The Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald and Soren Andersen both liked “Spotlight” but offer individual lists of dramas, horror flicks and comedies.
More than 450 movies opened in the Seattle area for theatrical runs in 2015; we saw many of them, but by no means all. Of those we saw, here are our favorites, divvied up by category and concluding with our traditional 10-best lists. Here’s hoping you saw at least 10 films — and maybe more? — that thrilled you this year.
Our favorite movie of the year
The only movie that both of us put on our best-of-2015 lists: “Spotlight”
Moira: How was it even possible that the year’s most spellbinding suspense film involved a crew of reporters staring at computer screens and court documents? Tom McCarthy, somehow, made this story about storytelling into mesmerizing drama.
Soren: Old-school shoe-leather journalism in which reporters dig deep into public records, doggedly track down sources and never, ever give up in their pursuit of an important story — in this case sexual abuse by Catholic clergymen in Boston — is celebrated in this meticulously directed picture.
Soren: A hurricane of words pours off the screen in “Steve Jobs,” words delivered with breathtaking intensity by Michael Fassbender in the title role. What raises the film way above the level of most biopics is the totality of Fassbender’s immersion into the character, creating a fascinating portrait of a deeply flawed and intensely driven man.
Closer in spirit to “Apollo 13” than to Ridley Scott’s previous career-best space movie, “Alien,” “The Martian” is a delight as it portrays the efforts of a never-say-die astronaut to survive being stranded on Mars. Perfectly cast as the everyman hero, Matt Damon is a wellspring of self-deprecating wisecracks as he resolves “to science the (expletive) out of” his situation and conquer a daunting plethora of otherworldly perils.
Colin Firth, dapper and deadly in equal measure, plays a suave super spy in filmmaker Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” a clever homage to Sean Connery-era James Bond movies. The tailoring is impeccable, the violence is mega and the humor is dry and wry.
What does it mean to be human? And what happens when technology advances to the point where the line between human and machine is blurred to the point of near invisibility? In his directorial debut “Ex Machina,” Alex Garland examines the issue in a coolly mesmerizing sci-fi movie that revolves around an enigmatic robot played by Alicia Vikander in an Oscarworthy performance.
Moira: I loved “Steve Jobs” and “The Martian,” too. (In the case of the latter, who didn’t?) But the drama foremost in my head (next to “Spotlight”) is “Room” — perhaps all the more so because Emma Donoghue’s book, told from the point of view of a child held prisoner with his mother, seemed unadaptable. No other movie this year so beautifully took us from darkness to light. “45 Years” (coming to Seattle theaters in late January) held me spellbound: Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, as a longtime couple dealing with a revelation, present a searing, devastating portrait of a marriage’s foundation crumbling. And, on the other side of the age spectrum, Marielle Heller’s “Diary of a Teenage Girl” beautifully and whimsically captured a moment in time for a young woman’s physical, emotional, and creative awakening.
Best action movies
Soren: Can you say “best action movie of the 21st century so far”? Can you say “Mad Max: Fury Road”? Unhinged, high-octane vehicular mayhem. A tough-as-nails postapocalyptic feminist heroine bitingly portrayed by Charlize Theron. (And hey, Tom Hardy was pretty good too as the titular hero.) A crazed ride into a monumental, lightning-etched storm with the pedal all the way to the metal while a war boy howls “Oh, what a day … what a lovely day!” Unforgettable movie moments are made of this. And to think the picture was made by a director in his late 60s. George Miller, you are the (aged) man for the ages.
Moira: Sorry, no action movies made my list this year (I appreciated “Mad Max,” but couldn’t make myself love it). But I do want to note my favorite line uttered in an action flick this year, spoken by Linda Cardellini as a very understanding spouse in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”: “You know I support your avenging.”
Best 1950s-era romances
Moira: Just when we were all mourning “Mad Men” (well, I was) comes not one but two gorgeously shot, beautifully acted midcentury romantic dramas. Todd Haynes’ “Carol,” with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara caught in a breathless love affair, captures beauty, longing, and poignancy in every frame. “Brooklyn,” a showcase for Saoirse Ronan as a young Irish immigrant, has an uncanny way of quietly sneaking up on its viewer; you don’t quite realize how much you’ve connected with it until you find yourself blinking away tears by its end. Such a double feature these two films would make, though you’d need a big (and lovely) handkerchief.
Best horror films
Soren: Paced with quiet deliberation, “Goodnight Mommy” is the rare horror movie where the mood gets darker as the filmmakers bring more light to the visuals. Young identical twin boys, isolated in a lovely, remote home, wonder if the mystery woman with the bandaged head who claims to be their mommy really is who she says she is. Tension builds inexorably to a frightful, unsettling climax.
Moira: Though they didn’t quite make my top 10, I have to give a shudder to the inventive “It Follows,” for which I will only say that it creeped me the hell out, you guys, and to “Crimson Peak,” for its delicious Gothic chills.
Soren: When the title character of “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” climbs out the window of a Swedish rest home, he’s launched on a picaresque odyssey that involves explosives, hoodlums and an elephant. Flashbacks to the hero’s encounters with the likes of Stalin, Truman, Francisco Franco and Robert Oppenheimer, among others, make this a convoluted and very funny journey indeed.
Moira: The great Lily Tomlin, appropriately, made a great dark comedy this year: “Grandma,” a small-scale, sort-of road movie that’s full of funny bits but ultimately becomes something bigger — a story of love, family ties, and learning to say goodbye.
Best completely unclassifiable movies
Soren: In the harshly beautiful and unforgivingly frigid wilderness of “The Revenant,” a maimed man claws his way out of the grave and sets forth on a mission to avenge himself on the pair who left him for dead. Leonardo DiCaprio does some of the best work of his career in a performance that obviously taxed him to the max in terms of its physical demands. Life, and death, on the frontier is portrayed with singular fidelity and ferocity by filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu.
In the nearly 30 years he’s been making features, Spike Lee’s mastery of filmmaking technique has grown greatly and the passion that informs his best work remains undiminished. Both elements combine in “Chi-Raq” to make his exploration of the issue of gun violence in inner city Chicago, and by extension throughout the United States, an immensely powerful cry from the heart.
Best films for all ages
Moira: If your kids spend the holidays watching “Shaun the Sheep Movie” and “Inside Out” over and over — how lucky are you? Shaun and his friends, in whimsical stop-motion, show that you don’t need many words to tell a delightful story; Joy, Sadness and the gang remind us once again that those Pixar wizards understand that most complicated piece of technology: the heart.
Best restored classic
Moira: Did any movie this year look better than the newly restored “The Third Man,” which took us back to late-’40s Vienna — all shadows, cigarette smoke and nighttime streets where “everybody ought to go careful in a city like this”? No, unless it was Powell and Pressburger’s opera-turned-movie “The Tales of Hoffmann” at Cinerama, which bloomed like a glorious Technicolor rose.
Finally, our lists
Soren: In numerical order …
1. “Mad Max: Fury Road”
3. “The Revenant”
4. “Ex Machina”
6. “Steve Jobs”
7. “Kingsman: The Secret Service”
8. “Goodnight Mommy”
9. “The Martian”
10. “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared”
Moira: In alphabetical order …
“Diary of a Teenage Girl”
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“Shaun the Sheep Movie”
“The Third Man”/ “Tales of Hoffmann”