As 2015 comes to a close, it’s the perfect time to look back and share what I thought were the standout films of the year. The criteria for making the list was simple — I had to give it 3.5 stars or more on my
Letterboxd account. Oh by the way: I have a Letterboxd account where I keep track of every movie I watch; there were many films I watched in 2015 that didn’t make the list, and you can find them (and all the others) over on my Letterboxd account. Did I mention I have a Letterboxd account yet?
One final note: I wasn’t able to see
every new release this year, so some titles are omitted not because I thought they were bad, but simply because I didn’t get a chance to see them. And in the name of brevity I tried to stick with horror/sci-fi/exploitation titles for this list. I excluded a few titles here, including several documentaries. Again, refer to that thing I keep mentioning for every movie I did watch this year. Now without further ado…my obligatory “Best of 2015” list!
A sparse, talky horror film disguised as a western that takes its time getting to the action. And boy, what a brutal payoff that third act is. Plus, it has Kurt Russell — how can you go wrong with Kurt Russell? You can’t. I’m a sucker for westerns anyway, so the horrific elements were just a wonderful, bloody bonus.
I was shocked at how much I ended up liking this movie. A lot of low budget flicks that try to cash in on the meta and/or nostalgia angle end up being one-note groaners, but THE FINAL GIRLS was quite clever, and surprisingly full of heart. Plus the cast all does a great job in their respective roles.
The best horror comedy of 2015, not to mention one of the most well made horror films of 2015. It’s shot so excitingly, so frenetic and kinetic, and full of so much blood and gore. It wears its influences on its sleeve proudly: mainly Raimi and Jackson. But it’s a genuinely funny and fun movie. An A followed by several plusses.
I usually stay away from futuristic-robot type movies; not really my bag. But EX MACHINA was getting good reviews across the board, so I went for it — and I’m so glad I did! Really more of a psychological thriller and character study than a “futuristic robot movie”, it deals heavily with loneliness, isolation, and the way love can make desperate people do crazy, dangerous things.
What is there to say about this movie that hasn’t already been said thousand times already in just as many different ways? It contains some of the most dazzling imagery and beautifully choreographed chases and stunts ever committed to celluloid (or was this shot on digital? In that case, ever committed to an SD card.) I was smart enough to see it in the theater, which is the optimal way to see it: 60 feet tall with the sound system cranked to 11.
Seems like every apocalypse movie makes some kind of monstrous threat as its center of conflict, focusing on the characters banding together and doing their best to survive it. But what’s so great about Z FOR ZACHARIAH is that the three characters ARE the monsters, and there really isn’t any banding together. Every one is at some point at odds with the others. Imagine this: you and your wife are the only two people left on earth, madly in love and making the most of your remaining days. And suddenly, a handsome drifter shows up. Major bummer.
This one kinda came and went without much fanfare, but the trailer stuck with me the first time I saw it, so I made sure to catch the movie. Set in the late-’80s, it centers around a young sociopath in the making, helping his dad run a failing motel in the middle of nowhere. It’s beautifully shot and about as tense a movie as you’ll ever see. I’m talking Kubrickian levels of tension. Tons of mystery and unexpected surprises. Solid flick.
Easily one of the most talked about movies of 2015, this low budget sleeper is also easily one of the most divisive of 2015, dividing its audience into two categories; there were those who absolutely loved it and those who didn’t get the hype. I fall into the former category. In spite of some of its logical missteps, it’s still full of gorgeous cinematography, cryptic symbolism, and a killer throbbing synth score. A breath of fresh air in a genre that is still currently dominated by shaky handheld POV camera shots and gutless jump scares.
Much like how you can’t go wrong with Kurt Russell, you can never go wrong with Kevin Bacon. This is a fun, pulpy little slowburner that takes notes from the Coen Brothers handbook. In fact, I was calling it NO COUNTRY FOR YOUNG BOYS. You can definitely feel some old school b-movie/exploitation vibes resonating just below the surface. A fun crime flick and a solid coming of age movie, too.
This is another movie I wasn’t totally on board for; I didn’t dig the trailer and the people I did see supporting it online I don’t normally agree with, so I thought it was a lost cause. How wrong I was! It’s a gorgeously lensed movie (shot in Italy) and a pretty decent slacker love story at that. Imagine if H.P. Lovecraft wrote BEOFRE SUNRISE, and you’d wind up with SPRING.
While the movie does shift a bit towards the end, from frightening realism to over-the-top villainy, THE GIFT is still a fresh enough concept to elicit a higher rating and favorable review. Between this and Eli Roth’s KNOCK KNOCK, the “yuppie in trouble” genre could be making a comeback.
While at Cannon Films, producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus dominated the ’80s with their jaw-droppingly bad films. Money troubles eventually shut them down but hordes of nostalgic-hungry nerds have helped keep their legacy alive. An insightful doc that shows how the two cousins actually changed the way Hollywood worked — for better and for worse.
Twin brothers aren’t convinced the woman who has returned home from a trip to the plastic surgeon is actually their mother, and they’ll do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of the mystery. Sparse, cryptic, beautifully shot, and filled with dread, Goodnight Mommy hit all the right notes for me. While I do consider it a slowburner, it managed to maintain tension throughout its entire runtime.
One of the best holiday horror films in recent memory. Great practical effects and a solid cast. I was never a huge fan of Michael Dougherty’s TRICK ‘R TREAT, but he won me over with KRAMPUS.
I’m a sucker for documentaries, especially those that make reality seem stranger than fiction. Such is the case with LOST SOUL, a wild and in-depth look at the behind the scenes insanity that took place while filming ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU.
Another documentary, this time focusing on the amazing and storied career of ‘that guy’ character actor, Dick Miller. I’ve always been a fan of Miller and the crew he’s rolled with (mainly Corman and Dante), and being able to see 60+ years of footage compiled in one comprehensive movie is just awesome.
Such an obvious concept: a mockumentary about vampires. Thankfully it had gone untapped until the brilliant Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi got their hands on it. Incredibly funny and fun to watch, they somehow managed to make a 90 minute running joke — “vampires being vampires in modern times” — not feel tedious.
I should have hated this movie: a found footage flick from Blumhouse Productions? That’s like Kryptonite to Superman, Brussels sprouts to a child. But somehow…magically, mysterious…I loved it. Perhaps because it subverts expectations. Whatever the reason, it’s one of the best found footage flicks I’ve seen!