7. THE WALK
Robert Zemeckis is the most underappreciated director working today. The man who directed Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, Contact, Cast Away, The Polar Express, Flight, and the Back to the Future trilogy should be a household name the likes of Spielberg and Tarantino. The Walk, his retelling of wire-walker Philippe Petit’s ballsy stunt of traversing the sky between the World Trade Center towers in 1974, is another opus in an oeuvre already stuffed with them. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives one of most impressive and playful performances as Petit, who guides the audience’s tour using fourth-wall breaks, and Zemeckis uses Petit’s impish love of embellishment to frame the movie as a magic act of narration, at once a heist movie, a biopic, a period piece, and a visual wonder.
6. GOING CLEAR:
THE PRISON OF BELIEF
Making documentaries is far more difficult than people often realize, as the amount of effort a director has to exert to remain impartial can often be inhuman. When the subject is as prone to strong opinions as that of Scientology, it’s nearly impossible. Alex Gibney, the man behind such revolutionary docs as Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Taxi to the Dark Side, comes as close as anyone realistically could. In the days of the Internet, many of the more extreme facets of the Church of Scientology are well-known, but there’s always been an uncertainty as to how accurate such seemingly-tall tales truly are. Gibney’s eye-opening and shocking documentary, featuring interviews with eight excommunicated Scientologists (including the Church’s former second-in-command), is arguably scarier than It Follows.
In the last 40 years, there have been some fantastic movies made about journalism — the last decade alone gave us Good Night, and Good Luck, Frost/Nixon, and State of Play — but no matter how good they’ve been, they’ve always lived in the shadow of All the President’s Men. Spotlight is the first movie to stand above it in every way. Shaping the Boston Globe’s investigation of the child abuse in the Catholic Church as a real-life David-and-Goliath story, writer-director Tom McCarthy (and writer Josh Singer) employs wonderful skill in drawing you into the story and sweeping you up in such slow-burning suspense that you quickly forget you already know how the story ends. That alone would make it one of the best of the year, let alone when you also consider Spotlight has the best dramatic ensemble of any picture from 2015.
As a critic, there are some movies that it breaks my heart and blows my mind to watch die in the theatre, when they’re exactly what audiences want and would love. No movie in 2015 deserved to be a hit that wasn’t more than Sicario, the tensest film in a year stuffed with action. A principled and promising FBI agent (a never-better Emily Blunt) is invited to join a CIA task force on a mission to take down a drug lord in El Paso, only to instead find herself on a plane to Juarez with a duplicitous CIA agent (Josh Brolin) and an inscrutable hitman-for-hire (a never-better Benicio Del Toro) — and things quickly get worse from there. Much like director Denis Villeneuve’s prior film, Prisoners, it takes at least two viewings to fully appreciate Sicario. More than Prisoners, though, Sicario thrums with an unshakable sense of danger.
Very few family movies have true magic. The genre lends itself to narrative enchantment, but all too often, because studios often condescend to youngsters or simply don’t remember what childhood feels like, all we get are dump-bin animation and Alvin and the Chipmunks sequels. Paddington, though, is something truly special. Made by the same team behind the Harry Potter series, the beloved tale of a Peruvian bear who shows up in London with naught but a taste for marmalade and a knack for trouble has been turned into a piece of cinema that bottles the feeling of childhood wonder and joy in a way no family film truly has since theatre audiences first met a certain boy wizard. (It also contains the most effortless, genuine comedy of the year.) Paddington is the rare, warm movie that puts every viewer in touch with the child we all still have living inside and will go down as a modern classic as the kids of today become the parents of tomorrow.
2. THE MARTIAN
One of the most curious trends of the last few years is that every fall, a visually grand and narratively epic movie is released depicting one person’s space odyssey and their struggle to get home — and for three years running, that movie’s been one of its year’s best. Two years after Gravity and one after Interstellar, The Martian proved the pattern with its tale of an astronaut left for dead on Mars who has to figure out not just how to let NASA know he’s alive, but also how to use every piece of scientific knowledge he has to survive the four years it will take for a rescue mission. It’s a solo survival story on par with All is Lost, anchored by a winning performance from Matt Damon. Throw in some of the best directing work Ridley Scott’s done in his illustrious career, and you have what would be the best film of the 2015, if not for one.
(Read my full review here.)
1. THE REVENANT
What the hell happened to Alejandro G. Iñárritu? For years, he was content to direct unassuming, if abstractly ambitious, dramas. Then seemingly out of the blue, he came out with Birdman, the best movie of 2014 and the best work of any director that year. And just one year later, despite changing genres entirely and facing mutiny from many on his crew over his arduous production choices, he not only pulled off both feats again, he actually topped himself in both ways. The Revenant is a truly astounding piece of art, both grippingly entertaining and aesthetically exquisite. Leonardo DiCaprio, so often called one of the best actors of his generation, gives the greatest performance of his already-impressive career, anchoring the screen in every shot and going to incredible places with his powerful performance. It’s a difficult watch, but so vital to the fabric of modern cinema as to be considered essential viewing for every person with enough interest in movies to have read this list. The Revenant isn’t just the best movie of the last year; it’s the best movie of the last two.
(Read my full review here.)
(Congratulations to Kevin Griffiths of Waterdown, ON for guessing the most movies from the list correctly, with a score of 7/17!)
Like my choices for The Best Movies of 2015? Be sure to also check out my picks for The Worst Movies of 2015! Stay tuned tomorrow, for RANKED: 2015, Best to Worst.