Best of film 2015: My top 10, plus a few more

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With 2016 rapidly upon us, it’s time for a look back at the films of 2015. Movies continue to get bigger, but not necessarily better, with the emphasis on the blockbuster and the bottom line. There were a few big films that were very good this year. I usually gravitate towards the more quirky, inventive, well-told stories. And there were many bright spots in that category too. All in all, a good year for film.

At this writing, I still have a long list of films yet to see: Anomalisa, Room, Son of Saul, The Revenant, The Look of Silence to name only a few. I will be making periodic updates (see below). Well, maybe.

Since this could go on forever, it’s time to commit. Here’s what I’m going with as the flickers of brilliance that inspired, moved and challenged me in 2015.

1 > Clouds of Sils Maria: Olivier Assayas sets us off on a twisty, enigmatic journey of life imitating art. The film languorously meditates on questions about age, celebrity culture and love. One of my favorite actresses, Juliette Binoche, is superb as a middle-aged actress having to face the mirror, and make way for the next generation. What she sees too often is an unflattering reflection of her younger self. Binoche gets support with terrific performances from Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz.

2 > The End of the Tour: All talk and no action, but I was on the edge of my seat. That’s how I would describe James Ponsoldt’s pungent drama about David Foster Wallace – the tortured, enigmatic writer who committed suicide without seemingly enjoying one moment of his brilliance. The film focuses on Wallace as he was interviewed by Rolling Stone reporter, David Lipsky, in 1996. Jason Segal delivers an extraordinary performance as the faux, self-deprecating Wallace to Jesse Eisenberg’s rational Lipsky. It’s hard to tell where the truth ends and the fiction begins for both men as they desperately try to get inside each others’ heads.

3 > Ex Machina: Equal parts speculative science and horror, Alex Garland’s psychological thriller questions the morality and responsibilities of creating artificial intelligence. It is my favorite film of the year. On second viewing, more layers of the film showed themselves. Subtle twists and reveals are very well-integrated into the seductive narrative. It’s a stunning, beautifully crafted dystopian film realized through terrific performances by Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander. And Oscar throws in a dance.

4 > Hard to Be a God: I can say with conviction that I’ve never seen anything like Alexei German’s film. Nor could I take my eyes off the madness of it, or the abundance of bodily fluids and filth. Imagine absolute chaos amongst medieval squalor on a parallel Earth that’s 800 years in the past. The observer who is sent to introduce science and order to the planet can’t help because – in Star Trek terms – he can’t violate the prime directive. Brutal, bizarre, Bosch-like and ultimately fascinating.

5 > Meru: Centered on three world-class mountaineers, this death-defying climbing documentary is a white knuckler that shows not only the physical side of climbing, but a close look at the psychology of three driven men attempting to climb the unclimbable Meru peak. Anker, Chin and Ozturk are completely insane, but it’s a thrill ride for mountaineer-wannabes like me. It’s jaw-dropping, intimate and deeply personal, and traverses emotional peaks and valleys most of us would never face. Even more amazing is that climber Jimmy Chin found time to co-direct and shoot the doc.

6 > Slow West: First-time director John Maclean cowboys up with a haunting mix of genres in an old American west setting. Two wonderful performances by Michael Fassbender, a bounty hunter, and Ben Mendelsohn, a young Scot in search of his lost love who has a bounty on her head, are the centerpiece in this dreamlike coming-of-age tale. Patience pays off, the film shifts from simmering emotions to stark, expansive landscapes on a dime. It works, thanks to bleak humor and smart plot turns that I didn’t see coming.

7 > Spotlight: One of the things that I liked so much about this procedural film is its restraint. Could have gone straight for the tears, but didn’t. Could have gone for an hysterical, sensationalized account of the Boston archdiocese’s abuse cover up, but didn’t. What Tom McCarthy did do was put together a terrific ensemble of actors, and set them off with a script focused only on the story and its details. What he also did was create a terrific film about investigative journalism that’s up there with the seminal, All The President’s Men.

8 > Timbuktu: In this disquieting portrait of a small Malian village overtaken by jihadists, Abderrahmane Sissako focuses on the villagers attempting to get on with their lives as imposed religion, restrictions and violence interrupt the lives they once knew. At times gentle, but more-often heart-breaking, this gorgeous, poetic film illustrates a proud, yet traumatised people, stuck in the middle of a time and circumstance not of their making.

9 > More documentary standouts. Amy: Using extremely intimate footage, Amy is a moving, but a tough watch. I wanted to scream ‘help this woman.’ With a voice compared to Billie Holliday, Winehouse has a similar, tragic journey of an immense talent gone too soon. Iris: In Albert Maysles’ last film, he goes mano a mano with Iris Apfel, a NYC style icon. In showing how octogenarian Iris came to be an eccentric and colorful fashion diva, Maysles clearly sees a kindred free spirit in his subject and treats her lovingly. The Wolfpack: A bizarre tale of six brothers living on NY’s Lower East Side rarely allowed to leave their apartment who come of age via their passion for movies. When one of the brothers breaks the house rules, the family dynamics are finally changed.

10 > The rest: Blockbuster film Mad Max: Fury Road is quite astounding in all its dystopian scale and splendor. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalem was both humorous and exasperating. The Voices is beyond black comedy, featuring a terrific performance from Ryan Reynolds. Part political thriller, part allegory, White God illustrates the problem in biting the hand that feeds you. The Duke of Burgundy explores the twists and complexities of a relationship between a teacher and pupil that’s not quite what it seems. Beautiful work from Carey Mulligan and cast in Thomas Vinterberg’s vision of Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd. In the haunting Jauja, a mystical tale of a man’s search for his daughter, there’s another fine performance from Viggo Mortensen. Be patient, it’s a stunning work from Argentine filmmaker Lisandro Alonso.

ADDENDUM: Also see Bruno Dumont’s offbeat and very funny Li’l Quinquin featuring a standout performance from Bernard Pruvost as a detective protecting his town from a murderer; and Room – where a woman and her young son held captive in a tiny shed finally gain their freedom. Two terrific performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay make two characters in an horrific situation flesh and blood.

So I cheated a bit, it’s not a firm top 10. Too much of a good thing. If you’re a theater fan too, check out my 2015 best of theater list.

What films were standouts for you this year?

 Design + animation: © 2015 Janet Giampietro

4 Responses to “Best of film 2015: My top 10, plus a few more”

  1. Teddy McP. Says:

    Hello thecuriousg, Liked your list very much, although I don’t get The Duke of Burgundy and Iris as contenders. The Voice – no way!

    I might add Anomalisa and Son of Saul as top 10 films.

    It was a good year, agree there. TM

  2. Janet Says:

    Hi there Teddy. Thanks for the comment.

    Everyone has their favs and interests. The Voices was an interesting, dark take on a serious subject. I liked the cast and the director, and I thought it a worthy underdog.

    Anomalisa, definitely, I haven’t seen Son of Saul as yet. Appreciate the discussion.

    janet g

  3. ElianaTX2 Says:


    This is a good list. I want to see a lot of these films. The Big Short is not represented, wasn’t it worthy? I thought it was a brilliant film.


  4. Janet Says:

    Hi ELiana:

    Thank you for the comment. I’m still mulling over The Big Short. Great cast and acting.

    janet g

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