Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The 50 Finest Films of 2015: #50 - #41

Right off the bat, let me address something you might be thinking when you read the title of the post. Why 50 films when everyone else puts out a top 10? Seems like overkill, doesn't it? Well, if I am being completely honest there are a couple of reasons why I like to put out such a comprehensive annual list. One is a bit selfish, that I love making lists and sharing them and the longer the list, the more I get to make and share. Another is that I honestly love movies too much to limit such a list to only 10.

I set a new personal high water mark in 2015 by watching 155 releases from the year, and there are simply too many terrific films that deserve to be talked about to limit my list to only 10, especially because among those 10 best are films that people are already well aware of and have seen for themselves. I want to be able to highlight everything worthy from the year, from the biggest budget superhero movies that made over a billion at the box office to the tiny, obscure picture I discovered one day that never had a chance to sell a lot of tickets. You will find both types on these lists, and I hope anyone willing to read these discovers even just one new film that they otherwise may have never given a chance.

Amazingly, even putting together a top 50 was challenging because I still had to leave some really good films off that just missed the cut. Films like Tom at the Farm by Xavier Dolan, Faults by Riley Stearns, the wonderful documentary Tig and the riveting drama 99 Homes. Good films that deserve to be mentioned, but not good enough to be considered among the 50 best films of 2015.

50. Lost River

The directorial debut from actor Ryan Gosling is loathed by many, and to be fair those who hate it might have good reason to. Lost River might be total bullshit. Gosling wears his David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn influences on his sleeves and the effort to do something weird and personal rather than play it safe is admirable, but it also weighs the picture down a bit because it feels like someone doing an impression rather than something innovative. 

So why include it in the top 50 if I am admitting it is flawed? Because regardless of what it adds up to, I was mesmerized by it. The photography by Benoit Debie is gorgeous and some of the imagery is fascinating, and I will always take something abstract and interesting over run of the mill any chance I get. 

I plan on revisiting this soon and perhaps seeing it through fresh eyes will destroy it for me, killing any fallacy that it carries any subtle thematic depth and is really just pretty nonsense. Or maybe I will notice a lot of detail I missed initially and I will hold it in higher regard than I do now. Just have to wait and see on that one, but for now it is worthy of pulling up the rear of my 50 best of the year.

49. Amour Fou

Written and directed by Jessica Hausner, Amour Fou is another film much like Lost River that simply will not work for everyone. It's a slow paced, droll picture about a man who wants to kill himself but only if he can get a woman willing to join him in the process, an act that he feels is romantic despite its violent nature. Some will find it languid and admittedly the characters aren't exactly fleshed out in any way that makes them likable or interesting, but I was studying the rich textures of the set pieces and costumes and I was constantly invested in this man's plight and the selfish way he refused to die without someone else taking that final step as well. I still wasn't completely sold on the film until the very end, with a closing sequence I find oddly memorable and also reflecting back on the experience made me appreciate some of the very dry, dark humor going on in so many scenes. If you have an interest, you can find Amour Fou streaming on Netflix right now. Give it a look and see if it clicks for you like it did me.

48. Slow West

Not long ago I was saying ridiculous things about how I didn't enjoy the western genre as a whole. I no longer say such things. In fact, when a western is on point these days I seem to gravitate to it more than a lot of other films. Perhaps it is because it feels like a good western is rare, but the good news is we had more than one winner in 2015. The first is Slow West, a movie that almost lived up to its name with a middle act that loses a bit of steam but the beginning and end of the film are so wonderfully done and compelling they manage to elevate any of the stuff that doesn't work. My man Michael Fassbender co-stars with Kodi Smit-McPhee and the underrated and immensely talented Ben Mendelsohn. It's a story about a young man whom is quite literally on a journey for love, and it is worth a look.

47. Ant-Man

One of two films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that was released in 2015, and they both just so happen to be on this portion of my top 50 list (we'll get to the other one in a bit). I had some pretty strong doubts about Ant-Man going in, but the film is a lot of fun and adds another interesting piece to the Civil War and Avengers films moving forward. My concerns lied with the decision to leave Edgar Wright behind as director and instead bring in the very lackluster choice of comedic filmmaker Peyton Reed instead, but Reed handled the material well and did some interesting stuff with the action sequences. Color me impressed.

46. Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

2015 was a terrific year for documentaries and one of the finest is the Oscar nominated film Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom, a Netflix Original film that brings the viewers so close to the chaos of a violent political revolution that it is actually uncomfortable. We see the death and destruction and it is a hard pill to swallow but it's also quite important to at least try to get it down. These brave filmmakers put themselves in harms way to tell a very true story. I find seeing the reality of such situations both fascinating and also comforting for my own situation, because when I see what other people in other countries are going through on a daily basis it serves as a reminder that our way of life needs to be appreciated and not taken for granted.

45. Queen of Earth

Sometimes a performance is so good it carries a film and that could easily be said about what Elisabeth Moss achieves in the film Queen of Earth. Directed by Alex Ross Perry, its a film that utilizes minimal setting and characters and yet its builds psychological tension so well it's unnerving. Two best friends attempt to find a respite from the pressures of the world by retreating to a lake house together, only to discover that their own relationship is falling apart and their isolation only enhances the stress. Elisabeth Moss delivers in a way that made her oh so close to earning one of my nominations for Best Actress, a chilling turn that never misses a beat.

44. Avengers: Age of Ultron

I promised more than one film from the MCU on this list and here it is already. The second Avengers film didn't quite live up to the first but it is still a rousing blast of cinematic energy with terrific characters and a Joss Whedon script. A lot of fun that continues the smart and financially lucrative flow of films that are building towards something truly epic.

If you are wondering why of all the characters, most of which are far more popular, would I choose a picture of Scarlet Witch above, the answer is because Elizabeth Olsen is pretty and extremely talented and I am excited she is a part of this crazy thing going forward. Spoiler alert, but I'm glad they only killed off half of that duo.

43. Phoenix

The premise along is amazing, and the fact that Phoenix delivers on it is quite the achievement. The story revolves around a woman who has survived living in a concentration camp but not without a disfigured face from a bullet wound. After undergoing surgery to repair the damage, her face has changed enough that her former husband doesn't even recognize her, and rather than admit her identity to him she decides to get close enough to discover if perhaps he was the one who betrayed her in the first place and gave her up to the Nazis. Atmospheric, intense with an absolutely perfect ending, Phoenix is getting the Criterion treatment already and it's deserved.

42. Jauja

I really don't know how to even elaborate too much on the film Jauja. It's a slow, strange journey involving a father and daughter that is deliberately paced and ends up playing very much like Tarkovsky's classic Stalker, an abstract work that certainly cannot be fully fleshed out after only one viewing. I loved it and much of its imagery has stuck with me, which is saying something since I saw the film very early in 2015. 

41. Mommy

At the start of this post I mentioned some films that fell short of being included and among them was Tom at the Farm by Xavier Dolan. Well, at least Dolan made the list with his film Mommy, a very personal and moving work about a mother struggling to raise her very difficult teenage son. You can tell this film is at least in some way autobiographical in nature to Dolan which enhances the work to something special, and the way he utilizes the aspect ratio of the image to actually play a role in telling the story is ingenious, unlike anything I have ever seen before.

Next up will be another ten of my favorite films from 2015, this time #40 through #31. The image above comes from one of the films that will be listed.


  1. Damn, not only have I only watched 2 of these films on this portion of your list, but I haven't even heard of the rest, except for Gosling's film. Something tells me I'll be seeing lots of films I haven't heard of on your top 50

    1. Oh wow Cody, glad I could bring some films up that deserve some attention then! That was precisely my goal when I decided to do such a comprehensive list. I hope you enjoy them sir, a lot of them are very hit or miss with people and I can understand why. There are some more abstract, polarizing work here which I always seem to enjoy a lot but I know others who watch it and cannot figure out what I saw in it haha.

      Let me know if you watch any and your thoughts, would love to hear them.

  2. Only saw 3 of these (Lost River, Ant Man, and Avengers: AOU). I don't think any of those would make my Best Of list. Lost River was Gosling trying to do a David Lynch impression that just came out confusing (and not in a good way). The 2 Marvel movies were fun, but just that.

    1. Haha I recall you didn't care for Lost River. Trust me, you are part of the large majority. Cast some sort of strange spell on me that I couldn't shake, but it is a very disliked film.

      We are pretty much on the same page with the MCU films, seeing as how they are ranked near the bottom of my top 50 where as Guardians, Winter Soldier, and the first Avengers were top 10-15 type stuff. A lot of fun, but just that. No doubt.