If there is one thing 2015 taught cinephiles, it is taking chances with ideas and how you want to execute them can create huge results to the finished film. Whether it is utilizing the art of stop motion animation, reviving a meditative approach to a martial arts story, shooting a film completely on an iPhone, using real dogs, or foregoing digital special effects, there were many gambles that paid off for both the filmmaker and audiences.
There were too many great films in 2015, so I did not contain my list to a traditional top 10, instead you get a top 14, that’s one more than last year’s list.
Also, quite a few films came close to being on the list but just didn’t quite make the cut, all definitely worth seeing. They are: Animals, Buzzard, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Mistress America, and Sicario.
Now, to my list:
About Elly – This film is nearly perfect, not only in terms of its story, about the disappearance of woman during a beach getaway for a group of young, middle class Iranian families, but also because it gives humanity to a population most American-based media outlets do not show. Whenever any foreign policy is being discussed in terms of Iran, all stakeholders should sit down and watch About Elly. This film actually was released in 2009, but did not make it to US theaters until 2015.
Anomalisa – NOW PLAYING AT CINEMA CENTER - A small story with enormous ideas told in beautifully rendered stop motion animation, co-directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson are mostly concerned with the mundane, day-in-day-out routines that trap all of us, and the sweet escape an anomaly to these habits can provide.
The Assassin – There is a moment in this film when fog overcomes a character who stands silently and still on a mountain side. It is a rare occasion in film where as a member of the audience, I wish the long scene would have lasted longer, and just one more example of director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s power to make a wuxia film beautiful and brilliant.
Ex Machina – More stageplay than anything else, this talky sci-fi film goes delves into a Turing Test, which determines intelligence in a computer and whether a human can distinguish the machine from another human being. Oscar Isaac is the stand out performance, playing an eccentric internet billionaire, and Domhall Gleeson fills in for the audience, asking questions about what exactly is going on. However, it is Alicia Viklander as Eva, the next generation artificial intelligence machine that anchors the emotional core of the film.
Inside Out - Pixar is back in form with this entertaining lesson about the value of sadness, and how it is needed for any amount of joy to have resonance. It is an important lesson, and one that is easily forgotten.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter – Kumiko lives in a where where she can mistake a scene from a fictional film as a documentary, and a calling to seek out buried treasure. It is a stressful ordeal to watch this woman give up her life in Japan on the chance she may succeed in her quest through a harsh winter in Minnesota and South Dakota, meeting characters along the way, many of whom want to help her, though the language barrier keeps them from being successful. Cervantes was definitely a literary godparent to this movie.
Mad Max: Fury Road – So much has been written about this film already, so this will be short: it is a perfect action movie from start to finish.
Room – You cried, I cried, we all cried when we saw this film. Having never read the book or really knowing anything about the film, I was surprised by the commitment of the actors, who basically perform a kidnapping chamber piece for the first half of the film. I am always happy when a film bucks conventions, as well as changes the rules that were established by the narrative in the first act.
Tangerine – Yes this film was shot on an iPhone 5. It is also the most perfect screwball comedy/Christmas movie about transgender prostitutes in Hollywood ever shot.
Victoria – The stunt of this film, being shot in one continuous take, almost seems unnecessary for the first hour of the film when we get to know Victoria and her new friends in Berlin. But when it all hits the fan, there is no way anything than a one-shot take would suffice.
What We Do in the Shadows – Funny and sweet, even with the buckets and buckets of blood. I would probably let Taika Waititi’s Viago live in my house as long as he promised to do light housework and not eat me. A mockumentary about centuries-old vampires all living together in New Zealand may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but the flatmates meeting at the beginning of the film makes you giggle and you will continue to do so everytime you think about it.
White God – They used real dogs! A fable about the treatment of animals, immigrants, and other marginalized groups, White God does not allow anyone to escape brutality, but there are also moments of triumph and grace. The dog that played Hagen, the leader of a dog uprising in Budapest, gave a better performance than most human actors receiving award season praise.
World of Tomorrow – “It is a sad life, Emily Prime.” In just 17 minutes, this animated short film - told in a sporadic, sketchy style – entertains, perplexes, horrifies, and makes you smile. I can’t even after seeing it, and you won’t be able to either.