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The 30 Best Movies of 2015

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

15. Experimenter

Michael Almereyda, USA

Experimenter

A visually and verbally spellbinding showpiece from Michael Almereyda (Nadja), Experimenter is set in 1961 at Yale, as renowned social psychologist Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) wields the baton on a series of psychological experiments. Curiously structured with chronological to and fro, fourth wall asides, arcs and eddies into surrealism, Almereyda still manages to present his treatise with an amenable charm.

Experimenter is an old school indie arthouse homecoming, and a bracing tonic of a film. Like Louis Malle’s My Dinner With Andre, this is a film that haunts and hypnotizes, sending the audience away changed, troubled, reeling, and utterly impressed.

 

14. High-Rise

Ben Wheatley, UK

High-Rise

British firebrand Ben Wheatley (Kill List) adapts J.G. Ballard’s (Crash) skyscraping novel High-Rise, knowing full well the risks involved in raising such a structure. Set in Thatcher’s England, 1975, the denizens of a 40-storey luxury building will, over the course of three scant months, revert to ferocious barbarity, explore Freudian textbook extremes, and propound poetic self-destruction as Wheatley unleashes the beast.

Visually disturbing and hard-boiled vintage soon spurs an absurd cinematic carnival of arraigned values, hamster cage clichés, standing aphorisms, and more. Drugging, boozing, orgies, beatings, lootings, rape, and murder all soon ensue.

As High-Rise grows progressively uncivilized and brutal it also becomes more and more hypnagogic, the boldface emblems of politics, the gallows humor with a social conscience, they all blur into a gloriously downbeat pageant, and a tour de force from a fearless filmmaker.

 

13. The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland/UK/Greece/France/Netherlands

lobster

Marked by merry invention, The Lobster manages many a dark detour in its drive down contentious cobblestones of social mores, dating rituals, courtship protocols and group polemic. Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos’ (Dogtooth) latest absurdist allegory is a distinct dystopian satire steeped in narrative tension.

The Lobster gets its epithet from its conscience-stricken central character, David (Colin Farrell), who has chosen the marine crustacean as the animal he will become if, after 45 days at the hotel resort he’s staying at, he hasn’t found a mate.

On this strange premise hangs Lanthimos’ strange, bleakly comedic tale, rich with a Samuel Beckett-like absurdism along with elements of the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, and a significant fracturing of mimesis that doesn’t hollow out the efforts of The Lobster as a poignant love story.

 

12. Ex Machina

Alex Garland, USA

Ex Machina

Alex Garland, whose screenwriting credits include 28 Days Later, and Never Let Me Go, cut his director teeth with another script of his, the speculative fiction Ex Machina. Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is a programmer for a search engine called Bluebook, who’s illusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) has assigned him to a lucrative new project involving artificial intelligence in the form of Ava (Alicia Vikander, brilliant).

Despite the limitations that come with a chamber piece, and Ex Machina is structured as such, the film not only dissects grand ideas, it details how people behave when they know they are being watched, and, best of all, articulates a dystopia that’s charitable towards AI but as for humanity? Well, we might just be fucked, let’s put it that way.

 

11. Son of Saul

László Nemes, Hungary

Son of Saul

Much to director/screenwriter László Nemes credit, he eschews all the usual Holocaust drama clichés in his heart-rending and brutal debut, Son of Saul.

Saul (Géza Röhrig) is a Hungarian Jew forced to help the Nazis in Auschwitz where he is a Sonderkommando – concentration camp workers made up of prisoners – whose hellish charge is burning the dead.

Muscular long takes are intricately choreographed in ways that often obscure the focus, causing fright, uncertainty, and anxiousness in the viewer. Harrowing sequence follows harrowing sequence, making for a gut-wrenching experience as well as a masterclass in formalist technique.

As Son of Saul moves inexorably towards a gruelling finish, it requires such intense tenacity that we understand, maybe fleetingly, the endurance and bravery of broken men. Unforgettable.

 

10. Hard To Be a God

Aleksei German, Czech Republic/Russia

Hard to Be A God

A medieval sci-fi epic adapted from the deeply imaginative novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky – their book “Roadside Picnic” was the basis for Tarkovsky’s Stalker – from director Aleksei German (My Friend Ivan Lapshin) was a years-in-the-making labor of love that amounts to a breathtakingly unforgettable film of brutal savagery and painful sympathy.

A team of sub-rosa scientists from Earth are on an alien planet, Arkanar, similar to our own but where the Renaissance never occurred, leaving the populace in a savage and decaying Middle Ages without end.

German’s pet project for decades, he first adapted Hard To Be a God for the screen in the late 1960s, and filming didn’t begin until 2000.

Principal photography lasted until 2006, and the editing ran for years, until German’s death in 2013 – the sound design was completed by his son – but the results are a meticulously detailed tour de force with lush visuals that echo the religious illustrative narratives of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel. An epic in every sense of the word, you’re unlikely to find a more immersive, ingrained and extravagant film than this.

 

9. Room

Lenny Abrahamson, Canada/Ireland

Room

Five-year-old Jack (an astonishing Jacob Tremblay), who, along with his mother, Joy (Brie Larson, superb), make a soaring exodus from the one-room dungeon they’d been in for over half a decade in Room. Director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) and screenwriter Emma Donoghue – Room is based off her 2010 novel – tell Jack and Joy’s harrowing story with great diligence and largesse, at once luminously simple, and persistently lyrical.

If it’s essential for a film’s greatness that it contain two or more indelible set-pieces; Room is teeming with them and harbors a moving and dactylic monument to maternal sufferance.

 

8. Hitchcock/Truffaut

Kent Jones, France/USA

Hitchcock Truffaut

This invigorating documentary from Kent Jones (A Letter to Elia) is a tonic for cineastes of all shades the world over. In 1962 filmmaker and French New Wave founder François Truffaut befriended his hero, Alfred Hitchcock, and interviewed him over an eight day period. The results of the interview was the now classic 1966 tome “Hitchcock/Truffaut”, an inspirational and esteemed standard on creativity, inspiration, art, and life writ large on the silver screen.

Combining a wealth of clips of the titular duo, as well as excited testimony from a huge cross-section of filmmakers (including Olivier Assayas, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, and Martin Scorsese amongst others), Jones manages to capture the treasure trove electricity of Truffaut’s book in an engaging and self-effacing way. This film gave me goosebumps for it’s entire running time and will no doubt be cherished, exhausted, and returned to interminably like the book that inspired it.

More than a legacy and a valentine, Hitchcock/Truffaut is a generous appreciation towards cinema, it’s lore, and it’s legends.

 

 

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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.

    • Valentin Genev

      Get over yourself.

  • 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! 😉

    • HDbfly

      Dull.

  • 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.

      • HDbfly

        Oops. It didn’t win. And it was not as good as you think it is.

  • 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

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  • ttt

    Er ist wieder da, Suburra, The End of the Tour, Tale of Tales

  • Filo

    Where is YOUTH ?

  • Malthe Tuxen

    How can you not include The Big Short and Spotlight they definitly deserves to be on this list. Just Saying

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Some great stuff here, and some I’ve not encountered but shall now check out. I thought The Hateful Eight and The Force Awakens were just average though. The former was overstretched and over-schlocky, and while the latter proved that Star Wars can be worthwhile again, Daisy Ridley was a weak lead and Kylo Ren a weak villain.

  • Mick Swinnen

    What about Embrace of the Serpent? Having a 2015 list that features star wars and not a film that’s obviously superior, cool.

  • Gurparkash Singh Sohi

    How is Star Wars: The Force Awakens above The Hateful Eight and The Ravenant?