As a fun tradition, I do a top ten of my favorite movies of the year. I posted these on my social media last year, but this year I decided to write about them for my blog. I look forward to sharing my favorites and creating a spirited discussion in the comments on my choices.
2015 was a phenomenally fun year to go to the movies. While I enjoyed almost every movie that I saw in the theater, here’s the ten I enjoyed the most.
A real return to form for Marvel after the slightly disappointing Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man brought the universe back down to size, both literally and figuratively. Paul Rudd is charming as Scott Lang, master thief and lovable protagonist and Evangeline Lilly was also fun to see as Hank Pym’s daughter. However, my favorite part of the film was Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man. His performance brought pathos and depth to what could’ve easily been a phone-in performance. His time on screen really elevated the film and made it more than just the beginning of Marvel’s “Phase Three.” The villain, played by House of Cards alum Corey Stoll, was a tad too mustache-twirly for me and it distracted me from the overall flow of the film. Nonetheless, Ant-Man offered a welcome surprise during the late summer lull in movies.
- Bridge of Spies
One of Spielberg’s best movies over the last decade, Bridge of Spies was exactly what I wanted from the film. Historically interested, beautifully written, and with acting that was second to none. Tom Hanks was brilliant in his role as insurance lawyer turned hostage negotiator James Donovan, showing once again why he’s one of America’s most-beloved actors. However, far and away the most riveting performance of the film was Mark Rylance, as the Soviet Spy Rudolf Abel. His powerful, wrenching performance beautifully complemented Hank’s casual grace, especially in their scenes together. A quiet, intense film, Bridge of Spies is a work that I want to revisit to catch what I missed the first time.
Picking up where Skyfall left off, Spectre is the second Bond film for director Sam Mendes and the fourth for actor Daniel Craig and it is a really good installment for the series. While Skyfall went for intensity and grit, Spectre went for flash and scope. This is the first Bond film where Craig actually looks like he enjoys the role, with more playful lines and a looser performance. The opening action sequence in Mexico City, with a masterful helicopter fight, is easily the best part of the film. That is, until you get to Christoph Waltz, who plays the elusive Oberhauser. His leering, pensive performance made for one of the best Bond villains in the series’ history. It is not as good as Skyfall, but it is pretty damn close, cementing that Craig’s era is the best since Sean Connery.
- The Martian
Based on one of my favorite books I read in 2015, The Martian is easily Ridley Scott’s best film in years. It is a testament to what good writing can do for a director like Scott, whose more recent work has been less than inspiring (I should do a separate blog on why Prometheus is my pick for worst movie I’ve seen in the last five years, if ever). Matt Damon is funny and warm as astronaut Mark Whatney, whose months long estrangement on Mars unites the United States and China to bring him back. Drew Goddard, who wrote the screenplay, adapted the novel beautifully, catching its essence and staying true to its vision. Gorgeous cinematography and set design lifted this wonderful ensemble piece from beginning to end. I just hope that Scott’s next Alien film is as good as this was. As long as Damon Lindelof has nothing to do with the screenplay, that just might happen. Ok, rant over. Regardless, The Martian was a triumph.
While I technically saw this movie this week, it came out in 2015, so I’m including it in this list.
Creed, a loose continuation of the long-celebrated Rocky franchise, was a gritty, poignant return to form for the series. Sylvester Stallone gives his best performance in years and Michael B. Jordan was magnificent as Donny Johnson, aka Adonis Creed. Ryan Coogler (of Fruitville Station acclaim) co-wrote and directed this film, and the realness he brought to Station comes through here. It is easily the best Rocky sequel since Rocky II (where Balboa actually beats Apollo Creed, the father of Adonis) and I hope they make another one.
- Love & Mercy
Chronicling the life and legacy of Beach Boy songwriting genius Brian Wilson, Love & Mercy was one of the most emotionally satisfying films I saw this year. Full disclosure: I am a massive Beach Boys fan and Brian Wilson is one of my favorite musicians. This may have jaded my perception of the film, but I don’t care. Paul Dano and John Cusack play Wilson from two crucial eras of his life; the former during the mid 1960s peak and fall of the pop songwriter and the latter during the late 1980s and 90s when he needed to get away from the ominous influence of Dr. Eugene Landy. While Cusack plays the older Wilson is a serviceable manner, Dano is sheer brilliance. Dano wasn’t playing Brian Wilson, he simply was him. The music throughout the film also played to the strengths of the narrative and Paul Giamatti’s performance as Dr. Landy was chillingly accurate. Love & Mercy is one of the best musical biopics I’ve ever seen and I hope Dano receives some awards for his performance.
- Kingsman: The Secret Service
Matthew Vaughn, the action visionary behind X-Men: First Class and Kickass, really kicks it into overdrive with Kingsman. This movie is non-stop, badass action fun from the moment go. Colin Firth, in a bit of a casting coup, plays superspy Harry Hart and doesn’t disappoint in that role. Newcomer Taron Egerton plays Firth’s protégé and also dazzles with his charm and action suave. If this isn’t a soft audition for Vaughn to direct a new era of Bond after Craig’s departure, I honestly don’t know what is. Nothing would please me more than Vaughn doing a Bond film with a young, adrenaline-fueled Bond that brings back some of the humor and fun of the older films. Alright, this section isn’t about Bond, but this film reminded me of the best that spy movies can bring to audiences. In that sense, Kingsman reinvigorates the action-spy genre and I loved every minute of it.
With excellent writing and a fantastic ensemble cast, Spotlight was my favorite drama piece in 2015. Inspired by the true story of the Boston Globe’s 2002 expose of child rape and the cover up of priests within the city’s Catholic Church and beyond, the film is more relevant than ever. The entire cast blew me away, especially Mark Ruffalo, who should get an Oscar nod for his performance as eccentric journalist Michael Rezendes. Michael Keaton, fresh off his brilliant performance in last year’s Birdman, does it again, proving that he is truly one of the best actors of his generation. This film is required viewing for anyone in the freethought movement, because it shows the dangers and evils inherent within a religious institution and the methods they use to cover up their crimes.
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens
For someone who has been a lifelong Star Wars fan, this had to be included in my list. It is just so wonderful to finally see a Star Wars movie that was actually Star Wars! JJ Abrams and company absolutely nailed it; this film definitely returns the sci-fi series to its former glory. My favorite character in the film was the enigmatic and tortured Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, reaffirming with my belief that a Star Wars film is only as good as its villain. Newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega breathe new life into the saga, and will easily carry future installments. The returning cast of Ford, Fisher, and Hamill really gave the film its credibility but didn’t overshadow the new characters. Disney has really figured out how the future of Star Wars should be, and for audiences, it means the sci-fi legacy of Star Wars is in safe hands.
- Mad Max: Fury Road
Without question or reservation, this was my favorite film of 2015. I remember leaving the film visually and physically exhausted, not wanting to talk much. I knew that I had seen something very special, a movie so good that it only happens once in a while. Visionary director George Miller, who created the Mad Max universe, did for the 80s franchise what JJ Abrams did for Star Wars, only more so. Fury Road is one of the greatest action films ever made; its cinematography and storytelling will be taught in film school. Practical effects, beautiful camera work, and a loose, compelling narrative does exactly what you want as a viewer. Tom Hardy is excellent as Mad Max, but the runaway role was Charlize Theron as Furiosa. Alongside some of the most badass action I’ve ever seen on screen, this film is a feminist parable and warning about the dangers of environmental disaster and our continued reliance on fossil fuels. It gives the regular action film buff more than just dazzling visuals; it tells a story that is simple, yet poetic. I hope they do a sequel, but if they don’t, it is a fitting tribute to the legacy of George Miller and the insane world that he invented.
That’s it! That’s my top ten for 2015. Let me know what you think of my list. Did I leave any off you would have put there? Say so in the comments.