The Trends That Made 2015 a Memorable Year at the Movies

By  · Published on December 16th, 2015

With 2015 nearing its finish line, it’s time for many of us to play catch up, cram in as many blind spots as we can and compile lists of our favorite films that moved, challenged and wowed us the most. And while we go through the strenuous practice of recalling and ranking the releases of the past 12 months, we will inevitably face the question it poses: “Has it been a good year for movies?” There are of course several undeniable truths that factor in to the answer, such as the type of stories and filmmakers the industry chooses to invest in and champion. Yet, the answer you’ll get will still depend on whom you ask; in any given year, carving out a “Best of” list that represents one’s collective experience in film is and will always be a highly personal and subjective exercise.

For me, 2015 has been a terrific year with movies that connected with me on a truly personal level and earned my tears (hint: John Crowley’s Brooklyn), that took my breath away with refinement and beauty (Carol) and that wowed me beyond belief with the possibilities of a cinema that pushed boundaries (The Revenant). I truly struggled to put together my submissions for Indiewire’s year-end critics poll for instance (in which some 200 critics from around the world participated) and narrow down my favorites to 10 films only. The top 10 I submitted for my own ballot could’ve easily been shuffled many different ways (with my top film Brooklyn staying exactly where it is.) I could have even cheated, and had multiple entries per rank; and even then I would have probably felt like I’m leaving something out or being unfair to certain titles. So for the purposes of this piece, I added 15 more movies to the bunch and compiled a list of 25 best films I saw in 2015. Plus, I have a separate list for Documentaries I liked the most (talk about cheating.) And of course, there are several titles I didn’t get to see yet sadly. One simply can’t see it all.

With the risk of sounding like a broken record (since I have written about this before,) I’d like to repeat that many of what I found to be this year’s best and richest films feature female-driven stories. From John Crowley’s Brooklyn, to Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl, David O. Russell’s Joy and Todd Haynes’s Carol, women-centric films were thankfully a plentiful breed in 2015; both in the festival circuit and beyond.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for female-directed films. Only 3 of my top 25 films –The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Eden and Mustang– are directed by women. I hope this number will grow in 2016. But for now, it’s a dire fact that makes me uncomfortable and worry.

I noticed other trends as well. For starters, 2015 has been a great year for true ensembles. Todd McCarthy’s Spotlight –a strong contender for winning Best Picture at the Oscars this year- is the finest example of this group. In fact, its ensemble is so subtle, in synch and unified that the members of its male supporting cast have been canceling each other out at various awards thus far. Mustang, Carol, Mad Max: Fury Road and Joy very much belong in this bucket as well. Others that didn’t make my list, like the electrifying Straight Outta Compton, the heart racing Beasts of No Nation, the energizing space adventure The Martian, the blacklist era flick Trumbo and The Big Short that tackles the housing market crash of 2008 also feature works of accomplished, dedicated ensembles of actors.

And then there is the undeniable nostalgia for the 70s that demonstrated itself with another Mad Max film (Fury Road) and another Rocky film (Creed) – both excellent – on the release schedule in the same year. Not to mention the new Star Wars (The Force Awakens), which premiered yesterday in Los Angeles to a very warm reception if I understand correctly from the cryptic tweets.

The nostalgia we lived through in 2015 wasn’t limited to these films or the 70s only. On October 21st, we celebrated the much-anticipated Back To Future Day; the date Marty and Doc traveled to in 2015. The exuberance of the day was complete when USA Today charmingly participated with a fake cover story on the next day’s paper, making even the most cynical among us smile.

Sure we don’t have flying cars, self-drying jackets, hover boards or dehydrated pizza in the real 2015. But we have the movies below that gracefully and powerfully make us travel to the past and glimpse into the future. Not bad, I’d say. Not bad by any measure.

25 Best Films I saw in 2015

10 Best Documentaries I saw in 2015

Freelance writer and film critic based in New York. Bylines at Film Journal, Time Out NY, Movie Mezzanine, Indiewire, and others.