Well, here we are again, another great year for film, and another top 10 list. If you saw my recent post, What If My Twitter Feed Voted In The Oscars, there is one thing you could’ve taken away from it. Besides the fact that I’m a huge nerd, you would take away the fact that everyone and their mother has a top 10 list at the end of each year. I’m not sure who the first critic was who ranked their favorite movies. Maybe it was the Oscars picking five movies each year. Whatever the case, this is a great tradition for film fans every year.
This past year was insane, both in film and in my life. I thought that last year was a particularly emotional one, but now I’m coming to realize that what I consider an emotional year is really just adult life. Whatever the case may be, 2015 was a great year to be a lover of movies.
Not only did I start working a better job (which means more movies, shout out to Movie Pass), but I was able to take the next step in my writing career. If you don’t already know, I started writing for Word of the Nerd over the summer, and I couldn’t be happier with the experience. As you can see from my author page, I pretty much split my time writing about Marvel/Star Wars news and reviewing Oscar movies, it is a pretty good gig. Big thank you to Bryan Brown and everyone over at Word of the Nerd, you have all been a great team and I couldn’t be happier writing for the site.
Ok, enough sappy stuff, let’s get back to talking about movies. As every Top 10 list ever made has said, “(insert year here) was a great year for film.” I know it’s cliched, but it is so true, especially of 2015. Whether it be the blockbusters or the smaller dramas or the exceptional animated movies, 2015 was amazing. It is a great time to be someone who loves cinema, we really don’t know how good we have it.
2015’s Marvel Cinematic Universe Films
Two films that I enjoyed immensely, but didn’t quite make the final 10, were Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. Upon release, there was a lot of good vibes towards Age of Ultron, everyone was into it, we had another great Avengers movie on our hands! Then over the summer a slight backlash against the movie formed, and I just don’t agree with overall consensus online nowadays. The general complaint was that it was “too stuffed,” that there were too many characters and subplots for its own good, that this was the film where Marvel went too far in setting up future movies at the expense of the film at hand. While I can definitely understand this criticisms, I still think Age of Ultron works and is another worthy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I definitely get why some people disliked the movie for being too busy. I liked all the different moving pieces, I would see the film as dense rather than seeing it as busy. I loved all the character work in Age of Ultron. Is the character development as deep and expansive as a Coen Brothers’ movie? Of course not. But Avengers: Age of Ultron did a great job giving fans the action and fun they want out of these movies, while also still featuring smart writing and some great character moments.
Almost on the opposite side of the Marvel Universe, Ant-Man brought us another wonderful film from the unstoppable studio. So many things work in this film. Whether it be Paul Rudd just Paul Rudd-ing it up, or various Marvel stuff getting shoutouts/making cameos, or just being a superhero movie with a heart, I loved Ant-Man. I have both of these films on Blu Ray, and maybe before Avengers: Infinity War I will lock myself away to do a 30 hour movie marathon that consists only of Marvel movies. By the way, as mentioned earlier, I almost write exclusively about Marvel at Word of the Nerd, so go check it out!
Ok, let’s jump into it, here are my ten favorite films of 2015:
OFFICIAL TOP 10 OF 2015
#10. The Visit (M. Night Shymalan)
I know what you’re thinking, “What? The found footage movie from Shymalan?” I know, I know, I thought the days of Shymalan making Top 10 lists were behind, but he delivered a great film with The Visit and it has grown on me ever since I saw it. With a cast mainly consisting of just four people and a straightforward premise (kids go see their grandparents…and the girl is making a documentary because found footage is cool), The Visit totally blew me away with just how fun and unnerving it is. Sometimes in a horror movie, some comedy goes along way to help us relate to characters. Without that connection to the characters, the scares don’t work, and The Visit does a great job blending good characters with everyone’s ultimate fear: old people.
#9. The Peanuts Movie (Steve Martino)
The moment I started typing “the,” a huge smile came across my face as I started thinking about The Peanuts Movie. This film is so happy, so innocent, so inspiring in its optimism that you just seem to forget about all the world’s problems and just remember the joy of a simple Saturday morning cartoon. The story is simple enough, but it works because we get to follow Charlie Brown and company as they overcome all the cynicism of the world, and demonstrate how to be decent human beings. I love snark when it comes to movies, just look at the rest of this list, but sometimes you just need an innocent movie like The Peanuts Movie to cleanse your palate from all the negativity we normally interact with.
P.S. I’m sure this has nothing to do with it, but our family grew this year and my son has a lot in common with Snoopy.
#8. The Big Short (Adam McKay)
Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys) totally proves that he is not a one-trick pony with The Big Short. This is a film that is equal parts entertaining and educational. The idea of a movie being educational yet also being outrageously paced and funny seems like it wouldn’t work, but it totally does. I can’t understate this enough, this movie is hard to follow. There are huge sections of it where characters stand around a room and (accurately) explain how subprime mortgages and credit default swaps. Do you know what those are? Neither did I! Honestly, I still don’t really know what they are, and I watched a whole movie about them. McKay utilizes his great cast (Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Christian Bale) to communicate the bank-speak by giving us a movie about people who just care about the country.
The movie is funny, it is smart, it is insanely paced and edited, and while it is about the demise of the American economy, it keeps the message focused on how we the people deserve better, not just a message of “look how terrible this is.” If this movie was made in 2007, we would call McKay a conspiracy theorist, but it’s not 2007, its 2016. The crisis of 2008 really did happen, we are living in the repercussions of what happened, and McKay has created a great film that both comments on the events of history while also telling an emotional story.
Quick side-note: this year, different than years in the past, proved to be extremely difficult when it came to ranking the top films. The top seven movies are all insanely good movies, and it seems like an insult to have some of them so low. I would have no problem calling any of the following movies the best movie of 2015, it just so happens that they were released in the same year and had to be ranked against each other. I agonized over these rankings, maybe it would have just been better to say these seven movies are all tied for number one.
#7. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
Here it is, the triumphant return of the great Max Rockatansky after 30 years. Not only is Max back, but George Miller is done directing talking pigs and penguins and he has returned to give one of the best blockbusters of all time. Though in his 70’s, Miller directs like a young film student who has just been given their first chance at a blockbuster.
The film perfectly walks the line between thoughtful commentary on the world and perfectly executed action movie. Before praising its themes, we just need to geek out at how fun and how visceral this film is. Relying heavily on practical effects and crazy production design, Fury Road is a religious experience for people who love action movies. This world is extremely weird, and Miller takes the audience along for one of the craziest rides of the year.
In a film called Mad Max, it came as a surprise to many that Max was not the main character of his own film, and this is where the film goes from fun action movie to a beautiful piece of cinematic art. The movie is a feminist manifesto, and that isn’t an insult. There are three generations of women represented in Fury Road and they all represent how it’s possible to have a great movie and not have the fun limited to the men. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is one of the best heroines of our day, she is the main character of the film, and it is her emotional journey that cements Fury Road as one of the best. This is a film that features insanely choreographed action, gives sharp commentary on the state of our world, passes the bechdel test, and is the only movie that has a flamethrower-guitar wielding character. An absolute achievement.
#6. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)
Other films might be more “cinematic” with sweeping camera movements and kinetic editing. Other films may be more “dramatic” with more people yelling and transforming themselves for their roles. Other films may be more “preachy,” trying to persuade the audience about a particular viewpoint. Others may live in the bombastic, but Spotlight succeeds by keeping it simple, having a laser-sharp focus, and using straightforward filmmaking to tell a very powerful story.
Telling the story of the Boston Globe reporters who broke the story surrounding the molestation controversy within the Catholic Church, Spotlight is not for the faint of heart. The movie is not trying to convince the audience of anything, the events of the movie already happened. Spotlight, like the characters in the film, works as a strong piece of journalism in it of itself.
The film is not about taking down the Catholic Church, it is about the people in the community who were affected by the scandal, and the journalists who uncover it. Tom McCarthy’s direction is very subtle, that is not to say it is bad direction. His work behind the camera is to make sure the story written in his screenplay is communicated clearly. With journalism movies, it is very easy for the audience to get lost, and that is not the case with Spotlight. McCarthy is able to bring the audience along for this investigation, and it is very cinematic watching these people work. It’s strange, you don’t want to throw out huge praise for this movie because the subject matter is so harsh to deal with. But difficult topic or not, Spotlight keeps the focused on the individuals dealing with the story, and it is one of the best films of the year.
#5. The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino)
Seeing The Hateful Eight in the 70mm Roadshow Presentation was one of the best theatrical experiences I’ve ever had. While the little booklet they handed out and the “we should drive to see this” type of mindset definitely elevate the film above its competitors, that is not to say that The Hateful Eight doesn’t work just simply as a movie. Seeing the film a second time cemented my love for the film, it might just be my favorite Tarantino movie.
While I do believe the Overture and Intermission actually serve Tarantino’s storytelling goals, the film works even without them. Whether it be the amazing performances from everyone involved (Walton Goggins is not getting enough love in my opinion) or the gorgeous cinematography, The Hateful Eight totally immersed me for its long runtime.
This is the power of cinema. The Hateful Eight is 90% just people standing/sitting in a room and talking, and this movie was extremely immersive. In similar fashion to action movies where you wonder if the hero will save the day with seconds remaining on the bomb-clock, I was on the edge of my seat watching Samuel L. Jackson give a threatening speech. The screenplay does wonders, and it is brought to life by Ennio Morricone’s score.
Tarantino has never had an original score in his movies before, he said he didn’t like that another artist could take over his movie like that (which is true, composers impact audiences as much as the direction does). But with The Hateful Eight, Tarantino brought one of the best Western composers of all time out of retirement, and it paid off. Tarantino’s dialogue has always been electric, but combined with this score and it is truly masterful.
#4. Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle)
Aaron Sorkin was made to write this movie. I know, he’s a great writer, he is “made” to write any movie he sees fit. But in the subject matter itself, a troubled genius who uses technology to take over the world and intimidate his peers, the story of Steve Jobs is perfectly suited to Sorkin’s style of writing. Perfectly balancing technological jargon with family drama and intense arguments, the screenplay for Steve Jobs is straight up amazing, and we are lucky to be living in a world where Aaron Sorkin is writing films.
But a good screenplay can still be made into a lesser film if not handled correctly. Luckily for us, Danny Boyle, Michael Fassbender, and Kate Winslet were up to the task of doing the screenplay justice. Whether it be 127 Hours or Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle brings a sense of warmth and optimism to whatever he directs, and that is very welcome here. The film could have been directed to a point where we hate Jobs, rolling our eyes everytime he talks. Under Boyle’s direction, the film feels just as kinetic as the conversations the characters have are.
While the cast all around is great, Fassbender and Winslet are the focal point, and their performances are so great to watch. Actors love to read Sorkin dialogue, and audiences love to watch quality actors display their skills with this material. Though the arguments are intense and the energy is fun, there is a real heart at the center of Steve Jobs. We don’t hit the bullet points of Jobs’ life; instead, we learn about this man in his element, in the midst of launching a new product and dealing with relationships. It’s simply amazing.
#3. Creed (Ryan Coogler)
Easily the biggest surprise of the year. After six other Rocky movies, many of which dragged the Oscar-nominated franchise past the point of redemption. 2006’s Rocky Balboa serves as a bow on the entire franchise, what possible reason could there be to make another sequel to a wrapped up franchise? Well, writer/director Ryan Coogler proved that we needed a continuation of the Rocky franchise by creating one of the most triumphant movies of the year.
While other films immediately bring a smile to my face, thinking about Creed almost guarantees that I’m about to well up with tears. The film is pulsating with emotion in every scene. The boxing in these movies has always been metaphorical nature. Yes, our hero is punching someone and that is always fun in a movie. But when our hero is trying to overcome a major obstacle in life (finding purpose in the world, having a meaningful relationship in life) and THEN punches the guy in the ring, that is where a film like this creates an emotional triumph.
Ryan Coogler effectively slows the movie down, giving it dramatic heft when it needs some. That’s not to say the movie is all relationship drama, this is a Rocky movie, and the boxing is phenomenal. The big fight in the middle of the film is played out in one long take (yes, it really was one long take), and the rigor Michael B. Jordan goes through makes for some very visceral fights.
While Coogler and Jordan are definitely telling the story of the new kid on the block, you can’t have a Rocky franchise movie without the man himself. There is a reason Sylvester Stallone is getting so much awards attention this year, his performance in Creed is powerful and absolutely destroyed me. Not to get into any spoilers, but we are dealing with a character on the downhill of life, contemplating life choices and trying to survive. Rocky’s emotional arc in the film, combined with Creed’s triumphant hero’s journey, make Creed THE movie in which you have to hide your tears from your fellow moviegoers.
#2. Inside Out (Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen)
Pixar is back and I’ve never been happier to see a return to form. With Inside Out, Pixar lives up to their reputation of making emotional animated movies by making an animated movie that is literally about emotions. Inside Out is the type of film I would have no problem having on in the background every day of the week. There are moments of true happiness, some very funny scenes, moments when you are reminded of your own emotional journey when you grew up, and (of course) there is a powerful message that has stuck with me ever since I saw the film in June.
Directors Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen, along with the immensely talented team at Pixar, have created a very creative world, showing us what the inner workings of everyone’s brain looks like. This concept works in two ways to make Inside Out a total win. First, it’s extremely fun. It is great seeing how Anger (brilliantly voiced by Lewis Black) leads the group when broccoli pizza is introduced, or how Fear (Bill Hader) considers a meteor crashing into earth is a possible scenario on the first day of school.
Just as it is fun, this concept lends itself to a very powerful film. Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness’ (Phyllis Smith) adventure works so well as it explores the brain of a young girl growing up. Yes, it is fun watching Joy try to lead the group by corralling Sadness off to the side, it is so true, we all try to do this with our “negative” feelings. We are going along with the ride, nodding along in agreement as we recognize how Pixar is explaining the experience of growing up. Then right as the film hits the third act, we all realize something, you can’t just ignore your sadness. To be a full person means to be someone who experiences various emotional states. Right as we make this realization Inside Out brings it home with one of the most emotionally satisfying endings in recent memory.
#1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams)
I tried guys, I really did. I tried not to be THAT guy. You know, the guy who has been hyping up the new Star Wars since the cast was announced, the guy who snuck headphones into work so he could watch the first teaser on the clock, the guy who was swept up in The Force Awakens that he names it his #1 film of the year. Well, I tried, but I became that guy.
Here we are, almost a month after its release, and I can confidently say that I love just about everything Star Wars: The Force Awakens has to offer. I love that the film perfectly blends practical sets with digital effects. I love how BB-8 is a combination of your best friend and your favorite pet. I love how Abrams brings a real sense of weight to these fantastical action scenes. I love the character work seen in Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren. I love that Han and Chewie return to pass the torch to the next generation. I love that this feels like Star Wars. And with Star Wars, the feeling it evokes have usually been more important than the story it tells.
Does the film have problems? Yes, definitely, and I don’t want to just ignore them. But there is something about The Force Awakens that works so well that some of the problems with the film fade off into the distance. Just as one example, let’s look at the ending battle. Is the Starkiller Base/X-Wing challenge almost a beat for beat remake of the Death Star in A New Hope? Yes. Why then, can I ignore that (lazy?) creative decision? Because I the Starkiller fight is the backdrop to where the story is really moving: the battle between Kylo Ren, Finn, and Rey.
While the Starkiller fight is fun and bombastic, it is down on the ground that The Force Awakens cemented itself as one of my favorite movies of all time. After such an emotional blow is dealt to our characters, Rey and Finn have to face Kylo Ren. We are still reeling from what has happened earlier (keeping it vague here on purpose), and yet they now have to fight a formidable foe. It is here, when Rey is established as this trilogy’s hero, that I knew I was watching something special. Yes, there is the subtextual satisfaction of seeing Star Wars empower their first woman with a lightsaber (none of those side Jedi in Attack of the Clones count!), but Rey and Kylo Ren are finishing their character arcs through this lightsaber fight.
This movie is fun. This movie has great effects. This movie works in that realm of “blockbuster emotion.” This movie has some great action. This movie satisfies the fans of old. This movie inspires a whole new generation of fans. Most of all, and why I think I am connecting with this movie so much, Star Wars: The Force Awakens feels like Star Wars, and that just might be the best compliment I can ever give a film.