After ringing in the new year with no new releases (unless you count The Hateful Eight, which technically opened over Christmas and went wide this weekend), it’s time to reflect on the year that was and reveal my picks for the top 10 movies of the year. This list is compiled from the 110 movies I saw in theaters in 2015, 51 of which were graded an A- or above. What it doesn’t include, are some of the most recent releases, such as The Revenant and the aforementioned Quinten Tarantino joint, as I haven’t had the chance to see them yet. But enough with the small talk. Let’s get to my top ten movies of 2015 (and the 5 worst movies of the year). Be warned: some of these choices may shock even the mast ardent of film buffs.
Top 10 Best
Bonus Choice (#11) — The Gift
Joel Edgerton’s first foray behind the camera as a writer and director is a quiet exploration of the psychological consequences that bullying and rumors can have on children, and how those experiences may affect a person as an adult. Jason Bateman is fantastic as always, and Edgerton gives such a subtly creepy performance, you’re never quite sure whether he’s genuine in his need to forgive, or has something much more sinister up his sleeve.
#10 — Spotlight
Based on the true events surrounding the 2002 sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church, Spotlight takes us behind the scenes with the Boston Globe journalists who fought to uncover the conspiracy and get the information out to the public. Mark Ruffalo is the standout among a stellar cast that includes another strong performance by Michael Keaton, whose career as of late has gotten a good shot of adrenaline. If only more journalists were this devoted to the truth.
#9: The Walk
Robert Zemeckis has been a favorite director of mine for a long time, and the way he carefully crafts the true story of Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is at times humorous, at times serene and at times breathtaking, as we not only experience the majesty of Petit’s famous tightrope walk across the now infamous twin towers, we also walk with him along his journey into his own cloud of infamy.
#8: Paper Towns
I’m not sure what it is, but I found this adaptation of John Green’s novel to be extraordinarily well done. From the sincerity of the actors to the perfectly structured beats of the story, Paper Towns deserves more credit than I believe it was given, delivering a touching story about teenage crushes and life-affirming truths without pandering to its audience with a typical Hollywood ending.
#7: Steve Jobs
Supported by a cast who all bring their A-games to the table, Michael Fassbender gives an award-worthy performance as Steve Jobs. But what I most appreciated about the film was the way in which screenwriter Aaron Sorkin structured the story around three major events in Steve’s life —which were all to announce new products that he had developed. Comparing it to 2013’s attempt at stepping into the mind of the mastermind behind Apple (Ashton Kutcher’s Jobs) would be like comparing a Michelin-starred meal cooked by Gordon Ramsey to something thrown together at Carl’s Jr.
Over the past seven years, Marvel has all but redefined cinema with the advent of serialized movie-going. But once they had capitalized on their most well-known properties, the question became, can they reach the same level of success with their lesser-known titles? The answer, as Ant-Man so perfectly proves, is yes. And they did so with a movie that returned the Marvel cinematic universe to a very personalized, simple story that didn’t involve aliens, magic or universal consequences. Well done, Marvel. Well done.
#5: Kingsman: The Secret Service
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this film going in, but coming out, my head felt like exploding into fireworks. The style of the film is so perfectly fresh that you never want it to end. Yes, the evil master plan put forth by Samuel L. Jackson’s lisping, blood-averse megalomaniac may a bit weak on the surface, but a well-written script, fine acting, spirited action, plenty of winks and references to the spy genre in general and a couple of surprises that had me shocked, confused and cheering all at the same time certainly made up for that.
#4: Ex Machina
I love a story that isn’t afraid to stay intimate, relying on the strength of only three actors to tell a riveting, compelling story that reaches to explore humanity and the dangers we all face when we as humans decide we’re ready to play God. Add in some brilliant special effects and what you get is a masterpiece of art, cinema and storytelling.
#3: Inside Out
Pixar does it again! Taking a concept that isn’t necessarily new (I remember watching Herman’s Head on television way back when) and making it fresh and relateable proves how powerful the storytellers at Pixar really are. Yeah, they don’t always make the most brilliant movies, but as their track record proves, their worst film is better than 95% of movies that are made in the Hollywood system. This is a story of emotions who, along with their human vessel, learn that sometimes it’s just as important to allow yourself to be sad as it is to be full of joy and happiness. Uhg… I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
A love-it-or-hate-it chapter in Neill Blomkamp’s repertoire, Chappie is one of those movies that if you’re not on board from the jump, you never will be. I, for one, was completely absorbed into the Short Circuit-inspired storyline, as it showed us the major role family plays in forming someone’s identity and how it can affect one’s actions — something I myself have written about. Chappie hits every beat with precision, giving us a crazy, loving portrait of a man who isn’t even real coming into his own and finding his soul.
#1: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Because it’s Star Wars, and I’m biased. (Which is why I included the bonus pick!)
Top 5 Worst
#5: The Gunman
I’ve never really liked Sean Penn as an actor. He always seems so smug and full of himself, and though I don’t usually let politics or what someone does in their personal life affect me when it comes to what movies I’ll watch, with Penn, his personal mindset bleeds into his performances, making them incredibly unbearable. That’s not to say I’ve never enjoyed any of his movies — his performance in Mystic River was hypnotizing. With that said, his turn as the gunman is so rote and dry, the movie flounders in a mucky place of inconsistency and confusion.
#4: Love the Coopers
I have a soft spot for Christmas movies, especially ones that revolve around dysfunctional families. But there was something about the dysfunctionality of the Coopers that never truly clicked, producing a rather bland, routine holiday film.
#3: The Boy Next Door
Jennifer Lopez is an above average actor who doesn’t ever seem to pick the right material. She’s a little out of her element as a forty-ish high school teacher who has an affair with a student… who’s already over the legal age limit? Wait, what? I thought this was supposed to be scandalous. It’s because of this decision to choose the safe road in a PC-enabled world that keeps this film from being the scintillating, surprising, icky and politically incorrect film it was meant to be.
#2: Child 44
What a waste of time. This slow burn of a film had me nearly falling asleep several times. Maybe that’s why I can’t quite remember anything that happened. But whatever it was, Tom Hardy labored through a script that is so full of nothing, my mind couldn’t bear to keep watching.
#1: Seventh Son
If Child 44 was a waste of time, Seventh Son was just a waste. Jeff Bridges snores his way through a typical story that doesn’t try anything new. In fact, none of the cast (which includes an awful bout of scenery chewing by Julianne Moore) seem to want to be there. Nor do the filmmakers, who rush through everything to churn out a product for the sake of churning out a product.
So there you have it. What do you think? Am I wrong? What are some of your top and bottom movies this past year? What do you think will be the best and worst movies of 2016?