The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.
— William Faulkner
Those who have made the mistake of getting to know me may already be aware that I am virulently opposed to the idea of best-of lists. The notion that two movies, with differing intents and methods, can be directly compared and hierarchically ranked is absurd to my mind. And yet there’s a certain undeniable value to the New Year’s ritual: reflect on the year that has passed, consider it in relation to what you’d planned or hoped for, and use that reflection to build a plan for the upcoming year. This sort of intentional stock-taking can be overdone, of course, and as anyone who lapses on their workout plans come February knows, giving yourself a pat on the back for having a goal rather than for having achieved a goal has its own dangers. But nevertheless, in moderation and taken with a grain of salt, this past-present-future thinking is worthwhile. And so I have capitulated, as best I can, to the surprisingly frequent requests I’ve received.1 What follows is not quite a list of the best movies of 2015, nor is it hierarchical in any way. From what I can tell, the order of these entries is entirely random. What this list is is 26 movies from 2015 that I think you should see, and each of these movies is paired with a past movie which is in some way similar. This pairing might be based on similarity or contrast of theme or approach, actors, directors, tone, etc. Ideally, watching each will give you a better understanding of the other, and vice versa. Enjoy.
“All we got to do is ask them what they want and when they tell you, it’s a beautiful thing, man.”
As I walk into the theatre I notice two things: first, this is the busiest screening I’ve been to since Jurassic World, and second, the pre-show crowd murmur is a few semitones higher than I’m used to. It’s not unpleasant, but it is distinct enough that I pause to look over the audience. I’ve heard the rumours: based on some survey with undisclosed methodology and little to no oversight, ninety-six percent of this audience should be female. I’m rubbish at estimation, but that seems about right. I briefly consider sneaking into another theatre where I’m less likely to be quizzed on why I, an unaccompanied straight man, am here. I decide that it’s likely someone would see my overwhelmed deference and laugh at me the way girls laugh at boys who misunderstand any aspect of female anatomy or physiology, and so I stay—though this isn’t easy, as few seats are available beyond the first few rows. As any frequent filmgoer can tell you, being at or at least near the latitudinal centre of the screen becomes exponentially more important as you move closer to it. There is a lone empty seat, dead centre of row three, but it is flanked on either side by large groups of friends. I ask a group of about six pre- or barely-t(w)eenaged girls if—sorry, if I could just… ‘scuse, I’m just trying to sorry, sorry, sorry. I make a point not to look at them during or after this procedure, but I get the feeling they’re looking at me. What I hope is that somehow the group of girls to my left will think I’m part of the group to my right, and vice versa. The guy to my right leans over and says “you know, I’m surprised how many men are here.” His pitch is highly varied, his vocal stops are slightly affricated, and he has hyperexpressive sibilance, so I quickly run the odds on convincing the girls to my left that we’re a couple. I realize I haven’t responded yet. I retroactively listen to him. I say something about how Channing Tatum is now a respectable, masculine actor whom respectable, masculine men can appreciate ever since he put on a leotard and rolled around with other men in Foxcatcher. My fake boyfriend doesn’t remember Foxcatcher, and the joke falls flat. I stare at the seat in front of me. I say nothing. I regret coming. The movie starts. I proceed to have one of the most revelatory and downright engaging experiences of the year.