And for my final “best of” list this year, here are my favorite films that I saw in 2015. While 6 of these are films that were released in the last year, some of the others are much older, but also things I’d never seen before.
And, because I watched 130 new (to me) films in 2015, I’ve also included several films as honorable mentions at the bottom. So here are my recent favorites. What are yours?
There were three films I’d been itching to see since reading lots of good things after the 2015 Sundance Film Festival: Brooklyn, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Brooklyn is the one I saw most recently, but it’s quickly become one of my very favorite of the year, probably even close to first place. I’m a sucker for a British period piece in the winter, so the beautiful 1950s of Ireland and New York present in this film were a lovely little gift. Saoirse Ronan is a perfect leading lady trying to adjust to an entirely new life in a different country and finds herself in a perfectly complicated love triangle. This is a movie I can’t wait to own so I can watch it again and again.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an interesting case because it ended up on my “best of 2015” lists for both the book and the film adaptation. The film is what brought me to the book, largely because Bel Powley is such a compelling leading lady. She perfectly captures Minnie’s 15-year-old voice and her self-obsessed tendencies. Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard, and Christopher Meloni round out the cast with great (and troubling) performances. This is an honest and endearing representation of teenage girlhood.
Ex Machina (2015)
It seems funny that my relationship with Ex Machina only began in May of this year because I feel like it’s become a part of me. Ex Machina plays a big role in my master’s thesis project, so I’ve done lots of research and writing about it in recent months. To me, this movie is the most compelling of the year–a sci-fi thriller with a twisty plot and some of the most complex gender roles I’ve seen recently. Alicia Vikander gives a breakout performance as Ava, a robot created by Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who may or may not have human feelings. This is one that will leave you thinking long after the movie ends.
Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)
Like I said about Brooklyn, a good period piece in December is like candy for me, so Far From the Madding Crowd was an especially sweet treat. Carey Mulligan is perfect in the leading role and she’s got a line of suitors that make you hope she’ll find love eventually (until she picks the wrong person first and it’s annoying). Though the story takes place in the 1870s, the gender roles are surprisingly progressive, asking audiences to consider why a woman needs a husband to be happy (answer: she doesn’t, unless she finds the right man). This is another I could watch again and again.
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Kramer vs. Kramer was a film my mom and I watched during our unofficial summer film series to clean out our VHS collection. This is a truly devastating film about the fallout of divorce. And with lead actors like Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, you can’t really go wrong. Kramer vs. Kramer is the oldest film on my “best of” list this year (excluding the honorable mentions), but it’s message and characters are still poignant more than thirty years after it’s release.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Pulp Fiction was one of the movies I was always embarrassed to say I hadn’t seen, but my roommate was in the same situation until we decided to go for it this past spring. It certainly isn’t a short movie (but when Quentin Tarantino directs, you can expect that), but the narrative is split into several smaller sections and follows a large ensemble of characters that keep things moving. We were both pleased with how much fun watching Pulp Fiction was. I’ve been in so many film classes with guys who worship Tarantino that I’ve become a bit jaded toward his work, but this is one that lives up to the reputation.
National Theatre Live’s Hamlet (2015)
Okay, so this one’s a bit of a stretch as far as films are concerned, but I couldn’t leave it off the list. I LOVE that the National Theatre makes some of its productions available to audiences worldwide, especially with a production like this one, which was apparently the fastest-selling event in London theater history (I still can’t wrap my mind around how crazy that is). Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciaran Hinds give (obviously) stellar performances as the biggest names in the production, but the entire ensemble is equally wonderful. This incarnation of Shakespeare’s play doesn’t really fit into any specific time period as all the characters are costumed very differently, but it’s all believable and interesting to take in. What I would’ve given to have been a live member of that audience…
Schindler’s List (1993)
Like Pulp Fiction, it was a bit embarrassing to be a pop culture-loving person who’d never seen Schindler’s List, but I finally remedied that problem last week. The film lives up to its praise–it’s crushing, tragic, beautiful, and horrible all at once. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes give stellar performances (though it does make me wonder a bit more what it might be like to see Ralph Fiennes play a good guy. Just once!). There are lots of important Holocaust narratives in the world of pop culture, but it’s undeniable that Schindler’s List belongs in the canon of essential viewing to understand the terror of this period in history.
The Theory of Everything (2014)
The Theory of Everything was the kind of movie that I bawled my way through, nearly from start to finish. Eddie Redmayne completely deserved his Oscar for his performance as Stephen Hawking. This is yet another British period piece that’s made it onto my list, but this one packs an emotional punch the others don’t really have (though I also, inexplicably, cried an inordinate amount during Brooklyn). The relationship between Stephen and his first wife, Jane, in this film is tender, compelling, and ultimately bittersweet, but it’s fascinating to see how two people could persevere through such difficult circumstances and still remain close.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
And now, a very different kind of movie. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a horror story that begs the question, “why the hell would you want to have kids?” This is pretty much a worst case scenario, but it’s still really freaking scary to think about. I’d long-been interested in watching this movie, but was a little concerned by the first 20 or so minutes of it; there’s very little dialogue and what feels like unnecessarily long takes of grating sounds and imagery, but this all works to set the film’s uncomfortable mood. We Need to Talk About Kevin makes clear allusions to Rosemary’s Baby–it’s like an modernized story of how that baby would grow up to be a terrible human being. Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller both give great performances is this deliciously unsettling film that will leave you feeling all kinds of disturbed.
And, as promised, here are my honorable mentions:
Cinderella, Election, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, In Bruges, The Imitation Game, It’s a Wonderful Life, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Monkey Kingdom, Mud, Nightcrawler, No Good Deed, Selma, The Shawshank Redemption, Trainwreck, Wetlands
What were your favorite movies you saw this year? Feel free to comment below!