I’ve heard some people complain about the quality of the films that came out in 2015, and I don’t really know what they are talking about. I saw a lot of good movies this year—including one that will probably safely remain in my personal top 5 for all of eternity (hint: it’s Mad Max). And since I saw so many movies I enjoyed, narrowing this list down to just 10 was far from easy; but since 10 is the arbitrary number that we as a society have agreed upon for all web lists, I did what I could. (To make things a little easier on myself, I’ve chosen not to include documentaries).
This is my just my personal top 10; which is to say that very little objectivity went into the creation of this post. There are also a number of quality movies (as well as several Oscar-nominated ones) from 2015 that I have not yet seen. These include Anomalisa, Son of Saul, Spotlight, The Lobster, The Martian, The Assassin, Bridge of Spies, and Theeb; and I’m sure there are many others that I’m not even aware of.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
I actually liked Sicario less when I reviewed it than I do now. Days after seeing the film, I found myself still thinking about it, and I’ve even been itching to rewatch it for several weeks now.
“…Featuring stunning cinematography from the Roger Deakins, strong performances from Blunt and Del Toro, and a heart-pounding score from Johann Johannsson, Sicario has all the makings of a great film… Villeneuve uses Sicario both to challenge viewers and to drag them into a haunting and morally ambiguous world that they won’t soon forget. Though Taylor Sheridan’s script is not always as clear, as focused, or as committed as it could be, Sicario remains gripping and entertaining throughout…”
“…When the visual, the audio, and the narrative aspects of Sicario all come together, the results are fantastic, and there are examples of relentless—and even brilliant—filmmaking throughout the movie. At its best, Sicario is a bold and arresting tale of a war that cannot be won by anyone. At its worst, it’s a conventional and narrowly focused thriller….”
9. The Revenant
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
As good as certain aspects of The Revenant are—and as intense as it is—it does not have quite enough depth for me to feel that it’s recent Golden Globes Best Picture win was truly warranted.
“…Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest film is a brutal, bloody, and quasi-poetic survival drama that—regardless of how successful it is as a film—is sure to stick with viewers for some time. Visually stunning and frequently pulse-pounding, the film isn’t 2015’s best, but it is one of the year’s most visceral and overwhelming…”
“…With its particular combination of blood, beauty, suffering, survival, and revenge, The Revenant certainly provides an impactful and memorable viewing experience. And yet, as well-executed as certain aspects of the film are, its storytelling is not always effective, and the script is not as well-developed as it could have been…”
8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Directed by J.J. Abrams
The Force Awakens may not be the most innovative, powerful, or well-crafted film of 2015, but it is one of the most fun, and I expect that I’ll be watching many times over in the next few years.
“…Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an entertaining and visually captivating action film that is sure to excite audiences of all ages. In finding a way to please old fans while entertaining new ones, Disney has presented a Star Wars film that—if followed up correctly—may be just what the saga needed. While Abrams’s film does spend much of its time revisiting what made Lucas’s space western so successful in the first place, it also shows enough signs of breaking new ground to keep viewers interested. Only time will tell how successful—and narratively innovative—the new Star Wars trilogy will be, but with The Force Awakens as its foundation, its future looks promising indeed….”
7. Beasts of No Nation
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Beasts of No Nation is a beautifully shot, well-acted, and incredibly haunting film that deserves recognition; I’m not surprised that the Academy has ignored it completely, but I certainly upset by the fact.
“…In addition to incredible lead performances, Fukunaga’s latest also boasts a complex story and beautiful camera work. It may not give viewers a full picture of the reality of war in West Africa, but it doesn’t need to. Instead, Beasts of No Nation explores the paper-thin barrier between innocence and evil, the horrors of war, and the psychology of its individual characters, and it does so with more than enough intelligence and sensitivity to make for memorable viewing…”
6. The Hateful Eight
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino’s films are a lot of fun. Case closed.
“…Though imperfect, The Hateful Eight is a bold, layered, and smartly written film that clearly has the potential to improve with repeated viewing. And while certain aspects of the film may limit its mass appeal, it is sure to please those who are already fans of Tarantino’s style of filmmaking…”
“…The Hateful Eight is a Tarantino film through and through. It’s also somber and stylish, brash and intelligent, nihilistic and bold. As sadistic as it might seem at times, Tarantino’s latest is also supremely entertaining, and—for the right viewers—it will prove to be a great source of cinematic fun…”
5. Ex Machina
Directed by Alex Garland
Ex Machina is one of 2015’s more underrated films. Not only is it well-acted and visually stunning, it also boasts an inventive script and has a remarkable ability to get under the skin of its viewers.
“…In the end, [Ex Machina is] a subtly unnerving and perfectly engrossing film—which has gotten into my head unlike just about anything else that I’ve seen this year. No, this is not a heart-pounding film, and it may even bore some viewers. That said, the film is, above all, a testament to how thoroughly interesting and how human the sci-fi genre can be, especially when it’s allowed to exist independently of the chase sequences and the fight scenes that our culture has come to associate with it….”
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
If this film had a subtitle, it would be “Bring Tissues.”
“…I can’t remember the last time I saw a film that made me feel as much or in quite the same way as Room. While the film’s premise might sound like it belongs to some god-awful and woefully inelegant made-for-TV movie, this adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel is an intimate and emotionally intelligent film that most definitely belongs on the big screen. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank), the film is as horrifying as it is hopeful, and it is as beautiful as it is devastating. As dark as it often is, Room is just as inspiring as it is tragic, and its combination of tender storytelling and stirring performances makes for an undeniably affecting viewing experience…”
Directed by Justin Kurzel
The bold and dark aesthetics and the eerie atmosphere of this film are right up my alley (and so is just about any film that tackles one of Shakespeare’s tragedies with vision and skill).
“…Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth is hardly the first film adaptation of Shakespeare’s renowned tragedy, but that doesn’t mean that viewers will have seen anything quite like it before. Though this Macbeth may have a limited appeal, it boasts two remarkable lead performances as well as some of the finest cinematography audiences will experience all year. With his moody and incredibly cinematic take on The Scottish Play, Kurzel transports viewers into a dark, bloody, and visually arresting world that captivates the mind and sears the soul. And though the film adds to and enhances much that is in its source material, it never disrespects the work of the Bard…”
“…As an adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth succeeds. As a powerful and striking creative effort, Macbeth succeeds also. Minor issues aside, the film is mesmerizing, savagely stylish, and intelligently realized, and in addition to its strong lead performances, Kurzel’s film also boasts a look and feel that viewers are unlikely to forget anytime soon…”
Directed by Todd Hayes
When I think about some of the Oscar nominations that Carol did not receive, I have the urge to make a voodoo doll of a stuffy old white man (which is how I imagine Academy voters).
“….There is nothing clumsy about this film, and it is pulsing with true emotional nuance and depth. In fact, for all of Carol’s strengths, its remarkable ability to convey deeply felt and overwhelming feelings in a subtle and realistic manner may just be the most impressive…”
“…Carol grabs viewers by the heart gently and then refuses to let go with all its might. Like the women at its heart, the film is enchanting and elegant, breathtaking and beautiful. With its soft colors, dreamy visuals, masterful performances, and emotional depth, Carol rises far above the din of more ordinary films. Furthermore, this unquestionably powerful film is never over-the-top. In fact, there is nothing overdone about it all. Nearly every aspect of the film is executed to a remarkably high level—more often than not, the results are quite stunning…”
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Directed by George Miller
I WILL GO TO MY GRAVE SINGING THE PRAISES OF FURY ROAD. I WILL NEVER TIRE OF ITS MADNESS, PERFECTION, AND INCREDIBLY EFFICIENT STORYTELLING!
“…I don’t usually go in for action films, but Fury Road isn’t like most action films. It’s tighter, it’s bolder, it’s smarter; this fearless and exceptionally memorable film puts the pedal to the metal in just about every way, and the result is a film that puts the rest of its genre to shame. First and foremost, Fury Road is a high-octane visual spectacle, but it’s also masterfully crafted work of cinema. So if nearly 2 hours of car chases, guns, and destruction sounds at all played-out or uninteresting to you, think again….”
“…Fury Road is bursting with so much energy and with so much sheer creative force that I have no problem at all calling it ‘sublime’…”
Movies that I really enjoyed this year but that didn’t quite make my top 10 include The End of the Tour, Tangerine, Shaun the Sheep Movie, The Duke of Burgundy, Experimenter, Brooklyn, Dope,and Queen of Earth. Objectively, I know that Steve Jobs was pretty good too, but it really didn’t stick with me at all.
Until Next Time
Before ending this post, allow me to say that it would probably be different if I’d written it yesterday; hell, if would probably be different if I wrote it again 5 minutes from now. Nothing means anything hooray.
Thanks so much for reading. If you have your own top-10 list for the year, I’d love to hear which films are on it!