Best Movies of 2015: Best “New” Movies

I’m stretching the term “new” to include movies from 2013 through 2015. Why? I just don’t get to the theater enough to see enough brand new movies, although I could walk to the local movie theater if I wanted to. (And when I did go to the theater this year, it was usually to see movies that were released 50+ years ago.) Most of the newer films I see via streaming, the library, or just buying them. Combine this with the fact that 75% of the movies I watch were made before 1980, so my scope for “new” is very limited. Still, I do try to see a few each year, so here are the 12 best “new” movies I saw in 2015:

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Under the Skin (2013) Jonathan Glazer

Glazer’s Under the Skin is certainly a visually intoxicating film, but also one I haven’t completely wrapped my head around yet. You probably already know the premise: Scarlett Johansson plays an alien who drives around Scotland in a van, luring men to their doom. But there’s much more to it than that. Among other things, the film explores (at least this is what I believe) gender, sexuality, manipulation, and – dare I say it? – alienation. Perhaps too art-house for some, I found the film both disturbing and fascinating.

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Ida (2013) Pawel Pawlikowski

Ida won the 2015 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, and although I haven’t seen all the nominees, I was delighted to see such a wonderful film receive the honor. More of my thoughts on the film here.

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Birdman (2014) Alejandro González Iñárritu

I can’t say that Birdman deserved to win Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, since I’ve only seen two of the other nominated films, but I can say that the film worked for me, especially as an examination of how we all long to be remembered for something beyond the work we did 20 or more years ago. The film speaks to a fundamental human need and a seeking for something we haven’t yet achieved. That may be something as simple as basic recognition for a job well done or something more substantial, like affirmation of a career or an entire life.

You don’t have to look very far to see a plethora of debates about why Birdman should or shouldn’t have won. (One critic called its Oscar win the biggest Best Picture tragedy in 20 years. Dude, c’mon… a tragedy? Really?) I’m more interested in the elements and construction of the film, in particular the cinematography, which has received much attention. (Just Google “Birdman cinematography” and you’ll likely find some fascinating stuff. Of course, you’ll find some junk as well.) I probably won’t buy Birdman, but I definitely plan to watch it again.

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Photo by Daniel McFadden, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Whiplash (2014) Damian Chazelle

I’ve had many, many conversations with musicians and non-musicians about Whiplash. While we might not engage in a conversation about it, you can read my thoughts on the film here.

Tom Hardy in Locke (2013).

 

Locke (2013) Steven Knight

A guy alone in a car for an hour-and-a-half… Snoozefest, right? No, not at all. More here.

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Runoff (2014) Kimberly Lewis

The best film I saw at the Annapolis Film Festival. More here.

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Nightcrawler (2014) Dan Gilroy

Many comics fans were disappointed to discover that this wasn’t an X-Men movie… But it is a Jake Gyllenhaal movie, an actor who isn’t afraid to take risks. This is one risk that pays off. Read on…

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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) Wes Anderson

The adventures of Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), concierge at a famous hotel in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, come alive in the hands of Wes Anderson, with his typical quirky humor, colorful sets, exceptional actors and madcap scenes, scenes so zany we don’t care whether they work or not. The thing is, they do work. This may be Anderson’s strongest film since The Royal Tenenbaums.

Inherent Vice with Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon

Inherent Vice (2014) Paul Thomas Anderson

Caveat: I am a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan, so I’m already inclined to think any film he makes automatically borders on genius. Yet I don’t know if Inherent Vice – the only film adaptation (to my knowledge) of any Thomas Pynchon novel – is genius or a complete misfire. Maybe it’s some of both.

Inherent Vice is something of a neo-noir with a private detective named Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), who’s stoned for the entire film and sports a set of mutton chops that would make Martin Van Buren proud.  The film begins as if we’ve walked in and missed the first 20 minutes of the movie. Doc’s former girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) wants Doc to prevent her new lover “Mickey” Wolfmann’s wife and her lover from having Mickey placed in a mental institution. And that’s just for starters.

I am convinced that no one will “get” Inherent Vice from just a single viewing. So much is going on in the film, but you’re not sure what’s important and what’s inconsequential. But I think Anderson may be the only director working today that is able to tackle Pynchon and make it work. I definitely want to see this one again soon. Excellent performances all around.

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Ant-Man (2015) Peyton Reed

Maybe it’s because my expectations were fairly low, or maybe it’s because this is one of Marvel’s lesser (no pun intended) superheroes that has neither a huge following nor tons of lore, but Ant-Man really impressed me. It’s what a good summer movie should be: filled with action, fun, and characters you care about. What else do you want? Galactus? Not this time…

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It Follows (2014) David Robert Mitchell

Modern-day horror classic or just another film in a never-ending parade of “What can we do next?” thrillers? Here’s my take on the film.

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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) George Miller

Sorry, I never put together a full review of this film. I think you either love it or hate it. Let the debates continue…

So I know I missed a whole lot of 2015 films. Let me know what films from 2015 you think I should catch up on in 2016.

(Photos: io9Three Brothers FilmLos Angeles TimesAthena CinemaPaste MagazineHollywood ReporterThe GuardianBusiness InsiderSlate

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