Top 15 Films of 2015 – Allen’s Picks
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Denis Villeneuve is the real deal. The French Canadian filmmaker made one of the better movies of 2013 (Prisoners), the best movie of 2014 (Enemy), and this year he has made one of best modern day thrillers in Sicario. More than any other of its kind, Sicario depicts a post 9/11 landscape with nerve-wracking clarity. The war on drugs is an ongoing, endless affair, with lines that are blurred to the point where we question who is on the side of justice – if justice still even exists. These are characters that compromised their beliefs to the point of no return, where there are no rules and anything goes. Caught in the middle of this storm is Emily Blunt’s FBI agent Kate Macer, an idealist who quickly realizes that everything she stands for mean nothing in a pit of vipers. Benicio Del Toro gives his best performance in years as a mysterious associate whose motivations are not revealed at first glance. Bolstered by a booming score by Johann Johannsson and cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins, Sicario is filmmaking brought to near perfection.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Look of Silence taps into the beauty and horror of humanity in such a way that it’s almost inappropriate to include it in something as meaningless as a movie list. This belongs in a category all its own, a testament of how cinema can open our eyes to the world and possibly change the way we think and feel. Made as companion piece to Oppenheimer’s other doc, The Act of Killing (2012), Silence isn’t as surreal or dreamlike, which arguably leads to a stronger effect. Instead of focusing on those responsible for the genocide that took place in Indonesia in the 1960s, Oppenheimer turns the camera to Adi, an optometrist whose brother was killed in the massacre. In perhaps the most profound use of “gotcha” journalism, Adi confronts the perpetrators under the ruse of an eye exam but then turns the conversation to the killings. The reaction of the subjects, combined with Adi’s stone-faced observance, leads to a quietly stunning outcome. What are the killers thinking as they try to evade responsibility? What is Adi going through, knowing that he is risking possible death with these interviews? In The Look of Silence and The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer has made two modern day masterpieces that will be talked about for decades to come.
George Miller is a visionary director. At seventy years young, Miller has proven that his craftsmanship has as much inspiration and adrenaline as a filmmaker half his age. This is not only the best entry into the Mad Max franchise, but the best action picture (non martial arts) of the decade. This is unlike your usual big, mindless blockbuster – the material is handled with the execution of an art film. It has the perfect blend of real world effects and computer generated imagery. Miller and his team took a concept as ordinary as a car chase and expanded it with such imagination that it goes beyond the boundaries of its own genre. It’s a picture that makes you watch it. The narrative kicks the door down and punches you in the face until you acknowledge its proficiency.
But there is more going on here than just pure energy. Before we realize it, Miller infuses a level of thoughtfulness hidden beneath the explosions and gunfire. Themes such as gender roles and the idea of what a “hero” is enriches the material. The subject matter is amplified by strong performances by Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne and the rest of stellar cast. Any indication of a troubled production is nowhere to be found. The production design (Colin Gibson), cinematography (John Seale), and editing (Margaret Sixel) capture the vast desert environments with a scope similar to Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) uses a large, operatic score that pulsates during thrilling scenes but knows when to dial down to augment a more ominous tone. Everything just works, and in the best way possible. The term “epic” is thrown around much too often, but in this case it fits and is the reason why Mad Max: Fury Road is the best film of 2015.
And that’s it! 2015 brought us some great times at the movies, here’s hoping 2016 does the same thing!
Oh, and by the way: the worst film I saw in 2015 was Fifty Shades of Grey, by a large margin.