Let’s face it, we’ve entered the January doldrums at the theater which gives us all time to catch up and remember some of our favorites from 2015. With the return of Star Wars, The Avengers, and the Jurassic Park franchise, you’d think the only things coming out were throwback flicks. Despite the fact that last year was undoubtably a nostalgia trip through Hollywood blockbuster history, we still scored a host of bonafide classics that will no doubt stick with us in the years to come.
Despite my most valiant efforts, I’m still left with a few blindspots including Carol, Room, Trainwreck, Tangerine, along with a few others. From one cinephile to another, this was a really great year to be a fan of all of the nerdtastic stuff Hollywood is finally cashing in on. The superhero bread and butter was still at the table, but we had heaping helpings of space adventures, spy thrillers, and psychological mind benders.
Without further ado, here’s my list of 10 of the best films from 2015.
Creed was one of the biggest surprise hits of the year thanks to Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler’s fresh take on Rocky. This film is beat for beat the same story as the 1976 classic, but features a new character whose struggles and dreams fall more in line of with millennial dreams of success. It’s not just an inspiring tale about one man’s journey to carve out his own destiny, but also serves as a passing of the torch from Sylvestor Stallone who turns in one of the finest performances of his career. It’d be a shame if I didn’t mention that this one of the finest examples of multi-culture diversity(featuring an African American lead) done right in Hollywood. It’s exceptional storytelling told through the lens of a boxer, and boy oh boy does this movie deliver on the punch outs.
9. Crimson Peak
Read my review at Renegade Cinema
Guillermo Del Toro is one of our fanboy favorites thanks to his undeniable energy and eye for detail he brings to all of his projects. Crimson Peak is his take on the Gothic genre which means this film isn’t going to be everyone’s cub of tea. If you’re a fan of Poe or Mary Shelly, this film is right up your alley as it fills a gaping hole Hollywoods genre catalog of late. Sure it’s fairly predictable, but what makes this special is its hyper visceral atmosphere and oppressive tone of decay and despair. If a strong direction wasn’t enough, Tom Hiddleston’s turn as the film’s illusive lean man is the pitch perfect casting. This film may not bring anything truly new to the gothic genre, but like Pacific Rim, this is a film for its fanbase. It’s just a real shame it didn’t take a the box office the same way it took the breath away from Loki fangirls everywhere.
8. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Kingsman: The Secret Service was another big surprise that arrived with some of the most electrifying, kinetic, and somewhat self-aware fun I had at the movies in 2015. Director Matthew Vaughn takes crosses the juvenile 60s atheistic he gave us with X-Men: First Class and crosses it with James Bond to deliver an entirely new brand of action spy drama. Colin Firth has always been a beloved actor, but I guarantee you’ve never seen him in anything like this. The action sequences are totally bonkers, the humor never misses a beat, and the illuminati conspiracy driving the main conflict is just relevant enough to leave you with some ideas to chew on. In a word, this is the definition of a perfect blockbuster.
7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been my most anticipated film of 2015 since it was announced three years ago and I can’t say the biggest hunk of junk in the galaxy let me down. The film gave us all of the feels that were missing from the prequels thanks to the return of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and everyone’s favorite wookie, Chewbacca. What keeps it from rising to the very best of 2015 is its undying homage to the original Star Wars. The plot structure is nearly identical and the biggest action set pieces felt very much akin to what we’d already seen in A New Hope. Seeing as the overwhelming number of fans were asking for for a familiar bit of comfort food, I can’t say the loyalty to the source is a crime. It just ends up feeling like a missed opportunity. The greatest moments of the film were those featuring Rey, Finn, and Kylo Renn which is something I hope we’ll get to see more of in the future. For now, Star Wars: The Force Awakens as an unforgettable movie going experience and a serviceable film.
6. Straight Outta Compton
Read my review at Renegade Cinema
Straight Outta Compton is one of the most exhilarating and relevant films that came straight outta nowhere at the tail end of last summer. The film recounts the formation, rise, fall, and impact of N.W.A. in spectacular fashion. Having never listened to the iconic group going into the film, I was blown away by the relevance of the cause that brought them together to rage against the machine with their creation of gangsta rap. These men weren’t good guys, but they had all been victims of racism in one way or another and weren’t going to go quietly about it. In a year where race and gun violence have been two of the biggest hot button topics in the public eye, this movie could not have found a better time to hit theaters. Its an angry film with a clear agenda, but that doesn’t mean its criticism of the police, gang violence, or the corruption of the music industry is any less critical. It’s not flawless and struggles to find a proper conclusion, but when it’s firing on all cylinders, its delivering one of the most memorable experiences of the year.
5. Ex Machina
Ex Machina is a low key sci-fi made in the same vein as The Twilight Zone which makes an instant stand out this year. Technology is evolving quicker than even the most savvy can keep up with and the results are almost unbelievable. Oscar Issac’s Nathan owns the world’s largest search engine(give you a hint, it’s not Ask Jeeves) and builds AI for fun. He’s got a god-complex the akin to Steve Jobs and clearly isn’t nearly as interested in using it for human rights. Outside of its key lead, the film is a rare atmospheric sci-fi that gets inside your head and leaves you wrestling with the binary we’ve drawn between man and machine. The film’s main character Caleb is tasked with conducting a turner test with the AI, Ava ,who Nathan has locked in his basement. In the same way Caleb is testing Ava, the film is conducting a test of own by challenging the audience understanding of the growing moral conundrum of defining life.
4. The Big Short
The Big Short came right at the end of the year and was so upsetting that I actually had to rewrite this entire list to see that it stayed in the conversation. As the American economy continues to push on with business as usual, this film is crucial to understanding exactly what happened in 2008 to cause the crash of the housing market. It’s got a wit an humor about it that makes it easily accessible and even fun to watch despite being about an issue that still hits way too close to home. The film takes extremely complex finance concepts and finds clever ways to communicate them to the audience through comedic vignettes. It’s not all fun and games thanks to a heartbreaking portrayal of homeowners who were clueless of the inevitable losses they were about to experience. The film brings a very sharp pair of teeth to the conversation by thrashing the banks and those on Wall Street who tried to cover up the fraudulent system to protect their own investments. The Big Short concludes on a note that should make us all look a little closer at the financial train that’s moving forward without any regard to what its doing to American Citizens.
3. Inside Out
Pixar hasn’t exactly been putting out classics like they used to, but Inside Out is an exciting return to form. Every movie on this list deserves to be called fantastic, but few of them deserve the compliment of genius. This film isn’t just a great story about one girl growing to understand her feelings, but also an exploration of the human mind unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. The film finds the most peculiar and relatable ways to relay concepts like long term memory, dreams, and bittersweet emotions. Everything about this film oozes creativity and originality on a level we haven’t seen from Pixar since Up and Wall-e. What’s most impressive and perhaps most important is this film’s creation of a new lexicon for parents to draw from when talking to their kids about their feelings. Emotions are tough stuff, even for adults which makes this film a real achievement in storytelling.
Spotlight is a story detailing how five journalists from The Boston Globe stumbled on one of the biggest coverups in twentieth and twenty-first century history. This is set in an era before internet click bait when the printing presses were still running hot from the daily news cycle. These journalists spent the better part of 2001 investigating the phenomenon of Catholic priests molesting children before eventually breaking the earth shattering story to the world in 2002. It may be a procedural film, but the story of these writers who waited to reveal this news until they had a full story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. While risking their reputations and going against the wishes of members of the team, Walter Robinson held the story until they could make a real world changing impact. This is a film about a form of truth seeking journalism that just doesn’t really exist anymore. This film serves as a crucial reminder that we need people who are willing to risk everything to expose the truth even when it’s not one people will want to hear.
1. Mad Mad: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road is a piece of brilliant demonstration of genre from a different era of filmmaking that could still only exist because of technology that exists today. It’s a visually stunning movie, but its most cutting edge feature is its emphasis on well rounded empowered women who shatter the bechdel test into a million little war boys. It mixes old school practical effects, a roaring score, and a subtle bit of visual storytelling that speaks volumes without having to say much of anything at all. The action is some of the riveting I’ve ever seen with each set piece more creative than the last. This is a perfect piece of science fiction that will be synonymous with 2015 in the same way 1977 was with Star Wars. Like the war boys riding to Valhalla, George Miller and Mad Max lived, they died, and after delivering this masterpiece, the will live again!
I’m sure there’s plenty to disagree with on this list which is why we’d love to hear what some of your top 10 movies of 2015 were? Was Star Wars high enough on the list? What about the Jurassic dino action? Let us know by sound off in the comments below.