2015 certainly wasn’t the best year for cinema, but it did offer a respectable amount of wheat among its endless supply of chaff. So here it is, my top ten movies of the year.
10. Furious 7
Admittedly, I may be a bit biased here. But Furious 7 delivered big-budget thrills in a way that put its blockbuster peers to shame. It’s straightforward, unapologetic entertainment, and sometimes that’s just what we need. See my guide for more.
9. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Given the other movies on my list, this might seem like an odd choice. But the truth is that Kingsman was some of the most fun I’ve had in the theater in a long time. Matthew Vaughn (of Kickass fame) directs this semi-spoof of spy movies, and brings action, humor, and a completely game cast to the table. The movie never takes itself seriously and is all the better for it. If you’re beginning to grow tired of today’s increasingly dreary Bond films, Kingsman is the perfectly over-the-top antidote.
This documentary chronicles the life of Amy Winehouse, from her humble beginnings to her tragic and untimely death. Putting truth first and narrative second, Amy remains admirably neutral throughout, allowing viewers to make their own judgments. Through interviews with family and friends, as well as intimate home videos, we witness Winehouse’s often-tumultuous relationships with the media, the public, and those closest to her. Amy doesn’t always make for easy viewing, but it’s a compelling and worthwhile meditation on the consequences of fame and fortune.
7. What We Do in the Shadows
2015 was a pretty dismal year for comedy, despite the critical gushing over mediocre fare like Spy and Trainwreck. But there was one bright spot among this graveyard of laughter, and that was What We Do in the Shadows, a mostly-unheralded New Zealand mockumentary about a group of modern-day vampires. Packed with hilarious sight gags and clever references to other vampire movies, What We Do in the Shadows makes the most of its funny premise. The laughs come hard and fast, and at 90 minutes long there’s not an ounce of fat on it. Hollywood comedies could learn a thing or two from this one.
Despite its Oscar Bait-y premise, Spotlight manages to address a serious subject without ever veering into maudlin territory. Instead, it treats the real-life horrors of sexual abuse at the hands of priests with the same impartial honesty as the reporters it follows. The Boston Globe protagonists are heroic without being flawless, and the Catholic Church villains are evil but disturbingly human.
5. The Gift
The Gift is a dark, creepy, and above all original thriller that isn’t content with going through the genre’s motions. See my review for more.
4. It Follows
It didn’t quite live up to its insane amount of hype, but It Follows is one of the few horror films in recent years that’s actually, well, scary. Its original premise and 80s-throwback vibe blend together perfectly, creating an end product that’s familiar yet unique. The cast is excellent as well, and their fully-drawn characters make the titular monster feel all too real.
This is something of a late addition to my list, considering that I saw it just two days ago. Room came highly recommended to me, and it didn’t disappoint. Its story of a kidnapped and imprisoned mother and her child is disturbing and uplifting in equal measure. Anchored by a knockout performance by Brie Larson (who easily deserves Best Actress this year), Room earns every emotion it evokes.
2. Ex Machina
The small-scale Ex Machina proves that you don’t need a big budget and flashy effects to make compelling science fiction. Essentially taking place in one location, with a primary cast of only three people, Ex Machina is minimalistic to its core, and all the better for it. It tells the story of a sentient A.I. through smart dialogue and unsettling images, with excellent performances all around. Ex Machina is creepy, thought-provoking, and darkly humorous, with enough depth to warrant multiple repeat viewings.
Denis Villeneuve’s thriller takes the audience on a harrowing journey into the untamed land along the U.S.-Mexico border. We follow Kate Macer, a skilled but naïve FBI agent, as she ventures into the quagmire that is the cartel wars. Soon she finds that nothing is what it seems, and that the line between good and evil isn’t as clear as she once thought. Boasting excellent performances, thoughtful writing, and heart-stopping direction, Sicario delivers on all fronts. The fact that it was largely snubbed for the upcoming Oscars reflects just how seriously one should take them.
These movies weren’t quite good enough to break into the top ten, but they’re still worth a look:
The Big Short – This slick Wall Street dramady, detailing the 2008 housing bubble collapse, is as funny as it is infuriating.
Bone Tomahawk – This western/horror hybrid came in under the radar on iTunes and other digital services. It’s definitely not for everybody, but those who can stomach it will find it exhilarating and surprisingly intelligent.
The Visit – It may not be M. Night Shyamalan’s best, but there’s real fun to be had with this creepy and wickedly playful thriller.
Creed – It doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but Creed is the rare sports movie that’s genuinely inspirational. Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone deliver dynamite performances.
Predestination – This low-key time travel movie has mindfucks galore, along with strong performances from Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook.
The Hateful Eight – Tarantino’s latest may be a bit overblown, but it’s hard to resist his signature blend of extreme violence and riveting dialogue.
The End of the Tour – This account of David Lipsky’s 1996 interview with David Foster Wallace is interesting and well-acted (especially by Jason Segel), but a little too bare-bones for my taste.
Mad Max: Fury Road – Ultimately, I liked the idea of this movie more than the execution. The fact that we got an R-rated, big budget Mad Max in this day and age is a gift horse that we probably shouldn’t look in the mouth. But for all its virtues, I found Fury Road somewhat hollow at its core, and for that reason it didn’t make the cut.
Hope you enjoyed my rankings, and even if you disagreed with them, I’d love to hear your opinions. Stay tuned for my Worst of 2015, coming soon.