The Best Films of 2015: A Midyear Report

As I did last year, I’m offering a list of “the best films of the year so far” now that we’ve reached the midway point of 2015. This list includes only movies that received their Chicago theatrical premieres between January 1 and June 30. This means I’m disqualifying films that received their first theatrical runs this year but which I caught at Chicago festival screenings last year (e.g., Timbuktu, The Clouds of Sils Maria, etc.). I’m including excerpts from — and links to — my original reviews where applicable.

20. Slow West (MacLean, UK/New Zealand) – Music Box.


Slow West is dark, violent, claustrophobic, and pessimistic but these qualities are also thankfully leavened by MacLean’s singular gift for humorous sight gags.”

19. Unexpected (K. Swanberg, USA) – Music Box / Chicago Critics Film Festival.


“A low-key but bracingly female-centric film about emotionally forthright characters, Unexpected is an unexpected gem.”

18. Gemma Bovery (Fontaine, France) – Siskel Center / European Union Film Festival.


“Veteran director Ann Fontaine hilariously satirizes both the notion of the ‘male gaze’ and the idea that one can love a work of art to the point that it becomes the primary lens through which he views the world.”

17. Actress (Greene, USA) – Siskel Center.


Actress is a film of uncommon emotional power: Brandy’s late revelation about falling out of love with Tim over his indifference to installing a diaper-changing station in his restaurant bathroom feels more intimate — and electrifying — than any scripted scene from any film I saw last year.”

16. Welcome to New York (Ferrara, France/USA) – Siskel Center.


“If you can make it past the chaos of the opening 30-minute bacchanal, which not only avoids titillation but feels awkward and depressing by design (courtesy of Ken Kelsch’s cool and distanced camerawork), the film then fascinatingly shifts registers for its second and third acts.”

15. Operation Zanahoria (Buchichio, Uruguay) – AMC River East / Chicago Latino Film Festival.


“Buchichio has performed an important act of political reckoning, even as (or perhaps especially because) his film’s surprising finale offers an eerie reminder of how the truth so often ends up buried in the sands of time.”

14. Amour Fou (Hausner, Austria) – Siskel Center / European Union Film Festival.


“Ancient political debates among aristocratic characters (about taxation for all, and the dangerous influence of French-style democracy on Germany) in the most meticulously art-directed interiors imaginable make this portrait of a vanished way of life feel both compelling as social commentary as well as wonderfully, aesthetically strange.”

13. Leviathan (Zvyagintsev, Russia) – Music Box.


12. Life of Riley (Resnais, France) – Siskel Center / European Union Film Festival.


“The last shot, depicting a young woman placing a postcard (bearing a message the viewer cannot read) on top of a coffin, is a fitting self-epitaph to an extraordinary career.”

11. Results (Bujalski, USA, 2015) – Music Box.


“I can’t recall seeing a recent American movie capture the spirit of classic screwball comedy as well as this. Results is Preston Sturges–level great.”

10. La Sapienza (Green Italy/France) – Siskel Center / European Union Film Festival.


“Green’s rigorous approach to style creates a fascinating tension that is only relieved in the transcendental final scene, where the clichéd image of a kiss is re-infused with an awesome sense of mystery, romance and power.”

9. Inside Out (Docter/Del Carmen, USA) – Wide release.


8. Magical Girl (Vermut, Spain, 2014) – Siskel Center / European Union Film Festival.


Don’t go into the scorpion room!

7. Hard to Be a God (German, Russia, 2014) – Siskel Center.

hard to be a god2

“The ‘silence of God’ has been a popular theme of serious artists working in different mediums for centuries but Russian filmmaker Aleksey German, adapting a sci-fi novel by the Strugatskiy Brothers, apparently found a completely original way to explore this concept in his final film.”

6. Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller, Australia/USA, 2015) – Wide release.


Mad Max: Fury Road is flat-out amazing from beginning to end, one of the leanest and purest pieces of action cinema I’ve ever seen.”

5. Horse Money (Costa, Portugal, 2014) – Siskel Center / European Union Film Festival.


“Pedro Costa reaffirms his position as one of contemporary cinema’s finest filmmakers with his first fiction feature in eight years, a hypnotic masterpiece that examines the African immigrant experience in the director’s native Portugal.”

4. Phoenix (Petzold, Germany, 2014) – Siskel Center / European Union Film Festival.


3. Inherent Vice (Anderson, USA, 2014) Wide release / Exclusive 35mm engagement at Siskel Center.


“What’s remarkable about Inherent Vice is the way that Anderson has been able to remain extremely faithful to the book while also creating something that feels as deeply personal as his other work. He achieves this by making subtle but crucial changes to the novel.”

2. Li’l Quinquin (Dumont, France, 2014) – Siskel Center / European Union Film Festival


“If we are living in a ‘golden age’ of television, as countless cultural commentators believe, Li’l Quinquin is proof positive that this golden age is not restricted to America alone.”

1. Goodbye to Language (Godard, Switzerland/France, 2014) – Siskel Center.


“Godard’s poetic use of 3-D in Goodbye to Language, the best such use of the technology in any movie I’ve seen, puts this groundbreaking work in the class of his (and the cinema’s) great achievements.”


About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

4 responses to “The Best Films of 2015: A Midyear Report

  • jilliemae

    “Unexpected” looks great! Thanks for sharing!

  • John Charet

    I have seen numbers 1, 3, 6, 9 and 20. Can’t remember number 3 that well so I will probably have to see it again, but I have seen numbers 1, 6, 9 and 20. I loved 1, 6, 9 and 20. I have seen number 6 four times in the theaters and number 9 3 times and I plan on seeing that one again too. I have seen Goodbye to Language 3D twice. Once at that event earlier in the year and the other on blu-ray. Slow West was very good. I am planning my midyear report too and I am on number 4 currently. Keep up the great work as always:) 🙂

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