The following is a list of my 10 favorite films of 2015. These aren't necessarily "the best" films that came out last year and I can't claim to have seen everything that was released (I believe my final count was around 77). These are, however, the films that spoke to me the most.
Predestination is the story of a "Temporal Agent" (Ethan Hawke) trying to hunt down the one criminal that has eluded him throughout his time-traveling career.
The film was released straight to VOD in the US and after one look at the trailer you might assume why. It would be hard to argue that the trailer doesn't paint it as simply another low-budget, time-cop story you'd eventually catch by accident on a late night when you couldn't sleep. The thing is, this film is so much more.
Based on the Robert A. Heinlein short story —All You Zombies—, Predestination does things and goes places that no other time travel stories does. More importantly, the film steers headlong into the idea of a time travel paradox instead of attempting to avoid or skate around it like most films.
If you're into time travel as a concept, you NEED to see Predestination!
09: The End of the Tour
The End of the Tour is the story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel).
Before watching the film, my entire familiarity with David Foster Wallace consisted of a few articles of his passed to me by a friend (which I'd never read) and the constant references to Infinite Jest on the FX show Man Seeking Woman. Basically I knew DFW was a unique voice praised by a lot of people and when I walked out of the theater I could tell why.
The End of the Tour is a five-day conversation between two people who technically share the same goal. Wallace is put off by the worlds praise and admiration for him and wants to be known as a regular guy. Lipsky is jealous of Wallace's success and wants to prove to himself that Wallace isn't a one of a kind genius.
This symmetry, combine with the deep, albeit brief, look inside the mind of David Foster Wallace made this an incredibly engrossing film. I can't speak to the universal appeal of the film, but it was definitely one of my favorite of the year.
Victoria is one of the more interesting films I saw this year. It follows, in real time and in a single unbroken take, a young woman as she leaves a club in the early hours of the morning.
Now go watch it. There aren't many films that I get cagey over basic plot details, but Victoria is one of them. It's worth a watch. Even if it doesn't resinate with you, the achievement itself if worth that watch.
Spotlight is the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.
There are an endless number of ways this film could have gone wrong. The subject matter is appalling and The Church is an incredibly easy target. If this film would have simply focused on an overly dramatic takedown of the story's "bad guy", it would have failed miserably. If the film tried to shock us by focusing on the children, it would have just felt heavy handed. Instead, it chooses to focus more on the team the investigate the story and the process they went through to bring it to light.
Spotlight is a surprisingly subtle film given the topic it's tackling. It doesn't necessarily feel like it's striving for greatness, but I walked out of the film extremely impressed by what it accomplished.
06: It Follows
It Follows is the story of a young woman is followed by an unknown supernatural force after getting involved in a sexual encounter.
This film is basically the horror film trope of "if you have sex, you die" reduced down to its essential elements and then combined into an incredibly compelling narrative. The film doesn't need to rely on the jump scares, exposition on the origin of the force, or some strange convoluted scenario for why this is happening to people. It quickly establishes the rules of its universe and then lets events play out in a wholly authentic and logical manner.
It's a simple story, but it executes it better than most of your typical horror flicks.
05: The Martian
In The Martian, Astronaut Mark Watney is left behind by his crew during a manned mission to Mars. Using only his charismatic wisecracking, mad science skillz, and the remains of the mission's equipment, he must find a way to survive long enough to signal to Earth that he is alive.
While this film is not perfect (I'm looking at you, pretty-much-every-character-back-on-earth) it IS an amazingly fun ride. If I'm honest, the trailers definitely sold me more "Is one man's life worth it" drama and more NASA bureaucracy, but basically botched those story lines. Even still, the film was filled with so much positivity, optimism, and love for science that it's hard for me to complain too much.
It's hard for me to imagine anyone not enjoying this film. It's probably one of the most watchable releases of 2015.
04: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.
Two words for you: STAR. WARS.
Ok, so that's a little bit of a cop-out, so I'll try to give you a little something more. Star Wars: The Force Awakes reminded me why I love Star Wars and made me feel bad for not having been as excited as everyone else seemed to have been leading up to the release. It was a better film than it had any right to be. It was good enough, that it made me worried for the future films.
03: Inside Out
In Inside Out, young Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions - Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness - conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school.
When I first heard that PIXAR was making a film about personified emotions, I wasn't all that excited. My tone definitely changed with each trailer though and I was pleasantly optimistic as I sat down to watch the film. I was genuinely unprepared for how much I'd love it.
Confession time: When I sat down to watch this film, I was basically Riley. I'd just uprooted myself, moved to the Bay Area, and would spend my first nights sleeping on the floor of an empty apartment because none of my stuff had made the trip yet. So you could say I was primed for the emotional journey the film was about to take me on.
Ignoring that bias, PIXAR still achieved something magical with Inside Out. Their philosophical take on what emotions are, how they're tied to memory, and how they form together to build the foundations of who each of us is as a person made for a brilliant story that made me think as much as it made me feel.
02: Mad Max: Fury Road
In Mad Max: Fury Road, a woman rebels against a tyrannical ruler in postapocalyptic Australia in search for her home-land with the help of a group of female prisoners, a psychotic worshipper, and a drifter named Max.
When the trailers hit for this film I couldn't imagine a universe in which the final product could live up to it. I've been burned way too many times and I didn't want to get too excited for it. Apparently, I had NOTHING to worry about.
Fury Road is less of a movie and more a 2 hour chase scene that take a short break in the middle just long enough to give you a chance to catch your breath and ring out the excrement from your pants. That is not even Hyperbole. You could remove what few lines of dialog there are in the film and it wouldn't impact what little narrative there is at all.
If you're a long time listener to The Spoiler Warning, then you know that I should HATE this film for its lack of story. Then again, you'd also know that I'm always won over by decent world building. Fury Road is a master class in world building. Even having never seen the other films in the series (I know, shame on me), this world feels entirely lived in. The characters feel authentic to this world and single words or phrases communicate all the backstory I need to know to understand the characters motivations. The choreography of warriors assaulting vehicles feels like it's learned formations and techniques picked up from years of surviving int he wasteland as opposed to the thing that would look the coolest on camera.
On the off-chance that you haven't seen it yet, it's a must see.
01: Ex Machina
In Ex Machina, a young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking humanoid A.I.
While I'm a huge fan of science fiction stories, I'm drawn in the most by the ones where the science fiction aspects of the story are the setting of the narrative and not the main thrust of the narrative. In other words, while I can enjoy your 'Terminator's (futures where AI is trying to kill all the humans), I'm much more drawn in to your 'Her's where you're watching incredibly genuine and moving relationship story that just happens to be set in a future where the girl is an AI and only exists in a mobile device.
Ex Machina definitely fits into the 'Her' category. The film is less concerned with the tech of how Ava (the humanoid A.I.) was made and more with the philosophy of how the creator can determine if he succeeded in what he was doing. The brilliance of the film is not it's depiction of the future or questions about the ethics of our tech-driven future, but in the scenes with Caleb (our human) "testing" Ava through a pane of glass.
If that doesn't sound interesting enough, the film is also packed with fantastic performances and a few nice mystery/thriller elements as well.