For the past three years, I’ve been ranking every film I see- just the new releases, from January 1st to December 31st. The rankings are subjective, based entirely on how much I enjoyed and/or connected with or appreciated the film rather than on some sort of objective artistic criteria. Basically, this is a list of 140 films released in 2015 ranked according to how much I liked them.
Read the Full 2015 List HERE.
The penultimate group, this all-excellent selection includes four low-key character indies of a rom-com-y sort, three of the best high-minded action films ever made, two brilliant and intense dramas and a documentary about ballet, because of course I loved the documentary about ballet.
11. Kingsman: The Secret Service
One of the single most pleasureable movie-going experiences of the entire year, Kingsman is fast-paced, clever, stylish and perfectly constructed. That church scene is an instant classic.
12. A Most Violent Year
When I was young and we used to go on family vacations to the beach, my mother would always warn us to beware of the tide. My brother and I were both strong kids, big for our age and excellent swimmers, so we rarely listened. Inevitably, a wave would come and we would be swept up into the undertow, pulled out further than we wanted to go no matter how hard we swam in the opposite direction. Set in one of the most violent years in the history of New York City (1981), A Most Violent Year is the tense and unrelenting story of essentially good man Abel Morales’ struggle against the tide. Writer/director JC Chandor subtly eschews standard cinematic climax/resolution structure in favour of a focused, steady march towards success and compromise, ending poignantly with the inevitable. A brutal climactic plot point underlines the tragedy by becoming an anti-climax through Abel’s judicious non-reaction. A slow, punishing, sublime piece of filmmaking with leading performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain that are some of the most thrillingly nuanced and restrained of the year. (Note that this film was released in that suspiciously murky year-bridging time period that qualified it for last year’s Oscars despite being a 2015 film for us. That makes this the second film of “2014” featuring the unspeakably brilliant David Oyelowo that was massively snubbed. Inexcusable).
Emily Blunt delivers a fantastic leading performance in this brutal exploration of corruption and compromise in the American war on drugs. Director Denis Villeneuve’s sense of place is engrossing and writer Taylor Sheridan keeps the stakes high and the future uncertain while Benicio Del Toro delivers one of the greatest performances of the year as a man of few words and uncertain ideals.
14. Adult Beginners
Another Duplass-produced indie, this brother-sister tale is sweet and lovely and emotionally grounded. I’m loving this period in Rose Byrne’s career and she’s particularly great here flanked by her real-life partner Bobby Cannavale (great as always) and Nick Kroll showing off a surprising and wonderful tender side as a lost grownup who finds his way home.
The pacing, tension, and stakes of this seventh franchise installment/next-gen reboot are darn near perfect. Michael B. Jordan is, as always, brilliant as Apollo Creed’s aspirational son and Sylvester Stallone pulls on the heartstrings wickedly as an ageing Rocky. Tessa Thompson is a lovely and interesting love interest and it’s good to see Phylicia Rashad on her feet. I don’t love the franchisification of Hollywood but, if you’re going to do it, Creed is how you do it.
16. Sleeping with Other People
This charming, fun, insightful rom-com features Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie showing off chemistry so blinding it’s impossible not to root for them. Yet, in spite of this, at about the hour and twenty minute mark, I found myself hoping with all my heart that she would climb in her U-Haul, drive away from him and the credits would roll. I hoped this not because I wanted to avoid the too-neat rom-com ending that I knew writer/director Leslye Headland must otherwise have in store (complete with “he appreciates her intelligence but yucky Adam Scott doesn’t!” motif), I wanted the ending that comes 15 minutes before the actual end of the movie because it tells a different story. This film, as is, is a better-than-average modern love story about broken people who are better together. 15 minutes shorter, it’s a bittersweet story about the ways we heal each other, the imperfection of adult relationships, the true nature of love and how happy endings are a myth. In the last 15 minutes, Headland undoes a lot of the heart-stirring, complicated things she does in the first 80 but those first 80 still make it a pretty great piece of storytelling.
17. 5 to 7
A classic movie romance, this small little Netflix-discovered gem has a wonderful cast (Anton Yelchin’s perfectly drawn parents are played by Glenn Close and Frank Langella) and a lovely throwback sincerity (exemplified perfectly by Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans’ score). It’s like The Way We Were meets an Affair to Remember with a tiny little dash of Woody Allen. The sympathetic development of Lambert Wilson’s character sets it apart from similar would-be romantic angst films and the incandescent Olivia Thirlby nearly steals the whole thing as the dream-making, joy-seeking fourth side to a sad and beautiful love square.
18. Man Up
A lovely, old-fashioned, sincere, short British rom-com starring Lake Bell and the always delightful Simon Pegg. There was zero innovation here but who cares when there are characters to care about and sweeping speeches to be made and go-get-the-girl sequences set to killer 80s tracks. Also, Serious Actor Rory Kinnear losing his mind as a wackadoo would-be former lover. Such a welcome dose of 90s-like charm in an overly self-conscious landscape.
19. Mad Max: Fury Road
Is there anything left to say about Mad Max: Fury Road? Other than maybe Star Wars, this was The film in 2015. It completely dominated the conversation for weeks. I felt like it didn’t explain its mythology well enough and drops the audience too suddenly into the action but holy moly what action that is. Great performances all around, incomparable visuals; frenetic, meaningful, entertaining filmmaking at its best.
20. Ballet 422
This documentary goes behind the scenes of one of the best and most interesting ballet companies in the world (the New York City Ballet) as young corps member Justin Peck (since promoted to soloist!) choreographs and debuts his first original ballet, the company’s four hundred and twenty second. It’s a well-made, well-paced film but mostly it’s ranked this high because there’s basically nothing I love more than behind-the-scenes ballet. I watch all four hours of the National Ballet of Canada’s live broadcast every World Ballet Day; one could definitely say I’m this documentary’s target market.