As the Academy Award nominations are going to be announced tomorrow, I thought it was finally time to unveil my top 10 movies of the last year. I saw over a hundred movies on the big screen in 2015, and I found it to be a good, not great, year for film.
There are a number of notable films I haven’t seen yet, but, of course, you can never see ‘em all. So let’s get right to my favorite motion picture picks of ’15, in descending order:
10. ROOM (Dir. Lenny Abrahamson)
Like I said in my review last fall, if Brie Larson doesn’t get a Oscar nomination for her harrowing role as a woman who’s been held captive in a backyard shed for five years taking care of her five-year old son (the result of a rape by her abductor), I’ll be very offended. The kid (Jason Tremblay) was pretty “on” too.
7. THE HATEFUL EIGHT
(Dir. Quentin Tarantino)
The “Eighth Film by Quentin Tarantino,” as it’s identified in its opening credits (who else does that?), is his most divisive work for sure, but its bloody Western mix of THE THING with RESERVOIR DOGS, with a splash of Agatha Christie, really entertained the bejesus out of me. Here’s why.
A stop-motion emotional masterpiece from the guy who brought you BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION, and SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK. And it’s the second film on my top 10 that has Jennifer Jason Leigh in it! My review of this delightful yet unnerving piece of high art will be posted when it opens in my area later this month.
Todd Haynes’ film follow-up to one of my favorites of 2007 (I’M NOT THERE) is a sophisticated, complicated, and immaculately artful look at a lesbian love affair in the oppressive era of 1950s New York City. The performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are as pitch perfect as their setting. Read my review.
4. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
(Dir. George Miller)
As I wrote in my review last May, George Miller’s fourth entry in the MAD MAX series is a “brutally brilliant blast”; “an orgy of fire-breathing cars, pole-swingers, chainsaws, steampunk thugs, and gas fire explosions all given a heavy metal soundtrack by a masked musician with a flame-throwing electric guitar atop a vehicle piled with amplifiers.” And it’s even more awesome than that sounds.
As modern action movies go, as much as I loved MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, this superbly dark cartel counterinsurgency thriller got to me more. The terrifically intense turns by Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro have a lot to do with that. My review.
2. THE REVENANT
(Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Leonardo DiCaprio deserves (and will probably get) the Oscar for what he went through in the punishing wild here, but I predictTom Hardy will at least get a nomination too for his supporting part. The film itself, as well as Iñárritu, may also get nods, but coming after last year’s win for BIRDMAN, I wouldn’t bet on it. My review.
Tom McCarthy’s fifth film, his follow-up to last year’s infamous Adam Sandler flop THE COBBLER (WTF?), which focuses on the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team into the scandal of child molestation and systematic cover-up within the Catholic Church, is a clean, precise procedural about a extremely messy, and unsettling subject.
The perfect storm of an excellent cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and Liev Schreiber; a sharp, involving screenplay, along with its top notch editing, score, and Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography all collide together to make this my #1 movie of 2015. I’ll be shocked if the Academy doesn’t reward multiple categories for this one. My review.
Spillover: In no particular order, here’s a bunch of other 2015 favorites:
LOVE & MERCY (Dir. Bill Pohlad)
THE BIG SHORT (Dir. Adam McKay)
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (F. Gary Gray)
AMY (Dir. Asif Kapadia)
THE END OF THE TOUR (Dir. James Ponsoldt)
Legacyquel Tie: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (Dir. J.J. Abrams) / CREED (Dir. Ryan Coogler)
STEVE JOBS (Dir. Danny Boyle)
THE WALK (Dir. Robert Zemeckis)
EX MACHINA (Dir. Alex Garland)
THE SALT OF THE EARTH
(Dirs. Juliano Ribeiro Salgado & Wim Wenders)
WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (Dir. Noah Baumbach)
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (Dir. Christopher McQuarrie) – Hey, it’s a lot better than SPECTRE!
So, those are my picks for 2015. Let’s see what Oscar has to say about it tomorrow morning.
Now playing at multiplexes from here to the borderline:
SICARIO (Dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2015)
Emily Blunt proves her action star turn in last year’s terrific Tom Cruise vehicle EDGE OF TOMORROW was no fluke in this superbly dark cartel counterinsurgency thriller in which she plays a tough as nails F.B.I. agent named Kate Macer.
After a gripping opening that has she and her partner Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluyya) storming a Mexican drug lord’s safe house in Arizona, Kate gets recruited by Department of Defense advisers Matt Graver (a typically brash Josh Brolin) and Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro) for a high-risk CIA-led drug operation across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Kate increasingly senses that the system behind the mission is incredibly corrupt, partly because she can’t figure out who the task force actually works for (particularly De Toro’s ultra shady Alejandro), and if their tactics are doing more harm than good, especially in the chaos of a traffic jam shootout on the outside of Juarez, Mexico.
The team is following a bloody trail that leads to drug kingpin Fausto Alarcon (Julio Cedillo), who it is revealed brutally murdered Alejandro’s wife and daughter. Kate learns this following a raid of the cartel’s secret cocaine-smuggling tunnel that runs beneath the border – one of several stunning, standout set pieces on hand.
SICARIO, which is Spanish for “hitman,” is Villeneuve’s most fully realized work. The director’s previous films, including INCENDIES, PRISONERS, and ENEMY were intriguing and fairly solid, but this intensely driven treatise has really seared itself into my psyche in a much more profound way.
Working from a well crafted screenplay by Taylor Sheridan (Sons of Anarchy), Villeneuve keeps us up close with the characters, but knows when to give us distance via striking long shots impeccably filmed by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. Incidentally, Villeneuve and Deakins have been both tapped to do the long awaited sequel to BLADE RUNNER. Their riveting work here makes me think they could seriously do that project justice.
Justice is what Blunt’s Kate desperately wants here in the murky, immoral terrain that makes up SICARIO, and the actress puts forth a lot of power in both the pulse pounding action moments, and in the edgy confrontations with those she doesn’t trust. People who don’t know the British actress (her American accent here is spot on) by now are really missing out – the woman has mad range.
However, as good as Blunt is, Del Toro steals every scene he’s in, and he does it by barely speaking. His cold yet fascinating presence has us questioning his motives as much as Blunt does, and when he does speak – every word has disturbing weight.