Zach's Overly Comprehensive Top 15 Of '15

Contributor; Toronto
Every year I rewrite the rules of my list organization. I'm not trying to be bold in this, I've just never settled on one method as definitive enough. 

This is not unlike how I used to arrange and re-arrange my VHS->DVD collection alphabetically, chronologically, by genre, director, cast, affiliation, free association, etc. - so to keep the fun of listing fresh. And even though my collection to date amounts to packed bins currently residing in a storage locker that costs me monthly, (not to mention the many hundreds - thousands? - I've spent on my collection over the years) I'll never let go of my collector's sentimentality and will continue to drop money to keep the ghosts of my physical media alive.

A question I often had to field growing up, when visitors to my home would first gaze eyes on "the shelf" (which eventually was turned into shelves), 'why do collectors consider the purchase sacred?' Aside from the more obvious answer, which is that purchasing gave you the ability to watch the hell out of your favorite movie - I used to gauge my favorites by how worn my videocassette, or how scratched my DVD was - I think it has to do with ownership of the thing you love. By buying a VHS, or DVD or poster, you're letting the work into your home, into your personality, into the personality of your growing collection, which itself accumulates into the collector's filmic personality. It's becoming harder to get enthusiastic about collecting in this brave new world of hyper-disposable media... in this apocalyptic wasteland where invisible files mean invisible dreams. They should really make an Orwellian/Bradbury dystopia about it... Fahrenheit DVD.

As for where I'm going with all this, I think the final vestiges of tangibly active film appreciation may just lie in the year end list. So, not unlike how I used to switch up the rules of my cataloguing methods, rather than segregate my Top 10 narrative and documentary features into separate categories, as I did last year, to honour the importance of documentary, this year I'm merging the Top 5 films of each list into one all-encompassing spread of titles that had their North American theatrical release in 2015. I'll also provide the 10 runners up separately, adding to a total of two Top 15 lists. And why not?! Top 15 of 15! Has a nice ring to it, no?

Yes, it's difficult to tell which films will truly stand the test of time, but I do have some predictions based on my likelihood to purchase them on their home video release, if only the act of coveting was still a necessary trend. With this semi-coherent evaluation in mind, my list consists of the posters on the wall of my 2015 cinematic year. Looking over my choices, it becomes clear that despite early whining about this being a poor film year, if in 2035, an insanely niche film enthusiast wants to throw a 2015-themed film festival and the lineup looks like this, count my this-year-loving ass in!

15 Contenders (alphabetically)

Remember when I said that my lists combined add up to a total of two Top 15 lists? Lie. Here is one more Top 15 list. This one reflects the up-runners, pulled from both categories. Many of these titles did at one point have places on my top 15 lists, but the more top-shelf cinema I devoured, the sadder I was to see films I considered locks trickle off the list. I look forward to seeing how the films on this list stack up in 15 years. As for films I was pained to give the bump (James White, We Are Still Here, Western, Room), I don't deny the possibility that time may cause me to regret my neglect.

To balance the films that I've spent a little more time writing about, random titles won't receive much soliloquy, even though they deserve it. Take The Big Short for example...

The Big Short

The Big Short has an excellent script, stellar direction, and features a knockout cast far more deserving of ensemble love than Spotlight. I don't think I'd buy it, but I'll definitely see it again and will likely henceforth stop on the TV channels where I catch it. And maybe when I'm old and grizzled, I'll look into my true love's eyes and say, “Really? You haven't seen The Big Short?!” Let's do this!”

Creep (pictured above)

Creep is a good example of why the North American theatrical release delineation feels wrong. This is one of my favorite films of 2014 and having seen it a year ago last March, it really doesn't feel like it belongs here. And so I'll let Creep take a dive in favour of two other productions higher on this list that have Mark Duplass to thank for their existence. Duplass is definitely one of two cinematic heroes of 2015 (more on the other later). Besides his great HBO program, Togetherness, as producer, Duplass brought to life two films off this list, one film off next year's, and a nutty if not disturbing animation jaunt called Animals. In total, all these projects add up to five of my favorite things considered 2015. Its' a pretty impressive spread.

I'm purposely not saying much about the mysterious Creep itself, which Duplass co-wrote, co-directed and starred in with up-comer, Patrick Brice, but suffice it to say, for a one-location, two-character horror flick, Creep is killer! It says a lot that Creep may be my favorite thing he's done.

You can read my interview with Duplass and Brice here.

The Experimenter

It's been a hell of a year for the 'unique biopic', as you'll see on this list, and The Experimenter might just be the most singular of the bunch. Peter Sarsgaard plays Stanley Milgram of the Milgram behavioural experiments. To borrow the film's tagline, “It's Shocking!” Note: that is not the film's tagline, nor is the film particularly shocking. Moving on...

I Smile Back

There isn't a laugh to be had in funny-girl, Sarah Silverman's foray into dramatic acting, I Smile Back. Instead, you get a bleak and chillingly real portrait of a woman battling with unprovoked depression and the effects that her psychosis has on her family. Silverman offers one of the best performances of the year.

It Follows

It Follows turned out to be one of the most polarizing films of the year. If you're against the film, you hate it all the more for how much people seem to love it. But if you're for it, you get the gift of the eeriest horror atmosphere produced in years... so you win.


Compared to the existentially random rape of Irreversible and transcendent death of Enter The Void, the subject may feel pedestrian, but as anyone in love's throes can attest, the feeling is anything but commonplace. Thanks to Gaspar Noé's undiluted sense of nakedness, a theme sterilized by Hollywood has finally been stripped of its romance and given the raw, soiled approach it demands.

You can check my interview with Gaspar Noé here.

Love & Mercy

Love & Mercy also delivers as a biopic success story in its clever telling of the Brian Wilson meltdown. Both John Cusack and Paul Dano bring this film to life in ways I never imagined possible all those times I squandered opportunities to see the film at festivals or in theatres. My expectations of the genre have become that low. And yet, 2015 has raised some very interesting exceptions to the rule. Most notably from L&M writer/director, Oren Moverman, who rewrote the rules of the genre with my favorite example of the biopic's potential, I'm Not There. Another example is Ed Wood. Another is American Splendour. Or The Experimenter, which appears on this list.

Mad Max: Fury Road

“How dare I even mention Mad Max at all if not high on this list.' is a hypothetical reaction I envisioned when I decided not to include everyone's favorite film in my Top 15... As if to suggest, since I didn't adore Mad Max, I may as well have hated it. Well, I really, really didn't. Fury Road was excellent! I saw it twice and enjoyed the crap out of it both times. But I will say that I would feel fraudulent with a Mad Max poster on my wall. It's unearned. I am a great fan of action, but I never did look up to Mel Gibson as a true-grit lead. I do, however, admire the intelligent excitement of George Miller's comeback.


Mustang plays like a Turkish Virgin Suicides, and an extremely charming one at that, despite its similarly bleak downward trajectory. It's a coming of age story unlike all that came before. And yes, I realize that I just compared it to The Virgin Suicides.

Son of Saul

Never has a concentration camp been cinematically depicted in such a deliriously frantic narrative fashion. The film is so adept at disorienting the viewer within its atmosphere of holocaust horror, it's no small relief Lorenzo spared us the 3D treatment.

Steve Jobs

Aaron Sorkin, the fast-witted, sharp tongued king of snark takes on the snarkiest American dreamer of our era. What's not to like? Besides Aaron Sorkin, the fast-witted, sharp tongued king of snark. But if snark were enough to warrant dislike, Steve Jobs wouldn't be the subject of idolization he continues to be. Sorkin's unromantic depiction of Jobs' interior life is a fast-paced treat.

Straight Out Of Compton

2015 saw its fair share of great films and movie's alike. Wonder-strokes like Mad Max, Star Wars, The Hateful Eight boldly define the common ground, offering the best of both worlds. A somewhat hammy biopic like Straight Out Of Compton also dips its feet in both categories, all the while managing to kick an exuberant amount of ass. It also happens to be the only biopic other than I'm Not There that I've ever seen more than once in theatres. SOOC is extremely watchable.

The Walk

3D is used to a truly dizzying effect in The Walk, but it would be but a parlour trick without Zemeckis' fine-tuned mastery of tension. From its trailer, it's easy to be skeptical, but, as it turns out, The Walk is one of the most surprisingly suspenseful films of the year.

What Happened, Miss Simone?

I know it has been a great year for the documentary, because, somehow, there's no room for the Nina Simone story on my list. For shame. Simone is among the all-time most interesting women in the history of performance art and this film only adds deeper layers to the complexity of her life and times.

The Wolfpack

A lot of us in the cinephile community feel as though we've been raised on, and to an extent, by, film. But even the most reclusive movie nut you know doesn’t hold a candle to the tragic upbringing of the Angulo bothers, or as they refer to themselves, The Wolfpack. Growing up imprisoned in their Manhattan apartment by their paranoid and deeply afraid of New York father, the boys’ only joy came from watching the cult films we all laud as favorites and each have our own personal relationships with. The difference is that these films, for them, were everything they knew about world at large. Now their lives are a movie and it's effing fascinating.

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