Best Films of 2015 so far (part 2)

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’s is part two of our three part list.

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20. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Eccentrically layered yet simple in plot, the Swedish adaptation of Jonas Jonasson’s novel does a fine job in balancing satire with tenderness. Telling the story of Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson), a 100-year-old explosive enthusiast who decides to escape his retirement home in search for a better life, many have come to describe 100-Year-Old Man as a cross between Forrest Gump and The Shawshank Redemption. Although the Forrest Gump comparisons are rather opaque on its surface, a simple-minded man who stumbles into extraordinary and often historical evens, Felix Herngren’s 100-Year-Old Man makes greater strides in its comedy, veering rather dark and satirical at times. Gustafsson’s portrayal is that of a man-child, oblivious to his actions, which makes for great humor and smoothens the edges that are known from Johnasson’s untamed source material. With subplots including rescuing an elephant, toppling over a suitcase of money, and out-running a motorcycle gang, all at the tender age of one hundred, there is no surprise why 100-Year-Old Man is seen as highly original and different by American audiences, and has sky-rocketed to the highest grossing film in Sweden of all time. (Christopher Clemente)

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19. Maps to the Stars

David Cronenberg continues his recent run of films critical of wealth and privilege with Maps to the Stars. Clinical in its clean mise-en-scène and in the director’s tradition of detached characters and unsympathetic arcs, Maps finds Cronenberg operating on a completely confident level.

Unlike many peers whose authorship is visible from the first frames, what makes a Cronenberg film a Cronenberg film is, themes aside, not as immediately apparent. His camera is unshowy, but the mood is palpable through crisp blocking, calculated performances, and perfectly orchestrated, emphatic shots.

Unsurprisingly, Julianne Moore is terrific as Havana Segrand, a successful actress trying to reinvigorate her career and come to terms with demons past. Her path crosses that of the excellent Robert Pattinson, who seems to be fated to drive around town when in a David Cronenberg film, and Mia Wasikowska, frightening, and frighteningly good as a waifish drifter.

It’s been quite some time since the director has made a true genre movie, and though Maps to the Stars dabbles in horror, it’s satire first: celebrity, nepotism, and the incestual nature of Hollywood are its targets. In the tradition of, say, The Day of the Locust, the film is a steady, often tongue-in-cheek march to some inevitable disaster. (Neal Dhand)

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18. While We’re Young

While We’re Young opens with an Ibsen quote, and yet it may still be one of director Noah Baumbach’s more accessible films. Starring Ben Stiller as a middle-of-the-road documentary director, and Naomi Watts as his wife and a producer of documentaries, though never the ones he directs, the film follows the couple as they meet and become friendly with a young, free-spirited duo. This duo, played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, is not as idealistic as it appears to be, but the movie never paints them as villainous. While We’re Young evolves past its premise quickly, and becomes a startling examination of truth, and what it means to tell a story. It also shows its audiences the differences between the two generations, as well as what unites them. It’s a surprising film for what it has to say, and the cliches it chooses to leave behind. The film subverts expectations at every turn, and leaves one feeling as though what’s to come may be even more startlingly different than what we’ve seen. It’s a treat for young and old alike, one that gives new meaning to the phrase “back in my day.” (Joseph Allen)

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17. Paddington 

A big screen, CG-assisted adaptation of Michael Bond’s beloved Paddington Bear book series could have gone so horribly wrong, becoming yet another offender in the line-up of pandering kids-aimed film atrocities like Yogi Bear, Garfield, and The Smurfs. Thankfully made with clear love for the material and smart execution from writer-director Paul King, Paddington is instead a welcome breath of fresh air in a family film market that, a couple of key talents aside, is increasingly built on too easy, self-aware smugness (the Shrek influence), garish excess, and empty, cheap laughs. Its producer, David Heyman, spearheaded the Harry Potter franchise, and Paddington is the best live-action family film since the highs of that series. And it may well be better than all of them. (Josh Slater-Williams)

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16. What We Do In The Shadows

The spoof, a once proud and robust genre, has devolved into a series of hack pop culture references and poorly constructed set pieces. What We Do in the Shadows represents a welcome reprieve from the sorry state of the contemporary spoof by sending up vampire lore and MTV True Life-style docusoaps. Sharply written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waitti, Shadows chronicles the everyday struggles of a group of vampire roommates in modern day New Zealand, like not being able to go to clubs because no one invites them in and arguing over who’s supposed to clean the pile of bloody dishes that have been sitting in the sink for countless decades. What makes Shadows work is what makes all great spoofs work: Specificity. The house the main trio (played by Clement, Waitti, and Jonathan Brugh) inhabits is dark, bare, and just this side of run down; the world is populated on the fringes by other mythical beast, like a pack of werewolves the vampires have a rivalry with; the talking head testimonials that so perfectly provide both exposition and one-liners to fill out the “show-within-a-show” narrative. What We Do in the Shadows has the crude – turning a guy’s penis into a snake – and the witty – a pair of cops incapable of seeing vampires fighting on the ceiling – but all of its laughs come out of incredibly well articulated characters and settings, setting an incredibly high bar for comedy in 2015. (J.J. Perkins)

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15. Timbuktu

In Abderrahmane Sissako’s breathtaking fourth feature film Timbuktu, a small band of jihadis rolls into the titular city on dusty motorbikes. With the use loudspeakers and translators, they announce that smoking, music and soccer are now banned and that women must wear socks and gloves, even while selling fish in the market. The put-upon locals try their best to get on with their lives, but as the religious edicts get more ridiculous–no one is allowed to sit around doing “any old thing” in public–there are soon brutal public lashings and executions.
In the sand dunes outside of town, cattle farmer Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) enjoys a beautifully simple existence with his wife, Satima (Toulou Kiki), and their 12-year-old daughter. Their humble, moonlit tent is an oasis filled with dreamy conversations, warm laughter and the gentle strumming of Kidane’s guitar. While many of their neighbors have fled, Kidane and Satima have been largely untouched by the new rules and decide to stay put. However, the two disparate worlds collide when the family’s prized, pregnant cow is maliciously killed by a local fisherman and Kidane seeks murderous revenge, putting him at the non-existent mercy of Timbuktu’s new rulers.
In telling his tale, Sissako deftly blends comic absurdism with heartrending tragedy and poetic wide shots with gut-wrenching close-ups. The aftermath of Kidane’s deadly act is filmed from a great distance, its ghastly tranquility magnifying the horror. And in a brilliantly lyrical display of satire, local kids play an epic game of soccer without the benefit of a ball. Most impressively, Sissako depicts the fundamentalists as a realistic mix of aimlessly aggressive–they shoot at random animals and statues–hypocritical, naïve, and sympathetic. They’re blandly human, and they’re all the more terrifying for it. (A.R. Wilson)

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14. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

Kurt Cobain once sang, “Unless it is about me, it is now my duty to completely drain you.” Director Brett Morgen has obliged with Montage of Heck, a disturbing, emotionally draining, and violently edited documentary that ranks among the most daring rock-docs ever made and perhaps the only to delve into the psyche of its rock star protagonist. As the frontman of Nirvana, Cobain was the John Lennon of Generation X, and there was no shortage of documentation of his life. Morgen however uses countless audio snippets, scrapbook notes and home movies of Cobain that to another director would be an un-cinematic liability, if not purely unusable. Morgen has taken those materials and turned them into a surreal, artistic virtue, one that shows Cobain’s genius and madness. Through animation and haunting orchestral versions of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “All Apologies,” Cobain recounts a harrowing story of taking sexual advantage of a mentally retarded girl, then laying down on the train tracks to commit suicide when he’s labeled a “retard fucker”. Another film could’ve made Cobain to be healthier, but through Morgen’s depressing and absolutely necessary approach, Montage of Heck offers great insight into not just rock history but the damaged mind and childhood of a truly great artist. (Brian Welk)

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13. Girlhood (Bande de filles)

Set in a banlieu of Paris, writer/director Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood (Bande de filles) follows a young girl’s struggle through adolescence. Unable to further cope with an abusive older brother at home and failing her classes at school, sixteen-year-old Marieme (Karidja Touré) finds solace with a trio of girls taking the neighborhood by storm. This perceptive coming-of-age female centric film exudes stellar performances as well as provides a fresh perspective into the lives of young women living in oppressed societies. Throughout the film, Marieme changes drastically, reinventing herself more than once in order to face her altering circumstances. She starts out as a shy, quiet girl yet quickly becomes more assured of herself; the strong and honest friendship of these three girls gives her the power to gain a sense of self-confidence. The theme of identity is heavily present in every aspect of the story, exploring primarily race, relationships, social status sexuality and gender and how they shape the actions of the protagonist. Sciamma’s penchant for illustrating the emotional trials of female self-discovery is beautifully executed as with her two previous films, Water Lilies (2007) and Tomboy (2011), yet here she manages to further convey the idea of resilience and determination surrounding a rite of passage for young women. Girlhood is empowering, provoking and intelligent- a must see. (Trish Ferris)

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12. Slow West

Set in 19th century America in the Old West, Slow West focuses on a young Scottish teenage boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his strange companionship with Silas (this film’s version of a cowboy) played by Michael Fassbender. From first time feature film writer and director John Maclean, the film highlights the grittier dangers of living in that time period (bounty hunters mostly) and flips the common aspects of a coming of age story. McPhee’s character has travelled to America to find his love and meets a slew of unsavory characters along the way, including Fassbender’s Silas. While partnerships are common in Westerns, what makes this film different from most of that genre is the fact that it doesn’t scream Western. Fassbender may play a cowboy of some sorts, but there’s a lot more realism depicted in this film, especially in what becomes of the two characters by the end.

While being incredibly original despite the alleged genre it belongs to, Slow West is expertly written and directed. Certain scenes stand out, bringing up new factors of storytelling that seem to be lost in most contemporary filmmaking. The movie doesn’t even reach a full hour and a half and yet packs an incredible amount of quality content into its run-time. Some moviegoers may find the film at bit slow at times, but the final sequence makes the build up worthwhile. (Sarah Lord Pearce)

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11. Spring

Spring is Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead’s follow up to their terrific debut Resolution and is yet another well executed, low budget genre effort. The film expertly straddles the line between indie romance and body horror, implying that evolution and romantic love are inextricably linked through a process both natural and ancient.

The film wonderfully explores the idea of love as not just an emotional transformation but also a physical one. Can Evan’s love for Louise (Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker, both excellent) transcend the biological differences between them? Benson and Moorehead are experts at interweaving the mundane and the fantastic and in Spring they take it up a notch, infusing the proceedings with a feeling of inevitability that does not contradict but rather complements its romantic sentiments.

These ideas of transformation and renewal infuse the entire film, from a lingering close up of a decaying animal to aerial tracking shots above the Italian landscape where it was filmed there is a permeating sense of nature asserting itself, that what Evan is experiencing is a hitherto unseen but perfectly natural occurrence. The horror elements are by-products of these ideas also; as Louise begins to change she seeks sustenance from other living things, so it isn’t out of malicious intent but a Darwinian procedure that she claims her victims.

Spring is a rare beast indeed. A well thought out and executed indie horror with themes that resonate with an astounding clarity. Despite the strangeness of their relationship, the trials and tribulations experienced by Evan and Louise are absolutely relatable; all those who have been lucky enough to find love would feel transformed by it, whether that is emotionally or even physically. It doesn’t matter if you are human or a blood sucking immortal mutant, love finds a way. (Liam Dunn)

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




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