It’s January 2, but top ten lists are still cool, right? Here are my favourite films of 2015.
10. The Keeping Room
I was surprised how much The Keeping Room stuck with me after seeing it at TIFF 2014, since it is in some ways not much beyond a standard home invasion thriller. But something about the setting, the actresses, and the tone left this one lodged in my brain all year. Director Daniel Barber creates a tense thriller that also manages to be a slow-burner, which is always a combination that I admire. Meanwhile, screenwriter Julia Hart crafts a script more nuanced and revealing than the film’s plot-driven story should allow. Combine all of that with the film’s absolutely gorgeous use of lighting and you’ve got an atmospheric and unforgettable cinematic experience.
9. Little Accidents
I watched Little Accidents relatively early in the year and really enjoyed it. I was surprised to find how much it stuck with me as the year progressed, from Boyd Holbrook’s breathtaking performance to director Sara Colangelo’s delicate handling of material that could have become very melodramatic. I really don’t understand the largely negative reviews.
8. Peace Officer
I saw documentaries about Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin this year (both of which were excellent), yet the most captivating and charismatic non-fiction subject of 2015 for me was easily Peace Officer’s William “Dub” Lawrence. (Dub is pictured above in his younger days.) The hook of Peace Officer is that Dub is a former sheriff who instituted Utah’s first SWAT team… and then 30 years later watched that SWAT unit kill his own son-in-law. However, the film spends relatively little time on that incident, then branching out to explore the drastic increase of police militarization in the United States. It’s a captivating and extremely timely exploration, and also extremely strong as far as documentary filmmaking goes. I personally left the theatre shaken, and I can only hope that more people will check out this vital film.
7. Clouds of Sils Maria
What a wonderfully beguiling film from the great Olivier Assayas. I’m not sure there’s another working director this good at exploring the process of aging and what it can do to a people at any stage in life. Clouds of Sils Maria covers that territory more obliquely than Summer Hours or Something in the Air, but it’s no less captivating. It may be his best film yet.
One thing that struck me about Mia Hansen-Love’s Eden, having seen it over a year ago at TIFF 2014, is how difficult it is to represent out of context. None of the publicity stills from the film do it justice (luckily I found the website of the film’s still photographer, Carole Bethuel, for some lovely images that do capture the tone of the film), and the trailer seemed to be hinting at some sort of Greta Gerwig-driven romance film that just doesn’t exist. And indeed, listening to the synopsis about a drug-fuelled DJ from the ‘90s, nothing about Eden sounds spectacular. But with her third film, Hansen-Love crafts something that feels both sweepingly epic in its timeframe and achingly intimate in its scope. This is not a movie about the ‘90s house scene, but rather a love letter to the music from one (fictional) player within in the movement.
5. Far from the Madding Crowd
Can all period pieces be directed by Thomas Vinterberg? At face value, Far From the Madding Crowd seems like it fits the costume drama formula, but Vinterberg offers his own subtle flavour. I loved everything about the film’s visual style, and it’s so much less stuffy than this adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel could have been. Romantic, dramatic, and smart.
4. Tom at the Farm
This Xavier Dolan film has been kicking around for a while, but finally got a U.S. theatrical release after the success of his last film, Mommy. It’s funny that this is the one Dolan entry that struggled to find distribution, as it’s arguably his most accessible film yet. It’s my personal favourite of all his work, combining his visual flair with a Hitchcockian slow-burn thriller. The atmosphere makes it an edge of your seat psychological thriller, despite the fact that not all that much is happening. Whether you’re a Dolan fan or decidedly not a Dolan fan, don’t let this one slip by.
I’ve already written about Mustang at length, but Deniz Gamze Erguven’s debut feature is one of the year’s absolute best. It also makes an interesting companion piece with Crystal Mozelle’s documentary, The Wolfpack, also from this year, as both films explore groups of siblings coming of age in an oppressive household. Both movies are worth checking out, but despite being fictional, Mustang is the one with true, haunting emotional resonance, as well as a sly sense of humour.
2. 99 Homes
It seems that a running theme of this list is “unlikely thrill ride”, and 99 Homes follows that trend. From the intense eviction sequence early on straight through to the end of the film, director Ramin Bahrani crafts so much genuine tension from what is essentially a human interest story. The way he sets up the cat-and-mouse dynamic is so taught that I felt like I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. With Michael Shannon deservedly scooping up some Oscar buzz for his performance, hopefully 99 Homes will gain the audience it deserves.
1. The End of the Tour
This film is in no way a “thrill ride” in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, it is virtually plotless and mostly is about two neurotic men having a few conversations with each other. However, I didn’t have a more captivating and ultimately moving film-watching experience in 2015 than I did with The End of the Tour. I could write a few thousand words on why I liked this movie so much, but for the sake of keeping things relatively brief, I’ll just say that everything – from Jason Segal’s revelatory to performance as David Foster Wallace to the film’s little gut-punch of a coda – is perfect in my eyes.