Can you believe we have reached the end of another movie year? That means it’s time for film critics, bloggers, and movie lovers to put together their Best of 2015 list. Some people roll their eyes at these lists and dismiss them as frivolous obligations. I’ve always loved doing them because they give us a chance to reflect on and debate the movie year that was. So let’s get to it. Below you will find my favorite films from 2015. It’s always tough leaving some movies out of my Top 10 so to remedy that I like listing my 11-20 picks as well. Here they are:
(Click on the movie title to read my full review)
#20 – “The Martian“
#19 – “Meru“
#18 – “Z for Zachariah“
#17 – “Everest“
#16 – “The Gift“
#15 – “The Connection“
#14 – “Slow West“
#13 – “What We Do in the Shadows“
#12 – “The Look of Silence“
#11 – “Creed“
Now let me share my Top 10 movies of 2015:
#10 – “Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation” – There are those who find it easy to dismiss the Mission Impossible franchise. Personally I’ve enjoyed them and the last two films have launched the series into a wildly entertaining direction. Just look at this year’s installment “Rogue Nation”, the best of franchise so far. Christopher McQuarrie helms this action-packed entry, but he does several interesting (and frankly unexpected) things. McQuarrie knows Tom Cruise is his star, but this time around Cruise steps back a bit and we see his character constantly dependent on those around him. McQuarrie also gives us a tough and independent female character superbly played by Rebecca Ferguson. The film hurdles all of the normal romantic and action tropes helping to make this a fun and entertaining ride.
#9 – “Phoenix“ – Despite several other contenders, Christian Petzold’s “Phoenix” may be the most haunting film I saw in 2015. This simmering post-World War 2 German period drama is a prime example of how slow-boiling storytelling can sometimes be the most riveting and potent. The superb performances, especially the lead work from Nina Hoss, portray broken characters, hulls of their former selves, each bearing their own heavy burden. The story deals with the after effects of the Holocaust, intimate betrayal, loss of identity, and more. It pushes its implausibility to its limits yet it feels perfectly suited for the parable being told. “Phoenix” is intriguing and subtly suspenseful from those quiet personal early moments to the satisfying final exhale. This is an enthralling tale from a confident filmmaker.
#8 – “Beasts of No Nation” – One of the more interesting stories of 2015 was “Beasts of No Nation” and not strictly the film itself. In October it released in theaters and on Netflix at the same time. The Netflix release riled up the four biggest American theater chains who refused to show the film. While this had to have hurt it to a degree, positive word of mouth quickly spread. I’m glad it did. “Beasts” is a stinging and visceral spotlight on child soldiering told through the eyes of a young war orphan. Writer and director Cary Fukunaga stays away from regional politicking and keeps his story more personal (something a few critics have found disappointing). It’s a great move that keeps the film in a better place. Throw in an eye-opening debut performance from Abraham Attah and Idris Elba in top form and you have one of the year’s best.
#7 – “Brooklyn” – There is something to be said for simplicity in both filmmaking and storytelling. “Brooklyn” encapsulates that idea by telling a simple, straightforward story with a classical approach. But don’t let my words fool you. Director John Crowley and writer Nick Hornby inject the film with several subtle but creative strokes that make this more than just a simple old-fashioned love story. “Brooklyn” is sweet and sincere. It dances close to convention and cliche but it never goes that far. Its focus stays grounded and personal. And then there is Saoirse Ronan. This is her best work in a career defined by good performances. And she does this at 21 years-old. It’s hard to grasp the level of maturity shown in this performance from such a young actress. What a travesty if Ronan doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for her work.
#6 – “About Elly” – Some may call this a cheat and I can see why. “About Elly” actually premiered overseas in 2009 but ridiculous distribution tussles kept it from coming to the United States. That changed on April 8th when “About Elly” finally nabbed a limited US release. That’s one bit of reasoning I used to have it on this list. The other being that this is a spectacular film that deserves to be talked about. It’s written, produced, and directed by Asghar Farhadi who is easily one of the best filmmakers working today. This immersive drama is a sharp and intelligent examination of relationships under stress from a writer who is one of the best at penning thoughtful, introspective dialogue. “About Elly” is right up there with Farhadi’s Oscar-winning “The Separation” and this film again defines him as one of the best pure cinematic storytellers on the planet.
#5 – “Sicario” – Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, cinematography by Roger Deakins, direction by Denis Villeneuve. When you read that list of incredible talent involved in making a movie it has to grab your attention. “Sicario” certainly shines as a result of the contributions from each of these components. Blunt, a long time favorite actress of mine, stars in this action thriller centered around drug trafficking along the US/Mexico border. She is fantastic. Brolin plays a role right in his comfort zone. Del Toro steals the show with a tough, cryptic supporting performance. Deakins’ cinematography is strikingly diverse and features some of the best shot sequences of the year. And Villeneuve is a director that has developed his own unique vision and style. And despite an impressive resume, “Sicario” is his best work to date.
#4 – “Room” – Great things often come in small packages. Okay, so that is a pretty corny thing to say, but it certainly fits when talking about Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room”. This potent and often heart-shattering film is one-half mesmerizing thriller and one-half intense relationship drama. The story’s centerpiece is the love between a mother and her 5 year-old son despite their immensely harrowing circumstances. The film shows us a love that endures, sustains, and saves. The script by Emma Donoghue (based on her own best selling novel) is superb, but it’s the two lead performances that make the film so absorbing. Young Jacob Tremblay is stunningly authentic in what I believe is the best child performance in decades, and Brie Larson does career-defining work that should earn her the recognition she deserves.
#3 – “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” – The sheer audacity required to make this movie is mind-boggling. Being able to do it as well as J.J. Abrams has is amazing. But despite the pressures and expectations, “The Force Awakens” is a really good film. More importantly it is a Star Wars movie through and through. That may sound like nonsense but fans know exactly what I mean. Abrams and company have managed to capture the essence of what makes these films the most cherished franchise in entertainment. This is a dual purpose movie. It serves to connect the old with the new and it injects a fresh energy for this and future installments. It’s nostalgic, funny, exciting, and unapologetically Star Wars. For that Abrams deserves a ton of praise.
#2 – “Mad Max: Fury Road” – The very moment I left the theater back in May I knew that “Mad Max: Fury Road” would be one of my very favorite films of the year. I was really excited for a new Mad Max picture, but all I expected was a wild post-apocalyptic action romp. It is definitely that, but to say it is nothing more would be such a disservice. George Miller embraces and bucks so many action movie trends all at the same time and he does it with gloriously violent artistry. The action is non-stop and shown via the most dazzling visual presentation I have ever seen. But there is more to it than that. The subtleties of the story combine to create something far more meatier than you may think, and Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are lights out. This is arguably the best action film of the last 10 years.
#1 – “Spotlight” – I don’t think any other movie from 2015 captivated me by the sheer brilliance of its storytelling quite like Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight”. Pulling inspiration from a number of classic filmmaking approaches, McCarthy centers his movie around an important and compelling story. By that I mean everything he does is in service of the story he is telling. His direction never outshines it. Same with the stellar cast. This is an ensemble film in the truest sense and the entire cast is more interested in the greater story than big character moments. I would also call this the greatest newsroom procedural ever made. Big words for sure but they fit. Great performances, impeccable pacing, and a script so fluid and rich that I hung on every spoken word. I knew this would be my favorite film the moment I left the theater.