After lengthy consideration, I have decided that, lame or not (see Walter’s Top Ten for the reference), I need to have a top-fifteen films list for 2015. I’ll begin by explaining why I feel this is necessary.
Thanks to the twenty films I watched at the Edmonton International Film Festival in early October, I watched far more new-release films in 2015 than in any previous year of my life. Prior to October, I’d have had a hard time finding even five films worthy of being included in my top ten films of 2015. But since the beginning of October, I have watched at least fifty 2015 films, almost half of them being foreign language films, and suddenly there was an explosion of top-ten-worthy films to choose from.
[This is not to say that 2015 comes close to the greatness of 2014. It does not. If I created a top-thirty list of films released in either 2014 or 2015, most of my top fifteen films of 2014 would be in the top half of that list.]
Another problem I was facing is that a third of my top fifteen films were actually made in 2014. Most of these are considered eligible for 2015 due to their North American release dates, but at least one (my favourite of those) is considered a 2014 film. So I toyed with making a top-ten list for 2015 and then adding a top-five list of films made in 2014 but not released in Canada until 2015. That just felt too clumsy, but by then I was committed to including fifteen films, so here they are.
I still need to add three honourable mentions: 1) The Lobster, which has not yet been released, is a thought-provoking dystopian film from Ireland, made by Yorgos Lanthimos, that stars Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz as two people trying to break the rules; 2) My Internship in Canada, a Quebec comedy made by Philippe Falardeau. This was my second-favourite comedy of the year but is already dated (it satirized Stephen Harper and his government) and too obscure; 3) Bikes vs Cars, a documentary that resonated strongly with me because of its critical and timely message, but doesn’t possess the quality of filmmaking that is found on the rest of my list.
I also need to note that there are a number of excellent 2015 films I have not yet been able to watch, including Anomalisa, The Assassin and 45 Years, all three of which I still hope to watch this month (with potential changes to my top-fifteen list).
Observations on the list below: Six of the films, including all of my top four films of the year, are foreign-language films, with two of the top four films set in Berlin. As in last year’s top-fifteen list, there’s only one film from Hollywood (Inside Out). Two of the films star Cate Blanchett and over half of the films feature a female protagonist (even without Star Wars and Mad Max).
Okay, here are my Top Fifteen Films of 2015, counting down from 15:
15. Truth: Lost in the spotlight of Spotlight, James Vanderbilt’s Truth was largely ignored by critics because it seemed to be a biased (leftist) retelling of a major blow to investigative journalism (2004 scandal involving George Bush’s military record which cost the impeccable Dan Rather his job). Such bias is just fine with me and the theme and message are absolutely vital in our world today. Truth has one of Cate Blanchett’s great performances of the year.
14. Clouds of Sils Maria: Kristen Stewart delivers the best performance of the year as Val, personal assistant to Maria (Juliette Binoche), a famous actress who is asked to perform in the same play, about two women, in which she got her break, but this time in the role of the older woman. This film by Olivier Assayas is incredibly clever, deeply-layered and endlessly discussable.
13. Inside Out: Despite the unwelcome made-for-3D action scenes in the middle of the film, Pixar has another winner with Inside Out, which explores the inner workings of a child’s mind with intelligence, wisdom and endless humour. This animated film was written and directed by Pete Doctor and Ronnie del Carman.
12. Ex Machina: Walter’s favourite film of the year, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is a dark atmospheric sci-fi film about the dangers (and possibilities) of artificial intelligence, with brilliant performances by Oscar Issac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander. I do love spooky, intelligent and thought-provoking sci-fi films and this certainly qualifies.
11. Carol: Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are terrific as Carol and Therese, two women who fall in love with each other in 1951, a time when such relationships were scandalous and viewed as the product of serious psychological dysfunction. This gorgeous period drama about the struggle to be true to yourself was directed by Todd Haynes.
10. The Salt of the Earth: Made by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, this beautiful (but also terrifying) documentary shares both the wisdom and the exquisite and otherworldly photographs of Sebastião Salgado, one of the world’s greatest photographers. A must-see in high definition.
9. Listen to Me Marlon: The best documentary I watched in 2015, this reflection on the life of Marlon Brando, one of the greatest actors in the history of film, is uniquely fascinating because Brando, who died in 2004, provides much of the narration himself (through audio tapes he left behind). Stevan Riley has done an amazing job of structuring this haunting insightful film.
8. Spotlight: A great ensemble cast play Boston Globe reporters in 2001 seeking to expose a major cover-up involving child abuse among Catholic priests. Directed (and co-written) by Tom McCarthy, Spotlight handles the investigation and subject with such quiet intelligence and integrity that it makes the work of investigative journalism the inspiring and vital thing it should be.
7. Youth: Italian director Paolo Sorrentino continues to make gorgeous and thoughtful films, often, as in this case, having older men reflecting on the meaning of life (or the lack thereof). Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are perfectly-cast as the old men in question. Full of magical moments, Youth suggests that sometimes children can be wiser than people seventy years older.
6. Steve Jobs: Aaron Sorkin’s captivating and innovatively-structured screenplay, combined with Oscar-worthy performances from Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet, are what make Danny Boyle’s unique biopic about the man behind Apple so compelling.
5. Sicario: This film by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (quickly becoming one of my favourite directors of all-time), is a dark and violent thriller about Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), an FBI agent who gets caught up in a CIA mission involving Mexican drug-lords and needs to deal with the morals of Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) and Matt (Josh Brolin), two men supposedly on the same side. A masterpiece that reflects on the question of whether the ends justify the means, Sicario gives us the strongest and most admirable gun-carrying female character of the year (better than Rey or Furiosa).
4. Phoenix: This riveting German film from Christian Petzold stars Nina Hoss as a Jewish concentration-camp survivor who, after facial reconstruction surgery, returns to Berlin to look for her husband (who doesn’t recognize her). A haunting Hitchcockian period drama, Phoenix has layers of depth which can be discussed for hours.
3. Tangerines: An Estonian/Georgian collaboration directed by Zaza Urushadze, Tangerines is a profound but simple meditation on humanizing the enemy and the absurdity of war. This beautiful film takes place entirely on the property of two neighbours (one of whom grows tangerines while the other builds the crates to transport them) in the country of Georgia.
2. Leviathan: The most passionate, profound and thought-provoking film of the year (technically from 2014, but not in general release until 2015), Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan presents a scathing indictment of all levels of Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church through its bleak tale of a man who loses everything (like Job, who provides the inspiration for the film).
1. Victoria: The most intense and mesmerizing thrill-ride of the year (forget Mad Max), Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria is an awesome filmmaking achievement. Its 140 minutes, shot in Berlin during the early hours of the morning, are not just filmed in real time - they are filmed in just one shot (including numerous action scenes), as they follow the story of a young Spanish woman whose life changes in a hurry after she leaves a bar one night and is accosted by a group of friendly young men.