We’re just about six months through 2015 and an array of films have already come and gone. Some have stuck in the mind, some you’ve forgotten the moment you’ve left the theater, and some you still just aren’t quite sure how you feel about.
For me personally, 2015 has already proven to be quite the pleasant surprise film-wise. We’ve been treated to breathtaking blockbusters, emotionally-taxing cinematic experiences and some truly original independent films. Below you’ll find a collection of films that I believe to be among the year’s best so far, and even a few that may wind up in my top ten come year’s end.
Without further ado, here is the year in film so far.
A film that came out of nowhere and immediately made an impact, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is a fascinating parable about technology, humanity and the line drawn between the two. Highlighted by yet another great turn from Oscar Isaac and emotionally vulnerable performances from Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander, the film is not just an intriguing look at artificial intelligence and its place in society, but a look at three individuals all trying to figure out the best way to experience life on Earth. While it’s premise isn’t all that different from some other sci-fi flicks of the 21st century, it has a unique flair and emotional undercurrent that sets it apart and makes it a truly distinct cinematic experience.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
A warts-and-all love letter to a troubled artistic mind, Brett Morgen’s doc is less concerned with the career of the Nirvana frontman than taking a look inside a man’s mind and soul. Using Cobain’s journals, art and secret recordings as the basis for some visually striking animated sequences, we are given a window into Kurt’s childhood and see how this emotional outsider would grow up to become, well, an emotional outsider. From Kurt’s chilling cover of The Beatles’ classic “And I Love Her” to video footage highlighting his early stages of fatherhood, this is one of the most emotionally draining rock docs ever made and that’s exactly what makes it so special.
Love & Mercy
An altogether different kind of love letter to a troubled artistic mind, the strength of Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy lies in its unwillingness to conform to a typical biopic format. We don’t see Brian Wilson’s entire life play out before us, but instead we get to see two specific timelines where we experience the revolutionary musician in action and the older, lonely man who he would evolve into. Both Paul Dano and John Cusack are brilliant in playing these two sides of Brian, and director Bill Pohlad does a fantastic balancing act in both entertaining and enlightening us on one of the greatest musical geniuses to ever live. Surf’s up, mhmmm.
Best Under-Seen Film
While many would argue the Western genre has more than overstayed its welcome, I’d wager to guess that these same people have not yet experienced John Maclean’s Slow West. A breathtakingly gorgeous, oft-kilter tale of a young Scot who travels to America to find his one true love but winds up in a conflict with some crazed outlaws, the film sports yet another fantastic turn from one of the best working actors today, Michael Fassbender. But, this isn’t his film. It’s Kodi Smit-McPhee’s, who will break your heart as Jay Cavendish, the young Scot who views the world through rose-colored glasses. The film sports it own unique breed of humor, which when combined with its spurts of bloody violence, results in a western the kind of which you’ve never seen before.
The Marvel Film
Avengers: Age of Ultron
It’s hard to go six months in the current film industry landscape without having at least one Marvel film released to theaters, and the first half of 2015 is no different. Joss Whedon’s follow-up to his record-breaking team-up The Avengers in 2012, Age of Ultron may not be as purely enjoyable as the first film, but it gives its characters more to work with and is all the better for it. While some may highlight the spectacular action sequences on display, and there’s no doubt they are spectacular, the one sequence in the film that to me takes Ultron to the next level is when the heroes are forced to go into hiding and shack up in Hawkeye’s farmhouse. We get to see how the hero lives for the first time and in doing so we are allowed to see Iron Man, Cap, Black Widow and the giant green rage monster experience the simpler life. It’s moments like this that set the Marvel films apart from their blockbuster counterparts and will always keep me coming back for more. Bring on Ant-Man.
2nd Best Car-Centric Blockbuster
If you know me, you know I’m not a car person, but that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying the absurd brand of thrills on display in the Fast & Furious films, and that includes this year’s oddity Furious 7. Now James Wan doesn’t re-invent the wheel in his first film at the helm of the Vin Diesel-led franchise, but rather sticks to the formula of what has worked in the past: scantily-clad women and absolutely insane car stunts. But the reason I call Furious 7 an oddity is not because of either of those things, but because it’s the only blockbuster in recent memory that shifts so drastically in tone in its last few minutes. We experience the eye candy and the vroom vroom boom for a few hours until the film switches gears to pay tribute to their dearly departed star, Paul Walker. And you know what, it works.
While Pixar certainly no longer has a flawless track record when it come to its filmography, when the company is firing on all cylinders there’s not a creative force alive that can touch them, and such is the case with their latest film Inside Out. I’m just gonna get this out of the way now, I was crying nearly every five minutes of the film’s running time and I’m proud that was all I did. It’s an incredibly emotional experience, one that is easy to relate to for people of all ages and definitely ranks among Pixar’s best work. While I’ve heard some argue that Inside Out is the youngest-skewing Pixar film in quite some time, I have no idea what those people are talking about. Bing Bong, Bing Bong, another Pixar masterpiece.
A film I’ve claimed to be the best horror film of the 21st century, It Follows has only grown in my mind since the first time I saw it back in March. It’s a completely unique horror experience, one the genre hasn’t seen in a very long time. It doesn’t pride itself on jump scares, nor is it trying to jump start some new horror franchise that will be run into the ground in a couple year’s time. It’s its own beast, one that takes an original concept, combines it with a pulsating electronic score, and winds up delivering an atmospheric slow-burn that stands among the horror classics. David Robert Mitchell, please don’t make a sequel, I beg you. This stands on its own.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Perhaps the most critically-acclaimed blockbuster of the 21st century, Mad Max: Fury Road marked the return of George Miller to live-action filmmaking and pretty much blew away any action film of the last few decades. Not bad for a 70-year-old. Honestly, what more can even be said of this film? It’s practical stunts are insane and awe-inspiring, its leads in Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy are brooding and distinctly bad-ass, and after experiencing it on the big-screen you will truly remember what the word blockbuster is supposed to mean. Not many would have predicted this last year, but Mad Max: Fury Road is the best film of 2015 so far.
Coming Soon: The Television Year In Review