“It is what it is… It’s Promethean man.”
-Nathan (Ex Machina)
Last year was a quiet year that produced a lot of great small films. 2015 will go down as the year of the blockbuster. Hollywood studios led by Universal raked in the largest box office gross in the history of cinema! 2015 was filled with big name sequels, as well as big name directors. With all the aforementioned success, it’s surprising when I step back and look at my list this year, and it doesn’t look as different as I thought it would. Again, as I always like to reitterate, this is my list of favorites, NOT what I would necessarily consider the best. Here are a few films that just missed the cut: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Spy, While We’re Young, Krampus, Slow West, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
This is, I am sure, the most surprising film on my list. Will Smith and Margot Robbie share a palpable chemistry that makes Focus one of the most fun cinema experiences of the year. Focus feels like a throwback movie. I could have easily seen a movie similar to this starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. The twists and turns of the first half of the movie are admittedly better than the last half, but the writing, direction, and acting are some of the best you’ll see. Gerald McRaney puts in a superb performance as well.
Most franchises don’t improve over time, but the Mission Impossible franchise continues to get better and better. Simon Pegg and Tom Cruise prove to be the best unlikely pairing of the year, and the addition of Rebecca Ferguson is the icing of the cake. If Mad Max: Fury Road didn’t exist, this would be the action film everyone would be talking about in 2015, but as it stands, Rogue Nation is the best of the series.
Here’s where it gets incredibly interesting. Spotlight has been the favorite to win the Oscar for most of the year. With a cast that boasts some of the best actors working today and a director who has more talent in his pinky than the majority of Hollywood, it should have been no surprise how great this movie turned out. I loved Mark Ruffalo’s performance, but it’s hard to single out just one actor. The weight of the issues dealt with in Spotlight make the film hard to emotionally enjoy, but as a movie there wasn’t one crafted much better.
Like I said in my review of Dope, I felt like this film was made specially for me. Dope follows Malcolm, played by Shameik Moore, and his friends around Inglewood, California. Director Rick Famuyiwa has crafted a beautiful picture of what it’s like to be a misfit. Malcolm and his friends are beat up, chased, and manipulated by almost everyone in their path. The film is light and funny, but it also opens your mind to race and culture.
6. Inside Out
I am admittedly not a huge fan of animation. There are a few films that I have loved, and most have come from Pixar and have been directed by Pete Docter. Inside Out fits into that mold nicely. Pete Docter has a magical sense of childhood. Inside Out serves as a reminder to parents of how hard it can be to be a kid, and at the same time it is extremely entertaining. I would recommend every parent to show Inside Out to their children and use it as a tool to open a discussion about feelings and emotions.
5. It Follows
The horror genre has had a unique revival recently. Some of the newest releases have felt like homages to the great horror films of the ’70s and ’80s. It Follows falls directly into that category. David Robert Mitchell has the same sensibility of the great directors of horror and delivers a haunting, yet artful film. Maika Monroe double downed on her performance from last year’s The Guest and brought to life another terrific character. She has carved a niche as a modern day scream queen. It Follows is scary and fun with a touch of art.
4. The Hateful Eight
Samuel L. Jackson has given some very memorable performances, but I don’t think he has done a better job acting than he did as Major Marquis Warren. Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film is in my humble opinion his absolute best. The Hateful Eight has thick rich dialogue delivered by some of the best actors living today. Ennio Morricone’s score is far and away my favorite of the year and feels more like a horror score than a western. Walton Goggins almost steals this film, but in the end it’s Sam Jackson’s movie.
Not that the Academy Awards mean all that much, but not having Sicario acknowledged in any main category is ridiculous. Denis Villeneuve is rapidly becoming one of my favorite directors. He has a nuanced way of building tension. Sicario is thrilling, beautiful, and horrifying. Roger Deakin’s cinematography is always great, but Sicario is on par with some of his greatest work. Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro give two of the best performances of the year. The underlying themes of government corruption and the vicious nature of the war on drugs make Sicario not only relevant but also enlightening.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road wasn’t on my list of anticipated movies, and in fact, I kind of thought it was going to be silly. I have never been a fan of the Mad Max films, but Fury Road was one of the best experiences I have ever had in a theater. George Miller’s maniacal vision of the future is terrifyingly beautiful. His ability to blend CGI and practical effects boggles the mind, and the fact he pulled this off is incredible. Charlize Theron has not received enough love for her turn as Furiosa. She was absolutely captivating. It’s hard to find words that haven’t been said already about this film. If you love film and you haven’t seen Fury Road, you are making a mistake.
1. Ex Machina
This was an incredibly hard decision. For most of the year, I had Mad Max: Fury Road as my number one movie, but the more I thought about Ex Machina, the more it became clear to me that this was my favorite film of the year. The trio of Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, and Domhnall Gleeson have all had a magnificent year. In Ex Machina they all share top billing in my opinion, and they all shine equally. Alex Garland has written the year’s best script, and he did a very good job directing it too. The thought provoking look at gender as well as the way society dictates worth make for impactful viewing. Ex Machina is absolutely brilliant!
A few disappointments this year were Kingsman: The Secret Service and Spectre. My biggest surprise was Spy. The worst movie of the year goes to Terminator Genisys. What were some of your favorites? Thanks for another great year!