The following are the 10 films that I personally enjoyed the most in 2015 (I have yet to see "The Revenant", "Carol" and "Spotlight", but they all look great and could potentially have made it onto my list if I'd had the chance to see them):
10. Inherent Vice - 2015 was full of surprises, but the one that stands out to me the most is how much I enjoyed "Inherent Vice". Having absolutely loathed "The Master", at first I wasn't too keen on checking out director Paul Thomas Anderson's latest offering. However, being a fan of neo-noir and films set in the 70's, I became tempted to give it a shot. And I'm glad that I did. Much like its predecessor, "Inherent Vice" is not for everyone. I'll put it plain and simple: if you like knowing what's going on at any given time in a movie, this one isn't for you. It follows a hippie PI on a nearly incomprehensible case as he stumbles around 1970's L.A. rubbing shoulders with a host of colorful characters and trying to maintain his sanity. As much as I found "The Master" to be infuriatingly pretentious, I found this movie to actually be very accessible, because throughout its entirety, no matter how lost you may get in its serpentine plot, you can rest assured in knowing that its stoner protagonist is just as confused (or even more-so) than you are. So just enjoy the ride, man.
9. The Walk - I have had exactly 3 movie-going experiences that I felt were in some way enriched by the addition of 3D. This was one of them. When it began with a voice-over narration, courtesy of Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing an almost campy French accent, I have to admit, I was a little worried. However, "The Walk" proved to be a delight through and through. Chronicling the early life of the world's greatest tightrope walker, I felt that in many ways, the movie itself was similar to its subject's death-defying performances. It hooked me with its charming and steadfast lead and then reeled me in with the promise of a showstopping finale (thankfully, it delivered). It also solidified my belief that individuals with well-defined goals, who are driven by passion, make for some of the most compelling protagonists. Especially if they're real.
8. It Follows - You may not know this about me, but I actually really dig horror movies. However, my reasons for liking them are probably very different from those of most casual filmgoers. When I watch horror movies, it's not for the blood and the gore or suspense or jump scares. I watch them for the atmosphere. To me, horror does atmosphere better than any other genre. It's why, for a period of time, I was utterly obsessed with 80's low-budget horror. Those movies all possess a very specific charm, that a lot of contemporary filmmakers have tried to emulate, usually with mixed results. "It Follows" is one of the few films in recent memory that gets it absolutely right. From the nightmarish concept and the surreal imagery to the brilliant, John Carpenter-inspired score, it's everything that I feel has been missing from contemporary horror.
7. The End of the Tour - The latest addition to this list and the most cerebral film I saw this year, "The End of the Tour" is a very genuine and heartfelt portrait of a rockstar novelist in his prime. The film follows journalist David Lipsky as he accompanies the late David Foster Wallace on his first book tour and mostly concerns itself with the conversations the two share along the way. Through these conversations, we learn a lot about both individuals; their passions, their fears, what drives them. But the film mostly focuses on Wallace, a tortured artist, grappling with his humanity, whose looming suicide casts a distinctly melancholy shadow over the proceedings. Much like Woody Allen or Richard Linklater's better works, the film raises a lot of questions with not-so-simple answers and ultimately serves as a meditation on what it means to be a creative in this day and age.
6. Crimson Peak - First off, I have to applaud director Guillermo del Toro for tackling the gothic romance genre in such an earnest and non-self-referential way. His deep appreciation and love for it can be seen in every frame of this gorgeously designed film. Helped along by its pitch-perfect cast, "Crimson Peak" feels like the premier adaptation of a long-lost Poe or Bronte story. Unfortunately, in a time when it seems that everything has been done and screenwriters rely more and more on being "meta" to keep audiences engaged, we've become conditioned to expect new twists and fresh takes on established tropes, making it easy to be disappointed by a film that plays things straight. I'll admit that I, too, felt a bit let down by "Crimson Peak"s simplistic finale, but for a great deal of its run time, I felt giddy.
5. Straight Outta Compton - I've never been an avid fan of the hip hop genre, but I like to think that I haven't been dismissive of it either. I appreciate it for what it can be and its founding fathers for what they accomplished. "Straight Outta Compton" is the tale of 3 of these figures and their journey from rags to riches is one for the ages. Though it may be heavily biased (it is, afterall, produced by 2 of its subjects), this doesn't detract from its overall impact and message. These 3 men went through great adversity to give a voice to an entire generation of like-minded artists and, in doing so, started a revolution. As is often the case with real life, "Straight Outta Compton" is an emotional rollercoaster, spearheaded by 3 dynamite leads, one of which is actually the son of the icon he is portraying. Casting doesn't get much better than that.
4. What We Do in the Shadows - A cult classic in the making, "What We Do in the Shadows" has to be the most quotable movie in recent memory. In a time when multiplexes and premium television networks are both littered with tales of the undead, you would think the vampire genre has been bled dry. Yet New Zealand natives and "Flight of the Conchords" alums Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi seem to almost approach this as a challenge. By subverting every trope from "Nosteratu" all the way to "Twilight", they are able to keep things fresh in this hysterical mockumentary about a clan of immortal bloodsuckers sharing a flat in the heart of kiwi country. Have you ever wondered why vampires prefer the blood of virgins? Well, if you were going to eat a sandwich, wouldn't you enjoy it more knowing no one had fucked it?
3. Creed - Ryan Coogler is on fire. The Oakland native is only 29 years old and already has 2 major hits under his belt: the heartbreaking "Fruitvale Station" (awarded the grand prize at Sundance in 2013) and this year's boxing knock-out, "Creed". Acting as the 6th (!) sequel to perhaps the most beloved sports film of all time (1976's "Rocky"), "Creed" had quite a bit going against it, namely, how do you follow 6 films about a sport consisting solely of dudes punching each other and still keep things interesting? It accomplishes this by not only turning the original story on its head, but also presenting us with a cast of fully-realized characters that we can really care about and root for. I'm usually not one for sports movies, but this one made me stand up and cheer.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road - This movie blew me away. I don't think anyone saw it coming from a franchise that had laid dormant for almost 3 decades and a director who had spent most of that time working on children's movies. The story may be minimalistic, but it is told with such aplomb and such urgency, that by the end of it, I didn't even know what had hit me. Featuring some of the wildest action sequences ever put to film, accompanied by breathtaking visuals and a career-defining performance by Charlize Theron, "Fury Road" is cinema in it's purest form and easily the best action movie of the 21st century.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens - It takes balls to helm what could very well be the most anticipated movie of all time. And JJ Abrams pulled it off with flying colors. Shot on 35mm film and containing a healthy mix of practical effects and digital wizardry, the seventh chapter of the Skywalker saga seamlessly meshes the old with the new, introducing audiences to an enthusiastic young cast while paying due respect to the old guard. Filled to the brim with wonder, adventure and heart, "The Force Awakens" serves as a much-needed return to form for this legendary franchise. It could have something to do with my life-long fandom and personal attachment to the property, but I can't remember the last time I was this riveted by a motion picture. There's been an awakening, indeed.
Honorable mentions: Ex Machina, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Bridge of Spies, Inside Out & The Big Short
Directed, styled, shot and edited by me