Five Years Later: 2015 Movies
It's another installment of the Hindsight Awards, Five Years Later. The 2015 year in movies was already one that I had very much enjoyed for the glut of fun and well done from the spy genre, but it was also a year of high risers on rewatch and a few first watches that became instant favorites. As far as my favorite movies of the year go, it was a great year for a movie with a bit of action. The Force Awakens was an incredible viewing experience in the theater and Fury Road brought a lot of legitimate cinephile love to the action genre. I watched a LOT of movies from 2015 and it was a decent field of flicks so I expanded my rankings for this years' Hindsight lists from 20 to 25. This exercise challenged me to see what held up from five years ago and to search out hidden gems that were missed in the meantime. I’ve made a list of everything watched from 2015 over on Letterboxd with links to all of their reviews but this list is of the top twenty-five plus a few awards. Here are the actual Academy Award nominees and winners from the 20116 Oscars for reference. Instead of deciding between lead and supporting actors and actresses I have awarded two outstanding actors and two outstanding actresses as well as a best ensemble casting.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Best picture, best stunts and special effects
I changed the way I went to the movies because of this. I knew I was going to see it no matter what so I avoided trailers, articles and online chatter about the movie and the viewing experience was fresh and exciting. Although I’ve watched The Force Awakens several times over in the last five years, I still find it to be an incredibly enjoyable film, a couple hours of a pure endorphin rush. It’s everything I want from a science fiction extravaganza, lives in the Star Wars while treading new space in the universe.
2. The Martian
Best actor: Matt Damon
I love the book and the Ridley Scott adaptation only enhanced the experience. As this is a movie without a villain and entirely revolving around solving a series of problems to get to an end this has become one of my most rewatched movies of the last ten years due to the through line of positivity. Despite being a man in his late 70’s while making this, Ridley Scott’s direction still feels fresh
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
Best director: George Miller, best cinematography (tie): John Seale, best actress: Charlize Theron
Here’s a movie that definitely wasn’t in my top 25 movies of 2015 when I first saw it fifteen years ago. It’s brutal, it’s grotesque, and it’s an almost entirely hopeless movie. Recent viewings of the theatrical and the black and white versions hit me with the realization of how incredibly tight the storytelling is and how well shot it is. It turns out the black and white version “Black and Chrome” is spectacular, an instant classic, even without the bright oranges of flames shooting from the bungy guitar monster.
4. The Man from UNCLE
I was recently looking through Guy Ritchie’s filmography and realized that I really enjoy about half of his movies and this is easily my favorite. It was also a bit of a standout in a year with a handful of spy movies with big budgets behind them including a Bond movie, a Mission Impossible movie and the first Kingsman movie.
Best writing: Tyler Sheridan, best ensemble
Technically, this is also a spy movie due to the involvement of the CIA in this interdepartmental investigation of Mexican drug cartels. This was the first real look at Taylor Sheridan a modern western screenwriter and the first big Hollywood movie from Denis Villanueve. This kind of propelled them both into more and more projects, Sheridan wrote a movie a year for the next three years after this and Villanueve’s movies keep getting bigger and bigger, his most recent was Blade Runner 2037 and his next is Dune. I probably had this in my top two for the year for a couple of years and it only slid down because this was such a top heavy year.
6. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Yes, another spy movie, and this is up there with the most exciting movies of the decade. It’s the James Bond origin story that we’ve never had, and juggles real world figures with the fictional spies in a much less awkward way than old Bond movies ever managed to pull off. The action sequences of people under control of the super villain plot are incredibly exciting.
7. Land of Mine
Best foreign language film, best actor: Roland Møller
The story of child soldiers for the Nazis forced into clearing land mines after the war. They aren’t expected to live long enough to graduate and to freedom and the officer tasked with watching them does not afford himself to get attached to the doomed children. It’s an incredible film as they clear mines from a single beach while living a hellish existence as the defeated army of a war where their side was not in the position of morality.
8. Eye in the Sky
The most grounded in reality spy movie of the batch, no pun intended, this only uses gadgets available in the current war on terror and wrestles with the issues of long distance espionage. This is the story of a targeted drone strike and the discussion on rules of engagement, evidence, and civilians on the ground. Although it was sold to the audience as if it were a stage play it is reliant on the action on the ground of the local contact gathering intel from various technologies through a deadly game of cat and mouse.
9. Slow West
This is Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man in natural light. One of my favorite westerns in recent years, Slow West takes us on a odd couple trek through the wild west with Michael Fassbender as the badass bounty hunter. Both meditative and punctuated with action, it never embodies the dreads tedium the title threatens.
10. Straight Outta Compton
The story of the rap group NWA from the forming of their group to stardom and the falling apart of their friendship. This is a lot of fun and a good excuse to listen to a lot of that early music. The actors have good resemblances of the real people including Ice Cube’s real life son playing him, and LaKeith Stanfield popping in as Snoop Dogg. There are a few little omissions of instances that are unflattering to some of the original members of the group (especially the ones that produced the movie), and one of the guys from the first album cover disappears but it’s a very entertaining telling of the story of the group.
11. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Opening on a stunt of Tom Cruise hanging off the side of a plane in flight, this is probably the most entertaining of the Mission Impossible movies. The team has been fairly established in the previous movie with Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg now established as support and now the additions of Rebecca Fergusson and Alec Baldwin as foils turned teammates. For the time that this series has been around, 25 years now, Mission Impossible has actually had a better hit rate than the Bond movies and this is my favorite of the batch.
12. While We’re Young
The first of two Noah Baumbach movies, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts enter into a group of millennial artists who seem to look up to them and support each other in their hipster ways.
It’s a Spider-Man movie without Spider-Man (until they cast the lead to do the Miles Morales voice) set in LA. Bright, vibrant, fun and edgy.
14. Mistress America
Hey, it’s another Noah Baumbach movie! It’s another really funny combination of characters, this time it’s a college age girl and a woman just a little older who is brash and wild, embracing life going against the grain of society for as long as she gets away with it.
Iranian director Jafar Pahani had been banned from making movies in Iran when he made Taxi. It’s hard to tell that it is not a documentary as he drives around Tehran as himself in a taxi picking up a range of characters who both recognize him or make startling admissions about themselves. It’s filmed on a few mounted cameras in the cab that tell a story of Pahani and his travelers throughout the city as we pick up on stories as they come out in conversation.
An all star cast headline this understated newsroom drama. It’s a dark subject but is mostly focused on uncovering the truth rather than exploding the harm to the kids who were abused around Boston. It’s an Oscar-bait drama and yet it’s so very watchable, even the fluorescent lighting in the newsroom is filmed to look incredible.
Best actress: Brie Larson
Oh it is not fun to see a movie about kidnapping and abuse that is so extreme as this. However, Brie Larson’s performance and the very moving escape are overwhelmingly well done. This also doesn’t shy away from showing the lingering harm onto the two captives for years after they are free.
Best cinematography (tie): Sturla Brandth Grøvlen
This movie is crazy. I watched this and didn’t realize that it was shot in a single, continuous shot. It wasn’t made with cheat cuts hidden in the backs of characters or whipping camera moves. The characters don’t just move through one series of events and it isn’t set in one location, the camera moves with the characters through the night as they get wrapped up in a heist, get to know each other, all until the sun comes up and the police catch up to them.
19. Man vs. Snake
This is a bit of a follow up or spiritual sequel to King of Kong, the documentary from years prior about the race to break the record for the original King Kong game. This is of a different cabinet arcade game, Nibbler, which, although it is a less recognizable game, is a much more entertaining documentary and the characters in it are more interesting and likeable.
This was one of the very first feature films to be filmed entirely on a smartphone. When I first put this indie movie about trans sex workers in LA I was only curious about the quality of the movie, but couldn't turn it off. Tangerine is a compelling story of these two women in their own bubble of personal drama that is only shattered at the very end when the bigotry of the world breaks through in an attack that only brings them back together after their relationship seemed broken.
21. The Hateful 8
Quentin Tarantino nearly didn't release this movie due to the disappointment that the script had been stolen and released online. This western parlor drama is tense and brutal. This always feels like there should be more to it, yet it is still compelling as a Quentin Tarantino movie and a western.
22. End of the Tour
This multi-day conversation between a rising superstar author and the journalist interviewing him shows the budding friendship in a moment of time and the ways they challenged each other.
23. Knight of Cups
Terrence Malick kind of remakes the same meandering films of turmoil set to beautiful music and amazing imagery. Storytelling isn’t very straightforward with this film as is the same with many of his other movies, but there is something that seeps past the upper conscious level of the brain into a more meditative place. It’s not the best of his movies, it’s not the worst, but even in that middle zone of his filmography it was one of the better movies of the year.
24. Green Room
There was a kind of new genre of realism-based horror films that came out around this time and this was kind of the poster boy of the subgenre. After the tragic death of Anton Yelchin’s death, Green Room was one of his final lead roles. It’s a violent revenge/escape movie mixing a resilient heavy metal band and the neo-nazis trying to torture them.
While this is a story of the ways young women in remote areas of the world struggle to mature into adulthood despite repression. It also has a subplot of the the girls having their last great act of rebellion as they sneak off to a soccer game in the big city that is exhilarating, but sad that it’s the last time they are all together.
Animated: Anomalisa (27)
This depressing stop motion animation wonder uses the otherworldly nature of the medium to highlight the strangeness of the movie. The quality of animation is beautiful on its own, almost like watching puppets, all of the faces have a split look to the mouths that ends up being an aesthetic choice related to the crazy story. I believe this would be rated a bit higher by many viewers, Charlie Kaufman's stories are just a little too unsettling for me to crack the top 25.
Although I don't have it at the bottom of my list, the worst movie now has to be Victor Frankenstein. Not to be confused with any other Frankenstein movies from around the same time, there was a bit of a glut of mediocre movies of the same subject matter from about five years ago. This one is a stylized prequel to the Frankenstein story, while it's kind of fun to see the formative years over the doctor and his previous forays into building a monster, this doesn't keep the momentum of some bold stylistic choices early in the film, ultimately dragging along, a bit too satisfied with itself. The final nail in Victor Frankenstein's coffin comes from the cratered reputation of it's own creator, writer Max Landis, who has been outed as a pretty terrible predator and overall shitty guy.
This was a pretty solid year, action movies that took themselves seriously, spy movies all over the place, a couple of quite good Noah Baumbach movies, and a lot of especially great foreign films that also included Embrace of the Serpent, Phoenix, The Assassin, Son of Saul and Microbe and Gasoline. It was just a so-so year for Marvel movies, Ant-Man and Avengers Age of Ultron were nice but just fine as movies. Even though they they were hardly critical darlings, I enjoyed The Big Short and In the Heart of the Sea. Terminator Genisys is a much better movie than the backlash for the misspelled title. There was actually a third Baumbach movie that was rather good but just missed my top 25, the documentary De Palma, inspires viewers to delve into the great filmography of another director. This was an especially deep year where I could recommend any movie in my top 50, maybe even up to the top 70. One of the best years of r movies in recent memory, 2015 sports three out of my top ten of the decade.
Letterboxd Review of The Martian
Movie of the Month post of Mad Max Fury Road, Black and White Alternative Cuts