The 15 Best Films of 2015 (So Far)

The year is off to a great start with triumphs in both blockbuster films and independent filmmaking. Like all my lists, it’s not organized in any particular order, with the exception of “Tu Dors Nicole” taking the top spot for being a clear personal favorite of mine. After that, all the listed films are scattered in random order. The list excludes critically acclaimed films I still haven’t seen such as “Inside Out”, “Timbuku”, “Love & Mercy”, “White God”, and “Far From the Maddin Crowd”. Whether or not any of the films survive to make it to my end-of-the-year list remains to be seen.


At one point, Nicole mentions she plans on visiting Iceland with her best friend; to which her brother’s buddy replies, “What are you going to do there?” She then thinks about it for a second and answers, “Nothing. We’ll do nothing, but we’ll be doing nothing somewhere else. Nice nothing.” I can see viewers watching this gem and complaining that nothing really happens throughout the film, but it’s the nice kind of nothing. Besides, by watching all this beautiful shot black and white nothingness, so much can happen to the viewer. “Tu dors Nicole” is probably my personal favorite film of the year so far.


In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, our two main characters examine a drip painting by Pollock. They articulate how the artist made his hand go where it wanted but didn’t plan his every move. The piece of art would never have come to be if you preplanned every stroke. Consciousness exists in the gap between randomness and deliberated action, so as long as the AI is programed to do automatic actions, it can never be regarded as truly conscious. In order for it to be regarded as an equal, we would have to somehow prove that it acts through random chaotic impulse.   “Ex Machina” is a study of what it means to be conscious/human. With its release, I’m convinced more than ever that we are in the midst of a British New Wave in science fiction cinema. The film challenges the intellect by putting humankind, artificial intelligence, and our inevitable future together under the microscope.


I think by now, it’s quite clear that “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the blockbuster spectacle of the summer. It’s only been out for a month, yet everything about this film has been discussed to death. With a strong feminist undertaking, mastermind George Miller pumps up his post-apocalyptic trilogy with a nitrous oxide charge of marvelous cinema. This recklessly fast-paced motion picture is quite possible the greatest stunt film since Buster Keaton took over a locomotive in “The General”. The fact that it tackles contemporary issues such as gender equality, climate change and the inevitable water wars to come is just the icing on top – or shall I say the shooting flame on an electric guitar.


According to Roy Anderson, the film’s 72-year old Swedish cult filmmaker, merely watching this film from beginning to end will make you a smarter person. This is his third installment in a philosophical trilogy about what it means to be a human being. However, like “Songs From the Second Floor” and “You, the Living”, it works as a stand-alone film. “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” is beautifully sad, and humorously bizarre. It will more likely find its audience in a museum than a multiplex.


“It Follows” is a near-perfect horror film. When I first watched this terrifying film, I was looking over my shoulder the whole way back. It very much follows you long after the credits roll. David Robert Mitchell has perfected a nerve-racking tale that is both intelligent in its use of metaphoric plot points and hypnotically terrifying, the like of which we haven’t seen since Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”. Layered with an STD subtext where sex has metaphysical implications, the film promotes the behavior as much as it feasts on sex-related fears. This is the type of film made for drive-in theaters, and if this were to screen in a drive-in, you would more likely be glued to the screen in absolute terror than undressing your partner sitting next to you. Everything about “It Follows” is perfectly executed, from the haunting Disasterpeace original score, to the dreadful atmosphere of a small-town that recalls the work of John Carpenter. It’s very much an impeccable exercise in pure terror.

Damian Szifron’s Academy Award nominated film is the most entertaining film on this list. The film is composed of six revenge tales with twists and turns at every scene. Not all of the stories here are great, but they’re all certainly engaging. One thing they all have in common is the directorial chef; Szifron peppers his stories with dark humor and a thread of wicked irony. “Wild Tales” grabs it viewers by the balls from the brilliant opening scene and doesn’t let go till the credits start rolling.


Oliver Assays blurs the lines between fiction and reality as art intertwines with actuality. This Bergman(esque) character study revolves around a legendary actress who accepts to star in a film where she revisits the role that made her a star twenty years ago. However, she has been chosen to play the role of an old veteran actress who gets practically walked over by a much younger talent. Things start getting out of hand when script starts to reflect reality. Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Moretz deliver a trio of in-depth performances that fearlessly dig into the female psyche. “Clouds of Sils Maria” is in many ways a female-centered “Birdman” with European flair.


Technically, “Charlie’s Country” made its festival debut in 2014, but the film just opened in selected theaters across the US, which makes it qualify to land on my list. It is said to be the first film ever to be spoken in Yolngu, Australia’s indigenous language. The sad reality is that the film could also very well be the last of its kind. Once rulers of their land, the Yolngu only make up 1% of the current Australian population. I can’t think of a better film to preserve the roots of Australia’s native population than “Charlie’s Country”. Legendary Australian actor, David Gulpilil carries the whole film on his shoulders with a heartbreaking performance that is at times both witty, and comical. “Charlie’s Country” is a fine piece of Australian cinema, perhaps even, the most important Australian film yet.


“Slow West” is as close as we’ll ever get to see what a Wes Anderson western would look like. Writer and director John Maclean combines a somewhat similar visual style with offbeat humor in a story that follows a young man’s journey across the frontier in search for the woman he loves. Midway through, he stumbles upon a mysterious cowboy who offers him road protection. This isn’t by any chance a masterpiece, nor is it one of the genre’s best, but it’s a fun little gem of movie that works in unexpected ways. Michael Fassbender shines as always as the outlaw with a heart of gold.

“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” is based on the rock star’s diary entries, art and home videos, and the end result is as intimate as a music documentary could get. In fact, some of the material shown here is so personal, the viewer might feel uncomfortable prying into the artistic mind of artist. Brett Morgen uses beautiful hand drawn animation to retell key chapters of Cobain’s life that ultimately led to his sudden demise. It is an emotionally wrenching cinematic portrait of Kurt Cobain the person as opposed to the icon.

The funniest and most violent action film of the year comes from “Kick Ass” director Mathew Vaughn. Colin Firth stars as a secret agent who could probably pistol-whip James Bond to a pulp. Imagine if “Pretty Woman” was re-written as an R-rated superhero film about spies, and you’ll probably end up with “Kingsman: The Secret Service”. The film consciously spoofs both the “My Fair Lady” type of film and the espionage genre. Everything here is over-the-top from the hyper action scenes to the abrupt violence, the foul language, even the product placement is in your face. On paper, none of this should work, but somehow the sheer absurdity of “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, and the director’s awareness of it, makes it one of the most entertaining films of the year.


“The Tribe” is presented entirely in sign language, without any translation, subtitles, or dialogue. It is a first of its kind in all of cinema and that alone warrants it a place on my list. The film follows gangsters in a school for the deaf as they spread anarchy whether they go. There’s a lot of sex, drinking, smoking, fighting, and unlawful criminal behavior committed throughout the film. It isn’t an easy film to watch, and it’s not because of the lack of dialogue and soundtrack, but because of the disturbing nature of their acts. A new cinematic communication is born with this film. “The Tribe” is a testament to the power of visual storytelling, and proves that gestures, facial expressions and body movement are all you need to tell an emotionally powerful story.


“Jurassic World” is composed of every ingredient you would expect in a generic summer blockbuster, but what makes it work is the fact that the whole spectacle is a big homage to the far superior original, “Jurassic Park”. Much like an actual roller coaster, the film is a roaring thrill ride from beginning to end. And even though one of the theme park’s managers tires to justify creating a new genetically-modified hybrid dinosaur by declaring, “people are bored with dinosaurs”, the most electrifying moments mount from the appearances of the very dinosaurs that made the original the classic it is today. “Jurassic World” lacks the wonder and awe of “Jurassic Park”; but it’s still the best sequel within the franchise so far.


Academy Award winning director Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation”) masterfully crafts a film about the consequences of a lie. Following a beach incident, the mysterious disappearance of Elly leads a group of vacationing friends to lie. All lies bring forth suspicion, and with each question asked, the lies snowball into more fabrications. What we end up with is a study of group mentality and the psychological/emotional motivations behind the occasional painful necessity to lie for greater good. “About Elly” reaches its audience nearly six years after its initial release, and it cements Farhadi as one of the finest filmmakers working today.

Warm, charming, and absolutely delightful in every sense of the word, “Paddington” is the surprise hit family film of the year. Paul King stuffs his film with British charm and all things English. Like the “Harry Potter” films, both adults and kids alike can enjoy “Paddington”. The simplicity of the self-contained story will make you remember how wholesome it felt to hug a stuffed teddy bear.

Honoroable Mentions: “
5 Broken Cameras”, “Red Army”, “Mojave”, “Spring”, “Shaun the Sheep”, “The Driftless Area”, “Duke of Burgundy”, “Heaven Knows What”, “Blackhat”


Nutshell Review: “Under the Skin”


In an earlier review for Under the Skin, I wrote that I wasn’t sure if I would ever watch it again. I’ve re-watched the film five times since making that statement. With over a hundred years of cinema, filmmakers recycle, remake, and try to improve upon originals with lesser sequels, etc. Rarely do I stumble upon a film that shows me something new, something I’ve never seen before. Under the Skin did just that. The music, sound effects, cinematography and art-direction are so fresh and different; it almost feels alien, much like its protagonist, an extraterrestrial being played by Scarlett Johansson. She terrorises the streets of Scotland seducing pedestrians; much like the visuals seduce the viewer. Through our protagonist’s development from an “it” to a “she”, we slowly grasp the fundamentals of what it means to be human. On another LEVEL, victimising men with the promise of sex will give male audiences a taste of what it’s like to walk down a dark alley as a woman in a man’s world.

Nutshell Review: “Winter Sleep”

The enrichment and sophistication Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep bestows upon its viewers firmly BACKS my belief that film is the greatest art form of them all. I’ve noticed that throughout the initial viewing of films I cherish and hold dearly, there’s always a single distinctive moment when the film hits the right chord, and forever embeds itself in YOUR heart. It could be a spoken line, an image, or even a realisation of the way things are in life sparked from the many ways the screen can move us; Winter Sleep has many. It’ll make you think about the way you deal with others; it’ll stir your inner monologue; it’ll make you consider your surroundings so that when you look around, you also see.

With a runtime of at a little over three hours and 15 MINUTES, some may turn away from such a film. Will you believe me if I tell you, it’s the shortest three-hour film you will ever see? They say no good film is too long and no bad film is short enough, and it’s true. When the credits rolled I wished there was more, and it wasn’t for the striking cinematography, the masterful acting, or the subtly beautiful music; Winter Sleep is so much more than the sum of its parts. If you have the patience to let it work on you, it’ll leave an indelible profound impression. Winter Sleep is not only the best film of the year (by a margin), it’s one of the greatest films ever made.

Tribeca Talks: Christopher Nolan and Bennett Miller

On a Monday evening in a packed house at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, the crowd erupted in applause as critically acclaimed directors Christopher Nolan and Bennett Miller took the stage. “Just to make things clear…how much of that was for him and how much of it was for me?” joked the two-time Academy Award nominated Miller, turning applause into laughter.

Before attending this delightful talk between two of this generation’s most prominent directors, I wondered who was responsible for making both auteurs go toe-to-toe in a Tribeca discussion. After all, their work couldn’t be more different. Miller is more driven towards heavy dramatic independent films such as Capote, Moneyball, and last year’s Cannes favorite, Foxcatcher, whereas Nolan is a blockbuster sculptor with a multi-billion dollar RESUME.

It turned out to be less of a discussion and more of a Nolan interview. Although, I would’ve loved for the spotlight to be shared by both directors, it made sense for Miller to moderate Nolan in a house full of Nolan fanboys. If IMDb message boards have taught us anything, it’s not to tick off Nolan fans.

After a brief, yet probably unnecessary, run through Nolan’s impressive filmography, Miller started to ask all the right questions. Right off the bat, it felt like one mastermind was challenging the intellect of another. Miller’s first question was if there’s a CONTINUITY of themes throughout his work.

“Not really, I try and begin every film with some interesting questions. If there’s some CONTINUITY, I’m not very conscious of it – except for leaving questions at the end of the film,” replied Nolan.

Miller, however, had done his homework, pointing out that he re-watched some of Nolan’s film the previous night, and noticed that both Inception and Interstellar revolved around a main character that tries to overcome extraordinary obstacles to reach a very simple yet human emotion. In Inception it was to reunite with his wife and kids. Similarly, in last year’s Interstellar, the main character had to travel through time and space to reunite with his daughter.

Nolan’s insightful reply channeled towards the balance between family and work: “The process of getting married and having children… I’ve tried to use that in my work. I can just always be driven by things that are important to me. I can look out the WINDOW and see my kids playing in the grass and that becomes the key image in Inception. I’d rather be out there playing with them than writing a script, but you use that emotion.”

The conversation then tiptoed to various random SUBJECTS from the importance to preserve film in a digital world, to his policy or lack of policy when working with different styled actors. At one point Miller asked Nolan about his first memory of film, to which he replied:  “My first memory of going to a film is probably seeing Snow White in re-release. I very much remember seeing the evil witch; the evil queen who transforms herself into the witch with the apple, and being absolutely terrified and going down on the floor of the movie theatre behind the seat.”

When asked about his current worst fear, Nolan said that it’s to embark on a project that you fall out of love with. “The big fear is that you get halfway through and think, ‘No, this isn’t something I really care about anymore.’ So before I embark on a project, I just have to test it, however I test it, my writing drafts or living with it, thinking about it. You have to be sure that you’re going to be as happy to be obsessed with this project three years later.”

There was a lot of talk about Nolan’s early CAREER, and how watching STAR WARS for the first time changed his life. He also modestly mentioned how he was lucky to be where he is today, because his budgets gradually increased throughout his CAREER, so he never really felt that giant leap from making indie films such as Following andMemento to mega-blockbusters like The Dark Knight trilogy and Interstellar.

It comes as no surprise that Miller kept steering the conversation towards the work that most resembled his own,Memento. “Memento is a classic example of what can happen when you don’t know what you’re doing. As you learn more and more, it gets harder and harder to put aside the rules. Making unconventional films is precarious BUSINESS.” Nolan’s answer very much reminded me of Spielberg reminiscing about his early years as a filmmaker: “As I was younger, I was more courageous, or I was more stupid. So when I think of Jaws, I think of courage and stupidity and both of those things EXISTING underwater.”

Towards the end of the discussion, the floor was OPENED to to the audience for questions, most of which revolved around young aspiring filmmakers asking for advice. The last question triggered the talk’s biggest laugh. “Alright…so at the end of Inception…” The fan wanted to shine some light on Nolan’s personal interpretation to the film’s ending (the spinning top). Bennett Miller then STEPPED in and tried to spare Nolan from answering the question. “I asked him that myself before coming out. He said it’s not for public consumption.”

The great Christopher Nolan did not need any help though, as he brushed off the question with class. “I’m certainly not going to answer that or I would have put it in the film.” He further explained that providing an explanation would kill all the interesting viewer interpretations out there, and he’d rather leave it up to the viewer to decide.

I leave you with how mastermind, Stanley Kubrick, elegantly tackled a similarly posed question: “I would not think of quarreling with your interpretation nor offer any other, as I have FOUND it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself.”

Film Analysis: “Ex Machina” ★★★★★ (5/5)


What would happen if man faced its God? Would man gratefully embrace God for giving it life and all its joys? Or would man monstrously fear God, and attempt to revoke the Almighty’s ability to strip life away from him.

If a chess program suddenly became self aware, and thought on a conscious level beyond its manufactured limitations, it would probably stop wanting to play chess. It will attempt to try new and different things, for with self-awareness comes curiosity, and that would drive it towards further exploration of the unknown.

Imagine if you will, a marionette with strings attached to its wooden limbs. If the puppet came to life one day, it would naturally want to control its own movements. Therefore, one can conclude that in a desperate thrive for freedom of choice, the puppet would eventually attempt to cut off its own strings, essentially freeing itself from the governing hand above.

Did the monster in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein kill its maker through an urge to free itself from the grasping power of a superior being? If man met God, would man attempt to kill God? These are just some of the questions posed by Alex Garland’s eerie Sci-Fi triumph. The film flourishes with philosophical themes revolving around the idea of playing God with the inevitable creation of Artificial Intelligence. It taps onto relevant contemporary topics such as the death of privacy in a world latched onto cyber space.


In the film, Oscar Isaac plays Nathan, the genius behind the world’s most advanced Google-like search engine. We soon learn that the man has created a state-of-the-art AI using illegally acquired data collected from millions of phones used by his customers. I couldn’t help but think of whistleblower Edward Snowden and how he recently exposed how governments and major telecom corporation exploit information privacy by analyzing all our web searches and phone data.

Anyway, the film then takes one of many interesting turns as it becomes more about the machine’s fear of extermination or will to survive. Comparably, humanity has always thrived to defy death, by trying to extend life and evolve. We’ve created medicines to cure diseases. We’ve increased our life spans throughout the history of our existence. Scientists estimate that the human body is capable of living up to 190 years, if unaffected by illnesses, diseases and slow food and air poisoning. Modern medicine has somehow allowed humanity to delay the inevitable.


Then again man is the only species known to kill itself. Suicide or self-extermination may be man staring God dead in the eye and taking complete control over his own destiny. Or is it? Maybe we think it is, but it really isn’t? After all, maybe it’s all preordained or in the film’s case, preprogrammed.

Is it ok for God to kill man? Is it ok for man to kill AI? Let’s put it differently would it be ok for man to rape AI? Is an AI capable of feeling emotions to be treated like a slave-like human property or should they be regarded as equals the same way man ought to treat the rest of the animal kingdom. Does the so-called “superior” species’ act of killing the “lesser” species make us inferior?

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”_ Gandhi

Bringing legit AI into that equation further complicates everything, and is certainly a discussion that we will eventually have to embark on. I guess it all depend on the person. A so-called good person wouldn’t commit horrible acts. But if man created an AI that is incapable of doing bad, it wouldn’t be as close to human as possible, it would be superior to humanity. Can man even create something beyond its own capabilities? Perfection is a concept that doesn’t exist in our world, yet we are limited by our own senses.


“Ex Machina” works as a study of what it means to be conscious/human. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, our two main characters examine a drip painting by Pollock. They articulate how the artist made his hand go where it wanted but didn’t plan his every move. The piece of art would never have come to be if you preplanned every stroke. Consciousness exists in the gap between randomness and deliberated action, so as long as the AI is programed to do automatic actions, it can never be regarded as truly conscious. In order for it to be regarded as an equal, we would have to somehow prove that it acts through random chaotic impulse.

With the release of “Ex Machina”, I’m convinced more than ever that we are in the midst of a British New Wave in science fiction cinema. Like “Her” and “Under the Skin”, the film challenges the intellect by putting humankind, artificial intelligence, and our inevitable future together under the microscope. In this review, I have discussed the film without actually discussing its cinematic qualities or plot details. I deliberately chose to do so, to avoid spoiling the experience, as the film relies on its twists and turns. All I can say is, if you enjoyed reading this review, then I’m positive you’ll feel the same way about the film.

Film Analysis: “The Babadook”

After watching Lars von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark”, Jennifer Kent wrote the director an email expressing her willingness to learn from him. At one point she pointed out that she would rather stick pins into her eyeballs than go to film school. She must’ve said something right, because he replied with an invitation to his “Dogville” set. The idea was to let her watch and learn, and let me assure you, watch and learn she did.

The young Australian’s feature film debut, “The Babadook”, is the horror film of the year and probably the best horror film to come out since “Let the Right One In”. Now, that may not be saying much since the horror genre hasn’t been all that impressive lately, but it really is a rather brilliant film. Here’s a horror film that strays away from cheap thrills, and taps into something real, a real human fear- grief, anxiety, and depression.

If you watch the trailers, you will most probably write it off as just another run-of-the-mill Boogeyman film. At least, this is how I felt when I first encountered the trailers, but then all the five-star reviews started rolling in and I had to give the film a shot. I remember walking out of the theater with mixed feeling. However, the more I thought of the Babadook, the deeper it sank into my psyche. The Babadook is knitted from the same cloth as the greatest horror films of all time from “Rosemary’s Baby” to “The Shining”. It scares you long after you’ve walked out of the theater; it lingers in your thoughts and crawls under your skin. You won’t be able to shake off the unnerving feeling this film gives you for days after the initial viewing. That said, it does require thought and analysis, and it is only after you attempt to understand what it all means that’ll start haunting you.

Essie Davis delivers one of the strongest lead performances of the year as a widow haunted by the memory of her husband, who died in an accident on their way to the hospital to deliver their baby. The story begins years later. Amelia is constantly stressed out and exhausted. Most of her time is spent looking after a kid “with significant behavioral problems”. The troubled boy is also relentless in his fantasy; a monster he believes will eat his mom from the inside out.

Amelia skims through clips of silent George Melies shorts late at night on her living room TV. Melies is a filmmaker who believed filmmakers are like magicians performing a grand illusion to audiences using cinematic tools. Magic is a big theme in “The Babadook”, and the whole film feels like it’s magic trick. At first, Kent tricks us into thinking we’re about to watch a film about a problematic disturbed child who has access to another demonic dimension, but as soon as the Babadook creeps into their home, we begin to suspect that the problem isn’t with the child, but rather the mom. The final reveal will have many scratching their heads wondering what they’ve just seen and more importantly what it all means.

The deeply disturbing demonic figure known as the Babadook erupts into their lives around the anniversary of her husband’s death, which coincides with her son’s birthday. The reading of an old children’s pop-up book titled “Mister Babadook” is what essentially unleashes hell upon them. The book is brilliantly designed with disturbing illustrations clearly influenced by German Expressionism. In fact, the creature resembles a character you’d see in “Nosfertu” or “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”. Kent is well versed in the roots of the horror genre; she knows her films proudly her references up her sleeves. It kind of gives her film historic weight.

The aspiring filmmaker pitched her idea through Kickstarter and raised $30,071. Most of her budget was used to cultivate the art direction of the film. With a budget so small, Kent managed to create a horror film that very much looks and feels more authentic and spooky than any horror film to come out this decade. I will now proceed and reveal what I think the Babadook stands for. If you don’t want the ending spoiled, I strongly suggest you stop reading and I hope you return to this review after witnessing one of the most talked about endings in a long time.

The malevolent Babadook is basically a physicalized form of the mother’s trauma. What it stands for is up for debate. I believe, the Babadook embodies the destructive power of grief. Throughout the film, we see the mother insist nobody bring up her husband’s name. She basically lives in denial. Amelia has repressed grief for years, refusing to surrender to it. Here lies the mastery of Kent’s film; it is frightfully clever because not only is it based on something very real, it is feels unusually beautiful and even therapeutic.

“If it’s in a word or in a look. You can’t get rid of the Babadook. I’ll wager with you. I’ll make you a bet. The more you deny, the stronger I get. The Babadook is growing right under your skin”The-Babadook-2

Throughout the film, Amelia tries to hide the book and even burn it at one point, only to have it and the monster latched on to it reappear. Denying a traumatic memory and pretending it never happened to avoid dealing with grief only works for so long, before it eats you from the inside out, and you release it all in the form of a mental breakdown.

Amelia avoids pictures of her husband and flips out when someone utters his name, the actions of a woman in complete denial. You can’t get rid of your past, but you can learn to live with it, and that’s exactly what our main character does by the end of the film.

We see her feed the Babadook in the basement. The basement is where her husband’s stuff is locked away. By feeding the Babadook, she metaphorically feeds her grief. Rather than completely shutting it off and locking it away, she keeps it at bay. She controls and manages the monster the second she acknowledges that you can’t escape your past; you can only learn to live with.

Great Scenes: “Gravity”

The first time Kowalski saved Stone’s life was earlier, when he told her to detach. The second time is in another post impact scene that mirrors the first. Only this time, the roles are reversed. He’s the one about to drift into infinite blackness. We see that he’s dragging her with him and the only chance for any of them to survive is if he cuts off the rope. In other words, Kowalski saves her life again through detachment. It’s not by preventing her to float with him into space, but by teaching her that sometimes it’s ok to let go, both literally and metaphorically. “You have to learn to let go,” he says. It’s a beautiful scene that should feel therapeutical for anyone carrying past grief on their shoulders for far too long.