Room had so many challenges for the characters that it could have lasted another two hours and I wouldn’t have minded.
I think I saw almost all the big movies I wanted to see this year. There were even a few I wasn’t in a rush to see, but I ended up loving and put on this list. Of course, there were a couple of big releases I didn’t get around to seeing (The Revenant won’t get a release in St. Louis until after press time). I’m pretty confident, though, that things would be more or less the same even if I hadn’t missed some of those movies. That goes to show how strong this year was in film. The only big regret I have is that there was no way for me to see Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room. In fact, there are several films that just never got big releases and flew under the radar, but if I worried about all of them I would never be happy with my list. So here we are.
Great acting, unique and interesting characters, exciting and efficient direction and storytelling, and an issue I think should get as much attention as possible. Even if it didn’t blow me away in every facet, it was beyond competent and enjoyable throughout. It’s a magnificent return to the socially conscious newsroom drama and the most important film of the year, if not for the message than for how impenetrably well-made it is.
- The Wolfpack
This is not only the best documentary I saw all year, but probably one of the best I’ve seen, period. It’s a story both unbelievably foreign because of how bizarre it is, but also relatable to a culture so heavily influenced by cinema (myself, especially so). It’s one of those documentaries that makes you want to go and learn more about the subjects. One of the best cases of reality sometimes being stranger and cooler than fiction.
I got a little motion sickness watching this, but it was nevertheless excellent and the best use of the new long-take craze I’ve seen yet. Any shakiness in its execution is tempered by the fact that it contains painfully real and emotional performances of complex characters inhabiting a very exciting and gripping story. The single-take style is not only impressive, but completely appropriate to the mood the film sets out to achieve, instilling in us the same sense of confusion and exhaustion the characters feel.
Room held the most emotional weight for me out of any film this year. Jacob Tremblay gives the best youth performance I’ve seen since Beasts of the Southern Wild (I’m not sure which is better). Its heavy emotional content and suspense is consuming, and it had so many challenges for the characters that it could have lasted another two hours and I wouldn’t have minded; I didn’t want it to end.
First off, it had my favorite title sequence of the year, similar to the work of Saul Bass. This is to say that as soon as it started I knew I was going to like it. Despite it being relatively low on this list, I think Mustang is the film to which I’m most excited to return. It gives off the impression that it has more to say than it lets on during the first viewing. Mustang is a poignant and devastating film that makes you feel bad in that good kind of way.
- Ex Machina
I’m not a very big fan of science fiction, but this is the kind I like: slow, cerebral, and using the genre trappings to explore humanity and fallibility. Lately, we’ve been wondering if we can trust machines like we can trust people. Ex Machina asks the more important question: Can we trust ourselves?
- Mad Max: Fury Road
I’m with everybody else on this one. We haven’t had such a masterfully crafted set of action sequences in some time. I’ve heard some complaints about the thinness of the plot. To me, this argument is entirely missing the point. Since the beginning of the film industry, we’ve used the medium to tell stories and explore ourselves as much as we have used it to make really kick-ass spectacles. Mad Max falls into the latter camp. All it wants to be is cool as hell, and that it is.
- The Hateful Eight
Yes, The Hateful Eight is number eight on my list, and no, I’m not being cute. What a pleasure it was to see this in the theater. If you can, you absolutely must watch it in 70mm the way it was intended to be seen. The rich, old-fashioned aesthetics aside, this was also much better than Tarantino’s last film, Django Unchained. He isn’t trying to top himself like he has been lately; all he’s doing is giving us a fun, bloody, darkly humorous, Agatha Christie–like whodunit that, despite its lengthy running time, feels more intimate and small-scale than anything he’s done since Reservoir Dogs. And it’s his funniest film, as well.
- Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
We’ve needed a massively publicized exposure of the religion of Scientology for a while, and while the expository and traditional approach to the content is not as exciting as The Wolfpack, the information revealed is fascinating and terrifying. If one goal of documentaries is to reveal things to us, to provide information and expose truths, then Going Clear did its job almost too well.
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The presence of this movie on my Top 10 might give you the impression that I’m some slavishly faithful Star Wars geek who will adore anything associated with the franchise. But really, I only mildly enjoy the original trilogy, and have never been in a hurry to rewatch them. Being too young to discover the films on my own or even grasp what was going on in the prequels when they came out, this was the first Star Wars movie that I was able to experience fresh and actively reflect on. Despite it being a little too similar to A New Hope, I thought it was the best Star Wars film aside from The Empire Strikes Back, and I can’t wait to see the new characters again.
One other interesting thing I think I should point out is that a lot of the movies this year (and many on my list) dealt with confinement and suppression. Perhaps people have been feeling generally trapped lately. I don’t like to speculate about that kind of stuff until a good amount of time has passed, though. I’ll just say I really dig this recurring theme, and I wonder what it will say about us 10 years from now. | Nic Champion