Mad Max Fury Road

1. Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller

For all its fun and goodwill, the new Star Wars couldn’t hold a candle to that other retooling of a 70s/80s action franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road. While Star Wars felt stuck in the past, Mad Max showcased a director taking familiar elements and making them feel fresh. Minimalist in all the right ways, and leaping over the top everywhere else, this was a project that could only exist as a film. While most big movies burden the audience with needless exposition and backstory, this was as close to pure cinema as just about anything since the silent era.

Jeff Jewell, Howell, MI

Mad Max: Fury Road assaults viewers with its balls-out and unrelenting presentation of a world that should remind us a lot of our present-day livelihood. When was the last time such a mainstream movie experience was done so well on the levels of technique and aesthetics as well as thrills and intellect?

Kat DeGuzman, Nashville, TN

The 1980s reminds the post-aughts that a sci-fi franchise rooted in ideas and de-digitized production design with a sick motorcycle action sequence is a fine and worthy two hours at the cineplex.

Andy McCarthy, Brooklyn, NY


2. Carol, Todd Haynes

One can wax on about the visceral and virtuoso filmmaking of Mad Max (and I could), but I would like to take a moment to talk about the only movie this year that I am completely in love with: Carol. A fantastic, adult, sensual romantic movie that puts most “love stories” to shame. Carol is filled with moments and imagery that have stuck with me since I saw it. I will give the year to Max, but my heart belongs to Carol.

Thomas Kuzmarskis, Chicago, IL

The Price of Salt is the only of Patricia Highsmith’s novels in which violent crimes do not occur. This is perhaps why almost all of Highsmith’s other novels have been adapted into films like The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train, Purple Noon, and The American Friend, but we are just getting around to making Carol today. The fact that it is a women-led film about lesbian love probably has a little something to do with it as well. That being said, the story of Carol bears remarkable similarities to Highsmith’s other fiction. As the film goes on, Therese finds herself pathologized by love just as the criminal mind is pathologized by thoughts of violence or delinquency. Falling in love, it turns out, is a very dangerous and terrifying thing. Carol shows us the ways in which our obsessions can overcome, confuse, dishearten, enliven, enrage, and perhaps, in the end, even redeem us. As Highsmith once wrote, “Obsessions are the only things that matter.” Luckily, these obsessions need not always be deadly.

Marlena Williams, Portland OR


3. Spotlight, Tom McCarthy

Deftly and subtly acted by its ensemble cast, this gripping depiction of the Boston Globe investigative journalists who exposed the local Catholic Archdiocese’s acts of child molestation and their cover-up does not hit a wrong note, with its unromanticized portrayal of the journalistic process second only to All the President’s Men.

Maria San Filippo, Cambridge, MA

Powerful, with a stellar cast giving the best ensemble acting. An important story that needed to be told! An excellent screenplay told with a perfect balance of storytelling. The victim side of the story is told with such emotional power as we watch the reporters breaking the story. I got so involved in this story I felt like one if its characters desperate to find the truth. The best film about journalism since All The President’s Men!

George Zaver, Los Angeles, CA

Inside Out

4. Inside Out, Pete Docter & Ronnie del Carmen

Pixar’s best film since Wall-E, the central conceit of the film—that we see characters who represent various emotions inside a little girl’s heads—plays out with such assured logic and reason that its sophistication through simplicity could only be executed in a four-quadrant animated film.

Ryan Bates, Los Angeles, CA

Clouds of Sils Maria

5. Clouds of Sils Maria, Olivier Assayas

It hasn’t left my mind since I saw it. I think about it weekly.

Mila Matveeva, Brooklyn, NY

Like the metaphoric serpentine formation inferred by its title, Clouds of Sils Maria winds its way through an alluring valley between opposite sides of film production politics, female celebrity, and professional/personal boundaries. But like the rest of Olivier Assayas’ elegant career, it’s still devoted to the practical steps of a mundane process, and finding the cumulative effects of what characters realize along that path.

Joaquin Villalobos, Denver, CO


6. Phoenix, Christian Petzold

Nina Hoss gave one of the greatest performances of all time.

Terri Thelin, Buena Vista, VA

Ex Machina

7. Ex Machina, Alex Garland

Subtle sci fi, for a change.

Barb Kundanis, Boulder, CO

Brooklyn Saorsie Ronan

8. Brooklyn, John Crowley

Brooklyn is an old-fashioned romantic film that tells a simple and authentic story that makes us long for simpler times. The film provides the setting for a young woman to grow in strength, not through trauma or crisis, but through the discovery of her own personal power.

Howard Schumann, Vancouver, BC

A delightful, romantically mature film that is carried by a fantastic performance by Saoirse Ronan. Though this should be obvious, Brooklyn proved that excellent drama can come from a heroine capable of making rational decisions.

Tarek Shoukri, Brooklyn, NY

The Assassin Hou Hsiao-hsien

9. The Assassin, Hou Hsiao-hsien

There have been plenty of notable filmmakers in recent years who have been directing projects that, on paper, seemed more commercial compared to their previous works, possibly out of necessity, and at least to me, the challenge of going in this direction has been very mixed. I wondered what we would get from Hou Hsiao-Hsien, and he does things beautifully. Perhaps he didn’t even face any such struggles while making The Assassin, but regardless, it fits very well within a commercial genre without compromising his approach in the very least. Formally, it’s masterful—just look at the way the sheer drapes drift and obscure a series of POV shots in one scene. But even thematically it’s apiece with his other work—from the very start, the fractured kingdom and the divisions implemented between countrymen reflect the ongoing tensions between Taiwan and China.

Mitchell Wu, Brooklyn, NY

Tangerine best of 2015

10. Tangerine, Sean Baker

Tangerine is the little movie that won over my heart with a powerful ending! Sean Baker’s 2015 film that was shot completely with an iPhone 5 is an inspiration to filmmakers but it’s the story that Baker found while getting to know his neighborhood on the corner of Santa Monica and Highland that captured my interest. For eight months he listened to the stories of transexual prostitutes on the streets in order to tell a truthful and funny Christmas story.

Krystal Kay Lyon, Bloomington, IL

That Tangerine was made with an iPhone is not the only impressive thing about Sean Baker’s latest effort. Baker has got a direct line to seedy, and, like his previous film Starlet, everyone gets his or her just desserts. The best Christmas film this year.

Alan Hoffman, Cicero, IL


11. The Big Short, Adam McKay

Perhaps the best thing about The Big Short is that Adam McKay has finally done a movie that makes it OK to say he’s one of the best working directors.

Jesse Webber, Silver Spring, MD

An all-star cast rounds out a hilarious, yet shockingly real explanation of the 2008 financial crisis. Who knew that Adam Mckay could make something this poignant?

Rodney Wade, Frederick, MD


12. Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson

The thing about Charlie Kaufman movies is that if you like them it means that you are an asshole. If you don’t like them; that means that you are denying that you’re an asshole. This was my favorite film of the year (guess I’m an honest asshole).

Alex Jackson, Roy, UT


13. Sicario, Denis Villeneuve

Sicario is a perfect example of the greatness that a movie can achieve when it is in the hands of the right people. At its core, Sicario is a familiar movie with a mediocre screenplay. However, Denis Villeneuve’s stellar direction, Roger Deakins’ striking cinematography, Johann Johannsson’s surging score and an excellent ensemble cast led by Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro all combine to make Sicario a thrilling theatre-going experience and one of the best American films of the year.

Juan Olmos, Houston, TX

room brie larson

14. Room, Lenny Abrahamson

Room works immaculately on so many levels, it’s difficult to single the key ones out. A small, enclosed prison becomes a believable world, and, through a 5 year-old’s eyes, a home. The adult world is nasty, clumsy and hard to fathom at times but Lenny Abrahamson let’s us see and absorb all that the way a child would, in an organic, completely uncontrived way. A small picture like this needs a strong cast and I can’t imagine a better one: Jacob Tremblay, Brie Larson, and Joan Allen absolutely submerge themselves in achingly real characters. Halfway through, when the escape happens (logic tells us it has to), even though we know the outcome, it’s still tense and scary. Room loses a small degree of intensity after that without weakening even a bit.

George Mosley, Vancouver, BC

The Revenant

15. The Revenant, Alejandro G. Iñárritu

In watching The Revenant audiences feel as if they’re witnessing history; live events in motion and occurring in real time—the acting and storytelling is that good. The film completely engulfs the viewer to the point of controlling their every nerve, while eyes hesitate to even blink as to somehow miss out on one of the many scenes of action.

Andrew K. Rawls, Charlotte, NC

Son Of Saul

16. Son of Saul, László Nemes

Son of Saul explores the moral dilemma of a group of Hungarian Jews known as the Sonderkommandos who were forced to collaborate with the Germans at Birkenau. It is not an easy film to watch, but it is an important and even a necessary one and, in its own way, both a horrifying and strangely beautiful one.

Howard Schumann, Vancouver, BC

Bridge of Spies

17. Bridge of Spies, Steven Spielberg

Bridge of Spies is the most subtle of Spielberg’s moral stories in a history setting. It almost felt like a Clint Eastwood movie, except for the somewhat affected acting. Still, the screenplay was beautiful, with human truth present in characters from every side of the fence (or rather, the wall). In the end it is a feel-good movie about an idealist who wins despite other persons being overly practical and short-sighted. I like how there are no “villains” in the story, and all the evil (the little of it) comes from people’s pettiness and stupidity.

Nikita Lavretski, Minsk, Belarus

it follows

18. It Follows, David Robert Mitchell

This was like a genuine breath of fresh air for the horror genre. It was clever, smart and truly terrifying, with an unique premise that is also an obvious metaphor for the dangers of teenage sexuality. Also, the score was one of the greatest pieces of music I’ve ever heard, especially for a horror film. It’s just like John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, Halloween, where if you take away the score, then it’s an entirely different experience.

David Hollingsworth, Fayetteville, NC

45 Years

19. 45 Years, Andrew Haigh

A stirring meditation on aging, relationships and love that has you thinking well beyond its credits rolls.

Tarek Shoukri, Brooklyn, NY

When two acting giants try to make a saraband, you just have to kneel and take a bow. Far from anything I expected, 45 Years has the every quality art-house cinema is missing today. It was entertaining, mesmerizing and elegantly charming. I fell in love with these young hearts on the old disguise.

Babak Geranfar, Tehran, Iran

Mistress America

20. Mistress America, Noah Baumbach

Plugging Baumbach’s sensibilities into a semi-screwball comedy is appealing enough, and putting partner/collaborator Greta Gerwig in a role cast against type is triumphant. Lola Kirke surprises as that naïve college student who is by turns completely lost and too smart for her own good, and as per usual, Baumbach’s treatment of the college experience is brutally on-point. Like Frances Ha before it, Mistress America succeeds in tempering some of Baumbach’s inherent cynicism in favor of a wry and knowing sweetness.

Brett Scieszka, Glendale, CA

The Look of Silence

The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer

I think Oppenheimer’s companion piece to The Act of Killing is without a doubt the best film of 2015, outclassing even the rest of my top 10. Where his earlier film is highlighted by an abrasive examination of the coarseness of death, The Look of Silence solemnly focuses on those who see the negative effects of such horrific action. Oppenheimer uses the medium in a way that’s rarely seen and, at times, even harder to appreciate. Still, the conclusions drawn from the conversations shown about very specific events reverberate to the most difficult events in human history, and The Look of Silence profoundly refuses to cut any corners.

Ryan J. Gimarc, Grand Rapids, MI

hateful eight

The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino

Love him or hate him, Tarantino is a unique voice and I love the song he’s singing!

Krystal Kay Lyon, Bloomington, IL

Creed Michael B. Jordan

Creed, Ryan Coogler

In a year that released a new Bond movie, a new Star Wars, the reboot of the Muppets and Charlie Brown, Creed did not play as a black sequel to a white franchise, but simply as a great movie.

Andy McCarthy, Brooklyn, NY

The Duke of Burgundy

The Duke of Burgundy, Peter Strickland

The retro/throwback feel of this movie never feels derivative. Its light and pleasant opening invites viewers to a rather moving and twisted love story. Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio was a delight on the level on of slick, atmospheric viewing experience, but The Duke of Burgundy adds a plot that gives his style an even more immersive sandbox in which to play.

Kat DeGuzman, Nashville, TN

General Comments

Perhaps it is a sign of age (or encroaching Alzheimer’s), but I find the bulk of recent releases underwhelming more and more. The dazzling reissue of Rocco and His Brothers was my purest film going experience of 2015. Ambitions seem muted in so many contemporary films that the surreal end-of-the-line invention of a 10 minute music video (Bowie’s “Blackstar”) stays in the memory far longer than the chamber pieces that pass as independent or arthouse fare.

Lee Hill, London, UK

2015 was an exemplary year for Cinematography, with Roger Deakins’ work for Sicario, Mark Lee Ping Bing for The Assassin, Ed Lachman for Carol, John Davey for In Jackson Heights, Radium Cheung for Tangerine, István Borbás and Gergely Pálos for A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence; all of them did work that at times even superseded the films. A special mention has to go to Christopher Doyle who shot Khan de la Cruz’ Ruined Heart, which is a perfect example of a mediocre film that’s gorgeously lit and framed by one of the world’s most unique and talented cinematographers.

Carlo Pangalangan Labrador, Woodside, NY

My list this year is probably a bit better than usual because AMC now has an “Independents” program, which sometimes even brings more interesting films to a cultural wasteland like the area in New Jersey where I live. The best of my best were seen at an “art house” that’s a pain to attend (45 Years, Carol, Phoenix) or on DVD/Blu-Ray (Clouds of Sils Maria, Wild Tales, Goodnight Mommy). I dream either of moving closer to a university, a city, or an upscale neighborhood or of finding a streaming service that would provide more choice.

Regina Domeraski, Lyndhurst, NJ

It is ironic that in this age of Netflix-streaming that my biggest regret of the fall and winter serious film season is that I did not drive two and half hours from Roanoke, Va., to see Mustang, a Turkish-language French film shot in the western Black Sea town of Inebolu, near where I lived for two years as a child, at an art house cinema in Winston-Salem, NC. It only played there for just a week, and it was shown in the smallest screening room. But it now seems that every Turkish person from Belgium to Colorado has now somehow seen this film, which would have likely ranked high on my list.

Tilly Gokbudak, Salem, VA