Ii am well aware that I am beginning to sound like a broken record with my yearly list of favourite films. It was the best of times (Queen of Earth), and it was the worst of times (I am looking at you Jurassic World). I will go on to say however that during this year of movie journal writing and having the privilege to work at an international film festival, my list has never been so thorough. In my estimation I have seen at the very least 80 films released in 2015 not to mention the ones I have tried to erase my memory of. But I digress and don’t wish to waste any more energy on the absurdity of movies like Terminator: Genesys. So please read further for my favourite films in 2015.

10. Mistress America

Mistress America (2015)

Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirk in Mistress America

Noah Baumbach continues his creative collaboration with partner Greta Gerwig with possibly the most quotable film of the year. An aspiring university freshman writer, having trouble connecting with anyone, finds an unlikely friendship and inspiration in her stepsister to be. While I have only possessed a limited experience in New York city, Baumbach’s modern vision of New York (like in Frances Ha) is the city I feel I have experienced. Mistress America blindsided me as it snuck into cinemas with healthy doses of heart and humour. Baumbach has a had a stellar year with not one but two greats films (While We’re Young) which makes me begin to ponder that Baumbach is this generation’s Woody Allen (hopefully with less controversy).

Brooke: I think I’m sick, and I don’t know if my ailment has a name. It’s just me sitting and staring at the internet or the television for long periods of time, interspersed by trying to not do that and then lying about what I’ve been doing. And then I’ll get so excited about something that the excitement overwhelms me and I can’t sleep or do anything and I just am in love with everything but can’t figure out how to make myself work in the world.

9. The Big Short

Christian Bale in The Big Short

Christian Bale in The Big Short

Not that I would ever want director Adam McKay to make a one-hundred percent serious film, The Big Short at the very least shows he is capable of such an endeavor. The film is funny as it is infuriating and while I was thoroughly entertained I think I may actually grasped onto the housing crisis thing. I may have been slightly distracted though when Margot Robbie provides explanations through the fourth wall from a bubble bath. The Big Short features a standout ensemble which ironically is rarely if never on screen together (the film largely jumps between three groups of investors).

Ben Rickert: If we’re right, people lose homes. People lose jobs. People lose retirement savings, people lose pensions. You know what I hate about fucking banking? It reduces people to numbers. Here’s a number – every 1% unemployment goes up, 40,000 people die, did you know that?

8. Slow West

Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Fassbender in Slow West

Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Fassbender in Slow West

This year could have been easily referred to as the return of the Western. Not that the genre was gone by any means but this year I felt overwhelmed with quality takes on the Western. For example Bone Tomahawk and The Keeping Room are definitely worth checking out. It was also one hell of a year for Michael Fassbender but it is Kodi Smit-McPhee with a superlative performance as the hopeless young romantic Jay Cavendish that made John McLean’s Slow West both a tragedy and a comedy. The phrase “Salt on a wound” has never been more literal and funny as in Slow West.

Silas Selleck: That kid was a wonder. He saw things differently. To him, we were in a land of hope and good will.

7. Steve Jobs

Michael Fassbender and Seth Rogen as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in Steve Jobs

Michael Fassbender and Seth Rogen as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in Steve Jobs

Speaking of Michael Fassbender, here he is again, this time in the Aaron Sorkin scripted and Danny Boyle directed Steve Jobs. Please don’t confuse this with Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher from a few years ago. That film was a quick cash in that treated its subject more in the style of TV Movie-Of-The-Week. This on the other hand has a nuanced script by Sorkin that allows Fassbender to channel Steve Jobs from his ambitions and neuroticisms to heartfelt moments with his daughter. As great as I think Fassbender is I felt Kate Winslet steals thefilm as I noticed her Russian accent dissipate as the film progresses over decades. Also Seth Rogen finally gives Steve Wozniak the onscreen recognition he has so long deserved. Danny Boyle experiments with several different film formats to great results and Sorkin provides a more naunced portrayal of a technology giant that even his adaptation of The Social Network.

Steve Jobs: We’re very close. All I have to do really is wipe out the record business as we know it and we’ll be all set.

6. Ex Machina

Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina

Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina

Alex Garland after years of providing us with brilliant novels and screenplays shows himself to be an equally talented director as well. I don’t know who is the most deserving of praise here. Perhaps Oscar Isaac‘s portrayal of an isolated sociopathic tech genius or Domhnall Gleeson for the portrayal of a lonely sympathetic geek. I have no ill thoughts on The Danish Girl but I can’t understand how Alicia Vikander was nominated for best supporting actress while being completely overlooked for her breakout performance as a manipulative feminine artificial intelligence. Also Ex Machina features some of the best visual effects I have seen in years in that, while watching Vikander sit in her chair I never thought about the effects themselves. Like another film on this list I only think about the visual effects in retrospect. It is one of the best most thoughtful science fiction films in years (perhaps since Moon or Primer) and the best part is that it is not alone on this list…

Nathan: One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa… an upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.

5. Predestination

Sarah Snook and Ethan Hawke in Predestination

Sarah Snook and Ethan Hawke in Predestination

Seriously. I know how the hell I got here but where did this adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s short story All You Zombies come from? This is the dark horse of my list in that it is the only film that completely surprised me. Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the Spierig Brothers previously outing with Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, and Willem Dafoe in Daybreakers, but there is just some masterful in the execution of Predestination. It seems perfectly paced and as a person who is a real stickler for time travel movies (Ask me to rant about the causal contradictions in Rian Johnson’s Looper some time. I dare you.) it ranks among the best such as Primer and Time Crimes. Ethan Hawke and Noah Taylor are both great but it is Sarah Snook who I was previously unfamiliar with that completely blindsided me. I want to write about how Predestination is not only a breakthrough in science fiction storytelling but a breakthrough in the portrayal of transgender but I fear that speaking to much would spoil the experience brought from ignorance. I think Snook’s performance is one of the best of the year and it is a shame it will be overlooked simply because like Ex Machina it is in a science fiction environment.

Alice: It’s never too late to be who you might have been.

4. The Hateful Eight

Kurt Russel, Jennifer Jason Leight and Tim Roth in Tarantino's The Hateful Eight

Kurt Russel, Jennifer Jason Leight and Tim Roth in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight

Granted, I am a sucker for anything and everything that Quentin Tarantino
puts his stamp on, but I felt Hateful Eight was something special. It’s a return to form and well as an evolution for the director in many respects. While an ode to John Ford style directing and to the 70mm film format, the story behind Hateful Eight feels like the least referential of his screenplays since Jackie Brown. Less flashy than Django Unchained, Hateful Eight takes advantage of a super wide aspect ratio and a super ensemble cast, focusing on acting almost as though it were a stage performance. Every shot feels rich with texture with subtle camera movements and focus racking. Audiences will leave the theatre quoting Samuel Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren but I think it is performances from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins as Daisy Domergue and Sheriff Chris Mannix respectively that will linger with you long after the credits have finished. A film that needs to be seen in 70mm in a full house to be truly appreciated.

Sheriff Chris Mannix: Well, ain’t love grand? Y’all wanna lie on the ground and make snow angels together?

3. The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant

Inspired by the true events of Hugh Glass and John Fitzgerald it is difficult to tell what is harder to believe: the story itself or the film’s crazy production. Coming off an Oscar win with Birdman (my favourite film of 2014) Iñárritu goes full on in the style of a Terence Malick film with The Revenant. It’s no coincidence that it evokes Malick either. Iñárritu collaborates yet again with famed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who has collaborated on Malick’s last three movies as well). Lubezki has won the best cinematography Oscar for the past two year with Gravity and Birdman and personally I feel this is the film that deserves it the most. Every shot is in natural light and performances are on location. I could complain about the theater’s air conditioning but I felt cold watching this movie. It feels like Leonardo DiCaprio is going for broke in his attempt to attain a best actor Oscar by risking hypothermia and eating a bison liver (while being vegetarian). People will talk about the bear attack scene (which is some of the best visual effects to date) but I think it was watching DiCaprio floating down river avoiding arrows where I realized I was watching something truly special. Tom Hardy has been nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar but I felt it was Will Poulter’s guilt ridden portrayal of Bridger that was more worthy of recognition.

Hugh Glass’ Wife: As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe. Keep breathing. When there is a storm. And you stand in front of a tree. If you look at its branches, you swear it will fall. But if you watch the trunk, you will see its stability.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road.

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron in George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road.

Mad Max: Fury Road was the most anticipated film of 2015 for me. Mad Max is up there with Indiana Jones for me. Thankfully unlike a certain Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, George Miller actually went on to exceed my lofty perhaps unreasonable expectations. Beautiful in its desolation George Miller is at the apex of his capabilities opting to tell a story visually rather than verbally. I content the criticisms that the film lacks character. The screen is so rich in texture and history that you forget you are watching a movie. He goes against Post Apocalyptic conventions and actually increases the saturation on screen. Tom Hardy is a tour de force as Max Rockatansky creating a new Max that does not diminish or take away from Mel Gibson’s previous time in the role. Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is the best heroine arguably since Ripley. I have seen the Mad Max: Fury Road in the cinema three times this year. Three times more than any other movie this year. I expect it will be a movie I will watch again with pleasure like Die Hard or Robocop. It’s damn special. What a glorious day.

Max Rockatansky: I am the one that runs from both the living and the dead. Hunted by scavengers, haunted by those I could not protect. So I exist in this wasteland, reduced to one instinct: survive.

1. Anomalisa

David Thewliss and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Charlie Kaufman's and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa.

David Thewliss and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Charlie Kaufman’s and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa.

I am a total mark when it comes to Charlie Kaufman. He is my favourite screenwriter and Synechdoche, NY is one of my favourite films to be released this century. I am such a Charlie Kaufman fan that I kickstarted Anomalisa back when it was going to be a short-feature in 2012 and it had been a birthday gift I had been eagerly waiting forever since. I don’t know where to begin. On a technical level I have seen nothing like it. Stop motion is usually relegated to child audiences and in many way it is not absolutely integral in telling the story contained within Anomalisa. But co-director Duke Johnson‘s deft directing abilities and Kaufman’s writing pair up in a way that is both surreal and magical. Jennifer Jason Leigh as shy scarred Lisa and David Thewliss’s Michael have more emotional intimacy with just their voices than I have seen with live actors on screen. Like Andy Serkis, Tom Noonan deserves special recognition as well… the voices of every other human being in the film really. There is something special about Stop motion. It is imperfect and superlatively hands on. Nothing else on film feels more… human.

I have seen nothing else like it and I don’t expect I ever will.

Michael Stone: Look for what is special about each individual, focus on that.

Honourable Mentions (aka other movies I enjoyed in 2015)

Queen of Earth
Love (In 3d)

Love & Mercy
Pawn Sacrifice
The End of the Tour
The Martian
Sicario
Macbeth
Spotlight
Missippi Grind
Trumbo
Experimenter
While We’re Young