There’s a lot I want to write about and a lot I want to remember about the movies of 2015. The thing that sticks out most, however, is how disparate these films feel when considered on the spectrum of “art”—highbrow/lowbrow, arthouse/mainstream, whatever you want call it.
(If you’re just here for the list and not the navel gazing, feel free to scroll down.)
Whenever I came across articles and tweets on the virtues of poptimism, I was skeptical. Not because I think popular art is undeserving of respect and consideration, but because, for the most part, my tastes did not align with it. This is all fine until preference turns into predisposition and your view is obscured by what is supposed to be “good” while overlooking art in more unassuming and less “prestigious” forms.
Or: 2015 is the year I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pop.
This realization is why it took a second viewing of Mad Max: Fury Road to fully embrace the sheer fun and sensory overload—convincing myself that it was okay to put such an agreeable spectacle in my top 10. For similar reasons, it was on my 8th or 9th or 27th listen of Carly Rae Jepsen’s second single “Run Away With Me“ that I got over myself and admitted how much I fucking loved that song in all its poppy earnestness. Still, I didn’t even consider listening to her album when it released until the critical praises flooded in. When I finally did listen to it, I loved it and was finding ways to justify my enjoyment of it: Rostam (from Vampire Weekend, one of my favorite bands) produced a throbbing sexy love song! Sia produced a track too! Oh and Pitchfork gave it a good rating—higher than Adele’s 25! None of that should’ve mattered as much as me just really liking the art. Nevertheless, it was a deconditioning process as much as it was a realization.
(Side note: My three favorite albums of 2015 were Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly; Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion; and Sufjan Stevens’s Carrie & Lowell.)
It’s an inexact science, but I measure how widely appealing a movie is by asking myself, “Is this a movie my entire family would enjoy?” I think the answer for three of my top ten movies is “yes, everyone will like it.” Four of the ten movies are “no, only I will like it.” And the other three are “my mom and younger brother might like it, but my dad and older brother definitely will not.” These scattered points on the non-linear spectrum of “art” are great reminders that my oh-so-carefully curated tastes can continue to evolve (which is somewhat of a relief). It just took a while to accept it.
Here are my ten favorite films of 2015:
- Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language), 2014, Jean-Luc Godard
- Carol, 2015, Todd Haynes
- Ex Machina, 2015, Alex Garland
- Sicario, 2015, Denis Villeneuve
- Nie yin niang (The Assassin), 2015, Hou Hsiao-Hsien
- Queen of Earth, 2015, Alex Ross Perry
- Timbuktu, 2014, Abderrahmane Sissako
- Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015, George Miller
- The Look of Silence, 2014, Joshua Oppenheimer
- Creed, 2015, Ryan Coogler
Honorable Mention (alphabetically):
- Anomalisa, 2015, Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman
- Bande de filles (Girlhood), 2014, Céline Sciamma
- Chi-Raq, 2015, Spike Lee
- Spotlight, 2015, Tom McCarthy
*Some 2014 films were included because of their U.S. release date in 2015.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention #OscarsSoWhite—which continues to be a problem and is worth highlighting—but I don’t have much to add other than what Viola Davis said in her Emmy speech (“You can’t win [awards] for roles that are simply not there.”) and what I (less eloquently) wrote before her speech in my Top 10 Movies of 2014 post. It’s not a problem with just award shows. It’s a deeper issue of privilege and the lack of opportunities for women and people of color. “People of color” of course meaning Latino, Asian, Native American, etc. in addition to Black.
There is not a film from 2015 I’ve thought about or probably will continue to think about more than Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language. Maybe it’s because I saw it in the first month of 2015 and every other film had to follow it, or perhaps because it is a work of art like I’ve never seen before. In addition to the complex themes and recurring visual motifs which I’ve yet to untangle satisfyingly, Godard plays with the very structure of the film—not only his own, but by extension the definition of what all movies can or should be. He experiments with different modes of storytelling and cinematic technique in a way that blew me away, while simultaneously giving me solace that there are still new leaves and stones that have yet to be unturned in cinema.
There is a shot of a hand submerged in shallow water that will never leave me for its striking clarity and beauty. There are a couple scenes that start as a conventional shot of two people talking. Then, Godard’s cameras (two for the 3D setup) diverge and show two overlapping images: a shot of the woman with one camera (visible in one eye) and a shot of the man with the other camera (visible in the other eye). After viewing the two images simultaneously, I instinctively started closing one eye to see one shot, then closed the other eye to see the other shot. Back and forth—slowly, then rapidly. It was as if Godard, a pioneer of modern editing during the French New Wave and throughout his career, handed over the keys to the viewers and said “okay, now you choose what film you want to see.” It was both interactive editing and participatory cinema.
The two leading women of Carol (Rooney Mara as Therese and Cate Blanchett as Carol) are obscured by, and from, the camera throughout the film. They are constantly shot through glass windows, framed by frames within frames, partially cut off, out of focus, shown in hazy reflections, etc. This subconscious repression informs not only the social and cultural affectations in the film, but it also informs the subtle gestures performed so intently and gracefully. These gestures give the film much of its nuanced vitality. Therese’s silent gaze and Carol’s touch of the shoulder mean more than having sex or saying “I love you.” It resonates more profoundly too.
Ex Machina is worth watching for the dance sequence alone. It is joyful. It is absurd. It is so pitch perfect and appropriate for the film.
On that note, I’d like to say to 2016: I’m gonna tear up the fucking dance floor, dude. Check it out.
(Probably with a Carly Rae Jepsen song blasting.)