Top Films of 2015 | Pete Timmermann

2015MoviesWild Tales is the perfect halfway point between a single great film and binge-watching some cool new television show you just discovered.



It seems like most popular films these days feature callbacks to previously successful films, sometimes of the same series, sometimes not. They’re all over stuff like The Force Awakens and Jurassic World, but you can see Tarantino referencing Tarantino in The Hateful Eight, The Big Short referencing The Wolf of Wall Street, etc. Though unintentional, even my Top 10 list this year feels intentionally built around callbacks to previous years’ Top 10 lists.

Specific instances of this are explained in brief below, but in general, this feels like an old-school Pete Top 10 list: a couple of animated films, the requisite East Asian film (many years there are more than one of these), new works from old masters I’ve long admired.

Believe it or not, this year’s list is less obscure than mine often wind up being; for example, three of my top four films on my 2014 list never played in St. Louis theaters at all (well, one eventually did, but only once, and not until November 2015). All of the below 10 films played St. Louis theaters sometime this year, though numbers 3 and 4 have so far shown only once, each at SLIFF 2015, with regular runs to come in early 2016. Elsewhere, numbers 1 and 8 played the Webster Film Series (and 4 will, when it comes back to St. Louis in January), which you have to be smart enough to go to on your own, and won’t find by browsing Fandango.

Speaking of movies I admire that didn’t ever play St. Louis, what is probably my #11 pick this year didn’t: the French film Li’l Quinquin. Or, “film,” anyway: It was actually a four-part miniseries for French TV, and had a brief run in U.S. theaters in 2015 as one big 200-minute movie. It’s available on Netflix streaming as I write this, and I highly recommend it.

Here we go! The best films of 2015, in order of preference:

  1. The Look of Silence
    If I were to pick the best films of the past 10 years, and not just of 2015, one that would be toward the top of the list is Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2013 documentary The Act of Killing. But, if you go back and look at my Top Ten Films of 2013 list, you’d find that I had it ranked #2 that year, behind Spike Jonze’s Her. I stand by that decision today, and see it only as evidence that 2013 was an unusually strong year for movies. This year, Oppenheimer released The Look of Silence, a companion piece to The Act of Killing, and here it is at #1. The Look of Silence is not quite as strong (or formally daring) as The Act of Killing, but that’s a pretty impossible bar for comparison. On its own, The Look of Silence is the year’s most important and moving picture; strength can be found in central character Adi Rukun’s dogged and compassionate exploration into the still too-unknown Indonesian genocide of the mid-1960s.
  2. Inside Out
    In the late ’00s, you could all but count on a Pixar movie being on my Top 10 list each year: WALL-E was #1 in 2008, Up was #3 in 2009. In 2010, Toy Story 3 just missed my list—my notes from the era have it landing at #11—and now, with Inside Out, we have Pixar’s return after a six-year absence. While I’d still hesitate to say that any Pixar movie is outright bad (though both Cars 2 and Monsters University are close to it), Inside Out is easily the beloved animation studio’s best work in some time. The visualization of the inner workings of one’s mind are amazingly clear and conceptually easy to follow, and the voice work among the best a Pixar film has ever featured, with a special mention warranted by native St. Louisan Phyllis Smith as the voice of Sadness.
  3. Anomalisa
    If there’s a theme between the top three films on my list this year, it’s insight: into human nature, into the way we think and feel, and, with Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa, into how we love. For a screenwriter as known for complicated plot structures and conceits as Kaufman is, man, can he write beautifully about love. Kudos are also deserved by Johnson (another St. Louis native) for logically (and, again, beautifully) visualizing what started off as a play for voices by Kaufman. Knowing that this material was originally written with no intention of a visual element in mind, it’s hard to imagine how this film became as cinematic as it is. And, like Inside Out, Anomalisa is in debt to its great voice acting, from a cast of exactly three people: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan.
  4. The Assassin
    Out of all of the films released in 2015, The Assassin is the one I was most obsessed with. A lot of this is owing to there being something of a renaissance of interest in Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien recently, with a touring retrospective of his work, a good new book about him, and a lot of people first discovering him around now, despite his having made great films consistently for over 30 years. Thankfully, The Assassin didn’t disappoint, and is easily tops for me in most technical categories this year: cinematography, production design, editing. The story, which is based on source material over 1,000 years old, isn’t bad either. And here’s a bonus fun fact: Hou’s previous collaboration with The Assassin’s leads Shu Qi and Chang Chen, Three Times, was my #1 film in 2006.
  5. Wild Tales
    Though an Oscar nominee last year in the Best Foreign-Language Film category, the Argentinean film Wild Tales only saw its non-festival Stateside run in 2015. This was back in March, and it seems like it has fallen off of most people’s radars by now, which is a real shame. It wouldn’t be hard to argue that Wild Tales is the single most fun film on this list. It’s essentially made up of six short films, with the only relation between them is that they’re thematically, well, wild. Not wild in an extreme way so much as in a pulpy way; this is sheer virtuoso storytelling, and you’ll find yourself wishing it would never end when you watch it. It’s the perfect halfway point between a single great film and binge-watching some cool new television show you just discovered.
  6. Carol
    One of the best-acted films of the year, Todd Haynes’ Carol, is a love story between a middle-aged mother (Cate Blanchett) and a young shop girl (Rooney Mara) she encounters while Christmas shopping. On the way out of the press screening, I heard another critic grouse that he didn’t find either character particularly lovable, which may be true. But Carol does a rare thing in making you see why these two would fall in love with each other—even if he isn’t trying to make the audience themselves fall in love with them.
  7. Spotlight
    For the majority of the 2015 awards season (so far), Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight has been the movie forecast as most likely to win Best Picture at the upcoming Oscars this year. And man, I would be happy if it did. As you can see, there were films I liked better this year, but Spotlight is a rich, classically made newsroom procedural of the type you thought wasn’t made anymore.
  8. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
    Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is your best option from this year if you’re particularly in the mood for a film from the American indie/arthouse strain. In what is basically a recreation of an urban legend, Japanese wage slave Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) sees the Coen brothers’ movie Fargo, takes what it depicts as fact, and comes to America in search of the money Steve Buscemi’s character buries in the end. Second only to The Assassin in terms of the year’s best cinematography, Kumiko is also willfully weird and funny, in the exact way I always seem to be looking for movies to be, but rarely find any that are.
  9. The End of the Tour
    I’ve long been enough of a nerd for David Foster Wallace that it seems like any film made about him would be doomed to fail for me, especially one that’s unauthorized by his estate, as James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour is. It didn’t take too long for the film, and for Jason Segel’s performance as Mr. Wallace, to win me over, though; it helps that this is a hangout movie designed around DFW, made as porn for those who wish they had been friends with him. (Caveat: People who actually knew Wallace have been in agreement in saying that this film doesn’t accurately depict him like how he really was, but regardless, this knowledge doesn’t entirely impinge on the fantasy, anyway.)
  10. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
    Much was made of big Sundance hit Me and Earl and the Dying Girl only grossing a little shy of $7 million in the American box office; it was expected to do much better. And while I’m okay with Dying Girl, the much bigger travesty in my eyes is Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl barely crossing $1.5 million; it came and went over the course of one screen and about two weeks here in St. Louis. Such a shame, as this is a hugely accessible (yet surprisingly graphic) coming-of-age tale that bears more resemblance to the work of R. Crumb than it does to the much catered-to teenage girl demographic currently seeing a resurgence in targeted product in movie theaters. | Pete Timmermann

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