15) Spotlight (2015)
I have to admit, this film was gripping. Not flashy, just a solid telling of real journalists (remember them?), actually doing research, tracking down the truth of the story, interviewing eyewitnesses, using real sources. The acting is fabulous and the story grabs you and won’t let go. Not a film you want to revisit (the subject matter is really heavy) but it’s absolutely worth your time.
14) Love & Mercy (2015)
John Cusack’s best work in a decade? Check. Paul Dano veering close to insanity, yet ultimately being brilliant? Check. One of the most exhilarating depictions of the actual creation of decade-defining music? Check. This unconventional biopic of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys was captivating.
13) The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared (2013)
The best foreign film I saw this year, an absolute joy to watch with lots of clever humor, great production values, wacky old-man make-up, and a story that you will have no idea how it’s going to end. This is a Swedish film (some English spoken as well) that has more creativity and entertainment value than most American films this year. Also wins the award for the longest movie title in recent memory.
12) The Martian (2015)
Although I loved the book a few years back when I read it, this was probably one of the best adaptations of a novel I’ve seen in a long time. It captured the high stakes adventure of the book while bringing an incredible visual style and cinematic excitement to the story. A great ensemble cast elevates every scene. It’s a crowd pleaser but one that deserves every bit of the accolades it received.
11) Bone Tomahawk (2015)
These days, any year that has this many Westerns released is a great year. Of the really great Westerns released this year, Bone Tomahawk is the best. Starring Kurt Russell and his handlebar mustache along with a brilliant cast, Bone Tomahawk plays like a classic Western until the third act when it turns into a tense, almost-horror-like rollercoaster ride. Special mention to Richard Jenkins who absolutely steals the show every time he’s on screen.
10) Lost River (2014)
I know, I know, a disturbing and deep film by first-time director Ryan Gosling? Huh? This film effected me like almost nothing else this year. Powerful imagery, drama dripping in timely symbolism, and a David Lynch-like sense of dread throughout. One of the best debut films I’ve seen in years. If this is a taste of what Gosling can do, I can’t wait to see what comes next.
9) The Walk (2015)
I said it in my review last year and I still stand by it: “The Walk is one of the most exhilarating theater experience of 2015.” I wish more people had been able to have the chance to see the film in theaters because home video just won’t present the film in the way it should be seen. Robert Zemeckis is a master and he makes it all look so effortless.
8) The Big Short (2015)
Steve Carell’s best work of his career. Christian Bale strikes again with an academy award nominated performance. And the supporting cast is just as good. Who knew that the director of Anchorman (Adam McKay) would be able to pull off this kind of excellent social critique with a comedic bent. This film has something important to say and is immensely entertaining in the way it says it.
7) Creed (2015)
If someone would have told me that the 7th sequel to a 40 year old movie series would be as good as the best entry, I wouldn’t have believed it. Michael B. Jordan carries the Rocky torch stunningly while Stallone reaches deep to find one more go around as Rocky, rivaling his best work and Ryan Coogler is somehow able to put a new spin on the boxing film with some of the best camera work this year.
6) Room (2015)
I have to admit, this film made me feel something. I believed in the characters, was on the edge of my seat through their most intense moments, and I felt like I had gone through a portion of their ordeal along the way. This is as much a testament to the film’s unguessable script to the sensational acting. This flew under the radar for many people last year but it’s totally worth your time.
5) Ex Machina (2015)
The best original science fiction, hard sci-fi, script in years. After all the lame attempts (hello Transcendence) at examining the complex subject of artificial intelligence, Ex Machina gives us something worth chewing on. The cast is phenomenal with Alicia Vikander leading the way as the terrifying and passive-aggressive android that you don’t know whether to root for or fear.
4) Bridge of Spies (2015)
Magical. That’s the best way to describe Spielberg’s latest film. Tom Hanks settles right into the role, after only a few minutes, I completely bought into his portrayal of James Donovan. Mark Rylance stuns with his slow burn performance as the spy in the middle of all the controversy. Beautiful lighting, framing, acting, and pacing. Loved it.
3) Sicario (2015)
Sicario had the best performance by a female in 2015, Emily Blunt is astonishing as a DEA agent sucked into a “world of wolves.” And SHE WASN’T EVEN NOMINATED! Regardless, this is one of the best film-going experiences this year, tense, important, unique. Benecio Del Toro does his best work in years. That dinner scene will still be talked about years from now. Director Denis Villeneuve is now officially on my “I’ll watch anything he makes” list. Can’t wait to see what he does with Blade Runner 2.
2) The Revenant (2015)
An amazing, pulse-pounding cinematic experience. I’m not sure the romanticized wilds of the western territories have ever been captured with more vivid detail and intensity. Di Caprio is headed towards Oscar territory (that’s my guess) and I have to admit, I felt his pain along the way. The camera work is masterful. I’m not sure why this film was so divisive. Some loved it, some hated it. I thought it was amazing.
1) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
When the tire dust finally settles, we’ll still be talking about Mad Max: Fury Road 10 years from now. This is game-changing stuff, next level work from the editing, to the camera work, to the stunts, to the directing. I saw this film more times than any other this year and it never got boring. In fact, I was just as excited the 7th time as the first. Honestly, this is the kind of film that makes me happy I’m still alive just to be wowed by it over and over again.
Here are some of my other favorites from the year that maybe didn’t make my top 15 but are absolutely worth mentioning and worth checking out:
- Red Army (2014)
Compelling documentary about the greatest Russian hockey team.
- Cartel Land (2015)
Shows you first hand what a mess the cartels are causing in Mexico (and Southern USA).
Best Action Movies
- Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Goes a little overboard but that’s part of what made it so entertaining.
- Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)
Tom Cruise is always reliable for a good time at the movies.
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
I had lots of little issues with Star Wars but overall, definitely enjoyed it.
- Black Sea (2014)
A great little submarine adventure.
- Chappie (2015)
Way, way, way better than you heard. I loved this, have seen it several times since, and still loved it. No idea why people were so down on this. Creative and fun.
- McFarland, USA (2015)
Costner’s magic made McFarland one of my favorites.
- The Water Diviner (2014)
Russell Crowe directs one of the best WWI films I’ve ever seen.
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
A heartwarming and heartbreaking story of teenagers dealing with some life-altering circumstances.
- Steve Jobs (2015)
Amazing acting and sharp-quick-paced dialogue. More people should have seen this but audiences have Steve Jobs fatigue.
- Phoenix (2014)
If you can get on board with the main conceit of this WWII thriller, the ending is a knockout.
- Z for Zachariah (2015)
Thoughtful performances, dramatic tension, and an interesting script make this little sci-fi film worth checking out.
- Before We Go (2015)
Chris Evans (ie: Captain America) directs this fun little romance that takes you on a journey you haven’t seen before.
- A Little Chaos (2014)
The late, great Alan Rickman directs this victorian romance that flew under too many people’s radars.
- The Salvation (2014)
A solid revenge western that you will enjoy.
- Slow West (2015)
The best opening scene in a western in years. Highly recommended.
- It Follows (2014)
A great concept that wasn’t quite taken as far as it could have been but was excellent nonetheless.
- Crimson Peak (2015)
This was sold as a horror film but its more of a gothic romance with horror elements. Regardless, I’m putting it here and really enjoyed this.
- The Final Girls (2015)
Not sure if I should put this in comedy or horror. It’s both. A great send-up to the slasher genre that shows it love as well.
- The Visit (2015)
M. Night Shyamalan’s best work in years. He’s having fun again and I was having fun right along with him.
Best Animated Films
- The Peanuts Movie (2015)
My favorite animated film this year. Absolutely nailed the feel of Peanuts.
- Inside Out (2015)
Enjoyed it, maybe not as much as others but still really solid. Loved Bing Bong.
- Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)
Ardman studios strikes again with a tremendous stop motion animated film.
- Ant-Man (2015)
I’ve got major superhero fatigue but this was my favorite superhero film in 2015 and also one of the best comedies.
- Turbo Kid (2015)
A nostalgic, hilarious throwback to the post apocalyptic films of the 1980’s.
- What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Laughed more during this than any other comedy this year. Highly recommended.
- Cop Car (2015)
Kevin Bacon is scary (in a gripping way) in this little thriller that was quite enjoyable.
- The Gift (2015)
Not sure if this should be categorized as horror or thriller. It’s not bloody and not supernatural so I’m putting it here. Really interesting.
- Everest (2015)
I’m putting this here because I was on the edge of my seat. I liked this a lot more than most of my friends. But I love this story and have read lots of books on it so it was right up my alley.
- No Escape (2015)
Much better than the critics said. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.
- Experimenter (2015)
Everyone should see this. Thought-provoking and makes you self-analyze more than any other film in 2015.
- Pawn Sacrifice (2014)
Tobey Maguire impresses in this unconventional biopic of chess champion Bobby Fisher.
- Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Really interesting and super entertaining story of NWA. Amazing performances make this worth checking out.
- Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014)
Sad, poignant, and enigmatic, the true story of a Japanese girl who tries to find the fictional lost money from the movie Fargo.