With those pesky honorable mentions out of the way, it’s time to get to the meat of the list. Today I’ll tackle films six through 10 on my 2015 list, with the top five coming tomorrow. These are all movies I greatly enjoyed, and ranking them was quite a chore. After much deliberation, this is where I wound up, although some of the positions could easily vary in retrospect once time has done that thing it likes to do where it warps my viewpoint into a different focus. If you haven’t seen any of these, I strongly recommend you go out and do so. They’re all way better than Captain Superhero 9: More Superhero-y.
10. The Final Girls
The Final Girls plays a neat trick in that it successfully sends up the ’80s slasher genre while also living within its walls. Think of Cabin in the Woods and you’ll get the general idea, although this film also manages to somehow wring emotion out of the viewer at the same time. At the beginning of the movie we learn that Max (Taissa Farmiga) lost her mom Nancy (Malin Akerman) in a car accident a few years back and that she has never learned to cope without the rock of her life. Turns out Nancy was once an ’80s scream queen, and a tribute to her work in a ridiculous movie called Camp Bloodbath is getting a special anniversary screening after gaining a cult following. Things go bizarrely awry, and as a result Max and her friends wind up trapped in the setting of the movie looking for a way out. The result is a funny and loving look at a ridiculous genre so many of us love, but along the way we also get a heartfelt look at grief, the power of memory, and the difficulty of overcoming loss.
After the conclusion of World War II, holocaust survivor Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) is left broken emotionally and physically. She must rebuild her life in a new home without any of her family, and her injuries leave her needing full facial reconstruction. While her plastic surgeon tries to get her looking as close to her former self as he can, there are still differences. The only thing Nelly knows for sure is that she wants to find her husband Johnny despite warnings from a close friend that he may have given her up to the Nazis during the war. Once Nelly does find Johnny, he doesn’t recognize her and only sees similarities. This gives Nelly every opportunity to get to the truth, and it makes for a fascinating and often tense portrayal of two people who already know one another getting to know one another for the first time. A gripping German drama with a noticeable noir feel, Phoenix refrains from using any cheap tricks to reach its powerful conclusion.
Of all the films I watched in 2015, Room may be the one that gave me the most emotional fits. I went into this one knowing very little, and I think that’s the best approach. All you need to know is that Brie Larson (only mentioned here as “Ma”) and her young son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) are trapped in one room, and that it’s clear Larson’s character has been feeding Jack a warped version of reality for his own good. This is a really moving portrayal of a mother and son trying to get by, striving for more, and then learning how to pick up the pieces when life is too much to handle. Larson nails this role with subtle precision, and she would be my pick to nab an Oscar next month. As for Tremblay, he’s just as good despite being eight years old at the time of the filming, and seeing the world through his eyes is overwhelming. Room relies on everything else but plot to immerse the viewer, but unfortunately Tommy Wiseau is not even in one scene. I show them! I record everything!
07. It Follows
The second and truer horror film on my 2015 list, It Follows is fucking bracing for the vast majority of its running length. The plot construct here is a simple one, as the idea is that an evil force follows one person and one person only until it is passed on to another through sex. It’s an interesting metaphor, but it wisely isn’t one used to demonize youthful sexual encounters as other movies in the genre have attempted. Maika Monroe plays Jay, a girl out of high school and willing to lose her virginity to a seemingly nice fella who just moved to town. Once she does, she is left with a specific set of rules to deal with her newly-acquired passenger before her new beau disappears into the ether. Jay and her friend group work together to find a way to get rid of the specter, thus leading to countless scenes of white knuckle dread. Part horror and part coming-of-age story, It Follows doesn’t settle for the same kind of lazy characterization we’re so used to seeing in scary stuff. The look and feel of the film also go a long way to making it a unique and engrossing entry into a typically uninspired genre.
06. The Revenant
The Revenant is a bloody mess, a no-holds-barred tale of survival and iron will that offers virtually nothing in the way of lasting hope. Left for dead by his fur trader crew after barely surviving a brutal bear attack, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) knows that he must hunt down the man responsible for trying to ensure his death (Tom Hardy’s John Fitzgerald) and find a way to live long enough to even make that scenario possible. The Revenant is visually arresting, juxtaposing the physical beauty of the world around Glass with the brooding bloodiness of his immediate reality. Director Alejandro G. Innaritu pulls out all the stops, shooting only in natural light and making the aforementioned bear attack seem as if our beloved DiCaprio seriously just got ruined right in front of us. As for ol’ Leo, he’s predictably excellent, although this time he does it largely without the benefit of cast members to play off. This isn’t the kind of movie you’ll want to just turn on whenever; it’s a difficult and torturous affair. Nonetheless, it hits its mark with astounding precision.