Crossfader’s Top Films of 2015

The Crossfader editor staff (Kate Brogden, Carter Moon, Ed Dutcher, Sergio Zaciu, and Thomas Seraydarian) decided to get together and discuss their top films of 2015 with each other, listen to the podcast below for more.


In addition to talking about our favorite films of the past year, film staff editor Sergio Zaciu and guest contributors Will Levinger, Aret Frost, and Kevin Cookman got together to compile a list of their favorite films of the past year. Using a series of mathematical hocus-pocus, scores were tallied up and multipliers were used in order to rank an objective average in order to list these films as fairly as possible. Below you can find a comprehensive list of all 50 films with brief descriptions as to why each was one of our favorites of the year. So without further ado, we present you with the official Crossfader-approved best top films of 2015.

top films of 2015 blackhat shot


Director: Michael Mann

Genre: Action, Drama

It’s not surprising that Michael Mann’s latest film was a flop given that it’s an avant-garde meditation on man’s place in a digital age that has rendered certain human virtues obsolete. BLACKHAT is organized into tonal movements rather than narrative structure, which makes scenes of characters staring into screens and rattling keyboards feel functional. What allows Mann to transcend his narrative shortcomings is his alternately romantic and bleak evocation of a world in which the characters’ ideals are pitted against the technological forces of global capital and surveillance. Mann uses striking, blurry digital textures in compositions that often unnerve and seduce the viewer in equal measure. [Aret Frost]

top films of 2015 cobain montage


Director: Brett Morgen

Genre: Documentary

Brett Morgen’s unprecedented access into Kurt Cobain’s archives of home video footage and demo tapes helped in a revival of not just a band’s message, but a man himself. MONTAGE OF HECK feels like a seance, every passing image and sound the complete embodiment of Cobain’s essence. As a viewer who had only appreciated Nirvana as a T-shirt at Target, MONTAGE OF HECK completely changed my outlook on an artist; this is not a film concerned with finding out what led to this legend’s infamous demise, it is instead a hangout session with a ghost. Truly a one-of-a-kind biography. [Kevin Cookman]

top films of 2015 clouds of st


Director: Olivier Assayas

Genre: Drama

Remember how THE END OF THE TOUR was supposed to be the Serious Movie About Artists And The Other Artists Who Love And Despise And Maybe Also Want To Have Sex With Them? Meet its Mommy. Olivier Assayas gets incredible, nuanced, pained performances from Juliette Binoche and a radiant Kristen Stewart, who may be becoming one of my favorite actresses alive. Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography may be the real hero of the picture, regarding the Swiss landscape and the film’s characters with the same cold, appraising attitude they have towards one another. [Will Levinger]

top films of 2015 inside out


Director: Pete Docter

Genre: Comedy, Adventure

There are certain things that parents will always have difficulty teaching their children. But of everything that exists in the world, the function of the human mind might be the hardest, so leave it to Pixar to do the job for you. Beautifully crafted, charming, and entertaining, INSIDE OUT not only represents a return to form for the animation powerhouse, but feels like one of the most essential children’s films in contemporary cinematic history. [Sergio Zaciu]

top films of 2015 force awakens


Director: J.J. Abrams

Genre: Action, Science-Fiction

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS crashed down into multiplexes with such a satisfying thump that it left nearly everyone floored from the extravaganza. Respectful towards its source material and brilliantly expanding the narrative without caving to the tropes of the ever-more-tiresome Marvel canon, Abram’s film has set a new era for the franchise into motion, allowing viewers to enjoy the spectacle of STAR WARS all over again. A gorgeous film that caters to fans of the series but never feels like pointless fan-service, this installment is a great start for the follow-up trilogy viewers wanted all along. [Sergio Zaciu]

top films of 2015 digging for fire


Director: Joe Swanberg

Genre: Drama

DIGGING FOR FIRE sees its two leads, Jake Johnson and Rosemarie Dewitt, escape from the pressures of marriage and parenthood into fantasies of debauchery and romance that feature Hollywood performers like Orlando Bloom, Anna Kendrick, and Brie Larson. Joe Swanberg employs an improvisatory shooting method that gives his performers a high degree of freedom in how they present themselves. Self-presentation is key because the subject under examination is the different ways his leads behave outside of the bubble of domesticity. The film becomes increasingly surreal as it progresses, expressing the leads’ eagerness to discard their masks of spousal identity. [Aret Frost]

top films of 2015 FILE - In this Feb. 16, 2007 file photo, British singer Amy Winehouse poses for photographs after being interviewed by The Associated Press at a studio in north London. Amy Winehouse, the beehived soul-jazz diva whose self-destructive habits overshadowed a distinctive musical talent, was found dead Saturday in her London home, police said. She was 27. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

44. AMY

Director: Asif Kapadia

Genre: Documentary

Remember how I said MONTAGE OF HECK wasn’t a film that rooted its interests in discovering why its subject suffered and expired as if I was digging that approach to biographies?  Well, I wasn’t; case in point, Asif Kapadia’s AMY. A horrific, yet never heavy-handed look at the external forces that instigated such toxic inner turmoil of a virtuoso songstress, AMY is much more than a BEHIND THE MUSIC special. An informal treatise on society’s treatment of addicts and a formal eulogy to Winehouse’s short-lived career, Kapadia taps into a well of honesty few others could muster. What a year for music-focused films! [Kevin Cookman]

top films of 2015 creed logo


Director: Ryan Coogler

Genre: Drama, Sports Action

As one of several meta-textual blockbuster reboots from the year, Ryan Coogler’s CREED stands tall as the champion. Proving its worth in the shadow of a legendary series that concluded long enough ago to make a successor seem washed up, CREED transcends the cash grab and instead becomes one of the most thrilling and exciting adaptations of an underdog story you’ve definitely seen before. The filmmaking is daring and Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone (reigning in the best performance of his career since the 70s) are arresting. However, it’s the sheer blackness of the film, the infusion of modern Philadelphia culture that informs the proceedings, that make CREED feel nothing like ROCKY. In a year notoriously deprived of African-American representation in cinema, CREED is a heavyweight worth cheering on. [Kevin Cookman]

top films of 2015 phoenix


Director: Christian Petzold

Genre: Drama

PHOENIX offers two of the things I will remember the most about cinema in 2015; one, the arresting final scene (the less future viewers know about the better), and two, Nina Hoss’ face. Playing a Holocaust victim whose face has been disfigured and medically reconstructed, Hoss does so much just with her eyes, the tension in her lips, the twitches of her brow. It is perhaps this year’s best performance. With a plot that reminds of Hitchcock’s VERTIGO, director Christian Petzold delivers nearly as much tension. If you’re a fan of dramatic irony, you can’t do much better. [Will Levinger]

top films of 2015 veteran


Director: Seung-wan Ryoo

Genre: Action

What makes VETERAN stand apart from the majority of Korean genre films is that it’s more invested in examining its characters as people rather than throwing them around in elaborately choreographed displays of brutality. Director Seung-wan Ryoo throws in bits of physical comedy and quiet character moments to leaven the moralist police parable elements of the film. Ah In-yoo plays one of the great screen villains in recent memory, providing a disturbing performance as an amoral young businessman with a flair for the theatric. Rather than idealizing its cop protagonist, the film emphasizes the details in how he balances his bureaucratic and moral responsibilities. [Aret Frost]

top films of 2015 li'l quinquin


Creator: Bruno Dumont

Genre: Comedy, Mystery

LI’L QUINQUIN is a three and a half hour TV miniseries that depicts a rural community in France that is beest by a series of mysterious murders that lead to disembodied parts being found inside animals. The film’s detective is a stammering Don Quixote-like figure who prowls the countryside pretending that he has a grasp on the perplexing case. Director Bruno Dumont established a comic tone for his coming of age story so that it comes as a shock when the young protagonist Quinquin racially abuses a Muslim immigrant teenager. Dumont excels in giving the viewer an abstract sense of the ugly tensions underlying this seemingly innocuous town. [Aret Frost]

top films of 2015 far from the madding crowd big


Director: Thomas Vinterburg

Genre: Drama, Romance

A visually breathtaking piece of traditionalist romance, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD combines the aesthetic of Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON with the acting chops seen in SENSE & SENSIBILITY and ATONEMENT. Thanks to a fantastic lead performance by Carey Mulligan as an independent woman who is constantly being asked out by her many suitors, this 2015 release elegantly combined the universality of classical tales of romance with the strong will and independence of contemporary feminist cinema. [Sergio Zaciu]

top films of 2015 when marnie was there


Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Genre: Drama

Possibly Studio Ghibli’s last ever film did not disappoint. WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE is spiritual, pensive, and deeply rooted in a sense of childhood nostalgia, almost to the point that it is arguably among the least child-friendly films in Ghibli’s canon. To fully appreciate the poetry of this film requires maturity and age, but also an awareness of one’s childhood, causing the film to hit a particular sweet spot for anybody between ages 15-30. As always, gorgeous hand-drawn animation further exemplifies the qualities of this film, but what really makes it stand out from the rest of the Ghibli collection is its puzzle-solving, playing out almost like an animated Almodóvar film, laced with tragedy and ripe with rich characters. [Sergio Zaciu]

top films of 2015 taxi

37. TAXI 

Director: Jafar Panahi

Genre: Drama

You know, for a guy who’s banned from making movies, Iran’s Jafar Panahi can sure make one hell of a movie. Set entirely inside a Tehran taxicab, TAXI enjoys playing with your perceptions. Is this a documentary? A documentary that went off the rails? The characters that flit in and out of the cab are certainly bright and compelling enough to be fictional creations; a particular highlight is Panahi’s niece Hana Saeidi, who puts on some of this year’s best child acting. [Will Levinger]

top films of 2015 the second mother big


Director: Anna Muylaert

Genre: Drama

Brazil dropped a bombshell of a film for their Academy Award submission this year with THE SECOND MOTHER, a lighthearted but dastardly tragic portrayal of the lives of live-in housekeepers and the societal barriers that exist between the classes of employee and employer. Both hilarious and tragic within every 10 minutes, THE SECOND MOTHER succeeds through performance alone, presenting an absolutely riveting character drama by pitting two families of different economic standing against each other within the confines of a sleek, modern Sao Paolo villa. In addition to all of this, clever visual metaphors and a heroic star-turn from lead actress Regina Casé help cement THE SECOND MOTHER as one of the most original, universally accessible, yet deceptively simplistic releases of 2015. [Sergio Zaciu]

top films of 2015 ex machinabig


Director: Alex Garland

Genre: Drama, Science-Fiction

It’s rare that a film trusts the intelligence of its audience. It’s even more rare that a science fiction film has the privilege to never need to over-explain itself. Alex Garland’s EX MACHINA taps into everything that made Duncan Jones’ MOON incredible, a fantastic, nuanced screenplay and an understanding that sci-fi isn’t always about visual spectacle as much as it is about fueling a believable futuristic scenario. EX MACHINA is sleek and emanates a threatening sense of dread, forcing viewers to watch this three-character drama unfold as an imminent burst of tension looms over the celluloid. Combining the best snippets of a DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN film, EX MACHINA is both a celebration of great minds and the dangers of letting naiveté get the better of you when playing God. [Sergio Zaciu]

top films of 2015 the lobster big


Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Genre: Comedy, Drama

The most twee of concepts, so obviously tackling issues of conformity and cultural marital systems, executed by the most demented of contemporary minds. Yorgos Lanthimos captures a melancholy, devastating sadness that reverberates through every scene that no other director could have. What makes THE LOBSTER so impressive, besides its fascinating world and remarkable all-time best performances from most of the cast, is that it would have been an insufferable disaster in the hands of any other filmmaker. This is the funniest pure pessimism of 2015. [Kevin Cookman]

top films of 2015 kumiko


Director: David Zellner

Genre: Drama

Films about films are usually a mixed bag, all the more so when they serve to praise the craft in some self-indulgent way. KUMIKO: THE TREASURE HUNTER is a testament to the power of cinema, but never forgets to tell an endearing, hopelessly romantic story first and foremost. Following a whimsical 20-something from Japan and her desire to uncover the buried treasure from the “true story” Coen brother crime-comedy FARGO, audiences laugh and cry with KUMIKO as her blissful ignorance carries her from Japan to Minnesota. But more importantly, viewers also realize that this 2015 road movie works as a cautionary tale for the force of cinema, and that it can change lives, both for the better and the worse. [Sergio Zaciu]

top films of 2015 Bradley Cooper, left, and Emma Stone star in Columbia Pictures' "Aloha."


Director: Cameron Crowe

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Curveball here, but hear us out! There are many simple pleasures to be had in watching ALOHA if one is willing to suspend disbelief regarding the eccentric behavior on display. It’s refreshing to see a Hollywood film that deals so openly with the pressures of navigating one’s personal and professional life while maintaining a balanced sense of empathy for all members of the film’s love quadrangle. The heightened screwball comedy atmosphere conveys the dissonance between the lightly comic performance style and the painful emotions of remorse and romantic discontent surging under the surface. Plus, Eric Gautier’s lovely sun-kissed, blue-hued cinematography is a highlight of 2015 cinema. [Aret Frost]

top films of 2015 the look of silence


Director: Joshua Oppenheimer 

Genre: Documentary

If THE ACT OF KILLING is a reflection on guilt, or lack thereof, then its companion piece THE LOOK OF SILENCE is an outright confrontation with it. Though approaching the material much blunter than before, Oppenheimer remains an extraordinary force in documentary filmmaking.  What’s new here is a sense of danger. THE LOOK OF SILENCE’s primary subject is probing at an insidious junta still very much in power. Ethically, we wouldn’t be watching a documentary that sees the murder of an innocent father and optometrist, but this is also the same filmmaker who let leaders of a genocide make a movie about their killings ‒ one of the most thrilling aspects of Oppenheimer’s career is seeing how far he’ll go. Watching murderers squirm in their seats when directly questioned about their senseless, brutal killings brings forth a sort of frontier justice; their guilt and tarnished reputations forever live on celluloid. [Kevin Cookman]

top films of 2015 the forbidden room


Director: Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson

Genre: Comedy, Mystery

Imagine a two-hour long, auteurist OFF THE AIR episode completely focused on the regression and progression of cinema itself and you may have a sliver of an idea as to what the experience of watching Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s THE FORBIDDEN ROOM is like. The most accessible, yet by no means the least challenging, of Maddin’s maddening works, his 2015 foray into silent film tropes and aesthetics is a captured lucid dream; scenes (or, long-form skits, really) literally flow into one another, dissolving and forming like memories. It is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. [Kevin Cookman]

top films of 2015 joy big

29. JOY

Director: David O. Russell

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Of late, it seems that the only acclaimed films that deal with capitalism are the ones that allow the viewer to alternately revel in and critique the hedonistic pleasures that come from business pursuits. David O. Russell counteracts this tendency by making a film that fully invests in the fantasies that fuel capitalism while also showing the perverse behavior that said fantasies inspire. The film examines the temperament of egomaniacal self-possession that self-wringing mop magnate Joy Mangano assumes to succeed in the business world, while also showing the chaotic, arbitrary circumstances that bring about her failure and success. [Aret Frost]

top films of 2015 experimenter


Director: Michael Almereyda

Genre: Drama

With EXPERIMENTER, Michael Almereyda avoids many of the pitfalls associated with the biopic genre by structuring the film around examining Stanley Milgram as he loses sense of himself and as his academic findings blur into abstraction. Peter Sarsgaard’s excellent understated performance conveys the sense that he’s trying to impose a rational order on his life even as his stubborn emotions prevent him from accepting his fallibility. Rather than seeking to render a verdict on Milgram’s experiments, the film conveys the contradictions within Milgram’s own psychology that he keeps trying to avoid until he ends up becoming a parody of himself. [Aret Frost]

top films of 2015 anomalisa big


Director: Charlie Kaufman

Genre: Drama, Comedy

Charlie Kaufman is and probably will forever be recognized as the seminal writer for the millennial crowd, understanding the form of cinema to such a degree that he can parody it whilst still expertly working within its restrictions in order to share his message. ANOMALISA is a step away from Kaufman’s more self-reflexive nature and a step closer towards his painstaking perfectionism as a director. In what is some of the best stop-motion animation in filmmaking history, Anomalisa is probably as close as stop-motion will ever come to mimicking real life, channeling Linklater’s knack for the small things in life. And yet, ANOMALISA always makes it clear why it’s an animated film and not live action, and that is probably its strongest suit, telling a poignant and nuanced story of midlife crises and the monotony of routine living. [Sergio Zaciu]

top films of 2015 theeb


Director: Naji Abu Nowar

Genre: Adventure, Drama

Naji Abu Nowar uses elements of the western in his tale of a young Bedouin boy who gets caught up in a raid after serving as an escort for a British soldier during WWI. The film’s central shootout is a highlight, with Nowar employing a methodical visual style that coherently registers violence from a measured distance. Following the shootout, the protagonist child Theeb works with the enemy raider for survival, and through their relationship Nowar humanizes the presumed villain and touches on nuances in the political landscape of the Ottoman Empire during WWI. The world could use more films like THEEB that use genre as a means of exploring history. [Aret Frost]

top films of 2015 something anything


Director: Paul Harrill

Genre: Drama, Romance

SOMETHING, ANYTHING can be a difficult film to get a hold of partly because it’s about a woman named Peggy and her ongoing search for meaning through the self-actualizing possibilities of a new, unknown lifestyle. Director Paul Harrill expertly depicts the way Peggy deals with her friends and family following her escape from the stable compliance of marriage and into the exciting uncertainty of a freer future. Only in the third act does the viewer get a full sense of the where the film is headed as it becomes an examination of faith in the modern world. Harrill neither idealizes nor critiques Peggy’s monastic and romantic pursuits, allowing the complexity of the circumstances to surface. [Aret Frost]

top films of 2015 the princess of france


Director: Matias Piñeiro

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Matias Piñeiro’s films can be difficult to parse because they follow an unclear fictional logic that defies clear narrative progression. While there usually isn’t a concrete causal link between the film’s scenes, Piñeiro provides repetitions, performance cues, and romantic reversals that give the viewer assistance in trying to figure out what the film is up to. Roleplaying is a central concern as the film involves a theater troupe and doesn’t give much of an indication when the character’s transition from behaving naturally to performing a role. Much of the film’s pleasure derives from the way it slides between different levels of reality and fiction. [Aret Frost]

top films of 2015 goodnight mommy big


Director: Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz

Genre: Drama, Horror

In order to form a bleak analogy of the societal changes that spawn radicalism in a country, Austrian filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz crafted the masterful horror film, GOODNIGHT MOMMY, a Haneke-esque portrayal of unflinching brutality that is preceded by some of the most eerie filmmaking in modern cinema. Rarely does a horror film also come with a compelling political agenda, and GOODNIGHT MOMMY represents a treat of modern filmmaking that counteracts much of the throwaway horror that is served to viewers each year, exposing a darkness in the human soul that is rarely explored. [Sergio Zaciu]

top films of 2015 mustang big


Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Genre: Drama

Rarely is a film both so charming and heartbreaking that it can be recommended to teen audiences and adults looking for political activism. Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s MUSTANG is that film. Telling the story of a group of inseparable siblings who live under the oppressive, conservative regime of their uncle and grandmother after their parents pass away, viewers bear witness to the beauties of childhood, growing up, coming to terms with mortality, and understanding the cultural climate that dictates the tradition of arranged marriages and child brides in Turkey. Politically charged and shockingly tragic, MUSTANG is arguably the quintessential feminist film of 2015 ‒ what a shocker that this one was actually directed by a woman. [Sergio Zaciu]

top films of 2015 tu dors nicole real


Director: Stéphane Lafleur

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Stop reading this article right now and go watch TU DORS NICOLE. It costs $5 to rent on Amazon. It’s right there. I’ll wait. I know, it’s in French. Trust me. Oh, man, wasn’t that great? It’s like the Platonic ideal of the ennui-soaked aimless summer coming-of-age dramedy? That moment with the car? The first time we meet Martin? Yeah, I know. I loved it too. Okay, even if you didn’t go watch it, allow me to try to convince you. Beyond pitch-perfect performances and fun, airy dialogue, TU DORS NICOLE boasts stunning black-and-white cinematography courtesy of cinematographer Sara Mishara. It makes average things (a guitar amp, a tomato sandwich) radiate with beauty and meaning. You could think that this is your run of the mill quirky black-and-white comedy, but I promise you: TU DORS NICOLE is delicate, deliberate, and the very good kind of weird. [Will Levinger]

top films of 2015 chi raq


Director: Spike Lee

Genre: Drama

With CHI-RAQ, Spike Lee has constructed something so giddily insane and moving that it demands your attention. Despite a raft of negative press before its release, this adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata stands triumphantly as a transgressive near-masterpiece. Spike Lee is at his best here and seems determined to blast your eyeballs down your throat with every shot, and then make you laugh them back up with every line of dialogue. Teyonah Parris is terrific as the lead and Lee extracts excellent performances from an eclectic bunch of actors including Jennifer Hudson, John Cusack(?), and Nick Cannon(?!??!!!?). Seriously: he makes Nick Cannon cool. That alone may be the greatest cinematic achievement of 2015. [Will Levinger]

top films of 2015 l for leisure


Director: Whitney Horn and Lev Kalman

Genre: Comedy

L FOR LEISURE has an episodic narrative consisting of short vignettes that involve graduate students on vacation in various locales. While the film begins with a somewhat ironic tone, seeming to mock the solipsistic characters for their shallow behavior, the film begins to develop empathy for them, allowing the viewer to share in the euphoria and melancholy of being free for a fixed duration of time. A nighttime encounter with a group of teen girls becomes a foray into disorienting exhibitionism; the discovery of jeans becomes a communal celebration of denim; the film’s arch humor gives way to a yearning for transcendence within nature. [Aret Frost]

top films of 2015 diary of teenager girl


Director: Marielle Heller

Genre: Drama, Romance

In a year defined by the woman’s picture, debut filmmaker Marielle Heller’s THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL stands as the most savagely honest, rawest of the pack.  She taps into a vein of adolescence so often feared or glossed over, and, in turn, crafts a thoughtful chronicle of maturation akin to Truffaut, Fellini, and Nichols. The “coming-of-age tale” subgenre is a real sausage fest, and Heller confirms that boys aren’t the only ones to experience transformative sexual awakenings, nor are they the only ones worthy of such deft cinematic treatment. [Kevin Cookman]

top films of 2015 sicario big


Director: Denis Villeneuve

Genre: Action, Drama

A hard-hitting tour de force from the new dream team of Villeneuve and Deakins, SICARIO is the cartel film that somehow never got made until now. Entertainment and political commentary are a tough line to tow, but somehow Villeneuve accomplished a strong helping of both, leaving CARTEL LAND, its rather limp doc-contemporary, far in its shadow. In a best-of display from Deakins and an engrossing performance from Emily Blunt, viewers feel like they’re being forced onto this adventure rather than wilfully coming along for the ride, resulting in a notable sequence in which the characters take a trip down to Juarez, Mexico, arguably the cinematic highlight of 2015. [Sergio Zaciu]

top films of 2015 welcome to new york


Director: Abel Ferrara

Genre: Drama

The story of WELCOME TO NEW YORK is based upon the allegations that a French politician named Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted a maid in a New York hotel. Director Abel Ferrara’s chilly, detached style documents a night of debauchery with clinical precision and masterfully emphasizes the metallic angular lines of the sterile modern interiors. Gerard Depardieu gives a fully-committed performance as Devereaux, the Strauss-Kahn stand-in, casually alternating between seductive charisma and monstrous cruelty. The film deals with the ever-pervading allure of power and the way Devereaux becomes detached from the reality of his actions through the abstraction of and intoxication with his own power. [Aret Frost]

top films of 2015 spotlight big


Director: Tom McCarthy

Genre: Drama

In an ode to the importance of investigative Journalism, Tom McCarthy’s SPOTLIGHT shines as a unique example of a film that takes a long-established fact (the cover-up of Catholic clergy molesting children) and allows for it to manifest as a serenade to the hundreds of good people who fight to uphold honesty and dignity in a world that often lets it slip away. SPOTLIGHT isn’t a film that is brimming with innovations to the form, but rather represents assured directing in order to make a more pressing socio-political statement about the world we live in today. [Sergio Zaciu]

top films of 2015 magic mike xxl


Director: Gregory Jacobs

Genre: Comedy, Drama

The biggest source of conflict in MAGIC MIKE XXL is whether or not these guys will make a woman smile. Conceptually, it feels like it’d veer into exploitative and lascivious avenues, but it ends up being a determinedly and earnestly lustful picture about the ecstasy and compassion found in shared, consensual human pleasure. It is the most basely humanistic mainstream film of 2015, if not ever. Avant-garde in its joyous plotlessness, brimming with the sweetness and generosity in its huge heart, and voracious in its sexual appetite, the MAGIC MIKE franchise has become a beautiful one that serves as much, if not more, of a man’s wish fulfillment fantasy as it is a woman’s. [Kevin Cookman]

top films of 2015 45 years big

13. 45 YEARS

Director: Andrew Haigh

Genre: Drama, Romance

Marriages aren’t supposed to break down after 45 Years. 22-year-old dudes aren’t supposed to break down in tears after watching 45 YEARS. And yet, here we are. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay give such natural performances that you can hardly believe they aren’t your own grandparents. While not technically dazzling or really all that exciting, 45 YEARS is captivating in that it all feels so solidly constructed. There’s more verisimilitude here than anything else that came out this year, and that’s why watching everything fall apart makes it hurt even more. Director Andrew Haigh shows that mystery and betrayal don’t leave us as we age, they just ferment, getting more and more potent with each passing year. [Will Levinger]

top films of 2015 slow west


Director: John Maclean

Genre: Western

A tremendous visual gag (look, it truly is an all-timer) during the shockingly brutal finale perfectly encapsulates writer-director Sean Maclean’s entire vision of a dying American west: unbelievably goofy and gutturally sorrowful. In a year dominated by game-changing westerns, SLOW WEST flew under most radars, yet its adherence to combining magical realism with tragic mortality was one of the most impressive feats of 2015. [Kevin Cookman]

top films of 2015 the big short big


Director: Adam McKay

Genre: Drama

Adam McKay directed this? What? This film’s camerawork gets nearly experimental at points, and it was directed by the guy who did Anchorman? Get this man some more heavy, angry comedies, STAT. This is commercial filmmaking, despite its bad habits, at its best. As accessible and fun as it is infuriating, THE BIG SHORT offers a searing survey of the 2008 banking crisis delivered by some friendly faces. Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, and Brad Pitt all put in good performances, but McKay squeezes every last drop out of each of them with bravura editing techniques. It is a joy to see something with such a well-known cast and a can’t-miss premise taking big risks and still delivering big laughs. The middle-budget movie isn’t dead, it just needs to be in the right hands. [Will Levinger]

top films of 2015 hateful eight big


Director: Quentin Tarantino

Genre: Western

For all of its bravado, DJANGO UNCHAINED ultimately felt like a strained genre exercise, especially after the finality of INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. THE HATEFUL EIGHT, however, is an inspired continuation, a thrillingly contemporary homage to Peckinpah and Carpenter that proves to be a necessary asset to the Tarantino canon. Tarantino’s meanest and most nihilistic picture utilizes his affinity for over-the-top violence to chilling effect; the “cheer” moments are vile. For once, gore is the result of grave repercussions. You may find yourself cheering, but it proves that you may be no better than any of these eight despicable scoundrels. Trapping a microcosm of American society and prejudice in a frozen cabin allows the filmmaker to demonstrate that he was truly meant to make more pictures. [Kevin Cookman]

top films of 2015 beasts of no nation gun


Director: Cary Fukunaga

Genre: Drama, War

Channeling the demonic hellscape of APOCALYPSE NOW, Cary Fukunaga’s display of African civil war is unlike anything that came out in 2015. A visual feat and an incredible directorial accomplishment, BEASTS OF NO NATION features spectacular child acting, bolstered by a story that weighs heavy on one’s mind long after the film concludes. With an explosive performance from Idris Elba and a series of events that exponentially increase in their trauma, BEASTS OF NO NATION has helped cement Netflix as a force to be reckoned with among the narrative feature category. [Sergio Zaciu]

top films of 2015 carol big


Director: Todd Haynes

Genre: Drama, Romance

CAROL will either seem like a didactic, cold exploration of gayness in a pre-pride America or a quiet phantasmagoria of body-melting passion based on your reaction to a single moment in the first 10 minutes of the film: a hand being placed on a shoulder. If you see it and find the moment consuming your body, then buckle up for one of the most armrest-clenching filmic experiences of your life. This is love. This is Cate Blanchett commanding the screen. This is Rooney Mara stealing your heart. This is Todd Haynes’ CAROL. [Kevin Cookman]

top films of 2015 the mend big


Director: John Magary

Genre: Comedy, Drama

First-time director John Magary has crafted one of the most assured American debut features in recent memory with THE MEND, a film that incorporates stylistic touches reminiscent of Arnaud Desplechin, Martin Scorsese, and Mike Leigh. However, what makes a greater impression than Magary’s influences is his ability to key in on details of human behavior and subvert schematic understandings of his characters. The film avoids hitting rote dramatic beats in favor of playing contrasting tonal registers against each other in order to convey the volatile emotions swimming under the surface and evoke the tensions of living in a shared space. [Aret Frost]

top films of 2015 tangerine big


Director: Sean Baker

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Okay, okay, Sean Baker shot this thing on an iPhone. That was probably the first thing you heard about TANGERINE, but hopefully it wasn’t the last thing. Despite taking a little time to get its sea legs, this blistering comedy about two transgender sex workers features one of the most propulsive narratives of the year. Sin-Dee Rella, played by the indomitable Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, is like a ballistic missile bouncing around Los Angeles. She’s looking for her cheating fiance Chester and when she finds him it makes the fireworks that preceded look like child’s play. A fabulous, aggressive, and simultaneously tender film, TANGERINE is one of the only indies in 2015 that surpassed its sky-high hype coming out of Sundance. [Will Levinger]

top films of 2015 what we do big


Director: Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi

Genre: Mockumentary, Horror

Ever watch a movie and it just makes you feel safe? I’m not saying the material is safe ‒ it’s not like a vampire who struggles to cleanly kill his prey is Spielberg blockbuster territory. But the jokes come so hard and fast in this New Zealand vampire mockumentary that all one can do is sit back and let the laughs wash over you. Beneath the laughs and endless blood squibs, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS has an ebullient, pure heart. These vampires really care about each other and you learn to care about them too. The “feel-good” movie of the year by a country mile. [Will Levinger]

top films of 2015 youth big


Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Genre: Comedy, Drama

I watch a lot of movies, and a couple times a year, if I’m lucky, something knocks me on my ass. Paolo Sorrentino’s YOUTH did that. Okay, so it borrows some from 81/2. That definitely happens. But this is still delightful. DE-LIGHT-FUL. Sorrentino takes risks and makes choices that make this film feel different from anything else I’ve watched this year. Michael Caine, playing an aging composer staying at a Swiss resort, is great. Harvey Keitel, playing his filmmaker friend, is even better. Paul Dano is part of one of the most hilarious reveals I saw all year. Most of all, I love that YOUTH demands multiple viewings. There’s so much here. So much beauty and ambiguity, a few moments that made me gasp aloud. [Will Levinger]

top films of 2015 son of saul big


Director: László Nemes

Genre: Drama

It’s not often that a film grabs you by the throat and throws you onto a roller coaster so unfiltered and devastating that you aren’t given a single second to recuperate, perfectly encapsulating the terror of something as unimaginable as the Holocaust. SON OF SAUL isn’t safe, it isn’t glamorized, and it doesn’t shy away from its nauseating depiction of atrocity. It is raw, unflinching cinema and is executed with such tact that it never feels like a low-budget film attempting to capture something that directors like Spielberg needed millions of dollars to show. It is, arguably, the only essential viewing experience of 2015. [Sergio Zaciu]

top films of 2015 mistress america big


Director: Noah Baumbach

Genre: Comedy, Drama

A film of multiple masks; the funniest comedy of the year, a masterpiece in screwball, finessing in firecracker verbal wit and physical slapstick, an homage to Sturgess, and a work of its own right in Baumbach’s repertoire. MISTRESS AMERICA is delightful, with Lola Kirke and Greta Gerwig’s energy enough to light up Times Square, but it’s also scathing, hating its main characters as much as it loves them. At once an indictment and celebration of the millennial entrepreneur, of intellectualism, and of our desire to log and record every one of our lives’ moments (to name only a few of the ideas this film is tackling), MISTRESS AMERICA pulls out new concepts to riff on quicker than you can catch your breath. It is a thoroughly entertaining picture from an invigorating filmmaking duo that derives its magic from the myriad of ways it allows itself to be appreciated. [Kevin Cookman]

top films of 2015 mad max big


Director: George Miller

Genre: Action

So this is it, huh? The best movie of the year goes to a Summer action blockbuster? You bet your ass it does. I could bore you by searching through a thesaurus for more synonyms for “pulse-pounding” to describe the action, but I won’t. I could talk your ear off about the progressive politics of the film that in many ways signaled one of the best years for richly detailed, badass female characters in recent memory, but I won’t. I could write pages and pages about how MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is one of the best arguments for film as a visual medium since LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, but… you get the point. Instead, I’m just gonna watch it again. I suggest you do, too. [Will Levinger]

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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