Nathanael Hood’s Top 10 Movies of 2015
Anyone who says you can’t go home again is lying: of course you can. The question is whether or not you should. John Crowley’s intimate Brooklyn doubles as a truly impactful romance—the last time in decades I’ve encountered a love triangle in any medium that didn’t make me gag—and a touching search for cultural and personal self-identity. As well as being one of the best acted films of 2015, it’s also one of the most emotional. But instead of relying on hysterical histrionics, it indulges in simple, pure, honest feelings and passions. Understated but never underwhelming, Brooklyn left me feeling like I was floating out of the theater.
As of right now, I’m literally the only critic with a positive review listed on RottenTomatoes for Eli Morgan Gesner’s grotesque masterpiece Condemned — a splatter giallo which I described as Dario Argento by way of John Waters. What can I say? It feels good to be on the right side of history. After all: they hated Cronenberg at first, too.
- The Visit
Unless you have personally tried your hand at either fiction writing or filmmaking, it is impossible to conceptualize how difficult injecting fear and humor into a story can be. But somehow, none other than that modern day cinematic persona non grata M. Night Shyamalan managed to cram both into his film The Visit. Even more astounding, he managed both without transforming the terror into camp (Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series) or the humor into self-referential nonsense (Wes Craven’s Scream). Screw the haters: this is Shyamalan back in the saddle doing what he does best—achingly personal, unapologetically idiosyncratic, thoroughly human thrillers.
- The Hateful Eight
Despite being almost literally 90% dialogue, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight reaffirms his acumen as a filmmaker first and a writer second by being one of the most visually fascinating films of 2015. Using the full range of his 70mm aspect ratio, Tarantino indulges in stark, horizontal compositions emphasizing space and distance—a remarkable feat considering almost the entire movie takes place in a cramped, one room haberdashery. It also helps that The Hateful Eight might be one of Tarantino’s top three greatest screenplays, a misanthropic locked-room mystery with one of the most nihilistic third acts in a Western since Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence (1968).
- The Big Short
The most overtly political Hollywood film in years, Adam McKay’s The Big Short is less interested in explaining the root causes of the 2007-2010 financial crisis than in explaining how pissed off the American people should be at the investors and bankers who caused it. Not to say that it doesn’t brilliantly succeed with the former, using tongue-in-cheek, 4th wall-shattering asides, illustrations and deliberately dumbed-down explanations, McKay makes damn sure that every single audience member, regardless of intelligence or education, understands just how broken and corrupt both the financial system and its profiteers are. But more than just a polemic, The Big Short embodies a manic energy and style reminiscent of Danny Boyle’s early hyper-kineticism. This is cinema at its angriest and most entrancing.
The most infuriating and heartbreaking part of Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang is that all of the characters, both the five orphan sisters and their aunt and uncle who cloister them inside their home to “keep them pure,” are equally human—flawed to different extents, of course, but human nonetheless. Mustang is a story of a pervasive culture that forces ordinary people to do extraordinary things. And, like as not, the victims are young women. Refusing to simplify any societal or emotional complexities, Ergüven has created one of the most three-dimensional films of 2015. At times beautiful, at times tragic, the film is imbued with a desperate immediacy.
- The Martian
Quite possibly the most unabashedly pro-science piece of science-fiction since the original “ Star Trek television show, The Martian marks director Ridley Scott’s first true big-budget triumph since 2001’s Black Hawk Down. Effortlessly inventive and effortlessly entertaining, The Martian might also be the first major Hollywood film where the Chinese, not the Russians, are America’s premier competitor in the space race.
- The Lobster
A horror movie disguised as a dystopian sci-fi thriller disguised as a comedy, Yorgos The Lobster may be the year’s most difficult film to describe. But it’s certainly one of the most powerful and unnerving. A sneering, contemptuous assault on modern societal norms concerning love, sex, and intimacy, The Lobster reminds us that satire doesn’t truly work unless it makes you very, very uncomfortable on some deep, inner level. It’s practically “A Modest Proposal” for dating in the age of selfies and tinder. My review.
Beyond all the buzz surrounding its production—its casting of real transgender women and sex-worker performers as well as its being filmed entirely on iPhones—Sean S. Baker’s Tangerine is one of the best written and most meticulously crafted films of the year. A whirlwind of yelling, accusations, camera acrobatics, and attitude, Tangerine nevertheless operates on top of a breathtaking (and breathtakingly quiet) emotional foundation that comes to a head during a scene involving a nightclub rendition of the song “Toyland.” I may have only put this film third on my list. But in my opinion, this is the best scene in ANY film released in 2015. My review: https://www.theyoungfolks.com/review/movie-review-tangerine/67976
- The Revenant
I came to my review of The Revenant frustrated with how almost everything I might want to say had already been said, but worded better, by other critics. But the description I’m most jealous of was “astral projection.” Alejandro González Iñárritu summoned the film out of an abyss of elemental ferocity and brutality that would frighten even Werner Herzog. A herculean production, few films took risks as large as The Revenant to get made: the location shooting, the pained performances, the insistence on only using natural lighting. But it all paid off. Clichés be damned! The Revenant isn’t a film; it’s an experience. My review: http://screencomment.com/2015/12/the-revenant/
- Mad Max: Fury Road
“This must have been what it was like to see Star Wars on opening day in 1977,” I thought to myself as I watched—no, WITNESSED—George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. I still remember the countless, breathless conversations with friends immediately after seeing it where we dissected its every aspect: the bizarro archaism of the dialogue (“Did you catch what they call water? “Aqua-Cola!””); the implied cultural practices of the Citadel (“You notice how Immortan Joe is the only MAN in the Citadel—everyone else is either a War Pup or a War Boy?”); the stunning practicality of the vehicles and inhabitants of the wasteland (“Well OF COURSE the Doof Warrior isn’t unnecessary—he’s Joe’s bugler!”); the unbelievable action set pieces (“I couldn’t breathe during that whole sandstorm scene!”). Mad Max: Fury Road is big budget action filmmaking done right with unforgettable spectacle and unforgettable characters resulting in an unforgettable experience.
Films that just missed the cut: Spotlight, Tale of Tales, Aferim!, Scherzo Diabolico, Crimson Peak, Ex Machina.