Ex Machina (Alex Garland)
Maggie (Henry Hobson)
Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs)
Sicario (Denis Villeneuve)
And even that was hard to narrow down, but those four stood out above and beyond all the rest as especially noteworthy films. But now, moving onto the main list, let's start off strong with...
(Alejandro G. Iñárritu)
Iñárritu's follow up to last year's Birdman definitely lives up to expectations. This was a technical marvel of a film. The way this movie is shot with longer takes and visceral movement is just a spectacle on film, and makes you feel like you're right there in the thick of things with our characters. And the performances are great across the board, and wraps up yet another standout year for Tom Hardy, who continues to prove himself to be one of the most versatile actors out there, but also Domhnall Gleeson, who I'm glad to see breaking out into his own variety of bigger and better roles. But really, let's just talk a minute about the star of the show here.
That bear was fantastic! I mean, did you see that thing? I swear, this movie should win the award for best visual effects for that bear alone. What a fucking beast!
Oh, yeah, and Leonardo DiCaprio was good, too. Heh, but all kidding aside, seriously, just give this guy his damn Oscar already. The things they put him through in this movie, every growling, guttural crawl is just begging for Oscar gold. When he grabs a fish out of water and eats it alive in his bare hands, you just know that he's thinking "this tastes like Oscar!" He barely speaks throughout the movie, and yet says so much through his facial expressions and physical acting alone. It's time, guys. It's time to include poor Leo in the ranks of Academy Award winning actors.
The Revenant was a great revenge flick that took us through the harshness of the wilderness and man, with stunning cinematography and outstanding performances that'll make your own blood boil. The only thing that could've made this thing even better is if they had somehow gotten this movie a Thanksgiving Day release. Come on! How perfect would that have been?!
Clouds of Sils Maria
If The Revenant was a great "director's film", then Clouds of Sils Maria was a great "writer's movie". This wasn't a perfect movie all around, but when it's good, it's damn good, and that's typically when one of two things are at play here: 1. The lovely writing is taking center stage, and 2. Kristen Stewart is on screen.
Now that we're in the thick of awards season, honestly the person I'm rooting for hardest is Kristen Stewart. She gives quite possibly my favorite performance of the whole year here, and when the Golden Globe nominations were announced, I commented how the only snub that really bothered me was hers. Hopefully the Academy Awards will correct this horrible oversight, because god damn does she deserve it. She's one of the most unfairly hated on actors working today, so to see her actually get recognized for her phenomenal talents and put her haters in their place would be the ultimate recompense.
But even beyond her, I loved the writing in this thing, and feel it's a fascinating film with its parallels and character interactions throughout. Pulled together with great performances and some gorgeous scenery shots in tow, Clouds of Sils Maria is one that actors and writers alike should be able to particularly appreciate and take away from.
Now this may seem like a silly choice to include here. But of all the big dumb stupid blockbusters released this year, this one stood out as being the especially fun one of the bunch. Now, I'll admit that I didn't go in with the highest of expectations, thinking the trailers looked pretty ridiculous, even for my tastes. But I was actually quite surprised by what we got here, and found the movie to be more than just dumb action spectacle on screen, thanks to some, again, surprisingly good performances throughout.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has proven himself time and time again to be an incredible actor, and has only continued to improve over the years. In fact, I'd say that it's only a matter of time now before people start to take him seriously for awards recognition. And he didn't disappoint here, giving yet another noteworthy performance, and bringing in a, again, surprisingly deep level of emotion with his delivery. I know I keep using the word "surprising" to describe this film, but I suppose I just can't emphasize enough how true that is.
This movie also acted as my introduction to the drop dead beautiful Alexandra Daddario, who brought with her an absolutely commanding presence.
Sure, anytime she stepped foot on screen I may have been melting in my seat (honestly the first time an actor's mere presence has had this effect on me since Loki in The Avengers), and I even at one time started writing an overly long and embarrassing post that was going to go far too much into detail on this subject alone, before ultimately deciding against it. But there was just something about her presence here that just elevated the movie. And I've seen a lot of beautiful women on film, so it wasn't just her looks, but something about her personality, the way she moved, the way she carried herself, the look in her eyes, something that just captivates one's attention. And that something made all of the chaos erupting around her feel all the more real, the stakes all the more dire.
So yeah, San Andreas surprised me, in more ways than one. This movie knew that it took more than just exciting visuals to make the spectacle of a disaster film truly work, and so injected it with a good ol' dose of emotion, with more than capable actors up to the task of making you take this otherwise relatively silly movie a lot more seriously than you normally would.
My boy Fassbender killed it again. As did the whole cast, including Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, and Seth Rogen. As did director Danny Boyle with his kinetic style, and as did screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and his trademark fast-paced dialogue. Everything just came together so magically to create a fittingly frenetic work of art built upon a foundation of love.
The structure of this movie was brilliant, broken up into three scenes played out in real time leading up to various pivotal moments in Steve Jobs' career, and the editing and orchestral music made for some of the most powerful moments of the year on film. There's an argument about halfway into the film between Fassbender's and Daniels' characters, which intercuts with another argument the two were having in the past, and is gradually built up through its lighting, through the music, and through their performances, and creates one of the most pulse-poundingly intense scenes of the whole year.
This movie is just filled with so much energy. And it all comes through so passionately. So much so that, despite the fact that this is now only one of many movies on the life of Steve Jobs, this one stands out all the same and somehow manages to feel fresh. When the only flaw you can think of for a movie is that the title is a bit underwhelming, I think we're onto something good there.
A while back, I highly recommended this movie to a filmmaker friend of mine, describing the movie to her in detail, discussing the great performances here, with Michael B. Jordan impressing yet again, and Sylvester Stallone giving us quite possibly the most genuinely incredible performance of his career, so much so that I'll be rooting for him to take home the Oscar for this one (but seriously, who would have ever that that, between Maggie and Creed, we'd be getting legitimately great acting performances from both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in 2015?).
I mentioned how its blend of new and iconic musical cues will send chills through your body. And I also mentioned that the cinematography was simply outstanding, and how the boxing scenes here are quite possibly the best shot boxing scenes in any movie to date, finding new ways to reinvent the wheel, even after we thought we've seen everything the genre has to offer. So, all in all, what it boiled down to was, as I recommended this movie to my filmmaking collaborator, what I was describing to her that truly left an impression with me was that this was a real "filmmaker's film".
By incorporating a fresh take to a franchise that, even beyond the Rocky movies themselves, we're all too familiar with by now (hell, the original Rocky invented all the cliches that an entire genre has been utilizing ever since), Creed manages to stand out among the pack as a brand new instant classic in its own right. You'll feel the raw emotion, you'll experience chills, and you'll maybe even tear up a bit by this all around impressive modern spin on an old classic.
Boruto: Naruto the Movie
Yeah, it's possible that this is my most biased inclusion on this list, but I was damn impressed by this particular Naruto outing. I've covered all of the Naruto movies to date now, and while most of them are essentially just a crappy, extended version of a typical filler episode, this is the first one that actually feels like a true legitimate movie, and one that just happened to be about Naruto. And I loved that about it.
I have mentioned to some friends how I one day would love to direct a live action Naruto movie. But, being such a wide and expansive series with so much to cover, the issue would always be what would you choose to include, what would you cut, and how would you cut it down. This movie, just in its structure alone, shows itself to be essentially the perfect blueprint on just precisely how one would make such an adaptation work in the most effective manner. And I loved that about it.
Brimming with gorgeous, flowing animation and the classic emotional beats that the best moments of the series are known for, this is a movie that truly captures the heart and soul of the main series, and was an absolute delight to see play out on the big screen. In fact, I was actually a little disappointed that this was only a limited Fathom Event release, because if this had received a more traditional theater run, I most certainly would have gone out to see it again. And maybe I'm saying that just because that's just how big a fan I am of this series. But truly, even beyond my love of the series, Boruto: Naruto the Movie was a fantastic feature film.
(Guillermo del Toro)
This movie was just so gorgeous and rich, drenched in style and character. Definitely more of a gothic romance than the horror movie it was mismarketed as, I thought this was just a lovely movie through and through, and you can definitely tell that this is a Guillermo del Toro film.
However, one common complaint that I continued to hear about this movie was that it was all style but no substance, that the plot was somehow underwritten, the characters underdeveloped. And I have to say, having seen it twice now and paying particular attention with this complaint in mind the second time around, that is just not the case here at all. The movie's style and its writing go hand in hand and truly compliment one another throughout, and quite frankly, the writing in this thing is just as deep, brilliant, gorgeous, and colorful as any of the production design.
I have no idea where that complaint originated, but it honestly feels like the kind that one critic expressed, and everybody just latched on to without giving it any further thought of their own. That, or the only other conclusion I can come up with is that somehow seemingly everybody who saw this thing was so swept up by the visuals that the plot and character development equally swept over their heads. But I'll say this, the second time I saw this, I watched it with a friend who had also had these complaints brought to her attention, and halfway through the movie she turned to me with a bewildered look and asked "what the fuck are people talking about underwritten?" This, mind you, after a scene that was gushing with character development. The same character development that many would lead you to believe doesn't exist in this film.
But I digress, and whether or not you see the clever writing on hand for the brilliance that it is, one thing that's for certain either way is that this movie is simply magnificent. Beautiful to watch, and a perfect example of a movie where every single frame is, indeed, a painting all its own, and brought to life by some chilling performances from the likes of Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston, and especially Jessica Chastain, who gives one of the most maniacal performances of the year. Crimson Peak is not only one to watch, but one to really pay attention to.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Holy shit what a movie. So much of what I've already said about all the other movies leading up to this pick feels like you can roll it all up into one, and you'd get this masterful beast of a film. And really, what can I even say about this movie that isn't just repeating what everyone else has already said ad infinitum by now? This movie is like nothing else out there, and is just brimming with brilliant decisions throughout.
I will say this about it, though, while it may not be at the top of my list, it is the one single release this year that I guarantee you, years and years from now, will continue to be looked back upon, studied and dissected in film courses and the like. Just the making of this movie alone is almost even more fascinating than the movie itself, and it's a damn fascinating movie.
I'm so loving that this is actually being taken seriously now that we're in the thick of awards seasons, not only in that it's being nominated, but it's winning Best Picture awards left, right, and center. And good! I'm glad this movie isn't being disregarded just for being an action flick. Because not only from a filmmaking perspective, but also a social point of view, Mad Max: Fury Road is absolutely brilliant, and important, and absolutely deserves the recognition that it's currently getting, and hopefully will continue to get moving forward.
(David Robert Mitchell)
I'm just gonna say it right off the bat, this is the best damn horror release I've seen in about a decade. This movie gets right what so many other horror films get oh so wrong, and harkens back to older John Carpenter films, both in terms of its style and its excellent score, back when horror movies were about scaring the living daylights out of you. And this movie can be absolutely terrifying. Some of the imagery here is the stuff nightmares are made out of. And the way it's all captured is still my favorite camera work of the whole year, done in a way that constantly keeps you on edge, constantly keeps your eyes scanning the scenery, looking for anything out of place.
The premise is fairly simple enough, but the movie's filmed in the most clever and effective way possible that maintains the tension all the way through. And as much as it may at times seem to over-explain things, it leaves quite a bit of visual details hidden throughout that only those who are really paying attention will be able to pick up on, making for a rewarding experience at that. And the cast of characters we follow are all fully fleshed out three dimension people who you come to care for and hope they make it out alive. Maika Monroe especially stood out, who, after her showings both here and in the similarly Carpenter-esque film The Guest, is a new young actor who is definitely on my radar now.
I loved this movie, and I especially loved the way they filmed this movie. In a day and age where most horror movies have forgotten what it actually means to be scary, It Follows acts as a good reminder of better times, not relying on cheap jump scares, but actually taking its time to gradually build a true looming sense of dread that'll follow you home and stick with you. Truly a modern classic in the genre.
And now, this brings us to my pick for the #1 Best Movie of 2015...
This movie is an absolute miracle. One of the best screenplays ever written in the history of cinema, brought to life in the very best film Pixar has ever produced, by an incomparable margin. To call this movie brilliant is quite frankly cutting it short, this movie is something else entirely. They thought of absolutely everything for this movie, and executed it all in a way that manages to tackle such a complex subject in such a seamless manner.
Even now, several months after seeing it, just thinking about certain scenes still gives me chills and starts to make my eyes well up. This is one of the most emotionally powerful movies that has ever been produced, and is, in my opinion at least, the absolute most must see movie of the entire year.
Earlier in the year I wrote one of my more extended pieces really breaking down just how much this movie meant to me, so anything I write about it here will feel like I'm just repeating myself. So I would just direct you to my original review of it for a more in-depth break down, and suggest that you just go see this movie and experience the perfection that is Inside Out for yourself.
So there it is again, my Top 10 Movies of 2015. And those weren't the only good films from this year, there were tons more, and I could keep listing more and more films all night, but this should suffice for now. However, not all was good, and so, seeing as I won't be doing a separate post for the worst of the year, I'll quickly toss out my picks for the Top 5 Worst Movies of 2015 here as an added bonus.
#5 - Aloha (Cameron Crowe)
#4 - The Age of Adaline (Lee Toland Krieger)
#3 - Cinderella (Kenneth Branagh)
#2 - Jupiter Ascending (Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski)
#1 - Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow)
And I'll throw out a Dishonorable Mention to Leo Gabriadze's Unfriended as well. And I could get really in-depth as to why these are all the worst of the year (that I've seen at least), but I really can't be bothered to create an entire post for it, so I'm just tossing those out there for anyone who might be curious, seeing as those picks usually tend to stir up the most interest anyhow for some reason. But honestly, bad as those movies may have been, there were far fewer bad movies this year compared to the good, and here's hoping that we see that trend continue moving into the next year as well!