What, in 2015, makes a movie one of the best of the year?
Does it have to entertain? Enlighten? Does it have to have a flawless screenplay, flawless acting, flawless editing—whatever that adjective even means in such a subjective context?
Does it need to have an agenda, or be free of one? Is it allowed to be politically incorrect? If it puts a straight white man to sleep, is it out of the running? If it offends a person of color, does that automatically make it trash?
Coming up with an annual best of list is always a tricky business. On the one hand film is, at close of day, a matter of personal preference. I'm personally neutral to superheroes and star wars; many of my friends would never even think of watching anything else. Yet as an amateur film critic, I'm never content to settle for a purely subjective view of cinema. Surely, I think to myself, there must be some objective standard against which to judge everything, so that when I unveil this list every year I can spring to the defense of my picks with more than just my opinion as artillery.
If there were such a Holy Grail of criticism, every critic under the sun would arrive at the same conclusions in their year-end curations. That not being the case—for the best, honestly—I have to settle for my intuition. The movies that floated to the top of my list this year all met a basic level of filmmaking competency; so did many others not enumerated here. What I found to be the special ingredient common to my ten "bests" (+one honorable mention) was a certain "why cinema?" factor. The theater will always be the destination for the franchise blockbusters and shows of special effects derring-do, but for any other genre a theatrical release is no longer a foregone conclusion.
It isn't just that more and more movies go straight to On Demand: it's that there are ever-expanding ways to tell the stories that once may have only been tellable on the big screen. Why pay upwards of $15 plus parking and popcorn to lock yourself into a room at the edge of town for some 90 to 180 minutes when you could listen to a podcast, binge watch a TV series, read a book? Why go to the movies at all when we have personally-curated newsletters and Instagram feeds and Snapstories?
I don't have answers to these questions. What I do have are 11 movies that convinced me of the unique contribution of cinema to storytelling, and I hope you approach them with an open mind to consider sharing them with me.
(One last note before we begin: There's a 2009 movie on this list that I included here because it had a U.S. theatrical release for the first time in 2015. For posterity, I wouldn't consider it a 2015 film at all, but for the sake of a year-in-review, I'm opting to keep it here.)Read More