If you’re looking for a unifying theme for the films of 2015 it would be that this is the Year of the Woman. We’d be hard pressed to point to another year that gave us as many great female characters and stories centered around women as 2015 did. But what’s even more interesting is the sheer amount of great films centered on a traditional male lead where a female ended up stealing the show. It’s a testament to the evolution of screenwriting finally catching up to the sensibilities of modern society and for that, we’re grateful and excited for what the future brings. And while 2015 was, without a doubt, short on big centerpiece studio films, we were instead treated to a plethora of smaller, ambitious films that offered enormous ideas, emotions, and sheer beauty.
One film appeared on nearly every ballot submitted for this list. Another film appeared on slightly fewer lists but almost always in the number one position. As with any attempt at ranking and scoring art, there were several factors at hand in curating this list. First and foremost, our staff picked their top 15 films of the year, in descending order of preference. From there we tallied the votes and made an initial list. Then the senior staff took a final vote for what our top five films of the year should be based on that original staff list. This year also saw some very late releases for highly anticipated films which were factored into the voting process at the 11th hour.
There were also many great films that just missed the top 20, but were certainly still some of the best of the year: The Duke of Burgundy, Crimson Peak, Bridge of Spies, on Hertzfeldt’s amazing World of Tomorrow and Tangerine are but a few. With all that said, and without any further delay, we present to you Cut Print Film’s picks for the best films of 2015!
Alex Ross Perry’s brilliant, funny, acidic horror movie in disguise Queen of Earth is like an enjoyable punch to the gut. Queen of Earth thrives from two staggering lead performances courtesy of Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston, playing two best friends who head off to a weekend getaway where all hell breaks loose in the form of Moss’ startling mental decline. Moss will unquestionably be the standout here, as we watch her character deteriorate before our eyes. A scene late in the film where she delivers a venomous , devastating monologue rebuking is a chilling thing of beauty — Moss commands the screen, her eyes burning with a mad fiery fury, her words sharp, precise and discomforting, like a scalpel performing unsanctioned surgery. But even as fantastic as Moss is, she’s equally matched by Waterston, who has the difficult job of making her character seem cruel while also somehow sympathetic. At first annoyed by Moss’s behavior, we can see the growing horror in Waterston’s eyes as it becomes clear how unwell her friend really is. A frame of Waterston’s face near the next-to-last scene of the film is utterly heartbreaking in all it conveys without saying a word. It all culminates in an utterly chilling finale that will stay with you for days, and maybe even longer. Hell, I saw this film in August, yet here I am, still thinking about it. – Chris Evangelista
While most major franchise look to rekindle the magic after multiple entries in a row, the Mission: Impossible one is unique in that it aims to reinvent itself, while keeping the same mold, with each entry. This isn’t any different with Rogue Nation, which breaths new life into old characters and shows that this series still has more to show us, but also rings in the new with a fresh face in Rebecca Ferguson — the unsung hero of the movie. Action blockbusters have started to demand a sense of style and presence with their entries and Rogue Nation accomplishes this, both with the skilled directing (and writing) by Christopher McQuarrie, and its sense of past and future. This is a series that has lasted this long due to its star Tom Cruise, but also because it is constantly reminding us why we should stick with it. This time, it is for the stylish landmarks, the still awe-inspired stunts, and the electric chemistry between Cruise and Ferguson — that should continue over into the next entry. Mission: Impossible loves to re-invent itself, but keeping the core is also part of its charm. – Zach Dennis
Joel Edgerton’s The Gift gave the thriller genre a serious shot in the arm this year. Not content to simply bite off what one can comfortably chew Edgerton wrote, directed and starred as Gordo “The Weirdo” in this wonderful sleeper hit. From the first instant that Gordo appears on screen and unannounced into Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn’s (Rebecca Hall) seemingly idyllic existence he infects the screen with his creepiness. Edgerton proceeds to ratchet up the tension in scene upon scene in this incredibly well crafted and taut mystery. Simply a joy to watch. – James Casey
Eerie, subdued, haunting, this film by David Zellner is an entrancing journey through depression and fantasy. Based on an urban myth surrounding the death of a Japanese woman in Minnesota in 2001, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter seamlessly weaves together the madness and stark reality of the story of its protagonist as she is driven by the pressures of her oppressive Tokyo life into a bizarre quest. The strength of this film, alongside its fantastic score, gorgeous stark images of snow-covered Minnesota, and Rink Kikuchi’s masterful performance, is the gradual escalation of unnerving madness that unravels the fantasy for the viewer even as it pulls Kumiko deeper. – A.R. Magalli
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Very rarely does fanaticism have an effect on my enjoyment of pop culture. Sure, overzealous fans can be annoying (looking at you, Tool fans), and maybe even a little off-putting, but I can usually put a clothespin on my nose and ignore the stink of fanboyism. But the Star Wars pantheon is something that I’ve purposefully avoided solely because I was never up to the daunting task of possibly enjoying something as much as all these millions and millions of people seemed to be since the 70s!
It wasn’t until I watched the myriad teasers and trailers for The Force Awakens that something had awoke inside me; I finally understood the allure of this franchise and was ready to heed the call of The Force. And what a joy it was when I sat down to watch The Force Awakens and was grinning ear-to-ear for nearly the entire screening. The characters were outstanding, the story was a fun quasi-reboot of George Lucas original film, and the entire experience felt authentic and true to this impossibly enormous pop cult of personality that has become Star Wars.
JJ Abrams finally has his great movie after years of aping everyone from Spielberg to Roddenberry. He has made the first great Star Wars film by capturing the spirit and grand vision of George Lucas better than even George Lucas ever could hope to. I have finally searched my feelings and chosen to come to the Dark Side of pop culture fanaticism. – Jeff Rollins
Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of the novel Room was in my top 3 for 2015. The performances of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay illicited such an emotional response, that multiple times during the film I felt overwhelmed and almost had to leave.
A child performance can make or break a film, and in this case Jacob Tremblay as Jack completely makes it. So much so, that in my review of Room, I called it the best child performance ever captured on film, a statement I still stand by. Also, don’t be surprised when Brie Larson walks away with the Oscar for best actress in February.
Room is a film about the binding effects of trauma, and the powerful resilience humans can have when they have each other. It’s a dark film at times, but it is the messages of hope and love that radiate the strongest. – David Costill
Adapted from the Colm Toibin’s novel of the same name, Brooklyn follows Eilis’ immigration from Ireland to New York City in the 1950’s. Everything going on is deceivingly simple. The logline would on a fortune cookie paper, and when plot kicks in it circles around a romance-turned-love triangle. But Nick Horby’s skillfully adapted script understands that these basic ideas are merely the surface of the ocean, with endless conflicts and emotions swimming underneath. Remarkably, Brooklyn is a tear-jerker without ever feigning for sentimentality.
Director John Crowley keeps things straightforward, never deviating into the mode of maudlin. Yet he still manages to conjure images and scenes that directly speak to the poignant conflict of moving far from home and feeling displaced in two cities at once. This is what the romance, as swooning as it can be taken literally, is really about. Each man represents a way of life, and more than that, the very choice of making a choice for one’s self. Though Eilis does commit to a man in the end, Hornby makes clear (in the only vital sequence not present in the novel) that this is her moment of becoming an adult, ready to pass on what she has learned to those who come next. Brooklyn is one of the year’s best films because it does so much, and looks so good doing it, without ever appearing to be lifting a finger. – Josh Oakley
Sexual encounters are a trope that will never die in the horror movie genre. Typically it’s an action that signs a character’s death warrant at some point in the film, but is more intelligent when it involves an entity that’s transmitted in an unwanted manner into someone’s body. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is a brute exercise in the latter where a supernatural entity is transferred to a teenage girl following sex with her boyfriend.
More than just a smart commentary on the dangers of unprotected sex, Mitchell’s wide-angle presentation boasts an atmosphere of sufficient dread where any walking figure in the background could be a danger to its female lead. Furthermore, the film is a poignant love letter to 80s horror, and even features a bevy of anachronisms that mix technology from that of the aforementioned decade and present day. Add in another great performance from modern-day scream queen, Maika Monroe, It Follows is a refreshing horror film that trades the overused jump scares for both atmospheric tension and nostalgia for one of horror’s greatest decades. – Tyler Christian
The polarizing figure of Steve Jobs is bought to life in this expertly crafted biopic which revolves around the lead-up to three key Apple product launches. Michael Fassbender puts in a magnetic central performance as the enigmatic late co-founder of Apple Inc. It’s to Fassbender’s credit that although appearing utterly unlikable, Jobs remains constantly engaging throughout. The rest of the cast are also on fine form, particularly Kate Winslet who gives the film a much needed conscience as marketing executive Joanna Hoffman. Director Danny Boyle imbues Steve Jobs with an energetic and alluring visual pizzazz whilst Aaron Sorkin’s script is filled with wit, emotion and some truly captivating dialogue. The result is a well-polished movie that combines great acting, direction and screen-writing to maximum effect. – Luke Channell
Transforming a novel about an astronaut growing potatoes on a desolate planet into a compelling film is no easy thing to do, but director Ridley Scott made it happen. The Martian takes you on a thrill ride to Mars, and manages to go heavy on the science without losing its audience. Stellar performances by Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, and Jeff Daniels drives the film to one of the top movies of 2015. The journey to Mars and into Mark Watney’s genius, sarcastic and sharp mind makes it okay to love this movie, even if you’re not a fan of science fiction. The Martian is an introspective look into where science could take us in the relatively near future, and how far we’re willing to go to get back home. – Anne Most
Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig are making movies about my generation, right now. They have an insight that would be impressive even if the movies themselves (this and the lovely Frances Ha) were not so buoyant and funny. This one has a bit more of a cynical streak than Frances Ha did, but its barbs of darkness are frequently shouted down by the screwball commotion. Gerwig is a fireball. She’s eminently watchable even when her character is being insufferable, and especially when that insufferable shell begins to waver and she is vulnerable, just for a moment; because underneath all that bluster is someone filled with doubt and insecurity. Lola Kirke, too, is a force whose straight-woman performance rises to meet Gerwig’s luminous whirlwind. These are complex, interesting characters that deepen and enrich the fast-paced mannered comedy of the last act. It fails me to sum up the complex ironies that make this all work so well, but the film skips along with such youthful energy (and a throw-back, faux 80’s synth soundtrack) that it will be easy to watch it many more times in the attempt. – Daniel Stidham
The work done by the Spotlight staff of the Boston Globe in uncovering a child molestation network in the Boston Catholic Archdiocese in 2001 and 2002 was, and is, powerful, impactful and important. Spotlight, with its impressive performances by Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci and its entire supporting cast, truly does that work justice. Not only does it perfectly encapsulate the pre-clickbait era of newspaper journalism for a generation that will likely never experience it, but it turns the jobs of a few “everyday” people into a gripping mystery story and an unlikely thriller. Tom McCarthy’s direction is superb, as is his and Josh Slinger’s screenplay. “Spotlight” is both a fitting ode to the power of a few good reporters and an open plea for more to rise up in their places. – Aubrey Nagle
Greatness is ultimately subjective, especially in art. In the end, everything comes down to the eye of the beholder. What one believes is the best thing in the world —whether that may be a book, film, tuna fish sandwich, what-have-you — can often be shit upon, discarded as nothing, by another in an instant. It’s hardly ever a matter of taste; it’s all perception, and sometimes the ones who have the hardest time seeing the good in something are the ones who made it, and need to appreciate it the most. The End of the Tour questions this, among other things, as many others have before, but in the case of James Pondsolt’s David Foster Wallace biopic, it’s not about studying the soul but surveying the subtext.
Anchored by two wonderfully matured, nuanced lead performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel as Wallace himself, this week-in-the-life biopic takes everything on its own, elegantly-simple-yet-richly-intimate terms. In studying the late author, it brings out both the literary god and the simple, fractured mortal at the center, allowing us to see the greatness hidden inside yet feel the mistaken identity lost within in his reflection. It’s a shattering, illuminating, fascinating, heartbreaking, hilarious and, most of all, deeply human picture, and it’s exactly the type of art even Wallace would likely be proud to have associated with his name. – Will Ashton
Ryan Coogler takes the framework of the Rocky franchise and works magic with it. What could’ve easily been a bad idea — “Oh no, another Rocky movie??” — becomes one of the best films of the year. While Sylvester Stallone’s pugilistic Rocky Balboa is in the film (and Stallone delivers one of the best performances of his career), this is a film about young fighter Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan). Living in the shadow of the famous father he never met, Adonis is angry, impatient and desperate to prove to everyone that his very life — the result of a secret affair his late father had — isn’t a mistake. Coogler directs the hell out of this thing, staging some of the best boxing scenes ever caught on film, drawing the audience into the ring while scattering the audio all around them. It’s engrossing, exciting filmmaking. But there’s more to Creed than boxing — there’s heart, and honest emotion.
Jordan continues to prove he’s a bonafide movie star, and the chemistry he has with Stallone is warm and honest. Tessa Thompson, as Adonis’ girlfriend Bianca, takes what could’ve easily been just another girlfriend role and enlivens it with magnetism and grace. And sure, every Rocky movie has taught us that a film like this needs to climax with a big fight, but the way Coogler brings it about it is one of 2015’s most entertaining and emotionally honest sequences: instead of Rocky giving a big loud motivational speech, he whispers softly over and over again that he knows Adonis is going to win. And when Adonis gets into the ring, sure, he gets knocked down pretty hard — but the moment he gets back up, and Bill Conti’s familiar Rocky theme kicks in for the first time during the film, you’ll want to spring out of your seat and cheer. – Chris Evangelista
Remember when movies had ideas? Inside Out has more per minute than Jurassic World had in its entire running time. It’s a meaningful film that explores such phenomena as puberty, family relationships, and the impermanence of memory. The magicians at Pixar take us inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley, where her brain is illustrated as a literal control center manned by anthropomorphic emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. The primary conflict involves ringleader Joy, voiced by Amy Poehler, trying to prevent Riley’s mental breakdown when her young life undergoes seismic external shifts – her parents move her to a new school in a new city – and stop Riley’s core memories from being contaminated by the well-meaning but bumbling Sadness (Phyllis Smith). Their misadventure takes them through a staggering procession of actualized mind-spaces, including riding a Train of Thought; joining forces with Riley’s mostly-forgotten imaginary friend; and even a trip through the abstract. If Charlie Kaufman hadn’t actually made a different animated movie this year, I’d swear he consulted on this one. If it ever seemed Pixar was in a slump, Inside Out is a triumphant return to form. It’s as creative, funny, and emotionally powerful as the studio’s very best. – Daniel Stidham
The Hateful Eight
With The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino may have reached his final form. That doesn’t mean this is necessarily the director’s best film, though the case could certainly be made. Rather, he’s found a way to mainline his expected style into a work that adheres so closely to expected form. In many ways, The Hateful Eight is a traditional Western, with signature wide landscape vistas and cultural combat played literally. Yet here and there, Tarantino reminds the viewer that he’s taken over the building, inventively modulating the structure and combination of genres.
Alongside the Western elements sits a whodunit perfectly in line with Agatha Christie until it violently and chaotically isn’t anymore. And The Hateful Eight may have Tarantino’s best final scene, one that recalls a previous feature of his while adding a layer of melancholy that fits nicely within his range of emotion. And all of that says nothing of the performances, many of which become iconic in an instant. Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh have rightfully gained the spotlight, but Walton Goggins steals scenes with a character as kooky as he is deeply wounded. The Hateful Eight is Tarantino at his best; knowing precisely what to steal from the past to create something rich, entertaining and fresh. – Josh Oakley
It is my personal opinion that style is lacking in a lot of prominent films today. Style isn’t the only factor that goes in to making a movie great but it certainly helps. Mood & ambiance go a long way if done correctly and Dennis Villaneuve definitely took this into consideration when crafting his latest film. Bottom line – Sicario has this cool element of the unspoken that no other movie had this year.
For the first 30 minutes Villaneuve keeps the audience in the dark just like our protagonist Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt). From a spectator’s perspective, I was little on edge during parts of the film. Early on I got the sense that at any moment bullets could start whizzing by out of nowhere or an IED could go off unexpectedly. The mood is tense and disorienting, and the score, courtesy of Johann Johannsson, just adds to that discomfort and uncertainty. Kate, a special ops agent, isn’t quite sure who she’s working for or with, and she doesn’t know what the goal is on the latest assignment that she reluctantly volunteered for.
Sicario is an interesting case of style overshadowing the substance at the end of the day but that’s not to say the movie doesn’t address issues like PTSD, loss, the war on drugs, sexism & other issues concerning gender. – Marcus Pinn
In 1950s New York, two women – Carol and Therese – spot each other in a crowded department store. What follows is one of the most overwhelmingly gorgeous love stories and films of 2015. Hype can sometimes be a deterent, and hearing about how great something is over and over again from multiple sources can start to sound like an elaborate leg-pull. But believe the hype: Todd Haynes’ Carol is cinematic nirvana — it’s the type of great movie that average movies dream about.
With a lean, elegant script from Phyllis Nagy and staggeringly wonderful performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Carol will stun you with unparalleled beauty. Casting is essential to any film, but with Carol, the two leads Haynes has brought together are beyond perfection. As the more experienced, more realistic Carol, Blanchett is exquisite in every sense of the word. She holds our gaze the way she holds Therese’s, and her very manner is a study of a person fully aware of how they are being perceived, and attempting to balance that with who they really are. Blanchett is matched on every level by Mara, who delivers here the best performance of her career, her naiveté and her longing endearing and heart-breaking at the same instant.
Quite simply, there has never quite been a film that so perfectly captures the motions of falling in love without having to rely on words. Words aren’t important in Carol — movements are. Early in the film, a character watches a film from a projection booth while jotting down notes, explaining that he’s analyzing what the film characters are saying against what they’re really thinking and feeling. With Carol, Haynes, Blanchett and Mara have wonderfully conveyed a way for their audience to know exactly what these characters are really thinking and feeling, and it’s breathtaking to behold. – Chris Evangelista
While it is not my favorite film of 2015, if you had to ask me to pick a 10/10 from this year, I’d have to give it to Mad Max: Fury Road. – David Costill
Alex Garland’s moody masterpiece, Ex Machina, creeped into theaters in April and cemented itself as one of the most intelligent films of 2015. Eight months and hundreds of movies later, we’re calling it the best.
Revisiting the oft-explored sci-fi territory of artificial intelligence, Ex Machina breathes new life into the sub-genre by completely ignoring any AI film that came before it. This is no technophobic tale heralding the end of humanity, nor is it a tender fable of misunderstood machines. Instead, it’s a delicate survival story of hubris vs. humanity wrapped around the isolation – physical and emotional – of its three central characters. Populating Garland’s brave new world are clever, empathetic computer programmer Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson), tech-billionaire, mad scientist Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and Nathan’s soulful humanoid creation Ava (Alicia Vikander).
Isaac shines as Nathan, trudging the lonely billionaire through the murky waters of blind ego and self-hatred. But it’s Vikander’s fragile and fierce performance as Ava that imbues Ex Machina with a tragic sense of humanity. Ava’s intuitive will to live informs the larger social and moral questions posed by Garland’s carefully structured screenplay. Those questions come fast and often and keep you guessing as the meticulously paced film edges toward its harrowing finale. Every moment is scrupulously lensed with a soft neon glow by DP Rob Hardy. Every note of Ben Salisbury’s and Geoff Barrow’s score breeds a deep sense of dread and awe. Under Garland’s uncommonly assured guidance, every element of Ex Machina melds into a cohesive whole, elevating the film above top-notch sci-fi and into the realm of grand cinematic experience. There simply wasn’t a more complete film this year. In its examination of humanity’s confounding relationship with technology, there’s hardly a film more relevant. – Patrick Phillips