The best films of the year were the most audacious — the product of filmmakers who took great chances and aimed higher. Maybe they stumbled at times, but the movies that will be remembered from 2015 were more bracingly alive than the films that played it safe, told familiar stories with little creativity, or hit each emotional note squarely on the nose.
The titles listed below (and viewed in clips in the video above) zig-zagged and swerved instead of staying on a predictably steady course, telling offbeat stories and presenting us with characters that challenged our empathy and assumptions. They also tested the techniques and craft of filmmaking in unusual ways. Bravo to them all.
The 20 Best Films of 2015 (in alphabetical order):
“Amy” – The flame-out that was singer Amy Winehouse, whose brilliant career was eclipsed by addiction issues, is captured in amateur footage, period interviews and performance clips that remind us, painfully, how much music lovers were denied by her tragic death at age 27.
“Carol” – Rooney Mara is terrific as a young shopgirl in 1950s New York strangely attracted to a glamorous, older woman (Cate Blanchett) whose marriage has already been shaken by a lesbian affair. Adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel and directed by Todd Haynes.
“Clouds of Sils Maria” – A mesmerizing examination of how life can imitate art, with Kristen Stewart as the efficient and intuitive personal assistant of an actress (Juliette Binoche) about to take on a revival of a play that made her famous decades earlier.
“Ex Machina” – Alicia Vikander is the artificial intelligence being tested by an expert in AI, in Alex Garland’s ruminative sci-fi tale. Costarring Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac.
“The Forbidden Room” – Guy Maddin, a dean of experimental cinema, concocted this phantasmagorical head trip composed of imagery that blurs, morphs and congeals, inspired by the titles of forgotten, lost films.
“Inside Out” – The best film of the year, and certainly the most ambitious: A young girls’ emotional maturation is told through the voices in her head — namely, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust — in a tale that is both Freudian and heart-tugging in typical Pixar fashion.
“It Follows” – There are more truly chilling moments in David Robert Mitchell’s horror flick about a sexual curse than this low-budget thriller deserves.
“The Look of Silence” – The families of victims of the Indonesian genocide of 1965 sit down with the bafflingly proud perpetrators of mass murder, in Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to his acclaimed 2012 documentary, “The Act of Killing.”
“Mad Max: Fury Road” – Get beyond the ridiculousness of a post-apocalyptic society in which gasoline is burned with wanton abandon, and enjoy one of the most thrilling chases ever crafted on film, directed with verve by George Miller and acted with steely heroism by Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy.
“The Martian” – Yay, science! Ridley Scott’s comic-drama about an astronaut stranded on the Red Planet is a life-affirming account of the spirit of space exploration and human discovery.