Home
 
Choose Your City
Change City

The Top 10 best films of 2015 (and 20 more that are great too)

This year we loved the fourth "Mad Max," a nerve-jangling indie, a lesbian romance and a male stripper movie above all.

This was a great year for movies, so let's just get into it.

RELATED: Review: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" proves sequels are better than prequels

1. ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Was this the year the death knell sounded for the origin story? In addition to the usual dumb remakes and pointless prequels, this year we got three films that continued stories from old, beloved products rather than re-began anew. Both “Creed” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” saw aging characters passing the baton to the new class. But the best was the fourth “Mad Max,” which jettisoned the verboten Mel Gibson for Tom Hardy but did bring back genius series director George Miller. With the series’ original post-apocalyptic entries, Miller basically invented the language of the super-kinetic action film, and no doubt he was pissed that the genre had been taken over by the chaotic, stuff-comin’-at-ya style of Michael Bay et al. So Miller, who is 70, showed you how you make a real action movie, and he did it without a pace-dragging, unnecessary backstory. Even better, he did it while crafting an angry feminist salvo about old dudes trying to take back their country from independent women. Hardy’s mumbling Max wasn’t even the real star; it was Charlize Theron’s aptly named Furiosa, she of the one arm and thousand-yard stare. It’s a big, beautiful behemoth that never stops moving and a masterpiece of pure action cinema, shiny and chrome. (Our review)

RelatedArticles

2. ‘The Mend’

American indies, especially those about the plight of emotional white men, were once dominated by meandering ad-libbing and scruffy skill passed off as truth. Director John Magary will have none of that. His debut feature hangs with odd couple brothers — semi-homeless scalawag Mat (Josh Lucas) and yuppie ticking time bomb Alan (Stephen Plunkett) — who wind up sharing an increasingly dilapidated Harlem apartment in the wake of some bad news. That barely prepares you for all that happens in “The Mend,” which is the year’s most thrillingly unpredictable movie, the story constantly moving in new directions, the camera constantly prowling about, the dialogue always precise and often hilariously cutting. (“Your voice! Someone should bottle it up and throw it at terrorists,” goes one of many jot-down-able disses.) It’s as tightly wound as its two characters, who deal with stress in very different, equally volatile ways, and the whole thing seems like a primal scream that will never stop — in a great way. (Our review)

3. ‘World of Tomorrow’

One of the year’s best films runs only 17 minutes, but it contains the world’s mysteries. The latest from Don Hertzfeldt, animation’s great stick figure depresso, imagines a future in which not only is there cloning but time travel, too. One nth-generation carbon copy visits her original self as a child to talk some sense into her, to get her to cherish the limited time she has on earth. As in Hertzfeldt’s Oscar-nominated “Rejected” and “It’s Such a Beautiful Day,” the look is pitiless and bemused, contemplating the meaningless of existence with despair and wonder — though even a materialist as down as Hertzfeldt can’t end on a note of total bleak-o-rama. (Our article)

4. ‘Magic Mike XXL’

And now for something completely lighter: The sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s male stripper saga — directed by his frequent associate Gregory Jacobs, with Soderbergh lensing and editing — was the summer’s second best summer film, after “Mad Max: Fury Road.” And it was the film everyone thought the more serious first was: a hilarious, fleshy comedy — a road trip lark complete with show-stopping pitstops at Backstreet Boys-backed convenience store hoof-offs and a visit with some wino society dames. "XXL" probably wouldn’t be on this list if the fun weren’t bittersweet: This may be the last time, or close to it, that these bros can profit off their bods. So they might as well go out with one last score. (Our review)

5. ‘Saint Laurent’

We’ve already had a snoozy, traditional YSL biopic (“Yves Saint Laurent”), plus a snoozy doc (“L’Amour Fou”). The latest from Bertrand Bonello (of the great “House of Pleasure”) knows it doesn’t have to tell the whole story, or even a coherent one. So it gets lost in Saint Laurent’s most aimless — and most decadent and trashy — period: the late ’60s through the ’70s, when the fashion god (played by Gaspard Uliel) was adrift in a sea of drugs, clubs and orgies. Watching this Viscontian battering ram the first time, it’s often tough to find one’s bearings; repeat viewings make being lost part of the fun. (Our review)

6. ‘Eden’

Here’s some more heartbreak: Sold as a body-moving look at electronic music in the early Daft Punk days, Mia Hansen-Love’s epic is the rare music film about those who never made it. Loosely based on her own brother, it follows a DJ who gains a bit of success but only enough to keep him in a business that never profits the middle-man and which only favors the young. Before he knows it, he’s middle-aged and with nothing to show for it. These kinds of films are more useful than stories of triumph. It’s what happens to most of us who shoot for the stars and hit the ceiling. (Our review)

7. ‘Experimenter'

Michael Almereyda’s renegade biopic presents just the facts about Stanley Milgram (a rarely better or more remote Peter Sarsgaard), the social psychologist (in)famous for his experiments, starting in the 1960s, involving obedience. There’s a lot packed into its lean storyline, which offers the version of his life Milgram himself would presumably preferred you see: the one with only extraneous business about his home life, the one that defines him largely by his work, the one that ruminates on his anxieties and struggles after being defined in the public and academic eyes by a single major work. We may think we have him and the film figured out. Then its perfectly judged final moment throws out a loophole, suggesting we knew next to nothing about a very complicated man. (Our review)

8. ‘Heaven Knows What’

This year excellent actor Paul Bettany tried to smash into directing with “Shelter,” a distressingly by-the-numbers (and often questionable) look at NYC’s homeless, played by the usual name, pretty actors (Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Mackie, both, admittedly, respectable). And it might have gotten away with it too had there not been two, vastly superior, ambitious films on the same subject. Oren Moverman’s “Time Out of Mind,” with Richard Gere, took an abstract stab at the topic. Even better was Ben and Joshua Safdie’s “Heaven Knows What,” which got so close to the city’s homeless addicts that most of the cast was for real. Real-life recovering addict Arielle Holmes stars in the story of her life, and the Safdies — pushing their roaming cameras in so close to have been one of them — miraculously avoid any of the cliches or dodgy concerns about movies portraying the down and out. (Our review)

9. ‘Carol’

Detached yet passionate, Todd Haynes’ latest dip in the ’50s is unlike the others, ditching the pastiche Douglas Sirkisms of “Far from Heaven” for a style that bridges the then and now. In depicting the growing love between a shopgirl (Rooney Mara) and a housewife (Cate Blanchett), it depicts love from a practical perspective, with characters forced to navigate a landmine-strewn road to happiness. When things finally turn romantic, particularly in the stunner of a final glance, it all feels earned through grit and perseverance and patience. (Our review)

10. ‘The Look of Silence’

As important as it is formally and structurally thrilling, Joshua Oppenheimer’s second film about the Indonesian genocide of the ’60s — whose perpetrators, rather than punished, became homeland celebrities in a country ruled by the villains — is less of an attention-grab than “The Act of Killing.” It’s the flipside, in many ways, focusing on the survivors, chiefly the brother of one of the possibly more than 500,000 victims. He bravely but also compassionately confronts the murderers, facing them down until they react in ways that are human and deeply haunting. Oppenheimer’s project is an important rejoinder to how we treat "evil," arguing through example that the only way to stop such inhumanities is through understanding and patience. (Our review)

The rest: This was a pretty great year, and we could go on forever listing excellent films well worth your time. For brevity’s sake, we’ll “only” list another 20 that, for various reasons, made me happy or some similar emotion:

11. “Chi-Raq” (our review)
12. “Phoenix” (our review)
13. “Tangerine” (our review)
14. "In Jackson Heights" (our review)
15. “The Forbidden Room” (our review)
16. “Love" (our review)
17. “45 Years"
18. “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” (our review)
19. “Clouds of Sils Maria” (our review)
20. “Results” (our review)

21. “The Duke of Burgundy” (our review)
22. “Timbuktu” (our review)
23. “Mustang” (our review)
24. “Buzzard” (our review)
25. “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence" (our review)
26. “Creed” (our review)
27. “Blackhat” (our review)
28. “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter” (our review)
29. “It Follows” (our review)
30. “Inside Out” (our review)

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
Consider AlsoFurther Articles