It may be too early to discuss the Oscars, but the year in film is wrapping up with a disappointingly meager bang. Years previous, the winter has been a wonderland of cool, exciting new movies. But aside from the mixed, yet intriguing buzz surrounding The Revenant and the fervent anticipation for films like Carol or The Hateful Eight, there's little to get excited about this season. I like Star Wars as much as the next geek, but having not yet seen The Force Awakens, I'm left speculating like a scruffy nerfherder.
Thankfully, many of the best movies of 2015 have been out for months already, some winning praise and others lost in the fickle entertainment overload shuffle. Let us guide your brain.
We've compiled five great films (in no particular order) that you can see right now! Ranging in styles and genres, the five films share an old fashioned, masterful attention to character and story. You may not love them all, but there is something on this list for everyone.
Happy viewing and happy holidays!
What could have been a dull retread of themes we've seen explored countless times is instead ingeniously delivered in a sleek, broodingly intense package. An absorbingly brainy piece of science fiction from The Beach scribe Alex Garland, Ex Machina evolves into a striking example what could even be referred to as gender-sploitation horror. Garland's narrative introduces us to two characters, men named Nathan (Oscar Isaac) and Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) who will spend a week together in a secluded research facility. Nathan, a Steve Jobs type by way of Col. Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, has created an working artificial intelligence in the form of Ava (Alicia Vikander) designed to appear as a beautiful woman. It's Caleb's job to perform the Turing Test to determine if Ava's intelligence is indistinguishable from that of a human. Building to a dark, yet oddly hopeful climax, Ex Machina is further proof that it's been a great year for genre filmmaking.
Following a violent tragedy, a newly married writer (Mia Wasikowska) moves with her husband (Tom Hiddleston) to his ancestral home: a cavernous and dilapidated mansion ominously known as Crimson Peak. Guillermo del Toro's ode to Gothic horror romance divided audiences and some critics, who expected action and jump scares that turn out to be cats. On a narrative level, perhaps some were underwhelmed by the elements of love and romance, the oddly specific attention to character and detail. Audiences going in expecting action will be sorely disappointed, though blood certainly hits the floor. Many complained that they divined that Tom Hiddleson's Sir Thomas Sharpe was evil nearly five minutes into the film. Frankly, you should have surmised that from the trailer. Del Toro is evoking an old fashioned style of storytelling, in which haunted protagonists sleepwalk toward sometimes ghastly fates, seemingly blind to the numerous predators hungrily circling. Del Toro values mood and atmosphere over narrative realism, which is good news for more scrutinizing, film-literate audiences.
A boy travels from Scotland to America in search of his true love, only to be met with violence and bloodshed in John Maclean's Slow West. On the trail, the boy encounters Silas (Michael Fassbender) a bounty hunter who agrees to chaperon this frail teen across the unforgiving western landscape. Stumbling along on this surreal and nasty journey, the narrative builds to a moment of shocking poignancy before suddenly shifting tones to deliver one of the weirdest and biggest laughs of any film I've seen this year. One of two immigrant tales on this list, Slow West occupies a more stylized, hypnotic atmosphere, less story than yarn. Maclean, a former member of The Beta Band, executes a steady-handed and dryly irreverent piece of cinematic craftsmanship in this stellar debut.
The joys of Brooklyn, a beautifully simple tale of an Irish immigrant's journey to America, lies not in the mechanics of plot, but in the nuances of its richly defined characters. Eilis (Saoirse Ronan in an Oscar worthy turn) moves through the world with open-hearted innocence, overflowing with hope and naiveté. Arriving in New York City, she finds that innocence to be commended by her elders and mocked by her contemporaries. Homesick nearly to death, her unhappiness swells until she meets a young Italian man with whom she begins to see a future. Gracefully scripted by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) the film finds deeply engaging drama in the smallest details of human life. At a time when so many films are loud and obnoxiously of-the-moment, Brooklyn is a quiet and charmingly antiquated little miracle, beguilingly old fashioned and delightful. Despite all the blood, sex and weirdness on this list, Brooklyn confirms that character is the heart of any great story.
For sheer entertainment value, no other film this year reached the heights of George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road with its sweaty, bloody and dusty chase across a hellish Fellini-esque landscape. Charged by two intense performances by Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, Miller's narrative quickly picks up the pace and never loses momentum until its vicious and rewarding climax. It's a true high watermark visual achievement in action filmmaking, executed by an aging filmmaker who proves he's still got it. Deftly employing not so gradually escalating action, the film maintains a mesmerizing level of surreal optical insanity from beginning to end. If Fury Road had been the work of some 22 year old enfant terrible, we would be calling that filmmaker a genius. Well, George Miller is a cinematic genius. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to non-ironically rewatch Babe: Pig in the City.
Tony Hinds is a Canadian writer who studied film at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to ShowbizMonkeys.com, Tony has reviewed films for Step On Magazine and The Uniter. You can find Tony on Twitter.