The Best Films of 2015
Twelve is an intimidating number. I don’t need to go into the history of the number—thanks, Jesus—but it carries a hefty amount of meaning. So, the anxiety set in hard when I’d realised 2015 was going to be a year defined by twelve of the best. In contrast, last year’s list was made up of 34 films. Was 2015 a weaker year? Definitely not, it was a more focused year with a select number of films doing a lot of the heavy lifting, and as a result, everything else had to work a little harder. An honourable mention goes to The Gift, a film that’s perfect in premise and execution but misses that transcendent quality the twelve have—there were a lot of these this year.
There have been a few changes to reviews at The Popcorn Junkie, mainly in the removal of star-ratings from reviews, so rather than ranking the best films of 2015 numerically, I’ve put them in a loose descending order.
Now for the criteria spiel. Selection is based on new releases I saw in 2015, at a film festival, or new to VOD during the year. I am based in Australia so there will be a few films from the U.S 2014 release schedule that made it onto the list because they were delayed a release here (and a few for 2015 that don’t feature because they are under embargo for a release in Australia in 2016, it’s complicated, I know). Documentaries will feature in a separate list.
Thank you for your support if you’ve dropped by The Popcorn Junkie this year, and now, here are the best films of 2015.
The love affair with the ‘boxing for life’ metaphor found a worthy successor in Creed—the seventh film in the Rocky franchise—but it morphed into a multi-pronged beast of personal battles and legacy quests on multiple fronts. Filmmaker Ryan Coogler set a new template for handling a sequel in a long running franchise that’s awash in nostalgia, but Creed properly acknowledged the legacy and repurposes the material while still pushing the story forward. Sure, there were a few high-profile number sevens released in 2015 but Creed is the one that hit hardest.
The Final Girls
The Cabin in the Woods of 2015. Just when you thought ‘they don’t make movies where people get sucked into movies like they used to’, The Final Girls comes along to smuggle a neat mother/daughter story into one Hell of a 80s slasher deconstruction as a group of twenty-somethings find themselves trapped in the B-horror movie using only their knowledge of the genre to survive.
The Duke of Burgundy
Filmmaker Peter Strickland made the sexiest film of 2015 in the most unexpected way by immersing us in an S&M relationship where the clothes stay on most of the time—sometimes they even attend erotically charged lectures about bugs! Strickland’s film was loaded with immaculate detail to emphasise the nature of the relationship as well as how the dynamic caused emotional erosion. A film that aches with the sacrifices and allowances made in the name of love.
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
From the world of Fargo an urban legend was born of a Japanese woman who arrived in Minnesota in 2001 to find the money stashed by Steve Buscemi’s character. While the truth of the woman’s intentions in Minnesota have come to light (Google: Takako Konishi) it hasn’t stopped the Fargo related anecdote from spreading and inspiring the nihilistic but wonderful Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter. It’s a film that challenges our relationship with the concept of ‘reality’ in cinema and whether the stark truth is worth sacrificing for bliss. Add an intense score by The Octopus Project and striking cinematography by Sean Porter—Kumiko is divine.
The End of the Tour
Arriving at The End of the Tour felt like being the final person in a game of ‘pass the message’. Director, James Ponsoldt, and screenwriter, Donald Margulies, retold a story captured by journalist David Lipsky (played by Jesse Eisenberg) in his book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, which was taken from recorded conversations between Lipsky and Wallace (played by Jason Segel) during the final leg of the Infinte Jest book tour. Ponsoldt ditched the grandiose approach often used to reflect the lives of public figures from birth to death, to instead, wrestle with what made Wallace and Lipsky bond and bicker over five-days. It wasn’t about focusing on the facts of what did or didn’t happen. The End of the Tour reflected on the words of Wallace and Lipsky, and the elements of life being examined under the impression that, In Wallace’s case, something incredible is happening (or not). Being locked into each conversation is The End of the Tour’s beautiful endorsement for living in the moment, making a connection with someone, reaching out from the void of loneliness in a world pushing us closer into emotional solitude.
The imperfect reality of world aspiring for perfection synchronised beautifully in Carol. Director Todd Haynes and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy (adapting the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith) created a demanding hetero-American culture where Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett) were held to a standard of straight perfection. Mara’s optimistic charm combined with Blanchett’s seductive lethargy is where their characters burst to life as a romance flourished, stumbled and reached a crossroad.
Filmmaker Ana DuVernay slowly peeled back the layers of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement to reveal it was about more than one man. DuVernay made the story intimate and humanised the legendary Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo was all class as King Jr.) by not only showing his moments of greatness but his failings as well. Selma unpacked the methods required to instigate change in a democracy and carried a strong warning about the dangers of bureaucracy. Selma is an astonishing story, told with grace, and I bow down to Queen DuVernay.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
It was the thought the vampire movie was dead until filmmaker Jim Jarmusch proved they still mattered with Only Lovers Left Alive in 2013. Writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour (as if challenged by Jarmusch) delivered A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night as a lyrical, black-and-white feminist take on vampires that was just so damn cool. Capes and coffins were replaced with chadors and skateboards, as well as the dealings of crooks in the Iranian ghost town of Bad City. The scene featuring the White Lie’s Death is unforgettable and did more in one scene than most films could achieve in their entire runtime.
Warning: You will need to download this song immediately.
There are two extremes when over-analysing a film. The formulaic approach crash tests the foundation of a screenplay ensuring it adheres to the three-act structure and ensuring the film’s logic is watertight; it’s studying cinema like an accountant. The other extreme takes the approach of a conspiracy theory enthusiast where a nod or a wink from the protagonist tugs on threads leading to a director’s intent on how the moon landing was faked (an actual theory held about Stanley Kubrick and The Shining showcased in the excellent documentary Room 237). Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson has often been slayed by the formulaic analysis of his films, and thrived in the open-ended discussion about the deeper meaning of his work. Inherent Vice (adapted from the Thomas Pynchon novel) worked hard to infuriate the bean counter critics, toy with people who read too much into Anderson’s filmography, and yet it still begs for a deeper reading of the material while proving it’s okay for a mystery to remain cryptic once it’s over. What a trip.
You have to admire writer and director David Robert Mitchell for not only coming up with the genius concept for It Follows but also executing his vision to absolute perfection. An eerie, slow-burn chase through the suburbs that inverted the sexual subtext from decades of horror films where young people are sliced and diced for their promiscuity.
Heterosexual courtship was satirised with an incredible amount of pathos and romance in filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster. Lanthimos’ alternate world was beautifully odd and its sense of humour was drier and darker than a sack of burnt toast. The art of dating as a form of performance to conform to society made The Lobster an Orwellian take on the way we woo one another.
Mad Max Fury Road
Mad Max Fury Road is the reason why movies were invented—I truly believe that. It’s hard to define the purity of Mad Max Fury Road and the vision of co-writer and director George Miller (Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris are co-writers). Calling Miller a ‘director’ is too formal for a film of this magnitude; he’s more like an expert fever dream interpreter. Mad Max Fury Road is a chaotic vision of a pursuit across a desolate hellscape and Miller’s language is pure cinema.
The Popcorn Junkie