A big challenge with being a film critic in Central Oregon is that we don't get to go to press screenings and Central Oregon doesn't always get some of the more prestigous releases until closer to Oscar night. So, going into writing this list, there are still quite a few movies I haven't seen that could have possibly made the list. Films like Anomalisa, The Hateful Eight, The Revenant, Sicario, Carol, 45 Years, Son of Saul, and quite a few more never made it before my eyes, thus making this list more of a "Top 10 Films That Made It To Central Oregon" type deal. With that caveat out of the way, here is my list.
10) Magic Mike XXL
I know, I know, but hear me out. More than any film I saw in 2015, this one celebrates women of all shapes, sizes, and colors. An almost plotless road trip movie about some Tampa, Florida, male strippers heading to a convention in Myrtle Beach should not be this good, but Channing Tatum and crew are damned delightful. There isn't even a competition the men are headed to, it's just a showcase for everyone to have fun, get along, and enjoy feminine beauty and friendship. I loved every second of it.
9) What We Do in The Shadows
A Kiwi horror/comedy hybrid about a group of vampires living as roommates in modern New Zealand sounds like a blast, but it works even better than that. The film feels like a pilot for a TV show, where all of it works so well that it's a shame when the final credits roll. We've only scratched the surface of these characters and this world and I for one can't wait to see who gets accidentally killed next in a freak sunlight accident.
8) The Gift
A nasty little thriller about the psychological effects of bullying and how we live with those scars. Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall play a married couple who have just relocated from Chicago to Bateman's Los Angeles suburb hometown. Almost instantly, they run into Gordo, masterfully played by writer-director Joel Edgerton, whom Bateman went to high school with and has some complicated feelings about. Go in knowing nothing more than that and you will be glued to your seat while your pulse pounds erratically.
Based on the bestselling novel, Room tells the story of a captive woman and her 5-year-old son, who she tries to protect from the grim reality of their situation. While quite a heavy and brutally emotional film, the subject matter is handled with a slight grace that allows the magical performance of Brie Larson to carry you along. Her work here should make her a breakout movie star (even though that should have happened after Short Term 12).
6) Slow West
A weird and wonderful western about a young Scottish lad searching for his lost love in the American West. Combine this with a bounty hunter played by Michael Fassbender, a twisted script by John Maclean, and a show-stopping gunfight finale, Slow West is a truly under-seen and remarkable little gem. Watch this one with your grandpa and your kids and everyone will come out smiling. Maybe not smiling, but happy.
5) Beasts of No Nation
A stomach-churning war film about a young boy attempting to survive a civil war in Ghana. Watching a child become brutally initiated into a militia to become a child soldier is no picnic, but Beasts of No Nation is absolutely essential viewing for anti-war viewers or anyone who appreciates powerful cinema. Director Cary Fukunaga is quickly becoming an indispensable eye in filmmaking and Beasts of No Nation should be his calling card. An absolute masterpiece.
This is another one that shouldn't have worked so well, but director Ryan Coogler and stars Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone have a very specific story to tell and they tell it flawlessly. Jordan plays the son of Apollo Creed, Rocky Balboa's one-time adversary and eventual friend. He comes to Rocky and asks to be trained and their growing relationship is one of the most touching and beautiful creations in film this year. Creed doesn't break from sports movie formula, instead it executes that formula so perfectly as to make it almost imperceptible. A crowd-pleasing triumph.
3) Inside Out
Pixar is responsible for some of the finest animated films of all time, with Toy Story 3, Up, and The Incredibles being able to stand proudly aside Disney's best. Inside Out, however, is something special. It is simultaneously a fun and exciting adventure in a wholly imaginative world while also being a look into the mind of an 11-year-old girl. This "cartoon" can give children new ways to express how they're feeling when the words just won't come. It is also an astoundingly brilliant look into depression that most live-action films can't get anywhere close to. Finally, old Bing Bong made this reporter cry harder in a theater than he has at a cartoon since the opening sequence of Up. A timeless and wonderful experience.
I never would have guessed that my #2 pick of the year would be a film shot entirely on an iPhone about a transgender sex worker searching the seedy street corners of Los Angeles for her fiancé/pimp. Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) just did 28 days in jail and heard that her man spent the entire time cheating on her, so she drags her best friend Alexandra across the city searching for the woman who done her wrong and the man she did it with. A dazzling look at a sex-trade subculture and a graceful, poignant and hilarious movie about friendship, love, and identity. Trust me on this one.
1) Mad Max: Fury Road
So much has been said about this movie already, but let me add one little bit. Whether you hate action movies, sci-fi movies, or dystopian thrillers, Mad Max should still be on your radar. This film is pure cinema in every sense of the word: excellent acting, directing, scoring, and cinematography don't even touch the fact that it is the most completely original vision on film we have this year. Even George Miller's other Mad Max films can't prepare you for what is easily the most visionary work of art put to film in 2015 (and probably 2016 as well). Even if nothing here interests you, witness this feminist action extravaganza and be amazed.