We talk about movies a lot, and every year there’s the inevitable conversation where someone complains about how the business has run out of ideas. You know the complaints: some curmudgeon talks about the overabundance of remakes and sequels, noting how the dumbest properties now get a movie deal. Whenever this conversation happens, we think, “If you’re whining about the state of movies, obviously you’re not paying attention enough.” This year has been terrific for film buffs: there were intimate epics, multiple feminist comedies, batshit insane action, and terrific procedurals. The breadth and quality of the year’s movies is, well, overwhelming. In a year like this, it’s difficult to pick a conclusive list of the best films, so the BYT film team got scientific. All our movie writers – Jeff Spross, Svetlana Legetic, Alan Zilberman, Kaylee Dugan, Trisha Brown, Vesper Arnett, Ross Bonaime, and Max Bentovim – submitted their top fifteen movies of 2015, which were then tallied and ranked. So, without further ado, here are our top fifteen movies of 2015, complete with a silly (but still relevant) superlative and our concluding thoughts.

15. Best Seemingly Twee But Actually Totally Artistically Justified Use of Lo-Fi Technology: Tangerine

One of the many noteworthy aspects of Tangerine, a comedy-drama about two transgender prostitutes in Hollywood, is writer and director Sean Baker’s decision to shoot the whole thing on iPhone cameras. It’s the sort of decision that could scream “Ooooo, look at me, being all artistic!” But it actually helps the film along in several ways. For one, it’s immersive: the overly digital texture gets the grainy brightness of L.A. daytime exactly right, along with the slightly gaudy multi-light effect at night. It also frees up Baker for more kinetic story-telling, as the camera jogs along with Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (May Taylor), ducking and weaving through their conversations. But its deepest affect is to conjure that quiet sense of vulnerability that can attend “home” video: that feel of lost moments, captured by people society never knew, because they alone thought it worthwhile, however quickly the world will forget them. It’s the perfect accompaniment to what is an extremely funny, character-driven, and ultimately deeply humane film. –Jeff Spross

14. Best incongruous cameos: The Big Short

One of the year’s funniest films also happens to be about the most challenging subject: the smart, rich assholes who made a fortune by realizing the housing market would bust before anyone else did. Adam McKay, the guy who directed Anchorman, takes Michael Lewis’ dense non-fiction book The Big Short and makes it digestible with terrific performances, and a perspective that is unapologetically elitist. Still, one of the major points of the film is that financial mechanisms like credit default swaps are actually fairly simple to understand – Wall Street has a vested interest in making you think otherwise – and The Big Short illustrates this brilliantly: by having celebrities break the fourth wall and explain them to you. I wouldn’t dream of revealing who McKay nabs for these scenes, so you’ll just have to see for yourselves. Also, it takes a heart of stone not to smile when you see Ryan Gosling shriek into a cell phone, “I AM JACKED TO THE TITS!”That’s kind of how I feel about The Big Short. –Alan Zilberman

13. Best John Green Takedown: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

When Greg – the “Me” in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – meets “the dying girl” Rachel, he mentions that if this was a touching romantic story, him and Rachel would immediately fall in love after a single shared sweet moment. But Me and Earl and the Dying Girl isn’t that type of story, to the point that writer Jesse Andrews might as well be saying, “if you’re expecting The Fault In Our Stars, this isn’t the place for you.” Unlike Green, Andrews makes his characters frustrating, at times even irritating, scared, confused, with poor timing and bad jokes. So basically your standard teenager, something that Green has never been able to recreate as fantastically as Me and Earl and the Dying Girl does. In the end, Me and Earl isn’t about teenage angst or remaking Criterion films, it’s about trying to know someone after they’re gone when you missed your opportunity when they were around. This is much deeper than trying to make out with the boy you like at Anne Frank’s house. –Ross Bonaime
12. Most Upsetting Movie About The Economic Crisis: 99 Homes
 
99 Homes may not be the very best movie of the year. It may not be the very best movie about the economic vortex of 2008-09 from whose gaping maw we are still clawing our beaten selves away from. It may not be the very best movie about the roiling tension between what home means to humans and what it means to a dehumanizing economic system. But for long stretches, masterfully crafted, it threatens to be all those things. And for its first forty minutes, it’s almost unwatchably perfect, a misery machine depicting with gut-wrenching artistry the human costs of the Great Recession. 99 Homes was necessary; thank goodness it was also a work of craft, empathy, and vision. –Max Bentovim

11. Best Reminder of How Much I’ve Missed 30 Rock: Kingsman The Secret Service 

Kingsman is the movie that I spent the most time encouraging people to see this year, because quite frankly, it has everything I love: Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Firth in a suit, and McDonalds. The plot is a hilarious send-up of the genre but it isn’t redundant in a year full of spy parodies, and a really bad Bond. Kingsman is also the film with the monologue of the year, so if you loved the homage to the McFlurry that was on that one episode of 30 Rock, you’ll need to see this movie on principle. –Vesper Arnett

10. Most confusing use of time: It Follows

Sometimes I feel as if could talk about how much I love It Follows until the end of my life. From the story, to the acting, to the Disasterpiece’s score, it’s basically reached a point in my mind where nothing about it is wrong. However, the one thing that bothered me throughout the entire film, the thing that still sticks with me all these months later, is what goddamn time period is this movie supposed to take place in??? It’s a question that drives me crazy in the best possible way. Shitty above ground pools clearly exist, Chevrolet Impala’s are apparently still out and about, yet at the same time there are also weird clamshell smartphone, e-reader type things that definitely do not exist in today’s world. In no way, shape, or form do I understand why David Robert Mitchell has done this, but I do know it does lend the film a sort of timeless dreamy aspect, almost as if it’s a movie that belongs to a version of Earth that’s not quite like our own. Whatever the case may be, I’ve already drank the kool aid. I’m sold. –Kaylee Dugan

9. Best Dance Sequence Of The Year: Ex Machina

By the time you’re reading this, Oscar Isaac is minutes away from becoming a major, major, MAJOR movie star. And while Star Wars is likely to do this trick for him, anyone watching him do the work he’s been doing over the last few years shouldn’t be surprised. And his role of Nathan in Ex-Machina, a megalomaniacal mogule with a Better-than-God complex who toys with the lives of others as if they were a set of dominoes is another winner. But for all his intensity, for all his carefully worded mind games, for all the intricate gives-and-tells leading up to it, it is the dance scene in the 2nd half of the movie that helps this actor best define his character. Seemingly out of place, a moment of delightfully tacky choreographed levity in the eye of the existential storm, it could have backfired. But the second Isaac, in his cashmere jumpsuit (no less), starts moving to Oliver Cheatham’s “Get Down Saturday Night,” there is nothing else in the room (or the world) you can imagine being in place of it. And you finally, fully, undeniably understand his power. And you are both transfixed and afraid. As a result of less than 60 minutes of hip shaking. There is no end-of-year award for this kind of effect on an audience, but there should be. –Svetlana

8. Most erotic film: The Duke of Burgundy

There have been a lot of sexy movies this year. Fifty Shades of Grey was a box-office juggernaut, while Love has a scene where a dude literally blows his load into the camera (it’s in 3D). And we must not forget Magic Mike XXL, an unabashed celebration of sexuality and corporeal delights. Still, the year’s most erotic film is a little-seen lesbian romance. The Duke of Burgundy is about two women whose master/dominant role-playing defines their relationship. There is relatively little sex in the movie, given its subject matter, and madman director Peter Strickland instead focuses on deeper themes like control, ritual, and trust. The film is erotic because it puts you into the mental space of its two lead characters, inviting you to share their obsession with sexual sensory overload. This is not just a movie you see and hear. I’m not quite sure how, but it also engages your sense of touch, taste, and yes, even smell. –Alan Zilberman

7. Best reminder that the Bechdel Test is a low fucking bar: Spy

Spy is a big budget R-rated action comedy. So, not the kind of movie that usually gets talked at “top films of the year” time. But Spy is a fantastic movie in so many ways. It succeeds in being both a great spy movie and an effective parody of the spy genre. Melissa McCarthy shows her gift for comedy, and more surprisingly, displays her action chops. Director/writer Paul Feig’s dialogue is hilarious and sharp. Jason Statham fully commits to making fun of pretty much every character he’s ever played. But my favorite thing about Spy is that I lost track of how many women were in it. McCarthy is joined by more talented actresses than I have space to name here (though I will mention the brilliant Miranda Hart, who pretty much steals the show in the best friend/colleague role), and it never feels like a manufactured effort. Seeing a great, mainstream, action comedy with such a high ratio of lady bits to man parts suddenly makes it feel like the Bechdel test is finally outdated. Maybe in the future, the McCarthy-Feig test will require more women than you can count on one hand. –Trisha Brown

6. Best use of cartoons to portray some seriously disturbing shit: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Our very own film editor Alan Zilberman was not wrong when he described Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl as “[bearing] a passing semblance to the work of Todd Solondz, one of the few American filmmakers who consistently dares his audience to laugh.” Like much of Solondz work, Diary takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride through some surprisingly disturbing themes, while utilizing the innocence and stupidity of a childhood mind to parse through the darkness. While Diaryis nowhere near the biting laugh riot that is Solondz Welcome to the Dollhouse (it’s a little more thoughtful, and way more optimistic), it does take on a similiar job. While Diary steers you through scenes of severe alcoholism, molestation, prostitution, and more (if you can believe it!), the film uses sometimes lush and sometimes minimalistic cartoons to very literally illustrate the main character Minnie’s frantic teenage mind. These cartoons do double duty of sometimes bringing some levity to the film, while other times making Minnie’s seemingly innocent thoughts seem extra special disturbing. Either way, it does an excellent job at capturing what it feels like to be a teenager, including all of the really awful parts. –Kaylee Dugan

5. Best Movie Adaptation of an Impossible-To-Film Profession: Spotlight

Journalism is boring and tedious. Investigative journalism – which actually gives its readership information they didn’t have before – especially so. Reams of papers and spreadsheets have to be poured over, key pieces of data pulled out, facts confirmed by multiple sources. So it’s treacherously hard to portray on film without becoming absurd. And while I’m not sure Spotlight – which chronicles the 2002 Boston Globe story that blew open the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal – entirely pulls it off, I don’t really see how any movie could get closer. It doesn’t focus on the activity, but on the decision-making, and the demands it places on the various personalities: lead reporter Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) insisting his team get separate confirmations for every priest they’ve identified, or lead editor Marty Baron (Live Schreiber) realizing the Spotlight team needs to be pulled off its current story to focus on the church. Or the emotional costs of telling the story to lapsed Catholics like reporters Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams). And then there’s the triumphant speech at the denouement, which amounts to four words: “that was good reporting.” Spotlight is about the decisions and character that go into doing a job right – and the eternal burden of knowing it can never be done well enough. –Jeff Spross

4. Best Getting Ready Montage of The Year: What We Do In The Shadows

What We Do In The Shadows, a Real World-style roommate mockumentary about vampires is this year’s funniest movie. Its humor is a study in unexpected: equal parts subtle and over-the-top, deadpan and melodramatic and more than anything else oddly naturalistic. Especially when we consider that there is nothing natural about what is going on: a group of bloodsuckers, ranging in age between several thousand years old and just-a-couple-of-hundred, living together in a house, trying to deal with chore wheels, nightlife, broken hearts, and werewolves. It all unfolds casually, until, like in all great movie expositions, the time comes for the first montage: they are getting ready to go out on the town. And getting ready when you don’t have a mirror view of yourself, when all your clothes come for victims, when your roommates on whom you are relying on feedback have the taste of an 18th century dandy (ie “very fussy”) is a perfect opportunity to address the banality, the vanity, the pettiness, the high (low?) stakes, the absurdity of the process itself, no matter who you are, and through laughter, we identify with these creatures almost immediately. Vampires, turns out, they’re just like us. –Svetlana

3. Film most likely to end up on a psychology class syllabus: Inside Out

Since 1995’s Toy Story, Pixar’s animated films, ostensibly for children, have used humor and depth to connect with adults as well as kids. That’s certainly true of Inside Out, in which a studio that has deftly told stories about the adventures of cars, fish, and toys takes on the inner workings of a female adolescent brain. Inside Out is the story of an 11-year-old girl named Riley, but more accurately, it’s the story of the emotions that direct Riley and her behavior, focusing most on the crucial relationship of Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The voice casting is perfect and the film is visually gorgeous, but the great achievement here is the way Inside Out so effectively and nimbly portrays the complicated and occasionally dark emotional obstacle course of being a pre-teen girl while never losing trademark Pixar fun and cleverness. Inside Out is funny, moving, and surprisingly educational. Although it might be a little deep for children, it’s a film I want to buy for every parent I know. –Trisha Brown

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvMxhza4myY

2. Best Dinner Party Conversations: Brooklyn

There is so many things to love about Brooklyn. Saoirse Ronan is this year’s most real heroine, Nick Hornby’s adaptation of Colm Toibin’s immigration novel of the same name confirms that he can write young women better than anyone else really, John Crowley’s direction is assured and quietly masterly, and at no point in time, does a single feeling, single idea, single struggle or joyous moment in it ring untrue, which is more than we can say for most movies in 2015 (or ever). But, in the middle of the (melo)drama, the people surrounding Ronan’s Eilis set a tone for the time and place they find themselves (adrift?) in. And the dinner scenes at Miss Kehoe’s boarding house where Eilis finds herself living upon arrival to New York are an especial treat. And we’re not talking about food here. Julie Walters presides over the table with a Catholic self-righteousness and a Motherly meddling that are both terrifying and loving, and the girls she keeps under her wing are funny and catty and sad and happy and proud and petty and delightfully mismatched and never not human. What could have been a fleeting series of almost cameos, involving superficial conversations about the everyday, in the hands of Hornby and these actresses  becomes a group of women you look forward to seeing meal after meal, a mini scene stealing masterclass, perfect in both pathos and comic timing and a community anchor for the story at hand. Pass us the Irish stew. We’ll take seconds and thirds and fourths, please. –Svetlana

1. Best silent movie: Mad Max Fury Road

I have seen Mad Max Fury Road twice. The first time was in a movie theater, with 3D glasses on, and it was such an intense, pleasurable experience that I couldn’t quite believe what I saw. I saw Mad Max Fury Road the second time under very different circumstances: on an airplane from DC to San Francisco. There was no audio, either, since the passenger next to me was watching it on the back of the seat in front of her. The remarkable thing about silent Fury Road is how effective it was: you don’t need dialogue to understand its simple plot and its sharply-defined characters. The Mad Max franchise is essentially a long riff on Buster Keaton movies – Fury Road draws most of its inspiration from The General – except with more imaginative costumes. Sure, silent Fury Road means you miss out on the pulverizing score and the guy who is playing the flamethrower guitar, but it’s a testament to director George Miller’s command of his craft. You know a movie is a good when it makes all other movies seem tame by comparison, and what’s exactly what Fury Road does. Furiosa/Max 2016. –Alan Zilberman

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