I try to take each year as an opportunity to grow: learn a new skill, make friendships with creative and inspiring people, and expand my knowledge. Despite working in the film industry and loving movies, I grew up mainly reading books and only watching the occasional movie. Perhaps this is because when I was just 4 years old, my mom threw out our VHS copy of Disney’s animated masterpiece, Beauty and the Beast. (I watched it every day, sometimes twice a day, so I suppose she can be forgiven). Now, I felt the urge to exponentially grow my mental movie database.
This year I decided to watch 100 movies I had never seen before. I tried to vary the selection as much as possible, while also keeping the quality of selections at a very high level. There are dramas, comedies, mysteries, quirky romances, biopics and documentaries, blockbusters and indies, black and white classics and visual spectacles. The oldest film I watched was released in 1934 and the newest came out in theaters the final week of 2015.
Out of the 100 films I watched this year, I found 37 of them to be truly excellent and worth a recommendation. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy many of the other films, but these were the standouts in my opinion. These selections have an image from the film as well as a short blurb with my thoughts.
If you’re looking for some good films to watch, hopefully something here catches your eye. Each film title is linked to their respective IMDB page.
Happy New Year, and here’s to many great films to come!
Daniel's 2015 Chronological Film Viewing Log
Brie Larson gives a terrific performance as a staff member of a residential center for kids with troubled family lives. It gets especially interesting once she has to deal with her own issues while simultaneously trying to help the children she works with. The writing is incredibly natural, the storytelling is authentic, and the message resonates. One of the best films I've seen all year.
This film encapsulates the magic of childhood and the bittersweet nature of growing up and losing innocence. Shot in beautifully scenic Oregon, the film features some of the best child performances I've seen. The final line sums it all up: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve; does anyone?"
Prior to this year, I had only seen Woody Allen's recent films Midnight In Paris and Blue Jasmine, both of which I very much enjoyed. Annie Hall turned out to be my favorite of the three. It's always interesting to watch classic films and be able to see their influence over many of my newer favorites. Annie Hall has it all: witty dialogue, subtle and self-deprecating humor, surrealist moments, and philosophical insights.
Believe it or not, this was my introduction to Quentin Tarantino. And what an introduction it was! Great writing, clever story structure, and interesting characters had me immediately enthralled.
Kill Bill is really one story split into two films, but I liked the second volume a bit better. The film is styled after a spaghetti western, with great, methodic pacing and big standoffs leading into climactic duels. It's a saga about revenge, but my favorite part was how Tarantino handled the finale. It contrasts brilliantly with the numerous monumental fight scenes preceding it and leans more towards being a battle of wits.
This was one of the most surprising films I saw this year, as I came in with very low expectations but I thought it was genuinely very funny! I watched it again with my wife the following weekend, and I enjoyed it just as much. The writing is stellar—self aware, referential and meta humor, along with lots of visual gags that don't let up until the credits roll. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have hilarious chemistry, and there is a great surprise cameo near the end, a la Zombieland. Dave Franco, Ice Cube, and Brie Larson, who is in three movies on this list, also give great performances.
This was my first Marilyn Monroe movie, and it was very good! It follows two musicians who accidentally witness a mob murder and flee as undercover performers in an all female traveling band. Surprisingly the humor doesn't feel dated, and the plot twists will keep you guessing.
I was quite simply blown away by this film. It truly is an epic and a masterpiece. The scale is enormous, with incredible set pieces and gorgeous cinematography. I couldn't believe this film came out 76 years ago! The central character is both fascinating and exceedingly frustrating. The famous line, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" is one of the most cathartic moments I've felt in a long time from a film.
An absolutely riveting documentary, this film focuses on the preparation and execution of artist Philippe Petit's daring plan: to infiltrate New York City's World Trade Center and perform an incredible high-walk between the twin towers. This is the sort of film that needs no fictional retelling: it is utterly engaging and inspiring.
Submarine is a great coming-of-age story that follows a 15 year-old boy who tries to lose his virginity before his next birthday, while at the same time attempting to fix his parents' failing marriage by interfering in his mother's flirtatious exploits with an ex-lover. Wonderfully shot, acted, and directed, the vision is unique and at times as squirm-inducing as our own muddled teenage memories. A splendid film that earns its surprisingly emotional finish.
This was one of the most disturbing and powerful documentaries that I've seen. The film is a great introduction to the more alarming aspects of the cult of Scientology. It raises important questions that deal with faith of all forms and humanity's strong desire to be part of a community.
This film blew me away. It's one of those movies I wanted to watch again immediately as soon as the credits began to roll. I even added the soundtrack to my vinyl collection. The film is best experienced knowing as little as possible. It's about a man who has been kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years, and upon release has only 5 days to find out who imprisoned him and why before something terrible happens.
This is the ultimate one-room film. It is set during a jury deliberation session for a murder trial. All but one juror is ready to sentence the man guilty, and through the course of the film we explore ideas about death, innocence, truth, personal biases, and responsibility. Despite the constrained location, the film maintains a brisk pace that keeps the viewer involved and piecing together information right along with the characters. I believe an engaging film comes down to great writing, and this is some of the best.
Frances Ha has an incredibly natural, almost cinema verité aesthetic. The dialog was jarringly naturalistic, but once I become accustomed to the world, it was a cinematic experience I had never had before. The choice to shoot in black and white was an interesting one, and the cinematography certainly shines in the film. The characters were messy and authentic, and the film seems to be a loose commentary on the zeitgeist of the millennial generation.
Now that I've seen the rest of Tarantino's filmography, I believe this to be his best work. The film is incredibly tight, with multiple strong characters and storylines converging for an incredible climax. Christoph Waltz won an Oscar for his excellent performance as the villainous Col. Hans Landa. The dialogue is superb and the tension palpable throughout. The opening scene plays like a short film: deliberate and chilling. All the pieces come together here to make an excellent, throroughly rewatchable film.
Django Unchained is another Tarantino revenge flick, but this time instead of Jews vs. Nazis it's an escaped slave vs. the Antebellum South. Christoph Waltz is back, this time as a bounty hunter. He rescues Django from a slave trader, and the film follows their escapades as Django tries to rescue his wife from one of the most notorious plantation owners in the South, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. The scope of the film is quite large, especially for a Tarantino film, but the characters keep the narrative focused and engaging. Many people consider the third act to be the film's fatal flaw but I see it as the turning point for Django's character as we see him finally become the master of his own destiny.
Ex Machina is science fiction done right. The film is high concept, poses intriguing philosophical questions dealing with human nature and science, and has stunningly beautiful imagery. The cast is exceedingly minimal, allowing Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander a chance to truly shine. This is the directorial debut of novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland, who also wrote the screenplay for Sunshine, another excellent sci-fi film later on this list.
Tarantino cites this film as one of his major influences, and it's easy to see why. The rapid-fire dialogue is intense and creates very unique characters. Cary Grant stars as a humorous and witty newspaper editor, but Rosalind Russell steals the show with her fiery performance as a talented reporter and writer caught between her inescapable love and drive for a journalistic story and her desire to marry and settle down.
This film stands out amongst the numerous space movies of the last few decades by providing an interesting glimpse into the psychological turmoil that a crew would experience. Set in the near future, the story follows an international team of astronauts who try to reignite the dying Sun before Earth completely freezes over. The visuals are awe-inspiring. The sheer scale of the universe and the infinitesimal nature of humanity is a strong prevailing theme, as are questions of life, death, and the afterlife. Danny Boyle is an incredibly dynamic director who got my heart pounding and my mind churning over the movie for days afterward.
Danny Boyle proves with this film why he's my favorite director. You can be assured that his films will never be boring, rote, or formulaic. He's not afraid to make bold choices—and sometimes they can be divisive (as in Sunshine). This movie pairs Boyle's talents with Aaron Sorkin, acclaimed writer of The Social Network, another film about a flawed tech genius. The screenplay assumes a bold 3-act structure that instead of following the typical cradle-to-grave biopic formula focuses in on 3 key events in Steve Jobs' life to give us a more subjective, personal take on who he was as a person. The film was dynamic, engaging, emotional, and thoughtful. The use of different shooting formats to denote time (16mm, 35mm, and digital) worked superbly well. The editing was also extremely memorable (in a good way). I would also recommend reading the biography by Walter Isaacson (which the script is based on) because there are numerous clever small references throughout the film.
This is one of the most visually striking films I've ever seen. Director Guillermo Del Toro makes great use of animatronics, makeup, sets, and visual effects to wholly immerse the viewer in an imaginative world. There are two parallel stories taking place in the film, and the way they interweave and affect each other is very interesting. The writing utilizes heavy symbolism and will keep you thinking about it for a long time. I didn't know much about the fascist Falangist regime in Spain during the 1940s, and this film inspired me to learn more about it. This film is both fantastical and filled with gritty realism, and perhaps the most interesting question it ponders is deciphering what sort of world we live in.
This was one of the most surprising films that I watched this year, perhaps due to my very low expectations I held after being disappointed by most of Pixar's recent efforts. I think this is one of, if not the very best of Pixar's impressive filmography. The characters (despite only representing a singular emotion) are surprisingly vibrant and endearing. A sign of great writing is being able to take very complex ideas and concepts, such as how our emotions and memories work, and presenting them in a very simple, clear manner. Inside Out succeeds here, and indeed feels revelatory.
This film is an intriguing bridge between Peter Jackson's early splatter-horror-comedies such as Bad Taste and the grounded fantasy epic Lord of the Rings trilogy. It tells the true story of two girls who develop an obsessive relationship who, after separated by concern from their parents, plot revenge. Set in breathtaking New Zealand, Jackson shows hints of what was to come with fantasy sequences involving miniatures, clay models, and sets. This film is intense, distrubing, and powerful: giving fair treatment to all those involved in this famous horrific tale.
Considered by many to be Hitchcock's masterpiece, Vertigo is an intriguing story that ultimately left a sour taste in my mouth due to Hitchcock's lack of compassion shown to the protagonist by film's end. Despite this, I consider the film a must-watch, as the writing, cinematography, and famous dream sequence elevate the film and continue to be an inspiration for filmmakers nearly six decades later. The dramatic twist is a true surprise that reframes the entire narrative and causes one to reevaluate the characters and their motives.
The cinematography, art direction, and visual effects made this a treat to watch. The film is extremely poetic, with many scenes and plot points carrying symbolic value. It felt like an old storybook, complete with fantasy elements and tales of love, danger, betrayal, and escape. The choreography is beautiful—simultaneously conveying a fight and a dance. Feast your eyes on this exquisitely colorful film.
I thoroughly enjoy stories told through unreliable narrators. Although this film's protagonist and narrator seems reliable, it is rather shocking when the film opens up on his death. From there the film careens on a course headed for the inevitable tragedy yet somehow entices the viewer into hoping things end differently. The film explores a longing for the days of youth gone by, fleeting fame and the struggling artist. I think the story holds extra significance to those working in the industry.
Swingers is a great movie about getting over someone after a tough breakup. It captures the nonsensical agony, the struggle of reentering the dating pool, and dealing with bouts of depression. Jon Favreau's script is very funny and extremely relatable and Vince Vaughn gives one of his best performances. The title is a brilliant misdirection that reveals itself in the surprise ending.
This film focuses on an ambitious immigrant businessman played by Oscar Isaac who struggles to defend his company and family in the most dangerous year of New York City's history. Layers of intrigue follow as he is under investigation and his workers beg for protection, yet he is completely averse to all forms of violence. The film showcases wonderful performances and examines the unfortunate and often unexpected consequences of doing the right thing.
I have never been so blown away by a movie before. Room is absolutely best seen going in knowing as little as possible. Every aspect came together: the writing, acting, score, and directing are all fantastic. I still think about it often; I cried many times. Scene after wonderful scene struck me in a way I had never felt before and sometimes brought up emotions long buried. It was utterly visceral, moving, disturbing, beautiful, and ultimately hopeful. It never shied away from reality or became saccharine. The characters are incredibly real: Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay were phenomenal. This is the kind of film that makes me want to do this with the rest of my life. In my opinion, Room is the best movie of the year, and certainly one of the best films of the decade.
Spotlight tells the true story of how a small group of reporters at the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, alerting the world to the global nature of the issue within the Catholic Church. While competently directed and shot, the screenplay masterfully unveils the story and then causes the viewer to ponder their own responsibility and wrestle between what is right and wrong. Mark Ruffalo delivers a stirring, emotional performance that will have you question your own faith and convictions. The difficult subject matter was handled supremely well and the film was especially emotional for me, as I have recently made a film called The Hideout which also deals with child sexual abuse.
I didn't know very much about The Beach Boys apart from a hit song or two. This unusual and memorable biopic takes us through glimpses of lead Beach Boy creative Brian Wilson's journey as he struggles with emerging psychosis, depression, and eventual captivity by an unethical and abusive psychiatrist. The use of music and sound design is stellar, and both Paul Dano and John Cusack are excellent as Wilson.
I have never had as dramatic a reversal of opinion on a film as I have with Mulholland Drive. Please don't give up after the first quarter of the movie like I almost did. David Lynch explores dream theory and comments on the common goal of "making it in Hollywood." The film is exceedingly artful, utilizing confusion and then shocking clarity to maximum effect. This is another film you'll be pondering for days and rewards repeated viewing.
The clever, consistently funny script by Nora Ephron maximizes memorable situations and turns them into scenes depicting the human struggle for love and companionship. I think this is one of the best romantic comedies of all time. It somehow avoids common clichés and tropes of the genre, and provides unique characters whom we can easily relate to.
The Lobster is one of the most unique films I've seen. It is set in the imagined near future, where singleness is outlawed. Once one becomes of age or is made single through death or divorce, they are brought to The Hotel. Here they are given 45 days in which they must find a romantic partner or be transformed into an animal of their choosing. A philosophical sci-fi that is similar in tone to Ex Machina. The classic open-ended finale will frustrate some audiences, but I absolutely loved this film.
This was a visual feast. My favorite aspect of the film was that it showed me a wholly unique world I'd never seen before. Art direction, character design, and all of the practical and visual effects were stellar. I was very pleased with the pacing. It was hectic but the moments to breathe were definitely there. Cinematography was really interesting: a LOT of time remapping and some unique night for day shots that helped convey the different world. Color correction was very heavy handed but I think it played into the visual aesthetic. The story was incredibly simple and rather predictable. The themes were repeated multiple times throughout, but I think it worked and I'm not sure much more was needed. The film was tight, with no filler and I very much appreciate that. A pinnacle of the action genre.
I am a big fan of films that deal with currently relevant topics and present them in both an entertaining and informative manner. The Big Short definitely falls into this category, depicting a small handful of financial outsiders who predicted the economic collapse of the mid 2000s and bet against the big banks who were blinded by greed. The star studded ensemble cast is a highlight, and the humor is refreshing. For such a dismal and anger inducing topic, the film's tone is masterfully balanced between humor and indignation.