Haven’t Seen: The Lobster, Knight of Cups, Legend, Crimson Peak, Grandma, I’ll See You In My Dreams, Trumbo, Heaven Knows What, James White, Taxi, Arabian Nights, Spy, Breathe, Experimenter, The Forbidden Room, Heart of a Dog, Mustang, The Walk, The Assassin, Chi-raq, Victoria, Li’l Quinquin, Blackhat, Hard to Be a God, Magic Mike XXL, Mr. Holmes, Amy, Bone Tomahawk, Dope, Girlhood, Shaun the Sheep Movie, Youth
HONORABLE MENTIONS: What We Do In the Shadows (this would likely be #21), 45 Years, Creed, Son of Saul, Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies, Beasts of No Nation, The Look of Silence, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Timbuktu, Queen of Earth, While We’re Young, Clouds of Sils Maria, Suffragette, Furious 7, Trainwreck, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Black Mass, 99 Homes, Spectre, The Good Dinosaur, Straight Outta Compton, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Truth, Macbeth, The Martian, Love and Mercy, Joy, Mistress America, The Duke of Burgundy, Slow West
20. The Big Short: A slickly made lecture-comedy hybrid with a distinct style and a dishearteningly eye-opening message.
19. Tangerine: Shot with several iPhones, this extremely energetic film finds laughs and heart in the story of two transgender sex workers. Want to talk about progressive? This film exemplifies it, unlike the dull and ignorant The Danish Girl.
18. Sicario: Although the characters and story could use some more fine tuning, the production is absolutely impeccable. Fantastic acting and cinematography all around, and a phenomenal movie in terms of building tension.
17. ’71: The film not only treats the topic with respect and nuance, but also delivers on the action/thriller front. Anchored by a tremendous performance from Jack O’Connell, ’71 grips you until the final scene.
16. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: The concept makes this sound like your next exploitative teen drama, but the film is able to genuinely move you (especially in the hospital sequence near the end). Funny, but also devastating.
15. It Follows: Aided by one of the best scores of the year, the film ratchets up the tension at the beginning and never lets go. This is horror done right, and it’s thoughtful, intense, and brilliant.
14. The Gift: The biggest surprise of the year for me. The trailer does no justice to this extremely well done thriller, which subverts expectations and deftly explores the darker sides of human nature.
13. Steve Jobs: Sorkin and Boyle transform this into something more than a typical biopic, and the three-act structure does wonders for the story. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have Michael Fassbender killing it as Jobs.
12. The Revenant: As an attempt at a profound emotional story, the film is lacking. However, I tend to focus on the simple revenge/action aspect of it, which is extremely well done all around. Leo and Hardy are great, and Lubezki’s work is primarily why this is worth watching.
11. Phoenix: What a brilliant exploration of guilt, identity, and trauma through the eyes of two wonderful characters (played to perfection by Zehrfeld and Hoss). Also, the final scene is a stunning work of art; it’s one of those scenes I can confidently label a masterpiece.
10. Carol: This is a film about pure affection, and the film explores the Carol-Therese relationship with elegance, nuance, and beauty. It’s a simple story done well, and Mara and Blanchett are excellent.
9. Spotlight: I will constantly refer to this film as being important without being IMPORTANT. It features an amazing ensemble, and McCarthy/Singer/co. do a great job of handling a difficult topic. It’s just people doing their jobs in this film, but it’s extremely compelling.
8. Predestination: This is one of the first films I saw in 2015, and it stuck with me all year. It’s a slightly confusing time travel story, but it’s also a rich and rewarding human story anchored by a revelatory performance by Sarah Snook.
7. Anomalisa: Using stop-motion animation, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson craft an extremely realistic portrayal of a man struggling to find something meaningful in the world around him. It’s funny, strange, and melancholic, just as any Kaufman film is.
6. The End of the Tour: This far exceeded my expectations. It’s driven by dialogue throughout, and that dialogue is full of wit, emotion, and intelligence. Eisenberg and Segel are both phenomenal here, and they have one of the best on screen dynamics this year.
5. Inside Out: Pixar’s done it again. Their newest feature is filled to the brim with jokes throughout, but in the end, it’s both devastating and uplifting. This is what’s wonderful about Pixar: its ability to appeal to all ages and to traverse the wide range of human emotion.
4. Room: “Devastating and uplifting” is also how I’d describe Room. It has a unique storytelling structure, and it pulls it off extremely well due to the magnetic performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road: What an awesome movie. Need I say more?
2. The Hateful Eight: Sure, Tarantino might be at his most self-indulgent here, but it sure is a blast to watch. Shot in beautiful 70 mm–which takes on a different type of use during the indoor scenes–The Hateful Eight sends us on a brutal, bloody, and wildly entertaining ride. The film takes a while to get going, but when it does, it is glorious. Also, how ’bout that cast?
1. Ex Machina: I saw this a long time ago, and I kept waiting for something to knock it off its top perch. Well, nothing has. It’s science fiction done to perfection, tackling tough questions through philosophical dialogue and tension-filled sequences. It’s a showcase for Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, and Domhnall Gleeson. It’s fun and frightening.
It’s my favorite film of 2015.
Photo credits: Anonymous Content, The End of the Tour, A24, Ex Machina, Phoenix, Northern Lights Films, It Follows, Tangerine, Duplass Brothers Productions, Mad Max: Fury Road, Kennedy Miller Mitchell, Village Roadshow, Room, Spotlight, Participant Media, Open Road Films, The Hateful Eight, The Weinstein Company, Pixar, Inside Out, Carol, Steve Jobs, Number 9 Films, Legendary Entertainment