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While I didn’t blog as many projects as I have in the past (besides Pixar, that is), I saw an incredible number of films this year—well over 40 in theaters* and about 130 at home. I’m hoping this means that my Oscar Blitz will be less blitzy than previous years, but one never knows. After all, there are still plenty of films I either haven’t had a chance to see (Spotlight, The Big Short) or don’t particularly care to see (The Revenant, Creed).

But overall it has been a pretty good film year.

As I wrote in Wet Hot Feminist Summer, the one thing that stands out about my movie-going this year has been the feminism of it all. While much progress still needs to be made behind the camera, women have been at the front and center of some of the biggest and best movies of the year, from action films like Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens to prestige pictures like Brooklyn and Carol to indie darlings such as Tangerine and The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Many of my favorite films of the year were part of this trend. Yet, it was hard to come up with a Top Ten this year, mostly because there were a lot of “good” films that just didn’t grab me or that I enjoyed but weren’t really doing anything creative or different—so I ended up with a Fave Five instead. However, I’ll be mentioning a bunch of films in this post and I encourage you to seek them out since there were very few films I didn’t like this year.

Favorite Five Films of 2015
Bande de filles (Girlhood)
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Spy

Best of the Rest:
Brooklyn
Dope
The Hateful Eight
Love and Mercy
The Martian
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Mistress America
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Trumbo
What We Do in the Shadows

You can find a complete list of all the 2015 films I watched at the end of this post.

And now… the awards!

Best Achievement in Filmmaking: Mad Max: Fury Road. What can I say that hasn’t been said? This film just delivered on so many levels. From the direction, performances, and story, to the cinematography, editing, and effects, Mad Max: Fury Road was old-school filmmaking for the twenty-first century. I loved watching it in the theater and no film since has managed to capture the energy and excitement I felt seeing this feminist, environmentalist tale unfold on screen.

Best Film to Watch Over and Over: Spy. With my love of James Bond and after The Heat, I had high expectations for this one. TLDR: They were met. Yes, it’s remarkably funny, but it’s not just the parody of James Bond one might think from the trailer, there is a lot going on here about sexism in the workplace and in Hollywood and it rewards multiple viewings. It’s a bit long for a comedy, but has great performances and a great message. Paul Feig delivers yet another fantastic depiction of female friendship and remains at the top of the list in proving the Hollywood patriarchy wrong. In short, I can’t wait for Ghostbusters.

Best Theater Experience: The Diary of a Teenage Girl. I had zero expectations for this film about coming of age in the 1970s and didn’t even realize when I left my house that I was invited to the San Francisco premiere of what was a local production. So, when Alexander Skarsgård showed up in drag, and I found myself dancing to the Time Warp with a host of notable San Francisco transvestites, all before the film even started, I knew I was in for something different. It’s too bad this film seemed to get lost in the summer shuffle, because, despite its difficult subject matter, it is both brilliant and enjoyable.

Best Theater Experience (runner-up): Gun Crazy (1950). Besides finally getting to see a movie at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica (and a Dalton Trumbo film noir no less) there were just a few empty seats between me and Christoph Waltz. It doesn’t get any more Hollywood than that.

Performances

Best Ensemble: Bande de filles (Girlhood). While not really what I would call an ensemble piece, Girlhood is a movie that would utterly fail if Céline Sciamma had not assembled the perfect group of girls for this film about coming of age on the wrong side of the Paris tracks. In a way this is the gritty flip side of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, but manages to be just as compassionate, joyful, and engaging in its exploration of a girl trying to figure out what it means to be a woman and find herself and her place in the world.
Best Ensemble (runner-up): Spy

Standout Performances (Female):
Tatiana Maslany & Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann in Woman in Gold
Bel Powley as Minnie Goetze in The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Saoirse Ronan as Éilis Lacey in Brooklyn

Standout Performances (Male):
Paul Dano & John Cusack as Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy
Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes in Mr. Holmes
Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo

Best Supporting Performances (Female):
Rose Byrne as Rayna Boyanov in Spy
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight
Alicia Vikander as Ava in Ex Machina

Best Supporting Performances (Male):
Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road
Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren in The Hateful Eight
Mark Rylance as Abel Rudolph in Bridge of Spies

Best Scene Stealer: Jason Statham as Rick Ford in Spy
Best Scene Stealer (runner-up): LeBron James as LeBron James in Trainwreck

Best Debut: Karidja Touré as Marieme/Vic in Bande de filles (Girlhood)

Best Hero: Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Villain: Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper in Trumbo

2015 VIP: Oscar Isaac for A Most Violent Year, Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Production

Best Direction: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Directorial Debut: Marielle Heller, The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Best Directorial Debut (runner-up): Alex Garland, Ex Machina

Best Answer to the Sophomore Slump: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I’m not sure anyone would have guessed that less than one year after making the slasher film The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014), Alfonso Gomez-Rejon would make this witty dramatic comedy about a high school boy’s friendship with his cancer-stricken classmate. If you are worried that this is simply YA Lifetime-movie-of-the-week material, don’t be. It is heartwarming to be sure, but also has teeth. And an incredible cast. Understanding the classic film references sprinkled throughout are just icing on the cinephile cake.

Best Cinematography:
Carol (Ed Lachman)
The Hateful Eight (Robert Richardson)
Mad Max: Fury Road (John Seale)

Best Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road (Margaret Sixel)
Best Editing (runner-up): Woman in Gold (Peter Lambert)

Best Original Screenplay: Mistress America (Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig)
Best Original Screenplay (runner-up): What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi)

Best Adapted Screenplay (tie): The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller) and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Jesse Andrews)
Best Adapted Screenplay (runner-up): The Martian (Drew Goddard)

Best Production Design: The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Jonah Markowitz)
Best Production Design (runner-up): Brooklyn (François Séguin)

Best Dressed: Cate Blanchett in Cinderella
Best Dressed (runner-up): Mila Kunis in Jupiter Ascending

Potluck

Film_Hateful8

Most Successful But Flawed Film of the Year: The Hateful Eight. I thought long and hard about how to rank The Hateful Eight. It has serious problems but also moments of genius. Not only do I generally love Tarantino, but it combines two of my favorite things: the Old West and Agatha Christie parlour mysteries. And any three-hour film with an intermission that has me on the edge of my seat is certainly an achievement. Ultimately the great use of frame and blocking won me over and led me to put it with the “best of the rest” but I wish there had been a stronger editorial hand here regarding the language and violence as well as the unnecessary flashback and voiceover.

Top Five Pleasant Surprises:
Dope
Jupiter Ascending
The Martian
The Visit
What We Do in the Shadows

Top Ten Feminist Films:
Bande de filles (Girlhood)
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Joy
Mad Max: Fury Road
Magic Mike XXL
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Mistress America
Pitch Perfect 2
Spy
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Top Five Heroines:
Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano in Joy
Melissa McCarthy as Susan Cooper in Spy
Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road

Favorite Scene: “Dinner with the Family” in Brooklyn

Favorite “Was This Movie Created for Me?” Scene: “Turandot” in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Best Line (comedic): “You’re funny, it’s the Bulgarian clown in you” (Rose Byrne in Spy)

Best Line (comedic) (runner-up): “If you are going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it.” (Jemaine Clement as Vladislav in What We Do in the Shadows)

Best Line (dramatic): “We are not things. We are not things!” (Capable in Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Opening Credits: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Best Opening: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Best Ending: Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Ending (runner-up): Trainwreck

Best Closing Credits: Spy
Best Closing Credits (runner-up): Dope

Read the Book, SKIP the Film: In the Heart of the Sea. I was so disappointed in this adaptation I wanted to punch a whale.

Skip the Book, SEE the Film: The Martian. Mostly because nothing I’ve heard makes me want to read the book. Science and I are simply unmixy things.

Best Use of a Song: “Diamonds” by Rihanna in Bande de filles (Girlhood)

Best Use of a Song in a Trailer: “California Dreamin’” in San Andreas

Favorite Documentary: What Happened, Miss Simone?

Favorite Mockumentary: What We Do in the Shadows

Most Cerebral: Ex Machina

Most Tension: A Most Violent Year

The Top Gun “Longing Glances” Award: Carol. A gorgeous film but I never really understood why these people were in love. Sorry, but longing glances alone don’t make a love story.

The Terry Malloy “I Coulda Been a Contender” Award: The Age of Adaline. There was a great film in here somewhere. Making the love interest less of a stalker would have been a start.

Biggest Disappointment: Macbeth. Oh, Marion, I had such high hopes for you, but you are no Lady Macbeth. As for the rest, some interesting ideas, but ultimately it too well captures the play: “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Most Overrated: Inside Out. If you are a regular reader, I don’t have to explain this choice. This had potential but was basically a pseudo-feminist mess.

Most Underrated: Jupiter Ascending. I avoided this after it was panned by critics, but the Math Greek insisted I would like it and I did. It is far more feminist than given credit for, gorgeous to look at, and not any more ridiculous than what passes for an action blockbuster these days. This film would have been forgiven so much if it starred a male comic book superhero instead of an ordinary girl. However…

Most Miscast (tie): Channing Tatum in Jupiter Ascending and Channing Tatum in The Hateful Eight. I loved Channing Tatum in Magic Mike XXL, but he was out of his depth in The Hateful Eight and had zero chemistry with Mila Kunis in Jupiter Ascending, which was a major factor in how that movie played to audiences.

Most Useless Character: Thor in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Five Worst Films I Saw In Theaters:
The Age of Adaline
Cinderella
The Divergent Series: Insurgent
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2
Self/less

Top Three Films I Hope Are Not Part of My Oscar Blitz:
The Big Short
The Revenant
Steve Jobs

Top Ten Unseen 2015 Films I’m Most Looking Forward To:
Appropriate Behavior
Breathe
45 Years
Kumiko the Treasure Hunter
Mustang (ETA: I actually just saw this and it’s amazing. See it.)
The Second Mother
Sicario
Slow West
Tangerine
The Wonders

Past Perfect and Imperfect

Best of the (Oscar) Blitz: Whiplash
Best of the (Oscar) Blitz (runner-up): Two Days, One Night

Favorite (Non-Blitz) Films of 2014:
Blue Ruin
Edge of Tomorrow
Obvious Child
Snowpiercer
Under the Skin

Favorite Films of the “Directed by Women” Series:
Bande de filles (Girlhood) (2015)
Beyond the Lights (2014)
In a World… (2013)
Stories We Tell (2013)
Wadjda (2012)

Favorite Rewatches:
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
From Russia with Love (1964)
The Net (1995)
Silver Streak (1976)
Three Days of the Condor (1975)

Favorite “New to Me” Films:
Heat (1995)
Henry Fool (1998)
Léon: The Professional (1994)
Miracle Mile (1988)
Mysterious Skin (2005)

Favorite “New to Me” Classic: Apocalypse Now (1979). This is one of those movies I felt I had seen but actually hadn’t. It is still not really my cup of tea, but I watched very few classics this year.

Favorite “New to Me” Foreign Language Film: Le Dos au mur (Back to the Wall) (1958). I caught this at the French film noir festival at the Roxie. I had never heard of it before but absolutely loved it.

Favorite “New to Me” Science Fiction/Fantasy Film: Westworld (1973). This year, the Math Greek introduced me to a number of science fiction films I hadn’t ever seen, including Total Recall (1990), which almost took this slot. But who can resist a sci-fi western with a robotic Yul Brynner? Not me.

Favorite “New to Me” Sequel or Franchise: Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). While a fan of the original, which I watched over and over growing up, I had never seen the four sequels. This was the best of the bunch.

Worst “New to Me” Film: Zabriskie Point (1970). Oh, good god, make it stop. This may have tainted Death Valley for me forevermore.

What were your favorite movies of the year? What have I missed that I absolutely must see? Let me know in the comment box below.

*I have seen many more movies than usual this year, in large part thanks to @FyodorFish. Thank you, my film critic friend.

2015 Films: The Age of Adaline; Ant-Man; Avengers: Age of Ultron; Bande de filles (Girlhood); Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance; Bridge of Spies; Brooklyn; Carol; Cinderella; The Diary of a Teenage Girl; Dope; Ex Machina; The Good Dinosaur; The Hateful Eight; An Honest Liar; The Imitation Game; In the Heart of the Sea; Inside Out; Insurgent; Joy; Jupiter Ascending; Love and Mercy; Macbeth; Mad Max: Fury Road; Magic Mike XXL; The Martian; Me and Earl and the Dying Girl; Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation; Mr. Holmes; Mistress America; Mockingjay, Part 2; A Most Violent Year; Ned Rifle; Pitch Perfect 2; Ride; Self/less; Sisters; Spy; Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Trainwreck; Trumbo; Two Days, One Night; The Visit; What Happened, Miss Simone?; What We Do in the Shadows; While We’re Young; Whiplash; Wild; Woman in Gold

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