The BP Top Ten of 2015
This list was compiled from the individual top ten lists of Scott, Josh, Aaron, Rita, Matt, Craig, Darrell, Alexander, Sarah, Tyler and David. Each film was weighted according to its placement on each individual list. As such, a film that appeared on only two writers’ lists could still wind up on the finalized list if it placed particularly high. Conversely, a film could conceivably be on everybody’s list, but not make the final list, due to low point value.
Honorable Mentions: Steve Jobs, Youth, Clouds of Sils Maria, Tangerine, Phoenix
10. The Hateful Eight
Following the duel triumphs of Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino clearly felt empowered to indulge himself. That’s how you get a 3-hour roadshow version of what’s basically a locked-room mystery. And inevitably QT’s mission—as it always is—is to paint that locked room red with blood.
Essentially, The Hateful Eight is an Old West retread of Reservoir Dogs, placing the Q-man’s “8th Film” alongside other better-than-expected 2015 crypto-remakes including Creed, The Force Awakens, and Mad Max: Fury Road. As any of these films can attest, the key to reinvigorating familiar story beats is in the style, and The Hateful Eightis as compositionally assured and arch as anything Tarantino has ever done. It helps to have a 70mm Ultra Panavision frame to play with—a frame so wide that it’s quite likely there are two, three, maybe even four additional movies taking place at the edges of the screen.
Eight has been cited as Tarantino’s nastiest and most mean-spirited film yet. True, but it’s not called The Helpful Eight now, is it? A lot of people have been made queasy over the film’s hair-raising brutality and cavalier racism, but the snow-choked Wyoming plains of the late 19th-century were no place for civilized people. And certainly not Minnie’s Haberdashery, which I’m sure after the Yankee massacre of Eight must certainly have the worst Yelp rating along the intermountain West. -MW
9. The End of the Tour
David Foster Wallace, acclaimed novelist and subject of James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour, has always been an intimidating figure to me, a writing major who fancies himself an intellectual (on a good day). But even in school, I was afraid of Wallace, described as an unequivocal genius, who I imagined to be the Alexander the Great of novelists. The writers wept for there were no more worlds left to conquer. I shied away from Infinite Jest (his foremost novel and the book at the center of Ponsoldt’s film) too afraid that I may feel dwarfed by it and lose faith in my own writing. But Ponsoldt’s film reduces the myth of David Foster Wallace and paints him as a tangible person without ever losing respect for his talents. As Wallace, Jason Segal delivers the performance of his career, not just doing an impression, but inhabiting the same space as the late writer and condensing the larger than life reputation into one of the year’s most interesting characters (and for his part, Jesse Eisenberg—as journalist David Lipsky—is also operating on an elite level). The End of the Tour humbly addresses all of the fears, anxieties and neuroses of a generation’s most creative mind. -CS
The incredible story of the rag-tag group of journalists investigating the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal is a well-oiled machine with all of its pieces working together as well as the film’s central team. There is a certain momentum that comes with investigation films like this, butSpotlight goes about it in an interesting way, really highlighting the randomness. As the film so excellently explains, sometimes important information can be missed while right in front of you, sometimes a totally random and simple action can blow everything up. Strangely, the biggest breakthroughs in the film aren’t in the investigation but in the characters. Spotlight’s biggest strength might be the way it continually defies expectations in its characters, something that really clicks during a second viewing. Editor Marty Baron is usually the villain, threatening to cut this expensive program, yet he is its biggest champion. Lawler Garabedian transforms from a perceived quack to the smartest man in the room. Victim Phil Saviano is easy to dismiss as a raving lunatic until you realize he’s speaking the truth. I could go on. In a film that could so easily prioritize the quest, Tom McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer (who has experience writing TV procedurals) never forget their characters. -AP
7. It Follows
More than any other film in 2015, It Follows made me want to make films. It made we want to pick up a camera and say, “yes, I love doing this”. It re-sparked my interest in the ways that films are shot, the people that lovingly make them, and the passion that goes into their creation. It Follows has a brilliant plot, one that lends itself perfectly to a cinematic form; this is the type of horror that cinema was made for. Because of this brilliant premise, the film can feel forever vulnerable, forever scared, and forever paranoid. The film feels somehow scared of itself, as though its monster has broken into the wrong movie, and is now terrorizing the film’s frames just for fun. It Follows makes great use of these frames by keeping them largely wide, this means that individual shots from the film are transformed into ‘Where’s Waldo’ puzzles; only this Waldo wants to be found… and is coming to kill you in the most brutal of ways… fun for all the family. As was Mad Max: Fury Road a great modern example of how action cinema should be made, It Followsshould be noted as a new benchmark for horror cinema… Because so many of today’s modern horror films only feature young people, youth sex, and random teenagers being killed… hold on… wait a minute… -DT
Lenny Abrahamson’s drama about a kidnapped young woman and the son she raises in terrifying captivity has a premise that could have easily produced a terrible film. Abrahamson keeps Room from tipping into the pulpy or exploitative by committing to the individual perspectives of every character, and extending empathy or at least emotional curiosity to all of them (with the understandable exception of the kidnapper). When a horrifying crime like the one in this film comes to light, my first reaction is usually, “God, can you even begin to imagine what it would be like to go through that?” Room is so effective because it dives into the deep end trying to answer that question. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are simply astounding as the mother and son. Much like her equally great performance in 2013’s Short Term 12, Larson portrays a woman experiencing a trauma so huge that it’s basically become her entire life, and going through all of the complicated feelings that go along with it. Tremblay, on the other hand, plays a child who doesn’t even realize he’s going through a trauma until he’s removed from it, and has to completely re-learn everything he knows about the world as a result. The latter is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from a child actor, and it’s the lynchpin that holds together all the other great elements of the film. -RC
5. The Assassin
As a self-proclaimed martial arts/wuxia completist The Assassin was satisfying on multiple levels. Hou Hsiao-hsien reaches a new height many strive for, but few attain, the blending of art and entertainment in a way that no one has done since the glory days of King Hu’s martial epics from the 1960’s.
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s direction and realization of Pei Xing’s Yie Yinniang is pure wuxia down to every detail of this meticulously crafted fable. The Assassin is staggeringly gorgeous in every department and the winding plot of political intrigue is emblematic of the genre. This film indulges every sense with a classic grace that punctuates the sounds of crossing swords, rustling leaves and minimal dialog all calibrated to the level of a percussive whisper. All you need is a few still frames to realize how visually arresting this film is, the experience is trance inducing; some movies entertain, others provoke an emotional response, but The Assassin is a spellbinding experience. The term “dreamlike” might be a cliche at this point but the metaphysical remove and obscured voyeurism leaves me with no other descriptive option. -AM
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road is a wild, unapologetic, rocket of a movie. It knows exactly what it’s trying to do, and succeeds almost one hundred percent. It shakes off the imposed responsibility most sequels feel to pander to fans of the franchise and creates a totally new world, a cousin of the previous films instead of a cloying Frankenstein’s monster. It doubles down on unbelievable stunts (I have to imagine that studio execs were left conspicuously unaware of some of them), and moves with an energy unmatched by any action/adventure film I’ve seen in a long time. If that wasn’t enough, it gave us one of the coolest bad-asses the cinema has ever seen in Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. That this original and thrilling tour-de-force comes from 70 year old George Miller makes it that much more fun. -JL
3. Ex Machina
It’s no surprise that début film director Alex Garland made his chops for years as a screenwriter as his script for Ex Machina is one of the best sci-fi scripts in years. The film is primarily made up of conversations between two people at a time (either programmer whiz Caleb and towering genius Nathan, or Caleb and femmebot Ava), and the dialogue is sparkling, full of lofty ideas and technical jargon without much of a reference key. I’ll admit there were times that I felt a little left behind in the conversation, and I frankly should be when two very smart people are talking about very smart ideas. That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t follow what was going on or felt the film was intellectually impenetrable, because its simplified location and high-concept premise, along with its eventual genre trappings, kept it all accessible. And the film smartly balances the heady material with emotional appeals with Nathan wanting to know how Caleb feels about Ava as much as what hethinks of her. But it is also an actor’s film. The three primary leads all give very different but equally brilliant performances, but Alicia Vikander is the standout. Simply put, if the actress in the Ava role doesn’t deliver, the film doesn’t work. Because a majority of the film’s premise has Caleb literally testing Ava to see if she has the capacity to be human, the audience is focused in on every word she says and motion she makes. It’s not really a spoiler to say that Caleb is fooled in ways, and so was I. -AP
Brooklyn is a fairly simple tale of an Irish immigrant who leaves behind her familiar life for the unfamiliar surroundings of Brooklyn, NY. Ellis played by the talented Saoirse Ronan struggles in her new life until she meets the handsome Italian named Tony and falls in love. Ellis struggles with the push and pull of her old life and her new. Ronan, as always, gives an impressive performance. She is finally able to act in her native Irish accent and she brings truth and vulnerability to her character. The supporting cast from the unstoppable Julie Walters to the charming Domhnall Gleeson add humor and depth to the film. I have always been a sucker for a love story and Brooklyn doesn’t shy away from the romance. You fall in and out of love right along with Ellis. I knew the film was written by Nick Hornby whose films I usually do not like so I had slight hesitation going in, but I was delighted by the film. The period details feel authentic from the costumes to the set design. Brooklyn took me on an emotional journey and I was on board every step of the way. -SB
The maturity of Todd Haynes’ direction in Carol is defined by how unresolved he makes it. It’s not in the narrative – Phyllis Nagy’s superb screenplay is a complete compendium for its characters, adapted from a novel by Patricia Highsmith, and Haynes never obscures what happens between them, or what has already happened to them. He shows us everything, but leaves it to us what to make of it. What to make of Carol’s (Cate Blanchett) predatory approach to Therese (Rooney Mara). What to make of Therese’s resistance towards the end. What to make of how young she still is or how much Carol sacrifices to even ask her or whether that sacrifice, truly, will be for the betterment of who she says it is for, and the extent to which a bit of selfishness might be required to be your best self. It is a love story, one of the greats, because it is fully invested in how uncertain love can be. – SN