Top 10 of the Year
|1. The Revenant||Alejandro Iñárritu|
|2. Mad Max: Fury Road||George Miller|
|3. Son of Saul||László Nemes|
|4. Victoria||Sebastian Schipper|
|5. The Assassin||Hou Hsiao-hsien|
|6. Carol||Todd Haynes|
|7. The Lobster||Yorgos Lanthimos|
|8. Tale of Tales||Matteo Garrone|
|9. Sunset Song||Terence Davies|
|10. The Big Short||Adam McKay|
The Revenant. Steadily over the years, this has been creeping closer and closer to Mad Max: Fury Road as the greatest film of 2015, and only recently has it finally overtaken George Miller’s high-octane action blockbuster. As a result, this also marks the second year in a row that Alejandro Iñárritu has cracked the #1 spot – a remarkable feat that marks the peak of his career and the Nuevo Cine Mexicano movement in general. This survival tale set in the 19th century snowy Dakotan wilderness is easily one of the most beautiful films of the decade in its natural lighting, long takes, and meticulously staged battle sequences, but then there are the surreal interludes on top of that which bring an otherworldly mysticism to the central spiritual journey.
The Revenant. The most recent update on TSPDT saw this land at #20 of the decade. This has been worst in the past – the previous year saw it at #26, and the tide has been gradually shifting over time to compensate for how badly critics missed on this when it came out. At the time it got a bit too caught up in Oscars politics with the whole narrative about Leonardo DiCaprio sleeping in a bear and going full method for the part. With some distance from that, fortunately people are starting to take it on its own merits as an astounding, awe-inspiring film.
Inside Out. This stands among Pixar’s best films, and it is certainly a smart, touching, endlessly imaginative screenplay. But I can’t reason its #4 spot on TSPDT above superior cinematic achievements like Son of Saul, Victoria, and Carol.
Best Directorial Debut
Son of Saul. It actually hurts a little bit not being about to mention The Witch here, but László Nemes’ Holocaust drama possesses an unparalleled formal rigour and dedicated aesthetic that Robert Eggers’ folk horror can’t match. Point-of-view is everything, trapping us in long takes that hang on the shoulder and face of one Jewish-Hungarian concentration camp prisoner, and confining us in extreme shallow focus to a wilfully incomplete picture of history. The horrors of the setting are kept just out of view, as if blocked out in his own head, but we still see just enough for this to become one of the most traumatic depictions of war committed to film.
Gem to Spotlight
Cemetery of Splendour. For Apichatpong Weerasethakul, this is actually a bit of a disappointment, and yet a weak film by his standards is still incredibly fascinating. In a former elementary school somewhere in Thailand, a temporary clinic has been set up to manage the overflow of comatose soldiers from a nearby hospital. A mysterious “sleeping sickness” has been taking over military units, and the only way nurses have been able to treat them is by soothing their dreams through light machines, each one standing tall above the beds like over-sized, neon canes. As the machines rotate through psychedelic colours in this otherwise pitch-black space, Weerasethakul invokes a hallucination of hypnotic effervescence. There is political subtext here as well, but Cemetery of Splendour thrives in those scenes where we disappear into his tropical fever dreams.
Best Male Performance
Leonardo DiCaprio won the Oscar for Best Actor in 2015 for his part in The Revenant, but it’s hard not to feel that the Academy simply wanted to recognise his prolific career rather than the actual triumph of acting on display. Still, you can’t complain too much when they get it right, even for the wrong reasons. Rarely has such a character been rendered onscreen with such visceral pain and spiritual awe, seeing DiCaprio rely less on his verbal skills and more on his primal, physical presence. He undergoes a transformation throughout the film, turning into a ghost who haunts the wilderness and soon becomes one with it. In Alejandro Iñárritu’s wide-angle lens close-ups, his dirtied face and pale blue eyes convey transcendent expressions of terror, wonder, and longing.
Tom Hardy is also having a great year starring in its two best films – the villain in The Revenant, and the hero of Mad Max: Fury Road. The former is far more talkative than the latter, and may actually be the greater achievement in the end, but both are worthy of praise.
Meanwhile, Géza Röhrig makes a brilliant onscreen debut in Son of Saul, offering us the narrow perspective through which this harrowing Holocaust story is filtered. Almost the entire film is shot in intimate close-ups hanging on his shoulder, the back of his head, and his face, leaving a lot hanging on his performance.
After this top 3, it is worth singling out Benicio del Toro in Sicario and Christian Bale in The Big Short – these are films with big casts, and yet both actors break through as particularly notable. Colin Farrell’s deadpan turn in The Lobster is a perfect absurdist fit for Yorgos Lanthimos’ bizarre black comedy, while Nicholas Hoult brings just enough to Mad Max: Fury Road as a war boy with shifting allegiances to earn a spot in this category.
Best Female Performance
Charlize Theron’s Furiosa will go down as one of the great female action heroes of cinema, right next to Ripley from the Alien franchise and the Bride from the Kill Bill duology. She has more lines in Mad Max: Fury Road than her co-star Tom Hardy, but it is her swaggering physicality, pale blue eyes, and stoic face which open us up to her emotional journey as she resolves to find the utopian ‘Green Place’. The heartbreak of discovering its destruction and her subsequent determination to topple Immortan Joe’s tyrannical reign centre her as one of the decade’s greatest characters, come to life in Theron’s confident performance with strength and grit.
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara come next in Carol, Todd Haynes’ warm, romantic melodrama about the transgressive relationship formed between the glamourous, middle-aged title character and Mara’s younger, fresh-faced shop assistant in 1950s New York. Laia Costa also deserves a mention for her part in the one-take film Victoria, carrying an incredible intensity across all 138 minutes of its uncut runtime, while Qi Shu maintains an elegant yet dynamic presence in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s wuxia film The Assassin.
Best Cinematography: The Revenant
|1. The Revenant||Emmanuel Lubezki|
|2. Mad Max: Fury Road||John Seale|
|3. Victoria||Sturla Brandth Grovlen|
|4. The Assassin||Mark Lee Ping-bing|
|5. Carol||Edward Lachman|
|6. Tale of Tales||Peter Suschitzky|
|7. Son of Saul||Matyas Erdely|
|8. Sunset Song||Michael McDonough|
|9. Sicario||Roger Deakins|
Best Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
|1. Mad Max: Fury Road||Margaret Sixel|
|2. The Big Short||Hank Corwin|
|3. Gone Girl||Kirk Baxter|
|4. The Revenant||Stephen Mirrione|
|5. The Assassin||Huang Chih-Chia|
|6. The Lobster||Yorgos Mavropsaridis|
Best Screenplay: Sicario
|1. The Lobster||Efthimis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos|
|2. Sicario||Taylor Sheridan|
|3. Carol||Phyllis Nagy|
|4. The Big Short||Charles Randolph, Adam McKay|
|5. The Witch||Robert Eggers|
|6. Sunset Song||Terence Davies|
Best Original Music Score: Mad Max: Fury Road
|1. Mad Max: Fury Road||Junkie XL|
|2. The Revenant||Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto|
|3. Carol||Carter Burwell|
|4. Sicario||Johan Johannsson|
|5. The Witch||Mark Korven|
|6. Victoria||Nils Frahm|
|7. The Assassin||Lim Giong|
|8. Sunset Song||Gast Waltzing|
|9. Tale of Tales||Alexandre Desplat|
2015 has two decade-defining masterpieces sitting right at the top – Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant. The first is George Miller’s widely beloved comeback that virtually revived his entire career, and the second is Iñárritu at his absolute peak, landing at the top of the list two years in a row. Birdman and The Revenant would be his only two films this decade, but he would leave a huge mark on it nonetheless. With Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak also coming out this year, it is clear that Nuevo Cine Mexico remains alive and well long after it kicked off in the early 2000s, and is still far from over.
Besides these major Hollywood movies, 2015 is also a significant year for world cinema. Just in my top 10 alone, there are only two American directors – other countries represented include Hungary, Germany, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom. While their films don’t land in my top 10, it is notable that Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Jia Zhangke are both present and working this year too, further diversifying the pool of talent. Given the Academy’s taste for a very specific kind of film, it isn’t surprising that many of these weren’t recognised among their nominations. By giving Spotlight the award for Best Picture, they also missed out on the two very easy blockbuster choices I already mentioned sitting at #1 and #2 of the year.
Jurassic World and The Force Awakens sit atop the 2015 box office. Along with the success of Mad Max: Fury Road, these indicate the growing popularity of legacy sequels reviving nostalgic movie franchises from decades ago. Between Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 and Jurassic World here, Chris Pratt proves to be a very bankable star, and would continue to lead both franchises into the 2020s. This year is also a highpoint for Pixar with Inside Out raking in big numbers and proving to be one of their most imaginative films, while The Martian leaves its mark as one of Ridley Scott’s most financially successful films.
|Bridge of Spies||Steven Spielberg||R|
|Cemetery of Splendour||Apichatpong Weerasethakul||R|
|Crimson Peak||Guillermo del Toro||HR|
|Inside Out||Peter Docter||R|
|Knight of Cups||Terrence Malick||R|
|Mad Max: Fury Road||George Miller||MP|
|Mountains May Depart||Jia Zhangke||R|
|Son of Saul||László Nemes||MS|
|Star Wars: The Force Awakens||J.J. Abrams||R|
|Steve Jobs||Danny Boyle||R/HR|
|Sunset Song||Terence Davies||HR|
|The Assassin||Hou Hsiao-hsien||MS|
|The Big Short||Adam McKay||HR|
|The Danish Girl||Tom Hooper||R|
|The Hateful Eight||Quentin Tarantino||R|
|The Lobster||Yorgos Lanthimos||HR/MS|
|The Martian||Ridley Scott||R|
|The Revenant||Alejandro Iñárritu||MP|
|The Witch||Robert Eggers||HR|