Oscar nominations are out, which makes this a good time to review and learn from the Best Films of 2015. In this breakdown, John Truby crystallizes the essence of 16 talked-about films under consideration, in order of preference (from his Top Picks to those films that are over-rated at the bottom of the list).
#1–MAD MAX FURY ROAD: This dystopian action film is a bullet to hell; a feminist movie told the most masculine way possible. This underestimated script is a master course in narrative drive, the single most important story element in popular storytelling worldwide. If you want to sell speed, this is how it’s done.
#2–EX MACHINA: One of the smartest and best science fiction films in years. The combination with horror gives the soaring intellect intense emotional impact.
#3–INSIDE OUT: A powerful female myth that dramatizes a young girl’s mind with tremendous force and complexity. A major accomplishment in storytelling, and a guidepost to our myth future.
#4–SPOTLIGHT: Excellent script and film that shows the need for and the power of good journalism. It begins as an intellectual detective story of pedophile priests and ends with the deep emotional power of real people’s lives destroyed.
#5–THE BIG SHORT: A highly unique genre mix of true story with social satire. These strange financial nerds have the smarts and the guts to go against the conventional wisdom and the easy money. Writing a funny story that also explains the complex details of the financial crash is quite a storytelling feat.
#6–ROOM: Incredible screenwriting challenge of depicting the world through the eyes of a five-year-old, and shows that the joys of living come from the smallest moments. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more powerful expression of a child’s love for his mother, or a mother’s love for her child. Tough going, but also the most touching film of the year.
#7–THE MARTIAN: Outer space Robinson Crusoe story about problem-solving and community. Luckily the hero is not only an expert in botany but apparently every other science known to man. A fun popcorn movie based on an internet novel.
#8–BRIDGE OF SPIES: The slow march of a quiet hero. This film plays out the “proper” moral argument, but the lack of narrative drive makes it feel like a civics lesson.
#9–BROOKLYN: A sweet, simple tale about a young woman torn between two countries and two ways of life. Not much in the way of story, but quite moving.
#10–THE REVENANT: Some amazing moments that you have never seen before in film. But this movie lasts as long as it takes for a man to crawl across the continent. The hero is a combination of Job and Mr. Bill, magnified ten times. The cinema of attrition.
#11–CAROL: Heartfelt drama of love between two women in a more repressive time. Unfortunately, endless car rides and hotel room conversations without any plot whatsoever make this a slooooow go. But the ending is a knockout.
#12–STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON: Classic rise and fall story structure for a rock band, but this time it’s rap, so it’s rougher, more in your face. Has a number of powerful moments, but the story is predictable.
#13–TRUMBO: On the nose script that preaches to the choir. It would seem impossible to come up with a complex moral argument in this story because it’s so hard to justify the other side. Then again, it’s all happening right now, just with a different source of fear.
#14–STEVE JOBS: Some strong conflict scenes, but the overall structure is bizarre and often silly, and the main character, at least as presented here, is despicable. Please, Aaron Sorkin, stop with the deeply personal confrontations broadcast loudly in front of dozens of embarrassed onlookers, including the audience. Having characters who are extremely bright doesn’t hide the fact that these moments are emotionally phony.
#15–JOY: Ridiculous set up of the most dysfunctional family ever, with the heroine as enabler. Every character is an idiot. A success story in overkill.
#16–THE HATEFUL EIGHT: Bloated, boring, self-indulgent, sadistic exercise in cruelty. When will the international screenwriting community realize that this emperor lost his clothes a long time ago.