Well, here it finally is, the Top Films of 2015. I have personally seen around 150 movies from this calendar year, and outside of a few films such as Macbeth, Legend, 99 Homes, and Anomalisa, that never expanded toward my area, I feel pretty comfortable making this list with the fact that all relevant movies that would be considered have been reviewed and often watched more than one time.
If there are any films that a reader feels was left off, please feel free to comment and see what we thought, as these lists are intended to start a dialogue. It’s a mixture of both objectivity and subjectivity, some films are ones that I just really liked and found enjoyable, others are the ones that were the best acted or the best directed. So, here we go:
THE HONORABLE MENTIONS:
The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, The Danish Girl, Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation, and Pitch Perfect 2
- If there was ever a question about this being a mix of objective and subjective, here’s the answer. Our honorable mentions feature two possible best picture nominations, a period piece drama/romance with serious acting credibility, the year’s 2nd best action film, and a guilty pleasure chick flick.
- As for The Big Short, I actually loved the style that it was presented in, the manic cutaways and awkward humor really worked, but it didn’t quite live up to what I really wanted. Some of the performances were a little wasted and by taking such a big risk, the final product was just a bit too sloppy to make our list. It was solid, though, good film.
- Bridge of Spies was actually my favorite of these five honorable mentions. It’s well-acted, and really well presented in typical Steven Spielberg fashion. There are issues though, when the film pulls some punches with the drama and leaves us with a final product that is a bit too glossed over. It’s a great 90s film that makes only a pretty good 2000s film.
- The Danish Girl was both timely and wonderfully acted. Alicia Vikander steals the show and actually gives one of my favorite performances of the year. There’s just so many great conversations that don’t occur, so many heartbreaking questions that should be addressed, and it comes off a little bit too safe. This could’ve been the best film of the year if it was a little more dramatically adept.
- Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation is just a very well made action/spy flick. It was everything Spectre should have been, and Tom Cruise doing his own stunts is just great to watch. He’s a maniac. This film was really, really fun. Also, shout out to Rebecca Ferguson for her work in this as the main supporting actress. She’s really good, and badass.
- Finally, it’s Pitch Perfect 2. Now, I know that every male thinks that if they like Pitch Perfect, their genitals will just combust into nothing, but these films are actually extremely funny and very well-written. This is funnier than the first one but not quite as dramatic in moments. Anna Kendrick is less of a main part so the credibility of the film is down, but it’s still funny, charming, and one of the better movies of the year.
- Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara star in one of the year’s most provocative romances, where an older 40-something woman seduces and befriends a 20-something sales clerk. When Carol, the older woman, is going through a legal battle, they take a long, spontaneous trip together, starting an interesting a well-framed romance from visionary director Todd Haynes. It’s wonderfully shot and beautifully acted, the only flaws coming from rushed pacing that occasionally ruins the film’s dramatic heft.
- The indie front-runner in many people’s eyes for Best Picture, Room is a chilling tale of captivity, family, and necessity, as Brie Larson is forced to bear and raise the child of a sexual predator who rapes her and locks her into a small shed in his backyard for ten years. The film deals with what happens when the child begins questioning the world around him as he becomes more aware of their situation. It’s one of the most unique films of the year, but it isn’t necessarily the best.
- Saorise Ronan stars in another great drama containing both romance and adventure from screenwriter Nick Hornby. It shows how one young women’s life is changed as she finally gets a chance to escape her small town in Ireland to head to the U.S. to pursue the American Dream. When tragedy strikes at home, she must decide how she feels about her new home, or the one she left to begin with. It’s well-acted, harrowing, and her decision makes the audience extremely anxious. It’s just an adorable and well-written film.
- Sensing a pattern here? It was a good year for women at the movies. This one deals with Julia Garner as a young girl who gets pregnant and wants an abortion, so she enlists the help of her gay, progressive-minded grandmother (Lily Tomlin) to get it done as opposed to her overbearing mother (Marcia Gay Harden). It’s a comedic story about generations, old relationships, family, and it goes from being hilarious in a rude coffee shop scene to unbelievably dramatic in a great cameo from Sam Elliot. The scope is small, but the ideas are grand, one of the best comedies of the year.
#21. Fifty Shades of Grey
- Remember when I stated that I want this to start a dialogue, well, here’s your bait. Yes, I think Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the best films of the year. (Shocked faces ensue). The cinematography, editing, and soundtrack are absolutely top notch, and it really is one of the best looking films of the year. It’s shot in such symmetry and with such flair that, along with credible performances from the emotionally explosive Dakota Johnson and serial killer-esque Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey, it masks some serious flaws in the screenplay. There are flaws, plenty of them, but I had a great time with how self-aware this movie was. It was funny, dream-like, beautifully shot, and yeah, occasionally sexy. (Just don’t shut off all of my credibility because of one movie, please. Keep reading)
#20. The Martian
- Matt Damon stranded in space with a good comedic attitude, wonderful world building from Ridley Scott, and plenty of dialogue about deep space, yeah, I’m in. The Martian was tons of fun. It was great to watch someone consistently problem solve with a great sense of humor in such an unfamiliar environment. The part of the story that takes place on Earth, well, that’s a whole different story. The pacing does occasionally drag because of this, but in terms of friendly science fiction, this is a really good movie.
#19. The Hateful Eight
- I had stated in my review that this was not prime Tarantino, and it isn’t, but it’s still one of the most unique and interesting films of the year. There are your Tarantino tropes like carnage, wise-cracking, and genre-bending, but like usual, it also has good performances, notably from Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins. It occasionally tries to be too witty or too surprising for its own good, however, and falls short of mastery because of some loose ends in the screenplay.
#18. The Gift
- The Gift is one of the most overlooked films of the year, not that many people saw it, but it’s quality is really worthwhile. In a year short on great thrillers, The Gift showed true directorial promise from Joel Edgerton, along with a star-making performance from Rebecca Hall. It’s really tense, beautifully shot, and combines the in-home horror genre with whodunit crime/thriller. The messages about revisiting your past and correcting mistakes is good for people who have regrets, and the ending is pretty chilling; just a pretty surprising film to make the list, but it’s really, really good.
#17. Mr. Holmes
- A mid-summer indie hit that I actually didn’t catch until its DVD release, Mr. Holmes blew me away with its English-countryside cinematography and emotional performance from Ian McKellen as a Sherlock Holmes that is going through some mental disintegration. It’s a tale about his final case, and his relationship with his house-keeper and son as he reflects his attitude in later years. I love a good Holmes story, and this, although a little bit out of the normal scope, really did the job.
#16. Avengers: Age of Ultron
- I realize that this was a divisive movie, but I’ve always stated that a superhero film is only as good as its villain, and James Spader as Ultron meets that criteria. This is my personal favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where the stakes and the villain’s motivation makes a little bit more sense. There are relatively funny scenes, like usual, but it also can get serious when it needs to. There are a few scenes where Ultron plays with character’s minds and causes them to hallucinate, which are some of the coolest scenes in film this year. I had a blast with this movie, I really did.
#15. Ex Machina
- An early year hit from A24 films? Wow, we’ve never seen that before. This was the year of Alicia Vikander, and although I mentioned her as the shining star of The Danish Girl, she also does great work here as one of the most interesting and intimidating A.I.’s that we’ve ever seen in film. It’s a story about a really elaborate laboratory test, featuring a decent Domhnall Gleeson and an excellently quirky Oscar Isaac as the other two main characters. It builds suspense in a very unnatural and unique fashion, but it ends up really working in the grand scheme of the movie. It’s also another great twist ending.
#14. The Visit
- Welcome back M. Night Shyamalan! The Visit may be a bit of a guilty pleasure, but it does one of the most ingenious things in regards to its tone: it will scare the hell out of you, and while you’re coming down from the scare, it will throw a joke to hit you when you’re vulnerable. It was really funny and really scary. Deanna Dunagan as the infamous grandma from the trailers does a great job, and although there are some annoying scenes because of the child acting (mainly the little brother), it was still a really fun, really scary movie.
#13. Mad Max: Fury Road
- This film will be on everyone’s list. It was one of my most anticipated films of the year, and it (mostly) delivered. I have some problems with its pacing and with its character development, but all in all, it stands for exactly what a good, badass action film should be like. It’s bonkers from the get-go, where a hallucinating Max (Tom Hardy) tries to escape the evil clutches of cult leader Immortan Joe and his nuclear-deformed minions. It’s two hours of non-stop action, practical effects, and stinging subtext. (I actually saw it back to back with Pitch Perfect 2, so that was a good night at the movies.)
#12. It Follows
- It was between this and The Visit for the year’s best horror film, and although The Visit may have slightly higher personal enjoyment, it’s hard to debate that It Follows isn’t the most crafty scary movie of 2015. It clearly pays homage to the old suburban horror of John Carpenter, but it also spins a satire of the horror trope of ‘if you have sex, you’ll die.’ Maika Monroe is a revelation as this year’s scream queen (well, and Emma Roberts, lol), running from an STD (Sexually Transmitted Demon) that isn’t really there. I saw this in New York City because I didn’t want to wait for an expansion and the walk back to where I was staying was just a little eerie.
#11. Jurassic World
- It was REALLY hard not to put this in my Top 10, so consider it in #10B and the following film will be #10A. I know that this movie was stupid, Bryce Dallas Howard and some poor child acting are serious flaws, and hell, even the script isn’t that great, but it’s a wondrously large monster movie. The creature that dominates the plot of the film, the Indominous Rex, is the coolest monster villain in years, and watching the park go crazy on an even larger scale than before was just brilliant. The film-makers were throwing jabs at us, stating that it’s our fault that they have to do this because people forget how awesome the original was. Obviously, nothing can outdo Spielberg’s original film, but it’s really fun, thrilling, and awesomely violent. We’ve allowed Chris Pratt to become a movie star, and I’m fine with it.
- I’m aware that the last few films on my list haven’t exactly been awards contenders, but it’s been a weak Oscar season and there were some really good summer films that stuck around in my favorite films list. Trainwreck is one of them. It’s the funniest film of the year, working with great chemistry from Amy Schumer and Bill Hader, but also getting really funny supporting performances out of Brie Larson, LeBron James, and John Cena. It was a career year for Schumer, who is nominated for a handful of Golden Globes because of this movie. It’s not high-brow entertainment, but it’s really well-written, satirical, and hilarious.
- Although the name may be ‘Creed,’ where Apollo’s illegitimate son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) gets into the ring as our protagonist, it’s really the wise mentor of a seasoned Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) who steals the movie. The boxing scenes were filmed to perfection, and it’s another standout from young director Ryan Coogler. Jordan is solid, as is Tessa Thompson, but when Rocky gives tales about his life and about all he has lost, it’s like a true punch in the gut. Creed is a great sports drama.
#8. The Intern
- Shocked? Don’t be. For rewatchability and enjoyment alone, this movie, directed by the Queen of the feel-good comedy Nancy Meyers, is like enjoying a warm cup of tea and a few cookies with your spouse under a warm blanket and fluffy pillows. It cradles you in its warm, loving, comedic embrace and forces you to just love it. DeNiro is everyone’s favorite grandpa, and when the stressed-out CEO of a fashion start-up Anne Hathaway needs a friend, he’s there. Supporting performances are mostly manned by veteran comedians, and it can win over those who love good romantic comedies, those who love chick flicks, those who love satire, or those who love full-circle inner-personal drama. DVD release is January 19th? Line me up.
#7. Black Mass
- I am admittedly a sucker for a good mobster movie, but rarely is there a mobster who is as well-acted as Johnny Depp in Black Mass. His portrayal of Whitey Bulger, one of Boston’s most notorious criminals, is harrowing, disturbing, and also everything a gangster-film fan would like. Throw in a brilliant Joel Edgerton, a heart-breaking Dakota Johnson, and some other good cameos, you get a top notch movie. It doesn’t break any big ground, but it fits right in with its genre and knows how to pay homage to its predecessors.
#6. Steve Jobs
- It’s a shame no one saw this movie because of the over-saturation of Jobs biopics and documentaries in mainstream media. This is the best one, and it’s brilliantly acted by Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet, with also a great supporting performance by Jeff Daniels. The stylistic choice by Danny Boyle to have the films acts separated by product launches, filling in backstory by conversations and visuals was brilliant, and the grain of the film (or then digital) that it was shot on represents the progressing technology. Jobs was a complicated man, and Fassbender gets the closest here. It’s exactly how modern, crisp, and risky a good biopic should feel, it’s not safe.
#5. Clouds of Sils Maria
- An early year film that led my Top 25 list for most of the year, Clouds of Sils Maria is an amazing actors’ movie that pits the formidable Juliette Binoche against the underrated Kristen Stewart. Binoche’s character is an actress made famous by a role she took as the young partner in a lesbian relationship. When she’s asked to revisit the play, this time as the older part, she enlists the help of the younger assistant, played by Stewart, to aid her with the read-throughs and practicing. As sexual tension crackles between them, both in the play and real life, the film begins to play tricks on how real the play really is to these two characters and how Binoche can learn to grow past the role of the ‘younger woman.’ The subtext is profound, and maybe a bit too real for Stewart (she won a Cesar Award for this) who both makes fun of paparazzi hounding a famous actress (cough Twilight) and also deals with sexual tension in an actress/personal assistant relationship (real life as well).
- The likely best picture winner Spotlight really is a brilliant movie, showcasing the Boston Globe’s investigative journalism team working on exposing the child abuse by Catholic priests in their city. The journey becomes very personal for them as they meet with victims (brilliant scenes) and wonder whether to run the story or truly wait until its perfect. It’s enlightening, harrowing, and beautifully presented, with a great ensemble cast that includes Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, and Liev Schreiber.
#3. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
- There’s not much to say about this brilliant movie that hasn’t been said. J.J. Abrams has resurrected Star Wars from the depths of hell and found a way to make the world feel lived-in again. The action scenes are incredible and extremely tangible, every character’s drama and reaction feels so real, even when in pain. Gone is the CGI dominated world of the prequels, and its replaced with some of the best characters Star Wars has ever given us. Oscar Isaac as Poe is great, John Boyega as Finn is damn good, but Daisy Ridley as Rey is a powerhouse. She’s incredible in this film, conveying so many emotions and textures through her performance. There really is not another explanation, there’s small nit-pick things that bother me about a few scenes which is why it isn’t at the VERY top, but it’s everything I ever wanted from the reboot and more. Long Live Star Wars!
- Denis Villanueve already blew me away twice, landing in my top 5 in 2013 with Prisoners and again in 2014 with Enemy. This film, Sicario, is his best yet. Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro give amazing performances in this, but the real scene stealer is actually the camera work from DOP Roger Deakins. It’s timely in dealing with the American border crisis, timely in dealing with how government agencies should operate when dealing with a domestic threat, and paints the grey area between right and wrong really well. We experience this world through an inexperienced character’s eyes in Blunt, but small character hints that begin to occur as the film goes on are truly amazing. The script and production are both incredible. It’s so good. Rent it now.
#1. The Revenant
- Well, it may be the last movie I got to see in 2015 before making this list, but this film was worth the wait. It was so disturbing, brutal, and thrilling all at the same time. We watch one man’s will overcome incredible odds, as a survival drama, a western, a revenge thriller, and a war movie all combine into one unique tale about a man (Leo DiCaprio) who is left for dead after being mauled by a bear and rises from the grave to exact revenge on the man who left him (Tom Hardy) and killed his son. Emmanuel Lubezki is the best in the business at shooting a good movie, and when you hear things about how director Alejandro G. Inarritu only wanted natural light and natural nature shots to surround his film, you gain respect. But then you hear the stories about the actors, sleeping in tents in the freezing cold, and in Leo’s case, actually eating raw meat and raw fish to sell the scenes at the highest possible degree. There’s sacrifice in making this piece of true art, and The Revenant is worth every second of its near three-hour running time, it’s worth every disturbing image or horrific event you watch our character endure. You cannot make a better film than this, frankly, and it’s the best of the year.