A Banner Year for Local Cinema and the Top Films of 2015

Reflecting on an unprecedented year for local film fans, considering ways to improve, and counting down the top 15 films of 2015. Plus: holiday film screenings, “Hateful Eight” opens, and more

The end of the calendar year is always time for reflection on the twelve months that came before, and that certainly is the case in the film world, when everyone’s top ten lists begin to trickle out and the year’s finest achievements in film are celebrated (and the year’s most calculated works are trotted out for Oscar consideration). Doing so gives us the opportunity to reflect back on what has been a particularly momentous year in the local film world.

With our constantly expanding film festival quickly becoming one of the country’s largest, and a revived theater celebrating it’s one-year anniversary (by giving away 200 tickets to the opening night screening of Star Wars, no less) this is an unprecedented time of plenty for local film fans in the modern era. Add to that the UWM Union Cinema’s rebranding and wonderfully eclectic programming throughout the year and it’s been a banner year for cinema in Milwaukee. And yet, like covetous celluloid Gollum, I find myself craving more.

Now, Milwaukee is never going to be a primary market for independent cinema or anything like that, and I’m not so naïve as to think that your Anomalisas and Sons of Saul are going to playing here first and foremost (both are scheduled to come here in January, so it’s not as if our wait will prove to be that agonizing anyway). But as many strides as have been made in cultivating the local movie market and broadening the scope of what gets screened here, there’s still room for improvement.

The MFF definitely helps when it comes to this, two of my favorite films of the year came to town via that glorious multi-week celebration of cinema in all its forms, and it seems highly unlikely Gueros would ever have played here otherwise, so that is cause for celebration. But then take the case of a movie like Tangerine, the much buzzed about screwball comedy out of Sundance that follows the tumultuous day in the life of two trans women on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles, shot entirely on iPhones and literally crackling with manic energy and wit. I would argue this movie is absolutely essential when it comes to the discussion of 2015, and yet it never played here. And it’s not for lack of opportunities – the MFF, the LGBT Film Festival or the Union Cinema would’ve all been logical destinations for such a movie. And I know that those organizations wanted to bring this incredible movie to us, but still came up a little short in the end. Its cold comfort that Tangerine is now available on Netflix – thought you should still absolutely watch it at your earliest convenience; it’s the type of film that would’ve allowed for an amazing communal experience in a darkened theater. Hopefully the Tangerine of 2016 will play in just such a fashion in the Milwaukee area.

TOM’S TOP FIFTEEN OF 2015: (presented with the caveat I still need to see approximately 50 movies!)

  1. Bridge of Spies (dir. Steven Spielberg)

Somehow Spielberg is becoming one of our most slept-on directors with his current output, with people tossing around old-fashioned in this film’s case like it’s a pejorative.  It isn’t – this Capraesque tale of a man’s ideals staying steady in the face of withering opposition isn’t nearly as doe-eyed as some would have you believe.

  1. Carol (dir. Todd Haynes)

This aching portrait of longing and repression (so many gorgeous instances of our two leads hemmed in by windows, observing the world instead of taking part in it) is the one film on my list that has the biggest opportunity for advancement with subsequent viewings.

  1. Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland)

It seems unfair that novelist Alex Garland could come out of the gate with such a precise work of art with his maiden voyage as a filmmaker, but here it is – adroitly performed and lensed with the chilly reserve of Alicia Vikander’s monumental performance as the artificial intelligence at the film’s center.

  1. Crimson Peak (dir. Guillermo Del Toro)

I was completely swept away in Del Toro’s visual sumptuous gothic romance, filled with bombastic performances and miraculous set design.

  1. The Look of Silence (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)

No mere accompaniment to his previous The Act of Killing, this follow-up documentary takes on dimensions the previous film was incapable of, becoming even more emotionally devastating in the process.

  1. Sicario (dir. Dennis Villeneuve)

Lessons in cinematic tension are delivered as we burrow into the coal black heart of the world.  Some of the shots (a knife, gripped in the twilight) will probably forever remain seared onto my memory.

  1. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (dir. Marielle Heller)

An unabashed triumph, chronicling the sexual awakening of a young female (Bel Powley, with what I believe to be the year’s finest performance) without ever moralizing or apologizing.  A portrait we’ve given far too infrequent access to in our modern cinema.

  1. Gueros (dir. Alonso Ruiz Palacios)

Many thanks to the 2015 MFF for bringing me this phenomenal filmmaking debut, a coming of age film that crackles with the energy of cinematic possibility.

  1. Paddington (dir. Paul King)

Read my thoughts here.

  1. Creed (dir. Ryan Coogler)

Populist filmmaking at its finest. This is what The Force Awakens came so tantalizingly close to achieving, harkening to the films that came before it while being in and of itself something entirely new and exciting.

  1. It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell)

Read my review here.

  1. Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker)

As described above.

  1. Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley)

A film of considerable warmth and empathy, the kind of classic romance that cinema seems unable to produce in this age of irony.

  1. Magic Mike XXL (dir. Gregory Jacobs)

The finest musical Hollywood has produced in decades. As even-handed a celebration of pleasure and the pursuit of it as you’re likely to find.

  1. TIE Mad Max: Fury Road and The World of Tomorrow

A cheat, yes. But both of these movies (one an impossible thrill-ride through a desolate hellscape, the other an animated flight of fancy involving a young girl’s future self taking her on a journey through time and space) held me in their thrall like no other this year.  Two feats of astonishing world-building that each left me speechless by their conclusion.

On the Marquee

Tuesday, December 22 through Thursday, December 24: A Christmas Story, Home Alone & It’s A Wonderful Life

12/22: 1:15 p.m. ChriSto, 3:30 HoAlo & 7:30 It’sAWon  12/23: 1:30 It’sAWon, 4:30 ChriSto & 6:40 HoAlo  12/24 1:30 HoAlo & 4:30 It’sAWon @ The Avalon Theatre ($6!)                                                                                                                          

Tuesday, December 22 through Thursday, December 24: It’s A Wonderful Life, Gremlins & Die Hard

12/22: 1:30 p.m. It’sAWon, 4:30 p.m. Grem & 7 p.m. DiHa   12/23: 1:45 Grem, 4:15 It’sAWon & 7 DiHa  12/24: 1:30 It’sAWon @ The Times Cinema ($6!)

Wednesday, December 23: The Big Short opens locally

***CRITIC’S CHOICE*** Friday, December 25: The Hateful Eight opens in 70mm at the Marcus Majestic Cinema

Check local listings for showtimes/pricing (buy tickets here)

Friday, December 25: ***CRITIC’S CHOICE*** Carol, Concussion, Daddy’s Home, The Danish Girl, Joy, Point Break & Youth all open in local release

Check local listings for showtimes/pricing



Tom Fuchs is a Milwaukee-based film writer whose early love for cinema has grown into a happy obsession. He graduated with honors in Film Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has since focused on film criticism. He works closely with the Milwaukee Film Festival and has written reviews and ongoing columns for Milwaukee Magazine since 2012. In his free time, Tom enjoys spending time with his wife and dogs at home (watching movies), taking day trips to Chicago (to see movies), and reading books (about movies). You can follow him on Twitter @tjfuchs or email him at tjfuchs@gmail.com.