2015 was one of those years where I wish I could make a list of my top fifteen movies of the year instead of just a top ten. This was a year where the “Star Wars” and “Jurassic Park” franchises came roaring back to life with a vengeance, and it was especially satisfying to see the biopic get revitalized in a way that invites more to be made in the future. Some motion pictures eluded my sight like “Brooklyn” and “Anomalisa” among others, but I have come to accept the fact that it is impossible to see every single movie released in a given year. Still, I would be happy to trade the hours I wasted watching “The Human Centipede 3” for either one of those.
Before I get started, I do want to list the runners up for the best movies of 2015 in no particular order:
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
“Straight Outta Compton”
“Love & Mercy”
“The Big Short”
“Beasts of No Nation”
“Clouds of Sils Maria”
I really wanted to put the latest “Star Wars” movie on this top ten, but I felt the need to shine a light on those movies which only dream of getting the box office gross “The Force Awakens” got over these past few months. And in case you are wondering why there are no documentaries included on this list, that is because I am saving them for a separate one as there are many worth mentioning.
So let’s get started, shall we?
10. ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’
Those who know me best know that I am a die-hard fan of movies which take adolescence seriously, and “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is the latest one to do that. Lovingly directed by Marielle Heller, it features a star making performance by Bel Powley as Minnie Goetze, a teenage girl who enters into an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. Heller never judges the relationship, and what results is a mesmerizing film where we watch a young woman go through a crazy experience that allows her to find a self-worth no one will ever take away from her. There also some very fine performances from Kristin Wiig and Alexander Skarsgard as well.
9. ‘Bridge of Spies’
“Bridge of Spies” is as well-crafted a motion picture as any Steven Spielberg has made, and it is feels like the kind of John le Carre novel should have read a long time ago. Tom Hanks once again embodies the role of an American who best understands the country’s most important principles as James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer ordered to defend a suspected Russian spy. That suspected spy, Rudolph Abel, is played in a brilliantly understated performance by Mark Rylance who holds our attention right from the start. Just when you think you know what this movie is going to be about, it switches gears to show us a bigger picture of how this particular case played such an important role in both America’s and Russia’s history.
8. ‘The Tribe’
This Ukrainian drama could be labeled as a foreign film version of Larry Clark’s “Kids,” but that would be too simplistic. Director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy takes us into a boarding school for deaf children where organized crime reigns supreme with students engaging in robbery and prostitution. Slaboshpytskiy manages to get away with what Mel Gibson wasn’t able to with “The Passion of the Christ;” he doesn’t use subtitles at any point. The beauty of “The Tribe” is that you don’t need subtitles to get the gist of what’s going on for one second. What results is an unnerving experience which ends in the most shocking way.
7. ‘Steve Jobs’
Danny Boyle’s exceptionally brilliant biopic of the Apple co-founder was a surprise disappointment at the box office, but that shouldn’t take away from what an enthralling experience it was. Boyle used different kinds of film to portray the evolution of technology throughout, and he was aided by yet another priceless screenplay by Aaron Sorkin. This is not to mention the astonishing performances from a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Katherine Waterston and Michael Stuhlbarg. “Steve Jobs” may not have gotten the audience it deserved in theaters, but here’s hoping the tide changes for it on Blu-ray, DVD and cable.
Denis Villeneuve’s thriller was another extremely well crafted movie from 2015. It was an understandably cynical take on the current war on drugs, but one which held you in its grasp from start to finish. It had a perfectly chosen cast which included Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, one of the many actors robbed of an Oscar nomination this past year. “Sicario” was as intense as many movies get and aided by many such as Roger Deakins’ typically brilliant cinematography, Taylor Sheridan’s well-informed screenplay and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s pulsating music score. Coming out of this movie, you have to admit that Villeneuve directing the eagerly awaited sequel to “Blade Runner” is a really good thing.
5. ‘The Hateful Eight’
Quentin Tarantino’s latest cinematic opus brought back the 70 mm roadshow in a most welcome way. “The Hateful Eight” also shows what he is able to get away with that other filmmakers cannot as he introduces characters played by Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walter Goggins and Demián Bichir in a story which is a cross between a western and John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” Tarantino has said that he wants to write plays once he is done making movies, and this movie is proof he can do just that. While studio executives may have been begging Tarantino to get to Minnie’s Haberdashery sooner than later, he takes his sweet time establishing the characters inhabiting the universe he has created to where their words have a far more visceral impact than the bullets which keep flying around.
4. ‘The Revenant’
Alejandro G. Iñárritu followed up his Oscar winning “Birdman” with yet another cinematic triumph. Leonardo DiCaprio, in a role that should finally snag him that Oscar which has long eluded him, plays a man who survives a horrific bear attack and lives for vengeance as he pursues a man who thoughtlessly murdered his son. The making of “The Revenant” has been called one of the toughest shoots of any movie ever made, and the evidence of that is there for all of us to see. Still, there are the performances of DiCaprio, Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson to take in alongside the brilliant cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki and the music score by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto. This is not a movie you watch as much as experience, and it leaves you breathless as we cannot see ourselves coming out of DiCaprio’s situation alive.
Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s acclaimed novel (which she adapted to the big screen) was far and away one of the most emotionally gripping movies of 2015. Brie Larson gives one of the best performances of the year as Joy “Ma” Newsome, a young woman who is captured by a man who rapes and impregnates her against her will. While it looks like the kind of kidnap movie which will end when she is rescued, it goes beyond that to show us someone who tries to adjust to a world which has long since left her behind. Larson is also matched by Jacob Tremblay who is exceptional as Jack, the son Joy has while in captivity. “Room” sucks you in emotionally in a way other movies only dream of doing, and you come out of it drained but in a good way.
2. ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’
Now this one was so close to being my pick for the best movie of 2015. “Mad Max: Fury Road” had been stuck in development hell for way too long, but the finished result made it well worth the wait. George Miller returns to this franchise for the first time since 1985 and ends up redefining the summer movie spectacle in an unforgettable way. He combines spectacular action set pieces with a strong set of performances from Tom Hardy, Nicholas Hoult and, most especially, Charlize Theron who gives us an action heroine on a par with Ellen Ripley. Once the chase begins in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” it never lets up and you find yourself exhaling deeply as the movie comes to an end. Here’s hoping Miller continues to direct more “Mad Max” movies in the near future.
1. ‘Inside Out’
I knew at some point a Pixar movie would be my pick for the best movie of the year, and that has finally happened with “Inside Out.” No other movie in 2015 enthralled me more than this one as its creativity was infinite to where I couldn’t wait to see what Pete Docter, who co-wrote and co-directed it with Ronnie del Carmen, would come up with next. Like the best Pixar movies, “Inside Out” appeals to both children and adults alike as we watch the young Riley Andersen get uprooted from her home state of Minnesota when her parents decide to move to San Francisco, California. It’s handling of the psychological state of a pre-adolescent girl is fascinating to witness, and the movie is complemented by a perfectly chosen cast which includes Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader and scene stealer Lewis Black. This is a movie that hit me hard emotionally as I related deeply to what Riley went through, and it almost brought me to tears as a result.