In 2014, we basked in the warm, soothing glow of genre films. While a number of them veered toward the dark and macabre, many of our absolute favorites — like The Grand Budapest Hotel and our #1 of the year, Under the Skin — were divorced from reality — fascinating and brilliant, obviously, but in the realm of the fantastic rather than in the now. 2015 was a tough year, and just a glance at its major news headlines was enough to make us shudder. Our favorite films of the year tended to reflect our increasing anxieties and disillusionment, as our knowledge of rigged systems and fraudulent institutions reached its peak, causing us to feel even more powerless at our inability to combat them.
If the cinema of 2015 was anything for us, it was the year of the social outsider. Disenchantment with reality morphed itself into empowerment via cinematic proxy, giving a voice to the voiceless and face to those normally lost in the crowd. From those thrust into society’s margins due to their race or sexual/gender identities (Field Niggas, Carol, Tangerine, Chi-Raq), drug addiction (Heaven Knows What, Stinking Heaven), or inborn disabilities (the deaf kids in The Tribe) to those forcibly cut off from the outside world (Room) or who simply reveled in giving it a giant, perpetual “fuck you” (Buzzard), characters in our favorite films of the year just flat-out struggled to navigate reality.
Even the settings and environments in this batch of films were unrelentingly vicious and challenging. From the brutal blasts of icy winds in The Hateful Eight and The Revenant and the unforgivingly dry desert landscapes of Mad Max: Fury Road and Timbuktu to land soaked in blood (Crimson Peak), mud, and feces (Hard to Be a God), Mother Earth wasn’t taking any more of our shit and felt compelled to inform us. Even the reliability of good, old-fashioned sex to come through with a little unfettered pleasure and joy came at a hefty price, leaving its characters as reticent sadists (The Duke of Burgundy), with a supernatural being or gang of dominatrices hunting them down (It Follows, R100), or defenseless in a dark, damp European corridor (Spring). Forget about it being hard to be a God; in this year’s cinema, it was hard enough to be a fucking person.
Yet despite all this doom and gloom, our favorite films never wallowed in misery and instead met the trials and tribulations of existence head-on in wildly entertaining and innovative ways, transcending struggles and leaving behind inspiring treatises that left us richer and stronger in the process. No, this was not a defeatist year at movies — quite the opposite, despite the dark shadow cast by its films. Cinema ran into the face of adversity and came away with its fair share of victories that empowered the powerless and touched us all deeply on an experiential and intellectual level. The significance of cinema was exemplified, to loosely paraphrase Godard, not only in its uncanny ability to reflect reality, but in that reflections’ reality to change us for the better. 2015 took us into some dark new territories, but the light it shed upon them may just have made the path ahead a bit clearer." –DEREK SMITH