Despite popular opinion to the contrary, I really feel 2015 was a solid year for film. Instead of one obvious standout, there were a lot of very worthwhile, very good options across all genres. The lack of clarity, of course, will lead to an unpredictable awards season – something we could use for fun and debate. Without further adieu, here’s my 2015 year-end movie review.
10. Steve Jobs
Though it came and went without much box office fanfare in the Fall, director Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs film is by far the best in a lot of yearly entries about the late Apple magnate. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is typically crackling, focusing on an imperfect man trying to keep his family life in order while building the largest publicly-traded company in history. It’s a great watch, anchored by a superb performance from Michael Fassbender in the lead role and Daniel Pemberton’s moody, subtlety visceral score.
9. The Martian
The sci-fi adventure is alive and well. The Martian may be the year’s biggest crowd-pleaser thanks to a wonderful sense of humor, awe-inspiring Martian landscapes (is there anything worse than a movie that takes place on another planet and never shows it to you? The Martian does not make that mistake), and a scientific, bitingly funny script. Matt Damon leads one of the best ensembles of the year.
8. The Big Short
Could anyone have ever imagined that director Adam McKay – he of comedies such as Anchorman and Step Brothers – would make a Wall Street film to rival Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street? Well, he has in The Big Short, a scathing takedown of the mid-2000’s housing crisis. With a fantastic ensemble cast, a fast-paced, kinetic visual style, and just the right amount of anger, The Big Short never lets up in its effort to be the most entertaining feel-bad movie of 2015.
Easily the best film about drug running since 2000’s Traffic, Sicario is a nail-biting, relentless venture in the darkest corners of the Mexican drug trade. Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins have crafted a visual marvel, serving up huge vistas and swaths of crime-ridden land. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s quietly intense score ratchets up the tension to near-unbearable levels. It’s a dark, twisted experience that doesn’t offer up many answers.
6. Ex Machina
Artificial Intelligence gone awry stories are well-worn territory, but writer/director Alex Garland – in one of 2015’s breakout directorial debuts – has crafted a layered and haunting story in Ex Machina. This is pure sci-fi at its finest, reflecting upon humanity while issuing dire warnings. Highlighted by superb performances from Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina hovers in the mind for days after seeing it. And you may rethink that next Google search term.
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
Leave it to 70-year-old director George Miller to make the best action movie in years. Mad Max: Fury Road exploded (literally) out of gates right before summer and never looked back. It’s a stunning visual achievement and strikes gold with its badass female-led story. Add in a lot of practical effects and mind-blowing stunts and you have an action lovers dream.
4. The Hateful Eight
Writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film falls somewhere in the middle of his canon, but that still makes it one of any year’s best. A throwback western cross-bred with an Agatha Christie-esque whodunit, Tarantino keeps thing on simmer for the first half before unleashing the fury in the second. The Hateful Eight has many Tarantino trademarks, most of all a live wire script and over-the-top performances, this time led by Samuel L. Jackson. No one makes profanity and bloodshed more entertaining and darkly humorous.
3. The Revenant
For my money, director Alejandro González Iñárritu is the finest and most visionary working today. With The Revenant, he and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have created the most brutal and visceral cinematic experience since 2006’s Apocalypto. A simple tale of revenge on the surface, Iñárritu turns the screws as the story proceeds and provides the most memorable scene of 2015 with a bear attack that just dares you to blink. Leonardo DiCaprio also turns in the best work of his career and seems headed for his first Oscar. See it on the big screen to fully take in Lubezki’s jaw-dropping, natural light only canvas.
The most painful and unforgettable watch of the year, Room comes dangerously close to being unwatchably downtrodden in its first act before unleashing the most suspenseful scene of recent memory. Its latter half is a compelling emotional examination of its characters. Brie Larson delivers the year’s best female lead performance and Jacob Tremblay turns in the finest kid performance since E.T. It’s a haunting, yet somehow uplifting meditation on the bond between mother and son – and how we cope in unimaginable situations.
The fact that Spotlight stands out like it does is fairly amazing in and of itself. Nowhere near flashy and very workmanlike in its realistic depiction of investigative journalists, the film tackles a highly uncomfortable subject (the Catholic church pedophilia scandal) with tenacity, intellect, and a matter-of-factness that puts the viewer right in the middle of a twisted web of lies and deceit. Featuring an outstanding ensemble cast (Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams should be up for Oscars), Spotlight stands as one of the best investigative journalism films ever made and 2015’s finest.
Honorable mentions: 45 Years, 99 Homes, Anomalisa, Brooklyn, Goodnight Mommy, Inside Out
Fifty Shades of Grey
Feast your eyes, ladies and gentlemen, on exhibit A of what happens when un-adaptable material is adapted. My brain will never be able to comprehend the allure of this poorly-written trash. It’s preposterous on even the most fundamental of levels and not the least bit erotic. I’ve seen 80’s and 90’s action movies with more seductive sex scenes than what you’ll see in this obviously-uncomfortable, forced film. I picture fans of the books (seriously, how can these people exist?) sitting slack-jawed and really wishing this content had been left to the far corners of their minds. It’s a grotesque experience, offering nothing, and containing zero merit. Oh, and there are two more movies on the way because clearly people will watch anything. I think I’ll be patching the holes in my socks those nights.