By Matt Fleming, Kyle G. King, Tom Platt, and Jarrod Jones. If 2015 is remembered for anything at all, it will be remembered as the year the Geeks inherited the Earth. If you had any doubt that superhero films were on the wane, or that nostalgia wouldn’t be enough to cement Star Wars as the preeminent film event of the year, or that Paul Rudd and a buncha ants couldn’t open a movie, let this be the moment where you recalibrate what it means to be a lover of film.
Without further ado, we proudly present to you the best film of the year, followed the the few that dared to stand in its shadow.
THE BEST FILM OF THE YEAR
Mad Max: Fury Road. Grounding the audience with simplified, center-punched visuals and death defying practical effects, Fury Road rushes forward like a wounded bull into someone else’s mayhem. Staying true without simply regurgitating the Mad Max of old, it is for the sake of survival that Max sides against injustice in this clever, allegorical juggernaut.
Fury Road doesn’t pretend to be anything bigger than an R-rated, action packed tapestry of fire and verve, which is exactly why its handling of female and male character archetypes is so refreshing to see. With Fury Road, audiences are given a subtle feminist text cloaked within an epic two-hour chase scene filled with as many bells, whistles, and feedback-laden screeches as any film deserves. Charlize Theron shines as Imperator Furiosa, a character as strong as any of Schwarzenegger’s T-800s, so much so that men’s rights advocates were up-in-arms about a Mad Max film where the titular Max wasn’t hogging the narrative (which is, obviously, a sign of progress).
While the post-apocalyptic fight for water and womanhood may not have played to the same large crowds as hunks training dinosaurs or superhumans thwarting a robot’s implied genocide, those who loved this movie were thrilled by second and third screenings, and for the first time in many years, Hollywood’s best film was one made by an outsider desperately eager to buck the status quo with an amalgam of fun and feeling. We should be both excited and terrified for what Hollywood will have on deck for next year. — MF, KGK, TP, JJ
(Where we made room to love all over a few more.)
The Tribe. (Dir: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy) Guiding us as little more than an outsider, The Tribe tells its story of love, power, and wrath without the use of audible language or subtitles. While not a silent film, The Tribe creates a bridge between the worlds of the hearing and the hearing impaired that challenges the experience of film viewing without going so art house that your friends will look at you like you’ve got three eyes when you tell them about it.
It’s hard to think of another film where sound wasn’t simply absent, but was entirely uninfluential on the characters of the film. By utilizing sound effects without character reactions, The Tribe will rattle your bones with the immediacy of its ability.
It’s not the story it tells as much as the way the audience experiences it that makes The Tribe one of the best films of the year. Deeply intimate relationships are conveyed in a language we don’t understand and exist with a visual ferocity that cannot be mistaken or misinterpreted. Even the stoutest of attitudes can appreciate The Tribe’s unfamiliar style because, at its core, it is thematically human. — TP
Ex Machina. (Dir: Alex Garland) As placid as a Bergman film and as nerve-racking as Hitchcock, Ex Machina wreaked havoc with our emotions as jarringly as anything this side of a galaxy far, far away. Alex Garland’s glacial sci-fi horror put the immeasurable talents of its leads on full display, providing us with three faces that couldn’t be anything but film’s next great hope: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and of course, Oscar Isaac arrived to simply devour our expectations, stripping away all artifice to give us performances that rattled our bones and sent our souls screaming. No small task for a movie that could be summed up as yet another cautionary tale of our deification of technology. Garland takes his conceit and haunts our dreams with it. — JJ
Queen Of Earth. (Dir: Alex Ross Perry) The adage “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” is upended in Alex Ross Perry’s latest film Queen of Earth. Residing on the same thematic avenue as his previous films — but a large detour in terms of genre — Perry re-enlists Elisabeth Moss as the duo dually harness what each young artist is fully capable of when given the proper stage to do so. As Perry scales back the biting wit that defined his previous works to focus on the more wicked whisperings that have always surrounded it, an inverted negative of his usual comedy-drama tone develops.
With a score by Keegan Dewitt and sharp editing by Robert Greene, Queen of Earth supplies Fincherian suspense with an odd sense of horrific delight (think Gene Wilder in Wonka’s tunnel). There’s certainly heavy handed drama at play, but everyone involved showcases a new side of their artistry that lets you leave the theater with a new appreciation for your own previous sanity. — KGK
Inside Out. (Dir: Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen) Break out the Kleenex and leave your mood-altering drugs at home; it’s time to confront our feelings. Inside Out isn’t just Pixar righting its own course after more than a couple filmic stumbles, it’s Pixar reasserting itself as a monolith within the Hollywood paradigm. Everything that made you cry about Toy Story 3 or Up is on full display here: conflicting emotions, the angst of growing up, learning how to say goodbye; if you walked out of Inside Out with dry cheeks, it’s time for you to recalibrate what it means to be human. Or maybe just get some sunshine. — JJ
It Follows. (Dir: David Robert Mitchell) Movie-goers have grown apathetic to the traditional spooks of past slasher movies. Even in 2015, there’s still plenty to innovate in the age-old saga of “thing chases kids for some damn reason”, and director David Robert Mitchell peaks the year’s genre to menacing levels with his first horror film, It Follows.
The plot is ingenious in its simplicity and rich in everything 70’s slashers have a cult following for: confused sexuality, suburban landscapes, and a killer synth soundtrack. But It Follows adapts tasty vintage creep to new wave eerie standards. Mitchell, who also wrote the screenplay, keeps parentals in the peripherals and the film’s time period difficult to pin down, which keeps the fear pointed sharply at the adolescent naivety of its teenage cast. As the characters can no longer trust anyone around them, you too find yourself scanning the oppressing frame for any lurking figure walking slowly towards you. The fear grows, as it must.
Though the third acts finds itself a little strangled by its own set of rules, the scares never leave you wanting. It Follows demonstrates just how much fun the slasher genre can continue to be. — KGK
Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Dir: JJ Abrams) Everyone can simmer down; of course this was going to make the list. If you’re a devotee to the universe created by George Lucas or a casual filmgoer who wants a rush of suger-addled frivolity, JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens was the only ticket you needed to purchase this year. No other film inspired spirited debate, mountains of adulation, and threw a lifeline to Hollywood’s bottom line more effectively than Disney’s first Star Wars movie. But what makes it one of the best films of the year is Abrams’ majestic display of filmmaking prowess. He took the helm of the biggest ship in the universe and steered it straight home. — JJ
The Hateful Eight. Although Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson proved impossible missions are still a great way to spend a summer evening, and JJ Abrams managed to deliver the first Star Wars film of merit in over thirty years, the late-comer to the film party of 2015, Quentin Tarantino, managed to squeeze in one of the year’s most memorable experiences with The Hateful Eight.
One of the last advocates for physical film (as opposed to the much more forgiving digital format adopted wholly by Hollywood), Tarantino is typically hyperbolic when it comes to championing his works, but in this case his arguments are both viable and fully visible. Eight boasts a cast of both QT veterans and newcomers eager to make their marks as signature rogues in the slowly expanding Tarantino-verse, but Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh bandage the whole bloody affair together. Tarantino allows for some bloat, as he must, but inevitably delivers a visual and verbal epic that demands that movie lovers sit-and-hold-it long enough to appreciate the story he has to tell. — MF
What was YOUR favorite film of the year? Let us know in the comments section below.