9. Carol: After eight years since his last theatrical effort, director Todd Haynes returns to the big screen to tell a story of romance and the emotional baggage that comes with it. Carol is a sophisticated tale about a once widely scandalous subject matter, much similar to Haynes’ previous film Far From Heaven (2002).
8. Spotlight: Based on The Boston Globe’s investigation into cases of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic Priests, Spotlight is a film that meticulously conducts its own filmic exploration into the world of investigative journalism. Much like All the President’s Men (1976) and Zodiac (2007) before it, Spotlight heralds journalistic professionalism through the mirroring canvass of cinema to convey a provocative story.
7. Creed: Despite the Rocky film series appropriately concluding with 2006’s triumphant Rocky Balboa, director Ryan Coogler effectively resurrects the franchise to tell an emotionally uplifting story that finds Sylvester Stallone in his greatest acting performance.
6. Mad Max: Fury Road: The Mad Max film series is one of great evolution: the first film is a notable Australian exploitation film that had one of the best box office to budget ratios ever, the second is regarded as one of the greatest action films of all time, and the third expanded the series’ mythology in a way that further established its place in popular culture. Mad Max: Fury Road continues this pioneering trend in almost every aspect, making it one of the most exhilarating films to date. (Read full review)
5. Sicario: Director Denis Villeneuve is a master of tension, sometimes to the point where you feel discomfort in what you are viewing. This is not to say that his movies are visually disgusting or topically contentious (though, in some aspects they are), but there is an unsettling blend of elements that can be found throughout his filmography. Set in the War on Drugs, Sicario is a thriller with a bleak tone that keeps you on the edge of your seat with its heart-pounding story led by a great cast.
4. Room: Following the wacky dramedy Frank (2014), director Lenny Abrahamson has crafted yet another wonderful film. What’s even more impressive is how drastically different Room is from Frank, thus displaying the incredible range of Abrahamson’s skill as a director. With the inclusion of brilliant performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, Room’s dark subject matter is ultimately overcome by pure enchantment.
3. The Revenant: Like a symphonic poem, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s latest tour de force floats mesmerically between environmental and otherworldly fascinations. It is a somber epic that relies prominently on Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of trapper Hugh Glass and the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki – think Terrence Malick meets Jeremiah Johnson (1972). Add a magnificent musical score by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto and you have yourself award season gold.
2. Brooklyn: Sometimes a film doesn’t have to be groundbreaking to be noteworthy. Brooklyn follows a fairly basic premise, but its subtle direction and insightful performances make for a rich cinematic experience. While it’s not necessarily a revelation that Saoirse Ronan is one to keep an eye on, her performance here certainly continues to solidify her status as a celebrated actress.
1. Ex Machina: Time and again Alex Garland has proven himself a talented writer, both on screen and off. With Ex Machina, Garland seamlessly transitions to the director’s chair for one of the most thought-provoking thrillers in recent years. It’s a polished science fiction film that is both intelligent and beautiful to look at, not unlike many of the other films on this list. What makes Ex Machina rule supreme is how layered it is in substance while also maintaining a certain engaging groove that is multi-faceted. (Read full review)