My favorite movies of 2015

Is there actually anyone still interested in “Best of 2015”-lists? Probably not. Unfortunately for me – and you – despite my best intentions, I didn’t come around to writing this list before. But since I still want to record my favorite movies of 2015 for eternity, here they are nonetheless. Please note that compared to last years list, I decided to implement a little change. Instead of just presenting you a Top 25-list, no matter how good or bad they were, the number of movies on my list will change from year to year – already giving an indication how good or bad a year it was. I’ll always feature all movies with a rating of 8 or above, plus one movie with a rating of 7 as some sort of “Runner-Up”. However, please take note that only films that had an official release in Austria/Germany in 2015 are eligible for this list. And since I’m already late enough as it is, without further ado, here they are:

#36: Terminator Genisys
Yes, this is very much meant as a middle finger to all those critics that slammed it. I still don’t understand why this is supposed to be that much worse than the rest of blockbusters that came out in 2015, and actually (very slighty) prefer this to “Jurassic World” when it comes to nostalgic resurrections of old cinematic franchises. Definitely the best non-Cameron-sequel of the bunch. 7/10

#35: Avengers: Age of Ultron
Not as entertaining as the first one, but still pretty good, Joss Whedon again has fun with his huge ensemble cast of superheroes, and manages to give each and every one of them their due. The showdown was a little generic, and it didn’t quite have the same spark as the first one, but as far as blockbuster-fare goes, this was still above most of the rest. 8/10

#34: Girlhood
A nice study of the milieu of (girl) gangs in the outskirts of Paris, “Girlhood” features an engaging plot, great characters, and a phenomenal central performance by Karidja Touré. The scene in the hotel where the girls dance to Rihanna’s “Diamonds” was my “Feel Good-moment” of the year. 8/10

#33: Far From the Madding Crowd
I neither know the novel nor the previous cinematic adaptations, but I really liked Thomas Vinterberg’s movie. Bathsheba Everdene is such a great character, and a very modern woman caught in the unprogressive world of Victorian England. I also loved the men in her life, and how different they were. Very well shot, with some extremely beautiful images, with a great score by Craig Armstrong, and superbly acted (not surprising, given this cast), “Far From the Madding Crowd” definitely was one of the best romantic dramas of 2015. 8/10

#32: Trainwreck
Even though I’m a guy, I enjoy romantic comedies – at least when they’re done well. And “Trainwreck” definitely was done well. My favorite part of it was how it turned the usual gender roles in this kind of movies upside down. Here, it’s Amy who has to grown and to win the heart of her sweetheart (with a big romantic gesture, of course). It also was quite funny, which is also a plus (too many romantic comedies put their emphasis on the first part of that genre description, and neglect the latter). Not an instant classic, but a more than decent effort. 8/10

#31: Fast & Furious 7
What I liked most about the seventh entry in this very weird cinematic series is how well they managed to deal with Paul Walker’s death. That ending was absolutely perfect. Also, the action (while not quite as clear as I would have like) was gloriously over the top, and featured some of the best action moments of 2015 (and with the action-lineup that we had last year, that’s saying something). 8/10

#30: Housebound
A great horror-comedy from New Zealand that gets the balance between those two ingredients right. Yes, it’s very funny, but never at the expense of suspense and tension. The only thing that I wasn’t sure of was the revelation at the end, which felt a little too implausible to me. Other than that, in a year that offered very little good horror fare, “Housebound” definitely stands out as one of the praiseworthy exceptions. 8/10

#29: Mistress America
While the other Noah Baumbach-movie of 2015, “While We’re Young”, disappointed me a little, “Mistress America” was up to the standards that I’ve come to know and expect from him – one again proving that he’s arguably at his best when collaborating with the incomparable Greta Gerwig. “Mistress America” featured a nice plot and a couple of great moments, with the ever-intensifying scene at the house of Brooke’s ex a particular standout. 8/10

#28: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Very stylish, and shot in beautiful black and white, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” might be a deceptive package insofar as it wasn’t actually shot anywhere near Iran, but it’s a worthy effort nonetheless, with a nice story, some great performances, a wonderful soundtrack, a beautiful romance, and some tense scenes. Definitely “style over substance”, but when the “style”-part of that equation is done as well as it’s here, I have a hard time complaining. 8/10

#27: The Theory of Everything
I’m aware that “The Theory of Everything” also has its detractors, and even I think that the Oscar would have belonged to Michael Keaton, but nevertheless, it’s a very moving portrait of one of the most brilliant minds that humanity has ever seen, as well as his courageous wife. That it features one of the most beautiful scores of the last year obviously also helps. 8/10

#26: John Wick
In a year with many great action movies, “John Wick” still is the third best of the bunch. Keanu Reeves redeemed himself with this (only to later undo it again with his abysmal performance in “Knock Knock”), and after many years of incomprehensible action, “John Wick” was one of those that managed to provide gripping action that you could nevertheless still follow – giving me hope that we might just have outlived that terrible trend. 8/10

#25: Vacation
Another movie that wasn’t exactly well-received, but which surprised me in a positive way. Perfectly capturing the tone of the old movies, with a great new cast led by Ed Helms (who gives a very good Chevy Chase/Clark Griswold impression) and Christina Applegate (who hasn’t been that funny in a long time), it managed exactly what it set out to do: To entertain me, and make me laugh. What more could you want in a comedy? 8/10

#24: Wild Tales
Highly recommended if you love your humor as black as your coffee, “Wild Tales” nevertheless was up to a rough start, with its bleak first segment that was a little bit too reminiscent to a real-world tragedy that happened last year. Not the movie’s fault, obviously, but nonetheless, I had a hard time with that. The other stories, however, got better and better, and the last episode at the wedding is worth watching it alone. 8/10

#23: Frank
A great movie about the dark side of ambition, “Frank” managed to surprise me with the road that it ultimately took – because after the first couple of minutes, I thought I had the movie figured out, only to be proven very wrong indeed. Also: Great performances all around, especially by Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender and Maggie Gyllenhaal. If you only watch one movie of 2015 about a guy who wears a fake wooden head all the time, make it this one. 8/10

#22: Elsewhere
I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that this was made by a film student. It’s so mature and self-confident and sophisticated. I also liked the theme of untranslatable words, as well as the major plot point of immigrants who don’t quite feel at home at both the place where they live now as well as the one where they grew up. Definitely recommended for everyone who has an interest in this specific topic. 8/10

#21: Everest
As someone who’s far too unsportsmanlike – and cowardly – to ever attempt climbing a mountain, let alone Mount Everest, seeing this in IMAX definitely was the closest that I’ll ever come experiencing said climb. Featuring some breathtaking shots of the landscape, a tragic story as well as great performances, I got the feeling that this was unjustly ignored by many. 8/10

#20: Bridge of Spies
While even he may have had his stinkers over his very long career, Steven Spielberg nevertheless is undoubtedly one of the best and most consistent directors working today. “Bridge of Spies” is another great historic thriller/drama by him, reuniting him again with Tom Hanks, who again shines in the leading role. Having visited Berlin for the first time in my life last year, this certainly had a special appeal – however, it should entertain you even without that bonus. 8/10

#19: The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 2
If they wouldn’t have split up both parts, and just made an epic 3-hour-finale, this might actually have taken the crown this year. As it stands, while a little too stretched (like butter scraped over too much bread, as Bilbo would say), it nevertheless is very dramatic and emotional finale – albeit I could have done with a little less saccharine in the last two minutes. Nevertheless, the tragic story, another impressive performance by Jennifer Lawrence as well as a career-best effort by James Newton Howard (and with his body of work, that’s saying something), this was a worthy finale of the best “Young Adult”-movie series of this decade (so far). 8/10

#18: Goodnight Mummy
The second best horror movie of last year. The only thing that prevents this from being rated even higher is that I still think that the final twist was a little bit too obvious. Other than that, it’s a great horror movie, and it’s even more impressive coming from Austria. The tension levels are rising constantly, culminating in a brutal finale that, even though I’ve seen my fair share of horror movies in my life, still had me squirm uncomfortably. 8/10

#17: Inherent Vice
Watching this movie is probably the closest that you can come to feeling stoned without actually smoking pot. I still don’t really know what was going on here, but the great thing about Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest movie was that I didn’t care. Featuring many impressive long takes (with the conversation between Doc and Shasta a particular standout) and some great performances, “Inherent Vice” is a ride quite unlike anything else that I’ve seen last year. 8/10

#16: Mr. Holmes
As a huge fan of the literary figure as well as of Ian McKellen, I was really looking forward to this – and wasn’t disappointed. Granted, the movie presents us with a slightly different and more sentimental version of Sherlock Holmes – however, age might do that to you, so I have no problem with that. I liked the mystery in the past as well as the story in the present, with a Sherlock Holmes who faces a failing mind and/or memory (something that for him must be especially terrible). My only small complaint is that I wish Holmes would have had to use his skills to deduct what happened back then instead of it just coming back to him randomly. Despite that, though, I really liked it. 8/10

#15: Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation
Not counting parodies, Ethan Hunt’s newest mission was the best spy movie in a year where they weren’t exactly in short supply (which also means that he actually managed to outspy James Bond himself). Seeing my hometown of Vienna taking such a prominent role as a location definitely helped, but I also quite liked the plot (especially the fact that pretty much everything happening wasn’t actually set in motion by him, but rather by Ilsa Faust, charmingly played by Rebecca Ferguson) and Christopher McQuarrie’s direction. Yes, it was weird that they featured the most impressive stunt sequence right at the beginning, but otherwise, this was a great spy movie, and probably the best of the impossible missions so far. 8/10

#14: Still Alice
Granted, I could have done without those oh-so-ironic comments at the beginning, but otherwise, this was a quite hard-hitting drama about a woman being diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease. The jumps in the story were a little jarring at times, but that might have been intentional, trying to give the viewer an impression what it’s like living with a disease like that. The performances were great all around, and the ending quite devastating. Definitely not a feel good-movie, but when you’re looking for a real downer of a movie, you can to a lot worse than “Still Alice”. 8/10

#13: Victoria
Like another movie that’s going to appear a little further down this list, “Victoria” gives the impression of being shot in one long take. I’m not sure if that’s actually how they did it, and I don’t really want to know, since that might take away a little bit of the magic. What I do know, though, is that after a slow start that takes its time to introduce the characters, “Victoria” gets quite tense and intense. For me, single take-movies are more than just gimmicks. They are more like-like (since we can’t just cut or fast forward in real life either), and at least in my case they manage to give me the impression that I as a viewer am just as caught in the proceedings, with no escape, like the protagonists. If not the best, than “Victoria” is at least the most unusual movie coming out of Germany since “Lola rennt”. 8/10

#12: Carol
A wonderful, touching romantic drama, with two impeccable lead performances, portraying two very different women whose attraction to each other nevertheless is undeniable. Like all movies that present some sort of “impossible” love, it made me mad at the people and/or the society that prevents them from simply being happy together. Albeit not quite as moving and devastating as the groundbreaking “Brokeback Mountain”, “Carol” nevertheless was a great, emotional and highly recommendable movie. 8/10

#11: The Voices
I love dark comedies, and “The Voices” is as dark and grim as they come. Ryan Reynolds, who has never been better, is helped by two great performances by a cat and a dog (both voiced by him), as well as a stellar supporting cast that features, among others, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Ella Smith and Jacki Weaver. Great direction, wonderful script – I just wish they would have gone for a darker ending more in line with that came before, instead of that musical number. Other than that, my cats tell me that this was a great movie. 8/10

#10: Sicario
The best thriller of last year, and also the first feature film of Dennis Villeneuve that I actually liked (albeit with “Prisoners” and “Enemy”, in both cases my squabbles were more with the scripts than his direction). Featuring a couple of very intense moments, some hard-hitting scenes as well as a great leading performance by Emily Blunt, “Sicario” takes a grim look at the war on drugs. I’m not sure if I needed that twist (albeit it worked like a charm), but overall, Villeneuve really hit it out of the park with this one. 9/10

#9: The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Not your typical clear-cut and glossed over teenage dramedy, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is rather blunt, and bleak, and first and foremost, honest. Telling the story of a 15-year old girl starting an affair with the boyfriend of her mother, without putting any blame on anyone, I found the honesty in which the movie approached the feelings, desires and urges of teenagers quite refreshing. Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgard were great, but Bell Powley upstaged them all in one of the best performances that I’ve seen all year. Prudes should steer clear, but for all the rest, this is definitely one diary of a teenage girl worth checking out. 9/10

#8: Kingsman – The Secret Service
Who knew that Colin Firth could be such a badass? After the slightly disappointing “X-Men: First Class” (disappointing for him, and not the series), Matthew Vaughn returns to his indie-roots and proves that he works best when out of a repressive studio system. While not quite as masterful as “Stardust” or “Kick-Ass”, “Kingsman – The Secret Service” nevertheless was a highly entertaining parody of spy movies with many gloriously over the top sequences, and some perfect combinations of images and music that I’ve come to know and love from him. And while I still would prefer a third “Kick-Ass”-movie to wrap up the series, I’ll definitely check out the Secret Service’s next mission. 9/10

#7: The Babadook
Hands down the best horror film of last year, “The Babadook” uses the genre in the best possible way, and takes a look at depression. Where so many other movies fail by telling the audience what to think, Jennifer Kent thankfully never states definitely if the monster is real, or just in Amelia’s head. The creature design was absolutely awesome (minimalistic, but nevertheless incredibly effective), and the performances absolutely stunning. The biggest star, though, is the incredible tension that Kent builds scene after scene. If you missed out on “The Babadook”, you really did miss out! 9/10

#6: Lost River
Probably one of my more divisive choices, but I can’t help it, I really loved Ryan Gosling directing debut. I liked the beautiful, haunting images, the great atmosphere, and most of all, it’s nightmarish flair. With movies like that, which mostly live by their atmosphere, the question always is if they manage to cast a spell over you or not. And with me, “Lost River” did exactly that. 9/10

#5: The Eternal Life
Probably the best movie of 2015 that you’re never going to see, given the fact that an english subtitled version is probably going to be difficult to come around. Also, it’s hard to me to say how an international audience would react to this very Austrian film. But for me, “The Eternal Life” was the best of the Brenner-movies so far. I loved how the plot was set up, with us knowing everything that’s going on in the present (in contrast to the protagonists), while the protagonists know what happened back then (in contrast to the audience). I also really liked that chase sequence that was something like the anti-thesis to your regular Hollywood car chase, as well as the way the flashbacks were shot, perfectly capturing the nostalgic glance on the “good old times”. Definitely one of the very best movies coming out of Austria during the last couple of years. 9/10

#4: The Martian
Definitely one of the most entertaining movies that I saw last year. While not quite as fascinating as “Interstellar” and as gripping as “Gravity”, “The Martian” nevertheless continued the recent trend of Science Fiction-movies with a very human touch, putting the plights of their protagonists in the forefront. Screenwriter Drew Goddard and director Ridley Scott perfectly captured the quintessence as well as the tone of Andy Weir’s great book, and brought them to the big screen. Helped by a stellar performance by Matt Damon, great music choices and a more-than-decent score by Henry-Gregson Williams, “The Martian” was a surprisingly funny movie that I’m definitely going to revisit many times. 9/10

#3: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Without a doubt the most emotionally devastating movie from 2015, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” might share some of the same DNA as “The Fault in our Stars”, but nevertheless approaches the topic quite differently. What they share, however, are some very emotional scenes, and great performances by the lead actors (special mention has to go to Olivia Cooke, who – after the disappointing “Ouja”, proves to be a real talent). And that’s all that I plan on saying about it here. For more, read my review, or rather, watch the goddamn movie! 9/10

#2: Ex Machina
The best Science Fiction-movie of 2015, “Ex Machina” brings back the more thoughtful kind of SF-entertainment that I deemed lost and forgotten. Nevertheless, despite some brainy scenes, it should not only speak to the minds, but also to the hearts of the audience. In his stunning feature film debut (after writing the screenplays for some of the best movies of this century), Alex Garland puts the viewer in Caleb’s shoes, and at least with me, that worked like a charm. Stunning performance all around, especially by the new discovery of the year, Alicia Vikander, as well as some impressive set design, a stunning score, and a perfect ending, make “Ex Machina” a must-see movie for all SciFi-fans. 9/10

#1: Birdman
Perfectly capturing the energy and immediateness of live theater, but without the distance that you usually have between the actors and the audience, “Birdman” puts the viewer behind the scenes and on the stage, making him part of the action. That everything seemingly takes place in a single take is more than just a gimmick: It’s essential for the live theater-sensation they were going for, and – given the fact that sometimes days can pass between one scene and the next, even though there’s not discernible cut, it also adds to the surrealness of it all. If it weren’t for that one final shot that I’m not sure I like, this would have been the only movie from 2015 getting a 10/10-rating from me. As it stands, it’s still a small masterpiece that I feel certain will stand the test of time.

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3 Responses to My favorite movies of 2015

  1. kalafudra says:

    Victoria doesn’t only appear to have been shot in one take, it actually was afaik. A logistical accomplishment if nothing else. 😉

    As usual, some of the films would probably be on my list if I made such a list, some would be in very different spots and some I wouldn’t feature at all, but I quite like this way of looking back on the cinematic year through your eyes.

    • Well, since “Birdman”, I’m just never completely sure. There have been quite a few movies recently that used some trickery to make certain scenes appear to be shot in one take (see the beginning of “Spectre”, for example). But if it was, that indeed is an incredibly accomplishment in itself. Just saw your review and will reply there in time (about to go into a meeting), but have to say I was a little sad to see that you didn’t like it more.

      And concerning using my “year in review” to look back at it yourself: Glad that I could be of service :-).

      • kalafudra says:

        Yeah, technology has come pretty far in that regard (I’m also thinking of that Uruguayan horror movie which looks like one take and had probably less than 10 cuts in all), so I understand your reluctance. But in Victoria’s case, I believe them when they say that they did actually shoot it in one take. But yeah, it didn’t really work for me other than that.

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