By Mark Saldana

As I write this year-end review of the films of 2015, I am reflecting on the piece that I wrote a year ago for 2014.  I seemed rather impressed with the films of 2014, and was probably thinking that 2015 would be an off year for movies.  I certainly was wrong to assume this.  2015 turned out to be an amazing year for movies.  Besides welcoming the long awaited returns of Star Wars, Rocky, and Mad Max, cinephiles also enjoyed several remarkable independent and art house films.

As I peruse the multiple reviews I have written for 2015 and reflect upon the other movies I watched for which I didn’t write reviews, I can honestly say that the movies I liked or respected outnumbered the ones I didn’t, and by a large percentage.  I had an easy time coming up with my top seven films, as they are the only ones which received my highest ratings of four stars, but had a more difficult time determining the remaining three films which all received ratings of 3.5 Stars.

Still, after much thought and consideration, I came up with a top ten list, but could have easily come up with a top twenty-five or more.  So without any further ado, here are my top ten movies of 2015, my honorable mentions, my favorite film festival movies, and other top honors for the awesome year that has now reached an end.  With more highly anticipated movies on the schedule for 2016, I hope that coming year does not disappoint and comes close to the greatness of this year.

  1. Room – This tense, powerful, and magical film really won my heart and never let go.  Superb performances by Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, and their co-stars help make this already tremendous story one for the ages.
  2. Sicario – This intense action/thriller focusses on the war on drugs,  has multiple messages, and leaves its audiences in absolute awe.  The cast consisting of Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro deliver outstanding and breathtaking performances. The excellent direction of Denis Villeneuve, beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins, and excellent editing by Joe Walker make this film an artistic and technical masterpiece.
  3. Carol – Probably the most beautiful and heartbreaking film of the year is also the most romantic one.  Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara deliver longing and passion in a lovely period tale of rocky romance.
  4. The Look of Silence – Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow up and companion piece to The Act of Killing is my only documentary in my top ten, and is my Best documentary feature of the year.  I think the label, “companion piece,” doesn’t really do this film any justice, as it is another truly incredible and astonishing work by Oppenheimer.  The Act of Killing gives audiences an intimate look at the people who murdered Communists for Indonesia between 1965 and 66.  This film gives its audience an intimate portrait of the brother of one of their victims as he tries to make sense of his brother’s death.  It is truly amazing to see this anonymous person peacefully confront his brother’s murderers who really believed in what they were doing at the time.  If Trumbo is a disturbing look at the Red Scare in the U.S., Oppenheimer’s films offer visceral and horrific takes on the Indonesian Red Scare at its most violent.
  5. Beasts of No Nation – Cary Joji Fukunaga’s straight-to-Netflix film is one not to miss.  Typically “straight-to-video” releases carry a nasty stigma, but Netflix exclusive releases are usually of a higher quality. Idris Elba’s Commandant has a heart of darkness which infects the innocent minds and hearts of his child revolutionary army in Africa.  Ghanaian actor Abraham Attah makes an unforgettable feature film debut as Agu the child protagonist who gets caught up in a chaotic civil war that not only destroys lives, but crushes souls.
  6. The End of the Tour – The best bromance of the year comes from writer/director James Ponsoldt.  However, this film is not the typical comedic bromance that usually goes for cheaper laughs.  This intelligently written film is a fictionalized account of a meeting between writers David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) and Dave Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) who not only share laughs over the course of a few days, but also butt heads and challenge each other.
  7. Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl – My favorite young adult novel adaptation of the year won my adoration because of its celebration of film, and because of the lovable characters and the heartbreaking relationship that develops.  Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and written by Jesse Andrews (based on his novel), this film probably has some of the best character development of the year and delivers laughs and tears one will never forget.
  8. Spotlight – This is probably one of the most disturbing films of the year, but also one of the best and most respected.  The movie has an incredible ensemble cast that includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian D’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, and John Slattery.  Writer/director Tom McCarthy does a fantastic job retelling this unnerving story of a Catholic Church cover up that a team of Boston journalists helped bring to light.
  9. Mad Max: Fury Road –  Antihero Max Rockatansky is back, and even though Mel Gibson has retired from the role, talented actor Tom Hardy ably fills his boots.  Mad Max franchise creator George Miller is back, though, and gives his fans the modern-day Mad Max movie they have wanted for years.  Miller’s main character may own the title, but this movie truly belongs to the character Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who is the real hero of the film.  Miller delivers his signature brand of insane characters, and awe-inspiring action, leaving his fans feeling like they have landed in action cinema Valhalla.
  10. Ex Machina – Written and directed by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), this intelligent science fiction film that is a truly fascinating and contemplative piece.  It is a film that appeals to fans of Ray Bradbury, Philip Dick, and Rod Serling.  The performances of Oscar Isaac and Domnhall Gleeson are great, but it is Alicia Vikander’s incredible turn as Ava that is truly unforgettable.

Honorable Mentions: The Revenant, The Gift, The MartianCreed, Mistress America, Trumbo, The Danish Girl, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hateful Eight

Film Festival Favorites: Krisha (SXSW), Mr. Kaplan (Cine Las Americas), The Witch (Fantastic Fest), A Single Frame (Austin Film Festival)

Best Documentary Feature Film: The Look of Silence

Best Director: Denis Villeneuve (Sicario)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Emma Donaghue (Room)

Best Original Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan (Sicario)

Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett (Carol)

Best Supporting Actor: Jacob Tremblay (Room)

Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)

Best Cinematography: Edward Lachman (Carol)

Best Score: Carter Burwell (Carol)

I want to wish all of my family, friends, readers, and supporters a very happy new year full of wonderful times and excellent movies.  I will see you all at the cinema next year!


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