Allyson Johnson’s Top 10 Movies of 2015
Note: I’ve loved a lot of films this year and regretfully had to leave many of those off, but I could easily list 25 films I’d recommend. If I were to indulge, here are some of the few other films I’d suggest: ‘71, About Elly, Advantageous, Cinderella, Creed, Inside Out, Love & Mercy, Mad Max: Fury Road, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Mistress America, Sicario, Spotlight, Suffragette, Tangerine, The End of the Tour, Tom at the Farm and What We Do in the Shadows.
As the underseen gem of 2015, Melanie Laurent’s Respire was a treat for the senses. Focused on the friendship (maybe more) between two young women, and the cycling abuse that’s born from jealousy and insecurity, Laurent created a film with a narrative that is deeply troubling but undeniably riveting. Place this next to the intricate and lavish cinematography, and then the film’s final moments, which shock you into silence, and you’ve got one of the most oddly unnerving coming of age stories all year. Laurent has to be one of the most promising individuals in film, both in front of and behind the camera.
- 99 Homes
Painful to watch and impeccably acted by both Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield, the home foreclosure film breezes by, catching you mid-breath and refusing to relent until the film has already ended. Ramin Bahrani shows the evils of eviction with pitch-perfect accuracy, creating drama so intoxicatingly intense and tough to watch that it’s hard to turn away — you’re almost forced to.
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens
A late edition to my list, albeit, not a very surprising one. I liked the original series well enough and thought Han Solo was fantastic — aka a babe — but I never was head over heels for them. I was excited for the film mainly on it’s being a big, grandiose science fiction flick (a genre favorite of mine), but also, most crucially, based on the mega talented cast they’d collected. What resulted was the first blockbuster this year to knock me back in pure excitement. I felt like a giddy, 10 year old kid sitting in the theater as the credits rolled, and I felt the same the second time I went. It’s a movie that I can call my own — as a wonderful article over at TheMarySue verbalizes better than I — the version of Star Wars that I’ve always wanted to see, that has Rey, a powerful, charismatic, female lead in the title role who little girls all across the world can now grow up with and inspire to be.
- Son of Saul
It’s a big statement to make, but Son of Saul is unlike any film I’ve ever seen, certainly unlike any film about a Holocaust that’s hit the screens in the last 100 years. Laszlo Nemes shoots the film from over the shoulder of our lead character Saul (a phenomenal Geza Rohrig) so that we feel the horrors the way he would, as they’re pushed to the side for the great feat he’s tasked himself with. We hear the cries and see smoke in the distance, but like Saul, we’ve been separated (just barely) from the action as his entire headspace is focused on staying alive long enough to give his son a proper burial, no longer concerned over his own soul.
Powerfully shot and performed, Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s Room is equal parts devastating and uplifting as the theme of love conquers all dominates the flick. Abrahamson’s way of shooting the room in relation to how Ma and Jack view it, Brie Larson’s committed and broken performance as a mother with no options left and Jacob Tremblay’s breakthrough as curious and loving Jack, without whom the film and Larson wouldn’t have shined as bright, all add up to a film that understands its emotional impact.
Bracing and aggressive in its themes about what it means to be a girl, and who and what dictates how they behave, Celine Sciamma has once again created a film that engages with sexuality and gender with a delicacy rarely seen. No one will be able to listen to Rihanna’s “Diamonds” the same after seeing this film.
So much is said with so little in the romantic drama Carol, starring two powerhouse performances in Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Director Todd Haynes has once again managed to create a stunning, forbidden romance in the world of the 50s and has done it with grace and glamour. The chemistry between Carol and Therese is palpable, and the film’s abundance of style gives it a larger than life tone. The most engaging and passionate romance you’ll see onscreen this year, Carol utilizes all of life’s simple pleasures.
Lovely and charming in ways many films aren’t anymore, John Crowley’s Brooklyn is both fresh and classical. Saoirse Ronan plays an Irish immigrant who finds herself in Brooklyn, NY with no family or friends to confide in, heartbroken by homesickness. However, as time passes, she meets an Italian boy, falls in love and grows to find a new home in her surroundings. Ronan and her onscreen partner Emory Cohen are both tremendous and understated, and the cinematography by Yves Belanger (Laurence Anyways) finds new ways in every screen to make their world pop with color. The film is about decent people, trying to find happiness, no matter what they believe makes a home, and your eyes never stray from this surprisingly gripping coming of age drama.
- Ex Machina
Sleek in its filmmaking, haunting in its atmosphere and wonderfully unpredictable, Alex Garland’s directorial debut Ex Machina is one of the year’s very best because every assumption you walked into the theater having about the film was ultimately turned down. Deceptively simple with the script comprised equally into three parts, with three (four) characters to bounce off of, the real urgency of the story comes through in the ideas and morality of the characters. Oscar Isaac is wonderfully menacing as Nathan, someone you’d envision as a jock rather than a science nerd growing up, who has let isolation take its toll. Alicia Vikander and Domnhall Gleeson also shine in roles that subvert their expectations.
When you really, truly, love a film, the story can evoke a response from you that’s startling. I watched this film twice in one weekend, and both times my reaction was powerful. Many call this film the Turkish The Virgin Suicides — which it undoubtedly took notes from — but what sets it apart is by placing the point of view in the firm hands of the girls whose stories are being told. Operating more as a unit rather than five individuals, director Deniz Gamze Erguven captures the essence of sisterhood; Erguven pulls such warm, chemistry-filled performances from the young women that not only are we convinced they’re sisters, but we also see how together they operate as a small army. Together, with Lale (Gunes Sensoy who delivers an arresting and inquisitive performance) at the head, the group try to break free from the confines their family and society have enforced on them. Lale isn’t waiting for saving, or for the world to change, taking matters into her own young hands and tries to protect herself as well as any sister can. It’s moving beyond belief, understands the intricacies of being a young woman with all of the want for liberation and unspoken rules that come with it, and is shot beautifully, so that the expansive scenery further reminds us of the home prison the girls have found themselves in.