I’m very excited to go over the best last year had to offer in terms of movies with you guys! I’m going to need this release after the pure horror I had to endure to create my Top Ten Worst Movies list. When I wrote down the options for this countdown, they outnumbered the amount of options I had for the worst list by quite a bit. I would say that equals a pretty good year with movies! This list is definitely going to contain a whole lot of geeking out, so if your inner 9 year old is still in touch with you, then you’ll enjoy this countdown.
Much like my first list, I am only counting movies which aren’t straight-to-video, movies which I have seen start-to-finish, and the way in which I rank these movies will not be ranked by the grades I gave them. This list is based off of my personal bias, and some of those opinions may have changed a bit over time.
#10 – It Follows
Yeah, this movie was technically released in 2014, but it got a wide release in 2015 so I say it counts. Anyway, this movie is sublime! The camerawork is surprisingly impressive for an indie horror, the music is atmospheric, the suspense is terrifying, and the story would make Wes Craven rise from his grave just so he could applaud David Robert Mitchell (and tell Freddy Krueger to murder all the studio executives who keep pointlessly remaking horror classics). As a lover of horror, it makes me glad that someone (an unprofessional no less) could craft a slasher of such high quality in this day and age. Sure, it has its potholes, a subpar actor or two, the fact that it’s hardly scary, and the unnecessary ambiguous ending (that’s just a bit too 80’s slasherish for my taste), but if you like horror, then check this movie out.
This movie is unique, sleek, and entertaining as heck! Sure, it uses (and parodies) the spy genre and its tropes for most of the plot, but thanks to Matthew Vaughn’s brilliant style and talent infused into every scene, the movie managed to be one of the most enjoyable action films I have seen this year! That is saying quite a lot when you consider what other films are on this list. I may have been a bit too harsh on this movie for its poor use of drama (although I still stand by what I said in my review), but that is the only major problem I had with this movie. Everything is stylistic and creative: the acting, the special effects, camerawork, action, dialog, and writing are all creatively exciting. This is the perfect movie to watch with your friends, (assuming you’re a guy) if you want a good laugh and some violently awesome spy entertainment.
#8 – Spectre
Ok, critics of the world, Spectre isn’t that bad just because it relies on the classic Bond formula, a 64% rating is far too low for an enjoyable action movie such as Spectre. I get the feeling that since both critics and audiences alike were expecting Casino Royale or Skyfall all over again, and that raised their expectations to unreachable heights. The fact is that this movie is exceptional! Well-shot action sequences, quirky acting, a very interesting premise, Thomas Newman’s score, and the impeccable sound design/mixing make Spectre one of the more competently structured Bond films out there. Aside from Léa Seydoux’s acting (and awkward relationship with Bond), the only thing that annoyed me were a few ungodly stupid character decisions and the omnipresent familiarity of the plot, and even that doesn’t hurt the movie too much. It will do you no harm to watch this movie if you are a fan of the franchise, and take it from me, it is just as thrilling as any Bond film.
This movie is far from the quality of the original trilogy, it is also far from creatively written, but it is a good movie. The story is the weakest element for sure. The entire plot is ripped-off from A New Hope, there are a dozen plotholes (and no, fans and theorists are not supposed to be the ones to explain everything in a movie, that’s the movie’s job), there were many scenes that could have been cut completely, and many character decisions make no sense. If you know about me and the art of storytelling, then you can see why I care so much about this! However, if The Force Awakens proved one thing, it’s that we will never get a Star Wars movie as perfect as one from the original trilogy, and we will never get a Star Wars movie as painfully horrible as one of the prequels. I am perfectly content with that because The Force Awakens is a well-acted, exciting, comical, and beautiful looking experience which everyone should see. I was hesitant to say this before the release of this movie, but now I can say with absolute certainty that J.J. Abrams is the new Martin Campbell. If you don’t know, director Martin Campbell (The Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale, and Goldeneye) is often called “the savior of franchises.” However, I am ready to say that J.J. has officially taken his place. Not only has he revived three mega franchises financially (Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, and now Star Wars), but he also managed to please both audiences and critics with those revitalizations. I think we can all agree that the person who successfully makes The Force Awakens a hit as big as it is, deserves recognition, especially when you consider the other talented directors which studio executives asked to direct (Brad Bird, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro, and many others) The Force Awakens. If you invested even the tiniest bit of your time/effort into Star Wars, then watch The Force Awakens, it’s a fun addition to this culture-changing franchise.
#6 – The Martian
I was initially too harsh on this movie; this was mostly due to the fact that everyone was saying that The Martian was better than Interstellar (one of my favorite movies of all time) or that it was over-hyped as the best movie of the year. While I still believe that neither of those statements are true, The Martian is still one of the best films of the year. The performances (especially Matt Damon and Jeff Daniels) are outstanding, the F/X are scintillating, the story is incredibly solid (and will definitely get Drew Goddard an Oscar nod), and Ridley Scott’s masterful direction brings it all together. Fun fact: I’m all about positivity, so, when I noticed that this movie’s protagonist was a joke-making, tenacious, “pick yourself up and keep fighting” kind of character, I was instantly hooked by his character progression. Mark Watney is definitely the best part of the movie, and because the slightly humorous atmosphere is consistent with the more dramatic moments, it created a consistently even tone which I have not seen in recent memory. The Martian is one of the best “stranded” films we have, and one of the best space movies of all time.
#5 – The Visit
I believe that to this day, The Visit is extremely underrated. It’s gotten to the point where I can confidently say that no film critic loves this movie more than me. The Visit is: one of the best movies of Shyamalan’s career, one of the best horror films I have seen, and one of the best films of 2015. The writing is well thought out, the actors (save for Kathryn Hann) give career-creating performances, the scares are tense and suspenseful, and the surprisingly funny jokes are hilarious! I knew Shyamalan sort of evolved from one of the best filmmakers out there, into a living punchline over the years, but I need to make a stand for this movie. It truly is a legitimately excellent film! Is it as perfect as The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable? No. Is it as perplexingly awful as The Last Airbender or The Happening? Certainly not! I am just glad that The Visit is as impressive as it is (admittedly I may love the movie more because it proved my prediction). This movie’s climax is one of the best I have ever seen. It’s scary, well-acted, funny, dramatic, suspenseful, and even uses gross-out humor the right way. Shyamalan learned from his mistakes, and picked up some techniques from working on Wayward Pines. Those two elements combined have resurrected M. Night’s career with sparkling success.
#4 – Mad Max: Fury Road
One of the best action movies ever made, Fury Road is expertly filmed with some (if not the best) stunt work ever put to film. I really hope George Miller gets a Best Director nomination, and doesn’t get snuffed by the Oscars like Christopher Nolan for Inception and Interstellar. The Academy seems to forget that directors are involved at every stage of production and they supervise every aspect of making the film (filming, editing, sound, post-production, etc.). Directing doesn’t just mean having the best camerawork; they are the ones who put everything together. The amount of stunt coordination and practical effects used in this movie must have been ridiculously challenging to work with, but, Miller is a master in that aspect. The cinematography is astounding, the choreography is spot on, and the special effects (the few that they use) can’t be beat. If you haven’t watched Fury Road (or any of the Mad Max movies) then you are seriously missing out on one of the best adrenaline thrill rides ever put to film.
#3 – The Revenant
This movie is one of the most hardcore and brutally realistic movies ever made! The cinematography is extraordinary, Alejandro’s direction is even better here than it was in Birdman, and the acting is extraordinary! I meant what I said in my The Revenant review; Leonardo DiCaprio really does deserve the Leading Actor Oscar as he was able to shed his entire personality and charm to create the best performance of his career. I will be extremely ticked off if he doesn’t win the Oscar. This isn’t just me being a Leo DiCaprio fanatic as he has given subpar performances in the past (The Beach), but this is the best performance I have ever seen from him, period! Even the story (the aspect of filmmaking I care about the most) is pretty investing. Besides going on a bit too long, the story has action sequences littered throughout to keep the audience’s attention, and the sheer amount of turmoil that Hugh Glass had to go through kept me invested in his character. This is one of the most competently made movies of the year, and well deserves the #3 spot on this list.
#2 – Spotlight
I had no idea that this movie existed until I started to hear the critics buzz that it was outstanding. I waited with bated breath, and HOLY CRAP did this movie blow my mind! By the time I saw it, it was close to being pulled from theatres, so reviewing it would be mostly pointless, in any case, Spotlight truly is a work of art, and I’ll go over why.
I have to start with the performances, because this movie has one of the greatest ensemble casts of all time! Two-time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo, Oscar nominee Michael Keaton, four-time Golden Globe nominee Liev Schreiber, Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci, four-time Emmy nominee John Slattery, and Rachael McAdams! Ruffalo and Tucci are the best in my opinion, but the whole cast is on their absolute A+ game! I think this is Ruffalo’s best performance in his career because (like I said in my The Revenant review) he transformed into Mike Rezendes, and even though it seems like you won’t like his acting at the start of the movie, you (like me) will quickly be corrected. I give props to the makeup and hairstyling department because these characters look, well it’s hard to describe, but the characters look just like I’d expect them to look in real life. Speaking of real life, this movie is so well conveyed to look realistic, that I honestly forgot I was watching a movie! However, what is the most surprisingly impressive thing about Spotlight is the screenplay and direction. Spotlight was directed and partially written by Tom McCarthy (aka that jerk step-husband from 2012). The last film he directed was The Cobbler, one of the lowest rated and laziest Adam Sandler films of all time! One of the major reasons I love this movie is because it is tangible proof that with effort, passion, and talent, anyone can make something admirable, thought-provoking, and informatively entertaining. You have no excuse Happy Madison! McCarthy’s camerawork and direction of his cast is brilliant (he uses tracking shots very well), and the script is: detailed, informational, surprising, subtle, tense, and interesting as heck! I expect many awards (wins or nominations for this movie, and it rightfully deserves them. I give Spotlight an A+.
One of the better Melissa McCarthy comedies out there, Spy uses the tropes of the genre to its advantage and creates an entertaining, and hilarious film that is well worth your time and money.
- Ex Machina
Showcasing some of the best CGI you will ever see in a movie, Ex Machina is filled with standup performances, creative cinematography, outstanding set design, and an interestingly philosophical plot. It is only weighed down by the ending, which comes across as pretentious/stupid.
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
In some respects (action and comedy included) better than its predecessor, Age of Ultron combines mind-blowing effects, and some unexpected character development. However, most of the story is pretty cliché, and some of the subplots don’t make any sense. It is still a fun film to watch though.
- The Gift
Relentlessly suspenseful, filled with intense performances and taking one of the most overdone plots in the history of storytelling and turning into something fresh and creative, Joel Edgerton has proven to be a vastly talented person, as he wrote, directed, and acted in this movie.
Well shot, superbly acted (especially Mark Rylance), and interesting, Bridge of Spies is a satisfactory (but not as outstanding as it could have been) Steven Spielberg film with style.
Faithful, energetically animated, well-written, and full of charm, The Peanuts Movie stands out as one of the best in a year where so many hyped-up films were based off of a continuation of a familiar product.
- The Hateful Eight
It may not be as stylistic as Kill Bill, as action packed as Django Unchained, or as well-written as Reservoir Dogs, but The Hateful Eight proves that Quentin Tarantino is still one of the best filmmakers out there. The movie also benefits from an Oscar worthy score from Ennio Morricone, some of the best hairstyling and character designs I’ve seen this year, an ensemble cast of Tarantino favorites, and Robert Richardson’s brilliant cinematography.
What made me decide which of the two movies should be #1 was how “relevant” both films would be in a decade. While Spotlight is amazing in every aspect, it will not be that important down-the-line. The film I have chosen for my #1 will (like so many films from these same filmmakers) never be dated.
#1 – Inside Out
After putting much more thought into this movie, I can finally say that Inside Out is my third favorite Disney movie (and second favorite Pixar film). Only The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Incredibles beat it, and that is an incredibly difficult thing to pull off! Inside Out is: charming, funny, heartwarming, insightful, clever, unique, perfectly voice acted, meaningful, timeless, heartbreaking, emotional, and the best movie of 2015! Whenever I feel down in the dumps, I think of this movie and I am cheered up soon after that. Every now and then, I listen to Michael Giacchino’s subtle and moving score when I write. Inside Out is near-perfect, and I am overjoyed that we are still receiving films as original and creative as this movie is.
P.S. I wrote this before the Oscar nominations were announced.