2015 has been a solid year for the Hollywood studio system. Blockbusters and franchise films like Creed and Mad Max Fury Road turned out to be exciting and surprisingly textured additions to their respective series. Universal Pictures, in particular, broke box office records without needing to go to the now-tired superhero well.
In fact, there were bright lights everywhere for the future of film. Room and Beasts of No Nation provided mirror perspectives on the nature of violence and survival as seen through the eyes of a child. The western saw a welcomed mini-resurgence as well, with The Hateful Eight (in 70mm!), Slow West, Bone Tomahawk and The Revenant making their own distinct statements.
And, not to be overlooked, documentaries and animated films had good showings. History will smile on Anomalisa and Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep made its own wonderful addition to the fray. Documentaries like Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution brought recent history alive with unfortunate resonance with today's racial landscape. Finally, while Netflix continues to tweak the formula on how films get seen, Hollywood made a solid case for the importance of filmmaking designed for the theater.
This is all preamble, of course, to my end-of-year ballot, which was included in the recent vote by the Boston Online Film Critics Association (BOFCA). Enjoy!
1. Anomalisa - A heartbreaking and brilliantly observed rumination on loneliness and human connection, Charlie Kaufman's offbeat little stopmotion movie is mustsee counter programming during an era of polished Oscar bait and increasingly silly blockbuster tentpoles.
2. Spotlight - Quite possibly the best Boston movie since Good Will Hunting (or maybe even Friends of Eddie Coyle.) Tom McCarthy's return to form captures the attitudes and geopolitics of the town it's depicting with standout performances from the likes of Michael Keaton. Compelling and timely.
3. Mad Max Fury Road - Riveting and visually stunning, the latest chapter from George Miller is an intensely cinematic experience anchored by a surprisingly tender storyline. A virtuosic blockbuster.
4. Carol - Masterful in almost every way, Carol is a mature romance adapted from a story by Patricia Highsmith. Nearly every aspect of the film works, particularly its star performance from Rooney Mara and lush cinematography by Ed Lachman. Surprisingly uplifting.
5. Creed - A seventh Rocky film has no business being as good as Creed is. Director-cowriter Ryan Coogler crafts a funny and emotional storyline that strengthens the series' ultimate humanity, allowing protagonist Michael B. Jordan to thrive as a sort of low-fi superhero. And then there's the music - top notch soundtrack.
6. Ex Machina - part Blade Runner, part Frankenstein, part Island of Dr. Moreau. Slick and insistent about its ethical questioning of artificial intelligence, Ex Machina is one of the smartest sci-fi films of the decade. The film is urgent and profound with its commentary on the outsized role of technology in our lives.
7. Bone Tomahawk - pure, unadulterated fun. Kurt Russell is John Wayne with Richard Jenkins as his Walter Brennan. In a year when Tarantino has released his own ode to the old west, Bone Tomahawk's combination of humors and scares makes it 2015's best homage to the b-movie westerns from the 40s and 50s.
8. Room - a nightmare imbued with a kind of sneaky optimism, Room is a showcase for actors Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson, who fill the screen with their depiction of an unorthodox, yet enduring love between mother and son.
9. Inside Out - an important film for people of all ages, Inside Out is a funny and touching textbook on emotional intelligence. With Pixar's steady hand at the helm, this clever animated film conveys an ocean of insight into the understanding of one's feelings and they should be expressed.
10. Straight Outta Compton - rarely do biopics feel so alive and dangerous. As #blacklivesmatter continues to make the case for criminal justice reform (among other things), this portrayal of NWA and gangsta rap's entrance to the national zeitgeist is essential viewing for those who still don't get 'it'. Paul Giamatti is strong as Jerry Heller, the group's flawed business manager. As maligned and caricatured as rap stars are, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were among the first major musicians to recognize just how unfair record deals at the time were, and sought to control their own destinies. Good for them.
1. Ryan Coogler, Creed
2. F Gary Gray, Straight Outta Compton
3. George Miller, Mad Max Fury Road
1. Michael Caine, Youth
2. Kevin Corrigan, Results
3. Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation
1. Rooney Mara, Carol
2. Brie Larson, Room
3. Cate Blanchett, Carol
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Richard Jenkins, Bone Tomahawk
2. Michael Keaton, Spotlight
3. Paul Giamatti, Straight Outta Compton and Love & Mercy
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anomalisa and The Hateful Eight
2. Rachel Weisz, Youth
3. Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy
3. The Martian
1. Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
2. Call Me Lucky
3. What Happened Miss Simone
BEST ANIMATED FILM
2. Inside Out
3. Shaun the Sheep Movie
1. Mad Max Fury Road
2. The Revenant
2. Mad Max Fury Road
3. Straight Outta Compton
1. It Follows
2. Mad Max Fury Road
3. The Hateful Eight
BEST ENSEMBLE CAST
1. Straight Outta Compton