Yes, yes, this post is very late. I wanted to see The Revenant before making this list in hopes of it landing a spot in the top 10. Did it? Read on to find out, but before listing honorable mentions, I do want to reflect a little on the past year in films. Many may say it was not a good year, and to an extent I agree. I did not fall head over heels in love with any film that came out this year. There have been some really great films, but mostly there were simply good films. This is a little disheartening because the last couple of years there has been at least one film that I fell in love with. Hopefully 2016 will bring some great films to the table. As far as my list, I want to discuss a couple of Honorable Mentions: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hateful Eight, Inside Out, and The Revenant. I really did enjoy Star Wars, and saw it three times total. Every time I enjoyed it a little more, but still saw the flaws that initially brought down my experience. The Hateful Eight is a very well made film, with a handful of problems. Nothing too major, but I cannot imagine myself watching this as many times as I would any other Tarantino film. Inside Out initially got a high score from me (9.6) but the more I thought about it the more I realized that there were some glaring problems with the film. Namely, how Riley’s emotions do not look like her, whereas other emotions resemble the person they are inside. It is a little nitpicky, but I also did not enjoy the film nearly as much the second time as I did the first. Finally, The Revenant is a film I have yet to review but thoroughly enjoyed. DiCaprio gives a committed performance, worthy of an Oscar. The rest of the supporting cast, led by Tom Hardy, is also great. The film itself suffers from a thing plot with easy predictions, along with a long running time. However, the visuals are breathtaking, the characters are interesting, and the music ties the film together. Now, let us move into the top 10.
10. Mad Max: This may be a little too low for some people, but I simply saw 9 films that I think are better than this. Mad Max is a film that absolutely deserves recognition for its technical accomplishments. The stunt work and cinematography are truly amazing. This is of course to the credit of director George Miller and his esteemed crew. The acting in the film is mostly solid, but occasionally a little awkward. The dialogue is a little rocky, and the plot is very thin. Mad Max makes up for all these shortcomings through Miller’s solid direction, the films’ bombastic score, striking visuals, and brilliant mix of CGI and practical effects. This is without a doubt the best action film we have gotten in many years, so it deserves a spot on this list.
9. Me & Earl & The Dying Girl: This is very much an indie film, which is perfect for me. I love Indies and when done right they can be truly personal films that speak to their audiences in ways that big blockbusters never can. This film came out during the summer, and I still find myself watching various clips from it. It has strong performances in its young leads, witty writing, interesting cinematography, and a very relatable story. It may not appeal to everyone because it does approach its subject matter (cancer) in a very quirky way, but I personally loved its approach and think it is the best “teen movie” about dealing with cancer (Sorry Fault in our Stars, but you were not all that great).
8. Anomalisa: One of the strongest elements to this film is just how deep it is. There are many thematic choices that may seem strange on the surface, but as the film unfolds it makes complete sense. On top of that, this film is often quite funny, and gorgeously animated via claymation. A big selling point for the film was that it is “the most human film without any humans”. This is statement is certainly true, because it may very well be the most relatable film of the year. It does have a few flaws, namely that I wanted a little bit more from it, but it is a minor gripe in the scope of all things.
7. Shaun The Sheep: Yet another claymation film makes the list. I am a huge fan of claymation, and this film shows exactly why I love these types of films. It has plenty of heart, clever humor, and is animated remarkably well. I cannot exactly explain why I love this film so much, but I think it is because it says so much while its characters remain silent. There is no dialogue throughout, yet you know who the characters are and understand their background. Not only that, but the film just feels incredibly satisfying from beginning to end. I hope the film wins best animated feature, but I have a feeling it will lose out to another juggernaut (looking at you Inside Out).
6. What We Do in the Shadows: This film is not only hilarious, but it is very clever. Using a mockumentary style is already genius, but what the film excels at is playing with the audience’s expectations. It takes familiar conventions that are associated with vampires, and it turns them on their head. The acting is solid throughout, but it’s the writing that really shines. The film is essentially pun after pun after pun, but it works so well. The jokes never fall flat, and nothing ever feels forced. The effects are also pretty good for such a low budget film. I hear that a spin-off is in the works that focuses on werewolves, which I am 100% okay with since the werewolves were hilarious in the film.
5. Ex Machina: When I saw this earlier in the year I had a feeling it would make my top 10 list. There is so much to love in this film. From the acting to the cinematography everything about this film is really quite great. The biggest problem I have is that it does drag in some parts, but that is not a major complaint at all. Oscar Issac and Alicia Vikander are the standouts in the film, and I am disappointed that neither of them were nominated for some sort of award. I was truly impressed with their performances. The visuals effects in the film are also surprisingly fantastic (similarly to What We Do in the Shadows). Nothing feels like CGI, which is quite a feat for such a low budget film.
4. Sicario: Now that I am coming to my top 4, let me explain that all films are very close from this point on. These are all fantastic films with very minor problems. Sicario for example has a handful of lines that are not very good. These lines of dialogue not only feel a bit forced, but are not well delivered by the actors. I cannot think of a specific example, but it happens a couple of times. Other than that, this is a top notch film. The cinematography had me gushing from start to finish. The acting is so incredibly good, and I am so angry that Benicio Del Toro was not nominated for his role. Absolutely criminal. The music is great, and the plot is tight. I also love the ending of the film. This is a film that is expertly crafted and deserves every award thrown its way.
3. Room: Too many people are confusing this film with the abomination known as The Room. Believe me when I tell you that this film is one you absolutely need to see. The strongest elements of this film are both the acting and the writing. There are so many lines of dialogue that are so perfectly written because of how they shed light on our own society and pose some very interesting questions. The people that bring this dialogue to life include Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Larson has already established herself as quite a fantastic actor, but in this film she brings it to a whole other level. She is desperate, heartwarming, and utterly vulnerable. However, the standout for me just may be young Jacob Tremblay. At 9 years old he gave an honest performance that I truly believe is the best performance of the year. Part of that is due to the fact that he so young, but everything he does in the film felt very natural. If you have not seen this film, please do so. Just make sure not to watch the trailers beforehand.
2. The End of the Tour: Thus far, most of these films are recognized by various awards organizations. However, The End of the Tour does not garner the same recognition. I truly do not know why, because it is filled with some important life lessons, memorable characters, and outstanding actors. There is nothing particularly flashy about this film, other than the fact that it is about two men at two very different points in their lives. Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel both give great performance that have not gotten nearly enough attention from general audiences. These are two actors who are known for playing a specific type of character, but in this film they become the characters they are portraying. Most of the film’s drama revolves around the conversations these two have with each other, which is perfectly fine because their conversations are amazing. They are immensely relatable, and this film will leave you thinking about who you are and where you are going in your life.
1. Spotlight: Perhaps a little bit boring, but Spotlight is indeed my favorite film of the year. I say boring because this is a film that does not have a particular style about it. It succeeds on the strength of its plot and its characters. This is fine, but in the past there have been films that were able to do this while also creating a piece of cinema that felt utterly unique. However, that aside, this is a fantastic film. It tackles an extreme subject with such grace. I never felt bored during this film, and felt constantly informed without being overwhelmed by information. The cast has a lot to do, and each member delivers a memorable performance. I would even argue that Michael Keaton gives a better performance here than he did in Birdman. The big test of whether something will make my top 10 list is if I have a desire to see it again. Spotlight may be a film that most people will want to avoid due to the nature of its subject matter, but I myself cannot wait to see it again. It is simply a masterfully produced film that may lack some style, but makes up for it with powerful substance.