Put it off long enough, I figure. I got to all the films that mattered in 2015 in a timely manner, and spent entirely too long mulling over which might constitute the “ten best.”
Consider — “Straight Outta Compton,””Bridge of Spies,” “Labyrinth of Lies,” “Chi-raq,” “While We’re Young,” “Far from the Madding Crowd,” “Legend,” “Youth,” “Carol,” “The Danish Girl,” “Room,” “Love & Mercy, “Inside/Out,” “Trumbo,” “Sicario,” “Brooklyn”, “Beasts of No Nation,” “Black Mass,” even the lightweight “A Royal Night Out,””– you could build a perfectly honorable list of the year’s best with those. For me, 2015 was a gilded year — for three star (out of four) movies.
The movies I hold in the highest regard hit an emotional chord that frankly, the aforementioned movies — to a one — missed. The swooning over “Carol” and “Brooklyn” and “Compton” I quite understand. But what you remember, years later, are how films made you feel. None of those measured up in that regard.
Still, the awards season rush toward any of those films feels deserved and easily defended. But the Broadcast Film Critics going for…”Star Wars: The Force Awakens”? That smacks of a label that rhymes with my last name.
Here’s what I figure were the best films of 2015 — delivered in reverse order, in order to preserve some sort of suspense. A few films have been utterly ignored by the Oscar buzz juggernaut, many of them weren’t seen by a very large segment of the moviegoing public. Their qualities stick in my mind and make me confident we’ll recall them years from now, which is all that counts.
10) “The Best of Enemies” — A civil, absurdly literate and bruising series of debates over the future of America at the birth of the “Nixon Era,” this film about the Gore Vidal/William F. Buckley Jr. TV tangles of 1968 was, for many, the last frank, blunt debate about U.S. politics that the country ever staged. That it came at the birth of the GOP’s “Southern Strategy,” pitting a white, less educated, more rural “silent majority” against assorted minorities — including the gay novelist Vidal — was prescient. Fascinating cultural artifact, great biography of these two patrician poseurs facing off over political philosophies.
9) “Mad Max: Fury Road” — The day is already here when those grasping, bandwagoning lightweights who glommed onto “Furious 7” (I miss Paul Walker, too — the movie was tripe) or “Jurassic World” (most pointless reboot this side of “Force Awakens”) as dazzling cinema, or in either case, “the movie of the summer,” hope that you will forget that they endorsed those dogs. “Fury Road” was what a reboot should be — namely, different. Amped-up action, altered message, original casting. Best role Charlize Theron has had since “Monster,” and Tom Hardy is setting himself up as the new “best actor to never win an Oscar.” THE movie of the summer.
8) “The Big Short” — I could easily endorse the idea that every complex story in American life, from the Wall Street collapse to Sabremetrics in Baseball, should be entrusted to author Michael Lewis. I could almost get on board the notion that turning such complexity over to a Will Ferrell crony as director (Adam McKay) will always pay off. But this all-star romp through the people who saw The Big Bubble and set out to punish those who created it — by shorting their stock holdings — is a delight and a modern civics lesson. No, we never did break up “too big to fail” depression-starters like Goldman Sachs. But Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt and others suggest we might want to get around to that.
7) “Tangerine” — Every film that makes it to the finishing line — a theatrical release — is a minor miracle. And sometimes the story of how that miracle came about overwhelms the movie itself. Sean Baker’s “Tangerine” is the no-budget indie phenom shot on a shoestring and a cell-phone, and not in that order. A movie of close-ups and walking and talking sequences, wonderfully-framed considering the technology, I remember the outrage, the quest of transgender hooker Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) to find her straying, cheating man (pimp). A dazzling turn, a hilarious movie. Forget “Danish Girl” and attention whore Caitlyn Jenner, THIS was the gender-bending cultural event of 2015.
6) “Ex Machina” — The year’s best sci-fi film were serenely cerebral, sexual (and twisted) and beautifully acted by all involved. Alicia Vikander may get an Oscar nomination in the supporting category for “The Danish Girl,” she was better, as a curious and manipulative and sexy robot, in this. Ignore the hammy, clumsy work by Oscar Isaac and Domnhall Gleeson in “The Force Awakens,” rare wrong-footed turns by two terrific actors. They’re great, here.
5) “Amy” — Amy Winehouse transforms from a morbid joke to a titanic talent destroyed by her weaknesses and her circumstances and the predators around her in this unblinking Asif Kapadia documentary. Talented people should take a gander at this one (the “Janis: Little Girl Blue” one is almost as revealing) and rethink who they keep in their lives — leaching parents, life-sucking/abuse-enabling boyfriends. Damning, and brilliant.
4) “99 Homes” — This is the movie about the collapse of the American housing market that you must see. “Big Short” is a big laugh, “99 Homes” captures the tragedy — good, hard-working people, played by Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern and Tim Guinee — trapped, losing their jobs, homes and families because of a Wall Street-created bubble. And presiding over it all, Michael Shannon at his most predatory, the opportunist cheating and bullying all sides as he exploits this disaster for his own gain. Deeply disturbing, Ramin Bahrani’s film will leave you enraged.
3) “The Revenant” — I figure this is Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar picture. Seriously, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu transformed the ever-boyish Leo into a hoarse, scarred and flinty mountain man. And we believe every thing about him. Tom Hardy is alarmingly evil and utterly real as the heavy. Digital effects and location shooting are married in a tale of survival and revenge that will take your breath away.
2) “Spotlight” — The only knock, the ONLY one, any of us can come up with for this utterly engrossing and quietly heroic tale of newspapering’s twilight triumph over the institutions only newspapers have the guts to go after, is who might be nominated from this cast? Everybody is terrific, giving the sorts of performances we expect from them — Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Bit players as the child-molesting priests and those who protected them, stand out. Damn near perfect film, an edge-of-the-seat journalism thriller that scores over the Dan Rathergate debacle “Truth” by showing what real journalists make themselves do when they’re sitting on a great story — they wait to publish until they have the facts down cold.
1) “Suffragette”— Nobody saw this, few are talking it up as an awards picture. Call me a Carey Mulligan fanatic, and dismiss this as just more proof of that. This is a great movie, a piece of British feminist history that every American should know. It’s about the fight to get the vote, and the militancy it took for women to achieve that. A great supporting turn by Helena Bonham Carter, moving performances by Anne-Marie Duff and Ben Whishaw, an iconic cameo by Meryl Streep — all combine with Mulligan’s heart-tugging turn as the lead to make Sarah Gavron’s film (Abi Morgan did the script) the best, most memorable experience I had at the movies in 2015.