2015 was an interesting year for film, in my opinion. We had a post-apocalyptic action film as one of the best reviewed films of the year, there was a 3 way race between a comedy, a journalism film and a western epic for Best Picture, an indie movie won Best Visual Effects, and we continued the trend of releasing lots of Christian/Biblical based movies. As well, we saw a year that had more female-led films at the forefront, though it was always another year of #Oscarssowhite. However, this year was a fun year for movies, and while I had fewer films I was passionate about than last year, there were lots of great films. Check out my list of my favourite 10 below.
10. Love & MercyI have no idea what to expect going into this movie. This was one I had heard good reviews about from TIFF in 2014, but it was like 8 months later that I picked up this DVD from the library. Like Carey Mulligan above, I absolutely love Paul Dano and am interested in basically everything he's in. Love & Mercy is the beautiful and heart-breaking story of Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys. The narrative flips from Brian in the 60's, crafting his masterpiece "Pet Sounds" while losing his grip on reality and dealing with mental illness, and Brian in the 80's, who is under the control of his guardian/therapist but falls in love with Melinda. Love & Mercy is so fantastically acted. It's such robbery that Paul Dano never managed to get an Oscar nomination for this. As well, both Elizabeth Banks and John Cusak do amazing work, and it's a shame this movie wasn't more highly recognized. The Beach Boys are a band I know literally nothing about, but this story of Brian is a beautiful one.
9. SpotlightSpotlight is a wonderful and heartbreaking film about the sexual abuse within the Catholic church, and the Boston Globe Spotlight team who cracked the case open wide in the early 2000s. Spotlight is just so perfect in the way that it delves into the story and that's the main focus. We get offhand comments about the journalists personal lives but never much more than that. We don't have a romance storyline or a divorce storyline or really anything between these journalists except for what happens while researching the scandal. Spotlight reveals things steadily, getting more and more shocking as we go along, but never sensationalizes the topic it's dealing with. Everything is treated with sensitivity, but it's also shocking enough to make it's point. Spotlight is pitch-perfect in the way it handles it's subject matter and it's characters, balancing respect and shock. The acting is great and the pacing is just perfect.
8. What We Do In the ShadowsI love a great, quirky comedy. And this is as great and quirky as they come. From the guys who brought us Flight of the Concords, we have this horror mockumentary about a group of vampires who live as roommates in Wellington, New Zealand. I don't even really know how to describe this movie, but it's like watching the Office, but it's about vampires who live together. They've been vampires for a few centuries, so have a hard time adjusting to technology and don't understand the modern world. But they also can't see themselves in the mirror so are unable to see what they look like or how their outfit looks before they go out. This movie is honestly just hilarious and is a fantastic use of the mockumentary style. Do yourself a favour and watch this movie if you haven't already!
7. SicarioThere are a few movies out there that, right after I watch them, I know I immediately need to see it again (and I do). Sicario was one of those movies. I watched Sicario 2 days in a row, needing second time to take in everything I had seen. Sicario is the story of idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer. She's recruited onto a government task force to fight the war on drugs between the USA and Mexico border. However, the two men she work with don't exactly do everything by the books. Sicario is an excellent thriller. Emily Blunt gives such an intense and reserved performance. Once again, it's a shame Emily Blunt was looked over when it came time for Oscar nominations. As well, Benicio Del Toro gives a chilling performance. As Alejandro, Del Toro perfectly gives us an air of mystery, but we also know he's probably not someone Kate can trust (nor does she). Sicario is proof enough that, just because there's a female at the top of the cast, doesn't mean a film can be any less harsh, violent, serious or well-made.
6. Steve JobsI'm a sucker for Aaron Sorkin. I feel like I'm one of the only people who really, really enjoyed the Newsroom. So when I heard Aaron Sorkin was penning the script for a 3 act Steve Jobs movie, I was incredibly interested. As mentioned, Steve Jobs is told in 3 acts, all at 3 products launches that were big parts of Jobs career, whether for good or bad. Michael Fassbender is so electric as Steve Jobs. While he may not look all that much like him until the 3rd act, he brings such an energy to the role that's irresistible. The supporting cast as well is able to shine. Kate Winslet as Jobs's assistant Joanna is the heart and sole and the goodness of all the manipulative people around her. Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen are both given great moments to shine and really do lots with their roles. I personally think Steve Jobs was a fantastically written film, and it was just s whip-smart, snappy and smart (everything you expect a Sorkin script to be). Personally, I found it disappointing that it's only Oscar notices were for Fassbender and Winslet, it deserved a Best Picture nomination, directing and screenplay nominations. However, Steve Jobs is a risky and interesting take on an American icon, and it's incredibly well told, acted and paced.
5. The RevenantA film that was high on my anticipation list a year before it was finally released, The Revenant is such a beautiful film, filled with spirituality, symbolism, violence and sadness. The heart-breaking story of a man left for dead by his compatriots, Hugh Glass literally crawls out from his grave and treks across the American wilderness, seeking revenge on the man who left him and killed his son. The cast here is fantastic. I can't say enough about Leo's performance in this. He's 150% committed to this role, and it definitely shows (in a good way). This movie isn't afraid to take it's time, to flesh out it's characters, to meditate on the scenery surrounding the characters and to have long stretches without speaking. Inarritu crafts such a different film from last years Best Picture winner, Birdman, and it's a film that makes your heart ache. The Revenant is just such a beautiful and heart-breaking film, I'm so glad that Emmanuel Lubezki three-peated to win his 3rd Oscar in a row. And while I don't know how often it's one I'll revisit, it's one that stays in my soul long after I've watched it.
4. The Big ShortThe first time I watched the Big Short, I didn't even come close to fully understanding what was happening. So while I originally gave the film a 7/10, I knew that would likely shoot up the more times I watched it. And since first watching in December, I've watched it two more times, both of those within close proximity to each other. And while I can't say I understand everything that is discussed in this film, I've had a lot of time to come to understand the basics. And wow, what an incredibly smart movie this is. This film walks the incredible line of being a snarky and sardonic film, filled with wit and humor, to showing us how big a deal the housing market crash was going to be and how much it impacted, not just America, but the entire world. The Big Short is an incredibly smart movie, and it's films like this that undoubtedly deserve to win screenplay awards. Adam McKay is incredible in giving us a film about a topic almost no one understands, and it never feels like we're watching a dull movie that's lecturing us. He presents it to the audience in a way that will make us pay attention.
3. Ex MachinaI don't know if I can really say anything about Ex Machina that hasn't already been said. It's bone-chilling and such a psychological ride. It's an incredibly fascinating movie that explores so many interesting themes and ideas. When Caleb wins a contest to spend the weekend at his companys CEO Nathan's private estate, he finds out it's more than just relaxing at this beautiful home. He gets to do a type of Turing test on Ava, an AI that Nathan has created. However, Caleb finds himself quickly falling for Ava. The acting here is so impeccable, the cinematography stunning, and the screenplay is incredibly smart. Ex Machina is not a film for everyone, but it's definitely one a lot more people should see.
2. BrooklynMan, is this not the sweetest and nicest movie you've ever seen? And despite that, it's not to be taken as a less serious or well made movie. I can't remember the last time a movie this "nice" was made and was as well received as it was. Saoirse Ronan is just so incredible and could not have been more perfectly cast. As well, the true MVP of this seems to be Emory Cohen as Eilis's sweetheart Tony. Emory Cohen truly lights up the screen as his loveable and sweet Tony. But the story itself is just well told, and takes its time to let the story just stroll along.
1. Mad Max: Fury RoadCould my #1 movie be anything other than Mad Max, really? Mad Max: Fury Road was the surprise of the year for me. It wasn't until a few days before the movie hit theatres and I started to see how incredible the reviews were that I started to get interested. However, my husband and I found ourselves with a free afternoon the weekend it came out, so after debating whether to go see Kingsman at the $5 theatre or seeing this opening weekend, we made the very correct choice of seeing Mad Max. Mad Max is a movie you NEED to see if you haven't already. It's the perfect blend of action, story. It's simple in premise, but George Miller elevates this beyond it's simplicity, giving it more than meets the eye. There are so many wonderful women in power and in charge in this movie, and the relationship between Max and Furiosa is so wonderful. As well, the 5 wives are all so incredible and take charge in their situations, instead of just being damsels in distress. And Nux has such incredible growth over the course of 2 hours. It's feminist, it's hardcore, it had a guy who's blind and playing a flame-throwing guitar! Seriously, this movie is ridiculous and fun and so amazing. I can't say enough about what an absolutely perfect movie this is. It'll be redefining the action movie genre for years to come.