2015 was a great year for movies. It was a year where creative filmmakers continued to thrive and challenge the status quo. It was also a landmark year for documentaries and animated cinema. And of course, the quality of television continues to increase, with Netflix continuing to ramp up their production of original material – dominating the cultural discussion with a diverse range of original programming that continues to captivate audiences all over the world. Amazon Prime, while slower to adapt than Netflix, also has its fair share of impressive original material, which will continue to expand into 2016, as Hulu starts to get in on the game as well.
The less said about Yahoo’s botched offerings, the better.
As the availability of technology increases, independent cinema is becoming more and more ambitious, which in turn pushes more mainstream cinema to take risks. 2015 was the year of the 140 minute action thriller, all in one continuous shot. The year that an independent director shot a beautiful looking film with an iPhone and a handful of cheap apps. The year that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu reached peak levels of insanity and somehow got a film greenlit that was shot all in natural light, made in a place where there is incredibly limited natural light (and that was barely habitable for humans, like a modern day Apocalypse Now).
2015 was also the year that Marvel had a weaker year on their film side, at least critically (they still made close to $2 billion), but had an incredible run on the television side, creating some of the best new shows of the year. Universal Studios had one of the best years on records, with the runaway successes of Furious 7 (RIP Paul Walker, thanks for the huge payout), and Jurassic World, which was only eclipsed by a certain little known space epic in December.
Quentin Tarantino released another new movie set in the past, displaying a fierce love of the ‘n’ word, and a fetish for beating on women – in a time as culturally sensitive and explosive (there were unparalleled amounts of moral outrage last year) as we’re in, The Hateful Eight has proven…divisive, even within my own brain. Is it his worst or best film yet? You’ll find plenty of arguments for both.
It was also the year of the return of the western, with several impressive revisionist westerns being created last year – not just Tarantino’s latest effort. If revisionist westerns aren’t your thing there was also comedy westerns, feminist westerns, and even horror westerns. Westerns are showing no sign of slowing down in 2016 either (and even making their way to television with HBO’s remake Westworld, and AMC’s Preacher), so yes, it does seem like the genre may actually be here to stay for a little while.
Oh, and of course, there was this little thing called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. You may have heard of it? It was kind of a big deal. It also turned out to be pretty good! It also obliterated the combination, to the surprise of absolutely no-one. It was the perfect cap to a year that seemed heavily focused on nostalgia, with the highly praised end sequence of Furious 7, Jurassic World, and even Creed, which arguably is the first film to truly perfect the delicate hybrid formula for a successful remake/reboot/sequel.
And so continues my extensive rundown of the high points of 2015 in film, across independent, Hollywood, and international cinema. Previously, we covered the best cameo appearances of 2015, best deaths, and the best new characters. It’s going to be a wide ride. And hopefully, some of you will enjoy reading it. Without further ado, let me present to you the best documentaries from 2015:
Documentaries are often one of the most undervalued genres in cinema. Everyone is so pre-occupied with catching the latest blockbuster or pseudo-independent darling that’s treated to a wide release that this important, informative type of filmmaking is often sidelined in favour of lower hanging fruit. This is something that, in past years, I have found to be a problem as well. That’s why when you scour the internet to look at Top Film lists you may only see one or two documentaries, usually focused on extremely mainstream subject matter, that got widespread buzz already (and will likely win the Oscar for Best Documentary that year, as if there were only five made, but only two are worth watching), but the hundreds of others that weren’t so lucky, or that tackled less easy to digest subjects are discarded.
Without further ado, here are 20 documentaries that you should seek out instead of going to see the latest Will Ferrell comedy/mindless dreck at the cinema: