And Just like that, we have passed the first half of our present decade; the 2010’s.
Since we have had to bid adieu to the year 2015, I figured it best to look back on the past 5 years of cinema, and investigate the many films I hold so dear. Why 5 years particularly? The reason being that roughly 5 years ago was when I first discovered I had a love for analyzing (or attempting to) movies. The past half a decade has been a real discovery for me, and I figured I’d share some of those discoveries with you, friends! Granted, when I am proclaiming the best, I am talking about my version of the best. So what you will find are a bunch of Fandoms, ‘Oscar Bait” dramas, Indie Darlings (to a fault), and whatever catches my fancy. What you won’t find are any RomCom’s or Horror flicks, they’re just not my thing (though The Silver Lining’s Playbook and The Babadook were almost the exceptions). So, without further ado, here are my 15 favorite films from 2011-2015!
15. 12 Years a Slave
In a word; difficult. Difficult to watch, difficult to comprehend, difficult to forget. This film was far from fun, and I won’t be viewing it again anytime soon. Yet, like Schindler’s List or The Passion of the Christ, it was vastly important. As you might come to notice, I have nearly no Best Picture winners on this list on account that I find the Academy’s choices to be a bit uninspired, all except this gem. Artistically hypnotic, dramatically heartbreaking, stunningly acted (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o all mind blowing), and historically significant. Steve McQueen’s masterpiece will be a classic for decades to come!
14. Take Shelter
This will be my first of many disclaimers in which I state, “This Move is Not For Everyone” (or NFE). The reason being the major “Indie” vibe it projects. And as you know, the reason for Indie movies is to be far more unique than typical blockbusters (neither a crack nor a criticism, just truth). In this dramatic, psychological thrilling, and indie darling, the horror and trauma of a man who is either seeing catastrophic revelations or schizophrenic illusions is played out masterfully thanks to the flawless and heartbreaking performance by Michael Shannon. The film’s slow paced and subtle suspense, unflinching performances (Jessica Chastain charms in her first of many films on this list), and ambiguous narrative and ending will either leave you distressed or craving more.
13. How To Train Your Dragon 2
Animated films have not been quite as revolutionary in the last 5 years as we have come to expect. But we still have the faithful Dragons series to lean upon. In this remarkable sequel to one of my all-time favorite films, we get the privilege of seeing the progression of the Berk world, and the great characters involved. And while this film’s animation, humor, and action are all 100%, it is the care and progression taken with Hiccup that is so fantastic. The film, rightly, revolves around him and what he must go through in order to grow up, and become the leader he was meant to be. And with the loveable and flat-out-awesome Toothless at his side, it is impossible not to wish you were flying along with them.
12. The Hunger Games Franchise
Fact: I am a Hunger Games nerd. Truth: I am biased when it comes to these films. One More Truth: They are still fantastic films! Are there a few things to gripe about? Sure. Should the last 2 films have been combined with the extra footage added to an extended cut? Of course. But once again, they are still fantastic. This is largely thanks to Jennifer Lawrence and her decision to keep Katniss from becoming a cliché Action Hero, and maintaining her realistic, fragile, and desperate characteristics. She shows Katniss’ determination to do whatever it takes to protect her loved ones, while still showing she is only a young girl who has fears and limitations like all teens. The films progressed and held firm to their origins splendidly! If I were forced to choose one, it would by far be Catching Fire.
A 1950’s period piece about an Irish Immigrant torn between two gentlemen folk does NOT sound like a go-to for yours truly. Yet, this was perhaps the most human, moving, and even beautiful films I saw in 2015 (with Room coming close). The film does a seamless job or recreating the era in which it exists by it’s fantastic art direction, classical long-take taping, and it’s pristine performances led by the incredible Saoirse Ronan. This film just makes you feel the difficulty of leaving home, venturing out into new and frightening terranes, and works as a spiritual piece of sorts by displaying a dilemma of being torn between your old and your new self. Check it out, this quiet little piece will empress.
10. The Help
While there have been many anti-racial books and films that have come out in the past 15 or so years, few have been more moving to watch than that of the Girls of The Help. I think the sole purpose this one works so well is because of the marvelous performance of Viola Davis (who was robbed her Oscar)! While the MANY other cast members of Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, and the Oscar winning and nominated performances (respectively) of Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain were all a real riot. It was Viola’s timid and beautifully souled Abilene who learns to grow in confidence and individuality in this film that truly makes it shine (“You is kind, you is smart, you is important”).
9. Mad Max: Fury Road
While I came ultra-close to including the stellar Interstellar into this list, I ended up picking this one by a hair. 2015 was in a sense, the year of the Sci-Fi (Star Wars, Avengers, Ex-Machina, and The Martian), but none brought quite the same thrilling and momentous wallop that Max was able to achieve. This film essentially was the great action spectacle of our generation. A film that in a sense told it’s story through the eye-popping and death defying action scenes it presented. Add into the mix crazy characters, costumes, acting (specifically Ms. Charlize Theron), and just all around originality and imagination, and you have a legacy on your hands!
What if I were to tell you that one of the most pulse-pounding, graphically intense, and most difficult films to watch on this side of the decade was a little indie film about a drum player and his teacher? If you are at all like me, you would have thought it impossible. Well, I for one was completely floored by the masterpiece which is Whiplash. A suspense drama about a verbally and mentally abusive jazz teacher who will say or do whatever it takes to strike fear into his class. And about the pupil who will likewise do whatever it takes to become a living legend. This mesmerizing film is bolstered by the phenomenal performances of Miles Teller and the usually hilarious J.K. Simmons in his Oscar winning role. Brace yourselves for one of the most intense and best last 10 minutes in cinema history…
7. The Dark Knight Rises
A handful of sloppy scenes and plot points aside, this film goes beyond the call of duty in bringing a grand finale to the beloved Dark Knight trilogy! It seemed impossible for Christopher Nolan to live up to the devilishly amusing Joker he and Ledger had created. But thanks to the talents and super cool characters that Tom Hardy (as the menacing Bane) and Ann Hathaway (the antihero-ed Catwoman) got to bring to the table, this film was in safe hands. The action was A-Grade, the characters engaging, and the farewell to our favorite caped crusader was fittingly emotional. This is a Super Hero Epic that won’t soon be forgotten! (P.S. one of my favorite scenes is still when Bruce’s identity is revealed to Gordon. Gets me in the feels every time…)
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson is a fairly new muse of mine. And even before being properly introduced to his work, I was thrown into the world which is The Grand Budapest Hotel, and I don’t think I will properly recover anytime soon. If I were to point out the many aspects of this swan song to a forgotten world that make it work so marvelously, I would say it does so as a hilarious comedy, intricate espionage mystery, a buddy adventure flick, beautiful and visually absorbing art-piece, a meaningful and sentimental drama, and of course, Anderson’s trade mark quirk to wrap it all up. But who has time for that? This film has it all, and it is all helmed together by Anderson’ steady and eccentric direction, and the surprisingly witty, suave, and downright hilarious performance by Ralph Fiennes as the fantastic M. Gustave. This is a possible NFE film, but I sure as heck adore it, and will visit the Grand Budapest frequently in my lifetime.
Warrior has succeeded at something that few films have dreamed of achieving, making you root for both sides. On one end we have the easy to root for Brendan (Joel Edgerton). The hard working, loving husband and father who is down on his luck. On the other end, the living catastrophic time bomb, Tommy (Tom Hardy, the true hero of this decade. Delivering one of his most complex and interesting performances to date). Yet, if you look closer, you will see how truly misunderstood and sympathetic he truly is. Oh, and did we mention they were brothers? On the sideline is their “thorn in the side” father (played brilliantly by Nick Nolte), who is trying his best at redemption. It is because this film makes it so hard to root against either brother that it works so splendidly. The emotion, excitement, anger, and pain all work brilliantly to a mind-numbing conclusion that will probably leave you crying and/or applauding (I was oh so close to both).
4. A Separation
This is the definition of a “NFE” film. In this “broken marriage” and legal crime drama (borderline thriller), you will leave with no happy/fairytale endings, pure and simple. Along with this depressing realism, it is firstly a foreign film (for some, hard to keep up with), and secondly it is set in Iran (an unsympathetic culture in most our minds, to put it bluntly). So like I said, not for everyone. But let me tell you what you fill find, if ye dare step foot aboard. You will find one of the most fascinating and complex stories to hit cinema in years, one of the most intriguing and flawless scripts, some of the most in depth and heartbreaking characters, and some of the most powerful acting performances by an entire cast I have ever seen! It is a truly fascinating allegory of the devastation of divorce, and the need for truth. In short, if you have the patience and interest for an out of the ordinary film experience, you will find none better than that of this gem.
3. Zero Dark Thirty
This film, despite being nominated for Best Picture and Actress, got a bit of flack when it first released. Some griped about it being pro/anti torture, its lack of background for the characters, and still others for its small story line. What these naysayers seem to miss is the entire point of the whole film; the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. What director Kathryn Bigelow does so beautifully is present the information given to her via first hand witness accounts. And the entirety of her film is surrounding the people and events that led up to this fluke of a mission that killed the #1 Most Wanted. Jessica Chastain plays the main protagonist, a young women who is neither given a beginning nor a true ending, because she had one mission for 10 years, hunt down Bin Laden. Call it duty or obsession, she doesn’t let little things like relationships or spare-time get in the way. Her mere existence is to hunt down this fugitive, and her character and beyond brilliant performance reflects the direction of the film. It is neither here to judge nor commend what deeds took place to take down this man; just to present what happened (for better or worse). It is as if it were set up like a documentary of sorts, but don’t let that fool you. It is one of the most captivating political dramas, and suspenseful war thrillers out there! As a side note, the final 30 minute (music-less) mission scene is one of the finest and most realistic film moments of all time!
When you picture Lincoln, you probably image a sincere old bloke, one of the greatest Presidents of our country, “honest Abe”, and of course, a pure/white marbled statue. Yet, when the 2012 film Lincoln came out, Steven Spielberg took him down for size from his pearly image. He showed Abraham’s uncertainty, his despair, his emotion, his political (borderline deceptive) savvy, and his humane struggles. By doing so, for many, he rebuilt that pearly image with even firmer roots. In the grand scale of Abraham Lincoln’s life, there were so many aspects and directions Spielberg could have approached with his film, but he decided to zoom in on (arguably) the most prominent aspect of Abe’s life; the 13th Amendment. Sure, interspersed throughout the film are many hints and conversations of familiar events that took place in his life, but the grounded main focus here was with the many people, politics, and decisions that took place to abolish slavery. While subtle and slow boiling in its approach, there have been few screenplays, visual displays, and significant messages as massively important and beautifully crafted than that found in Lincoln! And where does one start with the acting? Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones (both award nominees), James Spader, and David Strathairn are all completely flawless. But of course, the true hero here is none other than Daniel Day-Lewis who completely became the man we all thought we knew. His mannerisms, voice (after an initial shock), somber drive, and backwoods humor all brought together THE best performance on this side of the 2010’s.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Believe me, there is a mindset behind this decision. In the late 2000’s something took cinema by storm; Marvel/Avengers Movies (specifically Iron Man). Since this initial release, there has been no going back to what one expected from typical Super Hero Flicks. In the 2010’s, Marvel has not only created a mega movie series with The Avengers films, they have created both a nerd and movie-lover world, which is absolutely full to the brim with fun, adventurous, stylish, lovable films, and super hero characters whom we all adore. For me, no single Marvel Film has better displayed enthralling intrigue, better establishment of an individuality in the crowded franchise, better character progression (of supposed “lesser” characters), better combination of modern day CGI and old school stunts, and of flat-out-awesome action sequences than that of Captain The Winter Soldier. While I felt The First Avenger lacked a strategic direction, and sent out some awkward moments, there was no doubting the great and respectable character of Steve Rogers. When you add this moral and sympathetic character into the modern world of spies and super heroes, as well as a host of far from ethical (albeit fun) agents at his side (Nick Fury, and finally an intriguing Black Widow), it might be easy for Rogers to forsake his Good Guy image. But that’s not part of Cap’s mission. No, he would rather kick butt, try his best to help his prodigal best friend, save the world, all the while being the white knight we all remember him to be. This truly is the best Marvel movie to date, and there are plenty more where this came from!
In a perfect world, you would agree with my every brilliant decision. Unfortunately, you too are entitled to your own opinion. Which ones would you add, or take away? Let me know in the comments, and thank you for checking my list out! Hope you were entertained, reminded, or even enlightened by some of these choices you may have never heard of. These are among my favorites, and are part of the many films that have truly fascinated me these past 5 years.