Todd McCarthy: The 10 Best Films of 2015

A wordless Ukrainian drama, a sexually explosive coming-of-age tale, 1950s lesbian love, Leonardo DiCaprio vs. an angry grizzly and more — here are THR chief film critic Todd McCarthy's favorite movies of 2015.

The visions were dark but the filmmaking exciting in most of the best movies of 2015. People pushed by adverse circumstances or societal breakdown to the very brink of survival was a common theme of many notable films this year, even if they did not explicitly refer to specific events taking place in contemporary times. Ironically, the only films among my 10 best that can remotely be described as uplifting are those infused with a sense of life in 1950s New York City.

Some of the most striking films this year came from unlikely places and from directors few had heard of even a year ago, and I don't believe a single one was even partially shot at a Hollywood studio, which is sad. For the record, nine of the 10 played the festival circuit. There were several documentaries that easily could have bumped some of these films off the list, but I decided to include just one — and a very modest one at that — as a banner-carrier for the rest.

The number of films that seem to come out of nowhere continues to increase, as does the virtuosity of young filmmakers. Startlingly, four of the 10 on my list are feature directorial debuts (if we may chalk Anomalisa up to Duke Johnson rather than to Charlie Kaufman for this purpose), one is by a woman, two certainly cost well over $100 million, while seven or eight had price tags of $10 million or far less.


#1 The Tribe

#1 The Tribe

The toughest film to talk any normal person into seeing this year — a brutal look at violent robbers and pimps at a Ukrainian boarding school for the deaf, anyone? — but debuting director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky (remember the name, even if you can't pronounce it) uses all his self-imposed restrictions (no dialogue, very long takes) to great advantage in this stunning study of societal degradation.

#2 Brooklyn

#2 Brooklyn

Coming out at a moment of fraught immigration headlines, this wondrous adaptation of Colm Toibin's marvelous novel is, by contrast, the ultimate feel-good immigration story, set, of course, 65 years ago. But it put this crusty part-Irishman through the emotional wringer more than any film has in decades. I was a hopeless blob of jelly by the end, and I salute director John Crowley's achievement with unreserved admiration, as it's so rare. Impeccable.

#3 Son of Saul

#3 Son of Saul

Watching this scorching film on a double bill with The Tribe could land you in a rest home for a year. The one fictional account of the Holocaust to meet the approval of Shoah director Claude Lanzmann, Laszlo Nemes' debut film resembles The Tribe in the way its impact is maximized by its central stylistic choice: the blindered way it presents what's happening at Auschwitz (which directly mirrors the leading character's survival tactic of focusing only on the grim task at hand in order to avoid being consumed by the horror that surrounds him).

#4 The Revenant

#4 The Revenant

Here's another walk in the park — specifically, the big one west of the Mississippi in the 1820s. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a hunter stranded in the wild after being ripped apart by a grizzly bear just as winter approaches. Director Alejandro G. Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki make it all as frighteningly and palpably vivid as possible with thrillingly immersive visuals. A real piece of work.