In honor of the Academy Awards, I now present my list of the top ten movies of 2015. As always, this list is completely subjective and your comments are appreciated.
Ryan Coogler’s Rocky sequel manages to pay homage to the original and still feel compellingly original. As aspiring fighter Adonis Creed, Michael B. Jordan shows the same skill as an actor that he did in Fruitvale Station. Sylvester Stallone, portraying Rocky Balboa for the seventh time, gives what may be the best performance of his career. He shows us a Rocky worn down by time and loss and facing his own mortality. In Coogler’s hands, this iconic character and the actor who created him do something completely unexpected: they surprise us.
9. Inside Out
Pixar has given us anthropomorphic cars, fish, toys and lamps, and now they have done the same for the emotions of a young girl. This is a brilliant concept that should be impossible to put on the screen, but by turning Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust into living, breathing characters, directors Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen managed to make a story about growing up that is more honest and true than just about any live action coming of age movie ever made.
8. Bridge of Spies
Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller is a dialogue heavy, virtually action-free movie that still manages to be more exciting than most action films released last year. As a civilian lawyer sent to East Germany to facilitate a prisoner exchange with the Soviet Union, Tom Hanks again shows why he is this generation’s Jimmy Stewart. His James Donovan is a decent and competent Everyman, instantly relatable to the audience. Mark Rylance received a well-deserved Oscar nomination as the enigmatic Soviet spy Rudolph Abel.
7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I’ll admit up front that I can’t even pretend to be objective about this movie. I’ve been a Star Wars fan since birth and this is the Star Wars movie I’ve been waiting for since 1983. (Let’s all just pretend the prequels never existed.) Yes, it pays quite a bit of fan service, and yes, the plot closely mirrors that of A New Hope, but I don’t care. J.J. Abrams’ sequel is exciting, scary, funny, deeply emotional, with richly drawn characters both old and new, and a story that honors what came before while maintaining its focus on the future. It is, quite simply, brilliant entertainment.
Brie Larson stars as Joy, a young woman kidnapped and held prisoner for seven years in a backyard shed. Jacob Tremblay plays Jack, the young son she bore as a result of the constant rape inflicted on her by her captor. The first half of the film takes place entirely in the tiny space they call home, as Joy tries at first to give her son the semblance of a normal life, all while trying to escape. Brie Larson is likely to a win a well-deserved Oscar for this, but Jacob Tremblay is a revelation as Jack. The film is a beautiful meditation on the love between a parent and child, and contains one of the most harrowing escape scenes ever put to film.
5. The Revenant
Director Alejandro G. Inarritu’s revenge tale set in the Old West was reportedly an endurance test for his actors, and it is that for the audience as well. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass suffers more than just about any character except Mel Gibson’s Jesus as he crosses an unforgiving wilderness in pursuit of the man who left him for dead and killed his son. DiCaprio shows what a fine actor he is by doing so much with very little dialogue, and Tom Hardy is equally mesmerizing as Glass’ cowardly nemesis. Emmanuel Lubezki is likely to win a third Oscar in a row for his beautiful cinematography, shot entirely with natural light.
4. The Big Short
How do you make a movie about the 2008 financial crisis and make it accessible and entertaining for audiences without dumbing it down? Break the fourth wall and have Margot Robbie explain the concept of subprime mortgages to the audience while luxuriating in a bubble bath. Also populate your film with a deep roster of great actors like Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt. Adam McKay, director of Anchorman (!) and Talladega Nights (!) strikes the perfect tone of comedy, surrealism and righteous anger.
3. Steve Jobs
This concept should not work as a film. Instead of adhering to the standard biopic formula to tell the story of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle crafted what is essentially a three act play that focuses on three pivotal product launches: the Macintosh in 1984, Job’s failed NeXT computer in 1988, and his triumphant return to the Apple with the iMac in 1998. Fans of The West Wing will appreciate Sorkin’s patented walk and talk banter, and Boyle’s kinetic direction makes us forget that almost the entire film takes place back stage in various performance halls. The acting, particularly by Michael Fassbender as Jobs and Kate Winslet as his long suffering assistant Joanna Hoffman, is superb, and the film is riveting from start to finish.
In an era when print media is considered by many to be on its way to extinction, along comes a movie like Spotlight to show just how important the Fourth Estate is. This true story of the investigative journalists on the Boston Globe’s spotlight team who exposed the rampant abuse in the Catholic Church manages to make the exacting and sometimes tedious work of investigative journalism truly exciting. This is due in no small part to a cast that includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams (all brilliant), and also to director Tom McCarthy and his co-writer Josh Singer, who make us care about the reporters, the victims, and the lawyers fighting to bring them justice. To say it is as good as All The President’s Men is not an exaggeration.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
More than thirty years after The Road Warrior redefined the action genre, director George Miller returns to his signature franchise and reinvents the genre once again. Fury Road is essentially a movie length chase scene interspersed with quieter character moments, but it so much more than that. Wrapped in the incredible action is an inspiring tale of female empowerment, and at its center is Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, the greatest action heroine since Ellen Ripley. Tom Hardy’s Max may be in the title, but it’s Furiosa’s movie. Technically brilliant on every level, it is the most imaginative and exciting film of the year.