The second half of 2015 has a tough act to beat, at least as far as the movies are concerned. It’s not only the quality of the films themselves, but the variety displayed among them. From smart science-fiction to broad comedy to foreign-language allegory, my favorite pictures of 2015 run the gamut. Here’s a list of the top five films of the year, at least at its midpoint.
5. What We Do in the Shadows
If reality television often feels like the nadir of our contemporary entertainment landscape, at least it’s allowed for ripe spoofs of the genre, including this faux documentary from New Zealand about four vampire roommates. Gory, gag-laden and a spot-on sendup of the reality TV format, What We Do in the Shadows ultimately manages to mock death (or at least the undead) in such a way that the Apostle Paul might even approve.
4. It Follows
Writing about It Followsearlier on TC, I pointed out that it was distinct from the usual sex-as-death horror flick because it “gives sexual activity a metaphysical weight.” The story follows a young woman who discovers, after having sex with her new boyfriend, that he has passed a curse of sorts on to her. He tells her to look out for a slowly approaching figure, because if it catches her, it will kill her. The only way for her to escape the curse is to have sex with someone else. A simple STD metaphor? Yes, but in the carefully crafted way it is composed, It Follows also recognizes sexuality’s significance to us as created beings in search of meaningful connection.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
Another film that was thematically rich enough to warrant its own TC piece, this revisit of the post-apocalyptic franchise distinguished itself not only with thrillingly coherent action sequences (no small feat these days), but also with a uniquely determined vision of hope. This vision is held not by Max (Tom Hardy) - the stalwart, ostensible hero - but by a renegade truck driver (Charlize Theron) trying to rescue the imprisoned “wives” of a despotic warlord. Resolute, sacrificial and rooted in the expected renewal of a world gone wrong, Mad Max: Fury Road offers an eschatology that’s downright Biblical.
Mad Max: Fury Road offers an eschatology that’s downright Biblical.
2. White God
From Black Beauty to Robert Bresson (Au Hasard Balthazar, specifically), the movies often expose the inhumanity within us by viewing humankind through an animal’s eyes. Such is the case with this drama from Hungary, in which a young girl is forcibly separated from her beloved dog, who goes on to endure harrowing abuse at the hands of cruel men. I won’t exactly give away how payback arrives, except to note that it involves a bonkers sequence of 250 actual animals racing down the streets of Budapest. Bleak and witty, White God is a furry Shadow: it knows what lurks in the hearts of men.
1. Ex Machina
Movies asking the big questions – in this case: what makes us human? – usually aren’t this fun. Yet first-time director Alex Garland brings an electric intelligence to this science-fiction thriller, in which a tech genius (Oscar Isaac, also electric) coerces one of his employees into taking his new AI robot on a psychosexual test drive. In the process, Ex Machina suggests that empathy may be the best proof of human consciousness and, more profoundly, of our imago dei. In other words, it’s our Christ-like ability to share the experiences of others that defines us.
Where to watch
What We Do in the Shadows: now streaming; available on DVD July 21
It Follows: now streaming; on DVD July 14
Mad Max: Fury Road: still in theaters
White God: on DVD July 28
Ex Machina: now streaming; on DVD July 14