I know that top lists are cheap posts and it’s only my second entry, but this is the time of year that I think it’s permissible. I won’t make a habit out of this kind of post, but this one should be able to double as an introduction to my taste in film.
2015 was my personal most prolific film viewing year. I managed to see 66 2015 films this year (though some of them probably count as 2016 films), and it was the best year in film since I’ve started putting a lot of effort into film. I maintain that my number 1 film of this year isn’t as strong as in years past, but this year’s number 20 would make my top 10 in previous years, and that is why this year I’m listing my top 20.
Before I get to the list, I do have a few regrets that I was unable to find. Son of Saul, 45 Years, and Heart of a Dog all have not had any kind of release locally but I look forward to catching them as soon as possible. I also have one film not on my list, but should be my number 1 film of the year. The World of Tomorrow is the best film of the year, but I’m excluding it from the list as it’s a short.
This year’s list was reasonable in its depiction of women, with 12 of my top 20 passing the Bechdel Test, and a few others having strong female leads despite failing. Only 1 film on my list was directed by a woman unfortunately, though that one, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Tangerine specifically struck me as extremely strong feminist pieces that I hope will find their places in greater film culture. Now without further ado, my top 20.
20. Brooklyn – Saoirse Ronan put in an amazing performance as a homesick Irish immigrant who finds and struggles with love.
19. Ex Machina – Such a brilliant piece of science fiction. All three actors put in seamless layered performances.
18. When Marnie Was There – Another beautiful film by Ghibli shows the story of distant adolescent girl as she makes a friend with all of the whimsy of most Ghibli films.
17. Heaven Knows What – A brutal depiction of the life of an addict in New York. Written by and starring a former addict.
16. Tangerine – Where The Danish Girl failed to humanize Lili, Sean Baker’s film depicting transgender prostitutes Sin-Dee and Alexandra does so with brilliance and compassion. Expect a full post on this one soon.
15. Love and Mercy – The best biopic of the year, Paul Dano and John Cusack do an amazing job portraying a haunted Brian Wilson.
14. The Forbidden Room – My first Guy Maddin film was an adventure. The nested storylines composed of plots from lost films was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
13. Buzzard – This film snuck up on me. The transition from a run of the mill office comedy into a delve into the consequences of those actions and the psyche of one who makes them was seamless.
12. Inside Out – I have no idea how this didn’t make my top 10. My 3rd favorite Pixar film (behind Ratatouille and the masterpiece Wall-E) was a risk in story telling that paid off in spades. I fell in love with Riley and wish I could have spent more time with her.
11. Clouds of Sils Maria – Juliette Binoche puts in a great performance, but Kristen Stewart runs away with the film proving that she is an actress much stronger than the Twilight films would make one assume.
10. Phoenix – The slow burn of Phoenix as Nelly (Nina Hoss) reintroduces herself to her husband cumulating in the greatest final scene of the year, and potentially decade, solidifies phoenix in my top 10 for the year. As an homage to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Phoenix delivers a similar story from the viewpoint of the female character, and dwells on the emotional trauma as Nelly accepts the fact that the one she loves may have also been to one responsible for her time in Auschwitz.
9. Room – Brie Larson is the Oscar front runner for lead actress for a reason with this film. Her portrayal of a mother who is still very much a child is believable and emotionally devastating. Her acceptance of her fate, and then inability to reintegrate with the real world once she escapes combines to show the acute emotional trauma that her character went through.
8. The Diary of a Teenage Girl – I love the underrepresented subgenre of coming of age films dedicated to female sexual awakening. The Diary of a Teenage Girl, despite the awful title, is one of the stronger entries into the genre than we’ve seen in quite a few years. Bel Powley is phenomenal as Minnie, and Marielle Heller’s decision to explore the sexual awakening of a teenage girl without coming across as condemning is refreshing in a world that still is more comfortable slut shaming women than acknowledging that they are people too.
7. Krisha – This isn’t being release until March of next year, but I saw it at SXSW in 2015 so it’s making this list. First time director Trey Shults shows a lot of promise on a minimal budget. From the opening long take to the unflinching close-ups of Krisha Fairchild as she unravels during the course of a few days, Krisha was a great discovery that I highly recommend.
6. Spotlight – The entire cast puts in Oscar worthy performances in this investigative journalism drama. Ruffalo, Keaton, and McAdams should all of nominations incoming. While there’s nothing overly showy about the execution of film, it has a very crisp feel and feels perfectly executed in its simplicity.
5. Youth – In contrast, Youth is a showy film, and in the best way. If The Great Beauty was Sorrentino attempting to make his version of La Dolce Vita, Youth is his 8 ½. Caine and Keitel both thrive as aging artists. Dano is intriguing as the misunderstood actor Jimmy Tree, and Jane Fonda has the best cameo of the year. While it doesn’t quite hold up to 2013’s The Great Beauty, Youth is another brilliant entry from Sorrentino.
4. Anomalisa – Charlie Kaufman’s foray into stop motion cinema alone was enough to grab my interest. What I found when exploring the film was a film that perfectly blended humor and melancholy with the surrealism that can only come from a Kaufman script. I’ve read that the crew was extremely uncomfortable while shooting the sex scene, but it’s completely worth it as the most memorable moment in the film.
3. Carol – As my most anticipated film of the year, I guess Carol is technically under performing at the number 3 slot. Rooney Mara puts in a career best performance as a somewhat naïve Therese Belivet. Mara captures the growth that her character experiences throughout the course of the film. Back that up with a superb supporting performance from Cat Blanchett (as always), beautiful cinematography from Edward Lachman, and the best score of the year from Carter Burnwell, and Todd Haynes created an amazing film about a subject that unfortunately seems almost as taboo now as it did when the film takes place.
2. The Look of Silence – The companion piece to Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing from 2013 is just as hard to watch, but also just as important. Instead of following the still in power culprits, this film focuses on the family of a victim as a man interviews the men responsible for the death of his brother. The Look of Silence follows a more traditional documentary structure than The Act of Killing did, which makes the message hit more clearly and immediately.
1. Victoria – I’m not sure if I’m alone in thinking that this film was worthy of this recognition, or if it was just that little see. Victoria is the most impressive film of the year, and I don’t think that it’s close. The 2-and-a-half-hour single take film had me on the edge of my seat and unable to breathe for the entirety of its run. The camera seldom leaves Laia Costa’s face for the entire run making her performance all the more impressive. While the film takes place in real time, Sebastian Schipper’s use of non-diegetic sound to fill otherwise tedious portions of time (like waiting in an elevator) show an amazing understanding of how the film flows. While the film may be strongly reliant on its gimmick, the gimmick pays off tenfold. Do yourself a favor and commit your distraction free time to this film.