2015: Year in film

CN&R critic sifts through the year’s many cinematic treasures

There was an embarrassment of riches for us at the movies this year. I’m pretty sure there was also a lot that was just plain embarrassing, but it seems I managed to steer clear of most of that. And once I began these year-end reflections on movie-watching in 2015, the list of films I was very glad to have seen ran to well over 50 titles.

Picking a final top 10, however, seemed almost impossible, or at least unusually difficult: There was no shortage of worthy films, but the great bulk of them seemed to rate as “very good,” but not “absolutely great.” And, at the moment, I’m thinking there were maybe five films that ranked above the rest, while another 20 or so were worthy of places six through 10.

As of this writing (the week before Christmas, as usual), the year’s best shape up like this (in order of preference): Mr. Turner; Two Days, One Night; Jauja; Spotlight; The Forbidden Room; Bridge of Spies; Phoenix; Far From Men; White God; Timbuktu.

I think the first five in that group stand above the rest, while the other five are just a tiny bit better than a dozen or so of the year’s outstanding releases. Those “runners-up” include: Wild Tales, Heart of a Dog, Sicario, Brooklyn, The Homesman, Clouds of Sils Maria, We Come as Friends, A Most Violent Year, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Dope, Mad Max: Fury Road and It Follows.

Nine of the above are foreign films and only a few of the others are American movies that have had the benefit of a nationwide publicity campaign. (For almost any of the titles that may not ring a bell, you can check on what I had to say about them via Chico News & Review’s online archive.)

Of the three that I haven’t yet had occasion to review in the CN&R, I’ll say this: Far From Men is a French/Algerian production, adapted from an Albert Camus story, with Viggo Mortensen in the lead role; Timbuktu is a French/Mauritanian drama about a sheepherder and his family besieged by Jihadists; It Follows, an unusually artful horror film, is an indie production from the U.S.

For me personally, a big part of the movie year’s special appeal and abundance came from the number of really good, decidedly offbeat westerns that turned up: The Homesman, Slow West, Bone Tomahawk, The Salvation, Echoes of War, The Keeping Room, etc., as well as western-like ingredients of some of the foreign dramas: Jauja, Far From Men, Mad Max: Fury Road, Timbuktu, the Norwegian Of Horses and Men, the Russian Tangerines, etc.

It’s been a remarkable year for biopics as well. In addition to Mr. Turner and Bridge of Spies, the year brought us Steve Jobs, Love and Mercy, Trumbo, The End of the Tour, Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, Theory of Everything, Experimenter, Suffragette, The Walk, as well as two volatile action dramas with biographical underpinnings: American Sniper and Black Mass.

Several distinctive documentaries, including Lambert & Stamp, Salt of the Earth and Iris, also had strong biographical elements. It sounds as though Amy, which I haven’t yet been able to see, belongs on that list too. But the best “documentaries” I saw in 2015 were two idiosyncratic and very personal film-essays: Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog and Hubert Sauper’s We Come as Friends.

And there is something very charming about a movie year that yields such an array of thoughtful, fresh-spirited romantic comedies: The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Mistress America, While We’re Young and Dope.