My Top 10 Films of 2015

2015 proved to be another great year in film. So much so that this awards season is becoming impossible to predict because there really isn’t one standout movie that is The Best Picture of the Year. This year was a little more difficult for me than usual to pick my 10 because I was able to narrow it down to about 20 movies, but after that picking an actual order seemed almost impossible.

A lot of my top 10 will end up on tomorrow’s nomination list for Best Picture, but some I know are much more divisive between critics and people in the industry. But that’s why it’s MY top 10 list (ha!) I was a little nervous on my order because I was on  a bit of a roll – for the past 4 years every Best Picture winner has been either my No.1 or No. 2 spot on the list. This year I would love either of my top two picks to win, but that’s highly doubtful… I digress… Let’s dive in.

Runners-up

(Alphabetical Order)

  • ’71 (incredibly made fast-paced, edge of your seat thriller)
  • Amy (Best documentary of the year – Great concept)
  • Anomalisa (Brilliant Kaufman screenplay, beautifully executed and original)
  • Carol (Stunningly shot film with brilliant acting)
  • Macbeth (Insane visuals, incredible cast, and Shakespeare)
  • Me & Earl & the Dying Girl (Wonderfully original and creative)
  • The Revenant (Best cinematography of the year, incredible acting and overall achievement)
  • Son of Saul (Best Foreign Film, heartbreaking)
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Wonderful return to the classic)
  • Straight Outta Compton (Music biopic that raises the genre to a new level)

TOP 10

#10 – The Martian

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I had a little bit of a bias before this film came out because I read the book over a year ago and LOVED it. So I really wanted this to be good… and I got my wish. This started with an amazing screenplay by Drew Goddard, which is so impressive if you know the format of the book and how closely he follows the source material.

One of the biggest worries that most people had were the track record that Ridley Scott has had recently. His films in the past couple years (Exodus, Prometheus) have either been received with mixed reviews or panned by critics and audiences. This was a true return to form for Ridley Scott, who is one of the masters of the space film.

The thing that works so well for The Martian is that from a craft aspect, it’s incredibly well made, but also from an entertainment aspect, its a very exciting and accessible film for most audiences. It spent 4 weeks on top of the box office and continued to do well after that.

Matt Damon does a remarkable job balancing the comedy and tragedy of what really is a one-man show. The rest of the cast is impeccably cast and pretty much every element of the film is spot on.

 

#9 – The Big Short

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I have to be honest, this is one movie that did not interest me at all when I first saw the trailer. Adam McKay has made mainly comedies and films which are definitely NOT my type of movie. And the subject matter seemed incredibly boring and intricate. I thought this film was going to be so forgettable. I was wrong. I was WRONG.

Adam McKay has achieved something incredible. The screenplay alone is a work of art. The subject matter is incredibly complex and I still don’t understand every concept that is addressed in the film, but overall I had a much better idea of what went on in 2008 after the film then I did going into the film.

AND the approach to telling this story is incredibly funny and fast-paced. Everything from the acting, to the writing, to the editing of this film all work so well. I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises for those who haven’t seen it yet, so I won’t get into specifics, but I’m so glad this film was made.

 

#8 – Ex Machina

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This movie may have been one of the biggest surprises of the year. This was that sleeper hit that started out slow and then, through word of mouth, kept growing and growing and growing. The film is visual striking and I’m so glad it getting traction now in the awards race – in particular for Alicia Vikander.

The three main actors in this film are all so brilliantly cast and are having incredible breakout years. Alicia Vikander may score a double nomination tomorrow for this film as well as The Danish Girl. Not to mention her work this year in The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Testament of Youth, and Burnt. Oscar Isaac has been gaining notoriety over the past couple years but this year with this and a little film called Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015 was really his year. And, finally, the real lead of this film Domhnall Gleason. His work in this, Brooklyn, The Revenant, and again Star Wars has made him an exceptional stand out this year.

The screenplay, again, to this movie is so brilliant. The movie pulses from beginning to end and is so tense throughout the whole thing. You have no idea where the movie is heading, and then when it gets to the end you can’t believe what has happened. There’s so much great social commentary in this film, but what it does so well is have a powerful message about our society today without beating us over the head with it. This movie thrives on it’s subtlety.

 

#7 – Inside Out

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What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Pixar’s work of art? Inside Out is a return to form for Pixar, who didn’t have a 2014 release since The Good Dinosaur was released and 2013’s Monster’s University was far from brilliant. This film reminded me of the heyday of Pixar including Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Wall-E.

The difference between most Pixar films and this one, I think, is that Inside Out is more than just a fun story and beautifully crafted animation. It has such a powerful message about our emotions that literally every human being can relate to. Growing up is so difficult but we all have to do it – that includes the good and the bad things. I think it’s important for a film designed for family to give children an idea of how to deal with those emotions and understand that they’re not the only ones going through certain situations. I read recently that this film is already being used in certain educational places to help discuss mental illness with children. I think it’s beautiful to see the power film being used in various ways and not just as an entertainment source.

The power of the film aside, Inside Out is also gorgeously drawn and incredibly exciting and funny. Pixar is already the king of animation, but they just added another jewel to their already insane collection.

 

#6 – Spotlight

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Spotlight is one of those films that has such an intriguing story that you already know the outcome to, so it’s hard not to sit back and simply enjoy the amazing craft that was used here. The film zips along at a furious pace and all you want to do is root for these journalists to succeed.

A wonderful ensemble, led by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams, all work so well with each other and in individual roles. I think the thing that hurts most of their chances of getting nominated is that the ensemble does work so well, nobody really stands out above the rest. Smart and extremely sharp direction by Tom McCarthy really drive this film towards the conclusion we all know its racing toward.

This movie has already won a ton of Best picture precursor awards and easy to understand why. Critics love it because it praises the art of journalism and also renews interest in print journalism (a dying art form.) Industry people seem to really see the technical precision behind this movie which is really propelling it toward that Best Picture Oscar.

 

#5 – The Hateful Eight

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I LOVE this movie so much! I have never been one of those people that worships at the Church of Tarantino. I’ve always like and admired his films, but I’ve never freaked out over them. I think the reason I love this film so much is that Tarantino created such a brilliant script and then just let the actors go.

The movie plays like a western version of an Agatha Christie film. It takes place mainly in one room with all the actors and a lot of dialogue, but you can tell how much fun everybody is having in this room. I never once was bored in this movie, even though not a lot plot-wise happens in the first act. But boy, oh, boy – that second act.

And the SCORE… Ennio Morricone, a genius. And Tarantino let’s us bask in the wonder of it.

I think another reason I enjoyed this film was the 70mm roadshow experience. I know this shouldn’t factor into my opinion of what was the best film of the year, but seeing a movie in that way – you can’t help it. It was the best movie-going experience I’ve had in a long time. Overture, intermission, programs, etc. It felt like I was watching a theater performance. I wanted to giver everyone a standing ovation after that final blackout.

 

#4 – Room

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No movie this year has made me cry more than Room. And that seems to be a popular opinion with most who see this film.

There isn’t just one scene in this film that makes you think, “This is it. This is the big scene that’s going to make me feel all the feels.” You get to that scene and then 5 minutes later, you’re at another one of those scenes. This sounds awful, but the story is so incredibly moving and powerful.

You’ve probably already heard about Brie Larson’s amazing performance and how she’s more than likely about to have an Oscar on her mantle soon. But what has been a quieter story is that Jacob Trembley gives quite possibly the BEST PERFORMANCE A CHILD HAS EVER GIVEN ON SCREEN. No joke. The heart of this movie is a little boy and he probably has the hardest role and he is incredible.

One of the most brilliant aspects of this film, is that the first entire half of the movie takes place in a small woodshed. What seems like it would be impossible to film and make interesting, is so wondrous and unexpected.

 

#3 – Steve Jobs

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first saw Steve Jobs. I’ve always love Aaron Sorkin’s writing and his love of dialogue. As an actor, I would be in heaven performing his work. The most amazing thing Sorkin did with this screenplay was not make a standard biopic. He picks three specific points in Jobs’ life (all launches of different products) and creates a three act play to truly depict this man.

The entire movie is made up of only 3 scenes. Each scene is about 40 mins long and move at a breakneck pace. The dialogue is always the star of a Sorkin movie and this one even more so. Words fire at a rapid pace and you’re afraid to blink for fear of missing some important piece of information.

This is my favorite ensemble of the year. These actors are the very definition of an ensemble. Transition from scene to scene, all boosting each other up… Everybody works so well together under Danny Boyle’s most restrained direction to date. It’s films like these that make me want to be an actor.

 

#2 – Mad Max: Fury Road

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MAD MAX!!! This summer blockbuster came out of nowhere to be one of the most brilliant pieces of film this year. I had absolutely no interest in seeing this… Big action movie, remake of 80’s movie. No interest whatsoever. If you didn’t experience Mad Max in the theaters, I am so sorry for you.

This movie will probably walk away with the most nominations and wins on Oscar night. The technical achievement of this movie is surpassed by no other this year. It, famously, was riddled with a lot of problems while filming and there were many fights between actors and directors. But it all proved to work in the end.

While there is hardly any dialogue in this movie, the acting is nothing short of brilliant. Every once in a while an action movie comes a long that is just so special and so wonderfully crafted, you can’t help but just sit in awe and marvel at the spectacle.

And finally….

 

#1 – Brooklyn

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Brooklyn is special. It’s hard to put into words what it is about this movie, but there’s just something that hits you square in the heart and it stays with you for days after…

It’s a simple story about leaving your family and starting your own life, falling in love, finding your purpose. Although it’s set in the 50’s and is about an Irish immigrant, the film is so relatable on so many levels.

Another beautiful ensemble piece, my heart broke for Saoirse Ronan’s character as each moves through life and tries to figure out her own path into adulthood. The film is so delicately directed, no fancy camera work or stylish editing. The movie works so well because of it’s simplicity. For me, the mark of a truly great film is something that stays with you long after you leave the theater.

Brooklyn will not be something I forget soon and easily takes the spot as my favorite film of 2015.

*****************************

Well, that’s it. It’s been fun 2015! Here’s to another wonderful and exciting year at the movies in 2016! Bring it on.

 

 

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