The 20 Best Films Of 2015

, and 12.21.15 4 years ago 74 Comments

It’s a good year when winnowing a list of the best films down to 20 means making some painful cuts. The names of some of the films just bubbling under our collective list could make for a fine year at the movies: Beasts of No NationLove & Mercy, James WhiteThe Night BeforeDuke of BurgundyClouds of Sils Maria. But list-making is often about making those cuts and seeing what’s left. And what’s left confirms it was an exciting year to be going to the movies. It’s a year that brought us a new Star Wars film that lived up to the impossible expectations of its fans and a miraculous, tiny movie like Tangerine, that used humble iPhones to examine a day in the life of a pair of transgender sex workers in Hollywood. So, without further ado, let’s talk about the year’s best films.

20. The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Bel Powley plays Minnie, a 15-year-old girl living in 1970s San Francisco in Marielle Heller’s overlooked adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s autobiographical graphic novel. The story centers on Minnie’s sexual awakening and the affair she’s having with her mom’s much older boyfriend, Monroe (played by Alexander Skarsgård in a way that probably should have been creepier than it is). This is a movie that will eventually find its audience (an R-rated movie about a 15-year-girl isn’t the easiest sell in 2015), but at least we can say we knew this movie was special the year it came out. — Mike Ryan

19. Tangerine

Directed by Sean S. Baker, Tangerine is a revelation several times over. Baker shot the film on iPhones, but it’s as cinematic as any film you’ll see this year, from the memorable images to the way he uses music to build tension and momentum. It’s an example of making everything out of virtually nothing. It’s also a peek at a corner of Los Angeles most don’t know, the corners, doughnut shops, and seedy motels and that serve as home base to Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor). A pair of transgender prostitutes, their friendship receives one test after another one Christmas Eve as Sin-Dee searches for a cheating pimp/boyfriend (The Wire‘s James Ransone). The film’s by turns kinetic, melancholy, and extremely moving as it barrels from the specific circumstances of its central characters toward a universal truth about the compromises we all make in the name of love. — Keith Phipps

18. The Revenant

I already described The Revenant as “a two-hour adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s dead baby tree,” and I don’t think I can be more succinct than that. It’s more of an experience than a movie. The same way Gravity gave us a sense of the terror of space, The Revenant communicated the brutality of the frontier in the most visceral, immediate terms possible. — Vince Mancini

17. Call Me Lucky

It’s a good thing Barry Crimmins is so curmudgeonly, because it would be easy to make a syrupy hagiography about him for the things that he’s done, which are heroic even in the strictest sense of the word. It’s also a good thing Call Me Lucky is directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, one of the most brutally honest, least full-of-shit humans on Earth. If you see Spotlight, you should see Call Me Lucky too, if only to truly understand child molestation beyond an abstraction. Call Me Lucky is at once a loving profile of a unique comic voice, and a sort of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, if Mr. Smith was a vulgar (but extremely lovable) comedian/activist trying to get the world to care about an extremely serious subject. It’s essentially Mr. Crimmins Goes To Washington (To Talk About Child Rape). It’s my favorite documentary of the year, and the most emotionally draining film of any kind. — VM

16. Room

The best thing about Room isn’t that Joy (Brie Larson) and her son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), escape “room” after seven years in captivity. This happens a lot earlier in the film — directed by Lenny Abrahamson working from a script and novel by Emma Donoghue — than you’d expect and is revealed in the trailer. It’s that the film is more about the repercussions of what it’s like to return to the real world after such an ordeal. For seven years, that room was their real world. Room explores the notion that it’s not always that easy just to be rescued. — MR

15. The Look of Silence

The grimmest dystopian movies have nothing on The Act of Killing and its companion film The Look of Silence. In each, director Josh Oppenheimer dredges up the past of Indonesia, a country still led by those who performed a 1965 purge that killed millions of “communists” — essentially anyone deemed to be in the way of the regime. It’s a depiction of a place where the bad guys who committed unspeakable atrocities not only won, they went unpunished and revised history to depict themselves as righteous. Here, Oppenheimer follows an unnamed man who, under the guise of performing eye exams, interviews some of those responsible for the death of his brother. As in The Act of Killing, their remorselessness, even glee, is chilling. But, like its predecessor, the film also proves that consciences can’t be killed, just suppressed. — KP

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