Best films of 2015: Mad Max, Spotlight, Ex Machina and more make Eli Glasner's cut

Behind the blockbusters and formulaic franchises, 2015 had — as always — flickering bright spots onscreen: movies that brought new life into old genres, love stories of aching emotion and moments of humanity to help us make sense of this chaotic world. Eli Glasner shares his top films of 2015.

Eli's top films of 2015

7 years ago
Duration 3:05
Titles that took risks and raised the bar made Eli Glasner's list of the 5 best movies of 2015.

Here we are hurtling towards 2016, another year almost behind us. Onscreen, the same patterns continue; the movies get bigger, with celluloid withering away as 3D reigns supreme. But behind the blockbusters and formulaic franchises, there were — as always — flickering bright spots: Movies that brought new life into old genres, love stories of aching emotion and moments of humanity to help us make sense of this chaotic world. Here are the movies that moved and inspired me most in 2015. Enjoy. 


Actors (from left) Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy, Michael Keaton and John Slattery appear in a scene from Spotlight. (Kerry Hayes/Entertainment One)

One of the amazing things about a well-made film is its ability to concentrate and condense a complex story, bringing the audience into a tightly knit community and distilling a complicated case into a single, two-hour journey. Spotlight is a film that does exactly that. A movie about the battle between the Catholic Church and the reporters of the Boston Globe, it progresses at breakneck speed, yet there's a richness there as well — in the drudgery of building a case in a whispered word in a bar between friends as the Church applies pressure. This is a battle of institutions, each wounded in a different way. That director Tom McCarthy managed to make Spotlight so riveting is a testament to his understated talent. 

Mad Max: Fury Road

A terse Tom Hardy, as road warrior Max Rockatansky, helps elevate the post-apocalyptic thriller Mad Max: Fury Road to masterpiece status, says Eli Glasner. (Warner Bros.)

A film with a furious momentum, little dialogue and a cinematic language all its own, Fury Road is a reminder of what happens when you replace computer effects with rust, guts and glory. If director George Miller's sequel was just an empty-headed action film, it would be impressive. However, a terse Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron as weary warrior seeking redemption raise Mad Max to a masterpiece. 


Tangerine follows acting newcomers Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (left) and Mya Taylor (right) on a journey through L.A.'s trans-sex worker community. (Video Services Corp)

An independent film set as a day-in-the-life of two transgender working girls, the topicality of Tangerine might seem a little too earnest at first glance. But there's nothing precious about Alexandra and Sin-dee, who eke out a living on the Sunset Strip. Shot in a loose and lively style on iPhones (!), Tangerine offers no apologizes. But walk a mile in Sin-dee's heels and you'll see the world differently. 

In Her Place

Ji-hye Ahn stars as a pregnant teen faced with a difficult decision in the Canada-South Korea co-production In Her Place. (TimeLapse Pictures)

Set in the rural countryside of South Korea, In Her Place begins quietly and builds to a harrowing conclusion. With this story revolving around adoption, a young woman and her parents, Canadian rising star filmmaker Albert Shin takes his time to untangle the relationships onscreen. The performances are viceral and the result is unforgettable. 

The Big Short

Christian Bale appears in a scene from financial crisis dramedy The Big Short. (Jaap Buitendijk/Paramount Pictures/Associated Press)

There is a righteous sense of indignation that motivates The Big Short, a wildly entertaining dramedy set against the 2008 financial crisis. Where too many other films about Wall St. feature self-important heroes bending the world to their wills, leave it to Anchorman auteur Adam McKay to give the big banks the treatment they deserve. You will learn, laugh and — if McKay has his way — get very, very angry. 


Saoirse Ronan is the heart of romantic drama Brooklyn, set in 1950s New York. (Kerry Brown/Fox Searchlight/Associated Press)

Saoirse Ronan is her name and it's high time you learned how to pronounce it ("SIR-sha," rhymes with inertia). You'll be hearing it a lot more often, this time thanks to her old-fashioned romance that's grander than the ocean that divides the drama's lovers.

Ex Machina

Alicia Vikander turns in an exciting performance in the stunningly sophisticated first feature Ex Machina. (Ex Machina, Universal Pictures)

A chamber piece starring three of this year's most exciting performers (Alicia Vikander, Oscar Issac and Domhnall Gleeson), the stunningly sophisticated Ex Machina — a first feature from Alex Garland — is a sounding board for our own assumptions. A talented programmer interviews an A.I. program with a sexy silhouette and subroutine drawn from our own desires. 


Paddington is a film filled with slapstick, artful touches and Nicole Kidman's best work in years, says Eli Glasner. (StudioCanal)

​Paddington is back and has the soul of Buster Keaton in this delightful retelling, starring everyone's favourite bear from Peru. A film filled with slapstick, artful touches and Nicole Kidman's best work in years, Paddington is a story about immigration and creating family where you find it. 


Oscar-nominated Timbuktu is filled with moments of searing beauty, gentle absurdity and powerful poetry. (Cohen Media Group/Associated Press)

Filled with moments of searing beauty and gentle absurdity, Timbuktu puts a human face on ISIS, showing the jihadist group infiltrating a West African village. The scene depicting a group of boys playing soccer, without a ball for fear of invoking the group's wrath, is one of the most powerfully poetic moments caught on film this year. 

The Last 5 Years 

Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick star in the non-linear tale The Last 5 years, which charts a blooming and waning love affair almost entirely in song. (Thomas Concordia/RADiUS/Associated Press)

It quietly slipped off the radar in 2015, but this musical starring Anna Kendrick was everything Pitch Perfect 2 should have been: a wildly inventive, non-linear love story and the best example of her screwball talents. Check out this Summer in Ohio performance to get a glimpse of the film's irreverent wit and style. Unlike many musicals, The Last 5 Years grabs the camera by the lens and never lets go. This is your next favourite cult musical. 


Eli Glasner

Senior entertainment reporter

Eli Glasner is the senior entertainment reporter and screentime columnist for CBC News. Covering culture has taken him from the northern tip of Moosonee Ontario to the Oscars and beyond.  


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