Happy New Year, everyone! 2015 is about to draw to a close (or, depending on where you are, just has), which means that it’s once again time to take a look back at the year in film!
It was a pretty good year for movies, I’d say! Several of my most-anticipated films ended up being disappointments (Tomorrowland, what the hell?), but as is the case every year, there were plenty of movies that really spoke to me that were nowhere near my radar.
I’ve already broken down the various blockbusters and indie films into individual pieces for my Favorite Movie Moments of the Year, and now it’s time to take a look at the movies themselves. I wasn’t able to catch up on all the films I wanted to see (Sicario and Carol, I apologize), but there were 10 that I really really loved.
Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq is a movie I didn’t even know existed until a week ago, and is a late contender for my top ten. The bold, ambitious, heartbreaking, and often hilarious adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata (one of my all-time favorite plays) is an absolute must-see, especially if you’ve paid any attention to the news this year. It’s packed with powerful performances, is extremely well directed by Lee, and easily has the year’s best adapted screenplay. It’s a shame that it’s rated R, because I think it should be required viewing for schools and those in impoverished, violent neighborhoods.
9. THE LOBSTER
The Lobster is, undoubtedly, the weirdest film I saw this year, and one of the strangest I’ve seen in recent memory. Still, it’s a movie that truly stuck with me, and kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. The absurdist plot revolves around a near-future dystopian society where single people are checked into a hotel and required to find their perfect mate, or suffer the consequence of being turned into the animal of their choice. Yeah, I told you it was weird. Still, there’s something to be said about standing out from the crowd, which The Lobster definitely does. It’s as brilliant as it is bizarre, and is a movie I’ll be thinking about for a long time.
I’m a big sucker for boxing movies, but Creed, the Rocky sequel/spinoff, is another surprising entry in my yearly top ten list because I actually haven’t seen many of the Rocky movies (I know, I know…) Still, Creed won me over, thanks to some incredible direction from Ryan Coogler and powerful performances from both Michael B. Jordan (who I feel confidently can take the reigns of the franchise and have a great run of it) and Sylvester Stallone (who could have easily “phoned it in” but gave a career-best instead). 2015 was truly a great year for franchise restarts (more on that later), and Creed packed a powerful punch.
7. THE MAN FROM UNCLE
Who would have guessed that, in a year where I marathoned each Bond film in the lead-up to Spectre (which I really liked), that The Man from UNCLE would end up being my favorite spy film of 2015?
The Man from UNCLE was one of my most anticipated films of the year, and not only met, but managed to exceed my expectations. It didn’t get a lot of love from critics, which is a shame, because I think it’s one of the year’s gems. Guy Ritchie managed to make a sleek, fun, and hilariously entertaining movie that out-smarted the various other spy films this year. It’s already one of my most-watched films of 2015, and I know it’ll be a movie I return to again and again.
6. THE MARTIAN
The Martian was one of my most anticipated films of the year, and ended up being a very satisfying adaptation of the eponymous Andy Weir novel, which I read last year and absolutely loved. Ridley Scott has had a rocky career, but gets back on track with The Martian, delivering an inspiring, fun, and beautiful film that will undoubtedly rank high on my list of favorite astronaut movies.
5. EX MACHINA
Ex Machina is a bold, exhilarating, thrilling, and creepy science fiction film that was, for quite some time, my favorite movie of the year. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend going into it completely oblivious to the storyline and without seeing any footage, because its various twists, turns, and existential questions will really stick with you. It’s a small film, taking place in one compound and consisting of only three lead actors, but it’s chock full of big, exciting, and, at times, troubling ideas. Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson are oustanding, and Alicia Vikander is unbelievable as Ava, giving my favorite performance of the year.
4. THE END OF THE TOUR
The End of the Tour is a film that really snuck up on me. I was, admittedly, not very familiar with writer David Foster Wallace, so a biopic about him never really piqued my interest. I’m glad I caught the film before year’s end though, because it’s absolutely one of the year’s best and is a movie I truly, truly loved. Jason Segel gives the performance of his career as the influential and enigmatic Infinite Jest author, and though much of the film is simply he and Jesse Eisenberg talking, they do it so well and are talking about things so interesting that it kept me enthralled for the entirety of the runtime. This is one of the few films this year that I finished and wanted to immediately watch again.
3. INSIDE OUT
I can’t effectively put my love for Pixar’s Inside Out into words. It’s a masterpiece that stands out even when placed next to the animation studio’s slew of other masterpieces, and may just be their best movie to date. On paper, the movie shouldn’t work, but in the hands of writer/director Pete Doctor, it exceeds expectations, is wonderfully animated, and is full of innovative and expertly-crafted ideas. It’s also the most emotionally engaging film of the year, and had me in tears throughout. Hell, I’m tearing up just thinking about it. It’s perhaps the year’s “best” movie, even if it doesn’t quite take the top spot as my personal favorite.
2. MAD MAX FURY ROAD
Mad Max Fury Road was, for me, the most surprising film of the year. After years of delays and a slew of production problems, it’s honestly a miracle that it’s the masterpiece that it is. Not enough praise can be given to director George Miller, who not only successfully made a great sequel/reboot to a dormant property, but did so by breaking all of the rules of conventional, typical blockbuster filmmaking. The action (most of which was not created by CGI) is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is not only one of the greatest characters of the year, but of recent years. Riveting from start to finish and fun as hell, Mad Max Fury Road was my favorite film of the year until another little franchise reboot blasted its way into our galaxy…
1. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
This should come as a surprise to no one who knows me, but Star Wars: The Force Awakens is my favorite film of the year. It was easily my most anticipated film of 2015, and delivered absolutely everything I wanted in a Star Wars movie. JJ Abrams has done an incredible job at bringing the franchise back from the dead, and injecting new life into it while also paying tremendous respect to what came before. It’s filled with incredible, memorable new characters (Rey is simply the best, thanks in no small part to the incredible Daisy Ridley), and thrusts the franchise into exciting new territory. Star Wars is BACK, and I couldn’t be more excited about it!
What were your favorite films of 2015? For my full ranking of each film I saw this year, go here.