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Best of 2015: Top 10 Films of the Year Encapsulate Love and Redemption

end of tourThe Top 10.  What we determine as the representation of the film year to conclude either a success or less than.  Narrowing a large amount of great films to a list of ten is a daunting task but I feel comfortable with the end result.  There seems to be a recurring theme with the ten that were chosen and it looks to be redemption.  In many cases of the director’s previous efforts, they’ve seemed to win me over with their newfound techniques or storytelling style that catapults them to the top of the year’s finest.

The task of choosing the ten is always a two-edged sword.  While they will be etched within the AwardsCircuit.com realm for years to come, I am constantly finding new treasures well after the year has finished, and missed one or two notable films that could have made the final lineup.   While my own personal database will change for years to come, you will undoubtedly find yourselves in the same boat.  A film that speaks volumes to you today, may not have the same impact for you a month from now.  I challenge you to keep revisiting titles from any year and discuss with your cinema friends (or Awards Circuit family) about what you are discovering along the way.

This year, there were many close calls to enter the fray.  James Ponsoldt’s “The End of the Tour” was his best effort yet, featuring a staggering turn by Jason Segal, one of the year’s saddest ignorances.  One year after “Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” topped my list, Alejandro González Iñárritu presented a beautiful and harrowing revenge tale in “The Revenant” with a top-tier turns from Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy intact.  You can’t fly more under the radar than Reed Morano’s delightful “Meadowland” did all year but you can wallow in its existence and what Olivia Wilde delivered in a dynamite year for female roles.

“Star Wars” is back and “The Force Awakens” lived up to the expectations and then some with J.J. Abrams helming the ship proudly.  Alex Garland was a first-timer this year that hit the ground running as science fiction films, especially from inaugural filmmakers, never look as clean as “Ex Machina” does in both scope and performances.  Blythe Danner anchored the ship of “I’ll See You In My Dreams” to stunning resolve while Netflix’s “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” drew me to tears more than once, and ignited some needful feelings for humanity and its capabilities.

Without further ado, please check out my personal Top 10 films of 2015 (in order), and also include your own in the comments below.

the-look-of-silence10. “The Look of Silence” (Drafthouse Pictures)
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer

I’m sorry to confess not being enamored with Joshua Oppenheimer’s previous documentary “The Act of Killing.” Never finding comfort in seeing genocide from the killer’s perspective, getting into position for “The Look of Silence” proved to be a more daunting task than I care to admit.  What a joyous surprise as Oppenheimer’s film not only treats the delicate subject matter with adoration and respect, but it almost feels like a literary tale that no author can pen on his own.  It simmers with gorgeous cinematography and stunning direction.

45Years_Still299. “45 Years” (Sundance Selects)
Director: Andrew Haigh

In a year that didn’t lack in expensive, outlandish, and big budget spectacles, Andrew Haigh’s intimate and powerful “45 Years” hit a sweet spot that most films failed to do.  This British drama packs a punch with two riveting portrayals by the great Tom Courtenay and the effervescent Charlotte Rampling.  Tacked on with beautiful camera work by Lol Crawley, Haigh’s follow-up to “Weekend” captures the purity of a relationship, asking so many questions but allowing the audience to dwell on the possible answers.  The final scene of the film has burned itself into my cinematic memory and will be hard to forget.

sicario_moviestill_deltoro8. “Sicario” (Lionsgate)
Director: Denis Villenueve

It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Denis Villenueve knows his way around tension and suspense that very few directors can achieve these days.  “Prisoners” grows in estimation as one of the decade’s most taut thrillers and his follow-up “Sicario” may have topped that in a big way.  Assembling outstanding talents like Emily Blunt – refreshingly dedicated to her tough woman persona – and Benicio Del Toro – delivering his finest effort since “21 Grams” – was simply genius.  The sarcastic ticks of Josh Brolin also add to the cheeky and often times mesmerizing script by Taylor Sheridan.  And if you didn’t notice the bravura camera work by Roger Deakins, the best DP working today, I can only feel pity at this point.

madmax_furyroad7. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Warner Bros.)
Director: George Miller

Taking a franchise I couldn’t care less about, George Miller took “cool” to a new height with his summer blockbuster, and courageously created one of the best action films in years.  Charlize Theron’s “Furiosa” is etched into cinema pop culture for sometime while “Immortan Joe’s” wild and crazy one-liners still bring a smile to my face.  Hats off to Cinematographer John Seale and Composer Junkie XL for exciting not just my visual and aural senses, but demonstrating to anyone attempting to create in the action genre moving forward, how to elevate your material with just the right touches.

Emory Cohen as "Tony" and Saoirse Ronan as "Eilis" in BROOKLYN. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

6. “Brooklyn” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Director: John Crowley

While much of the world will look to either “Mad Max: Fury Road” or “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” as the technical monoliths of the past year, I’ve never wavered my love for John Crowley’s impeccably assembled “Brooklyn” for a moment.  At the top, you have stellar turns from Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen, just two parts of one of the year’s best casts, but you find solace in its music by Michael Brook or camera work by Yves Bélanger.  You can just bathe in its presentations of costumes and production design, both of which are worthy for anyone to check off on an Oscar ballot.  Writer Nick Hornby also manages to take what can be construed as a sappy love story and reinvent it into a moving drama about acceptance and fear.  Too beautiful.

grandma_image5. “Grandma” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Director: Paul Weitz

Paul Weitz gained a legion of lovers back in the early 2000’s with “About a Boy,” and I can admit, I haven’t really looked for him since then.  Casually stumbling upon “Grandma” at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier in the year, after learning of its existence at the Sundance Film Festival, I was completely won over by its charm and self-awareness of a widowed lesbian trying to help her granddaughter get an abortion.  Packing a plethora of laughs and managing to hit the right chords of drama, Lily Tomlin delivers the performance of her career while Sam Elliott book ends a fantastic year for himself in a one-scene punch to be remembered.  Sprinkled with the great Marcia Gay Harden and you have one hell of a movie.

compton4. “Straight Outta Compton” (Warner Bros.)
Director: F. Gary Gray

Going into a musical biopic about N.W.A. had my expectations on the floor, considering how Hollywood butchered films like “Notorious.”  F. Gary Gray’s past endeavors never hinted at his capabilities for what he achieves in “Straight Outta Compton,” making stars out of its three leads Corey Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., and Jason Mitchell.  With measured and balanced sound work and meticulous lens work from Matthew Libatique, “Compton” captures the essence of a time and speaks volumes about our present, crawling down the corridor of racism, discrimination, and free speech.  All biopics should study this playbook moving forward to attempt to bottle its formula.

spotlight_movie3. “Spotlight” (Open Road Films)
Director: Tom McCarthy

Maneuvering through Tom McCarthy’s dissection of the Boston Globe’s telling of sex abuse in the Catholic church, you walk away with a sense of pride and adoration for journalism and what its capable of under the right guidance.  Along with co-writer Josh Singer, the two find a knack for moving the film like a locomotive, never allowing the story to stop revealing itself and where its heading.  Constructing one of the finest ensembles of the century, all of the players particularly Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, and Stanley Tucci find their movements and purpose from moment one and never allow a single second to be wasted.  It all results in one of the best investigative news dramas since “All the President’s Men.”

anomalisa_22. “Anomalisa” (Paramount Pictures)
Director: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson

A moment occurs in “Anomalisa” from Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson when you stop trying feverishly to figure out why or what the scenes are attempting to say, and surrender to its glorious form.  Its images are rich, full of life, and all too human in a film doesn’t have a single person in it.  It surges forward with outstanding performances from David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan, and a flirty and memorable composition from Carter Burwell.  It stands up there well with Kaufman’s other well-regarded efforts like “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”  So much more than just an animated film, the film needs to be studied for all its filmmaking exercises and the choices that people make in bringing these to an audience.

sons-of-saul1. “Son of Saul” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Director: László Nemes

Settling into the Walter Reade Theatre at the New York Film Festival, the buzz for László Nemes’ Cannes film was palpable but I had no idea the impact it would make upon my viewing of not just cinema but everything that has been set before it.  The fact that a first time director, such as Nemes can come onto the scene, tell a tale that takes place during the Holocaust, a time that has been done and revisited in countless other movies, and make it feel real, raw, and like a first-time viewing experience is simply astounding.  Put that up there with Nemes choosing a first-time actor like Géza Röhrig, and making him feel like the greatest gift we’ve encountered since Daniel Day-Lewis, Joaquin Phoenix, and other masterclass actors is another excellent feat.  Cinematography by Mátyás Erdély makes you feel as if you’re watching a home movie for your nightmares, just sitting the viewer on the lead character’s shoulders as if we’re a bird in nature, witnessing madness.  But one of the most understated and undervalued gifts of the film is its sound work, which gives the defining example of being able to feel and fear, without having to see and watch.  Nemes’ work may be the single best direction this decade yet.

Check out my personal ballot of 2015!
Share yours in the comments section below!