Top 10 Best Films of 2015

Christmas has just ended and the New Year has begun, so it's time to look back fondly on the year 2015 and give one more well deserved shout out to the best films of 2015! I have to say, this year was so good I almost scrapped my top ten list to make another top twenty list. The only reason I didn't because in practice I came in two films short to be able to do that without coming off forced, and thus the list was scaled back to ten. Never the less that is a great accomplishment! Before we get to the main event, here are the honorable mentions that didn't quite make the list:
The Hateful Eight
When Marnie Was There
Ex Machina
The Walk
The Martian
The Boy and the Beast

10. AmyDirector: Asif Kapadia
Rated: R (For language and drug material)

I'm not going to claim that I was a huge Amy Winehouse fan when I saw this movie, but “Amy” ends up being more than a simple documentary about a famous singer. It is actually a deeply intimate look into a famous woman who had a great talent, lots of fame, but would give all that up if she could just walk down the street without having her picture taken. This is a movie about how we as people prey on people's suffering and misery, all for cheap entertainment that we won't even remember a year from now. “Amy” has a lot to say about its title character, but it may have more to say about us.

9. Straight Outta Comptom 
Director: F. Gary Gray 
Starring: O'Shea Jackson, Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti
Rated: R (For language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use)

“Straight Outta Compton” is probably the single greatest achievement on this list, if only because it was a movie that got me to care very deeply for people who sing a style of music I really, really hate. Ignoring the music itself though, “Straight Outta Compton” is a deeply emotional story of inner city kids who had a lot of anger towards the world, channeled that anger into their music, and became successful enough that they could make better lives for themselves. The characters are deeply flawed, but they are human, and at the end of the film I couldn't help but nod and say “good for you guys; you made it out alright.”

8. The Stanford Prison Experiment Director: Kyle Patrick AlvarezRated: R (For language including abusive behavior and some sexual references)

Based on the real life experiments that took place in the early seventies, “The Stanford Prison Experiment” was one of the most controversial studies of all time because of what it revealed about human character. The movie about the experiment is both fascinating and disturbing. Sad because of the inhumanity we see on screen, yet compelling because of how it all plays out in front of us. Anchored by a great performance by Billy Crudup, this one sticks with you long after it is over.

7. Mad Max: Fury RoadDirector: George MillerStarring: Tom Hardy, Charlize TheronRated: R (For intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images)

If you need an example of how to make a great action movie, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is all you need to see to understand just how good the genre can be. With great acting, explosive special effects that blur the lines between what is computer animated and what is real, and a smart story that is told visually as opposed to verbally (among other things). In short, this is what every summer blockbuster should strive to be. What is most amazing is that this was directed by George Miller, who directed the very first “Mad Max” over thirty years ago. By returning to this reboot at the age of 78, he's pretty much schooled all of today's current film makers on how to stay relevant and keep evolving as an artist after so many years in the business.

6. The Revenant Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu Starring: Leanardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy Rated: R (For strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity)

Speaking of directors who like to reinvent themselves, if George Miller is the guy who shows an old dog can still learn new tricks, then Alejandro G. Iñárritu is the young dog who won't settle for the same type of dog food. After directing last year's Best Picture winner “Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” most directors would decide to take it easy for a few years. Not so with this man. “The Revenant” is an ambitious action film about a man who struggles for survival after being attacked by a bear. Like “Mad Max: Fury Road” the story is told almost completely through the visuals, as very little is spoken for great periods of time. Anchored by career best performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, “The Revenant” is one of the most brutal and gripping survival tales I've ever seen.

5. BrooklynDirector: John CrowleyStarring: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie WaltersRated: PG-13 (For a scene of sexuality and brief strong language)

The thing about making a move to start a new life is that it is very difficult. One of the biggest problems you will face is loneliness. “Brooklyn” follows an Irish girl as she moves from her native homeland to begin a new life in America. The film is masterful in its design but subtle in its execution. This is what great character dramas look like. This is not a fast moving film by any means. It takes its time, it's slow to build, and when it pays off it does so in the most emotional ways possible. This is a great movie of what it means to be American, and finding out that home is truly where the heart is. “Brooklyn” may be the simplest story on this list, but it is told in such a beautiful and profound way you can't help but have your breath taken away.

4. Steve JobsDirector: Danny BoyleStarring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan, Jeff DanielsRated: R (For language)

Out of all the movies on this list, “Steve Jobs” is probably the most tragic. Here is a movie about a man who was insanely talented, had great ideas that revolutionized people's everyday lives, and he could command an audience better than any rock star could. When he wasn't on stage though he was a complete failure as a human being. The film argues (quite convincingly) that Jobs had no real friends, no personal relationship that wasn't marred in dispute, and regardless what was going on in his personal life, it always took second place to the next product he was going to launch. This film also gets bonus points for having some of the best dialog in any movie of the year performed by great actors who know how to chew up the scenery for maximum effect. This is a great example where greatness in your field does not make you a great person in real life.

3. AnomalisaDirector: Charlie Kaufman, Duke JohnsonRated: R (For strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language)

Being released at the tail end of the year (and thus making this list by the skin of its teeth) is Charlie Kaufmans most ambitious project to date. Making his first animated movie, “Anomalisa” follows a man whose world has become mundane and monotone. He is desperately looking for some brightness back in his life, and feels he may have found it in the form of a woman named Lisa. This film is way too complicated and creative to perfectly sum up in a sentence (heck, my full length review doesn't do it justice), but believe me when I say this is a beautiful movie that has a lot to say about life and the human condition. And though this isn't a religious film by any means, it does strongly suggest that looking for long term happiness in the world is a losing proposition because that happiness simply doesn't exist on Earth. Of all the movies on this list, “Anamolisa” is likely to be the film that sparks the most conversations when it is over. 

2. SpotlightDirector: Tom McCarthyStarring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slatery, Stanley TucciRated: R (For some language including sexual references)

Despite concerns from the Catholic Church that “Spotlight” would ignite hate towards religion, this movie is not an anti-religious film so much is it an anti-crime movie. “Spotlight” tells the story of a small group of journalists who dared to peak behind the curtain of one of the biggest organizations in the world, found some disturbing information, and risked their careers to share that information with everyone else. With a great ensemble cast and sharp directing, this is a reminder of just how good movies can be, and why it is important to continue to support independent films because these are the sort of movies Hollywood just doesn't want to make anymore, and if they don't get made movie lovers and audiences in general lose.

1. Inside OutDirector: Pete DoctorRated: PG (For mild thematic elements and some action)

Now then, despite my comments on how Hollywood doesn't want to make innovative films like “Spotlight” anymore, there is at least one major Hollywood studio that does: Pixar. While they've been bit by the sequel bug just like all the other studios, the fact that they still have it in them to produce something as innovative and deep as “Inside Out” is proof that they are still a creative force to be treasured. With a concept that is out of this world even for them, the movie takes place inside the head of a twelve year old girl named Riley, and follows the inner workings of her mind and how her emotions work and play a part in how she lives her life.

Not only is Riley herself an interesting character, but the emotions inside her head are all interesting to watch and study. This is a film that is not only entertaining but deep on many levels you cannot possibly see coming. It is one of those rare movies that helps us understand life a little better and gives us a world we can only imagine in our wildest dreams. Many people have claimed “Inside Out” is the best animated movie of the year, but this sells the movie very short. It is the best film of the year regardless of the technique behind the making of it, and it is one of those rare movies that people of any age can watch and gain something valuable from!

And that's it for this year! See you in 2017 when we tackle the films in 2016!

In case you missed last year's list, make sure to check it out: