Despite moving from one country to another, starting graduate school, celebrating the birth of my third child, enduring the awful experience of that child having open heart surgery, publishing my third book, and navigating a new vocational direction, I’ve watched a lot of movies in 2015. And there were a lot of great movies this year. Sure, there seemed to be less on the level of timeless masterpiece or personal favorite, but there were certainly plenty of films that provoked my thinking and emotions, struck me with their stories and images, and made me both laugh and cry. A list of favorite films serves as a filmic chronicle of the past year–these are the stories that intertwined with my story, the images and memories blending together at times. You can also follow me on Letterboxd.
Here is the countdown of my Top 25 favorite films from 2015, starting with #25-21 and my Top 5 Documentaries:
25. What We Do in the Shadows. The most quotable comedy of the year is a mockumentary about vampire roommates from New Zealand. Smart, hilarious, and sustains its humor while meandering without a plot. “Leave me to do my dark bidding on the Internet!” “What are you bidding on?” “….a table.”
24. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Okay, so it’s essentially a Greatest Hits / Remix Album of the original Star Wars trilogy. Yet it contains some of the best acting in the entire series, Daisy Ridley is stellar as Rey, and it’s some of the most fun I’ve had in theaters this year. BB-8 Foreva. (My review)
23. Paddington. This film wins the award for Most Unlike Its Trailer, which made the film look like it would be filled with moronic bathroom humor. Instead, Paddington embodies the spirit of Amelie Poulain, the quirk of Wes Anderson, and the humor of Monsieur Hulot, all set in jolly ol’ England. In a year where outrage about refugees and outsiders were ubiquitous, Paddington quietly reminds us to love our neighbor as ourselves, even if that neighbor is a bear from Peru.
22. Slow West. An under-seen, underrated Western film featuring some of the more beautiful landscape shots of the year. Michael Fassbender is one of my favorite actors, and while his performance in Steve Jobs will likely be the most recognized from 2015, he does a marvelous job as a lone outlaw in the American frontier helping a young Scottish man on a quest for his true love. Features a fantastic final shootout scene and a conclusion I didn’t see coming.
21. Shaun the Sheep Movie. This was my 3-year-old daughter’s first film experience in the theater, and I think it was a great film for introducing her to the cinema. We got candy at the concession, slipped into our seats near the aisle, and laughed our heads off at the antics of Shaun and his claymation friends. It’s the sort of lighthearted film that any age will find charming, and one of the best animated films of the year.
Top 5 Documentaries:
5. The Wolfpack. The titular posse is a group of brothers who have grown up together in a New York apartment, isolated from the outside world due to their father’s reclusive approach to society. Their main cultural connection is through movies, and they reenact entire films using elaborate cardboard costumes. At once fascinating and tragic, The Wolfpack asks few questions of its subjects, instead letting them simply be before the camera, which seems like a dream come true.
4. Best of Enemies. The origin of cable television punditry may find its origins in the Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. commentaries depicted here. At the extreme ends of the liberal/conservative poles, Vidal and Buckley’s conversations were full of vitriol and spectacle. Still, the documentary does a fair job of delving into each man’s life and culminating with the final horrific debate. It makes our present-day political commentary seem downright cordial.
3. The Armor of Light. Is it possible to be both pro-life and pro-gun? Is it okay to be a Christian while also owning a gun with the intent of self-defense? These are the questions asked by this documentary, an essential film for the evangelical community to watch. (My review)
2. Twinsters. Twin sisters, born in South Korea and adopted by families on separate continents, are finally reunited through the power of the Internet and social media, despite never knowing of the other’s existence. Their journey of discovery was both affecting and amusing, as the girls have fun personalities and seem to embrace being the subject of the documentary, caught up in a story bigger than themselves. As an adoptee who also has wrestled with questions of identity and origin, I can certainly empathize.
1. The Look of Silence. An intimate companion piece to Joshua Oppenheimer’s previous documentary, The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence is a devastating, weighty film. Where the previous film featured the bombastic murderers and gangsters giving elaborate reenactments of their killings, the latter documentary focuses on one victim’s family and their quiet confrontation with the pain of the past. Could you look into the eyes of the people who murdered your brother, your son? What would forgiveness really look like in such a situation? How are memory and healing intertwined, and how can the truth bring freedom? The Look of Silence raises all these questions without ever becoming didactic or melodramatic. Simply haunting. (My review)
Coming tomorrow: #20-11 in my favorite films of 2015.