PG Cooper’s Top Ten Films of 2015

Posted: February 25, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists, PGCMAs

Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

PGCMA 2015

*The above image represents 2014’s PGCMA Best Director and Best Picture winner; Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman.

When I put together my top ten list last year, I had quite a struggle putting together my top ten. Simply put, I saw a lot of great stuff in 2014 and could have swapped out my bottom slots for a few other films and be just as satisfied. This year was a little different. While I saw a lot of good movies, there weren’t as many clear locks for the list as last year. That is not to say I’m unhappy with the list. These are all good movies and I’m particularly happy with my top tier selections, but the bottom slots are filled out by movies which, though containing a lot of great elements, ultimately are shy of reaching that greatness fully. I don’t want to make that sound like a bad thing though as its allowed me to celebrate some interesting films which really work in spite of some flaws.

10. Inside Out


Written by: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley

Directed by: Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 2 (Best Animated Film and Best Original Screenplay)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 1 (Best Animated Film)

When Inside Out was first released in June, the film was unanimously considered an epic return to form for Pixar after a series of missteps. I don’t think the film necessarily excels on the level of a Wall-E or a Toy Story 3, but Inside Out is a very creative film which is clearly the most ambitious and interesting movie Pixar has made in years. Like a lot of Pixar films, Inside Out makes great use of exploring its novel world. The notion of emotions and the console, core memories, and islands of personality are all fun ideas which are explored well in terms of writing and visuals. However the real treat of the film is the emotional storyline and the genuinely stirring message the film ends on.

“Congratulations San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza! First the Hawaiians, and now YOU!”

9. White God


Written by: Kornél Mundruczó, Viktória Petrányi and Kata Wéber

Directed by: Kornél Mundruczó

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 3 (Best Cinematography, Best Poster, and Best Foreign Language Film

Number of PGCMA Wins: 1 (Best Foreign Language Film)

I’m always embarrassed by how little foreign cinema I see each year, but on the plus side the few foreign films I do see year to year tend to be very good. White God is not one of the most acclaimed horror films of the year, but it is a creative little gem of a movie which follows a young girl who is forced to separate from her mutt dog. From there, the dog’s story becomes very similar to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, albeit with a more art house edge. The film is very well made, with beautiful cinematography, interesting characters, and some very provocative ideas. The film seems to be some sort of meditation on cruelty and humanity’s primal side. While those interpretations are valid, I mostly like White God for Kornél Mundruczó’s craft and for the engaging story.

“It’s difficult to lose someone you love. But things do not turn always as you want.”

8. Spotlight


Written by: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer

Directed by: Tom McCarthy

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 4 (Best Supporting Actor, Best Actor, Best Cast, and Best Original Screenplay

Number of PGCMA Wins: 1 (Best Cast)

I loved Spotlight a lot upon first viewing, and though I have cooled on it somewhat, the film remains engaging and insightful. The film tells the story of the reporters who cracked the story of Catholic Priests sexually abusing young children both in Boston and around the world. Certainly an important story to tell, but not exactly the easiest one to make a movie out of. It would have been really easy for either the gravity of the situation to be lost, or worse yet for the film to be told in melodramatic fashion. Tom McCarthy and his co-screenwriter Josh Singer do an excellent job walking a fine line, telling their story more as a procedural than anything. McCarthy also adds some cinematic visuals in a way which is complimentary to the story rather than distracting, and the man also assembles one hell of a cast to bring the material to life.

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.”

7. Clouds of Sils Maria


Written by: Olivier Assayas

Directed by: Olivier Assayas

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 3 (Best Supporting Actress, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 0

Movies have always provided introspective looks at their own industry and that seems especially true lately, with films like Birdman and Maps to the Stars both focusing on middle-aged performers reflecting on their life and relevance. The plot of Clouds of Sils Maria, which deals with a middle-aged actress Maria Enders evaluating her life, fits into this trend well, but is stylistically unique. Olivier Assayas employs a very restrained style, allowing the drama to play out in a very quiet manner. The film is largely a character study and dwells heavily on the protagonist’s relationship with her assistant. In doing so, Assayas is able to dwell on ideas pertaining to identity, parallels, and change. Beyond any analysis, Clouds of Sils Maria is simply a very dignified production which has high resonance.

“The text is like an object. It’s going to change perspective depending on where you’re standing.

6. Creed


Written by: Ryan Coogler

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 5 (Best Fight, Best Soundtrack, Best Score, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 1 (Best Fight)

After Fruitvale Station, I never expected Ryan Coogler’s next film to be a Rocky spin off, in fact I never really expected there’d be any more Rocky movies at all. The film focuses not on the Italian Stallion, but on the illegitimate son of his former rival/best friend Apollo Creed. Adonis is a young man trying to pave his own way while also accepting who he is. There are a lot of ways this film could have gone wrong, but Coogler is able to avoid these in large part simply through the heart in the film. The characters and emotions feel genuine. The film also wisely knows to focus its story on Adonis while still giving proper respect to Rocky Balboa. On that note, Stallone gives what might be the finest performance of his career and really delivers on the emotional beats. Finally, Coogler does a great job capturing what made the original film so strong while still injecting new life through the soundtrack and visuals. It’s easy to look down on inspiring Hollywood sports movies, but Creed is a prime example of how to make one right.

“If I fight you fight.”

5. The Martian

the martian

Written by: Drew Goddard

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 12 (Best Art Directions, Best Hair and Make-Up, Best  Editing, Best Soundtrack, Best Use of Source Music, Best Cameo, Best Comedy, Best Actor,  Best Cast, and Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 2 (Best Editing and Best Use of Source Music)

Ridley Scott has a history of excellent science-fiction films but The Martian is pretty different from the dark and foreboding classics he’s known for. Though the film deals with an individual trying to survive alone on Mars, the film is actually very hopeful, inspiring, and quite often very funny. The script has a lot of levity which is brought out very well by the pitch-perfect cast.  Matt Damon in particular is a really on-point choice for the lead role and he nails it. The soundtrack is a lot of fun and the film is full of great scenes. Additionally, the film is smart to allow moments of tension to play without undercutting them with comedy at the wrong time and the immaculate production value Ridley Scott is known for does come through. We’ve seen a lot of grand science-fiction films in the last few years (Gravity, Interstellar) and The Martian more than holds its own.

“In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option; I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

4. Room


Written by: Emma Donoghue

Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 10 (Best Set-Piece, Best Hair and Make-Up, Best Editing, Best Musical Performance, Best Supporting Actress, Best Villain, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, Best Picture)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 3 (Best Villain, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay)

I watched Lenny Abrahamson in 2014 and thought it had a unique voice at the center of it, but the film as a whole didn’t really work. Little did I know the very next year Abrahamson would direct one of the most ambitious and best films of 2015. Movies like Creed and The Martian had the challenge of making something inspiring and hopeful, but Room has the added pressure of creating that out of a story based in captivity and rape. The film not only succeeds, but excels. Abrahmson and Donoghue’s script do an excellent job showing just how harrowing Joy’s experience is while also finding the light at the end of the tunnel. There is a lot of truth to characters here and the film is also full of a number of standout sequences. However the film’s defining attribute is Brie Larson, who gives an amazing performance in a very challenging role.

“There are so many things out here. And sometimes it’s scary. But that’s ok. Because it’s still just you and me…”

3. Mad Max: Fury Road


Written by: George Miller

Directed by: George Miller

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 15 (Best Chase, Best Set-Piece, Best Art Direction, Best Hair and Make-Up, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Musical Performance, Best Score, Best Poster, Best Trailer, Best Action Film, Best Director, and Best Picture)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 6 (Best Chase, Best Art Direction, Best Hair and Make-Up, Best Score, Best Poster, and Best Action Film)

Without a doubt, Mad Max: Fury Road is the most discussed and passionately loved film of 2015. The action scenes are of course a standout, but it is not just the amazing execution which makes these scenes significant (although they certainly help). Rather, what is impressive is how much George Miller pushes using action scenes as a means of storytelling. The actual plotting of the film is very light and there isn’t much in the way of meaningful dialogue either. Instead, the bulk of the plot is told in the visuals, with the balls-to-the-wall action scenes being a primary way of progressing plot. Miller is also to say a lot about the film’s world through the production design, costumes, make-up, and cinematography. It’s an absolutely engrossing film to watch, and the filmmaking in general is simply excellent. The cherry on top is Junkie XL’s score, which is badass and awesome.

“Oh, what a day…what a lovely day!”

2. The Hateful Eight


Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 12 (Best Shootout, Best Costume Design, Best Musical Performance, Best Score, Best Poster, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cameo, Best Villain, Best Cast, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 3 (Best Shootout, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay)

After a lot of discussion regarding the use of 70mm, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight was released to solid reviews, but relative disinterest. The film seems to have only further faded as the awards season has gone on, and that’s a shame because this really is one of the year’s best. The film fits in well within certain Tarantino tropes; eccentric characters, long (deliciously written) dialogue scenes, punctuated violence, a non-linear structure, and lots of colourful language. However the film also represents some unique changes for Tarantino. The film is a lot less overtly referential than something like Django Unchained, the pace is slower, and most importantly, the film is actually very political in its themes. Django Unchained may have dealt with slavery, but the racism explored in The Hateful Eight is much more nuanced, complex, and relevant to modern day conflict. The fact that Tarantino was able to explore such ideas so completely while still maintaining his voice is pretty impressive, even more so when one considers just how entertaining and fun to watch The Hateful Eight is.

“You only need to hang mean bastards, but mean bastards you need to hang.”

1. The Revenant

the revenant

Written by: Mark L. Smith and Alejandro González Iñárritu

Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 15 (Best Fight, Best Shootout, Best Set-Piece, Best Hair and Make-Up, Best Visual Effects, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Trailer, Best Supporting Actor, Best Villain, Best Action Film, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 6 (Best Set-Piece, Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture)

For the second year in a row, Alejandro González Iñárritu has topped my year end list. The number one spot came down to a pretty tight race between The Hateful Eight and The Revenant. Tarantino’s western is certainly the more well-written and intellectual, but it’s also a bit more flawed. More importantly, The Revenant is a film that appeals to an almost primal sensibility, one which weighed heavy during the viewing and long after. The film is a meditation on violence, and specifically contrasting the random and apathetic violence of nature to the brutal and malicious violence of man. However, one does not dwell on these themes to be effected. Hugh Glass’ tale of survival and vengeance is simple, but is presented so purely that it really resonates. There is a real visceral thrill to seeing the story play out. The whole thing is brought to life by the best craft from any film I saw in 2015. From the performances, to the cinematography, to the editing, to the music; it’s all damn near perfect. No film hit me in 2015 as powerfully as The Revenant and it’s a film which will sit with me for a long time.

“The way I see it, I done saved your life twice now, boy…I ought’ to be God to you. God giveth, God taketh away.”

  1. ianthecool says:

    I was going to go see Hateful 8 today, but low and behold its out of theaters now. So I gotta wait I guess. I watched Room instead, and yeah it was quite emotional.

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