BY KEVIN CARR
A couple years ago, I was so excited for 2015’s releases that I could barely contain myself. However, as some release dates shifted (such as “Batman vs. Superman” jumping to March 2016 and developing everything from a bad subtitle to a bloated character slate) and some films simply failed to impress me as I hoped (I’m looking at you, “Avengers: Age of Ultron”), things started to look grim.
Fortunately, 2015 got stronger as the year went by, and the bigger event films from later in the calendar started to catch my attention. My best-of-the-year list often impresses me because there’s a nice diversity of tent pole releases, award-bait movies and independent choices. This year is unique in that it sees two documentaries into the ranks, but it’s also somewhat typical because it includes a couple animation selections (which I tend to love) and of course the return of “Star Wars.” On to the best of 2015…
10. IT FOLLOWS
Forget the wide releases. The most innovative horror films you’ll see are in limited release and on video-on-demand. While the buzz surrounding “It Follows” gave it a decent theatrical run, it was originally destined for at-home watching, and it was nice to see it get some love. A throwback to the films of the 80s, complete with John Carpenter-inspired music, “It Follows” offers a unique horror film that serves up plenty of suspense and takes a drastic (and much welcomed) departure from recent gimmicks like found footage and torture porn.
One of the most chilling movies of the year, “Welcome to Leith” has such impact because it’s all true. This film tells the story of a group of white supremacists who try to take over a tiny American town by simply having enough residents move in to win all popular elections. The means by which the few dozen townspeople fight back and clash with these people is fascinating to watch. The film is a challenge to our pre-conceived notions of fairness, equality and democracy, and it’s a shame it flew so low under the radar.
Telling the infuriating and tragic story of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal, “Spotlight” was one of the first award season films that really caught my eye. The film is exceptionally acted with a strong cast, and it manages to drive home the drama without going over the top or sensational. A modern day tribute to print journalism, “Spotlight” might just be one of the last movies we’ll see about newspapers in the tradition of “All the President’s Men.”
Another documentary that hits this list is a more heartfelt one. There is nothing complicated or necessarily deep in this story about the man who gave us the lovely character of Big Bird, but this kind of movie doesn’t have to be. Sure, it preys on our nostalgia, but for someone like me who grew up watching “Sesame Street” before I could even go to school, this was a beautiful look into the past, giving me an intimate look at the people who were behind my childhood heroes.
While 2015 was a year for impressive animations (with two Pixar movies as well as a slate of other high-end competitors), it was this below-the-radar tribute to the tales of Edgar Allan Poe that really impressed me. Released in my local theaters in the fall, this was exceptional viewing for the Halloween season. The film uses a variety of animation styles form different directors to bring to life Poe’s works, including a vintage narration of “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Bela Lugosi himself.
5. INFINITELY POLAR BEAR
While most people are talking about Mark Ruffalo’s performance in “Spotlight” (which was, indeed, excellent), his real role of the year comes from “Infinitely Polar Bear.” Based on the life of writer/director Maya Forbes, this film shows a family struggling with the father’s bipolar condition. However, instead of victimizing or sensationalizing the mentally ill, it shows a family trying to work through their problems. It’s a sweet movie that presents the people with their flaws, not caricatures wearing them.
My other favorite animated film of the year comes not from the big American studios, but rather from the smaller, more rustic Aardman Animation from across the pond. Based on the British television series, “Shaun the Sheep” uses charming stop-motion animation to tell the story of a group of sheep trying to bring their farmer back home after he gets amnesia and heads to the big city. Even more impressive, the film doesn’t have a lick of dialogue in it, instead telling its story with sight gags and other found noises.
I was only five when I saw “Star Wars” in 1977, and it quickly became the defining piece of popular culture in my life. I’ve enjoyed all the “Star Wars” films (yes, even the prequels), so it was a joy to watch the original cast from the 70s and 80s take part in a new adventure. One of my most anticipated films of the year touched my heart and made me feel like a kid again. It was great to see a return to form that makes this fanboy proud.
2. THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Though I’m not a knee-jerk Quentin Tarantino fan, I appreciated the hell out of what he did with “The Hateful Eight.” Coming off of two sizeable hits (“Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained”), Tarantino finally had the clout to demand the studio let him make this film as he saw fit: shot on 70mm, running three hours long and giving it a hard-R with language and violence. I may not like the idea of a prima donna director getting everything he wanted, but it worked for Tarantino with “The Hateful Eight.” We are given a fantastically written film in the hands of a genius cast, delivering one of the more thrilling and electrifying films of the year.
In regards to major releases, it took me to September to be genuinely impressed with a movie. “Sicario” did that to me, catching me by surprise and delivering one of the most uncomfortable but impossible-to-ignore films of the year. Shot and scored like a horror film, “Sicario” shows the unsettling realities of the drug war on the U.S.-Mexican border. With deliberate pacing and no easy answers, “Sicario” is easily the most powerful film of 2015.