2015 has been over for almost two weeks now, and the big Oscar contenders have just about finished trickling into Rochester theaters. We're still waiting on a few last-minute stragglers ("Anomalisa" opens next week and "45 Years" is due in February), but there's more than enough to begin taking stock of the year that was.
A couple of trends immediately come into focus: 2015 feels like the year "sequel" finally stopped being a dirty word, with at least two ranking among the best films of the year, while "Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation" and "Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens" delivered exciting, satisfying entries to existing franchises. It was a year that also brought us a ton of great movies centered around women, though it remained a frustrating rarity to find a film that was actually directed by one.
Keep in mind these sorts of lists tend to be extremely transitory; any of the following films could easily be reordered or swapped out for any of the runners-up. In fact, it's very likely the films will have already rearranged themselves in my mind the second this list goes to press.
Click on the links for City Newspaper reviews of the films. What were your favorite films of 2015? Let us know in the comment section below.
1. "Mad Max: Fury Road": Watching George Miller's apocalyptic death race felt like huffing pure, undiluted cinema. Here was a film so beautifully bonkers it seems that it couldn't possibly have sprung from the same studio system that brought us generic blockbusters like "Terminator: Genisys" and "Jurassic World." It shall ride eternal, shiny and chrome.
2. "The Duke of Burgundy": The lurid sounding plot description likely kept some people away, which is a shame because Peter Strickland's sensual and darkly comedic drama -- about the dominant-submissive relationship between two women -- has a lot to say about the dynamics of any long-term relationship. Plus, it offers an infinitely more honest depiction of BDSM than anything found in "Fifty Shades of Grey."
3. "Tangerine": Following a day in the lives of two transgender sex workers (wonderfully played by Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) as they stomp their way down the streets of Los Angeles, "Tangerine" is as fresh, funny, and vital as anything I saw this year.
4. "The Look of Silence": The heart-stopping companion film to Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Act of Killing" continues his exploration into the lingering effects of Indonesia's anti-communist genocide -- this time through the eyes of an optician still haunted by his brother's death.
5. "Spotlight": Tom McCarthy's love letter to the power of journalism made honest-to-god research (in a library) into tense, fascinating drama. This was the year's best ensemble performance.
6. "Room": The "Room" is the movie that (hopefully) makes Brie Larson the star she's so long deserved to be. Director Lenny Abrahamson takes a horrifying subject -- the forced imprisonment of a young woman and her 5-year-old son -- and turns it into a heartfelt and hopeful story about the triumph of the human spirit.
7. "Inside Out": Directors Pete Docter & Ronaldo Del Carmen crafted charming mainstream family entertainment from a deceptively complex story about the importance of both joy and sadness in all of our lives.
8. "Creed": "Fruitvale Station" director Ryan Coogler effortlessly made the transition to big-budget filmmaking with this crowd-pleasing sports drama that resurrected and reinvented the "Rocky" franchise. Michael B. Jordan delivers the best male lead performance of the year (you heard me, Leo).
9. "Ex Machina": The directorial debut of writer Alex Garland explores the dangers of when man's arrogance and artificial intelligence meet. Also Oscar Isaac dancing.
10. "Magic Mike XXL": It's no surprise that a film all about pleasure made for a joyous viewing experience. That it also managed to be inclusive, empowering, and subversive at the same time? Just whipped cream on the sundae.
11. "Carol": Todd Haynes found aching beauty in this film about the love between two women living in a society that barely allows them the words to express it.
12. "It Follows": Delightfully unnerving and intriguingly open-ended, David Robert Mitchell's sexually-transmitted ghost story burrowed under my skin more than any other horror film this year. Also my pick for the year's best score.
13. "Slow West": Like "The Revenant," this western pits men against a harsh, unforgiving world that wants nothing more than to see them dead. But director John Maclean injects his tale with 10 times more emotion, heart, and soul.
14. "Phoenix": Christian Petzold's unforgettable post-WWII riff on "Vertigo" was mesmerizing, with a phenomenal lead performance from Nina Hoss and what is hands-down the best ending of the year.
15. "Finders Keepers": Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel's deeply humane documentary follows what could easily have been an exploitative tabloid story -- the custody battle over an amputated leg -- and used it to dig deeper into the lives of the real, flawed people behind it.
Honorable Mentions: "Appropriate Behavior," "Bridge of Spies," "Brooklyn," "Clouds of Sils Maria," "Crimson Peak," "The Diary of a Teenage Girl," "Eden," "The Hateful Eight," "Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter," "Listen to Me Marlon," "Mistress America," "Shaun the Sheep Movie," "Sicario," "Son of Saul," "What We Do in the Shadows"