Best Films of 2015 so far (part 3)

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Picking the best movies that come out in any given year is no easy feat. With over 800 movies released theatrically, there’s plenty to digest. As we reach the halfway point of the year, we decided to publish a list of our favourite movies thus far, in hopes that our readers can catch up on some of the films they might have missed out on. Below, you shall find the list of the top 30 films of 2015 to date, a list that ranges from independent horror films to documentary to foreign films and so much more. Here is part three of our three part list.

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Clouds of Sils Maria

10. Clouds of Sils Maria

The meditative Clouds of Sils Maria weighs the passing of time and the cumulative effect of art in the life of an aging actress. Internationally renowned starlet Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) goes into an introspective tailspin following the sudden death of the beloved playwright who provided the breakthrough role of her career. Protracting her grief is the decision to revisit the playwright’s work and conceding that she must take on the part of a desperate older woman opposite the young, callous character that made her a star. Binoche registers resiliency and vulnerability as she boldly charges through the dense material of a woman coming to terms of what is firmly in the past, what she remains capable of and what may be holding her back. Her assistant Valentine (depicted with poise by Kristen Stewart) gives her critically constructive pushes that Maria passive aggressively resists in order to keep her fixed, nostalgic interpretation of the text and sense of self intact. It is Maria’s face-off with modernity and appraising her worth that gives Clouds of Sils Maria a friction that carries it forward with an involving import. Moments of light, sarcastic banter and laughter between the two buoy the mood of the film as they rehearse lines during a stay in the Alps. Binoche expertly intertwines layers of reality and fiction as Maria prepares for the stage. With raw articulation she demonstrates that Maria’s sharp defensiveness continually exposes a fragility that lays bare her fear of transition. Director and writer Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours, Carlos) uses the dreamy awe of the mountainous backdrop to weave in and out of all the role reversal flux as a woman’s inner life turns a major corner. While not Assayas’s best, the heavy musing of a life steadfastly devoted to professionally mining the depths of emotion is a perfect showcase for Binoche’s complex range and engages the audience with a longing for risk and re-birth through entertainment. (Lane Scarberry)

Kingsman: The Secret Service

9. Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn brings his own collaboration with comic book writer Mark Miller, Kingsman: The Secret Service, to the big screen as a hyper-kinetic funhouse ride through the spy film. The basic set-up is routine: troubled young man shows promise and is recruited to a secret clandestine organization, but Kingsman melds this with an affection for the sillier James Bond films of the 60s and 70s and by turns both profane and wildly inventive flips them inside out and brings them into the 21st century to make its own animal. This is one of those movie that makes you wonder how it wiggled past the rigid studio system. So aggressively wacky and gleefully anarchist, the film refreshingly just doesn’t give a damn, applying a cartoonish tone to impish virtuoso set pieces that include a single-take evangelical massacre, babies in peril, and the heads of world leaders exploding in a surreal fireworks display. Technically impressive, a ton of fun, and genuinely exciting, Kingsman is more genre-rattling showmanship  from Vaughn. It also gives Samuel L. Jackson the best leading role he’s had in years, start-to-finish hilarious as cinema’s most unlikely Bond villain.” (Charlie Sanford)

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8. Furious 7

A lot of films offer car porn, but the appeal of the Fast & Furious franchise has always been the deep bond between the acting ensemble, in particular Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. Furious 7 has more than its share of implausible moments, but few things affected me in 2015 like that last touching goodbye the crew said to Brian (Walker). Real stirring moments are hard to find in mega-budget blockbusters, but the sincere display of family saying goodbye to one of their own makes it far more genuine than expected. Furious 7 knows exactly what it wants to be, and that is an unabashedly enthusiastic actioner that gives moviegoers the experience home viewing just can’t provide. Want to see The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) take on The Transporter (Jason Statham) in a brawl? Of course you do. How about shooting a Lykan HyperSport through, not one, but two of Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Towers? Consider your ticket sold while James Wan throws in a badass Kurt Russell cameo just for kicks. Vin Diesel could have been kidding when he suggested that Furious 7 would be a main contender for Best Picture, but the joke could be on the other awards contenders when they go home empty-handed come Oscar time. (Colin Biggs)

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7. Avengers: Age of Ultron 

Since premiering earlier this summer, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron has left audiences somewhat divided. Many critics have pointed to issues including pacing and an overstuffed cast as proof that Age of Ultron failed to top its predecessor, and a scene involving Scarlett Johannson’s character led to extensive critique of the film’s gender politics.

However, it’s a testament to the quality of the film that regardless of these issues, nearly everyone can agree that Age of Ultron is still a terrifically fun ride, a creatively staged superhero action-fest and a worthy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Joss Whedon’s signature snappy dialogue makes watching the characters interact enjoyable and funny, and Whedon has significantly upped the action in terms of quantity and quality from the first Avengers film. Scenes like the opening fight sequence, which features a long take that echoes the one the previous film, and the ground-shaking Hulkbuster fight scene are fantastically entertaining to watch. The cast are all in top form, with Robert Downy Jr. Stepping comfortably back into the shoes of Tony Stark and James Spader stealing every scene as the antagonist du jour, Ultron. Say what you will about Age of Ultron, and there is much to say, but leaving the theater without a smile, or at least a pleased smirk, on your face, is a difficult task. (Thomas O’Connor)

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6. The Tribe

The argument could be made that The Tribe uses its presentation as a subtitle-less, Ukrainian film set within the borders of a school for the hearing impaired as a complete gimmick. Whether you agree with that or not, it’s hard to deny the blunt force of this impressive debut. Director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky holds the audience witness to a physical space that jams its filthy utensils into you, slowly infecting you with the filth and grit that permeates this “story” of a youth entering a new world where actions speak louder than the words that cease to exist. Each impeccably staged tracking shot successively sucks those in who are willing enough to see the ugliness of a world where those pitied by society use their actions to topple over one another, rising, falling and manipulating those who inhabit the space around them. The ugly world of The Tribe isn’t without glimmers of beauty, however. Each moment of brutal violence is performed with beautiful, almost ballet-like flexibility to near-perfection. Whether it be a schoolyard fight or a sex scene taking place in front of a Rothko-esque tableau, The Tribe is able to use its lack of spoken dialogue to call attention to the small details that make its world more captivating. Not only is The Tribe a terrific directorial debut, but it’s a film that shows the potential of the further progressing world of cinema. (James Waters)

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5. Inherent Vice

The third film in a loose trilogy of features centered on lost men in times of American conflict, Paul Thomas Anderson’s mystical stoner-noir tragicomedy matches its predecessors for subtextual riches and aesthetic indulgence, while also tapping into a new vein of absurd humor and sly pathos well beyond the reach of either There Will Be Blood or The Master. Anderson is uniquely suited to the unprecedented task of translating Thomas Pynchon’s sensibilities to film, attentive as he is to dramatizing the psychic topography of truly bizarre characters, but there’s a lot more to Vice than eccentricity. Underneath the gloriously schticky performances (especially Josh Brolin’s very funny turn as an old-school detective turned unlikely renaissance man) and ostentatious formal devices (particularly Joanna Newsom’s near-omnipotent narration) and dozens of purposely meaningless plot contortions lies a relatively stable core n the form of a feeling: that of glimpsing the death throes of a set of ideals, or maybe just the shadows of its smoke as it disintegrates like rank weed. Inherent Vice manages to be simultaneously lighter and heavier than its predecessors, laughing as its characters confront the cruelty of a universe that is, ultimately, indifferent. (Simon Howell)

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4. The Duke of Burgundy 

On the surface, Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy is an affectionate homage to a particular mode of stylised European erotic art cinema from the 1970s, as is conveyed immediately in the film’s delightful opening title sequence (complete with a “perfumes by” credit). But underneath that surface — and what a gorgeous, richly-toned surface it is – is one of cinema’s great new films about what it truly means to love someone.

Much like how his Berberian Sound Studio was not quite the giallo pastiche it initially appeared, so too does Strickland, one of Britain’s most exciting emerging filmmakers, subvert one’s expectations with surprisingly penetrating content, and not of the sexually graphic kind. Anyone looking for mere nudity and titillation from their S&M tales would be best sticking with the film ofFifty Shades of Grey (though good luck getting your rocks off with that), but those seeking a spellbinding, sensual study of emotional power plays and the shifting nature of long-term relationships, or even just another sensory overload akin to Berberian, would be best ditching Mr. Grey and going on a journey with Duke’s captivating mistresses. (Josh Slater-Williams)

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3. It Follows

At the heart of It Follows, lies an open-ended metaphor—the terror in David Robert Mitchell’s indie horror comes in the form of a deadly curse passed from one person to another through sexual intercourse courtesy of a shape-shifting figure visible only to the victims it stalks. The Stalker looks different each time it appears – be it a feral child, a naked old man, a giant, a family member, a friend and so on. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for the unforeseen consequences of underage sex, pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Or maybe, instead of sex, It Follows is about the fear of growing up and more importantly, about conformity. However you read into it, sex is the reason the demon kills you, yet, sex is also the only way to escape death — if the Stalker kills the target, it starts moving in reverse up the chain — a simple, but very clever twist that keeps things fresh. Mitchell demonstrates an impressive control over tone, generating a creepy vibe from his use of Steadicam photography and negative space. The director rarely goes for shock, and instead provokes a particular kind of horror: dread. There’s plenty of great camerawork by cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, a cool synth soundtrack reminiscent of John Carpenter’s themes from the 80’s, and the young cast all turn in fine performances. If you love horror films, this is essential viewing. (Ricky D)

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2. Ex Machina

What is the nature of consciousness?  Can humans and Artificial Intelligence peacefully coexist?  Who taught Oscar Isaac how to disco dance like a boss?  These are just a few of the questions raised by Alex Garland’s sci-fi tour-de-force, Ex Machina.  Atmospheric and profoundly creepy, Garland’s directorial debut is an elaborate shell game between two computer programmers and their beguiling robot creation, Ava.  Is Ava human, or just a product of her ingenious programming?  Buried deeper within this stylish Turing Test, however, is a powerful statement about sexual objectification and the nature of how men and women relate to one another.  Garland makes one flawless decision after another as he constructs the clashing worlds of fevered humanity and calculating machines.  As the testing on Ava unfolds, with alliances forged and broken, we’re asked to question the boundaries of our own consciousness and morality.  After all, who are we to judge what’s human when we treat everything with such inhumanity?  Garland asks a lot more questions than he’s willing to answer, which makes Ex Machina an endlessly beautiful puzzle you’ll look forward to re-visiting. (J.R. Kinnard)

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1. Mad Max: Fury Road

After many setbacks, delays, overhauls, budget inflations, and even recasting the main lead, Mad Max: Fury Road shouldn’t have worked, much less work so well. But it does and what an amazing ride it is! 15 years in the making and 30 years after last appearing on the big screen, Max roars back with a vengeance. Mapped out first on 3500 storyboards by comic book artist Brendan McCarthy, George Miller and screenwriting partner Nico Lathouris, Fury Road excels because of its vibrant color palette, harrowing stunt work, wild costumes, sexual politics, and endlessly inventive vehicles that become almost fetishized, like religious artifacts. The film cost about 140 million – there’s a climactic, high-speed road battle – with real 18 wheelers and monster trucks battling in the desert, and an army of stuntmen performing their stunts while moving really, really fast instead of relying on computer generated effects. Watching these Cirque du Soleil acrobats swarm on top of a moving truck while swinging on enormous 25-foot poles that bend in and out of the frame is, to say the least, exhilarating. Knowing the 70 year-old director caught the action while racing alongside in a decked out dune buggy control room is even more impressive. Miller clearly felt he needed to raise the stakes — to top himself — and the end result is one of the greatest action movies ever made. Whether it’s the cars that look like overgrown porcupines on wheels, the sight of a half dozen or so bongo drummers on the back of a War Rig, the masked, heavy-metal rocker guitarist tied to the front of a car, or the windstorm that sets in mid-chase – Fury Road is built to perfection. Oscar winning cinematographer John Seale came out of retirement to lens one of the best looking films in years. After 120 days of shooting, using multiple digital cameras and their very own 3D cameras they built from scratch – the 40-year veteran and a crew of 1700 men and women, yielded over 400 feet of footage that had to be trimmed down to size by Miller’s editing partner Margaret Sixel. We could discuss how Miller chose to shoot it day for night, or how the point of interest in every shot had to be in the center of frame – or we could discuss the hint of anti-terrorist subtext – or the incredible score by Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg), the founder of NERVE. And we could of course go on about the extraordinary performance by Charlize Theron, playing Furiosa, a woman determined to cross the vast wasteland in search of a matriarchal oasis she calls the “green place of many mothers.” There is much to say, but alas this is a brief capsule review so space is limited. Miller has breathed new life to the action genre and Mad Max: Fury Road is a game changer; a seminal film that sets the bar so high, future filmmakers will have to work twice as hard to impress audiences. If you haven’t yet seen it, what are you waiting for? And if you have, I recommend listening to the two-part Mad Max special recorded recently for the Sordid Cinema podcast. (Ricky D)

Part 1 (top 25)  /  Part 2 (top 20)  /  Part 3 (top 10)




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