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.
Preston Barta // Editor
After viewing 250+ features, documentaries and shorts, it’s time to look back at the films that were important, got us thinking, promoted discussion, and dazzled us from beginning to end.
From a heartbreaking portrait of a talented musician to a sweeping epic of survival and revenge, the best films of 2015 have brought screenplays to life with an astonishing scrupulousness that still left room for stunning artistic expression.
10 Best Films of 2015:
Normally, I’m not one for documentaries. I watch them and find them fascinating, but I prefer a narrative. However, AMY, following the life of late musician Amy Winehouse, is as close to a narrative film that I’ve ever seen come from the doc department.
It doesn’t include talking heads or any other typical ingredients. It’s all personal (and archival) footage from the cams that captured Amy’s life ever since she was little girl singing in her parent’s house– all shared from the people that were closest to her.
Even if you’ve never listened to her music or cared for it, AMY will leave you with something lasting and unforgettable.
9. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
Rap supergroup N.W.A. had an undeniable influence on hip-hop. All modern rap seems to connect back to them, and some deemed them The Beatles of hip-hop due to their massive stature in the world of music. Their name reflected their aggressive, don’t-care perspective, and their music shared the frustrations and hopes of a lost and rudderless generation. N.W.A.’s brutal honesty made waves and unquestionably altered the culture around them. From this storied history, F. Gary Gray’s STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON defies expectations and cruises far beyond its core fan base and the typical trappings associated with biopics and the hip-hop genre.
8. THE HATEFUL EIGHT
While it may be a funny coincidence that this film is where it is, there’s nothing hateful about it. Quentin Tarantino is a master of his craft and he’s been on a roll for his entire career (unless you didn’t like DEATH PROOF).
Since INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009), he has shown just how skilled of a writer and storyteller he is. Yes, PULP FICTION is classic, but his latest films show how he has truly come into his own and found his voice. He doesn’t need big set pieces; just two (or more) people talking in a room. I mean, the man could adapt the phone book and make it interesting.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT may not sizzle like BASTERDS or DJANGO UNCHAINED, but it has Samuel L. Jackson and Co. hamming it up to the sky in a feature that’s Agatha Christie meets RESERVOIR DOGS. It’s deliciously infectious.
7. THE BIG SHORT
It probably looks a little bizarre that a film so fresh as this would be considered such an important movie, but THE BIG SHORT more than earns its laurels. It’s an entertaining and brutally honest portrait of the financial world.
With it’s narration, off-the-wall style and memorable performances, THE BIG SHORT stores in your brain and clicks the save button.
6. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
Few franchises capture every generation at once. Some children’s movies may include sly puns for the parents watching along, but rare is the grown man or woman eagerly awaiting the next SPY KIDS or the kid thoroughly captivated by 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. STAR WARS is one of the few exceptions.
There’s no mystery as to why it remains so popular: It’s a family affair. For over 40 years, parents and children alike have flocked to theaters to share the experience and watch as faces light up with delight. Thankfully, Abrams revives that love and creates a STAR WARS film to be excited about again.
5. EX MACHINA
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.
4. STEVE JOBS
Besides Michael Fassbender’s incredible performance as the Apple impresario, this film is being completely overlooked for everything that it is. Filmmaker Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE), screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) and a cast led by Fassbender all paint a picture of Jobs to not just be looked at but studied.
It is my hope that STEVE JOBS will kick off a trend of biopics that put less emphasis on appearance and checking off a crowded timeline. Other filmmakers would do well to emulate this film and the titular man: Cut the unnecessary details, break from past industry standards, and instead home in on the emotional core at the heart of every great story, fiction or nonfiction.
3. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
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. Miller has orchestrated much more than mindless explosions and noise– the characters are unique, identifiable and moving, and their situations ring with vibrant authenticity. Fans both new and old will cheer with the madness that is brought forth in this addition. It’s a one-way ticket that descends into hell.
When it came to film experiences this year, none were more visceral than SICARIO. It’s sheer intensity and pulse-pounding energy gives your heart its full day’s work. Taylor Sheridan’s script doesn’t miss a beat either, never sidestepping anything. He frees the material from beaten movie conventions, and does so in a very skilled manner.
There’s just something about Denis Villenueve’s films (PRISONERS, ENEMY)– he’s just makes them so damn exciting. He assembles strange vehicles for actors to come together on, while simultaneously taking on a genre that may feel familiar and injecting it with new life.
1. THE REVENANT
I’ve always been one to favor deep, often depressing and brutal films the most. There’s just something beautiful about stories about tragedy, survival or revenge. THE REVENANT is all that rolled into one.
Try watching this film and see what happens. You go home, kiss your significant other, hug your puppy and appreciate what you have. You can’t top that feeling.
When asked about THE REVENANT, actor Sean Penn said, “I thought it was a masterpiece. I don’t think I’ve had an experience in a movie theater as a kind of stepping cinema forward like that since I saw APOCALYPSE NOW,” and I can’t help but agree Mr. Penn. Yeah, maybe I wasn’t alive when APOCALYPSE NOW came out, but I know how monumental of a film it is and what it means in the cinemasphere. THE REVENANT is no different.
There’s something familiar, timeless and fresh about it: It features two of the year’s best performances (Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy), it’s well-shot, well-paced and has a great score. It’s a package deal– and that’s what a film needs to be, to be the best film of the year.
The Next 10:
11. INSIDE OUT
12. IT FOLLOWS
13. MISTRESS AMERICA
15. THE END OF THE TOUR
16. THE MARTIAN