Here at Audiences Everywhere, as our regular readers know, we’re a big fan of lists. Specifically lists that allow us to exercise the democratic process, force us to use a bit of math (ratings, averages, what?), and require us to gush about the movies we just couldn’t get enough of in the first place. 2015 was a pretty spectacular year for movies—so much so that limiting ourselves to just 25 films wasn’t without a bit of drama and heartbreak, per our usual staff list compilations. Without further ado, we present to you our definitive list of the best movies of 2015.

25. The Hateful Eight

The Weinstein Company

The Weinstein Company

Lacking in immediate satisfaction, The Hateful Eight is arguably Quentin Tarantino’s most mature film. Racially charged, and packed with motley crew of characters fashioned from the director’s intrinsic tics, The Hateful Eight is a mocking portrait of America’s systemic racism, mythologized history, and old-world attitudes. While clearly inspired by the Westerns of yesteryear and John Carpenter’s The Thing, the closest approximation to Tarantino’s work is Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. If our real-world America is the hedonistic young Dorian, enchanted by sin and unwilling to change, then The Hateful Eight is the picture locked in the attic, one that contains all of that ugliness within the borders of a frame. The Hateful Eight, as beautifully filmed and carefully scripted as it may be, is inherently ugly, cruel, slow to change, ultimately offering no chance at redemption or course correction but promising only death in the face of how things are. If Tarantino’s previous takes on history, altered events in the service of violent optimism, then The Hateful Eight displays our history as it is, without a moral center. While his blend of humor and violence has defined Tarantino’s career for two decades and made him a fan-favorite, The Hateful Eight shows a willingness to alienate that fanbase in the service of an honesty that doesn’t allow for forgiveness or restitution. –Richard Newby

24. Crimson Peak 

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Possibly more than any other film released in 2015, Crimson Peak is a triumph of visual storytelling. This is a movie where the visual production, rather than the script, sets the pace of the narrative. Everything from the elaborate set design to the gorgeous costumes to the striking cinematography all work in unity to create atmosphere, with which every aspect of the film is dripping with. No, the movie isn’t exactly scary but that’s because, and it can’t be stressed enough, Director Guillermo del Toro wasn’t trying to make a horror film. Hell, aside from the presence of some ghosts, this isn’t even a supernatural story. Instead, del Toro has crafted the very best modern Gothic Romance to date. It’s a movie of big, sweeping emotions, a movie of aching romance and of gaudy thrills, which are very much echoed in the grand scale of the production design. Of course this approach won’t be for everyone, especially anyone who goes into this expecting a terrifying horror film. But if classic Gothic Romance is your thing, you will find Crimson Peak to be one of the very best of 2015. –Ryan MacLean

23. Anomalisa

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

Infinitely symbolic and deptful, yet simultaneously simplistic and fairly accessible, Anomalisa is grounded – composed of puppets who are as human as can be. Charlie Kaufman’s animated feature tells the story of a motivational speaker crippled by the mundanity of life, the film truthfully exposes the way we adhere to routine and feel mechanical in our actions, and how something that seems so fresh and new one second can degrade into something different altogether. It is beautiful and heartwarming, yet tragic, guaranteed to resonate within the mind perhaps indefinitely, for no other film has the power to accurately depict the feeling of being lost in your own existence. –Jason Ooi

22. The Big Short

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

If asked to make a list of established directors most likely to appear on 2015’s best films list, 2014’s movie fans might have placed Adam McKay near the bottom of the list. Not to take away from the accomplishments of the famed director of Talladega Nights and Step-Brothers, but his style of work rarely approaches lists of this sort. And yet, here we have a movie from McKay that at once teases brilliance and embraces hilarity, an angry and righteous and bi-polar construction that shapes its form to its theme as well as any wide release of 2015. The Big Short is manic, pissed off, and condescending. It’s on your side even if it is a bit accusatory. There is as much insight as there is emotional poignancy, as much skill in performance as pre-loaded star power. Really, it’s as much as you can serve in one film without toppling it. –David Shreve

21. Spotlight

Open Road Films

Open Road Films

Everyone is familiar with the Catholic pedophilia scandal on a broad, international spectrum, but Spotlight does what what few films that are broadcasting a fact-based story onto the screen succeed in doing, and that’s bringing something that massively affects history and present day and narrowing the focus to an intimate, smaller scale. Without drawing on emotional heartstrings, Spotlight manages to depict the impact this events of this film have had on every level, from a man concerned about who lives down the street from him, to the lives of both young boys and men and their families all across the world. This film is unwavering in its desire to tell the story, just like the members of the Spotlight team at The Boston Globe, and both the film and the characters within it are workhorses, relentless in their desire to provide the facts without the fluff. The star-studded cast of Spotlight also accomplishes a remarkable feat by never making the screen feel too crowded. These A-listers embody their characters by each giving restrained, understated performances that feed seamlessly off one another without ever translating as overly dramatic or Oscar-bait. Spotlight has become one of the best films of the year simply by allowing the story to tell itself. –Beth Reynolds

20. Queen of Earth

IFC Films

IFC Films

Writer/director Alex Ross Perry is known for rather prickly and off-putting films, and with Queen of Earth he may have reached his apex. This is an extraordinarily uncomfortable experience. It attaches a piece of itself to you, squirming its way into your gut and sinking like a stone. It doesn’t just induce anxiety; it embodies it with an alien tone and offbeat style. It’s garnered (and earned) plenty of narrative comparisons to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, remixing that film’s themes of identity and duality with the nihilism of the American New Wave of the ’70s. Elisabeth Moss does impressively showy work in her role, but Katherine Waterston is not to be overlooked. Waterston has to react to Moss in almost every scene, the former underplaying in response to the latter’s overplaying. Waterston does phenomenal work, but it’s the kind of work which is often overshadowed by bigger and louder performances. Queen of Earth is bound to leave you a little emotionally queasy. Perhaps that’s the best thing that can be said about it. –Josh Rosenfield

19. What We Do in the Shadows

Madman Entertainment

Madman Entertainment

What Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have done with What We Do in the Shadows is a bit unprecedented. Here they have taken a ridiculously goofy concept  mockumentary, which depicts a group of vampires who share a house in New Zealand, and made not only one of the funniest movies of 2015, but also one of the most touching. As well, What We Do in the Shadows stands out as possibly one of the only great modern vampire movies. While the vampire characters are all pretty silly, the film earns big points for its commitment to classic vampire lore, something countless modern vampire films have tried to distance themselves from. It is to the movie’s credit that it takes this lore seriously, using comedy to turn these monsters into some of the most likable, and in many cases relatable, characters you will have seen on screen all year. But, more than anything, What We Do in the Shadows is an absolute riot to watch. There was not a funnier straight-up comedy released in all of 2015. –Ryan MacLean

18. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Director J.J. Abrams, alongside long-standing franchise scribe Lawrence Kasdan, has done the unthinkable with this year’s much anticipated Star Wars film: he has made a film worthy of the original trilogy. Echoing all of the time-worn themes of redemption, hope, and salvation in the face of embittered despair and hate that made the original films from writer-director George Lucas so meaningful and subsequently nostalgia-ridden, Episode VII promises a new beginning for those who have been waiting low these many years for a film that was just as good as Episodes IV, V, and VI. Riding on the highs sustained by series newcomers Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver, the force has indeed awakened once more in movie theaters all around the world. –Sean Cureton

17. Clouds of Sils Maria

IFC Films

IFC Films

Meta narratives are often juxtaposed with comedy for great effect, but Olivier Assayas Clouds of Sils Maria uses the narrative within a narrative to illustrate character relationships in an honest an illuminating manner. Juliet Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Grace Moretz play women of different ages approaching the popular topic of “life imitating art” and what goes on to define both with resounding empathy. –Diego Crespo

16. The Duke of Burgundy

Artificial Eye

Artificial Eye

Evelyn is studying under the older Cynthia, and the two are involved in a BDSM relationship. Peter Strickland’s strange, dream-like film explores the power within relationships and how partners attempt to change and act differently in order to please their other half. It is a film without one man in its entire run time, and is concerned with the erotic without feeling exploitative. There is very little nudity, and the most graphic moments happen off-camera. It is often off-kilter, abrupt and weird, but ultimately full of love and affection for its central relationship. What helps this all work is both the dry humour and the gorgeous visuals. The film often seems overwhelmed by light, and by darkness, sensitive to the pleasure, desire and fears of its characters; culminating in a spectacular breakdown of the cinematic form. The Duke of Burgundy brings together the intense psychology of Bergman and the voyeurism of Hitchcock, as it becomes unclear what is real and what is fantasy. Together with Strickland’s own otherworldly style, it becomes something unique and absolutely spellbinding. –Jack Godwin

15. Brooklyn

Fox Searchlight Pictures/ TSG Entertainment

Fox Searchlight Pictures/ TSG Entertainment

A gorgeously filmed period drama, Brooklyn explores the world of Irish immigration in the ’50s and what it really means to call a place home. The beauty in Yves Bélange’s cinematography is something to behold, from the lush, green landscapes of Ireland to the the crowded, urban streets of Brooklyn, the distinct differences and visual appeal of both places are evident in this film. One of the best things about Brooklyn is that there really is no antagonist, no cruelty, no significant wrongdoing, but rather just a difficult decision Eilis has to make between where she’s been and where she’s going. This film is exquisitely acted, each character embellished with their own emotional baggage that drives them to push forward. But more than anything, Brooklyn is about the heart and where it lies, and that it’s perfectly okay to look forward to the future and still on to the past that defines you. –Beth Reynolds

14. It Follows

RADiUS-TWC/Dimension Films

RADiUS-TWC/Dimension Films

It Follows is that beautiful mix of the old and new. The synth-y soundtrack is heavily indebted to John Carpenter while still feeling modern and fresh. Maika Munroe is a 21st century scream queen and a worthy successor to Jaime Lee Curtis, Heather Langencamp, and Adrienne King. The most interesting part of the movie is that it dispenses with the usual stance on sex favoured by horror movies. It Follows puts sex front and centre and handles it with a deft touch that doesn’t require gratuitous nudity, shaming, or a great big ‘sex is bad’ type message. A triumph and one of the best horror movie of the last ten years, if not one of the best of all time. –Sean Fallon

13. Creed

MGM/ Warner Bros. Pictures

MGM/ Warner Bros. Pictures

Coming off of the personally told and emotionally wrought film of contemporary racial tension in twenty-first century America, Ryan Coogler’s follow-up to his Fruitvale Station finds the critically lauded independent director entering the realm of a major studio production, namely that of Sylvester Stallone’s multi-installment, behemoth that is the Rocky franchise. It would have been easy to pitch another tired retread of past themes from the franchise with his Creed, which Coogler does, but the way in which he does it is what makes the film exceptional. Every narrative beat and thematic trope is rehashed from past entries in the Stallone vehicle blockbuster series, but the way in which Coogler, alongside frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan, reexamines the very nature of the Rocky archetype makes for a compelling narrative that simultaneously celebrates the diversity and heart of the film’s home town of Philadelphia, PA, and is a more than fitting tribute to what a well written melodrama can still achieve at the multiplex. –Sean Cureton

12. Inside Out

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

In what is arguably the first Disney-Pixar film more for adults than kids, Inside Out tells the story of Riley, an 11-year-old girl whose mostly joyful childhood is on the brink of colossal disruption when her family moves from her quaint hometown in Minnesota to a bleak, gray city otherwise known as San Francisco. And while the storyline is seemingly simple—minimalism  perfection, really—the core of Inside Out takes place in Riley’s head, namely in the control panel of her mind, Headquarters, manned by her emotions, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. Much of the “real world” serves as context for her emotions, growing ever-complex as a snafu at Headquarters threatens the core memories she most values. Inside Out is perfectly cast (Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith, especially, are standouts), and the film is beautifully, though darkly, composed. It’s about the painful wasteland that is depression, subtly placing the weight of that dark space on its audience without ever calling it by name. Directors Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen somehow manage to convey the complexities of leaving childhood behind, making peace with memories that are suddenly, simultaneously comprised of more than one emotion, and that those many emotions, when allowed, stand to enhance our lives. Bear in mind, this is a Disney film—a production empire synonymous with warm, fuzzy cheerfulness and happily ever afters—urging its audience to believe sadness holds a vital position in the composition of our emotions. Inside Out isn’t just smart and witty. It resonates in a way few films do. –Grace Porter

11. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

HBO/Universal Pictures

HBO/Universal Pictures

It’s easy to fall into the realm of idolization when attempting to build a cinematic narrative in tribute to a pop-culture icon of such large and all encompassing stature as Kurt Cobain, who was the front man of the now defunct rock band Nirvana. Thankfully for fans of the Seattle sound of the 1990s, director Brett Morgen’s documentary, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, offers an unrelenting portrait of its chosen subject that never shies away from painting a potentially unflattering portrait of its chosen subject. In watching Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the pain, anguish, and self-centered destructive tendencies of the man behind one of the grunge era’s greatest voices is revealed for the flawed human being that he was, which is why Morgen’s film is such an invaluable artifact on the tragedy that was Cobain. –Sean Cureton

10. Ex Machina

Universal Pictures

Universal Studios

Alex Garland’s restrained and character focused sci-fi opus thrives in the spaces left between. Whether it be moments of silence in between dialogue, the division between characters that direct eye contact intensifies rather than lessens, the stillness in between Ava’s direct and graceful movements, or the gap between how individuals present themselves and who they really are, Ex Machina carefully uses this space to revel in and reprimand curiosity. In doing so, Garland creates a modern myth but one that’s cautionary tale can’t be divided by simple binaries. Like any great myth, Ex Machina hinges on our relationship with a higher power, but one in which man has replaced God as that higher power, or seemingly so. In Nathan and, to a lesser degree, Caleb’s efforts to diminish the gap between man and deity, they end up creating a much larger rift than the relationship between God and man has ever had. Through the creation of Ava, they free something that does not worship them. In the seven days that Nathan and Caleb conduct their Turing test, they don’t create life in their image, but instead create life with a will of its own and one that is unshackled from the religious principles that define the experiments and morality of man. Beautifully composed, and comprised of performances that deny expectations, Ex Machina is one of the truest examples of science-fiction that wholly embraces the scientific part of its identity to providing more questions than answers. –Richard Newby 

9. Magic Mike XXL

Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

No one expected much of Magic Mike XXL. The first film was a bit darker and more dramatic than advertised, but the sequel had lost Steven Soderbergh as director (though it gained him as its editor and director of photography). The film surpassed expectations not by reaching past them – quite the opposite actually. This is a plotless, conflict-less work, a film where character disputes and arcs are universally resolved with dance. It calls back to the musicals of Hollywood’s Golden Age with its plot point-dance break-plot point structure, its joyous tone, and its wildly impressive choreography. Channing Tatum shines in the title role, but it’s Joe Manganiello who steals the show as Mike’s friend Big Dick Richie. In the now-famous gas station scene, Manganiello dances his heart out in a convenience store just to make the cashier smile. The sincere desire to bring joy into the lives of others drives these characters, a rare motivation in these irony-laden times. That, more than anything, is what makes Magic Mike XXL so special. Its love is not conditional or exclusionary. –Josh Rosenfield

8. Phoenix

IFC Films

IFC Films

With Phoenix, German director Christian Petzold serves a masterclass in cinematic restraint. The film is beautiful in all its bleakness as it slowly, painstakingly weaves the tale of Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss), a Jewish nightclub singer turned concentration camp survivor whose face is left disfigured. She undergoes a facial reconstruction surgery that leaves her no less unrecognizable, and much of the film is spent watching subtle emotions play across her face as she tirelessly and painfully attempts to reclaim her former self. The film is unrelentingly tense, with every line of dialogue (and the words clearly left unsaid) hanging heavily in the air, polluting the space between characters with their immeasurable weight in every single scene. War-ravaged Berlin serves as a fitting backdrop to this story of a woman who, in many ways, is also broken, albeit more emotionally and psychologically than physically. Every shot of the film is expertly composed, but perhaps the most impressive aspect of the film is still Hoss’ performance, at least paired with the way Nelly’s progression is presented through the careful pacing of the film; she is the human embodiment of the film’s overall tone of restraint. The film’s ending is one of the most haunting, chilling, smart and sophisticated conclusions in recent history. Phoenix is, above all, a transcendent film experience. It is a deeply engrossing, important, powerful film about about trauma, memory, trust, and identity. –Sara Grasberg

7. World of Tomorrow

Bitter Films

Bitter Films

World of Tomorrow is an ode to life, memory, and the aching but oh-so inevitable passage of time. Soaked in Don Hertzfeldt’s trademark quirky sense of humor, World tells of an intelligent yet somewhat distant clone talking to her original DNA-sake, Emily, before the end of the world. The clone Emily visits her original, past self in order to let her know about life and how the world works. Yet, oddly enough, the exuberant and delightfully nonsensical Emily seems to be more attuned to the appreciation of life than her older, more weathered clone. Hertzfeldt is reminding us that even if the world is ending, the best way to go through life is with a sense of child-like wonder. So much laughter and yearning is packed into the mere sixteen minute animated short. It watches better than many full length features and we cannot recommend it enough. –Whit Denton

6. Room

A24 Films

A24 Films

Room sews together a story of both hope and fear, of devastation and triumph, with the delicate threads of a child’s world and how he experiences and sees the surroundings he’s given. Featuring some of the most subtle, yet emotionally resonant acting of the year, Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay give astounding performances as Ma and Jack, highlighting the unbreakable bond that exists between mother and son and the security and resilience a child can possess when under the constant protection and devotion of a parent. Tremblay exudes a sense of innocence and wonder that makes one wish they could remember what it’s like to discover the world for the first time, and Larson displays both restraint and unbridled, raw emotion within singular facial expressions. Room is not only one of the best films of 2015, it’s one of the best page to screen adaptations in years. –Beth Reynolds

5. Dope

Open Road Films

Open Road Films

Dope is like an ’80s throwback. It’s one of those movies where an innocent finds himself embroiled in a sticky situation and then, while trying to disentangle from the mess, finds the mess expanding. It’s also a funny movie about being a geek and the ups and downs associated with falling in that group. It has nothing but forward momentum, jumping from scene to scene like a hyper kid, never giving you a chance to settle. Dope is constantly entertaining, but it’s also a trenchant and heartfelt commentary on race relations in America, avoiding awkward pitfalls or the typical tendency to preach to its audience. It says lots without needing a bullhorn. Dope is simultaneously one of the funniest and saddest movies of 2015. –Sean Fallon

4. Tangerine

Magnolia Pictures

Magnolia Pictures

It’s difficult not to reduce one’s discussion of this film to the press kit line about how it was shot entirely on an iPhone. But you can’t separate that element from what the film is saying. Sean Baker’s Tangerine uses its camera to subvert trite cliches about “selfie culture” and reveal the profound empathy within 21st-century social interaction. This film leaves no one behind, allowing every single speaking character a moment to exist independent of the main narrative, that being Sin-Dee’s (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) blast through Los Angeles on the hunt for her cheating boyfriend. Sin-Dee may see these people as means to an end, but the film never does. Nearly everyone in Tangerine is worthy of dignity and respect, especially those people who are often not granted them in real life. Tangerine is the most deeply empathetic film of the year. –Josh Rosenfield 

3. The Look of Silence

Anonymous/Final Cut for Real/Making Movies Oy/Piraya Film A/S/Spring Films

Anonymous/Final Cut for Real/Making Movies Oy/Piraya Film A/S/Spring Films

In 1965, over one million people were killed in Indonesia during a “communist purge”. Fifty years later, Adi attempts to break the spell of silence and fear under which the survivors live and confront the men responsible for his brother’s murder – something unimaginable in a country where the perpetrators are still in power. “Drinking your victim’s blood is important, otherwise you’ll go crazy,” one of these men claims, a tradition held by the death squads of that region. Rather than condemn their actions, The Look of Silence tries to understand how these men cope with what they have done. Adi, along with director Joshua Oppenheimer and the rest of the Indonesian crew (who chose to remain anonymous), are pushing at boundaries. Adi refuses to look away, refuses to be the first to blink – and in some cases, the perpetrator’s eyes avert their gaze – before they compartmentalise, blame others, or justify their actions to avoid this guilt. It is hard not to feel anxiety over the danger he is placing himself in, yet he is asking for the most minimal reparation for their crimes – an acceptance of responsibility. Once they accept that what they did was wrong, even on a small scale, Adi is willing to forgive. With the decades of wealth and power through fear behind them, change isn’t likely to happen in these interviews. In a way, it’s a film about losing but finding little victories within the defeat. It is brave and important, telling a personal story that speaks of a larger situation, as interested in the political ramifications as it is in delving into the darkest sides of humanity. The Look of Silence is one of the most compelling explorations of human concepts of good and evil and how far the meaning of our actions can be obscured to allow a post-traumatic mind to function. –Jack Godwin

2. Carol

The Weinstein Company/StudioCanal

The Weinstein Company/StudioCanal

With Carol, Todd Haynes has crafted a pure expression of love in one of the most remarkable love stories of the year. Every frame is flushed with a sense of warmth and romance. Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett give their best performances to date. Beyond that, Carol is an important feat in queer cinema. Non-heterosexual romances are so often weighed in tragedy, a composition that allows modern audiences to feel sympathy toward a partnership they can distance themselves from without confronting the truth when digesting a love story between people in the LGBT community. While hitting the highest marks in every traditional measurement of film quality, it is in this necessarily progressive structural assurance that Carol establishes itself as an essential– if not milestone– film.    –Diego Crespo

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

No matter how many trips to post-apocalyptic wastelands cinema has taken, there is nothing like George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. This is a world that feels lived in, and at the same time, incredibly novel in terms of its organization and design. Stripping away most pre-conceived modern conventions about world-building, Fury Road doesn’t slow down for exposition, backstory, or fan service, but instead allows its necessary development to happen on the road and in the midst of battle. It’s a film that proudly displays the complete faith the filmmakers have in their vision, and the audience’s ability to quickly buy into this world. To label Miller’s film as one comprised solely of action is a disservice. The action and stunt work are phenomenal and perhaps the most outwardly impressive, but even more compelling is the fact that Miller is able to craft convincing and layered character portraits in the midst of all of these gloriously cacophonous battle sequences and adrenaline surging soundtrack. The story may not be complex in terms of plot beats, but there’s little doubt that the film’s story is working on a level of complexity that transcends the need for narrative density. Fury Road lives by succeeds by the mantra, “Pick up what you can and run!” Be it in the form of the film’s themes of feminism, redemption, war culture, and the fetishization of “things,” Fury Road delves into nothing more than it can handle in the span of its two hour runtime and entirely succeeds in exploring each of these facets to their fullest and most cinematically pleasing potential. The film has quickly permeated popular culture, affecting everything from views on women’s rights and representation, politics, and consumer culture, and it achieved this without breaking a single noteworthy box office record. The year’s best film should push filmmaking and the filmgoing experience forward, and ultimately leave a lasting imprint on that year. Mad Max: Fury Road presses its foot down on the accelerator and leaves blistering tire tracks in its wake, not just imprinting upon, but defining the year and what bold filmmaking can achieve. –Richard Newby

List Curation: Richard Newby, Grace Porter
Featured Image (Left to Right): Crimson Peak (Universal Pictures), Magic Mike XXL (Warner Bros.), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures), Tangerine (Magnolia Pictures)