Top 10 of 2015 by Ben Cahlamer

As we wrap up the end of 2018, the Phoenix Film Festival reviewing staff decided it would be a fun idea to take a look back at their favorite films from a select year in the 2010 era. This week, Ben Cahlamer (who can’t even spell his own last name) takes a look at the very first year he started writing movie reviews, 2015.


2015 didn’t start out for me with my saying “I’m going to write movie reviews.” My mom kept pleading with me to keep a journal. Lord knew I didn’t want to write down my own thoughts for posterity. But, I was starting to appreciate independent and foreign cinema more and more. In fact, it’s the first year that I can remember where I attended an advanced screening for “Woman in Gold.” That screening which was held at the original Harkins Camelview ended up being filled to capacity and I couldn’t get in on the standard line, so they turned us away. I had waited patiently for four hours and felt dejected.

As I walked away from the theater, I thought to myself “Ben, they must have at least one seat . . .  something.” At that point, I didn’t even care if it was in the front row, so I went and talked to the screening rep and sure enough, they had one seat left in the very front row!  “I’ll take it!”

The movie was a wonderful experience. What made it even more rewarding was that the theme of the film matched my own experience – stand up for what you believe is right, or fair. As a nice bonus, the director of the film, Simon Curtis was on hand for a Q & A after the film.

Here’s a link to the video, which I didn’t realize was moderated by fellow Phoenix Critics Circle member David Appleford.

What has any of this to do with my Top 10 Films of 2015?

To be honest, very little. I was overzealous with my first review, a product of the excitement of being able to get in to the screening. Three years on, and it wouldn’t even make it in to my Top 10. (it’s still a well-acted film with stunning locales.) In a year where I thought “Southpaw” would have been a Best Picture contender and “Terminator: Genisys” and “Jurassic World” were on my radar, how could I ever hope to come up with a top 10?

Let’s look at what did make it into my Top 10 of 2015?


10. “Room” (d. Lenny Abrahamson) This was one of the film that we screened as a part of the Winter Series in 2015. Featuring Brie Larson in her Best Actress – winning role and Jacob Tremblay in his first role, this is the story of a mother and son held in captivity and their journey to free themselves.

9. “The Martian” (d. Ridley Scott) This film brought audiences to laughter as the first mission to Mars results in a botanist, Mark Whatney (Matt Damon) being stranded on Mars when an abrupt storm forces the crew to abandon the surface. When he miraculously recovers and makes contact with NASA, his crew mounts a rescue effort.


8. “Brooklyn” (d. John Crowley) A look at the life of Irish immigrant Ellis Lacey as she learns to survive in Brooklyn in the early 1950’s. As much a period piece, “Brooklyn” makes my top 10 for the acting. Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen along with Domhnall Gleeson really bring the era of the past to life. Ronan and the film were nominated for Actress, Picture and Adapted Screenplay, respectively.

7. “Time Out of Mind” (d. Oren Moverman) Part of the Phoenix Film Society’s Summer Series, Oren Moveman’s film features Richard Gere as George, a mentally ill and homeless man on the streets of Manhattan. What I liked about the film was the way Moverman and Gere worked to make us face ourselves as we witness George’s journey.

6. “The Danish Girl” (d. Tom Hooper) In his Oscar – winning role, Eddie Redmayne was a godsend when he took on the role of Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgeries. He has such a large presence on screen and he acts with his eyes while he blends in to the background, making his performance here so memorable. Alicia Vikander co-stars in her Oscar – winning role for Best Supporting Actress.


5. “Trumbo” (d. Jay Roach) With a sly, silver tongue and a flair for modern audiences, Dalton Trumbo could write a script like the best of them. When he gets himself caught up in the House Committee of Un-American Activities owing to his membership in the Communist Party of the USA, he gets himself blacklisted, cutting off any ability of his to work in Hollywood legitimately. Bryan Cranston is the sole reason why this movie rates as high as it does – his Oscar-nominated performance evokes many emotions over the course of the film, most of all empathy for his plight.

4. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (d. George Miller) It had been years since we’d seen George Miller’s desolate survivalist tale on the screen. Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is captured by the War Boys while Furiosa (Charlize Theron) makes an escape with valuable cargo. The film’s imaginative story, exceptional cinematography and stunning performances from Hardy and Theron are what set this film in my top five.

Big Short.jpeg

3. “The Big Short” (d. Adam McKay) My parents always taught me never to talk politics, money or religion with people I don’t know. Heck, I don’t talk about any of those subjects with people that I do know. Why then do I adore Adam McKay’s Oscar-winning film so much? Perhaps because it does such a good job of explaining what happened to cause this country’s greatest financial debacle since The Great Depression. The cast, especially Christian Bale and Steve Carrell really make McKay’s script come to life. Their emotions, or in Bale’s case his emotion-less performance, are very unglamorous in relation to the smoke and mirrors that happens in the background. Ryan Gosling is a younger version of Gordon Gekko. In short, “The Big Short” allows me to talk all three things my parents never said I should talk about.

2. “The Hateful Eight” (d. Quentin Tarantino) The fact that this film did not get a Best Picture nomination has confounded me for the past three years. No matter, it sits in the number two slot. The cinematography was gorgeous, better than “The Revenant’s”. Tarantino’s script is full of venom and class as eight people descend on a snowbound lodge with a world-class cast to match it.


1. “Spotlight” (d. Tom McCarthy) I am a fiend for stories that center around a journalistic investigation and McCarthy’s Oscar-winning script was the finest film of 2015. The film, which the Phoenix Film Society screened as a part of its Winter Series was touted as a potential Best Picture winner, and I thought it important to make myself known to the PFS staff that year. Three years later, my own budding journalism side job is continuing to grow. I don’t think I’m going to take down the Boston Archdiocese in my mid-life career aspirations; it was also the final film I saw at the original Harkins Camelview, before it closed for good . . . .