2015 was not a year with a ton of instant classics, I’d say there is only one, but there was a pretty deep bench of really good to great movies behind that single standout.
As the 2015 movie year comes to a close this Sunday with the Oscars I again find myself releasing my annual Year in Film write-up. I cover a lot of films, only officially “ranking” the top twenty on this list, but all other films are listed in some sort of level of preference. I say “ranking” because the ordering of this list might change if you asked me as soon as a week from now to list these again. I don’t know if that is a strength or weakness for this year’s crop of films. On the one hand, the fact that so many can jump around is a testament to how enjoyable a lot of the films were, but on the other hand, you could also see it as a reflection of how unsolid you feel about a lot of the films on this list. I think it will be great to revisit this list in a couple of years once I’ve had a few more re-watches and had time to mull my feelings over, but at this moment there are still a lot of films worth your time from 2015.
Worst Film of the Year: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Few films make me angry. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl made me angry. We follow this self-absorbed, woe is me, teenage guy, Greg, who I guess we are supposed to give a pass to because he sort of has a black friend. His mom forces him to visit the titular dying girl, Rachel, and as they form a relationship we get to watch Greg neglect the awesomeness that Rachel has to offer as she lives up to the title’s prediction about her. Plus, the film tried to pull the wool over our eyes and let you think that Rachel pulls through, only to pull the rug out from under you in a cheap attempt to make you feel sad. I couldn’t care less about Greg and I couldn’t stand this movie. Read my full review if you need more reasons why I hate this movie.
Runner Up: Joy
I think the Lawrence/O. Russell train has run its course. This movie was just a complete mess, and when the four editing credits popped up on the screen, it made quite a lot of sense why this film just never came together. Lawrence kills it in the big mop selling scenes, but she’s hard to buy into as this matriarch trying to keep everything together. Cooper is also great, and O. Russell needs to realize that B.C. is actually his muse, not Lawrence.
Best Scene of the Year: The Stripper Convention Performance – Magic Mike XXL
Pure cinema. Steven Soderbergh might not be the director of Magic Mike XXL, but he shot and cut the thing and this scene is one of the best things he’s ever had his fingerprints on. The first two dance numbers are fun, get some solid laughs and feel very appropriate for the characters, but it’s the last three that make the scene an all-timer. All of the dance numbers are perfectly choreographed, they pay off set-ups made throughout the film and they all look spectacular. But those final three numbers are all incredible in every way shape and form. Ken’s song is captured in this beautiful blue lighting and long single take. Mike and Malik’s mirror dance is exhilarating, with inventive choreography that Soderbergh shoots the hell out of. But it’s Richie’s dance number that touches perfection. The wedding gimmick at the top evolves into a hilarious, pitch perfect, S&M sequence and the needle drop of Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer” is one of the best I’ve ever heard in a movie.
Runner Up in Magic Mike XXL: Richie’s attempt at seducing the convenience store clerk might be the second best scene of the year. Certainly the funniest.
Other Runner Ups: Steve needs a new shirt in Steve Jobs, The Church in Kingsman, Heads Pop in Kingsman, Avengers Cocktail Party in Age of Ultron, Revenge across the Border in Sicario, Learning the Rules in It Follows, Mama Bear Fight in The Revenant, Shootout Finale in Slow West, Reunited Lovers in Carol, Poe Shows Off His Pilot Skills in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Singing Reveal in Phoenix, Betting in the Box in Focus, The Walk in The Walk, The Elevator Shaft in Irrational Man, The Last Supper in Sicario, Ultron’s Got No Strings in Avengers: Age of Ultron
Shot of the Year: BB-8 Gives a Thumbs Up
This speaks for itself.
Runner Ups: Nothing came close.
Score of the Year: Michael Giacchino’s Inside Out
A lovely and beautiful companion piece to Pixar’s amazing film, Giacchino’s music is incredible in the context of the picture and when listened to on its own. There are a handful of themes that are some of Giacchino’s best work to date, as working with Pete Docter seems to bring out the best in him. Add to this the fact that this was one of four scores Giacchino pumped out this year and the feat is even more impressive. Jupiter Ascending and Tomorrowland were also excellent entries into his discography, but Inside Out stands alongside his best work to date.
Most Underrated Film of the Year: Fifty Shades of Grey
This movie was lined up to be “Worst movie I’ve ever seen” months in advance of its release by many people, but it turned out to be pretty good. It didn’t quite make this list, but I really enjoyed the film for its entire runtime. Dakota Johnson is fantastic as Anastasia Steele, sexy, funny and strong, and the movie’s ending was one of my favorites of the year. The credits roll on the perfect note, at the culmination of such a great build up for female empowerment that I, frankly, didn’t see coming. Sure, I wish Mr. Grey was a little more believable, and that anyone else in the cast came close to Johnson’s heights, but I had fun and am genuinely excited to see the sequels.
The Seemingly Annual Third Act Killed It Award: While We’re Young
One of two Noah Baumbach features this year, While We’re Young had me laughing more than any movie this year for about 2/3 of its runtime, but then it goes off on this tangent of authenticity in documentary filmmaking, and I was lost. Maybe a second viewing will help this one, and I do plan to watch it again, but I was just so bummed at the end of the movie because I was so crestfallen from the comedic high I was riding.
Biggest Disappointment: Spectre
I was so pumped for this follow-up to Skyfall with the same creative team, and for a couple of minutes there in the beginning it seemed like we were in good hands. But, all my good faith quickly dissipated, and was gone by the time we were watching Bond slide a wingless plane down a mountain. There was just no life or energy to this film, as it achieved the biggest sin a giant blockbuster can make; it was boring. The train fight was cool, that train station shot was gorgeous, and I love the little mouse, but other than that the film just felt blah once Monica Bellucci was out of the picture. I hope Craig has one more great bond in him, 4 for 5 wouldn’t be a bad ratio and it would be a shame to go out on this.
Most Overrated Film: Room
I thought Room was fine. The first half is pretty good, but I found the back half pretty bad. Jacob Tremblay is quite great, as is Brie Larson, but she was miles better in the much more emotional and affecting Short Term 12 from a couple of years back. Plus, *SPOILER* the fact that Larson’s Ma attempts suicide after a TV reporter bullies her a little bit was completely unbelievable and betrays everything we know about that character. She would never want to leave her son, and the whole thing felt super contrived to try to inject some drama into the film’s back half. Getting to see Jack interact with that dog for the first time was pretty special, but the fact that this is up for Best Picture and Best Director, I don’t see it. I would much rather watch director Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank again before ever revisiting Room.
To The Lists:
A quick detour to see the wife’s list of favorites. You usually agree with her more than me, but we keep getting more crossover in our Top 10’s as the years go by. Must be the marriage thing.
Amy’s Top 11 for 2015
1. The Martian – Damon, Space, Mars, Science! It’s almost as good as Apollo 13 (my favorite movie)!
2. Carol – Excellent acting by two gorgeous women, with a story to support them.
3. Far from the Madding Crowd – Swoon, love period romances.
4. Inside Out – I laughed and cried alongside the little emotions in the brain.
5. Mad Max – Visually amazing, awesome action, Zac and I are considering naming our firstborn daughter Furiosa.
6. Kingsmen – Completely unexpected, awesome spy movie with hints of humor.
7. Brooklyn – Irish love and romance, what could be better?
8. Ex Machina – Sci-Fi, intriguing story, and great acting (side note: I want to visit the hotel this was shot at).
9. Trainwreck – I am not sure I have laughed this hard at a movie since Bridesmaids. Watch it!
10. Star Wars the Force Awakens – So much fun to watch, can’t wait to see it again, and it led me to support the husband in buying a BB-8 toy.
11. Magic Mike XXL – Watch if only to see the gas station striptease scene, but while you are at it, watch the end competition and swoon over all the abs.
Amy’s Worst Movies of the Year for 2015
1. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence – I don’t even know what happened in this movie, it was so confusing and bizarre, Zac drug me to see it.
2. Serena – So awful that it isn’t worth the dollar rental from Redbox.
3. Joy – Not the best year for JLaw for me, she also stars in Serena – not sure what happened with Joy, but instead of displaying a strong female character the movie comes across as disjointed and annoying.
Amy’s Top 10 Honorable Mentions
2. The Big Short
3. The Revenant
4. What We Do in the Shadows
5. Welcome to Me
6. Steve Jobs
7. Rickie and the Flash
8. The Intern
9. 45 Years
Ok, Back to Zac:
The Also Rans (All Films Worth Your Time If You Are At All Interested):
Live From New York, Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Gift, Montage of Heck, Black Mass, Phoenix, Hurricane of Fun: The Making of Wet Hot, Bone Tomahawk, 45 Years, Tangerine, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Eden, Far From the Madding Crowd, Mississippi Grind, Mistress America, Show Me a Hero, A Very Murray Christmas, Ant-Man, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Testament of Youth, Junun
Almost won the award for most disappointing, Anomalisa is the latest from Charlie Kaufman. While I enjoyed it a lot, and really loved the animation, the film felt underwhelming for someone who LOVES almost all of his other films. Maybe I was expecting more of a Kaufman twist, maybe I was just setting myself up for something it wasn’t, but Anomalisa is still full of a ton imagination and wit to enjoy. I wonder how this will play on a second viewing, but for now I enjoyed it while wishing it was much higher on this list.
I’ll See You in My Dreams
This little slice of life follows a great performance from Blythe Danner, as this older woman navigates a couple of new men in her life; a pool boy who becomes an unlikely friend and a possible lover who she meets at her friends living community. Simple and sweet, Danner is just divine, while Martin Starr and Sam Elliott shine as her new friends. Plus, that karaoke scene is one you shouldn’t miss. Dreams came and went from the art house theaters, but it is certainly worth a watch if you can find it on your favorite streaming service.
Shaun the Sheep Movie
Always a fan of Aardman, the TV version of Shaun the Sheep was enjoyable whenever I came across it on Amazon Prime, but I had a hard time seeing this show expanded into a feature. Plus, the film stays true to the spirit of the show and there is no dialogue over the course of the runtime. The film never dulls though, is consistently funny, and has one of my favorite laughs of the year. Shaun the Sheep is adorable, silly, and is great for anyone that still has an ounce of warmth in their heart.
Another underseen comedy on this list, Dope follows three high school geeks in Inglewood who get mixed up with some bad drug dudes. They have to sell a lot of drugs to save their skins and this film follows their misadventures as they try to do so. The film is irreverent, a bit over the top and features some great music, and it all works so well because the trio of actors at its core are extremely likable. Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori and Kiersey Clemons are great as the trio at the center of this mess. They are all hilarious and their band has some pretty great music to boot. Again, Dope is another one too many people missed, make sure you change that and learn to love the sounds of Awreeoh (pronounced Oreo).
Spy might be underrated by me at the moment, as this latest Paul Feig comedy had me laughing pretty consistently, while also being a pretty decent spy movie on top of it all. The action could have been a bit better, and maybe it had its spy spoof wind taken from its sails by a film coming up later on in this list, but I really can’t knock Spy thinking back on it. Everyone is pretty great in the film, with McCarthy getting to play off of every persona she’s ever played since she became a big deal. Rose Byrne and Jason Statham also kill it in their scenes, while Jude Law is a great James Bond knock off. Like I said, I might be underselling this one, and it’s surely a film I will be revisiting over the years.
Matt Damon is GREAT in The Martian, one of my favorite performances of the year, and the film itself is also pretty amazing when it is at its best. So why isn’t The Martian higher on this list? The film lulls for me in the back half and it ultimately feels rushed to its conclusion. I would have loved to see a bit more drama on the Mars crew’s journey there and back again and the film montages about a year plus of this story; it feels off. Apparently there is a Ridley Scott director’s cut coming later this year and I wonder if that will help alleviate some of my issues with the last third of this film. Still, the film is otherwise entertaining as hell, science literate and pretty damn funny throughout. A lot of you saw this one, but if you were holding out for some weird reason, don’t.
Best of Enemies
This documentary is a great look at the origins of our current political party line quagmire and it is laid out so well by profiling these two men; the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr. Watching the two spar in archival footage is thrilling enough, but getting some of the background on these guys is just as entertaining as their debates. The film might make you a bit depressed though, as these partisan mindsets have set into our political consciousness and led us to where we are today; which I don’t think you can say is taking us towards a better space of political discourse.
Woody Allen’s latest is a fast talking and breezy look at one’s philosophical responsibility when put in the position to ultimately help a stranger. Sure, there is a possible romance between a middle-aged man and a young college coed constantly brewing under the surface, but Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the part, constantly telling Emma Stone’s chasing heart that he’s no good for her, will probably help that bit go down a bit smoother for those that are turned off by that element of Allen’s writing. The film has plenty of laughs throughout, even if they aren’t of the big belly laugh variety, and has a lot of fun poking at the pseudo-intellectuality of a bunch of Millennials. I can watch Phoenix do just about anything, Stone to, and Irrational Man gives them plenty to do in a nice blend of Allen’s crime and comedy sides. Plus, Parker Posey!
Amy Schumer’s coming out party for the big screen is wonderfully handled by Judd Apatow. Schumer’s script feels authentic to her voice, as she gives a star making performance at the middle of this often raunchy comedy. Schumer might be great, but the supporting cast around her is what makes every beat of this thing sing. Bill Hader continues to impress post-SNL, Lebron James and John Cena both excel in their roles, Brie Larson and Mike Birbiglia are a perfect balance to Schumer’s home life, Tilda Swinton continues to show she can do everything, and Colin Quinn gives the best performance of his career. This movie even made me cry, with a eulogy that is completely earned after only a couple of scenes with the deceased character, as there is an authenticity to Schumer’s writing and acting in this moment that just wrecked me. Can’t wait to see what Schumer does next.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
The Mission: Impossible franchise continues to roll on and might have found the perfect team going forward with the addition of Rebecca Ferguson. Cruise continues to amaze with his crazy stunt work, Pegg is the perfect comic relief, Renner settles in nicely as the desk jockey behind the IMF scenes and Alec Baldwin certainly seems to potentially be another great asset as the team’s government liaison. You kind of know what you are going to get with these Mission: Impossible films at this point, but the direction and production values keep mixing things up just enough to keep it all feeling fresh and exciting. But really, I think it is this team that keeps me coming back for more. The great action set pieces are just the icing on the cake at this point.
Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is exactly what he set out to make (“a gothic romance with ghosts”) and, while the marketing tried to push it into more of a classic horror route, I really liked what we got. Basically a three person show as we watch Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain try to co-exist in this giant dilapidated mansion, Wasikowska’s Edith becomes unsettled by the house as she uncovers it and her new family’s darkest secrets. There is a romance at the center (and on the fringes) of this film, while del Toro does a fantastic job of giving the picture an unsettling mood over the course of its runtime. The production design is also incredible, as the bleeding house most of the film’s drama takes place in is worth the price of admission alone. Don’t let the horror element scare you off from this one, it’s not that scary and is another enjoyable entry into del Toro’s canon.
A wonderful, light romance that is mostly drama free, until it realizes something has to happen to resolve the story. Unfortunately, that resolution is a bit too contrived for my liking, but that doesn’t mean the film can’t find the feels elsewhere. Saoirse Ronan is fantastic as the conflicted and home sick Eilis, as she wears all of that emotion on her face so beautifully; I could watch her in this role forever. Her suitors are also quite the duo, with Domhnall Gleeson being as charming as ever and Emory Cohen somehow wins me over after I hated him to no ends in The Place Beyond the Pines. I loved the sense of humor in the film, along with its breezy pace, it’s just missing something to take it to that great level. Still, a fine film that is well worth your time.
Michael B. Jordan is officially a star after Creed, and Ryan Coogler takes his craft up a notch to become one of the top directors to watch in only his second effort. Yes, it is the seventh movie in the Rocky franchise, but it is probably my favorite of the three entries I can comfortably say I have seen in their entirety (OG, IV & Creed). Stallone certainly gives the best performance he’s ever given from what I’ve seen from his filmography, and if he wins that Oscar this weekend it will have been deserved. Coogler is the biggest surprise though. I thought Fruitvale Station was a bit of a misfire emotionally with some solid filmmaking, but his camera work in Creed is next level for only his second feature. I kind of hope he gets his hands on that Hamilton adaptation after he is done with Black Panther for Marvel.
This documentary isn’t anything remarkable when it comes to form, but it is full of countless visuals that you’ll never be able to experience anywhere else. Following three crazy climbers as they try to be the first to summit one of the world’s toughest peaks on its most difficult route, you won’t believe some of the images you will see in this film. These guys all feel like they have nine lives and you will find yourself wondering how the hell they keep going back to dangers like this. Meru also doesn’t shy at showing the raw emotion on display during these climbs and I really appreciated the honest take by the filmmakers, who were also the climbers. They very easily could have made this a puff piece, but it doesn’t feel like they pulled any punches.
Son of Saul
Director László Nemes’ stunning debut somehow finds a new way to show us the Holocaust and all the horror that comes with it. The shallow depth of field keeps much of the carnage out of focus, but the impact of the violence is not minimized in the slightest. The filmmaking on display is also pretty much impeccable and I am anxiously awaiting what Nemes does next. Son of Saul’s biggest problem with me while watching it was that it was just relentlessly dark and punishing, but with the story Nemes is trying to tell there really isn’t much of a choice, is there.
The ensemble cast on display here is something to marvel at and the fact that McCarthy is able to guide all of them to tell this incredibly important story for the masses is an impressive feat. I’ve never been a big fan of religion, and this retelling of the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church’s handling of their serial molester priests is a big reason why. The cast of Spotlight sells every beat of these journalists’ journey to break this story wide open, with great performances wherever you turn among them. The undersold greatness of the film is Liev Schreiber as the paper’s Editor-in-Chief, as he calmly and quietly keeps the ball rolling at the paper and in the film. Schreiber is constantly underappreciated, but he delivers another great performance here; which also happens to be one of my favorites of the year. Keaton, McAdams, Slattery, Tucci and Ruffalo are all excellent as well, but some of the best work in the film comes from the unknowns playing the priests’ victims. Those are the scenes that stick with you from Spotlight, which features great work, from everyone involved, across the board.
The Top 20:
Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett are incredible in Carol, while Todd Haynes’ direction is as assured as just about anyone else behind the camera this year. The transition to Carol’s drama didn’t really work for me the first time I saw the film, and Carol’s behavior came across almost predatory, but on a second viewing everything fell in place for me. This is a wonderful romance, that slowly builds at the speed the times of the film’s setting allowed for. My heart swoons at those final moments and Carter Burwell’s score was one of my favorites of the year. Add in a couple of great turns by Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson and you have one of the best ensembles of the year. Blanchett and Mara are the reasons you can’t miss Carol though, with Mara giving, possibly, my favorite performance of hers to date. She just tells us so much without words, she’s a marvel to watch come out of her shell as Therese. And Cate Blanchett, well, all hail Cate Blanchett.
Spike Lee’s latest is an ambitious epic with enough life and energy to roll over any issues that pop up in the film. This movie makes Nick Cannon a badass some how, Wesley Snipes is great again too, but it is Teyonah Parris that makes this movie sing. She is as powerful and sexy a presence as I saw on the screen all year. She leads a women’s boycott of sex against the men of Chicago over their senseless gang violence and the movement eventually spreads all across the globe. No Peace! No Pussy! The notion might seem absurd, but this is a wonderful adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, where one woman leads a sex ban in an attempt to end the Peloponnesian War. The film has musical numbers, dance sequences, rap battles, wonderful satire, and a rhyming Samuel L. Jackson; what more is there to ask for? Chi-Raq might not seem like your cup a tea, but I saw few movies as entertaining from start to finish this year.
18. Slow West
Michael Fassbender is one of my favorites, and I love this little western where he is escorting a young man, Jay, across the West to reconnect him with his old love. There are a number of incidents and encounters along the way, and the pace of the film moves right along as it builds towards this wonderful conclusion out in the middle of a gorgeous field. Ben Mendelsohn shines, as always, as a possible threat to Fassbender and Jay, but the slow reveal of Jay’s background and his supposed love is what made this film really stick with me. Beware the white knight. Still, a great little western, as the genre continues to put out little gems that go mostly unseen by most audiences.
17. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
The Star Wars Saga might be my favorite thing ever put on film, but I’m not afraid to rate the films outside the mindset of a zealot. So no, The Force Awakens is not THE BEST FILM EVER!, but it’s still pretty damn good. The first 40 minutes of this film are incredible. I loved all of the new characters, all the new actors, and I wish we got a two and half hour film just about them. But some old faces have to show up and they kind of drag the movie down for me. Now, that isn’t to say I don’t love Han and Chewie (Chewie has never been better in TFA), but I certainly didn’t need them in this film after it showed it clearly didn’t need them either (well, maybe Chewie). BB-8, love. Rey, love. Kylo, love. Poe, love. Finn, really liked. I didn’t need the old faces, but I will say that all their stuff played for me on a second viewing. I didn’t cry the first time I saw the film, but shed tears multiple times the second time around. Still, the film is poised to send this new trilogy off to even greater heights, and I can’t wait to see Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley alongside Luke Skywalker in Episode VIII.
16. Welcome to Me
This is destined to become a cult classic for those who, rightfully, worship at the feet of Kristen Wiig, as we follow her character, Alice, as she takes her lottery winnings and goes through one of the most expensive attempts at regaining mental stability you’ll ever see. The gimmick sees Alice createing her own Oprah-esque talk show on her local public access station where she gives life advice to others while digging into her own personal struggles. One of the best funny/sad movies I’ve ever seen, your heart will ache one minute and then be bursting with laughter the next. Wiig has never been better either, and it is a damn shame seemingly no one has seen this movie. Seek it out, please.
15. Bridge of Spies
When Spielberg releases a new film, it’s going to make its way onto my list. Bridge of Spies might seem a bit paint by numbers, but I think that is mostly because Spielberg just makes everything look so damn easy. As does Tom Hanks, who is so effortlessly spectacular every time out that we don’t even notice his amazing craft anymore (also see Captain Phillips). Mark Rylance also hops off the stage and delivers one of the most delightful performances of the year; yes, I just said a Russian spy was delightful. And while the U-2 bomber stuff at first seems to be a bit outside the story the film seemingly wants to tell, Spielberg eventually rolls it all together with an ease that you won’t even remember it felt out-of-place before. I think the only thing the film is missing is a bit more sense of danger around Hanks when he is in East Germany, but it might only feel that way because we trust Tom Hanks so damn much to do his job. Bridge of Spies is Spielberg being Spielberg, how lucky we are.
14. The Revenant
A large part of the critical community just can’t stand Iñárritu on a personal level, and I can kind of see how they came to those feelings, but there is no denying the guy’s chops at this point. The Revenant is one of the most gorgeous films you will ever see and while its story might not be the most groundbreaking, it is certainly compelling. DiCaprio is most likely on the cusp of winning an Oscar for this film, and while I think he’s been better in more than a couple of films, he is still pretty great here as our left for dead tracker. Tom Hardy also continues to be fantastic, and he is surrounded by a number of great actors to bounce off of; like Will Poulter and Domhnall Gleeson. But, it’s the work by Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki that will keep this film in your brain long after you’ve left the theater, as they are a filmmaking duo that is not to be missed at this point.
13. The Hateful Eight
Tarantino’s closest thing to a stage play is front to back entertainment, which is to be expected, and is a step back towards the perfection he slightly wavered from with Django Unchained (which is still a pretty great movie). Samuel L. Jackson owns this picture, and it is a movie that gets great performances from every member of its rather small ensemble. People come ready to play for Tarantino. The setting might be contained to only a pair of locations, but the film is still packed with humor, senseless violence, wonderful visuals, and the surprises we expect from a master like Tarantino. I haven’t had a chance to revisit this nearly three-hour epic yet, but when I do, I only imagine the film will open up even further when the film’s more playful side is able to come out with the tension being cut because it is a second viewing. As much as I’ve enjoyed Tarantino’s western phase, I still wouldn’t mind seeing him try something more contemporary again.
12. The Big Short
Adam McKay’s adaptation of Michael Lewis’ book is an entertaining and funny look at the world burning down. There is no reason why this film should work as well as it does, but it is capable of entertaining, educating and infuriating its audience all at once. We watch the despicable behavior of the American financial system, and we are rooting for some not so great guys to help destroy the economy, the film puts you in quite the complicated head space. I don’t know how you could watch this film and not be furious, and the film so perfectly lays out the reasons you should be in an understandable and digestible way. Is this the first film to tackle the greed of Wall Street, no, but McKay takes this perfect circumstance to tell his story, all while keeping it accessible thanks to the inherent humor and relative freshness of this specific subject matter. It also doesn’t hurt that McKay has a wonderful cast behind him, with Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale turning in a couple of their best performances to date. Bale in particular kills it, and I wish he would continue to take on more comedicly aligned roles like this and American Hustle. Watching The Big Short you’ll not only be entertained, but you’ll learn something too, and just maybe you will be motivated to be more aware of the wool being pulled over your eyes when dealing with Wall Street.
Sicario sort of surprised me, as it was sort of flying under my radar and I had little enthusiasm for the film going in. I really liked Denis Villeneuve’s previous three films, but for some reason I never got hyped for his latest. I should have been, because Sicario was one of the best films I saw all year. In fact, I bet this might have even crawled higher on my list if I would have had a chance to rewatch it. Emily Blunt is an excellent audience proxy, flapping in the wind of this rabbit hole she is thrown down, as Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro don’t mind helping her/us stay wrapped up in the confusion. Brolin adds another role onto an excellent string of performances, as he drops one liner, after one liner, perfectly breaking the tension of the film throughout. Benicio on the other hand brings a steely dominance to the table, literally, as he gets to carry out one of the most cold-blooded scenes I’ve ever seen in a film. I couldn’t believe they actually went through with it. Sicario might be the most intense film on this list, and I was on the edge of my seat throughout.
10. It Follows
Usually one horror film a year sneaks up pretty high on my list, and this year’s entry might be my favorite since The Cabin in the Woods. It Follows gives us another great turn from Maika Monroe, whose character, Jay, becomes the next potential victim of a monster that can look like anyone while it slowly walks towards you until it gets you. The monster can’t run and, if you know what you are looking for, you can probably evade it whenever necessary, but the problem is it will never stop coming unless it kills you or you pass it on to someone else by sleeping with them. The catch is that it keeps working back down the line of sexual partners after every person it kills. This is quite the high concept for a horror film, but it works wonders for tension, especially as you watch these kids try to figure out how to survive this ever impending threat. The white knighting of one these characters is the only thing that rubs me the wrong way, but director David Robert Mitchell has ultimately given us a horror gem with It Follows. Plus, that score from Disasterpiece is one of the year’s best.
9. Avengers: Age of Ultron
The sequel to The Avengers is just about as good as the original, and that film is one of my all-time favorite superhero films. The titular Ultron serves as a compelling villain for the Avengers and is a wonderful representation of the possible power an AI could reap on the world. Ultron’s “Got No Strings” scene still unsettles me after multiple viewings. Yes, his plot is very comic booky, but this is the type of movie for something like that; right? Joss Whedon’s script, again, gives everyone something to do and perfectly balances out the avenging to everyone on the team, old and new. Speaking of new, Vision is possibly my favorite thing going in the Marvel Cinematic Universe not named Steve Rogers and I can’t wait to see what they do with him down the line. But when it comes to Age of Ultron, the film is a showcase of a million great little moments with flashes of the big team bits that made the first film work so well. Whedon doesn’t dip into the same well, finding new action bits and gags for everyone while showing us how individuals doing what they do best can be just as effective as working as a team. Age of Ultron will probably never get the love it deserves, but I think it is near the top of Marvel Studios’ films; and there is some real greatness at the top of that list.
8. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Kingsman is another movie that sort of came out of nowhere and knocked my socks off. I really like Matthew Vaughn’s stuff so I don’t know why this caught me by surprise, but even if I was appropriately anticipating it I think I still would have been blown away by most of what it has to offer. Yes, at its core it is another origin story, but it is also a film about a spy operating at the peak of his powers. Colin Firth’s Galahad is one of the most badass spies ever put up on-screen, plus he is the perfect spoof of the Bond tropes the film is riffing on. Taron Egerton is also quite excellent as the new recruit in training, as Vaughn balances the old guard and the new wonderfully throughout the film. Also, the church scene is an all-timer action sequence, filled with pure insanity, while Samuel L. Jackson just so happens to be great in another movie this year. Give that guy an Oscar already. A lot of people might not be left standing at the end of this film, but I am excited as hell for the sequel to this one.
7. Ex Machina
This three person show from first time director Alex Garland (I’ve loved many of his scripted efforts) is a fantastic little thriller with great performances from everyone. Oscar Isaac’s billionaire tech bro has possibly built a successful AI and he’s thrown it in the body of a female robot, played by Alicia Vikander. She is to be Turing Tested by one of Isaac’s unsuspecting employees, played by the ever present on this list Domhnall Gleeson. The setup seems simple enough, but as the tests go on the robot, Ava, begins to try to recruit her tester, Caleb, to try to break her out of this place. Garland finds tension at every turn, but he isn’t afraid to let Isaac lighten things up, and on top of it all he throws engaging and thought-provoking discussions about AI and the internet that will give you pause. Ex Machina can be enjoyed on so many levels and is one of the more engaging sci-fi films in recent memory.
6. Steve Jobs
Michael Fassbender is back on this list again, and this time it is for his portrayal of the titular Steve Jobs in this blazing Aaron Sorkin scripted effort by Danny Boyle. Brilliantly staged, it frames all of these conversations in Jobs’ life as if they occurred before three of the most important product launches in his life. It is the same core group of people coming back to Jobs, picking up on conversations they were having years ago, and the film moves along without ever missing a beat. I keep appreciating this film the more I think about it, as Boyle is able to not only guide his actors through Sorkin’s script, but has sprinkled in a number of his nice visual flourishes along the way. Everything just comes together for this film, and if it didn’t it this would have probably been a train wreck. Seth Rogen is the under praised piece of this puzzle as he is every bit as good as Jonah Hill was in his Oscar nominated turns, yet Rogen came up empty-handed. I would love to see Rogen branch out into more dramatic work after seeing him here. Winslet is also great at bouncing off Fassbender, who also turns in one of the best performances of his career. This film seemed to be glossed over in the awards season shuffle, but there is so much to love in here, I hope it finds its audience down the road.
5. Man from Reno
This is the biggest wild card on this list, but Man from Reno has been sitting in my presumed top five for most of the year. This is a smaller film set in and around the San Francisco/Peninsula area and it follows two detectives, one literary and one law enforcement, as their cases slowly converge. Director Dave Boyle slowly peels back pieces to the puzzle and by the time the two stories converge you will be absolutely hooked. The performances could maybe be a smidge stronger, but you aren’t watching movie stars here, and the actors in the film more than get the job done. And the ending to this film, man, I think that is why this still resonates with me all of these months later. I don’t want to spoil the experience, but if you want to see a fresh mystery/crime film, Man from Reno can be queued up on Netflix as we speak. I hope we see Dave Boyle get to make something with an even bigger budget sooner, rather than later.
4. Inside Out
Pixar’s Inside Out, technically, is another masterpiece from the studio, but I don’t rank it with their absolute top-tier because I didn’t have the emotional reaction to it that I have had with those films. Still, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this film, and I think it easily their best film since Toy Story 3. I feel the feels of its big moments, they are sad, life affirming moments, but they didn’t get me all the way for some reason. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the life experiences necessary to react, but I would never hold that against the film in any way shape or form. I love the message of the film that blending the emotions in your head can be a good thing. Pete Docter has crafted another amazing film for the studio and he coaxed out two of the all time great performances for the studio in Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith. I’ll be watching this movie for years to come, I listen to Michael Giacchino’s score regularly, I love Inside Out; I just wish I could put it on the top shelf of Pixar’s best. Still, tier 2 Pixar is full of films better than most movies that come out.
3. World of Tomorrow
Last year I had a special award section at the top for an amazing short film, but this year I decided to just throw it into the mix with the big boys. Don Hertzfeldt’s 17 minute short, World of Tomorrow, has more imagination packed into it than almost every film in this list and is one of the most amazing sci-fi worlds I’ve ever experienced. To try to describe it seems like a futile experiment, but it involves cloning, time travel and sentient robots as a start. Just go watch it on Netflix already, it really is something special, as the film will have you laughing one seconded and feeling the sadness the next. World of Tomorrow is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
2. Magic Mike XXL
I loved the original Magic Mike and I somehow love its sequel even more. Maybe it’s because the film ditches any bit of self serious plotting and decides to just have some fun, but it also stops to make sure that it might be the most sex positive film to ever come out of a mainstream studio. These strippers worship their women, and it isn’t for the tips, it is because these women deserve it and deserve what they want. The film effortlessly glides back and forth between the absurd and the sweet, as the boys take a road trip to the annual stripper convention, putting on shows in multiple environments along the way. Joe Manganiello takes full advantage of his opportunity to shine in a bigger role, while Channing Tatum continues to prove that he might be the most likable man in Hollywood. I don’t know how anyone won’t find joy in this movie, and if you were someone who didn’t think you got enough skin in the first film, you will not be disappointed here.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
This film doesn’t feel real. The most lived in world building I saw all year, I am afraid to watch this at home because I am worried it might lose the magic it has when played up on the big screen. The action is incredible and non-stop. Charlize Theron is mesmerizing as the badass Furiosa. Tom Hardy is wonderful as the brooding reluctant hero. George Miller’s vision is insane from the start and he never lets up. Miller’s action direction is a thing of wonder as he pulls off the impossible in almost every scene with seamless precision. The film never feels redundant, every set piece is new and fresh, and the chase scenes on display are some of the best ever committed to film. I could go on forever about Mad Max: Fury Road, but that would just delay you from watching it again, or for the very first time. Mad Max: Fury Road is the kind of experience you can only get at the movies and it makes you appreciate the power of the medium and what it can do.
Thanks for reading (or skimming). If you want a more indepth take on any of these films there is a good chance we have a review or dissection about it on the site. So search away.