact, it could be argued that it furthers them. No, The Revenant didn’t have to be filmed on location, no it didn’t have to be filmed in natural light, and no DiCaprio didn’t have to eat raw bison liver or sleep inside an animal carcass, but each of these decisions comes through in the film, giving it a power both real and mythologized. The best art isn’t always created by doing what is easy, but doing what is honest and The Revenant is deeply honest.
Sicario is a panic attack, not only in its efforts to create a visceral emotional experience for its audience, but also as a cinematic critique of a compassionless American government. Like Prisoners and Enemy before, Denis Villeneuve takes his characters (and viewers) down a long and winding tunnel of darkness where the light at the end is the illumination of their true selves, which they, and perhaps we, were hesitant to face. In many ways, Sicario is like Westerns of old, the ones that saw cowboy ethics fall to the wayside as industrialization and railroads brought the frontier to an end. While superheroes and modern myths fill our screens, Sicario does nothing less than assure us that in this day in age, there can be no heroes.
6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens is the start of something grand, familiar by design but entirely new in terms of where it places its attention and emotional interest. Much of The Force Awakens’ modernity stems from the fact that the lead characters are in the hands of a woman, a black man, and a Latin American man. While so many franchise restarts try to cater to the same audience, Abrams aims to broaden and celebrate the reach of Star Wars not by just focusing on legacy, but diversity as well. Beyond that, it’s impossible not to see the energy and care on the screen. The Force Awakens provides the emotional first steps in convincing audiences that Star Wars is back for good and we no longer need be bound by fear.
7. Ex Machina
Alex Garland’s restrained and character focused sci-fi opus thrives in the spaces left between. Whether it be moments of silence in between dialogue, the division between characters that direct eye contact intensifies rather than lessens, the stillness in between Ava’s direct and graceful movements, or the gap between how individuals present themselves and who they really are, Ex Machina carefully uses this space to revel in and reprimand curiosity. In doing so, Garland creates a modern myth, but one that’s cautionary tale can’t be divided by simple binaries. Beautifully composed, and comprised of performances that deny expectations, Ex Machina is one of the truest examples of science-fiction that wholly embraces the scientific part of its identity to providing more questions than answers.
Like a love-child of Spike Lee and John Hughes, Dope balances its honest portraitures of blackness and neighborhood life with teenage wish fulfillment and narrative convenience. Dope is deliberately modern and unique in its approach to filmmaking, announcing itself as far more than a sampling of familiar tracks. Heroically, Rick Famuyiwa’s film reclaims the term “oreo” and uses it not as an insult, but as an identity marker that can be owned and redefined by those so referred to as such. Like ’90s rap, Dope is a mix of intelligence, humor, and morally questionable decisions that don’t create a sum total of contradictions, but speak to the complicated nature of black identity in America.
9. The Hateful Eight
Lacking in immediate satisfaction, The Hateful Eight is arguably Quentin Tarantino’s most mature film. Racially charged, and packed with a motley crew of characters fashioned from the director’s intrinsic tics, The Hateful Eight is a mocking portrait of America’s systemic racism, mythologized history, and old-world attitudes. If Tarantino’s previous takes on history, altered events in the service of violent optimism, then The Hateful Eight displays our history as it is, without a moral center. While his blend of humor and violence has defined Tarantino’s career for two decades and made him a fan-favorite, The Hateful Eight shows a willingness to alienate that fanbase in the service of an honesty that doesn’t allow for forgiveness or restitution.
There isn’t a single frame in Carol that isn’t exquisite. The same can be said about its performances. Every touch, every lingering glance that Therese and Carol share is deeply felt, and lasting in its impact. As audience members, we become invested in their love story not because of the characters’ sexuality, but because of their fragile humanity. Todd Haynes crafts a love story that isn’t just engaging and tender, but also necessarily radical in its depiction of choice and consequence. He plays with what we’ve come to expect from period romances, and assures us that a fragile humanity doesn’t necessitate tragedy, that our characters can embrace hurt and pain, and not only still be strong, but come out better for it. Carol is so unafraid of quietly tearing down clichés, that it doesn’t even feel like a film from this era. Yet, it remains unquestionably topical all the same.
The Best of the Rest (11-20):
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
12. Crimson Peak
15. Bone Tomahawk
16. Inside Out
17. What We Do in the Shadows
19. Mistress America
Honorable Mentions: Clouds of Sils Maria, Trainwreck, Brooklyn, Cobain: Montage of Heck, Straight Outta Compton
Worst of the Year: The Seventh Son, Serena, Fantastic Four, Aloha, The Lazarus Effect
2016’s Most Anticipated
1. Suicide Squad
2. Rogue One
3. 10 Cloverfield Lane
4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
5. X-Men: Apocalypse
6. Doctor Strange
7. Captain America: Civil War
8. The Witch
9. Everybody Wants Some
10. Midnight Special
I'd like to thank everyone who visited my blog this year and read my reviews. If you enjoy what you read here please be sure to check out me and my friends on Audiences Everywhere where I also publish reviews and other features concerning movies, TV, and popular culture.