Finally, after extensive preparation (read: watching a bunch of movies) I am prepared to offer up my favorites from 2015! Making a list of my favorite films of the year proved difficult in ways making a list of my favorite music never does. I don’t experience as many new movies as I do albums, so that presents an issue up front. Add in that a glut of heralded films never reach theaters until the end of the year these days, and I think I have a decent enough excuse to wait until January to ensure a quality list.
As with my music lists, this list is a matter of personal preference. If I’m including a movie here, I enjoyed it or appreciated it; it resonated with me in some specific way. I’m not claiming these are the best movies of the year, as I didn’t see every film released in 2015 and am not qualified to make such a bombastic statement. That said, I love bombast, so I’m doing rankings anyway.
Today I’ll release my five honorable mention films, then I’ll post films six through 10 and one through five the following two days. Once my list has been unveiled, I’ll also include a post discussing a handful of notables that I didn’t include for whatever reason. The honorable mention films that follow this paragraph should not be taken strictly as numbers 11 through 15 on my year-end list. They’re all movies I enjoyed a great deal for different reasons, and I wanted to highlight them because of this. So grab some popcorn (as long as you’re cool with your insides getting ruined) and read this thing!
Carol is rightfully getting its share of awards buzz, as it represents a slow-moving experience that feels strangely enrapturing. This is the story of two women falling in love during an era when same-sex relationships were commonly viewed as a sign of mental illness or evil, and that’s if they were even talked about aloud at all. Cate Blanchett (Carol) and Rooney Mara (Therese) both excel in their roles, as the exhibit a palpable chemistry and invite us to fall into their world without the need for overly dramatic plot points. It would be easy to argue that not a lot happens across the two hours of Carol, but it doesn’t matter. This is a movie that works because it adjusts you to its own pace and captivates with characters and emotions rather than spectacle.
There might be flaws when it comes to Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut, but it’s awfully hard to give a shit when you’re tucked away in the film’s Hitchcockian narrative. Edgerton ratchets up the tension in this psychological thriller, leaving viewers to question the motivations and reliability of all three main characters to varying degrees. The shifts that occur throughout The Gift make it a joy to watch, and the principal actors are all up to the task of tackling roles that can be a bit tricky. The director himself has the most difficult role as a long-forgotten acquaintance of a man who just moved back to his home town (Jason Bateman) with his wife (Rebecca Hall) in search of a new start. As the relationship between Edgerton and Bateman’s characters begins to fray, it becomes increasingly difficult to guess where things are headed next.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Big, overblown action movies are the stuff of box office certainty these days, and this statement is doubly true of sequels in established franchises. This would be just fine if the creators of these franchises took the time to make their releases as much fun as Rogue Nation, the fifth installment in the shockingly reliable Mission Impossible series. Tom Cruise is far from my favorite actor, but there are some things he does exceedingly well. One of those is somehow portraying a cocksure agent with unbelievable skills, which is exactly what he does once again here as Ethan Hunt. The plot of Rogue Nation is twisty and stupid, the supporting performances are well-crafted and useful, and the visuals are striking without crossing the line into gratuitous bullshit. I’m typically not a huge fan of the genre Rogue Nation finds itself a resident of, but this is exactly how you make a film of this ilk work: make it fun and at least shoot for a bit of originality.
Sleeping With Other People
Much like the ‘roid-action genre of the film above, the romantic comedy field seems increasingly lackluster as studios demand that writers play it safe. Sleeping With Other People is not without its faults; the ending kind of undermines what the majority of the movie set out to accomplish, Jason Sudeikis absolutely wasn’t in college in 2002, and of course there are some familiar tropes that are touched upon from time to time. The good news is that leads Alison Brie (Lainey) and Sudeikis (Jake) exhibit a legitimate chemistry that makes the viewer want them to find a way to be together. The premise of the movie is that both have led lives of promiscuity since taking one another’s virginity a decade prior, and now the two characters must serve only as friends to help one another lead more stable lives going forward. It’s in these sometimes frustrating moments of pure friendship that the great scenes in this movie unfold. It’s actually easy to sit back and enjoy the bond Lainey and Jake have without worrying so much about the will-they-won’t-they shtick that holds back so many movies in the genre. Bonus points go to Adam Scott who completely sheds all of his natural charisma in a humorously stifled role.
Z For Zachariah
Post-apocalyptic films and TV shows have become quite common these days, but they’re seldom used for the purpose that the stark Z For Zachariah is. We learn early on that Ann (Margot Robbie) believes she is the only remaining inhabitant of the world after some sort of nuclear disaster wiped out everything but her valley. She’s getting along fine in part thanks to her faith, but her life changes at once when John (Chiwetel Ejiofor) stumbles in near her home in a protective suit. The two of them see the world in different ways but begin to make compromises and work together knowing that they are all the world has to offer. Just as Ann and John feel fully at home with one another, a man named Caleb (Chris Pine) appears and throws everything into question. Z For Zachariah takes its time getting to the point it eventually reaches, and the ending doesn’t provide a concrete conclusion to the story. Withholding a real ending is a smart move here, as it forces the viewer to reflect on its characters, their motivations, and what the film truly has to offer those who spent time with it.