The Top 10 Films of 2015

top15

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:

MISSION POSTER#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.

 

PHOENIX#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.

 

BEASTS poster#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.

 

Brooklyn POSTER#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.

 

ELLY POSTER#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.

 

SICARIO poster#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.

 

ROOM POSTER#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.

 

STAR WARS POSTER#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.

 

MAD MAX POSTER#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.

 

SPOTLIGHT POSTER#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.

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102 thoughts on “The Top 10 Films of 2015

  1. A great list you’ve curated. I haven’t seen everything on here, but the ones I did I was pleased with. Glad that you gave some love to Rogue Nation. Like you said it’s so easy to dismiss Tom and M:I but this one really hit all the marks and delivered my Spy/Action fix that Spectre was not able to this year. Another I would add is The Man From UNCLE as an underrated gem from this year. Mad Max was tops for me and Star Wars, a close 2nd with Creed rounding out 3rd place. Hopefully I can catch The Hateful 8 and add that before the year is done.

    • I absolutely love that you mentioned Man from UNCLE. I had a lot of fun with it and felt is was indeed underrated. Rewatched MI last night. Absolutely stands up. Spectre was a bit of a disappointment. Would you have expected it to miss this list at the start of the year?

  2. Interesting list here, man! Just literally stepped out from seeing Star Wars. Damn, that was good!! There’s lot of nostalgia kicking around this year, don’t you think? Mad Max, Creed, and now Star Wars?
    Interesting that you’ve chosen Spotlight to top it all. The more I here about that film, the more I can’t wait to catch it. That’s me just starting to pick films off one-by-one.

    • Hey bro. Just stepped out of a second Star Wars viewing myself. Such a great movie. Honestly surprised at how well Abrams did. Spotlight is such a fabulous film. There is nothing flashy or cinematic about it. But it is so well-written and well made. Has it opened over there yet?

      • Abrams done a great job (as he so often does with franchises) – Mission impossible, Star Trek and now this. I had a lot of fun with it.

        Spotlight isn’t here yet but not long now. I’ve managed to catch Hateful Eight, Creed, Joy and Star Wars today. So many more films to go that it’s going to be relentless over the coming month or so.

      • December is absolutely nuts. It really frustrates me. Studios wait to put out films so that most of us can see them but they will stick them on a couple of screens just to call them 2015 movies. That’s why something like The Revenant isn’t own here. January 9th here which ticks me off.

      • That’s why I don’t do “Best of” too early. It takes even longer for us to get stuff over here. That said, there’s a small cinema in Glasgow that’s showing limited screening on the recent films that aren’t due for major release until mid January. The major cinemas aren’t even doing that here yet so it’s most welcome. 🙂

      • That’s how I’ve been in the past but not this year. In a completely pointless bit of protest, if the studios throw it out on a couple of screens but push the full release to next year I’m not even counting it as a 2015 film. Dopey I know but I decided against holding up this entire post for one or two movies that could easily have a wider release. I kinda hate the system.

      • Im not keen on the system either, man. Any lists I’ve made in the past I’ve always had to go with American release dates as ours are all over the place. I tend to gauge the end of the year when the Oscar come up. Any film that’s eligible to be nominated is then included as a 2015 if you know what I mean? It can be confusing sometimes.

      • It isn’t the 1st sequel to take the protagonism away from the protagonist, but it bothered me more than usual because I felt that MAX lost all the development he got in the first 3 installments. Not to mention that the boring IMPERATOR FURIOSA isn’t a better replacement. In fact, I was never given a reason to care about any of the characters. Well, at least it has better cinematography and action sequences than its predecessors.

    • Nice to here from someone else who has seen About Elly. Wasn’t it fantastic? Would you also call it a bit of a cheat? Essentially a 2009 movie but not here in the States.

      • I don’t think I’d call it a cheat since it only found since it only came here this past year. Plus even though I still want to see a couple more pictures before I make my own list, I would have trouble making a top ten without About Elly.

      • That’s encouraging to hear. Farhadi is a master storyteller in my opinion. About Elly is such a strong example of that. Such an absorbing look at relationships under stress.

  3. I’ve only seen 4 of these: Shadows (counted that one as a 2014 flick where it made my top 20), Creed, Fury Road, and just last night The Force Awakens. All were excellent, so no arguments from me. I’ve just got a long way to go before I do a legitimate list. Might still do a preliminary list, though. Great post.

    • Thanks Wendell! I loved Shadows. Didn’t release here until earlier this year. Creed was a wonderful surprise. Just watched The Force Awakens a second time today. Even better the second time!

  4. Ah yes, the final sprint to the finish! This is my fourth year (I think?) doing this now, the third year i which I will be compiling a year-end list and I think the first year in which I fully understand just how hectic the month of December is. 😀 There’s too much to see. So in an effort to make my own little post coming up this week a bit more weighty, I will be seeing Joy and The Danish Girl. Hoping to get something out of the latter — I’m thinking I’m in for a mesmerizing experience thanks to Eddie Redmayne — and maybe even my Top 10 films will shift a little when all’s said and done.

    I love your #1 pick by the way. Felt the very same way when I walked out of the theater. instant classic journalism piece.

    • Wasn’t Spotlight tremendous? Maybe a top 5 for you? 😉

      I didn’t even wait on The Revenant. So ticked at the studios pushing it until January 9th except for privileged audiences. Grrrrr

  5. Nice list Keith. It has been a good year, hasn’t it? Quite a few of these will be on my list, although we won’t get a few until Jan. I’m very excited for Spotlight and Room in particular. Good to see a few unusual choices on here too.

    • It really was a good year mainly thanks to a strong final quarter. I wasn’t so sure about 2015 but as the end of the year got closer more really strong movies showed up. Did you have that experience as well?

      • I had a really good Jan/Feb because that’s when we get all the awards frontrunners, so that’s when I saw Birdman, Inherent Vice, Whiplash et al. April/May I found really good, weirdly…a few in my top ten I think were released around then. Quiet, disappointing summer, but it has picked up recently…so in short yes I agree!
        Just going to watch Phoenix (tonight) and Bridge Of Spies (tomorrow night) before I finalise my list!

  6. I’ve seen 5 of your Top 10 and I must say, I completely agree!!!!

    And I’d place About Elly this year too…I think 😀

    Also, VERY happy to see In the Heart of the Sea in the Top 20…it was SO good.

    • I am really glad to hear someone else applauding “In the Heart of the Sea”! Don’t you think it is one of the more underappreciated films of 2015? I think it is doing a lot more than people give it credit for.

      Also glad to hear more support for “About Elly”. I came really close to leaving it off due to the 2009/2015 thing. Ultimately I couldn’t. I just love that film so much.

  7. Awesome list Keith, glad we’ll have quite a few in common! Man I need to catch up on the indie films you listed here, Beasts of No Nation, Phoenix and About Elly.

    • Beasts is a REALLY tough watch. I know your feelings towards graphic violence. There is a bit of that for sure. But Idris Elba is absolutely phenomenal. I know you like him, right?

      About Elly is such a penetrating film and Phoenix has probably the very best ending of the year!

      • YES indeed I LOVE Elba but yeah, films about child soldier will certainly be graphic. I’ll give all those a chance for sure. Stay tuned for my top 10 later this week!

      • I can’t wait to see what you have on your list. It turned out to be a good year but a bit stunning. In January if you would have told me neither Avengers or Spectre would have made my top 20, I would say you were crazy. Alas…..

  8. Keith, great choices! There’s some I haven’t seen so can’t comment. “Brooklyn” a lot of people liked the film. I read the book and it was mediocre! I LOVED MI:Rogue Nation. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Spotlight” takes Best Film awards. “The Revenant” is the big film for me to see.

  9. Great list, Keith! I think I would put a lot of these films before Spotlight though 😉 And I’m so happy to see The Force Awakens so high on your list!!! It’ll definitely be in my top 5.

    I’ve also been seeing a lot of reviews on Phoenix; I’ll have to check it out!

    • Thanks! I can see where you’re coming from with Spotlight. Not a fan? I just couldn’t shake the complete state of immersion I felt from start to finish. And that from a movie that is basically talk. We just don’t get much of that kind of rich and fluid dialogue these days.

      As for Star Wars, some may scoff at it being that high but I can’t help it.I watched it a second time and left the theater as giddy as a school boy. What this movie accomplishes under immense pressure and scrutiny is amazing.

      Oh, and Phoenix…a must see. Here’s something funny – I’m already thinking it deserves to be higher on my list!!!

  10. A very good list. You got three films there that will probably be in my top 10, Beasts of no nation, Brooklyn and Room. I thought that 2015 lacked the quality of last year’s films. Dayum come awards season and all of the goodies start streaming in. I’ll have a hard time choosing now haha! Hope you can check my blog out and see how I reviewed some of these films as well 🙂

    • Absolutely. I’ll definitely check it out. This past year was definitely back-end heavy. I was pretty disappointed early on but ended up having a lot of movies I enjoyed. Only one 5 star score all year though.

      • About Elly is from one of my favorite filmmakers. It is kind of a cheat. It originally released in 2009 but never over here. It finally debuted earlier this year in the States. It probably shouldn’t be on this list because of that, but I love it too much and had to give it its due attention.

        Phoenix is on Netflix right now. It was one of the last movies I saw before doing this list. It caused me to completely rearrange my top 10. Really strong movie.

  11. I agree Spotlight is a great movie, add to that it is important but it’s #2 for me. I thought that the approach they chose was interesting but they could have shown exactly how much pain the Church caused these people. There aren’t many films made about the subject so the objective of those who made this one should be to make it as hard hitting as possible and it was a rather subtle, restrained movie

    • That’s an interesting point and I can see where you’re coming from. I do think that would make this an entirely different film if they went too far into that. And I did feel that their interviews with the three individuals (I think it was three) were really powerful in showing the effects. And I won’t spoil it for others but Tucci’s final scene also really worked for me in conveying that.

      But hey, #2? I love that you hold in such high regard too. I’m guessing a certain guy named Max may hold your top spot?

      • Yeah #1 is still Max but I have yet to see The Revenant. I’ve seen all the other big movies but nothing really came close to topping Fury Road, in fact most of my top 5 are movies released early, like It Follows and Spy

  12. So many I need to see. Spotlight, which arrives in England soon, is high on my list to see. Like you, I loved Mad Max and Star Wars. Sicario is one I missed on release and must catch up with as so many people are putting it on their top 10 lists.

    • Anxious to read your thoughts on Spotlight. It and Mad Max couldn’t be any more different. But both a great films. I am REALLY happy to see Sicario getting so much love. It seems like it flew by a lot of radars. Gotta love that cast, right?

  13. Some great picks here, many of which just missed making my list like Phoenix, Brooklyn and Star Wars. Also several on here which are 2016 release for us in the UK and which I can’t wait to see!

  14. Just as I predicted, I have seen 5 of these movies, 4 included in my Top 10 and one highlighted (Spotlight).. which is pretty much like saying that all my favorite movies we both saw, are in our Top 10. I bet I’d love Room when I saw it! I’m tempted to read the book first though…

    • Awesome. Definitely seek out Room. Powerful, powerful performances. I loved that it was such a strong year for women. Mad Max, Brooklyn, Star Wars, Room, Phoenix, Sicario – all are led by strong female leads. Then there are the great female supporting performances in Mission Impossible, Phoenix (again), About Elly, and several others that didn’t quite make my list.

  15. Good list, here, my man! So many great titles. A few I need to catch but all are top notch. I love these lists because there are always titles out there that I would have passed on had not you and others reminded me of them. Nice work, Keith!

    • Thanks man. Good year for movies, wasn’t it? It started off slow but really picked up in the stretch. I thought it was a great year for women!

      • Agreed! So many strong female leads and characters IE – TFA, MM:FR, Carol, Sicario, Brooklyn and so on!

      • Yep! As I put together this list I was amazed at the strong female presence. And I’m doing posts that break down each of the major acting categories. The actress categories have been the hardest to narrow down.

  16. This is a great list of movies. Mine would be very different but thats the great thing about these lists we all get to pick our personal picks. Glad to see Fury Road so high

      • Well out of the 10, I’d say 6 or seven. Sicario, Mad Max and Star Wars definitely make my 10. Sicario could just miss out but I hope I dont have to leave it out. Still have to catch up on a couple of big 2015 movies

      • Oooh you gotta leave in Sicario! 😉 I was finally able to rewatch it a few days ago and it absolutely holds up after a second viewing. And Del Toro was fantastic. Put up my 2015 Supporting Actor post last night and he just missed my #1 spot.

  17. Great stuff, Keith! Thought I’d stop by and check it out our similarities haha. Thrilled to see Phoenix and Sicario crack your top 10, can’t believe both were essentially snubbed this award season. I know Sicario got a few noms, most prominently in Cinematography, which would have been a damn travesty if it missed out there. However, I thought Benicio Del Toro was ridiculously good, one of the best antihero performances I’ve ever seen.

    • Thanks man. You will hear NO arguments from me. Del Toro blew me away. Some of the best work of his career. And Deakins won’t win but I thought his cinematography was top-notch as was the entire film. Aren’t you a bit surprised that more people (not just Oscar) aren’t talking about the film?

      • It’s unfathomable, obvioisly I absolutely adore Sicario, but it’s not like it’s an unbelievably strong year in the acting categories, nor the best picture category for that matter. Did you happen to enjoy Enemy with Jake Gyllenhaal?

      • Jake was snubbed for Enemy AND Nightcrawler last year. This year the Supporting Actor category was a mess. They did right by including Tom Hardy (who the Globes had snubbed), but they don’t include Del Toro or Idris Elba who I thought was incredible in Beasts of No Nation. I don’t get it.

      • Luckily, award-season doesn’t carry as much importance for life-long, die-hard cinephiles, it’s more for the occasional moviegoer and for the big production companies to pat themselves on the back. Elba was indeed impressive in “Beasts” but I think I’d still give it to Del Toro.

      • Have you been a big Del Toro fan in the past? I’ve always considered him a good actor, but never a favorite. In Sicario think he steals every scene he is in despite of much or little he is doing in the scene.

      • Been a fan of him for a while, Fear and Loathing, Snatch, Sin City to name a few. In Sicario, he definitely commands the screen, even when he didn’t grace it, I found myself thinking about past sequences or when he’d be front and centre again haha.

      • Same with me. And some of his strongest are when he’s lurking in the background. Even then you’re wondering about him. And Del Toro never reveals his hand.

  18. I’m impressed we have so much overlap, particularly in our Top 10. If we include Top 20, we share Spotlight, Mad Max, Star Wars, Room, About Elly, Brooklyn, and The Gift.

    About Elly was especially nice since it tends to be overlooked being a 2009 film, but since it didn’t get a proper release until this past year, it deserves an inclusion in a 2015 list. Nicely done.

    I posted my Top 10 last month as well. 🙂

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