film, tech, photo, games, design...

Ryland’s Top 50 Films of 2015


Get it done before Sundance. Get it done before Sundance. Phew!

Okay I admit, is a bit of a no man’s land these days. But there is still one annual post that demands a home somewhere. So here it is. My top 50 films of 2015, albeit a few weeks late.

I base my list on the films I see during the calendar year of 2015 that have either world premiered at a festival or been released theatrically in the year. To be clear, this is not the best films that played festivals in 2015 (though most did) or the best films that came out in theaters in 2015. This is the best films that either played at festivals or came out in theaters/VOD that I saw for the first time in 2015.

That means some of these movies have not come out yet in the US and therefore don’t qualify for other critics’ lists. Likewise there are a handful of films that have been on other lists that were on my list last year such as It Follows or The Tribe. I’ve endeavored to mention in my comments if a film is coming out soon or awaiting distribution.

All in all 2015 was an excellent year for cinema. It was tough to narrow down the top 10 but I’m feeling pretty good about the decisions. Let me know if you agree or think I’m out of my mind in the comments below or on Twitter at @RylandAldrich.

50. Love & Peace
Just squeaking onto the list is Sono Sion’s (Love Exposure, Tokyo Tribe) latest bizarre and touching story of an outcast dude and a bunch of outcast toys. Oh and it’s a musical too. Just try not to sing along. No US distributor in sight yet but definitely keep an eye out where you find weird Japanese movies. This is worth it.

49. The Dark Horse
New Zealander James Napier Robertson’s inspirational story of an ex-con and his adolescent chess club premiered in his home country way back in summer 2014 before moving on to TIFF and a host of other festivals. Along the way it won a ton of awards including the Golden Space Needles at SIFF for Best Film and Best Actor Cliff Curtis. Broad Green is bringing it to US audiences this spring.

48. Baskin
Turkish first timer Can Evrenol emerged as a definite director to watch with this wild and weird horror-esque debut. I can’t wait to see what he does next. IFC Midnight has scooped it up for release in 2016.
Turkish midnighter BASKIN is bucketloads of bloody mayhem. Super weird. Totally awesome.
Read my full review on TwitchFilm

47. Furious 7
There wasn’t a dry eye on my face after the touching finale of the seventh in the Fast & the Furious franchise. Yes I’m a softy, but this action adventure had a ton of fun to offer up before the emotion kicked in and reminded us it’s truly about family.
My 3 thoughts on ‪#‎Furious7‬: 3. Not enough drifting. 2. I’ve missed Tony Jaa. He was the second best part (after The Rock, duh). 1. It’s really all about family. (Drink!)

46. Anomalisa
Perhaps I didn’t swoon quite as heavily as some for Charlie Kaufman’s first directorial outing since Synecdoche, New York. But this animated extravaganza co-directed by Duke Johnson is impressive, no doubt, and one of the year’s must-see films for sure.
Charlie Kaufman’s ANOMALISA is a total crack up. Completely brilliant. Brilliantly subtle. Subtlety complete. Worth the wait.

45. Slow West
2015 was a big year for Westerns and perhaps one of the more underrated offerings was this Michael Fassbender starrer directed by John Maclean. It’s well worth queuing up on VOD if you missed it.
Fassbender Western SLOW WEST is a brilliantly executed gun slinging romp. Most fun I’ve had in cowboy boots in some time.

44. Turbo Kid
Amazingly weirdo Canadians François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell Fantasia-supported feature is a total blast of retro sci-fi fun. While it has technically been released in the US, it might take some seeking out. You’ll have fun if you do.
Biggest takeaway from the totally fantastic TURBO KID: there aren’t nearly enough robots in Mad Max.

43. Cooties
Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion’s Leigh Whannell-penned story of rabid kids and scared teachers is a stoner cult classic waiting to happen. I laughed my butt off.
Sometimes you miss one. COOTIES is the best midnighter since COP CAR. Ah. Well it’s fucking fantastic.

42. Bridge of Spies
I can’t say I’ve been an enormous fan of Spielberg in his later years but Bridge of Spies is a totally solid spy tale with some wonderfully realized locations and great performances throughout.

41. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Alex Gibney’s adaptation of Lawrence Wright’s excellent exposé is a must watch companion for a must read book. It doesn’t cover any ground not well examined in the book but certainly does a good job distilling the info and also provides a good service of putting faces to names.
Gibney’s GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY & THE PRISON OF BELIEF is every bit the excellent adapt’tn of an excellent book. Damning expose.

40. The Ardennes
Belgian crime thrillers have been experiencing a real renaissance with Bullhead and The Invader both making my list in recent years. Add this film by Robin Pront to that list. No word yet on a US distrib.

39. We Are Still Here
Ted Geoghegan’s directorial debut is a frigid and extremely well made horror. Bring us more Ted!
WE ARE STILL HERE is a rollicking midnight horror fest. Super fun and the best haunted houser in years. Congrats all.

38. The Invitation
Karyn Kusama’s ensemble psychological thriller is super well-executed and suuuper creepy. Drafthouse should hopefully be bringing it to audiences in the US in early 2016.
THE INVITATION is dark, emotional, and totally thrilling. Hats off to Kusama for a brilliantly executed film.

37. The Hunting Ground
Kirby Dick’s documentary about the culture of sexual assault and cover ups on college campuses is a shocking and extremely important film and one that deserves more attention. It made the shortlist for Oscars but not the final five. Seek it out nonetheless. Also, Jameis Winston is a rapist.

36. Concussion
I obviously liked Concussion a lot more than the average critic. It’s not revolutionary cinema but it’s an interesting story, well told, and doesn’t pull any punches. If you gave it a pass in the theater, it might be worth doubling back at home.
CONCUSSION’s damning indictment of #NFL is much higher than expected. Enough to finally bring Goodell down? Important regardless.

35. Racing Extinction
Louis Psyhoyos’s follow-up to The Cove isn’t quite as laser-focused as that film was but it’s equally (or perhaps more) important. This is a movie everyone needs to see. So go watch it. There’s information available on how to see it on their website.
The Cove follow-up RACING EXTINCTION is slightly less narrative but just as brilliant & emotional. A film every human must see!

34. The Brand New Testament
Jaco Van Dormael made the super weird and wonderful 2009 Jared Leto starrer Mr. Nobody. He’s back in Belgium for this super weird and wonderful story of… um… God, sorta. It’s awesome and totally worth watching. It doesn’t seem to have a US distributor yet but keep an eye out. You can watch Mr. Nobody on Netflix in the meantime.
THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT is a true delight. Heart warming and wacky in a way very few films could pull off. Must see.

33. Ex Machina
I suspect some of you will deride me for having Alex Garland’s directorial debut so far off the top 10. I liked it a lot. But I didn’t quite love it the way it seems a lot of people did. Still this movie will be one we think of when looking back on 2015 in years to come.
I’m calling EX MACHINA “The Skin I Live In meets Her.” Plenty high on coolness factor but not a fan of male casting or overbearing score.

32. Finders Keepers
Joining docus like King of Kong and Marwencol in the “Where do they find these people??” category, this film about an amputated leg by Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel is pure enjoyment. The Orchard is set to release it in 2016.

31. Son of Saul
I spent a long time avoiding stories set in the Holocaust. (I think it was my 7th grade curriculum that made me so Holocaust-averse). But this is an excellent film, fascinating both from a storytelling and filmmaking perspective. It’s nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and should certainly be seen in the theater if at all possible.
My reluctance to see SON OF SAUL was totally unfounded. It’s a fascinating and beautiful film that’s not at all exploitative.

30. Dheepan
Palme d’Or winner at this last summer’s Cannes fest, Dheepan is a return to form for Jacques Audiard after the rather disappointing Rust and Bone. Ostensibly a tale of immigrant drama in France, there is way more than meets the eye waiting in the second half. Sundance Selects is slated to bring it out in the States in April 2016 and perhaps make a run at next year’s Foreign Language Oscar.
DHEEPAN every bit deserving of its Palme d’Or. Intense filmmaking with fully developed and interesting characters. Not easy but great.

29. Hardcore
In a year filled with experiential and video game-inspired cinema, Ilya Naishuller’s adaptation of his award-winning short known as Bad Motherfucker is the first truly big first person action feature. Get set for a lot more. STX is putting it out in theaters in 2016 though it looks like they’ve changed the title to Hardcore Henry.
1st person actioner HARDCORE is quite possibly the most violent movie of all time. It’s totally completely unbelievably awesome. | When fps/parkour VR films (or whatever we’ll call em) are all the rage, we’ll look back at HARDCORE like, really we liked that? YES WE DID.
Read my full review on TwitchFilm

28. Tangerine
One of the most impressive films both from a filmmaking and storytelling perspective is Sean Baker’s beautiful story of love on Santa Monica Blvd. Sooo, so good.
Sean Baker’s TANGERINE is a fun-filled romp through the seedy side of Santa Monica and Highland. Extra seedy. Extra fun

27. Liza the Fox-Fairy
I bet very few of you have seen Hungarian Károly Ujj Mészáros’s bizarre and beautiful fairytale-esque love story about a girl and the ghost of a Japanese pop star. Go watch it (sorry no US distribution yet) and then you’ll be shocked when you learn this is the director’s first film! The polish and vision is remarkable.
LIZA THE FOX-FAIRY is lovely, smart, hilarious, and beautiful. Best 1960s Hungary-set magical murder mystery romance yet.

26. Beasts of No Nation
No Oscar love for Cary Fukunaga’s (Sin Nombre, True Detective) latest which made more headlines because it is being distributed by Netflix than because it’s a beautiful and incredible film. Perhaps its tough subject matter didn’t do it any favors but is there anyone that doubts Fukunaga is one of the most impressive filmmakers working today?
BEASTS OF NO NATION is beautiful. Emotion-packed story and wonderful performances. Cary Fukunaga can’t be stopped.

25. Southbound
I’ve been a pretty big fan of the new wave of horror anthologies kicked off by V/H/S and continued in the ABCs of Death series. But this latest is the most polished and I’d say the best. I loved the way the shorts interacted with each other, eschewing the “wrap-around” convention and actually connecting the stories in odd and interesting ways. Congrats to all involved. See it when The Orchard puts it out next month.
Totally loved SOUTHBOUND! A masterful anthology of terror and gore. Really, really well made. Congrats all.

24. Too Late
Dennis Hauck’s love letter to gumshoe cinema and 35MM employs a unique and totally interesting storytelling tactic that completely worked for me. John Hawkes gives a stellar central performance and newcomer Crystal Reed is breathtaking. Most excitedly, Hauck and his team were able to get distribution through a company called Vanishing Angle that will bring it to theaters that can project 35MM starting in March. Find out more here and definitely make the effort to seek it out.
Read my full review at TwitchFilm

23. Straight Outta Compton
F. Gary Gray’s biopic on the influential rappers was a total home run. But you all know that. You obviously saw it, right?

22. The Look of Silence
Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion to Indonesian genocide docu The Act of Killing is slightly harder to stomach but just as important to watch. They’re both brilliant films and thankfully they’ve been recognized by the Academy. Here’s hoping for the win.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s THE LOOK OF SILENCE is a brilliant follow-up/companion to Act of Killing that emotionally explores victims’ POV.

21. Embrace of the Serpent
Another film with an Oscar nomination (Best Foreign Language from Colombia), Ciro Guerra’s fever dream of a trip through the Amazon is a must-see. Oscilloscope is bringing it out now.

20. Carol
From two surprise Oscar inclusions to a hugely surprising omission. Todd Haynes’s story of forbidden love is like an extra sumptuous episode of Mad Men. It’s a great film with powerful central performances but maybe, just maybe, not quite special enough for stodgy Academy voters. You’ll get your Oscar eventually, Mr. Haynes.
CAROL is a wonderfully sumptuous love story. Performances as beautiful as could be imagined. Haynes as good as any working director.

19. The Assassin
Speaking of sumptuous filmmaking, this year’s top spot for methodical and beautiful filmmaking goes to Hou Hsiao-Hsien for his Shu Qi-starring masterpiece. While it’s already been released theatrically by WellGo, if you get a chance, see it on the biggest screen possible.
Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s THE ASSASSIN is indeed slow and kinda confusing, but it’s also beautiful and totally engaging. Loved it.

18. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Is J.J. Abrams’s take on the holy trinity revolutionary? Perhaps not — but it’s far from blasphemy and if nothing else, it’s a fantastically entertaining trip to the cinema.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS checks all the boxes. It’s a totally satisfying 21st Century episodic take on everyone’s most beloved blockbuster franchise. | Though it stops short of masterful storytelling, it never disappoints. I’m looking forward to watching it again — and even more forward to Episode 8!

17. The Hateful 8
I wasn’t allowed to tweet anything about Quentin Tarantino’s latest film so I can’t remember how I felt. Actually I’m pretty sure I liked it a lot. It’s enjoyable and impressive — and although it’s not an all-time classic, it’s still one of the best films of the year (approximately 17th best).

16. Green Room
I was super impressed by my first introduction to Jeremy Saulnier in Blue Ruin. While his take on a bigger movie Green Room doesn’t have quite the no-budget magic of that film, it’s still an incredibly impressive film and one and genre fan needs to see when A24 puts it out in the coming months.
Saulnier’s GREEN ROOM doesn’t pull a single punch. Brutally graphic violence in a super intense and totally entertaining package.
Read my full review on TwitchFilm

15. The Big Short
We were all pretty concerned about the likelihood of Adam McKay pulling off a financial drama. No prob. His offbeat sense of humor added a wonderful wackiness to make one of the best financial dramas of all time. Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt didn’t hurt.
THE BIG SHORT is spectacular! Entertaining, educational, and surprisingly suspenseful. This film is a totally home run. | THE BIG SHORT is obviously filled with great performances. However, it’s a pretty clear top prize to Steve Carell.

14. Cop Car
Shit. How did this film not get more attention? It’s flat out one of the most fun genre films in recent memory. Director Jon Watts is slated to direct the next Spider-Man reboot. Here’s hoping he can bring the magic of this hilarious romp to Spidey.
COP CAR is just as simple & awesome as its premise suggests. 2 kids steal Kevin Bacon’s cop car. This one is gonna do gangbusters.
Read my full review on TwitchFilm

13. Cartel Land
Another of the Best Docu Oscar Noms, this story of cross-border terror by Matthew Heineman is the best of all the recent explorations of the topic.
Wow Matt Heineman’s CARTEL LAND is the real deal. King Of Kong level “How were they there for that?” (w/ a slightly more serious subject).

12. The Witch
This Sundance surprise from first timer Robert Eggers had Park City buzzing and continues to make noise as A24 starts to roll out a delicious marketing campaign (they sent me cheese) ahead of the February 19, 2016 release.
THE WITCH is dark, scary, mysterious, and very well done; buoyed by period source material that feels frighteningly authentic.
Read my full review on TwitchFilm

11. Everest
Ugh I can’t believe I didn’t see this on the big screen when I had the chance. Maybe it would have cracked the top 10 if I had. Even so, this super familiar story still totally impressed me (perhaps more so because of its familiarity) with its cinematography and realism. It was so cool to see places I’d actually been like Namche Bazaar and Lukla. Director Baltasar Kormákur did a wonderful job with the emotional aspects as well, even if I was picturing Josh Brolin’s character as George W. Bush the whole time.

10. Victoria
German Sebastian Schipper’s single-shot tour de force really needs to be experienced to be understood. It’s so impressive and so interesting and oh my god did actress Laia Costa do an amazing job. Adopt Films has US rights but I’m a little unclear on if it has actually come out yet. See it when you can.
VICTORIA is fascinating filmmaking. Beautiful to see characters emerge. Wish beginning had been shorter, but you know… single shot.

9. The Revenant
And just when I was sure that Roger Deakins would finally win his Oscar for Sicario, Chivo comes along and stakes his claim on a potential third in a row. The Revenant isn’t the least predictable story ever but this is experiential filmmaking at its best and Iñárritu is undoubtedly at the top of his game.

8. River
The highest placed undistributed film on my 2015 list (which has very excitedly been picked up for US distribution by WellGo), Jamie M. Dagg’s Laos-set ex-pat thriller impressed the fuck out of me when I saw it at Fantastic Fest. What Dagg does so well is eschew moments where a lesser filmmaker would make a decision leaving the audience saying, “no way the character would do that.” I was with him on every decision. I am a huge fan of this film and can’t wait to see what comes next.
Laos ex-pat thriller RIVER is awesomely realistic and brilliantly executed. A beautiful film and really a home run.

7. The Martian
I love walking out of a big tentpole film totally satisfied. That was the case with The Martian both times I saw it in the theater. It’s just a fun film, super impressive, and thrilling as well. This one is going to be awesome to go back and watch for years.
THE MARTIAN is stellar! Great blend of thrills and laughs. Another gigantic space hit for sure.

6. Spotlight
Wow, do you think Tom McCarthy made up for his dismal The Cobbler or what? This journalist drama barely puts a pen stroke wrong. It’s totally engaging and incredibly fascinating. If you still haven’t seen it then go check it out post haste.
Boston Globe Church Sex Scandal drama SPOTLIGHT is indeed excellent. One of the rare movies you don’t want to end. Big things coming.

5. The End of the Tour
The fifth new film I saw in 2015 ended up being my fifth favorite. I walked out of it calling top ten, too. And from the looks of things, it’s going to be hard for James Ponsoldt to direct anything that doesn’t end up pretty high on my list. He is one of the most talented American directors of this generation and this dramatization of the David Foster Wallace interview is a stellar example of why.
David Foster Wallace drama END OF THE TOUR is perfect parts melancholy, introspection, and comedy. Fantastic performance by Segel. | With another brilliant film in THE END OF THE TOUR, James Ponsoldt affirms his role as one of the best American directors today.

4. Mad Max: Fury Road
There’s not much praise I can give to Mad Max: Fury Road that hasn’t already been slathered all over it. This is just incredible vision from George Miller and such visceral and enjoyable filmmaking.
Here’s my first review: Mad Max Fury Road is awesome. #Cannes

3. Room
Who would have thought the director of weird Michael Fassbender-in-a-big-mask movie Frank would be back only a year later with one of the most touching and well directed films of the year? Lenny Abrahamson deserves so much credit for telling this emotional tale from the perspective of the young Jack. And that’s to say nothing of the incredible performances by both Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. This film is just beautiful.
ROOM is a truly exceptional film. The emotional impact is staggering and the filmmaking top notch. It’s so much more than I expected.

2. Amy
The highest ranked documentary I’ve had on my list since 2011 when Asif Kapadia’s Senna came in number 2, Asif Kapadia’s Amy is just a hair shy of stealing the top spot. This beautiful film paints an undeniably heartbreaking story of an artist destroyed by her own fame. It’s a timeless tale but Kapadia tells it with some of the most grace that we’ve ever seen. The fact it’s culled from a combination of archival footage, news reports, and Amy Winehouse’s and her friends’ own videos makes it all the more impressive.
AMY, the Amy Winehouse doc from the director of Senna, is another beautiful portrait of tragedy. An incredibly moving journey. | Like Senna, AMY has the incredible effect of commanding you to dwell in the sheer power of emotion even after leaving the theater.
Read my full review on TwitchFilm

1. Sicario
I’m a sucker for visceral crime actioners and Sicario is one of the best we’ve had in years. I haven’t been a huge fan of Denis Villeneuve’s past films (Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy) but this combination of a tightly wound plot, gorgeous cinematography, and one of the scariest screen characters in Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro I can remember. Call it Traffic meets No Country for Old Men, if you missed Sicario on its first go around, go give it another look.
Wow! SICARIO is the grand daddy of drug war dramas. One of the most intense movies in years. Outright masterpiece. Get ready world. | If I was calling shots at Lionsgate, I would rename Sicario to THE LAND OF WOLVES. (I’d also be patting myself own back right now). | It’s difficult to overstate how gorgeous Deakins’s work is on SICARIO. Not just beautiful vistas. Crazy overhead and night vision stuff too.

That’s it! What’d I miss? Tell me below or shoot me a note on twitter. There are like 50 links to it above.

Posted by enderzero at 9:35am on Jan. 17, 2016  

1 comment

  1. Meredith Aldrich says:

    Thank you Ryland. Very entertaining and informative. I now have a to-see list to last me for a long time.

    Jan. 18, 2016 at 12:54pm