Anyone who says there weren’t many good films this year is either lying or they simply don’t go to the movies that often. I can’t help the former but for the latter I’ve curated my recommendations for 2015’s best movies. Many films were excellent this year – my initial list of possibilities numbered over 60 – but these were the movies of the year that I think offer that perfect mix of “new & exciting” and accessible to general viewers. This list spans megabudget spectacle to microbudget indie, strange foreign pictures and more but perhaps like 2013, this year encapsulated the range of what cinema can offer.
Without further ado, the countdown:
25.) Cinderella & Magic Mike XXL (tie)
Dear reader I must apologize for cheating this early into my list. However I do hold these two movies in equally high regard. Though it remains to be seen if they will have any lasting impact on the culture, just in terms of both being absolutely perfect executions of what they set out to be and genuinely great movies earns them an equal spot in my curation.
More than that, I’d argue that they do have much in common thematically: for my money, few films were ever more joyful this year than the sequel to Magic Mike and Kenneth Branagh’s Disney-backed adaptation of Cinderella where both offer a wonderful celebration of women and their fantasies and the importance of earnestly & sincerely connecting to both. From the boys of Magic Mike XXL re-discovering the joys of making other people feel special, to Cinderella’s good nature endearing the world around her; if there were ever two movies that encapsulated the virtues of selflessness and positivity, these two are it.
Michael Mann truly is the manliest of men. All of his films are ultimately about contemporary masculinity and the worlds where men set out to conquer. This may be the best Michael Mann film since 2006s Miami Vice and the culmination of Mann’s digital verisimilitude aesthetic he began with Collateral. Needless to say, critics and filmgoers eviscerated Blackhat before it bombed in January. Here I stand, against the grain on this one but honestly dismissing and ridiculing a movie this stylish and kinetic and lean seems wrongheaded. A modern spin on the muscular filmmaking of the 70s and 80s morphed into a globetrotting adventure that presents the present day and perhaps future of white-collar crime with the animalistic conviction of a full on demon chase that’s all blood, bullets, testosterone and the latest in consumer gadgetry. From its depiction of “cyber-crime” that’s so detailed it defies any traditional classification of authenticity to a genuinely show-stopping finale, Blackhat is both gloriously silly stuff yet an absolutely smartly made crime drama about hardened men & women unleashing their violence in digital and analog form.
23.) Honor Thy Father
After making waves with his masterful crime saga, On The Job, Filipino filmmaker Erik Matti indulged in the genre that he started from, low-budget horror comedy. Now he’s back with a crime epic that stands alongside with On The Job as proof that he’s one of the great filmmakers we should be keeping an eye on. Honor Thy Father is the story of Edgar (John Lloyd Cruz), his wife Kaye (Meryll Soriano) and their daughter Angel (Krystal Brimner). After years of financial struggle, things are seemingly looking up for the family with Kaye involving her friends and fellow parishioners with her father’s investment plan. It all unravels when Kaye’s father is murdered and the money disappears. It doesn’t take long for Kaye’s peers to turn on the couple, erupting in violence and forcing Edgar to embrace the aid of his side of the family and his former life of a crook in order to survive and protect his family. Honor Thy Father is brought to life by Matti’s fluid, skilled direction and the tightly wound performance by Cruz, whose Edgar — disgusted by the hypocrisy he encounters and forced into desperation— plays like a man on the verge of exploding. Much like On the Job, this movie uses the social and economic issues of the Philippines as a springboard for a visceral cinematic experience. It covers crime, class, family but perhaps it aims most of its venom at the Filipino Church, the evils done under the façade of “God’s plan.”
A few years ago, filmmaker Jafar Panahi exposed deep seeded corruption in the Iranian government. He was promptly arrested and sentenced to prison. In 2011 he released This is not a Film, a compilation of video journals chronicling the days leading up to his imprisonment. He was later was placed under house arrest but since been allowed to move more freely though he can neither travel outside Iran and has been banned from making films. That did not stop him. Set entirely in a cab and starring himself, Taxi is a movie that should not exist. However, beyond that, the film is a reflexive commentary on contemporary Iranian society. Not quite a documentary, nor a narrative fiction, Panahi imbues this film and characters (some scripted, some not) with both his anxieties of persecution as well as his love for cinema, as art and creativity that take center stage. It’s a desperate plea for artistic freedom, for freedom of expression. It’s a call to arms for this value some countries and cultures take for granted: what we in America fight for whenever we quote the 1st amendment. Unfortunately for Panahi, he does not live in a nation that respects such a sentiment in his eyes.
Denis Villeneuve has crafted the spiritual successor to 2012s Zero Dark Thirty with his layered and profoundly unnerving drama about a naïve FBI rescue squad leader (Emily Blunt) recruited by evasive agents to participate in dangerous criminal raids on the Mexican border. Stubborn and often misguided, she acts as the audience surrogate, thrust into a world of unknowns, where information is intentionally withheld from her only for her to discover that well…everything is awful and cannot be understood by means of any value system familiar to her, or us. Like Katherine Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty this movie makes no attempt to moralize the murky sensibilities so much as painting a shadow world where wars are fought and where good or well-meaning people either don’t belong or find themselves victimized by larger indifferent forces. I don’t mean to make this movie sound so bleak because there are genuinely thrilling and engaging sequences of muscular action and suspense, with Roger Deakins’ cinematography painting iconic images at every frame. And Benicio Del Toro becomes the terminator.