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The 30 Best Movies of 2015

31 December 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Shane Scott-Travis

best movies 2015

Anyone of the opinion that 2015 was a mediocre year at the multiplex just wasn’t looking hard enough. Why even narrowing the titles down to a workable 30 titles was no small feat – I cringe at the many worthy films that didn’t make the cut – and a cursory glance at the titles assembled here shows a wonderful and wide-ranging miscellany.

The auteur is alive and well, arthouse and blockbusters are plentiful, genre films are stronger than ever, female-led projects are populist and bankable, as are strong women characters.

Without further ado, let the roundup commence, and in 2016 let’s catch up in the queue and compare notes, shall we?

 

30. Crumbs

Miguel Llansó, Ethiopia/Finland/Spain

Crumbs

With a straight-face Crumbs tells the surreal story of a diminutive adventurer (Daniel Tadesse) who, along with his beloved Birdy (Selam Tesfaye), lives in a relinquished bowling alley, but must journey to find a tyrannical Santa Claus and ask him to put them aboard a spaceship.

Armed only with his wits, a toy sword – still in it’s original packaging – and a vinyl pressing of Michael Jackson’s Dangerous to barter with, and dogged by a dollar store trinket-adoring Nazi, Crumbs is the crazy directorial debut from Ethiopian filmmaker Miguel Llansó. A post-apocalyptic melodrama, and peculiar pop culture collateral as objet d’art, this is a bedtime story for children of the far future. You’ve never seen a film like Crumbs and you’ll never forget it, either.

 

29. The Assassin

Hou Hsiao-Hsien, China/Hong Kong/Taiwan

The Assassin

There’s nothing atypical about legendary Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s (Millennium Mambo) revenge-fuelled variation on the wuxia genre. While martial arts fans may be left out in the cold at this delicate, restrained, and original approach to sorcery and comeuppance, others will be blown away by Hou’s muscular long takes, the rich period details of the 9th-century Tang Dynasty setting, and the brilliant performance from the unerring Shu Qi in the eponymous role.

Sumptuous, reflective, and inventive, this exacting and expertly choreographed film, which won the director’s prize at Cannes, is unlike any other action film released this year. Exceptional.

 

28. Tangerine

Sean S. Baker, USA

Tangerine

Part domestic drama, part two-timing revenge narrative, and all screwball pastiche, this Kickstarter-funded festival favorite, famously shot via iPhones, is, remarkably, an old-fashioned farce. Making their screen debuts are BFFs Alexandra (Mya Taylor), and Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a transgender sex-worker recently released after a short stint in the clink are reunited on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles.

Director and co-writer Sean Baker (Starlet) brilliantly subverts stereotypes we’ve all seen ad nauseum when it comes to tart-with-a-heart caricatures, and these deeply-flawed women are authentic, deeply delightful, emotionally honest and enthralling throughout. Tangerine is gritty, as you might expect, but it’s also riotously entertaining, and one of the funniest films of the year.

 

27. Love & Mercy

Bill Pohlad, USA

Love & Mercy

In many ways as eccentric and onerous as the friable genius it celebrates, Love & Mercy, the unconventional Brian Wilson biopic, is a complete and unequivocal success. Brilliant turns from Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) and John Cusack (Say Anything), both playing iconic savant songwriter Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, each at different points in his stormy and misunderstood career.

Dano is Wilson circa 1965, on the precipice of recording Pet Sounds, a complex pop album that would, over time, be viewed as the Beach Boys’ masterpiece. Cusack is 1980s-era Wilson, a desolate figure in the throes of mental illness, under the auspices of psychologist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Landy’s endless prescription drug cocktails are leaving Wilson in ruins, but all this will change when he meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks, brilliant).

Pohlad’s juxtapositioning of these two fractured timelines is intricate and satiating, making for an immersive study of mental illness, musical genius, and empathy.

 

26. The Similars

Isaac Ezban, Mexico

The Similars

Mexican filmmaker Isaac Ezban’s turned heads with last year’s sci-fi success The Incident, and now his speedy follow-up is the stylish, strange, and artfully atmospheric The Similars.

Set in an eerie, out-of-the-way bus station in 1968, this Twilight Zone tribute – complete with a Rod Serling-style narrator – is fuelled and fed by an economical understanding of shots, cuts, and reveals that are rich in ambience and anxiety.

The Similars intentionally presses plausibility, but it’s a genre film with genuflections as wildly varied as Orson Welles, the Evil Dead, Hitchcock, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Fans of self-reflexive cinema without a safety net will cling to Ezban, a new cinematic voice who’s called and commanded our attention.

 

25. Nina Forever

Ben and Chris Blaine, UK

Nina Forever

Nina Forever is an occasionally romantic, often amusing, and outright macabre debut from Brit brothers Ben and Chris Blaine, showcasing a pronounced visual savvy and at least one breakout performance from Abigail Hardingham.

New couple Rob (Cian Barry) and Holly (Hardingham) can’t get it on without Rob’s ex, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), deceased, making a blood-spattered forced entrance of cockblocking impropriety. Not cool!

The film smartly delves into ideas of grieving and recovery, of first love, coming of age, acceptance, and desire. These may be recognizable genre tropes, sure, it is a horror film, after all, but there’s a tenderhearted love story at its core, too, making Nina Forever as intellectually edifying as it is carnally seductive.

 

24. The Revenant

Alejandro González Iñárritu, USA

The Revenant

Arguably Iñárritu’s finest film yet – from the guy who gave us Birdman and Amores Perros – this revisionist revenge Western also contains a career best performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as lovely/ghastly nods to both Terrence Malick and Werner Herzog.

The head-spinning cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, The Tree of Life, Gravity) is reason enough to see this film, as it adds an urgency and an execution so rarely seen and so stunningly executed. A big-canvas survival yarn, based off of actual events in the 1820s, rarely if at all receives such visionary and grandiose industry, making a wilderness epic for the ages, or at least, for those with the sinews and stamina to bear with it.

 

 

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  • Unkle Dee

    Thank you. Cool list

  • Dimitrije Stojanovic

    Hard to be a God is even from 2013

    • shane scott-travis

      It wasn’t released in North America until 2015, when I saw it. For myself and many critics in the West this was a huge event. 🙂

  • Alonso Llanos

    Where is Inside Out?

    • Andy West

      Sounds like a riddle. Is the answer bacon?

  • Simina Sovi

    Mad Max has got to make the list of the most overrated movies of 2015, not the best.

    • Rafael Castilho Monteiro

      i love you.

      • Simina Sovi

        <3

    • Shawn Savage

      Generally I think the usage of the term “overrated” is, in and of itself, overrated, but this is one of the rare instances in which I agree. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the movie, but holy shit.

    • kanis

      I don’t agree. One of the best movies last year. Top 3. Definitely.

    • Akshay Bhanot

      watch it again you are missing something

      • Simina

        That something being?

        • Phan Nguyen

          That movie was very good if you’re a fan of action movie and understand things that make a good action movie and things that make a bad one. I respect your opinion if you’re not an action fan, but if you are, saying mad max was overrated you are not worthy of being an action fan and should be sent to Valhallaaaa

          • Simina

            I would never insult myself by saying I like action movies, they bore me to death.

          • LittleRedRooster

            Die then.

          • Sean Sherk You’re Dead

            What a Pretentious moron you are

          • Simina

            Had you used the word snob, you would have been closer to truth. I know that my claim is such an upsetting one to all of you, action fans, but what can I do if the genre does not define me. I cannot lie and say I appreciate it.

          • D Train

            Then why say anything? I don’t like musicals but I don’t troll popular musicals and their fans. And I can appreciate when one is well made. Duh!

          • Simina

            Just because I do not see the value of Mad Max or most action movies in general that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate when one is well made (and my initial comment was far from trolling, just an opinion). Mad Max has no plot almost, the chromatic is horrible despite the good visual effects, it’s repetitive and unoriginal and superficial. But that’s Hollywood, there are so many other movies that would fit this description and are not even action movies.

          • Akshay Bhanot

            After half an hour into the movie I was like WTH I’m watching to then i realized that this movie is going to play like this till the end and then I got used the camera work and the craziness I fucking enjoyed it then.. u need to accept the craziness and that’s it you will like it then.. 🙂 you don’t need to be an action movie lover to see good in this film A MOVIE LOVER WOULD DO JUST FINE!!!.. I don’t have a particular favorite genre in films, I like all of em until they deliver what they have promised in the trailers or do justice with the story or stupefy/surprise me.. You need to embrace all kind stories first and then make your opinion by this method u will get the best results… (i don’t think I met a single girl who liked mad max) CHEERS!!

          • Simina

            I have a close girl friend who liked it. It was about the feminism and the cynicism it incorporated, she said. Those aspects were not bad at all, but the overall thing just meh.

      • WilloughbyBucksworth

        Miller should have either done it with Mel Gibson as Max or without a Max at all.

    • mark

      Wow what a bag of dicks these commenters are. You go Simina.

    • Agreed. I really couldn’t even finish it.

  • Rudi

    Not very movie lover-y to include two movies (The Hateful Eight and The Revenant) that 99% has only seen in an illegal way this year. They’re for the 2016 lists, after people had the chance to see them in cinema.

    • sailor monsoon

      Just because you didn’t see them in theaters doesn’t mean i did illegally.
      They’re both on my list and hateful eight is also way down the list

      • Rudi

        You’re twisting my words.

        31,031 people rated The Hateful Eight on IMDB and it has had 4 or 5 screenings this year. I think it’s safe to assume by far the biggest part of those 31,000 people saw it illegally.

        For The Revenant the numbers are almost the same; close to 30,000 ratings with only 2 screenings this year.

        • sailor monsoon

          Because people stole it, i shouldn’t count it on my list?
          That doesn’t effect me.
          I waited in line 7 hours to see hateful eight

          • Rudi

            If you’re part of an extreme minority who saw the movie in the year before it officially releases I indeed think it’s one for the 2016 lists.

          • sailor monsoon

            I go by US release dates.
            If it was released in America in 2015 and i saw it in 2015, i count it.
            If it’s released later for you, put it on your 2016 list

          • shane scott-travis

            So therefore I need to check in with you to determine what year to categorize the films I’m viewing and writing about? Okay, and who the fug are you again? hahaha

          • sailor monsoon

            Um…
            What?

    • Chrisychipz

      In my city, they both came out in limited release on christmas day

  • Derek Handelong
    • Harshwardhan Pagare

      About Elly is included in your list. It’s 2009 movie just so you know

      • Brandon Thompson

        It received a wide release in 2015

        • Derek Handelong

          Exactly, thanks. Most of the others people “think” are 2014 didn’t get a chance until 2015 and really who cares. Why nitpick over that instead of talk about the films.

  • Brandon Thompson

    My top 10 are

    1. Mommy
    2. Mad Max: Fury Road
    3. Sicario
    4. 99 Homes
    5. The Walk
    6. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
    7. Inside Out
    8. The Lobster
    9. Creed
    10. The Assassin

    And yes I realise that Mommy and 99 Homes are listed as 2014 movies on IMDb but they didn’t get there wide release until 2015.

    Also notable oscar buzz movies haven’t been released in Australia yet (E.G. Room, Spotlight, Carol)

    • Chrisychipz

      Mommy is one of the best movie I’ve seen in years, along with Anomalisa

  • Brandon Thompson

    Also how was this list decided upon? Was it just the author of the article or was it a collaboration of taste of cinema writers.

    • John W. Thackery

      It’s one writer. Almost all TOC articles are written by one writer.

  • M.A. Rauf

    No ‘ Bridge of Spies ‘ ?? How could you ?? Please sit down and have a sprite and then please rewrite the list.

    • shane scott-travis

      Haha – I’ll need something stiffer than a Sprite to digest a Speilberg crowd-pleaser! 😉

  • David Ames

    Why is Green Room on this list…its torture porn.

    • D Train

      It’s brilliant! Not for all tastes and gruesome but a great genre film.

  • Iván Solorio (SanS)

    I honestly think that Carol is Haynes most forgettable movie.

  • Prince Purple

    I hated every minute of “Clouds of Sils Maria”. Just because its an art movie, every one praises Kristen stewart’s performance, which actually remains as bad as what was in Twilight.

    • Chrisychipz

      Definitely not..

  • Chrisychipz

    Not too sure about It Follows being number 2.. Where is Mommy? Black Coal Thin Ice? 45 Years? Victoria? Brooklyn? Goodnight Mommy? The Tribe? Youth? The Look of Silence?

  • Pedro Enrique Casique Duran

    No like…

  • santiamen

    If you get a chance, you should check out the Hungarian film Liza, a rokatunder (Lisa, the Fox-Fairy), one of the most original pieces to see this year for sure.

  • Erwin Houto

    Carol? Ha!

    • shane scott-travis

      You’ll laugh when it deservedly wins “Best Adapted Screenplay” amongst many other awards, hmm?

      • Erwin Houto

        The film will probably do very well with all kinds of US film awards, partly due to its subject matter. Knowing other Todd Haynes films I was underwhelmed, that’s all.

  • Rafael Castilho Monteiro

    wheres BONE TOMAHAWK?

    but im glad to see ENTERTAIMENT in the top five, it was the best movie of the year im my opinion.

  • Wyatt W.B

    Steve Jobs.

    • Maryanne

      boring!!!!

  • The Man Who Wasn’t There

    No Beasts of No Nation?A powerful and unique movie that features One of the best child performances ever. Inside Out was a great animation too i think that deserves a spot on the list, too.

  • Nick Arno

    I am very disappointed that Spotlight isn’t on this list. It was one of the most important movies made in a while, and so well done.

  • Alex

    Equal parts surprised and happy to see “It Follows” listed. Truly deserves every single praise it gets. One for the ages, undoubtedly.

  • For me:
    1. The Lobster
    2. Son Of Saul
    3. Embrace Of The Serpent
    4. Hard To Be A God
    5. The Revenant/ The Hateful Eight

  • Elke Damm

    I didn’t expect “Carol” on n°1 on this list! Don’t get me wrong: This is one of my favourite movies of all times and the movie fully deserve it. You should have told the Academy. This year it will be: “And the Oscar goes to “The Revenant” … “The Revenant” and …. “The Revenant”. Predictable and so boring.

  • David W

    Victoria!

    • D Train

      Victoria was terrible. Just a gimmick. Zzz

  • Usama Asif Khan

    Sicario wasnt that great

  • Diego Alejandro Alvarez

    Star Wars: The Force Awakens?? this crap should be among the 30 worst movies 2015, it was a mediocre attempt to retread the saga in a teen version

  • xDynazty

    Mad max #5 ? Son of Saul only #11? Haha im out of this page.

  • TudorR

    Aferim!

  • Mortimer

    Excellent list. In my opinion CAROL and MAD MAX:FURY ROAD are two best films of 2015.

  • Ozhan

    I hope one day I’ll figure out, what caused the love of TOT for “It Follows”.

  • Ruchit Negotia

    Ugh anomalisa is so overrated, its basically lost in translation 2.0 with stop motion. Also it follows had a good idea and for the most part they did good but towards the end or the last act they killed it IMO, deserves the list but not number 2.

  • colonelkurtz

    Cause I’m a grammar/style nut, please forgive me, but: eponymous is used solely for names of people. Harry Potter is the protagonist in his eponymous novel, works. Has to be a person, not a thing (in this case, green room).

  • WilloughbyBucksworth

    Mad Max Fury Road was both a mash up and unintended parody of The Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Should have just left Tom Hardy out.

  • Pedro D. Souza

    The 8 Best:
    1) Inside Out
    2) Victoria
    3) Anomalisa
    4) The Lobster
    5) Youth
    6) The Hateful Eight
    7) Carol
    8) The Revenant