End of Year 2015 – Best Films of 2015 (#20-#16)

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20. Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

It seems that no year-end list would be complete without Mad Max: Fury Road, which has gained so much steam that it managed to defy all odds and pick up a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture, a huge feat for an action film.  George Miller’s incredibly impressive and high-octane direction is easily the strongest aspect of the film, making even the film’s slowest moments somehow riveting.  Though the speed-ramping of action set-pieces and the sparingly used, but admittedly weak CGI were at times detriments to the film, the end result is still a highly enjoyable if slightly minor blockbuster.  What it lacks in the departments of character development and stakes, it makes up for in spades with incredible world-building, beautiful photography of its hot and bleak Australian outback setting, and one of the best soundtracks I heard all year.  It took me two watches to appreciate this fully, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s one of the best action films ever made, and one everybody should probably see at least once.  While I don’t think it’s nearly as important a film as some are claiming it to be, I do think it has raised the stakes for all action blockbusters to come.  God willing, at least.


000052-5992-brooklyn_still2_saoirseronan_emorycohen__bykerrybrown_2014-12-19_04-10-16am19. Brooklyn
Directed by: John Crowley
Written by: Nick Hornby, Colm Toibin
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent

I’ve seen John Crowley’s Brooklyn written off as being nothing but a performance-driven film, a criticism I can certainly see, but one that simply just isn’t true.  Brooklyn is the beautiful story of a normal young woman torn between living the life she has always dreamed of, or staying in the country where everybody and everything she has ever loved presides.  Saoirse Ronan gives the performance I’ve always known she could, and absolutely steals the show in her portrayal of Eilis.  Ronan’s performance is down to earth, independent, delightful, and at times naive and too small for the massive city around her.  She brings a full living, breathing character to life in less than two hours.  Brooklyn is the story of a romance that never feels unbelievable or melodramatic, but is instead lighthearted, incredibly uplifting and comedic at times, and almost painfully charming.  Emory Cohen’s performance as Eilis’ eventual love interest Tony is perhaps a little louder and less subtle than Ronan’s, but nonetheless impressive in his plain likeability.  This is a very small, personal story that touched me much more than I ever expected it to, and one I hope that more people get to see as its theatrical rollout expands.  While it may not immediately change your life, Brooklyn is a subtle, heartwarming, and charming love story anchored by an incredible performance by a beautiful young star.  All future hamfisted Nicholas Sparks film adaptations should take notes from Brooklyn’s success.


Screen-Shot-2015-05-18-at-07.31.1118. Steve Jobs
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Aaron Sorkin, Walter Isaacson
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston

While never reaching the soaring heights set by 2010’s The Social Network (admittedly one of my favorite films), Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs manages to subvert the major tropes and downfalls seen in most biopics.  Aaron Sorkin’s writing and Boyle’s frantically-paced direction help makes Steve Jobs an always tense and fast-moving look at the personality of a technology and marketing giant.  Sorkin’s script is immediately recognizable, bringing with it the razor-sharp wit and speedy, sarcastic dialogue that would make even Ernst Lubitsch smile.  Michael Fassbender’s performance as Jobs is incredibly believable, while never becoming a parody of the man or a mere impression (I’m looking at you, Ashton).  Fassbender, using Sorkin’s tight screenplay, does an incredible job of making the audience both love and hate the Apple mogul.  It’s amazing to me that Fassbender’s performance isn’t being talked about more, but I suppose that just goes to show how incredibly impressive a year 2015 has turned out to be.  I wish I could rank Danny Boyle’s spotlight of late Jobs higher on my list, but I found that the film dragged a great deal in its second act, especially after the soaring highs of the first act, and the far more compelling last act of the film.  The story structure is another huge credit to the genius of Aaron Sorkin, taking place at three separate press conferences headed by Jobs himself, facing personal troubles, technological bumps, and tension with all those around him.  Steve Jobs is an incredibly tense and fun drama driven by another amazing script, a tremendous and fitting (but never distracting) soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton, and a cast full of mostly likeable characters.  I wish I could say the same about all biopics being made today.


MISTRESS AMERICA17. Mistress America
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Written by: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Heather Lind, Cindy Cheung

After the release of 2005’s The Squid and the Whale, writer-director Noah Baumbach cemented himself as one of the foremost American independent filmmakers.  With hits like 2010’s Greenberg and 2012’s Frances Ha under his belt, he’s a bonafide great filmmaker.  2015 saw the release of two films, first While We’re Young, a very good film about aging and the complications it creates starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, and Adam Driver, and Mistress America, something of a continuation of Frances Ha.  Mistress America is an incredibly fun (albeit brief) road trip film with a cast full of quirky and really funny characters.  Baumbach and girlfriend Greta Gerwig co-wrote the film, each of whom bring their own unique sensibilities to it.  Baumbach, in the most relatable sense possible, brings with him a sense of being afraid to grow up, and Gerwig brings her effortless charisma, charm, and natural comedic timing.  Mistress America might not have as much to say about young people as something like Frances Ha did, but I can say with absolute certainty that I had an amazing time watching things unfold.  The film works as a modern screwball comedy, yet still manages to make its two stars Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke instantly likeable in all the hijinks taking place onscreen.  I hope Baumbach keeps exploring the themes of youth and loneliness, because he does it better than anybody else.


landscape-1439933880-elle-august-2015-intel-tiger-lily-0116. Grandma
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Written by: Paul Weitz
Starring: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Sam Elliott

A film that took me completely by surprise, Grandma boasts one of my favorite performances of the year in Lily Tomlin’s titular grandma.  A surprise hit from the director of American Pie, Grandma was easily one of the most charming, funny, and honest movies I had the pleasure of seeing all year long.  Tomlin’s performance as Elle Reid is wise, hilarious, and highly emotional in its best moments, serving as a triumphant return to form for the Oscar-nominated actress.  Backing her up is the young Julia Garner, who gives a very impressive down-to-earth performance as Sage, Elle’s young granddaughter in need of money for an abortion, which is the main focus of the film.  Both Marcia Gay Harden and Judy Greer appear in memorable minor roles, delivering very good supporting performances as both women are known to do.  The legendary Sam Elliott also appears in a brief scene, delivering one of the film’s most powerful moments; one that further complicates the audience’s opinion of Elle as a character.  On top of having some truly terrific performances across the board, Grandma never panders to the older audience it’s aimed at, and instead takes the high road and decides to challenge the audience.  This isn’t a film like The Bucket List or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that only exist to serve as fluff for their mature audiences, but instead a truly powerful movie that has a great deal to say about aging, abortion, gender rights, and homosexuality.  Grandma is one of the most socially important films of the year, and I hope it gets the recognition it truly deserves.  


Note: As with almost every single year, the majority of great films released in 2015 came towards the end of the year and are still circulating the festival circuit, in limited release, or in limbo until they show up on home media.  Some of the films that are currently available I just have not had the time to get to, so this list will serve as something of a temporary one.  When I feel like I’ve seen all of the films worth seeing from 2015, I will try my very best to issue an addendum of sorts, or re-publish the list to my liking.  The major movies I’ve yet to see from 2015 include:

  • 45 Years
  • Amy
  • The Assassin
  • Black Mass
  • The Brand New Testament
  • Carol
  • Cartel Land
  • The Danish Girl
  • The Good Dinosaur
  • Goodnight Mommy
  • Hard to Be a God
  • Irrational Man
  • Joy
  • The Keeping Room
  • The Lobster
  • The Look of Silence
  • Magic Mike XXL
  • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
  • Mustang
  • Pawn Sacrifice
  • Phoenix
  • Shaun the Sheep the Movie
  • Son of Saul
  • Spy
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Straight Outta Compton
  • Trumbo
  • Victoria
  • When Marnie Was There
  • Youth
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