Before too much time went by, I wanted to share my top ten movies of 2015 with you. I saw 174 feature films this year. Of those, 128 were movies I had never seen before. I saw 79 movies in a theater (80 if I count Star Wars twice). This is down slightly from 2014, when I saw just shy of 100 movies in a theater, but that’s to be expected, what with an infant to take care of and a movie of my own to finish. (Note: this tally does *not* include the roughly 800 billion times I watched Found Footage 3D.)
For the second year running, I saw my favorite film of the year at Fantastic Fest. Last year I opted to not include festival movies that had not been released to the general public by the end of the year. This year, I’m taking a cue from Simon Barrett and including any movie I saw in calendar 2015. This not only saves me having to compare movies I saw nearly two full years ago with stuff I just saw last week, but it also gives me an opportunity to put some great movies on your radars so that when they do finally come out, you can make sure to see them.
Here are my top ten movies for the year:
10) The Wave (aka Bølgen) – A Norwegian disaster film that leaves every American disaster film in the dust. I love me some Roland Emmerich, but the dude has nothing on Wave helmer Roar Uthaug. The premise is simple enough: an earthquake unleashes a tsunami, which sweeps through a narrow valley, destroying everything and everyone in its path. A geologist and his family must survive the onslaught. But whereas most disaster movies function largely as “destruction porn”–in which the CGI spectacle is designed to exhilarate as much as frighten–in The Wave, I spent a solid hour literally gripping the armrests and barely daring to breathe. No exaggeration, it’s probably the most intense experience I’ve ever had in a theater (with the possible exception of Gravity in IMAX 3D). Not sure what the release plan in America is, but if you have any chance at all of seeing this in a theater, do it! The sound and the big screen are integral to the experience. And it’s a hell of an experience.
9) Mad Max: Fury Road – I will admit that I am not a huge fan of the first three films in the series. So I went into Fury Road expecting that it was overhyped and would surely disappoint. But I was pleasantly surprised. It’s gorgeous and compelling in a way that the original trilogy aimed for but never quite hit.
8) Anomalisa – This is not Charlie Kaufman’s best movie, but that’s a little like calling out Michelangelo for not living up to The Sistine Chapel in some of his later work. Minor Kaufman is still better than almost anyone else’s best effort. The animation is breathtaking, with an attention to detail that is sometimes astounding. I’m not usually a fan of animation precisely because my favorite acting moments almost always involve subtle gestures and body language that is almost impossible to reproduce in an animated medium. Not so here. The depth of emotion on display is pretty staggering. My only gripe is that the story never really got under my skin in the way that some of Kaufman’s best work has done. I did, however, immediately want to watch it a second (and third and fourth) time, because I knew that I had unpacked only the most superficial of the many layers of meaning. Perhaps this is one that will grow on me more as I watch it again, but it didn’t hit me in the gut as hard as Synecdoche NY, Adaptation, or Eternal Sunshine. But again, that’s comparing it to three of my all time favorite movies, which is a little unfair. (Note: I’m not linking to the trailer because I don’t think you should watch it. The less you know going into the movie, the better.)
7) Time Lapse – This is one of the movies that should have been on my list for last year but wasn’t. I saw it at Other Worlds Austin in 2014 and absolutely loved it, but it didn’t get a wide release until this year. I’d describe it as a perfect combination of Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave and Nacho Vigolondo’s Timecrimes. At its heart it’s a crime thriller with a sci-fi twist, about three friends who discover that the crazy old man next door has invented a machine that once a day takes a picture of their living room exactly 24 hours into the future. The movie is positively Hitchockian in how it builds suspense by doling out information as stingily as possible and constantly forcing you to reassess everything you think you know every time some new twist is revealed. Flawlessly plotted despite one of the most complicated (and cool) story devices I’ve ever encountered, with great performances from the three leads, it is definitely that rare movie that works on a cerebral level and an emotional one at the same time. Check it out on Netflix at your first opportunity.
6) Green Room – The latest from the director of Blue Ruin (which I liked but didn’t love the way many of my fellow movie geeks seemed to), Green Room puts the pedal to the floor very early on and leaves it there. Fast-paced, constantly surprising, intense, occasionally very gory, and overall a thrilling rollercoaster of a film, this is definitely one you want to check out when it gets released in 2016.
5) House of Time – I saw this one at Other Worlds Austin this year and it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Describing the premise barely does it justice, but it’s about a group of friends who gather in a period-accurate house in the French countryside, where their host tries to convince them that he has taken the entire house back in time to 1944, during the Nazi occupation. He may be pulling their leg with an elaborate prank, or he may be telling the truth. It’s funny in a very dry sort of way (which I love), tense as hell in a few places, and overall just very very very French. No idea whether this will ever get a U.S. release, but if it does, consider checking it out.
4) Hello, My Name is Doris – This should be coming out pretty soon. It’s a movie that I ended up in largely through an accident of scheduling at South By Southwest this year, but I’m soooo glad I did. That it isn’t number one on my list is only because I saw a couple of other fucking spectacular movies this year. Doris, played by Sally Field, is one of the most awkwardly sweet protagonists in recent memory. She’s an older lady with a crush on a younger man in her office, and despite her age, it so perfectly captures that feeling of unrequited teenage love and loneliness that we have all felt at one time or another. Imagine an 80s romcom where the dude is Sally Field and the popular cheerleader he’s smitten with is a possibly gay 20-something professional. I’m really not doing the movie justice, to be honest. Just got see it. It’s painfully funny and has such a huge heart that you can’t help but feel all gooey inside when it’s over.
3) Spring – Another one that should have been on last year’s list. This is a movie that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Is it a romantic drama with elements of a gothic monster movie? Or an earnest dramedy mixed with Cronenbergian body horror? Or all of the above? It’s nearly impossible to describe, but at its heart it’s a love story, and a very sweet and well-acted one. Someone described it as “Linklater meets Lovecraft” which is as apt a description as any. Imagine if Before Sunrise took place in Innsmouth and you have some idea of what to expect. Except you don’t, really.
2) Goodnight Mommy – This should have been at the top of last year’s list. I walked into this literally not knowing what to expect, as it was a secret screening at Fantastic Fest 2014 and I had no idea even what movie I was about to watch. As the movie unfolded, I found myself growing more and more uneasy, as the tension ratcheted up to 10, then 11, then broke the scale. Incredible performances, beautiful cinematography, and an explosively riveting third act left me stunned in my seat as the final credits rolled. I don’t want to say anything more about it other than: you need to watch it NOW, and when you do, you need to put it on the biggest screen in your house, turn the volume up to 100, turn off all the lights, and put away anything that might distract you. This movie is all about getting absorbed into the experience, and if you allow yourself to, you will not regret it.
1) The Witch – Holy fuck. I was nervous as hell when I sat down to watch this at Fantastic Fest this year because it had already been hyped beyond reason for 9 months at that point. The year before Babadook and It Follows had all the buzz, and I found both severely underwhelming as a result. So I was pretty much expecting the same with The Witch. I was wrong. So so so so wrong. When it ended, I was literally slack-jawed with amazement. And I mean that in the literal sense of the word “literally”. My mouth was gaping. I was just fucking stunned. I turned to the friend sitting next to me and said something like, “I don’t want to make movies anymore. What’s the point? I could make movies for the next 40 years and never make anything nearly that good.” And you know what? This was from a fucking first-time director. A period piece, with five child actors, each being called upon to give “Haley Joel Osment in Sixth Sense”-caliber performances. In 16th Century period-accurate dialog. Often in super long, unbroken takes. Fuck if I know how the hell he pulled that shit off. But he did. Holy shit, he did. And did I mention that it is fucking gorgeous? I shit you not, there’s not a single frame of this movie that you couldn’t hang on your wall. Or in the goddamn Louvre. Seriously… see this movie. The day it opens. In a theater. This is not only the best movie I saw this year, it may be the best movie I’ve seen in a decade. And it’s among the greatest horror movies ever made, not just because it is deeply unsettling and at times terrifying, but because it transcends the genre and says something deep and profound about the human condition. This is art of the highest caliber. This is the goddamn Sistine Chapel of horror cinema.