The Top 30 Films of 2015

Blackhat

25.) Blackhat

Blackhat, the latest ethereal thriller from auteurist icon Michael Mann, was largely dismissed by general audiences upon release for its seemingly unrealistic depiction of computer hacking, since most real-world computer wizards don’t have Chris Hemsworth’s jawline. Within Mann’s universe of digital aesthetics, however, there’s actually a good deal of real world truth; Blackhat explores the divide between our physical and virtual lives and the sense of inertia that intertwines the two. It’s Michael Mann at his most procedural, but also his most poetic, as the exoskeleton of an action film affixed to Blackhat merely serves to disguise the fact that it’s actually the moodiest and most potent cinematic romance since Miami Vice. The result is challenging and dreamy, a Terrence Malick film for the digital age. (Nathan Smith)

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24.) Brooklyn

A moving portrait of wrenching situational forces and the strength of character that emerges from taking risks, Brooklyn follows a young Irish woman named Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) as she forges a new life in 1950s’ America. Luscious, eye-popping costumes and art direction supplement the vitality of this three-dimensional period piece. It’s a novel approach to a woman’s story for the inherent trust it puts in the film’s heroine to discover and solidify what she wants out of life. It doesn’t admonish her for missteps but builds emotional resonance through the gamut of decision-making that she pushes through with her head held high. She is a resource of stability for everyone that she touches while bucking cultural and conventional wisdom. Many broad cinematic representations of women continue to visualize them as flighty creatures who primarily pine over men or prop up the ambitions of male protagonists. And while men are an important part of Eilis’ journey- she doesn’t grapple for their affection. Her education, employment, devotion to family and the prospects of romance are given equal importance. Ronan’s vividly illustrated Eilis doesn’t belong to one man or country but takes on a multitude of identities and experiences. Brooklyn is a poignantly refreshing account of a woman who is genuinely a product of her own agency and capability. It’s a testament to Ronan’s refined skills that Eilis is fleshed out beyond caricature to a fiercely determined individual colored by her desires and the rigid codes of feminine conduct she quietly takes on. (Lane Scarberry)

spy-movie

23.) Spy

This was the year Melissa McCarthy became a bonafide big-time movie star as the lead in one of 2015’s funniest films. She stars as Susan Cooper, a highly-trained CIA agent stuck behind a desk as the assistant to her dreamy field partner, Agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). Cooper longs for a bigger life than fighting off the bats living in the basement office and pining for her handsome, self-involved partner. When Agent Fine is killed and the true identities of every field agent are discovered, Susan volunteers to step in. From frumpy cat lady fake identities to a hemorrhoid cream secret weapon, this film voraciously takes on the cultural assumptions of the aptitude and identity of a woman who looks like McCarthy. Also, its spot-on lampoons of stereotypical spy movie tomes opens up a place for women in the genre that’s been long overdue. Jason Stratum is especially great as a Crank-like rogue agent who exasperates Cooper with his tall tales of survival, his assumption she will destroy the mission, and his epic ineptitude as an agent. It’s the perfect comedy in a year that loved rocking the boat about where women belong in film. (Ivy Loftberg)

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22.) Bridge of Spies

With Bridge of Spies, Steven Spielberg continues down the path that he started with Lincoln toward dignified historical films about dignified, historical men. The man at the heart of Lincoln threatened to slip out of the realm of dignity into full-blown sainthood, but Spielberg reins in those influences with Bridge of Spies. Tom Hanks plays a lawyer tasked with defending an accused spy (Mark Rylance). Rather than just a bare-bones defense, the case is argued all the way to the Supreme Court. The film’s real heart lies in the second half, when Hanks travels to the Soviet Union to attempt to negotiate a prisoner swap. The film’s screenplay, co-written by the Coen brothers, is suffused with their characteristic wit at important moments. Spielberg’s weakness for sentimentality is also dialed down in Bridge of Spies, one of his strongest films in a decade. The most impressive part of the film is how it creates suspense through the act of negotiation rather than action or violence. Paradoxically, Bridge of Spies is both one of Spielberg’s most old-fashioned films, and also one of his most youthful and energetic works. (Brian Marks)

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 21.) 88:88

In 2015, being young often means being uncertain. That’s the central premise of Canadian filmmaker Isiah Medina’s invigorating debut 88:88. This experimental film is a look into the lives of young people today, now that a college degree doesn’t necessarily translate into job security. It explores how young people are forced to confront both the philosophical burdens of late capitalism and the more immediate pressures of student loan debt, prison sentences, familial hardship, and other struggles. It’s the first film I’ve ever seen to truly reflect the current situation of my generation, which might not sound all that exciting to viewers over 30, but it also happens to be one of the most formally inspired films I’ve ever seen, the first I know of that does with images what rap music does with sound. Hip-hop came into existence as a way for young people with little power over their socio-political environments to take control of an entire sonic world, and the way in which Medina layers images and sounds on top of one another with an almost aggressive sense of montage does the same but with cinema. 88:88 is dense and difficult, but it’s also more exciting and invigorating than anything else I saw this year. (Nathan Smith)

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