Alana Jane Chase’s Top 10 Films of 2015
It comes as no surprise when I say that 2015 was the year in film. When faced with the task of whittling down the list of films I’d seen and loved to just ten, there were a lot of back-and-forths involved: “Can I really part ways with this?” and “Maybe I’ll sacrifice that one to save this one.” But alas, I pulled through, and present to you my top 10. (In alphabetical order, to lessen the blow of killing my darlings.)
Vivid and evocative, Brooklyn — directed by John Crowley and based on Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name — creates a kaleidoscopic world grounded in honesty and vulnerability. Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen are sharp and efficacious in their lead roles, leaving every moment of Brooklyn feeling like the best of two good things simultaneously: rich and subtle, romantic and palpable, supple and crisp.
Breaking ground and hearts alike, Carol is as nuanced and buzzing as ever a romantic drama can be, weaving a tale of taboo something-like-love. The intimate story that quickly but quietly blossoms between Cate Blanchett’s Carol and Rooney Mara’s Therese will touch you, and the sensation will linger long after the film’s almost-final words are spoken.
Director/screenwriter Alex Garland’s thrilling sci-fi triumph Ex Machina was one of the most well-received and highly-discussed films of 2015. Rightfully so, as it destroys and transcends a multitude of barriers. The film is tense and unsettling, pulsating with anxiety and the eerie unpredictability of the future, and makes a point to poke at that part of your brain you’d otherwise ignored. (You know, the one that makes you disturbingly self-aware and twitchy? That one.) But that’s not irresponsible sadism; it’s purposeful. Garland artfully and deliberately exposes the audience to the implications of technology and humanity, and asks them to ponder who – and what – we are and may soon become.
Pixar made a brilliant, colorful return to form in its 15th original film, Inside Out, one that certainly lived up to its near-universal critical acclaim. It eloquently explains some of the most complex subjects (our own emotions, sympathy and empathy and depression) to audiences of all ages, without needing to break the fourth wall, resort to condescension or underestimate viewers’ intelligence. Amy Poehler as Joy and Bill Hader as Fear are expectedly sublime, and add another layer of magic to an already wonderful film. Inside Out cannot be missed.
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill horror film. This is something else entirely. It Follows is ultramodern and mesmerizing, rattling some of the chains to which the horror genre is shackled. Director David Robert Mitchell makes all the right moves: a unique and expansive aesthetic, an ambiguous but unavoidable monster, and a slow build that engrosses the audience in uneasiness. It Follows is as terrific as it is terrifying.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Strong, stunning and feminist as hell, Mad Max: Fury Road is a force to be reckoned with. The fourth installment of the franchise is larger than life, in your face, hyper-detailed in its design and adamant in its refusal to apologize or pander. Though Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Max Rockatansky is exceptional, Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa steals the show and will have you wanting to raise your fists in the air and let out a primal roar.
In the drama-thriller Room, based on Irish author Emma Donoghue’s novel of the same name, love doesn’t just conquer, love annihilates. Brie Larson’s performance is nothing short of hypnotic, full-to-bursting with fervor and truth. With its crests of wall-shaking emotion and its troughs that reveal the worst kinds of evil, Room will leave you teary-eyed and changed.
From screenwriter/director Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Moneyball), Steve Jobs is a vision through-and-through. The biographical drama features an all-star cast (Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs, Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman) that carries a static electricity remaining at the forefront of the film. Steve Jobs sizzles with style and energy, and is perhaps Sorkin at his best.
A stunning directorial debut from actor/screenwriter/producer (is there anything this man can’t do?) Joel Edgerton, The Gift is as much a psychological thriller as it is a psychological analysis of man. Much like Garland’s Ex Machina, Edgerton’s story makes an ask of the audience: Look at these characters, study them carefully and then think about the direction toward which your own moral arc bends. Jason Bateman’s performance as Simon is an unexpected turn from his comedic roots and lends itself in an effortless and refreshing way to the many complexities of this film. Though the The Gift is a genre piece, it never leans itself on crutches of tropes and cliches. It’s what a thriller film should be: fresh, sleek and, most importantly, smart.
The Night Before
It’s a rarity that I ever go into a film (or television show, for that matter) knowing the bare necessities I can glean from a trailer or a two-sentence logline, but The Night Before was a shining exception. The Christmas comedy was a welcome surprise of rowdiness and cheeky charm, made all the better by its fantastic cast. Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and director Jonathan Levine gave us what we missed in their previous collaboration 50/50: a balanced blend of silly and sentimental that has the potential to hit home, but doesn’t take itself too seriously — and isn’t supposed to. Maybe it was my lack of expectations, my connection to the “friends are family” theme in the film, or my soft spot for goofy comedies that won’t soon harden, but The Night Before was undoubtedly a standout of 2015 in my book.