Hey, hey, hey! We can now measure all the time left in 2015 by hours. That means the year is mercifully almost over! As a result, it’s time for end-of-the-year wrap up articles. Yes, a chance for us all to look back and rate the things we saw, heard, read, and did. Why? Meh, who knows? But I’m doing it.
In fact, I’m going to give all you fine folks a big ol’ collection of film praise. Far too many movies flickered before my eyeballs over the course of 2015, but these were the things that truly tickled and delighted me before the year was done. Hopefully they delighted you too. If you missed anything on the list, feel free to check it out over the next few hibernation friendly winter months. I wish I could see a few of these things for the first time again. I have no clue how I’ll waste away those winter hours. Pray for me…
‘Mad Max: Fury Road’
What’s left to be said that hasn’t already been said? George Miller delivered one of the most unrelentingly intense action movies ever made. Then he went ahead and weaved in some surprisingly complex social commentary and poetry for good measure. In a perfect world, all blockbusters would strive to be like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world. Thankfully, at least this friggin’ masterpiece exists.
Runners Up: ‘Anomalisa’, ‘The Hateful Eight’, ‘Spotlight’, ‘Sicario’
Ben Mendelsohn, ‘Mississippi Grind’
Oddly, there weren’t many truly standout male lead performances in 2015. Leonardo DiCaprio will likely win an Oscar for doing the “most acting under the most difficult conditions,” and fair enough. No one will be robbed. However, I hope some attention is paid to Ben Mendelsohn’s remarkable work in ‘Mississippi Grind’. He plays a difficult character, a completely washed-up loser and degenerate gambler who practically dares the audience not to like him. Yet Mendelsohn portrays the inner pain and torture of a man caught in an endless self-destructive cycle so well that you can’t help but empathize with his anguish. It’s remarkable stuff. Hopefully voters noticed.
Runners Up: Matt Damon (‘The Martian’), Tom Hardy (‘Legend’), Michael Fassbender (‘Steve Jobs’), Geza Rohrig (‘Son of Saul’)
Sarah Silverman, ‘I Smile Back’
Sarah Silverman has always been a remarkable comedian, one of the finest and most original of her generation. However, as an actress she hasn’t been treated well. Unless she’s written roles for herself, Silverman has gotten stuck in tedious “bitchy girlfriend” roles that always felt below her talents. Thankfully, ‘I Smile Back’ finally gave her a chance to strut her stuff. The movie isn’t perfect and her horribly addicted and destructive housewife is tough to spend time with. Still, Silverman delivers a performance of depth, skill and grace far beyond what anyone could have expected. It’s the finest lead performance of any actress this year by a mile and hopefully will earn Silverman more interesting acting jobs in the future. She deserves it – so long as she doesn’t give up stand-up… because… you know… she’s kind of a genius in that field.
Runners Up: Greta Gerwig (‘Mistress America’), Brie Larson (‘Room’), Charlize Theron (‘Mad Max: Fury Road’), Lily Tomlin (‘Grandma’)
Best Supporting Actor
Sylvester Stallone, ‘Creed’
Creed was the most pleasant surprise of the year – a ‘Rocky’ spinoff that no one asked for and yet ended up being possibly the finest entry in the franchise since the original. However, the biggest shock of all might have been the fact that Sylvester Stallone gives an honest to goodness performance as a burned-out Rocky Balboa, and a great one at that. For the first time, Stallone let another writer handle dialogue duties on a ‘Rocky’ movie and he digs deeper as an actor and delivers the most honest and raw work since the original ‘Rocky’. I hope he wins an Oscar. Not just because he deserves it, but because the narrative of a 69-year-old Stallone winning a gold statue for the role that launched his career almost 40 years ago is as exciting and inspiring as anything in the ‘Rocky’ franchise.
Runners Up: Mark Rylance (‘Bridge of Spies’), Michael Shannon (’99 Homes’), Walton Goggins (‘The Hateful Eight’), Michael Pena (‘Ant-Man’)
Best Supporting Actress
Alicia Vikander, ‘Ex Machina’
2015 was a big breakout year for Alicia Vikander. She had a number of showcase roles, but none was as strong as the first one audiences were treated to back in the spring. Vikander’s turn as a manipulative A.I. is remarkable. There have been decades of robot acting both good and bad, but nothing quite like the elegant mystery that Vikander whips up here. It feels like a bit of a milestone performance that will be copied in many science fiction movies to come.
Seeing her deliver quite different (though also rather wonderful) work in movies like ‘Testament of Youth’, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ and ‘The Danish Girl’ later in the year only proves how gifted she is and how remarkably unique her performance in ‘Ex Machina’ truly is. If you somehow haven’t seen ‘Ex Machina’ before now, do it. Not only is it worth watching for Vikander alone, it’s one of the best sci-fi thought experiments to emerge on the big screen in many a moon.
Runners Up: Jennifer Jason Leigh (‘The Hateful Eight’), Andie MacDowell (‘Magic Mike XXL’), Jessica Chastain (‘Crimson Peak’), Virginia Madsen (‘Joy’)
George Miller, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’
I was going to spread around the love a little bit and give Best Director to someone else since I already dubbed ‘Fury Road’ as Best Film, but what can you do? This was a remarkable vision by a brilliant director who never gets the respect he deserves. So I’m doubling up. Goddammit, George Miller, you killed it.
Runners Up: Steven Spielberg (‘Bridge of Spies’), Quentin Tarantino (‘The Hateful Eight’), Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson (‘Anomalisa’), Guillermo del Toro (‘Crimson Peak’)
Charlie Kaufman, ‘Anomalisa’
Once again, Charlie Kaufman turned depression into absurdist poetry. Hinged on a beautiful metaphor and featuring equal doses of deep pain and goofy laughs, it’s a devastating tale like no other – well, other than Kaufman’s previous scripts I suppose. The guy is the most talented and unique writer kicking around movies these days. It would be nice if he wrote more films, but Kaufman seems determined to always work at his own pace. Fair enough. As long as the movies are consistently this good, they’re worth the wait.
Runners Up: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph (‘The Big Short’), Quentin Tarantino (‘The Hateful Eight’), Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (‘Spotlight’), Alex Garland (‘Ex Machina’)
Best Animated Feature
Rather than me worshiping at the Charlie Kaufman alter one more time, let’s spread this out to Pixar. After years of disappointments, the Pixar dream-weavers finally returned to form with ‘Inside Out’. It’s arguably one of the company’s finest achievements to date. Funny, colorful, warm and emotionally devastating, this thing hits all the Pixar touchstones and hits them well. The fact that the movie builds to a lesson about the importance of accepting sadness that all children (and probably most of their parents) need to hear (but never do) is just wonderful. It’s a stunning bit of animated bliss. Plus, Bing Bong… need I say more?
Runners Up: ‘Anomalisa’, ‘Shaun the Sheep’, ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water’
Best Foreign Film
Anthology movies never work. They’re usually uneven and overlong, with at least one chapter that should have been removed. Not ‘Wild Tales’. Damian Szifron’s collection of darkly humorous stories about arguments and extreme human behavior is a comedic masterpiece. From the plane crash prologue to the nightmare wedding finale, Szifron satirizes so many targets and delivers such consistently insane and unpredictable stories that you can’t help but gaze upon it in wild eyed glee. This is definitely the most unjustly underseen movie of the year (thanks to the subtitles, no doubt). If you have a soft spot for dark humor, check this thing out immediately. You will NOT regret it.
Runners Up: ‘Son of Saul’, ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’, ‘The Tribe’, ‘Victoria’
‘Call Me Lucky’
Former screech-comedy specialist Bobcat Goldthwait continues to quietly prove he’s the most underrated director working today with this fascinating documentary. It’s about Barry Crimmins, an unjustly forgotten political stand-up comedian from the ’80s. He was one of the most influential comics of his era, and the first half of Goldthwait’s loving doc chronicles his career and influence through interviews with some of the finest comedians working today.
However, Cimmins also had a dark secret, one that spilled out on stage one night and completely changed the course of his life and career. Revealing what that is would be unfair. Goldthwait designed the film to unfold in two very different halves with two very different tones. The result is a documentary simultaneously hilarious and profoundly moving. It’s a fascinating flick that will hopefully force a few more people to notice just how good a filmmaker Goldthwait has become.
Runners Up: ‘The Look of Silence’, ‘Amy’, ‘Listen to Me Marlon’, ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck’
Since I see far too many movies every year, I have far too many favorites. Here are a few rapid fire “best” categories to honor the flicks I adored, but couldn’t sneak into the big categories.
‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’
Do I really need to explain my thinking here? You and the rest of the world have seen it by now, probably more than once. You get it. Thanks, J.J. Abrams. Seriously, thanks.
Best Oscar Bait
If only all serious, awards-courting dramas were as good as Tom McCarthy’s wonderful ‘Spotlight’. They aren’t. But at least ‘Spotlight’ was this good.
Best Horror Film
It was a weak year for horror and even the movies that hit me hard at the time (like ‘It Follows’) faded on repeat viewings. However, I’m certain that I will be watching ‘Krampus’ every holiday season from now until I die. It’s a perfect bit of horror/comedy Christmas naughtiness that strives to be the new ‘Gremlins’ and pretty much gets there.
Most Obscure Horror/Comedy
Do you like Italian horror films from the 1970s and ’80s? If so, ‘The Editor’ is the parody/homage movie you’ve been waiting for that will tickle you to no end. If not, you likely won’t get it. Yeah, this bit of Astron-6 brilliance is made for a very select audience. But those who are part of that crowd will be absolutely giddy with delight at this gang’s dirty bag of tricks.
Best Gothic Romance
No one was asking for a new Gothic romance, but Guillermo del Toro gave us all one anyway. Jarringly earnest and sumptuously beautiful, it’s a true cinematic treasure despite its unapologetic corniness. Stunning to behold on a technical level, it’s also the closest del Toro has ever come to delivering a personal vision within the studio system.
Best Bond Film
‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’
So much better than ‘Spectre’ and just unbelievably entertaining. Matthew Vaughn should get the keys to the James Bond kingdom right now. It’ll never happen, but it should.
‘Welcome to Me’
This dark and twisted tale of an unstable woman (Kristen Wiig, at her best) winning the lottery and using the money to fund her own inspirational talk show was probably the most criminally underrated movie of the year. It’s a brilliantly bitter satire of self-obsessed celebrity culture that deserved a far wider audience because: A) it’s goddamn hilarious, and B) it really strikes a nerve. With a little luck, this will slowly grow in cult appreciation like ‘The King of Comedy’ did. Lord knows the filmmakers deserve it since they didn’t get any attention this year.
‘What We Do in the Shadows’
If you’ve seen Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s vampire mocumentary, then you know exactly why I called it the funniest comedy of the year. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll understand soon.
Most Depressing Comedy
‘The Big Short’
If you’ve seen Adam McKay’s vicious economic collapse satire, then you know exactly why I called it the most depressing comedy of the year. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll understand soon.
Roger Deakins, ‘Sicario’
Just give this guy an Oscar already, it’s getting ridiculous. Also, ‘Sicario’ is just too damn good in general to ignore.
Most Surprising Blockbuster
‘Straight Outta Compton’
Who would have ever expected the NWA bio-pic to be a massive hit? Thankfully, despite a wonky third act filled with fudged facts, the movie deserved it.
Most Surprisingly Entertaining Blockbuster
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved Ridley Scott. However, he’s never been a filmmaker that I counted on to make charming and funny movies. Yet ‘The Martian’ is exactly that and also one of the best flicks he’s ever made.
Most Charming Movie
Want to know what a cinematic hug feels like? Watch ‘Paddington’. I’m smiling just thinking about it and I hated the character going in.
The Tarantino Movie I Need More Time With
‘The Hateful Eight’
Much like ‘Jackie Brown’, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about ‘The Hateful Eight’ after I left the theater, other than knowing I liked it. As time went on and I thought more about what QT made, I liked the movie even more. I have a feeling a few more viewings will cement my love for his nasty, filthy, allegorical exploitation Western even more. I recommend you do the same.
Most WTFs in a Single Movie
I’m still not sure what the hell this thing was, but I know I kind of loved it. Check it out. You might feel the same way… or you’ll turn it off within five minutes. Either way, I guarantee you’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Most Overlooked Movie
‘Z for Zachariah’
Did you see it? Probably not. You should have. It’s wonderful. Fix that mistake immediately, okay? Note: this movie is incredibly depressing and closes on an obliquely mysterious note. You’ve been warned.
Best Scottish Western
All right, so maybe ‘Slow West’ is the only Scottish Western and wins by default… but ‘Slow West’ still deserves something, especially your attention.