With how many films I’ve seen in 2015, it’s safe to say that no other year can compete. I saw at least a movie a day and found myself in a theatre at least twice a week. I watched as many different types of film as possible, from films in different time periods to films from the other side of the world. I also saw as many new releases as I possibly could. The downside to watching so many new releases? When it came to making this list, it was a daunting and terrifying task. It started off as a top 20, and after trying to see if I could narrow it down to a 15, I somehow made it down to 10. So, here is that list, in alphabetical order. These films were my favourites. The ones I couldn’t and haven’t stopped thinking about since I’ve seen them. They may not be the best, but I’m okay with that.
This is the film that has stuck with me the most. I had the pleasure of watching Anomalisa at TIFF, and the genius who wrote and co-directed it (Charlie Kaufman) held a Q&A with the small cast and crew afterwards. Kaufman is one of the best writers working. If only there were more Kaufman films! After hearing about a new project of his and learning that it was to be played at the Toronto International Film Festival, I immediately bought tickets for the festival. Despite being a stop-motion film with puppetry, Kaufman somehow makes it the most human film of the year.
Brooklyn surprised me. After seeing the trailer, I had written it off as a cute film with a by-the-numbers love triangle, and while this adorable film does have a love triangle, it’s by no means by-the-numbers. Taking place in 1952, Saoirse Ronan leaves her home in Ireland and comes to America like so many other Irish immigrants in this time. She deals with being homesick, and struggles to get used to a new lifestyle. On her way over, she meets a woman who helps her and gives her advice on how she could carry herself as she makes her way into the US for the first time. Ronan’s later finds someone else repeats this to them, and it brings a sense of repetition that makes you wonder about everyone else’s journey to America. I’m not Irish, nor American, but this is a movie about an immigrant’s journey to a new, scarier land. I don’t know that feeling, but I know my parents do. It’s a very relatable film about that journey while being downright adorable throughout its entire run time.
I was late to the franchise. I was born way after the first film, but the series is one I’ve constantly heard about all my life. Since I’ve never been into sports, and even less so into boxing, I didn’t bother seeking out any of the films. That was until I heard that Ryan Coogler (director of Fruitvale Station) would direct the next film. He was also going to bring along the star of his debut film, Michael B. Jordan. I sought out the series and finally understood the importance of The Italian Stallion and what he means to America and cinema. The imperfect underdog returns in a movie that isn’t necessarily about him, and it makes Creed one of the best films in the long-running series. Creed beautifully blends the past with the future. Coogler does extraordinary work with the camera as it weaves in and out of every punch while in the ring. It’s astonishing. The story is very meta in terms of how the film acknowledges its past but doesn’t want to stand on that alone. It has its own merits and wants to be recognized as a strong and important film first and foremost. Ditto for the music as it uses the same flourishes of the original classic score but is updated for a new generation.
Alex Garland wrote two films I completely love (28 Days Later & Sunshine), and his other two scripts are also great films (Never Let Me Go & Dredd), but he hasn’t directed anything prior to Ex Machina. He’s been on set and has helped out previously, but that doesn’t explain how Garland was able to accomplish what he does in this work of art. The script is impeccable, and the acting among the three leads (Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander) is just as strong. It’s able to use the language of computer programming and still have the public understand. It’s part of the film, but it’s not what the film is actually about. I am on the edge of my seat throughout every viewing of the film. I foolishly only saw it once in the theatre and regret it. There’s so much to soak in.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT
I mean, do I need to justify having to put a Quentin Tarantino film on my list? It’s more or less everything you would have expected in one of his films. It is an incredible script that is now available to purchase, and one which I’m reading through before seeing the film again. The acting is top-notch all around. Walton Goggins probably steals the show for me, but I can very easily make an argument for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character, or even Samuel L. Jackson. Characters that should be hated, but you end up rooting for. It is a gorgeous looking film. Film. Actual film. Actual 70mm film. Watch the roadshow, if possible. Despite taking place mostly in a cabin, the film is given a phenomenal scope. I’ve heard it being called Clue meets the The Thing (whodunit vs paranoia) and while I’m not against that at all, it takes away something far more important. Tarantino made a new film for us to watch and dissect for years. He’s back, and he’s incredible. And probably the angriest he’s been in a while.
James White is a film that I saw during TIFF, and it grew on me more and more every week since I’ve seen it. I couldn’t stop thinking about the intimacy of the camera; the way we’re constantly locked on James. We follow him through his good decisions and his bad decisions. Everything in the background is blurred out, casting all our focus on James. Yet, despite this focus on James, the film sports a great supporting cast in Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi (AKA Kid Cudi, who also does the original score) and Makenzie Leigh (who I haven’t seen before this, but will look out for more of her work). James won’t really sit down and think about his future. He’s constantly on the go, from one place to the next. With this up close and personal camera work and the shallow depth of field that sometimes cuts everyone else out, we as a viewer go from being stuck with him, to being with him.
MAGIC MIKE XXL
I want everyone to know, this isn’t a joke. This is real. Magic Mike XXL is one of my favourite experiences in a theatre, ever. Top ten at least. The room was alive, and the audience was hollering and cheering and making jokes. It was only comparable to midnight showings of “cult films.” There was a very clear and intentional relationship between the audience and the film. The first Magic Mike film is a great film as well, but it took itself a little too seriously. XXL learned those lessons, and just had fun. In a world where modern cinema has taken women and typically places them as just the love interest, or someone to ogle at, it’s about time that someone turned the tables on men. The movie is about just the importance of happiness, for men and women and how simple it may be at times. This movie is important, entertaining, and with Soderbergh behind the camera and in the editing bay, it’s just as great as it could be.
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is a producer that worked with Ryan Murphy previously on American Horror Story and Glee. He also directed a few episodes of the show before moving on into feature-length territory. He directed a remake that I think is legitimately great, The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Alfonso has a very unique camera style, it swoops into action as it tracks someone. It keeps you on your toes. With Me and Earl, it isn’t any less active. It keeps the story constantly moving. The movie is about Greg (Me) and Rachel (Dying Girl) getting closer as friends. It starts off with the a two-shot that has both of them at the opposite end of the frame, and in their last shot together, they are lying next to one another. It’s wonderful storytelling through cinematic language. It’s beautiful, and the acting keeps you entirely into the story in the undeniable, though occasionally predictable, story beats.
Room is powerful. It is a film that, during it’s entire run time, I felt like I was watching something extremely personal and real. The movie is almost claustrophobic. It doesn’t allow you to get away from the ugliness of the entire situation. Ma (played brilliantly by Brie Larson) was kidnapped at a young age and was raped by her kidnapper, Old Nick, and eventually gave birth to Jack (played just as brilliantly by newcomer Jacob Tremblay). They live in a “room” which is essentially a shed. Until Jack turns five and Ma decides it’s time to get out and live a proper life. The film is told pretty much in two halves: one on the inside and the second focuses entirely on Jack learning to live outside of Room while Ma deals with her PTSD. It’s brilliant, intimate filmmaking, and it’s heartbreaking while also being heartwarming. It’s arguably one of the most emotionally draining films I’ve seen this year, but in the end it becomes rewarding.
The movie that almost didn’t make it on the list. Other films have technically been better, but none have stuck with me like this one has. I guess it’s because after walking out of the theatre, I felt as if Spring was made for me. Spring has been described as Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy meets H.P. Lovecraft, and after seeing it, I get why. Our leads walk and talk in Italy, and we watch them slowly fall for each other as they get to know one another. However, she has a secret, and that’s where the Lovecraftian portion kicks in. It’s a beautiful film about rebirth, staying true to yourself, and happiness, and somehow, among all this, the relationship thrives somewhere in the middle of it all. It’s described as a horror, but it’s never horrific. It’s a fantastic watch that blends horror and romance.
There are many others that almost made my list and lie just on the border. I want to briefly list them and cry out for them just so that more people will check them out. I’ll try to not bring up ones that everybody else mentions as well (Carol, Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out… Oh, I did it anyway). These are my honourable mentions:
Bang Bang Baby, The Big Short, Chi-raq, Crimson Peak, Dope, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, The Martian, Mistress America, Sleeping With Other People, Steve Jobs, and White God.