Here it is! The moment you all have been waiting for. My list of the best movies of 2015! Does anyone actually read these introductions or do they just go straight to the list? Well I’m gonna write this anyway. Putting this list together was really tough this year. For a while I thought I was going to have to cheat and just make a 20 or 15 movie list because I just couldn’t get it down to 10. There are that many films that I absolutely loved in 2015. In the end I compromised with myself and decided to have an enormous Honorable Mentions list (look for that below). I’m sure I’ll regret some of my choices (I did last year), but we have to make a decision. So here you go! The Daly Planet’s top 10 movies of 2015:
10. Spy – Read our review here!
I mentioned in my review how much better Spy was than the trailers made it out to be. When putting together this list, I got the opportunity to revisit the film and was surprised to find out it’s even better than I remembered. There are so many things to love about Spy, be it the meta commentary about our perception of Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne’s hilarious turn as a stuck up super villain Rayna Boyanov, or Jason Statham in the funniest comedic performance of his career. Spy is both McCarthy and director Paul Feig’s best work so far. I can’t wait to see them again in next year’s Ghostbusters. If you missed Spy for any reason I urge you to take some time out of the January doldrums to catch up on this great comedy. You won’t be disappointed.
It Follows – Read our review here!
I am always on the lookout for some high concept original horror movie. When these films are done well they’re often some of the best movies of the year. Last year’s The Babadook thrilled me with it’s powerful themes, cool storybook imagery, and genuine scares. This year, it was It Follows, a haunting tale about a creature slowly but inevitably coming to kill you. The movie’s themes: the inevitability of death and the powerful and sometimes permanent repercussions of sexual choices are cinematically executed in a near flawless way. Add to that the excellent camera work, which employs lots of wide open shots, showing us that even if we can see the thing that’s coming at us, we can’t do anything to stop it. It Follows also has a wonderful score, which echos the slasher films of the ‘80s while still managing to be unique. There are some problems with the rules of the universe (which Quentin Tarantino pointed out), but It Follows is still my favorite horror movie of the year.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a movie about 15 year old Minnie Goertz who begins a sexual affair with her mother’s 30 year old boyfriend. And while, yes, that’s a pretty disturbing premise and the boyfriend (played wonderfully by Alexander Skarsgard) is a real peice of shit, don’t let this turn you off from the film. Diary approaches the subject of a girl’s coming of age and sexual awakening with such frank openness and honesty that once it begins you can’t help but keep watching. The film, director Marielle Heller’s debut, is based off of an autobiographical novel by Phoebe Gloeckner and it uses the source material to intersplice beautiful graphic art into the frame at various points in the film. The real star of this movie, though, is it’s lead. Bel Powley plays 15 year old Minnie with an energetic ferociousness that you can’t take your eyes off. I can’t wait to see what this talented actress is going to do next. The Diary of a Teenage Girl was a pretty small release, so many of you might have missed it, but I urge you to check out when it hits home video on January 19th.
I just now realized that every single movie I’ve picked so far has a female lead. 2015 has been a year of incredible performances by some of the best talent the women of Hollywood have to offer. You can add Brie Larson to that list. Room, based on a novel of the same name, is a story about a woman (Larson) abducted by a man and tossed into a storage shed where she is kept for over seven years. She is repeatedly raped and eventually births a son (Jacob Tremblay), all while living inside this room. Larson is forced to find a way to take care of her boy, and help him understand the world in which the two of them live (the titular Room) while never giving up hope of escape. Room is heartbreaking, funny, and beautiful. Child actor Jacob Tremblay plays the young Jack with amazing skill for his age. Brie Larson, though, is absolutely astonishing. Larson showed off her acting chops in 2013’s Short Term 12, but in the two years since she has absolutely mastered her craft, playing the complicated and damaged ‘Ma’ with incredible deftness. In the role Larson has to flash between so many different emotions: a loving, protective mother, an angry, but calculating young woman, and a person dealing with the immensity of the trauma they’ve had to endure. A lesser performance would sink this movie, but Brie Larson pulls it off in spades. I really hope the Academy will honor her for her performance. In any case, you should make it a point to see Room as soon as you can.
I don’t really understand how Spotlight works as well as it does. It’s a movie about journalists doing journalism. A lot of the film is interviewing people, writing things down, sifting through records and talking on the phone. Not a lot of excitement here. But somehow, director Tom McCarthy makes all of this captivating. Maybe it’s the incredible ensemble cast led by Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton. Maybe it’s the sharp script, also by McCarthy. Nevertheless the film, based on a true story of the Catholic church’s knowledge and complicity in thousands of instances of sexual abuse by priests, is hauntingly effective. There has not been a movie depicting investigative reporting this good since 1976’s All The President’s Men, and there might not be again.
Inside Out – Read our review here!
We’ve talked a lot about Pixar here at The Daly Planet and that’s because when it comes to the craft of cinema and storytelling, they’re masters. Inside Out is Pixar’s masterpiece, the culmination of everything they’ve been doing since Toy Story. It is a movie that engages people on all levels, regardless of age. A complicated thematically resonant movie about growing up and the importance of sadness in that process. It’s a movie that will make you cry about a fake pink elephant and gasp in awe as brilliant animators bring to life abstract ideas about the brain, memories, and emotions in such clever ways. I’ve seen Inside Out twice more since my initial viewing and I keep finding new things to love about this movie.
The Hateful Eight – Read our review here!
When I first walked out of The Hateful Eight, it wouldn’t have made this list. A week later, I put it up at number eight. A week after that it had moved up to number four. One more week and The Hateful Eight might have ended up my favorite movie of the year, but I had to draw the line somewhere. The point is, this is a movie that grows on you the more you think about it. While not my favorite of his films, Quentin Tarantino has constructed something incredible here: a period piece that also serves to comment on the state of modern day America. It’s a brutal but entertaining movie, filled with Tarantino’s gift for dialogue and action and bolstered by some incredible performances. On top of that, with his 70mm road show, Tarantino has successfully recaptured a moviegoing experience that is all but extinct. I hope you got the opportunity to see the Road Show presentation of The Hateful Eight, but if not you should still take the time to see this great film by one of our best living directors.
Screenwriter Alex Garland made his directorial debut this year with the science fiction thriller Ex Machina and the results are incredible. I guess first time directors knocking it out of the park is another theme of this year. In the film, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is selected by his company to spend a week with reclusive CEO Nathan (Oscar Isaac). It turns out Nathan has constructed the world’s first artificial intelligence, a robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander), and wants Caleb to perform tests to determine if it is a real AI or not. Ex Machina is a beautiful and complicated movie that explores relationships and what it means to be human. It’s a psychological film that slowly but expertly unravels itself as you learn more and more. The picture challenges the viewers, using your preconceived notions against you to make you question which character you want to believe and which you should be supporting. This means it’s a movie that’s also especially fun to rewatch. Gleeson and Isaac are great and work well off of each other and got to hang out again in Star Wars. The real standout of the film is Ava. Playing a character that seems simultaneously human and machine, Vikander’s performance is subtle and unnerving.
Those of you that know me know how much I love Rocky. So when a sequel focusing on Apollo Creed’s son was announced, I was kind of reticent. There was no way they could make a new film that does the series justice but simultaneously paves its own path, right? Wrong. Ryan Coogler’s Creed is everything I wanted from it and more. It’s a movie that honors both Rocky Balboa and Adonis Creed equally. Michael B Jordan’s Donnie is powerful. Like Rocky, Adonis is trying to figure out what his legacy is. But while Rocky was trying to prove his life is worth something, Creed is trying to prove that he’s worth his father’s name. It’s a clever twist on the traditional underdog story. Sylvester Stallone proves that despite all the mindless action movies he’s been in recently, he can still bring a dramatic performance when needed. Rocky is old and alone, everyone he’s loved having left him years ago; his relationship with his son estranged. Creed enters the picture and gives Rocky a new family, and a new chance to prove he’s worth something. Sly’s performance is masterful and I see an Oscar in his future. Coogler directs the shit out of this movie, filming the boxing scenes with some of the most impressive camera work I’ve seen in a sports movie. The camera in the original Rocky hid mostly behind the ropes, afraid to get into the action. But here, the camera weaves in between the boxers, cutting from medium shots to close ups and back again. I’ve never been in a boxing match before, but I have to imagine this is just about as close to the real experience as it gets. Creed is a rousing picture and it ends on such a high note that you want to stand up and cheer. I love this movie so much.
Mad Max: Fury Road – Read our review here!
The nine films listed above are all great, pushing the art of cinema and storytelling forward in new and clever ways. I think every single one of you should give each of these films a shot. That being said, none of them compare to the pure filmmaking skill on display in Mad Max: Fury Road. George Miller’s return to his classic post-apocalyptic world is an incredible ride. It’s a film with a vicious pace, constantly moving from action set piece to set piece in Furiosa’s quest to escape the evil Immortan Joe. But it’s also a moment with some really great character beats. The interactions between Max, Furiosa, and warboy Nux shift and change as each character moves along their arc. Fury Road has some of the best action scenes ever put to film. MIller shows a brilliant level of control, knowing just how to shoot the action to ensure it looks messy and hectic, but is always clear to the viewer. Miller refused to overuse CGI and insisted that the film be shot on location in an actual desert and use real cars with real car crashes. It paid off. The movie has a dirty, visceral feel that could not have been copied on a set or in a computer. Mad Max: Fury Road is the example of everything in a film coming together in a perfect way. Story, acting, directing, cinematography, editing and score all collide in a beautiful cacophonous explosion of delight. Mad Max: Fury Road is not only the best movie of 2015, it is one of my favorite movies ever.
Honorable Mentions: Bridge of Spies, Carol, Chi-Raq, Crimson Peak, Sicario, Tangerine, The Big Short, The Duke of Burgundy, The Martian, What We Do In The Shadows
Well there you have it. I, of course, didn’t get to see every single movie this year, so it’s possible there’s a movie I would have included if I had seen it (Anomalisa comes to mind), but out of all the films I saw this year, these were my ten best. What do you think? What’s your favorite movie of 2015? What movie can you not believe I didn’t include? Let us know in the comments below! Tomorrow we put 2015 behind us talk about our ten most anticipated movies of 2016. It’s shaping up to be another great year for film!