I get fancy when I review books and music. Not so for movies.
This is a straight-up list of the films that moved me this year. The first on the list was the best. The ninth was the ninth-best.
Most of these weren’t released in 2015 — that’s just when I found them. Whatever year you live in, I’d recommend them all.
The Best Movies of My 2015 (list)
- Summer Wars
- Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring
- Three Colors: Blue
- Ip Man
- The Tribe
- Gimme the Loot
- The Smash Brothers // “Be Right Back” (Black Mirror)
The Best Movies of My 2015 (reviews)
The best live-action superhero film ever.
Chronicle is remarkable in several respects:
- The movie is about three teenage boys who acquire mysterious powers. Their development and use of these powers feels completely natural — exactly what these kids would really do. No costumes, some ambition, lots of pranks and revenge.
- One character is “the popular kid” — sexy, athletic, and the only candidate for the class presidency. So he has to be a jerk, right? No! This movie is willing to admit that popular kids are sometimes popular because they are kind, thoughtful, and inclusive. I knew some popular kids like that in middle school. They helped me make friends. I’m glad to see them represented in Hollywood.
- It ends. I won’t spoil anything, but the director certainly wasn’t writing with a sequel in mind. This lets the plot move naturally, in a way that will never be possible with a present-day Avengers film.
A strange and wonderful Japanese film about an unfriendly artificial intelligence that takes over the Internet and a family forced to reckon with the mayhem. Every character has a multidimensional personality and an important role to play; even in the midst of sci-fi chaos, we see the soothing rituals of domestic life.
Putting the story aside, several individual scenes took my breath away, whether set in cyberspace or a quiet garden. This is also the best portrayal I’ve seen of how a dangerous computer program might screw with humanity, even if it isn’t a full-blown superintelligence. (I can imagine a military using a program like this within a few decades, minus the part where the AI gets into a kickboxing match with a cartoon rabbit.)
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring
Being a Buddhist monk isn’t much fun, but the scenery sure is gorgeous. This is a Classic Work of International Cinema, consciously artistic and thematic. While that sort of thing often leaves me cold, something about Spring hit me right in the heart.
I’ll note that this movie is structured as a series of short films: It’s easy to start, stop, and pick up again where you left off.
Three Colors: Blue
A quiet, thoughtful film about a woman who loses her family, is very sad for a while, and eventually starts to feel better, perhaps becoming a better person at the same time. We live her life with her, and through her, we get a glimpse of many other lives, all written with equal care. This is another Classic Work of International Cinema, and the music/lighting/acting fit together splendidly.
Worth mentioning: Blue passes the Bechdel Test with ease. It may be the best movie I’ve seen whose protagonist was a single adult woman with no romantic goals. (Blue, or maybe Kill Bill. Hmm.)
This is a movie about a man who punches and kicks people until they stop fighting back. But he’s a good guy, and this is a Chinese blockbuster about a Chinese martial-arts legend who smashes the Japanese imperialists, so it’s all in good fun.
I’ve watched certain fights from Ip Man five or six times, and the full movie is remarkably steady and well-plotted outside the fight scenes. The villain isn’t even wholly villainous, which is rare for a kung-fu film. Plus, this is Wing Chun, which is a nice change of pace from the high-octane kickboxing of Lee, Chan, and Li.
This could have just been a brutal film about the ruling gangs at a Ukranian boarding school. That would have been ambitious enough. But Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy wasn’t satisfied, so he went and made it a boarding school for the deaf. And he shot it from the sonic perspective of the protagonist — so there is no sound, and there are no captions.
I hadn’t realized the extent to which I don’t pay full attention to movies until I had to watch one where every single character communicates with gestures. I’ll need to see it again sometime and find what I missed. (Nearly a month after I saw The Tribe, I suddenly realized what the characters’ deafness meant for a certain key plot point, and I let out an audible “whoa”.)
Note: I really liked the “Reception” section of Wikipedia for this one — lots of interesting reviews.
The most surprising movie of my 2015. Almost all of the jokes landed, the theme song is amazing, and the fights look much better than they really had to. My compliments to Melissa McCarthy and her martial-arts coach.
Also, can someone hire Paul Feig to write an actual James Bond film?
Gimme the Loot
Two kids try to pull off a daring work of graffiti, even though none of the people they want to impress actually seem to care. Sort of a caper film, sort of a slice-of-life, with lots of little details about what it’s like to live in a poor, low-trust neighborhood (where adult business owners rob children and children rob other children). Includes my favorite chase scene of the year — between two joggers, one of whom doesn’t know she’s being chased.
I’m wary about putting this on the list: I’m not sure it would have the same impact on a small screen as it did in the theater. Features the strangest protagonist of my year — a psychopath trying very hard to achieve normal goals and have healthy relationships with people. He fails spectacularly, and his rags-to-riches tale becomes a tense thriller without warning. Both halves of the movie are unnerving.
The Smash Brothers // “Be Right Back”
This is an honorable mention slot, shared by a documentary and a short film.
“The Smash Brothers” is a documentary series about some of the world’s most talented gamers, and I’ve already reviewed it on IMDB.
“Be Right Back” is an episode of Black Mirror, which is like the British Twilight Zone — haunting, self-contained stories with a hint of science fiction. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite episode: “White Bear” and “The National Anthem” are close. But “Be Right Back” is a story about humans coexisting with technology, rather than being dominated; learning to adapt, rather than surrendering to their instincts. You’ll find plot summaries for the series here (very mild spoilers).