The Best of the First Half of 2015 so far

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Wow folks, can you believe that it’s the second half of the year already? Seriously, it’s July now, so we’re officially into part two of 2015 right now. With the fourth of July on tap for tomorrow, what better time than now to kick back and look at what the best of the first half of the year was? That’s what I thought too, so go figure…that’s what I’m doing now. Much like I’ve done in the past, I’ll highlight the ten best films of the first half as well as give out some personal awards to boot. As a note, I’m only including things that have come out between January 1st and June 30th. That eliminates a ton of great flicks, like The End of the Tour, Grandma, Irrational Man, Magic Mike XXL (which just missed), Sleeping with Other People, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Time Out of Mind, and others. It was tempting to open it up, but I opted to keep it pretty strict this time out, if only to mix it up. Those other titles will have their moment in the sun potentially when I discuss the first two thirds the year come the fall, but that’s another story…

Now, here’s what I have to say on Part One of 2015!

The Top Ten Films of the Year So Far:

10. ’71 – The highlight is Jack O’Connell’s performance, but this gritty war drama has an on the ground and up close look to it that’s hard to match. O’Connell missed out on awards attention last year, but he’s way more deserving this year. He’ll likely be left out in the cold, but this performance is worthy of some nominations. He’s the best part of this intense and effective film.

9. The Hunting Ground – For my money the best documentary of the year so far looks at sexual assault on college campuses. It’s basically a companion piece/follow up to The Invisible War, with filmmaker Kirby Dick continuing to inspire outrage. It’s powerful and sure to make you angry (as well as be in play for Best Documentary Feature), even if there’s a small silver lining to be found.

8. Love & Mercy – With two powerhouse performances from John Cusack and Paul Dano, this represents one of the first half of 2015’s few chances at Oscar attention when awards season comes around. Dano will likely be a fringe player in a crowded Best Actor field, but it’s possible that either he goes Supporting or Cusack takes advantage and contends in Best Supporting Actor for his first nomination ever. Either way, this is a great biopic that deserves to be seen.

7. Kingsman: The Secret Service – A supremely entertaining action comedy from Matthew Vaughn (who’s an ace at that sort of thing by now), this is something just to sit back and enjoy. It’s ridiculous, but it’s as good a spy flick as it is a satire of the genre. No matter what it’s attempting, it just plain works. Much like with Kick-Ass, it succeeds on multiple levels.

6. Inside Out – One of the better animated films in some time, Pixar is back in a big way here. Pete Doctor and company should see a Best Original Screenplay nomination come their way, as well as basically a slam dunk win in Best Animated Feature. The big question will be if this terrific movie can actually get into the Best Picture lineup. Stay tuned to find out…

5. Heaven Knows What – A tremendously moving and gritty look at drug addiction and what life is really like living out on the streets of New York City. Arielle Holmes will break your heart in the lead role, especially when you realize that it’s based on her real life and a memoir she penned. It’s almost documentary-like in its realistic depictions, making for something you won’t be able to forget.

4. Slow West – A very unique Western buoyed by a Michael Fassbender performance and an injection of black comedy on occasion, it’s not your garden variety early year release. Probably too odd to be of real interest to the Academy, it’s still a great little take off on a well worn genre. Beautiful to look at, well acted, and able to often defy expectations, it deserves to be seen.

3. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – One of the more emotionally effective films of 2015 to date, this is the rare bit of cinema that truly can both make you laugh as well as make you cry. Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, and Thomas Mann are all very good here, with the YA adaptation genre continuing to be on the upswing. It’s sometimes a bit on the quirky side, but it’s still excellent, regardless of that.

2. It Follows – The best horror movie in years, I’ve been singing its praises for months now. Maika Monroe is terrific, the visuals are stunning, and filmmaker David Robert Mitchell really needs to be remembered in some small way come the precursor season. This is more than just a fright flick, it’s truly art. Even if you don’t like the genre, you owe it to yourself to make sure that you see this one soon!

1. 5 to 7 – Still the pinnacle of 2015 for me, this romantic dramedy is a relationship film that’s unlike most that hit theaters. Anton Yelchin has never been better, filmmaker Victor Levin establishes himself as someone to watch out for, and the supporting performances (especially from Glenn Close) are just great. I’ve often waxed poetic about this one, so consider it just another reminder not to forget about it…

Honorable Mentions: Amira & Sam, Gabriel, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Mad Max: Fury Road, Tomorrowland

And my personal awards for the first half of 2015:

Best Picture: 5 to 7 (runner up: It Follows and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)

Best Director: David Robert Mitchell for It Follows (runner up: Victor Levin for 5 to 7 and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)

Best Actor: Anton Yelchin for 5 to 7 (runner up: Martin Starr for Amira & Sam and Paul Dano for Love & Mercy)

Best Actress: Maika Monroe for It Follows (runner up: Arielle Holmes for Heaven Knows What and Olivia Cooke for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)

Best Supporting Actor: John Cusack for Love & Mercy (runner up: Frank Langella for 5 to 7 and Michael Fassbender for Slow West)

Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander for Ex Machina (runner up: Glenn Close for 5 to 7 and Elizabeth Banks for Love & Mercy)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Avengers: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (runner up: Heaven Knows What and Kingsman: The Secret Service)

Best Original Screenplay: Inside Out (runner up: 5 to 7 and It Follows)

Best Animated Feature: Inside Out (no runner ups)

Best Documentary Feature: The Hunting Ground (runner up: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief and Misery Loves Comedy)

Best Foreign Language Feature: White God (runner up: Black Souls and Eden)

Best Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road (runner up: It Follows and Jurassic World)

Best Cinematography: It Follows (runner up: Mad Max: Fury Road and Slow West)

Best Costume Design: Mad Max: Fury Road (runner up: Slow West and Tomorrowland)

Best Film Editing: It Follows (runner up: 5 to 7 and Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Makeup: Mad Max: Fury Road (runner up: Lost River and Spy)

Best Sound: It Follows (runner up: Lost River and Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Original Score: It Follows (runner up: Inside Out and Lost River)

Best Original Song: Flashlight from Pitch Perfect 2 (runner up: Love Me Like You Do from Fifty Shades of Grey and Mean Ol’ Moon from Ted 2)

Best Visual Effects: Mad Max: Fury Road (runner up: Jurassic World and Ted 2)

*Bonus Category*

Best Cast Ensemble: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (runner up 5 to 7 and Love & Mercy)

Here’s to a great second half of the year!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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