2015 was the year of the heroine in film. Across all genres, it seems a paradigm shift is underway in how women are portrayed. Hollywood still has far to go in regard to gender, racial, and compensation equity; but maybe we are seeing incremental progress. It's definitely a different, better industry than when I first started reviewing fifteen years ago.
Two characters in particular encapsulate this gender shift in mainstream cinema. Charlize Theron was tougher than burnt leather as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. Shaved head, amputated arm, she was every bit as ferocious as co-star Tom Hardy. Then we have a truly stellar newcomer with Daisy Ridley's 'Rey' in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The most anticipated film of the year had a female lead that wasn't a princess, pining away for a love interest, or a delicate damsel in distress. Her journey to becoming a lightsaber-swinging, Force-wielding badass was a truly welcome surprise. She represents a new kind of hero that will hopefully inspire a generation of younger audiences. The mammoth success of female protagonist adaptations like The Hunger Games and Divergent franchises have built up momentum to this point. Studios are finally realizing that women can be just as bankable as men in tentpole films.
Independent cinema and the low budget realm had a banner year with exceptional female leads. Brie Larson wins my best actress for the second year in a row with her gut wrenching performance in Room. Larson plays a woman protecting her child in a tale of captivity pulled from recent headlines. Saoirse Ronan will be her strongest contender for the Oscar. She's fantastic as a beguiling Irish immigrant caught between two suitors in the period romance, Brooklyn. Love is also in the fifties era air for Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol, an exquisitely shot adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's groundbreaking sapphic novel. Both actresses will be serious contenders in the actress categories. My nod for supporting actress goes to Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight. She has the finest performance in her decades long career as the despicably racist and manipulative Daisy Domergue.
The best actor of 2015 is Tom Hardy for his excellent work in multiple films. He resurrected Mad Max in a muted, but dominating physical performance in Mad Max: Fury Road. He played both Kray brothers in Legend, a biopic about the sixties British gangsters. Then he topped off the year as a nefarious murderer in The Revenant. Hardy's talent and intensity has turned him into one of Hollywood's most sought after actors. He hasn't made any friends with his surly attitude at press junkets. As evidenced by a headline grabbing, online tirade against him by a disgruntled journalist.
Supporting actor was a tough call with many worthy choices. Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies, and literally, the entire male cast of Spotlight were brilliant. My choice in a crowded field is Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation. He is horrific as the Commandant, an African rebel leader exploiting child soldiers. His performance was so repugnant; I struggled mightily to watch the film.
Director/writer George Miller deserves a cabinet of awards for Mad Max: Fury Road. My nod for best director, best film, cinematography, and editing. Miller's thirty year hiatus from his Mad Max franchise must have been spent percolating genius. He's made one of the greatest action films of all time using old fashioned filmmaking techniques. In an age of CGI and motion picture, Miller got his hands dirty with practical effects and elaborate stunt work. Anyone can make an art film. It takes vision and immense technical skill to craft an adrenaline fueled thrill ride like Mad Max: Fury Road. Here are the Top Ten Films of 2015 as compiled by me, Julian Roman.
Mad Max: Fury Road is an action masterpiece. Set in the wasteland of a nuclear apocalypse, the one armed lieutenant (Charlize Theron) of a grotesque despot steals his treasured brides. She escapes through the desert on a fuel tanker with an army of radiation poisoned freaks in hot pursuit. She finds an unlikely ally in Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a grizzled wanderer with a heart of gold and lethal proficiency. Director/writer George Miller revives Mad Max with bold vision and relentless execution. Mad Max: Fury Road will blow you out of your chair. It's that good, really.
Beasts of No Nation is a horrifying story of innocence lost and corrupted. Abraham Attah stars as a young African boy turned into a child soldier by an abominable rebel leader (Idris Elba). Directed by Cory Joji Fukunaga and adapted from the novel by Uzodinma Iweala, Beasts of No Nation is an unflinching look at the use of children as instruments of war. A difficult film to watch, it shows humanity at its worst, and the near impossible task of rehabilitating these lost children.
Spotlight is an expertly crafted procedural on the value of good journalism. It is the true story of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize winning Boston Globe reporters that investigated the hideous crimes of John Geoghan. They uncovered the pedophilia scandal in the Roman Catholic Church and their decades long systemic cover-up of the crimes. Writer and Director Tom McCarthy enlists an all star cast (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams) in a complex and engrossing film.
French Canadian Director Denis Villeneuve delivers a brutal and bullet-ridden look at the drug war in Mexico. Emily Blunt stars as a weary FBI agent duped into joining a CIA run task force. Horrified by their violent methods, she questions the identity of a capable but ruthless fixer (Benicio Del Toro). Sicario illustrates the astonishing violence and methods used by cartels to gain leverage in an unceasing conflict.
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks collaborate again in this excellent Cold War thriller. It is based on the true story of Francis Gary Powers, an American U-2 pilot who was shot down over Russia in 1960. Hanks stars as James Donovan, a principled lawyer who negotiated the perilous prisoner exchange. The film shows America during the Red Scare and the palpable fear of nuclear war.
Brie Larson delivers a stunning performance as a woman trying to protect her young son (Jacob Tremblay) in an unfathomable situation. Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue and directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Room is a fictional story pulled from recent, shocking headlines. The journey taken by mother and son is powerfully emotional. Larson is so good here. She is a lock to win the Oscar for Best Actress.
Ridley Scott has his best film since Gladiator. Matt Damon is terrific as Mark Watney, a botanist accidentally left behind on Mars. Presumed dead, Watney uses ingenuity and humor to survive on the barren planet. When he's discovered to be alive by NASA, a global effort is launched to rescue him. The Martian is a rollicking adventure with a lot of heart and laughs. Matt Damon, who's been so good since day one in his career, is my bet to win the Oscar for Best Actor.
Carol is the film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel, The Price of Salt. Set in 1950s New York City, Therese (Rooney Mara) is a department store worker that befriends Carol (Cate Blanchett), an entrancing older, married woman. Their friendship blooms into a forbidden romance that threatens every part of their lives. Beautifully shot by Director Todd Haynes, Carol is an exquisite, well-acted story of secret love.
Creed is a new chapter in the Rocky franchise. Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed. Saved from juvenile detention by Creed's widow, Johnson grows up with an unstoppable determination to be a fighter. He leaves the comforts of a privileged Los Angeles life and goes to Philadelphia, in search of the one man that can help fulfill his dream, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Director/writer Ryan Coogler continues to astound in his second film. Creed is an uplifting tale of friendship and purpose. It is the best Rocky film since the original. Sylvester Stallone hasn't been this good in years.
Saoirse Ronan is absolutely radiant in Brooklyn. She plays an Irish immigrant struggling to find herself in a foreign country, until she's noticed by a hardscrabble Italian (Emory Cohen). A tragedy takes her back to Ireland where she finds familiarity and a new suitor (Domhnall Gleeson). Brooklyn is a captivating coming of age tale. Adapted by Nick Hornsby from the novel by Colm Toibin, Brooklyn will enchant you. It's the best date movie of the year.
2015 was such a great year for film. There are far too many to simply crush this list down to 10. Some of our other favorites included Ex Machina, Dope, It Follows, Straight Outta Compton, 45 Years, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Spy. There were some other great movies in the mix. But these were surely the ones that will be remembered and watched for years to come.
B. Alan Orange's Favorite Movie of 2015
My favorite movie of the year is one that was greatly overlooked. It's called Deathgasm, and I can't stop talking about it. It is the party movie of the year. Fast paced, full of gore, and hilarious from start to finish. No False Metal is its motto, and it sticks to those words all the way through to the end. Its a loving ode to the early work of Peter Jackson, and gives a winking nod to that trashy little Halloween movie Trick or Treat. Not the cool one everybody loves, but the one starring Marc Price (aka Skippy from Family Ties) and Gene Simmons. Black Metal and strawberry ice cream. if you like watching your movies with a six pack and a smile, this is the movie of the year! And they're already making a sequel (so I can't be completely wrong)!
Brian Gallagher's Favorite Movie of 2015
Anomalisa! Some years are better than others, but those that come with new Charlie Kaufman movies are better than most. I've been drawn to the writer-director's work ever since the stunningly original Being John Malkovich back in 1999, and he has taken his craft to new heights in my favorite movie of 2015, the stop motion gem Anomalisa. The movie takes stop motion to new heights, giving viewers an entirely new perspective on what we actually "see" in a movie. These innovative visuals are paired with a story that, on paper, may seem quite simple, but is slowly revealed to be much more complex and utterly profound as each minute passes. Simply put, you won't see another movie likeAnomalisa all year, and that's exactly why true movie fans should check it out.
The Worst Film of 2015 - Fantastic Four
The reboot of Fantastic Four is a boondoggle of epic proportions. It may seem like just another terrible comic adaptation, but it's really much worse. Fantastic Four had the benefit of being released within ten years of the previous films. The slightly awful Fantastic Four (2005) and the downright putrid, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), were not distant memories. The stench from those disasters was still wafting in the air when the latest film was being rehashed. I, like other gullible fanboys, thought there had to be improvement. There's no chance in hell that they could make a worse movie than those two. Then we got wind of the casting. Good actors, but Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara playing siblings? Seems strange, but it's a diverse world, so heap me up a plate of diversity. Josh Trank directing, ok, I liked Chronicle, feels like a smart move. Toby Kebbell and Miles Teller rounding out the cast, great news, this is looking to be pretty good...
Like a meteor of crashing expectations, Fantastic Four was a titanic flop. Fox and Josh Trank achieved a near impossible feat. They made a film that makes the other two look like Citizen Kane. Did Trank suck that badly? Did studio interference doom the film? Pun intended. Who knows who is really to blame? Either way, it was freaking awful, and has probably killed The Fantastic Four on the big screen for many years. I'll chalk it up to groupthink. You have a bunch of ostensibly smart people making poor decisions. RIP Fantastic Four, you deserved better!
Fantastic Four wasn't the only bad movie stinking up theater screens this year. Other contenders for worst movie of the year include these gems: Entourage, The Cobbler, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Mortdecai, Hot Pursuit, The Intern, and Cooties. What a bunch of stinkers!
Rest of the Best
Here is the best in every catagory. At least according to me, Julian Roman. But I am just one man! Best Director: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road. Best Actor: Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road, Legend, The Revenant. Best Actress: Brie Larson, Room. Best Supporting Actor: Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation. Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight. Best Original Screenplay: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight. Best Adapted Screenplay: Phyllis Nagy, Carol. Best Cinematography: John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road. Best Editing: Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road. Best Score: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight. Best Soundtrack: The Martian. Best FX: Mad Max: Fury Road. Best Foreign Film: 45 Years. Best Documentary: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Best Animated Film: Anomalisa.
What do you think? Did we leave out any of your favorites? Are you mad that we didn't mention Pixels at all. Let us know all your favorites from the year, and what you hated most in the comments below. And stay tuned, 2016 promises to be an even bigger year at the movies!