It’s nearly obligatory to release a “best of” list at the end of each year. 2015 was a better overall year at the movies than in 2014, and even though we all have Star Wars on our minds, believe it or not there were a handful of very good films (and maybe one or two great ones) not featuring Wookies, that found release throughout the past calendar year.
These lists, of course, rarely have any lasting resonance. They are meant to be easily digestible, read mainly as a means of comparison to see just how closely a particular critic falls in-line with your own personal preferences. Most movie-goers will read these lists with hopes of finding their favorite films listed among the obscure, mostly irrelevant (to them), independent or foreign films that seem to populate many critic’s year-end lists. Others will scour over the choices waiting to pounce. “You picked that?!? That movie sucked!”
Surely, my list will produce similar cries of foul and maybe a few agreeing cheers, perhaps both well warranted. They are subjective picks and I assure you that these selections are not meant to be “controversial” or to “raise eyebrows.” These are simply my favorite films of the year, reputation and stature be damned.
And with that, I give you my Top 10 Best Films of 2015:
10. Jurassic World. (read the full review).
What I had written about it: “The first film, directed by Steven Spielberg, was a mega-hit in part because it was more than just a popcorn movie. Sure, it had exhilarating action sequences and never-before-seen special effects, combined with a cast of memorable characters that provided both laughs and heart. But it was great because it was able to work on many levels. Children could see it. Average movie-goers looking for an entertaining diversion could love it. But intellects could also engage: There was depth and deeper meaning to the age-old themes it presented. Man vs. Nature. Our innate human instinct to want to create. The consequences of greed for commercial gain. The idea that we shouldn’t tamper with the circle of life. Jurassic World works because it paid attention to all of this and more, and it is better because of this. It’s not only a follow-up, it’s very reverent of the first Jurassic Park film. But it also directly addresses the many flaws that are associated with returning to an island of dinosaurs this many years later.” Why it’s on the list: The heart wants what the heart wants. Similarly to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World was in the business of franchise-relaunching, and while both films had some plot holes and annoying flaws, I feel like Jurassic World was the more satisfying film….and at least it looked to build upon – not re-create – the original film. Let the hate mail and comments begin.
9. Ex Machina. (no full review available).
Why it’s on the list: I had missed Ex Machina when it was first released earlier in 2015, but had to catch up on it when I heard constant buzz about the performances of both Oscar Isaacs and Alicia Vikander. It definitely lived up to the hype. It’s high-brow sci-fi done right, and it was a sign of things to come for Vikander, who was named the “Breakout” actor of the year by the Detroit Film Critics Society.
8. Love & Mercy. (no full review available).
Why it’s on the list: This Brian Wilson (of The Beach Boys) biopic stuck with me like no other movie this year. It was a fascinating portrayal of a modern-day musical genius who like most of his ilk, suffers from tremendous demons to go along with his abundance of talent. Paul Dano is fantastic as the younger version of Wilson, with John Cusack playing the slightly older version of him. He definitely wasn’t the same person, and this transformation could not have been represented in a more brilliant fashion. I went out and bought the “Pet Sounds” album immediately after watching this film.
7. It Follows. (read the full review).
What I had written about it: “2011’s The Myth of the American Sleepover is the best movie you’ve probably never seen. That film, the feature-length debut for Michigan-native writer/director, David Robert Mitchell, was as independent as a movie can get, shot on a shoe-string budget and featuring a cast of unknown, inexperienced actors. Mitchell’s minimalist approach helped create what should have been a pretty familiar “coming-of-age” story, and instead he birthed a genre re-defining modern classic. Mitchell’s second writing and directorial effort comes out today, the low-budget horror film, It Follows, and once again he re-defines a genre…or perhaps more accurately, re-discovers one.” Why it’s on the list: It was the best horror film of the year, by one of the best young filmmakers you’ve never heard of, David Robert Mitchell. It was easily one of the best films of the first half of the year.
6. The End of the Tour. (read the full review).
What I had written about it: “In addition to the great performances, there is Citizen-Kane-level symbolism created in nearly every shot…a credit to the skillfully crafty direction by James Ponsoldt. Ponsoldt’s last film, The Spectacular Now (one of my absolute favorite films of 2013), was exceptional in how he was able to boil down complex characters into an easy, simplistic storytelling style. He builds upon that gift here.” Why it’s on the list: Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg both inhabit their characters and their interaction makes the film. Couple that with Ponsoldt’s impressive direction, and you have one of the most fascinating character studies of this or any year.
5. Kingsman: The Secret Service. (read the full review).
What I had written about it: “Kingsman is the reason people go to the movies. Here’s a comic book franchise adults can get behind. Kudos to director Matthew Vaughn, who after this and X-Men: First Class, I would now trust with anything. I for one, can’t wait for the inevitable Kingsman sequel.” Why it’s on the list: There is, in fact, a Kingsman sequel on its way. But my sentiment at the time said it best: This is why people go to the movies. It was fun, intelligent, slick and cool. This is the Bond movie that they’ve been scared to make, because it would have required them to relax a bit. When unbridled with expectations, it’s amazing how entertaining movies can be.
4. Trumbo. (read the full review).
What I had written about it: “Like most of Roach’s films, this is a very funny, sharp socio-political film. It actually seems timely, as many in today’s America face persecution for their beliefs, seemingly just a few steps removed from what went on back in the 1950s when McCarthyism reached its height.” Why it’s on the list: Although the Golden Globes showed it some love, Trumbo has mostly been left off of year-end critics list for the most part. Cranston is great though, and I can’t get enough of old Hollywood. This is a film that is probably a bit too nice to its protagonist, but it has fun shedding light on a dark time in America’s past.
3. Youth. (read the full review).
What I had written about it: “The team of director Paolo Sorrentino and his cinematographer Luca Bigazzi are an absolute force…both of them can easily be considered the current best at what they do. For those that saw Sorrentino’s last film, his Academy Award-winning The Great Beauty, you will know what I’m talking about. Every single shot could win an award on their own. There is a vibrance, a beauty – a purpose – to each shot, that it almost matters not what the actors are doing. A Sorrentino and Bigazzi film is watchable with the sound turned off.” Why it’s on the list: One of the best-acted, well-made films of the year. It definitely felt like no other film did. It comes off as pretentious, but I feel that there is something for everybody if you can just relax and let this movie wash over you.
2. Sicario. (read the full review).
What I had written about it: “Life does not operate like a movie, nor does Sicario. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, sometimes villains don’t get the comeuppances they deserve. Sicario lets us in on many of the shady, underground practices occurring south of the border, and how our country is trying to combat them. But on a larger scale, the film is a stark reminder that the world is not a black and white landscape, that there are no winners and losers especially when it comes to war, and that not all mysteries get solved. Sicario barrels head-first into the unbridled chaos of the world and never flinches.” Why it’s on the list: Finally, a movie that doesn’t spoon-feed its audience. In life, not everything is always explained, and we are swept up into this story the same way Emily Blunt’s character is. What we find is shocking, an at every turn, our expectations are thrown. This is a smart, daring piece of film-making that doesn’t include the usual dose of Hollywood sugar-coating.
1. Inside Out. (read the full review).
What I had written about it: “For as much fun as the film is, there is a weight to it, an emotional depth rarely found in films not released by Pixar. Much will fly far over the heads of young children, but much will also land squarely between the ears of adults, who will leave pondering the very machinations of their own minds, wondering which functioning islands they might still have in the depths of their minds, or picturing which of their emotions are seated at the control panel. Early, positive word-of-mouth will hopefully help make this film remain relevant all the way through awards season. There is some deep stuff going on here, done brilliantly and made accessible enough for audience members of all ages. Inside Out, to me, was Pixar’s best film since Up, and one that should definitely be mentioned in confidence when discussing the best films that Pixar has ever offered up.” Why it’s on the list: This was the most complete film of 2015. It had an original, imaginative script. It was directed beautifully. It’s a great family film while also carrying a tremendous amount of adult-only emotional weight with it. It was well-acted by a superb voice cast. It looked great. I wanted to see it again. It’s an instant-classic. It wasn’t Pixar’s most successful film at the box office, but as I had mentioned, it is among their best films to date.
So there you have it! What are your thoughts? What did I get right? Wrong? What did I leave out? Post your thoughts and comments below, and we will see you in 2016!