When you’ve seen 160 films in the span of 365 days, you’d think it’d be easy to pick your favorites. You’ve seen enough that the cream should theoretically rise to the top, leaving all the mediocre movies to fade into memory.
I suppose when I get down to it, that’s true. I can tell you what my favorite movie of the year was without contest: Brooklyn takes the top spot for me (how’s that for not burying the lede?). Behind that, there are several front-runners for something close to a top ten, which I’ve expanded on below.
It’s after that where things get murky. I liked a lot of movies this year – a lot. But did I love them? Was this a banner year for theatrical releases? The box office would say yes, what with record-breaking franchise blockbusters and all. But when you really dig in, it’s like an iceberg of movies – a handful of really great ones above the water line, then a whole slew of meh underneath.
So this year I’ve updated how I’m sharing everything. It’s just one post, with a handful of honorable mentions that I’d certainly recommend you see, but won’t even attempt to rank one above the other. They’re all just too similarly OK.
Honorable Mentions: Cartel Land, Inside Out, Ex-Machina, Love & Mercy, Black Mass, Cinderella, Unexpected, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2; Winter on Fire; Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian – Everything about The Martian is cinematic fun, from the grand scale of the interplanetary voyage to the snark written in to Damon’s solitary musings to the smart-always-wins storyline. I left the theater and immediately messaged my 14 year old brother that he must see this one. And when he did, he was as floored as me. That might not sound like high praise, but if you’ve ever met a 14 year old guy, you know it most definitely is. Watch the trailer
Amy – My favorite documentary of the year, this one also deserves a spot on my top ten. Entirely masterful in its editing and emotional pull, Asif Kapadia’s doc is above and beyond any biopic narrative about Winehouse’s life and career that may be produced in the years to come, as I’m sure someone is considering. Watch the trailer
Carol – I try to go into most films without expectations, in order to give it it’s best shot at impressing me. That was essentially unavoidable with Carol, a movie everyone’s been gushing over since Telluride. It took some doing, but the 1950s lesbian love story won me over in the end, mainly because of the ending, actually. In general I found the film slow and distant (perhaps Blanchett played Carol a bit too aloof?), but it is brilliantly produced and performed, and it all comes together in such a way that it earns its spot on this list. Watch the trailer
Mustang – I included this one and Son of Saul in my top foreign films list, and both are deservingly on this list, too. Watch the trailer
Room – I haven’t had the chance to write this one up as I should have; it’s certainly worthy of its own post. A very different take on the kidnapped young woman story, Room poignantly opens up a whole world inside a 7×7 shed. While Brie Larson is coming to the world’s attention with her starring role, I imagine even she’d tell you it’s young Jacob Tremblay who steals the show (and in one heart-stopping scene in particular). Watch the trailer
Son of Saul – A cinematic achievement that should be seen by ever film scholar and every human. Watch the trailer
The Big Short – I love this film for its complete lack of fucks to give. Adam McKay is pissed and he doesn’t care who knows it. He doesn’t care what the “rules” of narrative filmmaking say, he’s going to make a film that is as jazzed up about this issue as he is. Throw in a few of today’s best working actors in roles they completely embrace and you’ve got yourself an entertaining romp about a very, very scary period in our collective financial history. Watch the trailer
The Revenant – Last year, I said that Birdman – my #2 movie of 2014 – was “that rare marriage of an amazing script, astounding performances and masterful filmmaking.” Innaritu returns just a year later with another accomplishment, this time a frontier drama based on a true story about a man mauled by a bear who lived to seek revenge. Where Birdman takes place essentially entirely inside the confines of a Broadway theater, The Revenant is filmed entirely outside, confined only by how far the camera lens can see the horizon. From the opening scene that’s like a wild west version of Saving Private Ryan’s opening sequence to fight scenes so tense I wasn’t breathing, Innaritu’s again delivered a stunning work of film. All signs point to Leonardo DiCaprio finally earning the Oscar he is long overdue, and I couldn’t agree more (co-stars Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson elevate both the on-screen credibility and eye candy). Watch the trailer
Spotlight – It feels sometimes like movies of this ilk are going the way of the newspaper at the heart of its narrative, becoming more and more rare. An ensemble piece of the highest order where no detail is left to chance, it may not be as glamorous as The Revenant or as heartfelt as Brooklyn, but it is exceptional nonetheless. Watch the trailer
Brooklyn – I saw Brooklyn months ago, and I still find myself thinking about what a great film it is, for all the reasons I recounted here, and more the longer it lives with me. Saoirse Ronan is on her way to great things on screen, and we’re all the luckier for it. Watch the trailer