Man, 2015 was an EPIC year for movies. Probably the best consistently good year for movies since the 90s. Whether your cinematic tastes are more pensive and thoughtful cinema, or blow-you-through-the-back-wall blockbuster extravaganzas, there was something for everyone to not only enjoy, but love at the multiplex this year. Here’s my personal Top 10 films of the year. Let me know your favorites!
10) Straight Outta Compton – I was riveted by this incredibly well-cast and performed musical biopic, especially the actors who portrayed Ice Cube, Dre, Easy-E, and Tupac. I was never bored during the 2.5 hour running time. I wanted the film to just keep going when the credits rolled. In fact, two days after seeing the film, I went to Sonic Boom and picked up “Straight Outta Compton” on vinyl. Plenty to work with for a sequel given that it ends in the mid 90s.
9) Ex Machina – Probably the most suspenseful film I saw this year, and there’s only two and a half people in it. It’s rare that we get heady Sci-Fi like this with big ideas and themes, wrapped in a small package that doesn’t feature city-demolishing CGI spectacle. Just a small, tense, Hitchcockian thriller where the high stakes are conveyed through dialogue and well placed comic relief. What else to expect from the mind that brought us the brilliant Sunshine (2007)?
8) Inside Out – I really respect how hilarious and emotional this Pixar masterpiece manages to be at the same time. I also loved how this film respect’s a child’s intelligence and provides a way for them to express their new feelings that inevitably crop up in puberty. Easily Pixar’s best since The Incredibles/Finding Nemo. Looks great too!
7) Spotlight – Efficient filmmaking at its finest and the best Journalism movie since All the President’s Men or Network. Fantastic performances by great actors portraying unsung heroes who are great at their jobs. Intense levels of suspense and heartbreak conveyed only through brilliant dialogue. I loved that despite covering the awful territory that was (and continues to be!) the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic church, the filmmakers didn’t insert a scene putting that horror in the viewer’s face. No other movie will respect your intelligence and attention span more this year. Man, this movie made me miss working in a newsroom.
6) The Revenant – A disturbing and bizarre trip into one man’s brutal journey towards revenge in frontier-era America. The film is stunningly beautiful and features fantastic performances by Leo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Not an easy watch by any means, but one of the most rewarding films of the year for those that want to put in the effort. Some truly horrifying images will stay with you for a very long time.
5) Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens – There’s absolutely nothing original I can say about this movie. This is the second most fun I’ve had at the movies all year long (after my number 1 pick). It may have been even higher if it wasn’t for some recycled plot elements from other films, and there’s a moment or two that I felt could have stuck the emotional landing better. Still, it’s great to see a billion-dollar blockbuster starring a British woman, a black man, a latino man and not draw attention to itself. The practical effects complimented by a reasonable level of CGI was a marvel to look at. Star Wars is back!
4) Room – It’s rare that a movie makes me cry, and this is one of them. Brie Larson is a marvel as a kidnapped woman caring for her son as a prisoner for years on end in a tiny room with a small skylight. (Not a spoiler, this is revealed in the first few minutes). Intolerable tension and frightening themes are both tempered and expanded by having the film shown and heard from the perspective of the child. It’s not all bleak and horrific either, there’s a ton of life affirming beauty to behold as well. The best example this year of an incredible film that I’m in no hurry to experience again. See it!
3) The Martian – When I first saw this movie, I said it was the most visually stunning and suspenseful comedy I’d ever seen. While I know many didn’t like Prometheus, I think this film makes a great companion piece to Ridley Scott’s late career Sci-Fi resurgence in terms of visuals and theme. Matt Damon is great in this beautiful to look at film. Outside of Trainwreck and What We Do in the Shadows, this is one of the best comedies of the year.
2) It Follows – Incredibly deep themes about modern sexuality and reputation are explored in this eerie and terrifying film that is simply the best horror movie in many years. Oh man, that soundtrack is great too. I’ve seen this movie three times and each time I notice more and more unsettling things going on in the background of the frame and in between lines of dialogue. This movie will get under your skin and stay there, all without resorting to cheap jump scares. It’s all atmosphere baby!
1) Mad Max Fury Road – This is a miraculous movie that shouldn’t even exist in the modern studio system. It’s a visually stunning, incredibly creative, truly weird, tense masterpiece that tops any action film that Hollywood has put out since The Matrix (although The Raid 1 and 2 are incredible and comparable too). The chases are thrilling, the visual storytelling rewards multiple viewings, the feminist themes are refreshing, and the %95 practical effects and stunts blow any CGI from any film out of the water. This is the most fun I had at the movies all year, and it only helped that it gave me plenty of candy for the mind as well.
Some Honorable Mentions (Any other year, any of these films would easily be in my top ten): Hateful Eight, Big Short, Anomalisa, Steve Jobs, Furious 7, What We Do in the Shadows, Trainwreck, Trumbo, Ant-Man, Bone Tomahawk.
Yet to see:
Beasts of No Nation, Brooklyn, Carol, Bridge of Spies, Creed