Half-Year Mark: Preston’s Picks for the Best 2015 Films


Slide1Preston Barta // Features Editor

We are halfway through the year and there are already more than a handful of superb films worth mentioning. From a sweeping documentary about one of our late-and-great singers to a chase across a desert to a lovely tale tackling our emotions, the best films of 2015 so far have brought screenplays to life with an astonishing scrupulousness that still left room for stunning artistic expression.

As we finish out the rest of the year, what I’m most interested in is finding out which films will top the five I’ve listed below. Leonardo DiCaprio teaming up with recent Academy Award-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu in THE REVENANT seems promising, as does Richard Linklater’s spirit-sequel to DAZED AND CONFUSED titled EVERYBODY WANTS SOME (previously had the better title of THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT) and, of course, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. But until then, let’s look back at what these last six months brought to the cinema world.

4e75b4e4cd5e02661d211f3ea2a8bf3969c2eccba412548942817602265b6c62_large5. AMY
Director: Asif Kapadia
Cast: Amy Winehouse, Tony Bennett, Yasiin Bey and Mitch Winehouse

Many of us remember the tragic day that Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27 in 2011. I remember that day, and I remember how her death had a certain inevitability about it yet was still shocking and very sad. This riveting documentary titled AMY invites you into her life by showing you unseen personal footage (like MONTAGE OF HECK with Nirvana). It’ll hit you right in the feels and make you understand why she was the way she was, while also showing you just how gifted she really was.

ex-machina-n4. EX MACHINA
Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Sonoya Mizuno

There were many films this year that tackled the tired subject of artificial intelligence, like CHAPPIE and AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON; however, none of them were as raw and realistic as EX MACHINA. One of the reasons why this film is so breathtaking is because of Alex Garland, who is mostly known for his script work for 28 DAYS LATER and SUNSHINE. Now, the talented filmmaker takes his talents behind the camera in his directorial debut, and what a debut it is. You’ll think you’ve experienced true art, but then you’ll see EX MACHINA— a game changing film, not only of the genre, but of film itself.

mad_max__fury_road_20153. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
Director: George Miller
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, and Hugh Keays-Byrne

Just when you thought the recent wave of rebooted franchises had run out of gas, along comes MAD MAX: FURY ROAD— George Miller’s non-stop concerto of clanking iron, splattering blood and broken bones.

FURY ROAD truly doesn’t let up, riding its momentum from start to finish. But don’t fret, Miller has orchestrated much more than mindless explosions and noise. The characters are unique, identifiable and moving, and their situations ring with vibrant authenticity.

it-follows2. IT FOLLOWS
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Maika Monroe, Jake Weary, Keir Gilchrist and Daniel Zovatto

From the moment IT FOLLOWS opens to the last frame you have an eerie feeling that something isn’t right. The music hints at the inevitable, the camera pans to show what may be lurking, and the actors’ interactions with one another cause the audience to forget that at any moment it will appear.

Writer-director David Robert Mitchell (THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER) molds something together that has long since been absent from the horror genre– something that is restrained and toys with your imagination. He takes an entirely plausible occurrence, such as an STD, but instead of a few pesky bumps you get a supernatural entity calculating your every move– a simple yet effective premise, and one of the best horror movies in the past decade.

insideout1. INSIDE OUT
Director: Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen
Cast: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader and Lewis Black

Pixar’s latest feat, INSIDE OUT, is not only a triumphant return to quality storytelling but it’s both original and engaging for audiences to relate to. You know you’re witnessing something special when you’re in the theater smiling to yourself about the brilliance of an animated film introducing psychoanalysis concepts to an audience composed mainly of children, while also explaining these concepts with clear and understandable visual metaphors. It’s inventive, unique and brings a new way to understand human life– undoubtedly this year’s finest outing.

Honorable Mentions:

Worst of the Year: (This is what I personally saw)

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.