My Favorite Directorial Efforts of 2015
Every January, I make myself pick out specific performances I loved from the previous year. I spend so much time talking about movies, but I don’t actually give credit to specific performances. The only time I’ll talk about them is when I’m going over the Oscars. Which isn’t the same thing.
The great thing about lists like this is that it forces you to consider everything. You immediately start thinking of the performances that are nominated for the awards. But if you consider each and every movie you saw from the year (and I did. All 350 of them), and think about how you really felt about all the specific performances, you’re gonna be surprised which ones you actually liked best. (Especially if you can be honest about it and don’t think about what’s already out there, which few people are willing to be.)
Today I’ll be covering all the directorial efforts I loved. They’re in order, but they’re not really in any order. The numbers don’t matter. These are just the ones I enjoyed the most. We’re not talking about awards-worthy or whatever.
So here are my favorite directorial efforts of 2015:
1. Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
There’s really no denying what 1, 2 and 3 are this year. Put them in whatever order you want. But there’s really no questioning that the top three are really the top three. What Inarritu achieves with this movie is a thing of absolute beauty. It’s stunning how gorgeous this movie is. I almost want to see someone else win Best Director, since he won it last year, but honestly, I couldn’t even argue if he won it again.
2. George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Another crowning achievement. The controlled chaos he creates here, completely practically at that, is mind boggling. You can’t script the stuff he creates. That’s all storyboarded in his head. Even if you thought the movie was too loud and didn’t make sense, there’s no denying Miller directed the shit out of it.
3. Laszlo Nemes, Son of Saul
And then 3. There’s no way you can watch these movies and say they aren’t the best directorial efforts of the year. What Nemes accomplishes here, keeping you utterly captivated while keeping the camera tight on our protagonist, builds upon the rich history of Holocaust films and uses what people remember from the genre to enhance the experience. It’s breathtaking. This is gonna go down as one of the greatest films of this year.
4. Denis Villeneuve, Sicario
Villeneuve has made two near-perfect films so far. And both got shafted at the Oscars. There’s such a sense of dread hanging over this movie. He really shoots the hell out of it. That border crossing is tense as hell. And the tunnel sequence? I can name just about every sequence in this movie. He made one of the most gripping films of the year, and for the second time now, was ignored (along with his film) for awards.
5. Lenny Abrahamson, Room
I was so happy to see him get nominated. He did an astounding job with this movie. The first half takes place in a ten by ten space. And he doesn’t even cheat it! He literally shoots inside this space for the first half of the film. And the film is just so beautiful, I have to credit Abrahamson for a lot of that. Jacob Tremblay gives a great performance, but with a child actor, the director has to take care of a lot of that, in helping shape that performance. He is owed a lot of credit for what he accomplished here, and I’m glad the Academy recognized him for it.
6. Sebastian Schipper, Victoria
He shot a movie in a single take and didn’t cheat. Add to that the fact that the movie is actually good and maintains your attention throughout — I have to show him the respect he deserves. In terms of effort, there weren’t a lot more that could top that.
7. Ryan Coogler, Creed
It’s the way he shot the fight sequences. He took what otherwise is a fairly straightforward Rocky movie (let’s not pretend like he’s not following the typical formula and broad strokes beats of the first film but with a different in-point) and make it great. It feels vibrant and energetic. Exactly the kind of film the first movie was. This was a real crowdpleaser, and a lot of that is due to Coogler’s direction. That one-take fight scene was really impressive.
8. Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs
It’s basically three films in one. He shoots one on 16, one on 35 and one on digital. The whole thing moves at a brisk pace, and you never really notice the direction, despite it contributing to the overall effort. Which is exactly what you want out of a director, especially one handling an Aaron Sorkin script. He adds these nice little touches to enhance the overall product, which is pretty spectacular to begin with. One of the more underrated efforts of the year.
9. Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight
I’m gonna be honest — despite my questioning of the use of 70mm for a movie shot mostly indoors, I really liked this movie and thought the direction was really good. It looked great, and it kept me interested despite the crazy three hour run time. He’s getting a bit too indulgent, but overall, I think he did a fine job with this one.
10. Guillermo Del Toro, Crimson Peak
This movie looked gorgeous, and was a joy to watch. My only real problems with it are in the writing. Not the direction. There are so many layers to the shot choices here and such thought went into every bit of framing and color and movement, and this movie has been utterly forgotten by everyone. And that’s a goddamn shame.
11. Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies
Spielberg knows his way around a story by now. He’s past the days (seemingly. But I’d love for him to prove me wrong. Because then everybody wins) of doing something truly refreshing with his direction (like Eastwood, like Ridley Scott), but he’s so good at it that you see a lot of great touches with each successive watch that are so subtle and are clearly the work of someone who’s been doing this for a while and knows exactly what he’s doing. (P.S. The four endings lowers my opinion of the effort a bit. Because come on, you had it!)
12. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
The reason this isn’t higher is because a lot of the direction comes off as a film student’s wet dream. He’s doing things just to do them. Like that moment where the camera turns sideways to track the boys down the street. There’s no real reason for it within the scene, but it’s cool to see and I’m okay with it, since the point of the movie is that it’s about a bunch of high school filmmakers. Sure, it’s overly indulgent at times, but it’s fun, and there’s no denying he takes a script that could have been a pretentious indie and got the absolute most out of it and turned it into a real crowd pleaser. This was my favorite film of the year, so the effort was going to appear on this list somewhere. I actually feel like I might have went a bit too low with it. But I’m honest in my assessments, and I honestly liked the other 11 efforts more than this one.
13. Alex Garland, Ex Machina
He made a movie that takes place almost entirely in an isolated house, indoors, with three principle characters. And it’s great. And most people think its great. All credit goes to him and the actors for that.
14. David Robert Mitchell, It Follows
This is one of the most unique and interesting horror movies I’ve seen in years. It’s such a brilliant concept and execution, and I will always shout out a good horror movie.
15. Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, The Tribe
There’s no dialogue here and the entire cast is deaf and/or speaking sign language. And the entire film remains interesting throughout. That’s a credit to the direction.
16. John Crowley, Brooklyn
It’s such a throwback film. I loved every minute of it. In terms of pure favorites, maybe I should have put this a few spots higher, but the rankings don’t matter and I wanted to shout out a few other films that might not have gotten as much notice as this has.
17. Ridley Scott, The Martian
The man’s an old pro. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but he made a great film. He’s done the same kind of work for the past six years without these kinds of results. He knows what he’s doing, and this was deftly made throughout.
18. Jon Watts, Cop Car
LOVED his work here. Such a simple premise that he got the absolute most out of. I’m gonna keep pointing to the same thing over and over, but that scene where Bacon opens the door with a piece of string is incredible. Most directors wouldn’t have had the confidence to let that scene play out the way he did. Plus the way he handles the different tones of the film is really impressive. He got Spider-Man from this, so clearly I’m not the only one who was impressed.
19. Bill Polhad, Love & Mercy
The man’s only directed once before (a movie no one remembers from 1990), but he comes off like an old pro with this. The techniques he uses here look like they came from a sure hand, from someone who’s been doing it for years. This film as a whole really, really impressed me, and I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more love overall.
20. Robert Zemeckis, The Walk
Sure, the first half is what it is, but there’s no denying that when he walks out on that wire, this movie sings. And Zemeckis really gets the most out of those thirty minutes. I couldn’t rightly put this list out there without including him. That wire walk is some of the best filmmaking out there.
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Tomorrow, we start going over the Oscar categories.