I found this year to be more difficult than most when putting together this list. I saw a lot of great films (and undoubtedly there are a lot that I missed), but few stood out as memorable in my mind. Despite my mixed feelings overall, I still had a wonderful time at the movies in 2015, meaning, the experience of attending packed screenings and sharing cultural moments in time were certainly plentiful. So here's to another year, and another list in the books. Please note that because of the varying nature of these films I found it a futile exercise to rank them. Therefore, I listed them IN ORDER OF RELEASE DATE.
10. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (dirs. Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz)
I nearly forgot about this little gem that came out early in 2015 in the states about an Israeli Jewish woman fighting for a divorce from her husband. The entire film takes place more or less in a Rabbinical court room but the action could not be more riveting, infuriating, and electric. Ronit Elkabetz who co-wrote and co-directed the film with her brother, plays the intensity of Viviane to a feverish pitch as the audience rides the roller coaster of emotions on display. Seriously, look at the pic above. If looks could kill...My review.
9. Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller)
What hasn't been said about this film? I saw it, you saw it, we all saw it. I've already watched it about five times at home this year.
8. Inside Out (dirs. Pete Doctor and Ronnie Del Carmen)
Pixar's take on pop psychology and the inner workings of a young girl's brain, Inside Out possesses all the trademarks we've come to expect but in a slightly more mature film that had a little bit more for every age group. Bing Bong may be the most heartbreaking character after Ellie in Up.
7. Dope (dir. Rick Famuyiwa)
While I think the ending to Dope dampens all the thoughtful work the film does up to that point, I still enjoy the hell out of this movie. The soundtrack is excellent, the young cast is refreshing, the subject matter timely. I especially enjoyed watching it in theaters with a very enthusiastic audience.
6. Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker)
This film got a lot of attention when it first came out, and rightly so. Gimmicky film tricks that are more marketing than art continue to run rampant, but the use of an iPhone to make Tangerine wasn't just the right choice, it was the only choice. The film has mood, energy, and surreal moments that could only happen when a worst night ever becomes a best night ever after you look at your smart phone the next morning...or maybe the exact opposite. My review.
5. The Boy and the Beast (dir. Mamoru Hosoda)
I was fortunate enough to see The Boy and the Beast at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival and it was a delightful surprise I didn't know too much about going into the theater. Not quite as cerebral as Studio Ghibli films, but still possessing the strong themes of Japanese animation, TBatB also has humor more accessible to Western palates that children (and adults) in my screening heartily enjoyed.
4. Mustang (dir. Deniz Gamze Erguven)
As a debut film, Mustang impressed me for all that it manages to get right. It has a plucky spirit and razor sharp focus when it comes to the expert layering of film language in service to the film's message. Everything, from the cinematography, to the hairstyling (there's a lot of lush flowing silky locks in this film), informs the audience about the world these girls inhabit and the grim yet hopeful trek they must traverse to make their future in a culture that is stubbornly resistant to change. My review.
3. Creed (dir. Ryan Coogler)
It's a year of new generations indeed. Creed was another surprise for me, I have to admit I wasn't too excited after seeing trailers but after Dan's glorious review, I had to see it. I wasn't disappointed. Michael B. Jordan continues to prove his acting chops, and Stallone has his best performance in years. Damn you Rocky, I'm getting teary. On a side note, I'm happy director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) is getting more feature film opportunities. I'm excited to see where he is headed next.
2. Spotlight (dir. Tom McCarthy)
Another critical and audience darling that deserves the recognition. The film, like its protagonists, is made simply without bells or whistles and I appreciated the minimalism. This is without a doubt peak ensemble casting, with Michael Keaton and Liev Schreiber stealing the show for me.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. JJ Abrams)
Obviously. It was my first ever opening night Star Wars film, so yeah, it's on my list! My review.
Honorable Mention: Phoenix (dir. Christian Petzold)
I enjoyed Phoenix for it's unique perspective on the immediate post-WWII environment in Europe. Think about walking past bombed out buildings on your way to the market, each bullet-strewn wall posted with notes, pictures and inquiries from family members looking for loved ones who used to live there. It's gut wrenching, visceral, and a part of the war we don't see a lot of in film-people trying to move on in a graveyard. Plus the ending depicts the best mic-drop moment I've ever seen on screen. It is the definition of vindication.