With the year winding down, it’s time for an In Contention tradition: Checking off a list of superlatives, from the Academy’s 21 feature categories, to a few traditional critics’ award fields, to a handful of fun categories of our own. This is just how I saw the year, but perhaps you saw it differently. Feel free to use the comments section to take your stand.
Best Supporting Actor: Paul Dano, “Love & Mercy” (Runner-up: Sylvester Stallone, “Creed”)
An impressive number of critics groups have gone lead in classifying Dano’s brilliant performance as Brian Wilson the younger, likely deeming it a co-lead with John Cusack’s older depiction. And that’s fair. I would call them co-supporting, myself. Meanwhile, Stallone offered up his most nuanced work to date, breathing even more life into a screen icon.
Best Costume Design: “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Runner-up: “Brooklyn”)
Jenny Beavan came off the Merchant/Ivory circuit and into a bold and vibrant maelstrom with George Miller’s return to the world of Mad Max. Way over on the other side of the spectrum, Odile Dicks-Mireaux played wonderfully within the color palette of “Brooklyn,” producing smartly character-defining work across the board.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Runner-up: “Mr. Holmes”)
You could honestly give “Fury Road” awards across the board, but I’ll try to contain myself. The makeup, though, was somewhat world-building in its specificity. Over in the period drama world, Ian McKellen’s “Mr. Holmes” was aged across an impressive spectrum.
Best Production Design: “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Runner-up: “Inside Out”)
Equally eye-popping was the overall world created by Colin Gibson and his art department in “Fury Road,” from the immersive Citadel environment to the various war rigs (major hat tip to designer Peter Pound). And now would be a good time to point out that animated films are often overlooked for their design, but “Inside Out” had it in spades, a film absolutely defined by its on-screen environment.
Best Supporting Actress: Mya Taylor, “Tangerine” (Runner-up: Elizabeth Banks, “Love & Mercy”)
Just in case no one was paying attention: A star was totally born with Taylor’s full-bodied (arguably leading) portrait, which scaled from sassy and broad to emotional and acute. Meanwhile, Banks brought a lot of heart to “Love & Mercy,” so much so that it’s very hard to imagine the story working without her contributions.
Best Music (Original Score): “The Hateful Eight” (Runner-up: “Spotlight”)
Ennio Morricone probably could have turned out the ominous music of Quentin Tarantino’s Western in his sleep, but that just underscores his status as one of the all-time greats. Howard Shore’s offerings to “Spotlight” would be a close second for me, though, a score deceptive in its simplicity, gorgeously complementary of the no-fuss narrative on display.
Best Sound Editing: “The Revenant” (Runner-up: “The Hateful Eight”)
The aural design of “The Revenant” is as immersive as its jaw-dropping photography, with lots of little elements that brought the whole experience to life. The soundscape of “The Hateful Eight,” meanwhile, is wonderfully robust, boot spurs on plank floors, weather howling from outside the interior environment, etc.
Best Sound Mixing: “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Runner-up: “Love & Mercy”)
There were so many elements to balance in George Miller’s face-melting experience that it’s dizzying. The explosive effects, the raging score, finding the right place for the dialogue to land — it was an impressive feat that never lost itself in the soup. On the more creative side was “Love & Mercy,” effortlessly bringing the viewer (or listener) into the mind of a sonic genius.
Best Music (Original Song): “Simple Song #3” from “Youth” (Runner-up: “See You Again” from “Furious 7”)
In truth, slim pickings this year, but few songs found the narrative relevance of “Simple Song #3.” And to remind us that’s not necessarily all there is to it, “See You Again” is a strong populist track that of course takes on a whole other resonance in light of the passing of “Furious” franchise star Paul Walker.
Best Foreign Language Film: “White God” (Runner-up: “Son of Saul”)
Switching gears from the Academy’s process (which recognizes country-submitted films that may not release stateside until the next year), it seems it would be more apt to limit this to domestic release dates. So “White God” it is, a captivating tale from director Kornél Mundruczó akin to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” with dogs — real ones. (Longtime readers will note I gave this the win last year; transitioning methodology can be messy, so, apologies.) László Nemes’ debut feature, meanwhile, was neck-and-neck here, a stomach punch of a film unlike anything in its realm.
Best Film Editing: “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Runner-up: “Steve Jobs”)
Given the amount of footage Margaret Sixel was handed in order to piece “Fury Road” together, it’s hard not to hand her the honor here. As for “Steve Jobs,” editor Elliot Graham did a marvelous job of not only nailing the triptych structure, but building explosive scenes within.
Best Cinematography: “Carol” (Runner-up: “Son of Saul”)
Another stand-out year amid a golden age for cinematography made this an achingly difficult decision. Ultimately Ed Lachman’s lush 16mm lensing of Todd Haynes’ love story nosed ahead, but Mátyás Erdély’s unique subjective work in “Son of Saul” was of course stunning and effective. John Seale, Emmanuel Lubezki, Roger Deakins, Robert Richardson, Anthony Dod Mantle, Alwin Küchler, Yves Belanger, Maryse Alberti — the hits kept coming from top tier talents all year long.
Best Visual Effects: “The Walk” (Runner-up: “Mad Max: Fury Road”)
Robert Zemeckis put the audience up there between the Twin Towers alongside Philippe Petit, triggering vertigo and dropping stomachs along the way. That was no easy feat. “Fury Road,” meanwhile, deserves a lot of credit for practical wizardry as well as CG-enhanced photography that gave it a one-of-a-kind look.
Best Adapted Screenplay: “Anomalisa” (Runner-up: “Steve Jobs”)
Stretching from a 10-year-old “sound play” to a stop-motion animated feature, Charlie Kaufman — a modern filmmaking genius — proved he still has so much to offer with “Anomalisa.” Aaron Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue and scenarios in “Steve Jobs” made for a similarly writer-as-auteur experience, the whole thing ultimately crescendoing like a symphony of human frailty. (Intriguingly, that frailty is a trait both films share).
Best Original Screenplay: “Inside Out” (Runner-up: “Spotlight”)
From a collaboration by Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley, Pixar’s latest was the animation company’s most transcendent work yet. Not far behind is Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer’s dogged journalistic work in piecing together the story of reporters breaking a once-in-a-lifetime story in “Spotlight.”
Best Animated Feature Film: “Inside Out” (Runner-up: “Anomalisa”)
You know what? More on this in a moment…
Best Documentary Feature: “Amy” (Runner-up: “Listen to Me, Marlon”)
Asif Kapadia’s study of pop star Amy Winehouse and the media environment that destroyed her is one of the best films of the year, documentary or otherwise. Stevan Riley’s unique portrait of actor Marlon Brando, meanwhile, felt like a special intimate treat the likes of which we probably won’t see again.
Best Actress: Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years” (Runner-up: Brie Larson, “Room”)
Every ounce of a life and relationship seemed squeezed into Rampling’s performance, a dense portrait that builds to a breathtaking climax. As for Larson, already turning heads with stand-out work in films like “Short Term 12” and “Rampart,” she came fully into her own this year.
Best Actor: Michael Fassbender, “Steve Jobs” (Runner-up: Andrew Garfield, “99 Homes”)
With a fierce portrait of a flawed genius, Fassbender was absolutely possessed. And though countless performers, from Geza Röhrig to Johnny Depp, Michael B. Jordan to Ben Mendelsohn, Abraham Attah to Jacob Tremblay could have been highlighted in addition, Andrew Garfield simply hasn’t received his due this year for a moving and at times gut-wrenching portrayal of a son, a father, struggling to keep a roof over his family’s head.
Best Director: Pete Docter, “Inside Out” (Runner-up: George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road”)
Animation directors are unfairly ignored this time of year. A film like “Inside Out,” every bit the result of compelling and thorough directorial vision, reminds how ridiculous that truly is. And speaking of vision, what else can be said of George Miller’s madcap race through the desert? A feast.
Best Picture: “Inside Out” (Runner-up: “Anomalisa”)
If you’re asking me (and not that you are), the two best films of the year came from the world of animation. Pixar cooked up its most refined and thematically resilient effort to date (which is clearly saying a lot), while Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson concocted one of the most profound human experiences of the year…with puppets.
Most Underrated Film of the Year: “Black Mass”
Most Overrated Film of the Year: “Carol”
Breakthrough Performance (Male): Géza Röhrig, “Son of Saul”
Breakthrough Performance (Female): Bel Powley, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
Breakthrough Filmmaker: László Nemes, “Son of Saul”
Best Ensemble: “The Hateful Eight”
Best Cameo: Mark Hamill, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Best Hero: Imperator Furiosa, “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Best Villain: Wall Street, “The Big Short” and “99 Homes”
Best Poster: “Love & Mercy”
Best Trailer (for a trailer released in 2015, not necessarily a film released in 2015): “Suicide Squad”
Most Surprising Film of the Year: “Creed”
Most Disappointing Film of the Year: “Tomorrowland”
Most Ambitious Film of the Year: “The Revenant”
Most Intriguing Failure: “Joy”
Best Action Sequence: “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Usually this is reserved for a specific moment but how can you choose when the entire film is essentially an action set piece?
Entertainer of the Year: Lucasfilm
From a new canon of peripheral media to a franchise revival to, oh yeah, the biggest film of the year, Lucasfilm set the table for future industry dominance like no one’s business in 2015.
Five Worst Films I Saw This Year (in order): “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” “Terminator: Genisys,” “Maps to the Stars,” “Tomorrowland,” “Pixels”
Top 10 Films of 2015:
1. “Inside Out” (Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen)
2. “Anomalisa” (Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman)
3. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (George Miller)
4. “Amy” (Asif Kapadia)
5. “Spotlight” (Tom McCarthy)
6. “Steve Jobs” (Danny Boyle)
7. “White God” (Kornél Mundruczó)
8. “The Hateful Eight” (Quentin Tarantino)
9. “Son of Saul” (László Nemes)
10. “99 Homes” (Ramin Bahrani)