The Oscars have all been handed out, so I guess it’s time for me to put 2015 to bed and finally reveal my picks for the year’s ten best movies. Though allow me a disclaimer: while I call them the best, it may be more accurate to call them my “favourite” movies of 2015. I’ve had some instances in the past where people got a little…I dunno…objectively enraged by my choices. That was, of course, a lie – their beef with me was purely subjective, which is ironic, since this list is clearly subjective itself. So yes, you’re going to see some popcorn flicks on this list; you’re going to see some movies ranked lower than you might think they should be; and you’re going to see some complete omissions that boggle your mind. But here’s the bottom line: it’s MY list, and I don’t really care what you think. A lot of people hate-love the movies, the same people who have immovably concluded that art can’t also be entertaining, and visa-versa. Me, I just love the movies. I love art, and I love entertainment – and if a movie was great at one or the other, or both, it had a chance to make this list. So deal with it!
Alas, here they are, in order.
1) It Follows
The most inventive horror movie in years is also the most stylish and bizarrely charismatic. It Follows discovered that to avoid horror clichés, nowadays the only way to do it is by using homage, in this case, 70s horror schlock. Like the best horror films, It Follows stays with you long after you exit the theatre. You might even say it follows you.
2) Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
The best Mission: Impossible yet. How many series can say that about their fifth entry? The perfect cast is finally assembled, with Rebecca Ferguson rounding out the ranks as the best female character of them all. Visually thrilling while maintaining a perfectly balanced tone between drama and humour, Rogue Nation never slogs, it just churns up one exciting set piece after another.
All right, so it won the Oscar, which usually only manages to make a movie instantly less cool. I’ll let Spotlight be the exception. It’s beautifully acted, crisply written, and always compelling. People were right to say that it’s the best film about journalism since All the President’s Men. And it’s only been 40 years.
Emily Blunt is bad-ass (again, after last year’s Edge of Tomorrow), and director Denis Villeneuve is fast becoming one of Hollywood’s most exciting storytellers. Villeneuve, who also directed Prisoners, my favourite movie from 2014, is especially gifted at establishing uneasy questions about morality in the face of “greater good” circumstances, this time through the Mexican drug trade. The sublime cinematography and skin-prickling score only amplify the film’s pervading sense of dread.
5) The Revenant
Watching The Revenant is a marathon, a struggle, and that’s its most specific accomplishment – empathy. Sure, you’ll never truly be able to feel exactly what Hugh Glass went through all those years ago – or Leonardo DiCaprio during filming, for that matter – but The Revenant brings you as close as it possibly can. That’s impressive. You know what else is impressive? – the cinematography. Dare I say that this is the very first movie to properly showcase the beauty of the Canadian wilderness. Yes, I dare.
6) Inside Out
A movie about thoughts is the most thoughtful; a movie about imagination is the most imaginative. Go figure. While those manipulative movies from my youth like Bambi and The Land Before Time tried to force us to grow up by traumatizing us (no resentment there, clearly), Inside Out explores change and adolescence in the best way possible – with humour and heart.
Usually I’m not one to fall in love with the “cool” movie of the year. While they are perfectly fine movies, indies like Under the Skin in 2014, or Moon in 2009, seem to hyperbolically enthrall moviegoers because they are too conceptually inaccessible to be green-lit by studios, which of course makes them cool. Ex-Machina is much the same, but with barely a trace of self-importance. Starring three actors who all had banner years—Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac—Ex-Machina is a claustrophobic, tense psychological thriller that, for once, has more interest in bending your emotions than your mind.
8) Jurassic World
We waited since 2001 to see dinosaurs walk across a movie screen again, and even back then it was only the underwhelming The Lost World and the truly terrible Jurassic Park III. Anchored by its two charistmatic leads—Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard— Jurassic World, while not as triumphant an accomplishment as the original Jurassic Park (how could it be?), is a return to the eye-popping, genuine fun of my CGI heavy youth. Sure, there are a few elements to it that are a bit cartoony, but remember this is a movie about a dinosaur theme park.
Comet was technically released in 2014, but only about 30 people got the chance to see then, so it’s safe to say it belongs to 2015. This philosophical, almost metaphysical indie flick is pretentious, gimmicky, and over the top – and it all works! The two leads, played snappily by Justin Long and Emmy Rossum, are likeably unlikeable, which makes for one of the more honest romantic comedies in a while. Long live cynicism!
10) Mad Max: Fury Road
Fury Road is the rare film that I seem to have to be watching to enjoy. Confused? Well, I’ve seen it twice now, and both times I had a blast taking in the beautifully staged action scenes, the eccentric characterizations, and the surprisingly layered performances. But for some reason, after the end credits role, I have a hard time maintaining the fondness for it that everyone else keeps. Good thing I am deft at remembering the then, not just the now.