2015_matt's_filmsWell, here we are a few weeks deep into 2016 and still reflecting back on the past year of quality cinema. Now I’ll be the first to admit that lists (and opinions) are worth about as much as you make of them. I’m sure I’ve missed listing something you may love or have listed a bunch of things you can’t believe would make it onto such a list, but that’s what makes the world so great and that’s all our differing tastes. These are merely what I feel made the most impact on me throughout this most recent year of our lord, two thousand and fifteen. Apologies to Room as I never had a chance to see you before making this list. I have a feeling you would have made it.

Honorable Mentions: The Hateful Eight, Turbo Kid, DEATHGASM, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, The Duke of Burgundy, Lost River, It Follows, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

beasts_no_nation10. Beasts of No Nation / Cary Fukunaga: The trick to making a war film stand out from the millions of others is to have outstanding visuals, memorable characters and most importantly a truly emotional connection throughout. With Beast of No Nation, director Cary Fukunaga brings all of that and more into one of the most harrowing films released last year. The story takes place in modern day Africa and revolves around a very young boy named Agu (Abraham Attah). After witnessing his entire family murdered in front of him by a roaming militia, Agu flees for the wilderness where he runs into a child army led by a man known only as Commandant (Idris Elba). The Commandant takes Agu in and thus begins a downward spiral of hellish situations and atrocities that Agu finds himself part of and at times a victim to. As he often does quite brilliantly , Elba brings a charismatic charm to an otherwise terrifying character that will stick with you long after watching. That said, this is Attah’s show. His performance as Agu is simply…there just aren’t enough words. Attah is able at such a young age to convey so many layers to his character that it’s mesmerizing. Watching him slowly shed his in innocence as he becomes a real life war boy is devastating and fascinating in equal measure. In a perfect world there wouldn’t even be an Oscar race for best actor they would just give Attah the award straight away.

what_we_do_shadows_29. What We Do In The Shadows / Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi: As far as genre blending goes, the Horror Comedy is easily one of the trickiest to pull off successfully. Throw into the mix the entire film taking place in a faux documentary setting and, in lesser hands, one would have a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Thankfully what audiences received instead was one of the smartest, most earnest and absolutely hilarious films of the last few years. What We Do In The Shadows brings the audience into the mundane day-to-day routine of a group of vampires living together and trying to make the most of their centuries long existence. A whip smart comedy that is well in tune with the genre it plays within, the film also manages to have some moments of true heart and depth.

mad_max_fury_road_38. Mad Max: Fury Road / George Miller: What is there left to be said about Fury Road that hasn’t been said already? Director George Miller returned to the character that made him his name and elevated everything to higher levels. Miller brought scale, scope and equality to a genre that has been lacking quite a bit of all three. Tom Hardy surely brought his subtle, weird excellence to the title role of Max, but this film belongs to our lady of the sands, Furiosa (Charlize Theron). There’s a moment in the film where Furiosa, a character hellbent on atoning for her past sins and living solely on hope, loses that hope and you feel that loss with her. It’s such a perfectly shot and performed moment. That’s true movie magic on display and it’s a film littered with moments like this.

creed_27. Creed / Ryan Coogler: This movie is better than it has any right to be. Part of that is Coogler’s masterful direction. The “one take” fight is nothing short of breathtaking once it dawns on you what you are witnessing. The other even more inspiring part is Michael B. Jordan. In less capable hands, the film flat out wouldn’t work. Jordan owns the role and cements his importance early on and is an absolute joy to watch. Stallone does some inspired subtle work in returning one more time to the role that gave him everything. This could have easily become just another Rocky movie, but Stallone is able to inhabit the role and still allow Jordan to shine. There’s nostalgia, but it’s earned and rather than rest upon it, Coogler and crew use it to build something new.

magic_mike_xxl_46. Magic Mike XXL / Gregory Jacobs: On sheer enjoyment and emotional connection alone, this could have easily been my number one of the year. It’s truly a shame that so many people openly dismiss it as simply a movie about male strippers because it is so much more than that. MMXXL is part buddy road trip comedy with one of the most likable ensembles of the year and part existential look at what really makes life worth living. The small things, the simple things; perfect moments with the people you care the most about. There’s a heart to this this film that never gets discussed and it’s a total disservice to everyone involve do. Plus, there is all the amazing out of this world dancing throughout. It’s fun, it’s deep, it’s sexy. What else do you need?

carol_15. Carol / Todd Haynes: One would be hard pressed to find a more honest and beautiful depiction of love than that which is presented in Carol. Set in the early 1950’s, the film centers around a well-to-do woman named Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese, an area shopgirl (Rooney Mara) who through a chance encounter fall for each other in an equally intense and immediate manner. Their dichotomy is quite exquisite with Blanchett bringing this overwhelming amount of swagger and vulnerability against Mara’s wide-eyed adorableness. Theirs is a complicated love not only for the time period it takes place in, but also due to Carol’s impending divorce and possible custody battle for her child. Carol is also one of the most exquisitely shot and framed films I have seen in quite some time. All in all a perfect film.

ex_machina_24. Ex Machina / Alex Garland: Sure, there’s been plenty of films about AI and how our fascination with it will be our certain undoing, but how many of those other films have Oscar Isaac dancing his ass off for no other reason than that he can? It’s moments like that that set Alex Garland’s directorial debut apart from the deluge of sci-fi junk. It’s an intimate film with grand ideas that all come from a very human place. Many of the films most human moments come from the not-quite-human AI, AVA (Alicia Vikander) which leave the audience guessing as to who the real monsters truly are. Stunning visuals and a stellar cast make for an instant cinematic classic.

sicario_53. Sicario / Dennis Villeneuve: Bleak, dense, beautiful, foreboding, exquisite, dreadful, essential. These seems like a mismash of descriptors but all of these are the first words that come to mind when thinking on Villeneuve’s latest gift to cinema, Sicario. No film this past year could hope to compete with how breathtaking this film is in every sense of the word. On the outside, Sicario is a film following the never ending, always losing war on drugs and the increasingly violent steps both sides are willing to take to gain some ground. It also works to dissect some deeper issues in a wonderfully indirect way ( I highly recommend reading Britt Hayes’ examination on the film using rape in the abstract over at Birth.Movies.Death). Much of the films success resides on the calculated and nuanced performances of Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro. This is not an easy film and frankly, it shouldn’t be. Art isn’t safe and that’s what often makes it so rewarding.

bone_tomahawk_22. Bone Tomahawk / S. Craig Zahler: The second Kurt Russell-led Western of the year also happens to be the far superior one. Bone Tomahawk follows a group of local townsfolk in search of a few of their own who have been taken in the night by a tribe of brutally horrifying brutes. Award worthy performances by the entire cast, especially Russell, and some of the smartest and most memorable dialogue in a film in recent memory. This is Zahler’s directorial debut and it’s nothing short of a triumph.

look_of_silence1. The Look of Silence / Joshua Oppenheimer: In 2012 director Joshua Oppenheimer unleashed The Act of Killing, arguably the most important and disturbing documentary of the past decade, on an unsuspecting world. That documentary interviewed various members of an Indonesian death squad, asking them about the 1960 genocides which they perpetrated, and in most instances, getting them to reenact some of the most horrific crimes they committed. Cut to 2015’s The Look of Silence, a continuation of the previous film. Where its predecessor took a wider look at the event as a whole, The Look of Silence becomes a personal tale, following an optometrist named Adi. One by one, he confronts these death squad members face-to-face, many of them still in positions of power, about his brother’s death during the genocides and what role they may have played in it. Knowing that Adi could be murdered for any of this questioning makes the impact of the film that much more intense. So many of the films on my list deal with the ugliness of mankind. The Look of Silence brings that ugliness front and center except in this case it’s real.