There have been plenty of great movies, moments, and successes of 2015. We’ve seen the soaring highs of multi-billion dollar worldwide grosses and critical darlings birthed right before our eyes. You all have you favorite movies by now and we hope to share ours soon, as well. However, there are some movies that took us completely by surprise. They may have been small movies, movies we anticipated but weren’t sure what we would get, or something that was nowhere on our radar and cropped up by virtue of its risks and it’s subsequently reaped rewards.
Without too much explanation to bore you of the list before it even starts, here are the Top 5 movies that surprised us with either some technical achievement, fabulous story, or just because it was so stinkin’ awesome!
It’s not so much the filmmaker or screenwriter himself, Sean Baker, nor the two transgender co-leads of the movie that make this movie a surprise. What makes the movie a cinematic surprise is having a great story to tell and using an iPhone 5 to tell the whole story. When watching Tangerine, it is almost impossible to tell the entirety of the movie was shot using the previous generation phone. Granted, it was souped up with some special accessories and apps, but what Baker accomplished and edited together is stunning and worthy of special recognition. It illustrates how far technology and filmmaking have come. Also, if you are an aspiring filmmaker, it has never been easier to make high-quality movies on easily accessible and affordable devices. That is some good news that is both surprising and exciting!
It cannot be forgotten, however, the story is an incredibly immersive experience. Entering the world of Tangerine is the same as entering the jungles of the Amazon. The streets of LA in this movie, canvassed by transgender prostitutes, drug dealers, and pimps, are so completely foreign to someone like me that half the journey of this movie is empathizing with the characters and connecting with modern people who are so very different. It is a different world, but an encased and lonely world. Entering into that world and navigating its ins-and-outs is what makes the movie so great.
I have never even heard of the 2012 graphic novel on which the movie was based. When I saw the movie was directed by X-Men: First Class and Stardust director Matthew Vaughan, I was intrigued. It didn’t seem all that promising given its February release; typically a garbage dump for movies not good enough to make it in a March or May release. I gave it a try and I was not disappointed.
A reverent pastiche of the Bond spy-thriller genre, Vaughan captures what is fun about the old Roger Moore movies, but brings the story and action up to date. While the hyper-violence of the movie is a tad concerning, and the last shot of the movie is horrible and almost ruins the movie, it still manages to please and take thrilling twists and turns with great action sequences toeing the line of parody but never quite crossing. Taron Edgerton is great as a cocksure young trainee; Colin Firth is spectacular as the throwback spy archetype, and Samuel L. Jackson is your good ole’ fashioned megalomaniac your dad would love to see opposite Sean Connery or Tim Dalton.
If you ever want a movie that shows how you can make a political debate interesting and fun, Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s documentary, Best of Enemies, is Exhibit A. I had been hearing some rumblings about this movie being worth it, but it honestly didn’t look all that interesting beyond the famous incident between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley where Buckley called Vidal a “queer” on national television.
What made this movie such a surprise was taking the before and after of this climactic encounter and building up the inevitability of Buckley and Vidal’s clash, as well as how their lives intersected before and after and their influence. Buckley essentially popularized modern conservatism and Vidal was incredibly ahead of his time as a liberal thinker. Their discourse and ABC’s risk in giving them room to debate changed punditry and news and made it the 24/7 wall-to-wall insanity it has become today. While the virtues of its fruits are left to be debated, this documentary elucidates the catalytic nature of their tete-a-tete. As a friend of RWT, Elijah Davidson, put it: this movie is essential 2015 viewing.
I’ve written in a couple different places about how much I love this movie. I don’t have a ton more to add than that it makes my list of surprises because of how small the movie is, and how personally it has touched me. Returning to the film, I am still awe-struck by its beauty and ease in communicating something simple, yet incredibly profound.
Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, the team behind the poor man’s (or at least, “Indie man’s”) The Cabin In The Woods, 2012’s Resolution, use the quieter and less terrifying dimensions of the horror genre to lovingly unpack the emotional complications and fears of commitment, intimacy, and enduring through pain and loss. Again, it spoke to me in an incredibly personal way and I resonate with the movies’ tagline, “Love is a monster.”
Yes, we were all looking forward to this movie with much anticipation, but did anyone think it would end up being THIS awesome? Raucous energy, thundering performances, and familiar yet totally new apocalyptic hell-scape, and a high-quality recasting of Max with Tom Hardy. However, it isn’t Hardy who steals the show, but everyone’s favorite metal-armed super-heroine, Charlize Theron, as Imperator Furiosa. Theron gives us physicality of an apocalyptic survivor who can kick anyone’s butt, but also has a compassionate and just side that brings her into contention with her one-time boss turned enemy, Immortan Joe.
George Miller returned to this world to give us what can only be described as the most thrilling, anti-blockbuster, two-hour nonstop road movie ever made. It moves at a blistering pace, is incredibly imaginative, incredibly messed up, and altogether insane in certain portions. Nothing is sacred or safe in this post-apocalyptic world, and the constant grind over the deserts give you little time to get attached. When our heroes are not directly avoiding death at the hands of Immortan Joe and his “War Boys”, they are navigating the surreal wastes of their hellish, yet vivid, reality. It’s all so wonderful to look at and jarring to behold and this movie blew me away.