The Top 50 Films of 2015

50.) Burnt – Yeah, I know, the movie has some serious issues. Pointless subplots and forced romance. Burnt is a rare example of a good film somehow evolving out of a bad script. Maybe it had something to do with a certain Mr. Bradley Cooper. This was a passion project of his, and it’s evident as he dominates every frame of the picture. When we’re with him and his team in the kitchen on their pursuit of greatness, not many films released in 2015 felt as visceral. If you didn’t care for this one, I highly recommend the documentary Grace (available on Netflix). The two might as well be companion pieces.

Where to watch: Available to rent

49.) The Tribe – The essence of artistic vision can occasionally be uncompromising. To be fair to this bleak Ukrainian drama though, it uses the style to enhance and elaborate upon its own voyeuristic vantage point. Taking place in a decrepit boarding school for deaf boys and girls, The Tribe contains no audible dialogue and no captions to give the sign language literacy. By doing so, we understand their muted world vicariously, putting the deaf in the know and us on the outside. The strained effect is as alienating as it is engrossing. You’re pressed to pay attention to the every steely inch of the screen.

Where to watch: Netflix

48.) The Gift – Before the days of countless superhero blockbusters and a dependency on tent-pole summer releases, we’d occasionally get a movie like The Gift. Everything here functions as a small home invasion / conspiracy thriller, from the dynamic trio of actors to Joel Edgerton’s brilliant introduction as a first-time director. Parts may lose a little luster or get a little lost, but what differentiates this from the competition is an open welcome; the danger and the past are invited through the front door with widespread arms.

Where to watch: Available to rent

47.) Unfriended – Too many people were prematurely dismissive of this entry into the found-footage genre with a teen fright fest twist. Five friends spend a night video chatting until a stranger enters the conversation declaring herself to be Laura, their old pal who recently committed suicide. Unfriended builds with solid escalation, surprisingly deep performances from the young cast, and asserts an anti-bullying message so timely for today’s youth. Nothing on the internet ever dies, amounting to a telling metaphor behind the screams and the scares.

Where to watch: Available to rent

46.) The Martian – Every year there seems to be that one movie you can recommend to anyone and know that they’ll enjoy it. In 2015, that superlative goes to the Matt Damon led The Martian. If you have read the laborious book it’s based on, then you know just how exemplary this adaptation is. Damon does some of his career best work as the cocksure and resourceful Mark Watney, stranded behind after a mission gone south on Mars. Parts are funny, action-packed, intense. However, what I walked away from the film with was a dogged belief in the persistence of man and the collective human endeavor, all wrapped up in a story that tells you it is okay to be smart.

Where to watch: Available to rent

45.) Hard to Be a God – I initially hated this 3 hour-long Russian picture, which is why it’s so vitally important to let the weight of a story really sink in. Traveling alongside scientists sent to another planet stuck in a period similar to our Dark Ages, Hard to Be a God is a vital, damn near unshakable film experience. You feel the grime and the dirt and the disgust dredging through every painstaking second. As director Aleksei German’s last feature, the movie puts its audience into a landscape that they’d never dare enter. Films this intelligent aren’t typically populated by characters this animalistic and debased, causing us to question just how elevated our species is or isn’t. You probably won’t like it, but you won’t soon forget how it made you feel.

Where to watch: Netflix

44.) The Overnight – Oftentimes it can be way too easy to describe a comedy. A generic plot, stale characters, every good joke thrown out in the trailer. The Overnight feels impossible to pin down because it is so new and creative and unique. As we’re into an exploratory night fueled by drugs and drinks between two newly introduced married couples, the film develops sincere and complex relationships that are surrounded by frank, simple humor. It’s insistent, shocking, and every so often a permissible and balanced blend of both.

Where to watch: Netflix

43.) Tangerine – This is the kind of movie to remind you that anything is possible. Shot on an iPhone (wrap your head around that for a second), Tangerine’s acidic approach to the underbelly of Los Angeles lights up the screen with people and a cinematic language that hardly, if ever, is allowed to govern a story. It stars two Transgenders playing prostitutes navigating their lives on Christmas Eve, and you’re likely to hear it reduced to that simple description. So just sit down and watch the movie, because it manages to transcend that broad label to deliver a story filled with all of the human elements.

Where to watch: Netflix

42.) Mustang – The farther along you get into this Turkish drama, the more clearly you discern the purpose of its struggle. The story is about five orphaned sisters living under a house of strict order, eventually coming to a hardboiled head. Pulled out of school, marriages arranged, their own lives wrestled from their control. What Mustang does so well, and with so much meaning, is that it makes each young woman create their own identity. We see how all the variables could result, making the film as contingent as it is elaborate.

Where to watch: Netflix

41.) 45 Years – While the movie suffers from the intentional use of distance in its framing, 45 Years maneuvers through the blocking with such grace and experience by both lead actors that we still buy into the tension and the torment. This really is one of the best acted movies of 2015, and certainly up there with the top scripts. What the story asks, by way of its own title, is if we should willingly submit to the pressures and the confines of built upon time. Everyone has a different answer, and by leaving itself open-ended 45 Years allows its audience to be as much of a collaborator as they are a consumer.

Where to watch: Available to rent

Hit the next page for #40-31

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