Mad Max: Fury Road. Anyone who spoke to me briefly last year heard me discuss my love for the latest installment in the “Mad Max” franchise. I walked into the theater knowing next to nothing about the universe, and left exhilarated and awakened. I’m an unabashed action film lover but I’m used to turning my brain off while watching action flicks. Not so with this one. Boasting some of the best female characters in any franchise, Fury Road built a realistic world inhabited by real women. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is an unforgettable badass, tough-as-nails and yet unexpectedly emotive. This, combined with the world-building, practical effects, nonstop action, and genius editing, makes Fury Road my favorite film of the year.
Ex Machina This intimate, perfectly contained sci-fi thriller comes from first-time director Alex Garland. With 4 actors and change, there’s nowhere to hide flaws in this film. Together, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander kicked off fantastic years in each of their careers in Ex Machina. The central question–“what entails consciousness?”–is explored in countless directions, without ever being dense or self-serious. It’s a case study in restrained production design, with each location slowly becoming more and more claustrophobic. The film also boasts 20 of the most nail-biting minutes I saw last year, when the slow-building climax finally comes to fruition.
Room Genuinely, I haven’t cried as much as I did during Room since I saw the third “Lord of the Rings” film. What could have been a mawkish and exploitative tale of abduction and family turns out to be a heart-rending story of resilience and love–without the cheesiness. Brie Larson just won a well-deserved Best Actress in a Drama at the Golden Globes for this film, but her costar, 8-year-old Jacob Tremblay, is the heart of it. It’s amazing to see him inhabit his character, and I don’t know if my heart has beat as hard as it did during one of the pivotal sequences at the midpoint. This one will stay with me for awhile.
Listen to Me Marlon I’m not much of a documentary film watcher, but this Sundance doc stuck with me for the entirety of 2015. Making good use of the self-hypnosis therapy tapes Marlon Brando left behind when he died, the film manages to construct an astonishingly intimate portrait of the legendary actor. It’s tragic and emotionally affecting in the right amounts.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens There’s a lot to be said for the power of nostalgia, but there’s even more to be said for enjoyment for pure enjoyment’s sake. Watching The Force Awakens in theaters is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had. Having studiously avoided spoilers, I was captured by the (yes, very) simple narrative and new characters that feel like old friends. J.J. Abrams made a movie that is simply very good, and he made it more diverse than he needed to, which makes me thrilled for the direction of the new “Star Wars” films.