Mike’s Top Ten Films of 2015

This is the first top ten list I’ve posted on this site that I’ve actually been excited about. Every other year, I’m usually struggling to get certain films seen under the wire, or I don’t have enough films that I really feel confident about in saying they were my favorites. I always feel like I need more time or don’t have enough movies.

This year was amazing. I had a full ten that I was ready to go with before Thanksgiving. And I had extras to make up a legitimately solid 11-20, all this with a solid 6-7 films I still needed to see that easily were in the top ten conversation. I’m ready this year. I’ve got 20 choices that could all be in my top ten.

2015 was a year where I found myself more open to liking movies than I’ve ever been. I went to the theater more than I have in a long time. Last year, I opened my list up to include four tiers of films. This year, I could have gone to five. The films feel all around better than they’ve been since 2012.

This will proceed the way all my top ten lists proceed. After it, I’ll list my 11-20, and then list tiers two, three and four of films I also really enjoyed. I will also, for the first time, comment on each of the tiers (though not as in depth as the top ten or 11-20. More of a general overview at the bottom). And there’s also a new category we’ll get to after all that.

The disclaimer I give to everyone before I list the ten is as follows: I try to make a list that will hold up as my ten favorite films no matter when I rank them. Too often will people put trendy movies on their top ten even though they don’t really enjoy them. I want the films I know I am gonna go back and watch and enjoy and love in five years or ten years, even if they won’t appear anywhere near other people’s top ten lists now.

If, in ten years, when presented with the same batch of films, my top ten list (and even 11-20, to an extent) matches 90% or more to what I have here, then that, to me, is a success. Tastes do change, but if I know myself well enough to pick the right films that will hold up as my favorites, then I’m doing something right.

It’s not worth trying to fit in with everyone else if that’s not how you really feel. You have to do you, and like what you like, and not compromise to fit in or apologize to anyone for it.

Here are my top ten films of 2015:


10. Brooklyn

I’m so shocked. I saw this at a preview screening a month before it came out. I knew this was right up my alley and that I’d like it. I didn’t think I’d like it quite as much as I did, but that part was well within the realm of possibility. My immediate reaction upon seeing it was, “Everyone else is gonna hate this movie.” Because it’s such a throwback. It feels like the kind of movie that only I’d love but everyone else would go, “Yeah, I guess it’s okay.” The movie that I’d say should be nominated for Best Picture and no one else gives a shit about because it’s some small indie that no one cares about. (I’m always shouting about one of those.) So imagine my surprise two months later when this movie is being talked about as one of the favorites in all the awards conversations. I honestly could not have seen that coming, and it makes my job of justifying this a whole lot easier.

I had a really tough time at the bottom of this list, because 1-8 were pretty much locked, and 9 was always on there. But with 10, I had five legitimate choices for this spot. Not getting into specifics (that’s a conversation for another time), there were really three choices. One was more of a boring, “safe” choice. This was the solid choice that I wasn’t sure about. And the third one seemed like the obvious choice, knowing me and what I go for and would make perfect sense. So I watched both of the movies again, back to back, in order to decide. And within twenty-five minutes of seeing this movie again, I’d made my decision.

This movie is so lovely. The acting is superb. Saoirse Ronan is astounding here. When I saw it, I knew she was good, but it took a second viewing to realize just how good she is. And Julie Walters nearly steals the movie as the woman who runs the boarding house. It’s just such a sweet and unassuming movie that doesn’t have a false bone in its body. I thought it would appeal to me because… well, you know, it’s basically my heritage wrapped into one (Irish, Italian, Brooklyn). But it’s not even that. It’s the story of a girl coming to America and starting a life for herself. It’s universal. Everyone can watch this and feel what she feels.

I don’t regret putting this here for a second. This was one of my favorite films of the year. And even if I chickened out and didn’t put this here, it wouldn’t have fallen any lower than 12. I will always consider this one of my favorites of 2015 no matter where this ends up being ranked in five years.


9. Sicario

This movie grabs you from the opening image. A lot of that has to do with the gorgeous cinematography by Roger Deakins, but a lot of it also has to do with Denis Villeneuve, who is now on a monster roll after Prisoners and Enemy. He takes what could have been a very straightforward movie about the drug war and turns it into something takes a larger aim at systemic and institutional corruption while also giving you all of the tense and thrilling set pieces you’d want in a standard action movie.

The best decision they made was to ground you solely within the point of view of Emily Blunt’s character. We only really see what she sees and know what she knows for most of the film. Which is insanely little. What we’re left with is a series of disorienting scenes where we’re thrust from place to place, essentially along for the ride, trying to figure out what’s actually happening, picking up whatever clues we can along the way. And by the time we/she figures out what is actually happening, it’s too late to stop any of it or do much of anything about it, so now we have to see it through. Which is exactly when the film pulls the masterstroke of switching POVs to Benicio del Toro for fifteen minutes. When you think about what the actual progression of events of this film is, it’s actually really simple and wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if it didn’t have this combination of director, DP and stars behind it.

I’m amazed by how fluid this movie is. The set pieces in this film are small, but breathtaking. The border crossing, the tunnel, the cop car/mansion. Even the house at the beginning. Wonderfully staged, brilliantly shot, and memorable to the extreme. This is one of those movies that has it all. You can watch it as a film buff, you can watch it as a regular audience member who wants action and explosions. It works from every side of the coin. Which means that this will likely not get any of the awards attention it deserves (much like Prisoners).

Star Wars The Force Awakens

8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I’m glad this is here. I think we all had a little trepidation about this all along. It’s not that I was worried it would be like the prequels. It was more — J.J. Abrams has become the go-to franchise director when you don’t want your movie to have an ounce of style to it. He’s a man who will deliver an entertaining, yet usually unspectacular action movie. Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, and now Star Wars. It’s unfathomable that one director would make a movie in more than one franchise, let alone three. But all the trailers made it look promising, and you figured, as long as it felt like Star Wars, it would be at least pretty good.

I think I’m still processing my feelings about this movie. I’ve seen it twice. But what I can say is, it does feel like Star Wars. The atmosphere, the universe — it feels like the original trilogy and not the prequel trilogy. Yes, it’s paced too quickly and every scene (every goddamn scene) ends with some sort of turn to push us into the next scene (can’t we let scenes breathe anymore?) and keep things moving at breakneck pace. I also probably have some problems with the overall story and some of the decisions that were made, specifically how, broad strokes, this is the same progression as A New Hope, and they could have maybe hidden that a little better than they did (not to mention some logic and character handling questions). But that’s not what this is about. What this is about is — does it feel like a Star Wars movie? Did it make you happy when you watched it? Did you feel like it gave you everything you were expecting to get out of this movie? And for me that answer is yes.

I saw it once opening night and once with my family. The opening night watch was just to have seen it to avoid all the spoilers and everything that you’re bound to hear for a film of this magnitude in the place that I live if you don’t see it opening night. The second watch was to see what I really thought about it, and how I really enjoyed it as a film, knowing what would happen. The second watch is always the more important watch.

And I have to say — overall, it’s fun. I can’t ask anything more of this movie. It brings back characters I remember, it gives me new ones I’m interested in (if not fully developing one of them at all), gives you a fun story that’s entertaining throughout. It’s almost like Creed, in a way. You’re not ashamed of what it’s doing to the product, and it makes you feel like you’re coming back to see old friends.

Sure, I could say there were other movies on 11-20 I “liked” better than this. But this is 2015. Is there any chance that in five years, I’m gonna rewatch those movies more than this one? I openly talk to people about how I think Dark Knight Rises is a giant mess of a movie, and that’s still in my top ten for 2012. This movie is gonna get watched. And in the long run, it’s gonna end up here. So why pretend like it won’t? There’s enough good films to go around.

The Hateful Eight

7. The Hateful Eight

Oh, what? Quentin’s not number one? I had a bit of a sneaking suspicion that might happen. Having read the scripts for Basterds and Django beforehand, I knew immediately they’d be my favorite films of their respective years. This one, I thought, “Yeah, I guess that would be a good movie.”

Keep in mind, it’s not that this is a bad movie, or that I didn’t like it. After all, look at where it is. The problem is that you’re dealing with someone whose really only “missed” once. So to have a film be closer to a miss than the rest is a bit strange.

The thing I’m noticing with his movies as I go further is — I know more. And I see more things each time I watch them. I see all the little tricks, and things he adds onto the films that either you just notice or annoy you slightly. Almost like you do in a long relationship. It’s weird watching this, knowing that not only was the plot essentially lifted from an old TV show (which I don’t mind. As a genre, all the stories are constantly repeated, and in a sense, based on that), but he used it to reference himself. You realize that this is a western Reservoir Dogs, right? (Which is ironic, considering that plot was basically lifted from elsewhere too.) And I have a weird relationship to that knowledge, because it doesn’t bother me, but it’s also there.

Now, apart from all the issues of him using the n-word and misogyny (because Jennifer Jason Leigh gets the fuck beaten out of her in this movie) — which I didn’t let deter me so much, since what is the western if not built on racism and misogyny (and whiskey and cold blooded murder) — I really like what he attempted here. All these characters showing up, and feeling each other out, and then a murder happening, and figuring out whodunit. It’s more of a chamber piece. It builds nicely until shit goes south. It took me two watches, but on the second one, I got it. I was able to watch this as a movie and enjoy it and see why I’d put this on more than once and enjoy it. It’s not gonna be my favorite Quentin movie, but it’s still really entertaining for me, and I think this will hold up just fine.


6. Room

This might have been the most emotionally satisfying movie of 2015 for me. It’s such a beautiful film. This movie held up even better on second viewing. This is another one of those movies where I couldn’t believe it’s getting the amount of love from everyone else that it is. This felt like one of those movies that I’d be talking up that wouldn’t get any kind of attention at all.

Think of the premise of this movie: a woman is abducted and raises her son in a room, making him think that’s the only place that exists in the entire world. At best, this seems like one of those movies that only a certain section of the population would see and love. And yet, I feel like even people who don’t know movies have told me how much they want to see this. I went to see this on, I think, its second weekend, to a packed house. I couldn’t believe it. It’s great to know that a lot of the population is onto the movies that I think are great. Saves me a lot of trouble.

The really great thing the movie does is movie make that room the entire world for the first 45 minutes of the movie. To the point where, when we go outside, we actually feel what this kid is feeling, seeing the world for the first time. And then we shift into a beautiful movie about grief and trauma and it really builds to a satisfying conclusion. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are so good here, as is Joan Allen. And Lenny Abrahamson is on a roll, between this and Frank, which I adored.

The thing that surprised me most about this is how easily I was able to put this on again and watch it. Sometimes I worry that these types of films get me to love them, rank them highly, but I don’t actually want to go back and see them after that initial watch. This movie I was able to put on, no problem, and slip right back into it. This will stay very solidly on this list for years to come. I love this movie.

The Martian

5. The Martian

Ridley Scott finally made a good one! After a decade of misfires and overdone or underachieving movies, Ridley Scott has finally made a movie everyone can get behind.

It’s hard to screw up a space movie, especially with a good director and a good cast attached. So I had faith that this would be at least pretty good. But what they achieve here is something truly extraordinary. This is actually a movie that’s as good and as watchable as Apollo 13. It strikes the right balance of humor, tension, thrills and science to make everyone pleased.

The two things that struck me most were how lighthearted it was, which I respected, and also how well it treats science. From the little I’ve read into it, I hear that it gets a fair amount of the science right. And more importantly than that, doesn’t it make you excited about science? It certainly made me excited about it. I felt like a kid again, wanting to learn more about space and all these different things the movie goes into. This movie does more for science and learning than anything else. Which is the best compliment I can pay it.

This movie is a cross between Cast Away and Apollo 13, which are great, great movies. And the wonderful thing about it is that it brings you along every step of the way, showing you how problems are solved and explaining how the process is going to work. You feel like you understand why everything is happening. They really condense a lot of information into comprehensible dialogue. And on top of that, it’s just fun. It’s a fun movie.

I’m really happy this turned out to be a great movie, and even happier that this is a movie I can get behind for everyone to love, especially in an age where we’re not as invested in space exploration anymore and there isn’t as much enthusiasm for science that there once was. I hope there’s a kid out there who sees this movie and decides, “I want to learn how to do things like that,” and goes on to work for NASA because of it.

Steve Jobs

4. Steve Jobs

This movie is perfect. There was a lot of chaos surrounding it before they started shooting, but the final product is unmistakably brilliant.

It all begins with Aaron Sorkin’s script, which doesn’t take a traditional biopic approach, but instead chooses to frame the film as three 40-minute, one-act plays, with all the same characters at different stages of their lives. It’s such a stroke of genius. And then Danny Boyle’s decision to shoot each of the segments on 16, 35 and digital really helped show that progression of technology as well.

Any movie that Sorkin writes, I’m going to watch. The man is a genius, and everything he writes is pure gold. Especially in film. You can’t argue with that track record. And then, the cast. They so wonderfully bring every character to life. Fassbender looks nothing like Steve Jobs and yet you fully believe this man is Steve Jobs throughout the film. Seth Rogen acquits himself very well in a dramatic role (as he’s done before). Kate Winslet is the MVP of the film. She is the rock that solidifies every scene she’s in and cannot get enough praise for what she did here.

I’ve seen this movie three or four times now, and each time I see it, my opinion of it goes higher and higher. It’s so tightly structured and wonderfully executed. Easily one of the joys of my year, and will always be a top five film for me for 2015.

Mad Max Fury Road

3. Mad Max: Fury Road

I can’t even try to play devil’s advocate that this film doesn’t belong here. And I won’t. I won’t even put this lower to try to calm all the people down who have this at #1. Because it’s great. I’ve seen it a bunch now, and it’s a perfectly constructed film. It’s a thrill ride from beginning to end, and it’s at least 75% practically shot in terms of visual effects, and it’s impossible to see this movie and not come away impressed by some aspect of it.

George Miller is a visual genius. In most cases, to call a director a “mastermind” in a trailer would be pretentious as shit, but not here. This is all him, and he deserves all the credit in the world for pulling this movie off. Because you can’t explain this movie to people. You can storyboard it, but even then, you can’t fully explain what it’s going to be until you make it. So the fact that he got a studio to put up the amount of money this film cost and let him go off into the desert for however many years and come back with this shows an amazing lack of faith in his vision. And goddamnit if he didn’t pull it off.

There’s nothing complex or mysterious about it. It’s just action. Operatic and immensely entertaining. I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t top three for the year for me.

Inside Out - 101

2. Inside Out

You cannot even begin to estimate the happiness I have that this made it into the top two for me this year. I was so down on Pixar. Toy Story 3 was this beautiful, emotionally fulfilling movie. And then they followed it up with two unnecessary sequels that weren’t particularly good and one original movie that wasn’t quite up to snuff for them. (Not to mention The Good Dinosaur, which is the same.) This movie at least felt like a Pixar movie. The set up was one of those things where you go, “Oh, of course they’d think of that.” So I hoped it would

It was better than anything I could have hoped for. This movie is beautiful, profound, brilliant, and tugged at my every emotion along the way. Pixar is back to form in a big, big way. To me, this is actually one of the best three or four movies they’ve ever made. I love this movie wholeheartedly. It’s impossible not to lose your shit three or four times during this movie. Fucking Bing Bong, man, Or the part after that when all the emotion just pours out. It’s weird for me to think that kids will enjoy this movie as much as I did. But if that’s the case, then I’m even more impressed with this movie. I can’t profess my love for this movie enough.

I also would like you all to know that I saw this movie for the first time at a Korean movie theater in 3D at 1am. Sobbing uncontrollably actually is a universal language.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - 112

1. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

This will be the first year in the last five my favorite film of the year has absolutely nothing to do with the awards conversation whatsoever. Which is strange to me, that I’ve been close to it that many times.

I saw this as part of a double feature with Jurassic World. I had zero expectations for it in January, and then moderate expectations after it won Sundance, and then was excited to see it when I heard that a lot of people were coming out saying it was really good. I was not expecting to get what I got, though.

This movie was the best single experience I had at the movies in 2015. I laughed, I cried, it was heartfelt, it was brutally frank at times. Any time I got nervous for how it would deal with certain aspects of the high school movie, it managed to avoid falling into cliches or cleverly subvert those cliches.

Add to that the three central performances. Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke and RJ Cyler are so good here. The direction here is absolutely wonderful, and is littered with references and nods to other movies that any film fan will really enjoy. (I got so, so happy when the score from The Conversation started playing.) This movie isn’t afraid to let scenes play out. The big argument they have in the middle is shot entirely in one take from one camera angle without any movement. It’s wonderful.

When this movie came out on Blu-Ray, I spent an entire weekend watching it over and over again. Which I never do. I’ll never watch a movie and go, “You know what? I want to watch that again,” and put it right back on. I did that with this movie for an entire weekend. I really, really love it.

Going forward, it’s gonna be interesting to see how all of these movies hold up. I feel a lot of them will be remembered fondly. And yet, I’m fairly certain that no matter what happens, this will still be my favorite movie from this year. Which might be what I want in a top ten list. For everyone to know 10-2 and then go, “Wait, what’s #1?” And then I get to show them.

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11. The Revenant — This was really the only moderate surprise for me, as I compiled this. I thought for sure this would end up top ten. Not that 11 is a bad place to land. I always have a weird relationship with movies I’ve also read the scripts for. Because if the script is great, you go into a movie hoping it will contain everything you’ve read. And the script for this movie is brutal. The movie’s not even close to some of the shit that’s in the script. By the time he gets to where he’s going in the script, you fully believe he has every right to kill anyone and anything based on what he’s been through. So seeing this movie was a different experience for me. I was more interested in how they were going to pull it off rather than what was going to happen. Maybe if I didn’t know that, this might have cracked the top ten. Maybe it still will. This is one of those movies where there is no star. The wilderness is the star. And the actors are just trying to survive it. It’s brutal, and incredibly well told. I personally wish they’d stuck a little more to the script version, which was more coherent in terms of Leo’s journey, but I can’t fault them for doing things the way they did. The movie still works very very well.

12. Spotlight — I really, really liked this movie. I didn’t love this movie, but I liked it a whole lot. It’s a wonderful movie that portrays journalism perfectly and really does the job right. So often does it feel like movies take liberties with the job in order to make the story more interesting. Here, we see these people going through directories and combing through old clips in order to corroborate sources and check facts. This is a modern day All the President’s Men. The stakes are smaller, but the job is the same. And in an era when the newspaper is a dying medium, this is a love letter to journalism the way The Martian is a love letter to science. The performances are all great (specifically Keaton, Ruffalo and Tucci), and it’s hard not to get engrossed in this story as we see just how hard it is to bring truth to the public, specifically in cases of institutional corruption.

13. Spectre — If The Revenant were a surprise omission from the top ten, this might qualify as a shocker. I did really love this movie. But I rate Bond differently than I do other films. I did love this film. And maybe in five years I will revisit this movie enough to put it back in the top ten. But for now, I just like it a lot. I know it’s got problems and I know it’s not perfect, but I don’t really care about that. This is a perfectly good Bond movie that works as part of the Craig arc, and while it’s not Casino Royale or Skyfall, it’s right there with Quantum of Solace as an above average Bond movie. This movie outdoes all but one of the Roger Moore Bond and Pierce Brosnan movies (one each). What more can you ask out of Bond? So if you were thinking I’d jump to put this in my top ten because of that, you were mistaken. It’s high, but I’m not slobbering over it.

14. The Big Short — This movie shocked the shit out of me. When I sat down to watch it, I thought it would be one of those “Oh, nice, you tried to make an awards movie and it didn’t quite work” deals. And the first ten minutes were a little rough for me, but then the movie got better and better as it went along. Until by the end, I was fully in love with it. And then the second time I watched it, I liked it even more. This is a hell of a movie. They really made something great here. I flirted with top ten for this for a minute. That’s why I love this year. I can go as deep as 14 and make a case for top ten for all of them.

15. Bridge of Spies — Steven Spielberg seems to exist purely in this space for me now. He makes really good, really watchable movies that I can go back and watch a bunch. But I don’t love them. Lincoln was really, really good. Not top ten. This movie — really, really good. Also a Cold War spy movie. And a trial movie. Double points. Still didn’t love it. They’re starting to feel a bit too sterile, if you know what I mean. Woody Allen movies feel that way. Eastwood too. They feel too clean, too slick. There’s none of that youthful energy that used to be in them. Plus, how many endings does this movie have? Come on, man, pick an ending. That said, it’s really entertaining. Mark Rylance is great, and the scenes where Hanks is negotiating both sides for both guys are a lot of fun. Chances are, if you make a Cold War spy movie, I’m going to like your movie.

16. Son of Saul — This was a harrowing experience. Major kudos to the filmmakers for sticking with their plan for how to depict this movie. This movie is militantly focused on one individual, and only one individual. Which is perfect. Because there’s a lot of horrifying shit that’s happening just out of the corner of the frame a lot of the time, and we don’t see it. We only get peripheral glimpses of it, and can see it reflected in the stoic face of our protagonist. This is a really tough movie to watch, but you feel all the better at the end of it. I’d be doing this a disservice by putting it any lower.

17. Anomalisa — Charlie Kaufman is a genius. He made a movie with puppets about a guy going on a business trip. I’m not kidding, that’s what this movie is about. A guy lands in a city, stays at a hotel, has dinner with some people, meets a woman, and then goes home. And yet, it’s so much more than that. You really get a great portrait into the mundane, and how it’s so easy to close ourselves off to the outside world until it’s all a blur that looks and sounds the same. A lot of people won’t understand this, but that’s to be said about every Charlie Kaufman movie. The man is a visionary, and I’m astounded that he gets anything made anymore. But I’m glad he does, because his films are always worthwhile.

18. Ex Machina — I couldn’t have seen this coming. Sci-fi movie, dropping in April, no buzz whatsoever. Solid actors and people on it. But I couldn’t have expected this. This was hands down one of the best movies of the year, and most people will tell you that. It’s a small movie that takes place almost entirely in a single location, and it’s three (or four) characters playing out a drama. And it’s absolutely spellbinding. It’s not overly complex. You can see what’s going on and guess where it’s going if you choose to. But that doesn’t make it any less interesting. Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson are so good here. And the movie does so much with so little. Plus, the dancing scene is still the single greatest moment of 2015 in film for me. No scene will top that one in my mind. It’s perfection.

19. Creed — I loved this movie. It manages to be modern yet still have all of the hallmarks of a Rocky movie. They don’t betray the franchise at all. Sure, it’s got a different flavor and that might put some people off, but this movie is incredibly well made. The fight sequences are astounding, and the scenes with Rocky are true to who he is. It brings that character back to basics in a really sweet way. This is one of those movies that I can pretend to not love, but if I didn’t put it here now, I will in two years anyway.

20. Joy — I’ve seen it twice now. Once on my own and once with my family. I’ve enjoyed it both times, and even more so the second time. This fits nicely into that David O. Russell oeuvre, where you can just put his films on and enjoy them effortlessly. It’s still diminishing returns, from Silver Linings to American Hustle to this. But this is an enjoyable movie that has a pretty high watchability factor. (P.S. This is totally his Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Which also had Dianne Ladd in it.)

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Tier Two:

  • 99 Homes
  • Babysitting
  • Beasts of No Nation
  • Black Mass
  • Bone Tomahawk
  • Carol
  • Crimson Peak
  • Dope
  • Everest
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
  • Jurassic World
  • Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
  • The Lobster
  • Love & Mercy
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
  • Victoria
  • The Walk
  • When Marnie Was There
  • Youth

I love how diverse tier two can be. You really see it all here. 99 Homes is a great drama with two strong lead performances and timely subject matter. Babysitting is one of the great discovery comedies of my year. Beasts of No Nation is a powerful film vividly told. Black Mass is a nice return to form for Johnny Depp with a lot of great actors in it. Bone Tomahawk is a film that just narrowly missed my top 20. It’s so well-done and horrifying I need everyone to see it if they think they can stomach a western.

Carol is a beautiful romance that fits in well with Todd Haynes’ other work. Crimson Peak is a wonderfully told gothic romance that looks gorgeous. Dope is so much fun with a killer soundtrack and great performances by young actors. Everest is a fun mountain climbing movie. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a great indie that, while it is hipster bait, it completely works even in black and white and in Persian. Jurassic World is a mess of a movie that’s a shitload of fun if you don’t think about the logic behind it all (and really love the original).

Kumiko the Treasure Hunter is a beautiful little oddity of a film that is entirely up my alley. The Lobster is a bizarre dystopian romance that you’re either gonna get or completely despise. Love & Mercy is a great biopic with great performances and a beautiful use of music. Man from U.N.C.L.E. was my preferred action movie of the year, even over Kingsman. It had everything I want in that kind of a spy movie. Mission Impossible was great once again, even if it did settle the franchise into an easily repeatable formula. Victoria was a wonderfully legitimate one-take film with a great central performance.

The Walk was part whimsy (lotta unicycles) and part unbelievable filmmaking, that wasn’t quite solid enough to hit the top 20 but was still very good. When Marnie Was There is another solid Ghibli effort (and hopefully not their last). And Youth is a terrific film about aging and one’s legacy and the beauty that exists within the world. In another year, almost half of these would be in 11-20.

If I were to really plug serval movies from this tier for people to actively seek out, they’d be: Bone Tomahawk, Dope, Love & Mercy and Victoria.

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Tier Three:

  • Cop Car
  • The Final Girls
  • Grandma
  • Infinitely Polar Bear
  • It Follows
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • The Last Five Years
  • Magic Mike XXL
  • The Night Before
  • Spring
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment
  • Straight Outta Compton
  • Suffragette
  • Tangerine
  • Time Out of Mind
  • Trash
  • Trumbo
  • The Voices
  • The Witch
  • Z for Zachariah

Great stuff here. The Witch isn’t coming out until next year, but it’s really terrific and managed to stick in my mind long after I saw it. It Follows is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in years (and I hate that genre). Kingsman was a rollicking good time, even if they used fast-mo too much. Cop Car was a huge surprise and a very pleasant one (love that scene with Kevin Bacon opening the car lock with string). Spring came out of nowhere for me and I really loved that movie quite a bit.

Magic Mike XXL was somehow even better than the first one, and way more fun. The Final Girls is a horror comedy with a heart that will always have my respect because it manages to make two separate stripteases germane to the plot. Z for Zachariah got squeezed out of the second tier but is really well done. The Voices was a script I dearly loved that turned into a good enough movie. The fact that it got made is a miracle unto itself. Grandma was a huge surprise for me in terms of how straightforward it was in both narrative and tone. Infinitely Polar Bear is a beautiful portrait brought to life perfectly by Mark Ruffalo. The Last Five Years is great because they sing every line of the film (so it’s sort of a hipster Umbrellas of Cherbourg/500 Days of Summer).

Sufragette is a solid film about important subject matter. Trumbo is a fun and breezy movie that feels about the same as all these old Hollywood recreations. Trash was a lesser Slumdog Millionaire that had some liveliness to it. The Night Before is a wonderfully drug-fueled Christmas movie with a lot of laughs. Time Out of Mind is a gripping portrait of a homeless man that features another solid under-the-radar performance by Richard Gere. The Stanford Prison Experiment was really solid and appropriately haunting. Straight Outta Compton is possibly the single greatest pleasant surprise biopic of the year.

And Tangerine. Holy fuck. That movie is so full of energy and life that you can’t help but enjoy it despite the limiting (for most audiences) subject matter. A good portion of these films would end up in tier two most years.

The movies to see here are: Cop Car, It Follows, Spring, Tangerine and The Witch.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tier Four:

  • Ant-Man
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Boy and the World
  • Chi-Raq
  • Christmas, Again
  • The Danish Girl
  • Entertainment
  • Far from the Madding Crowd
  • In the Heart of the Sea
  • Legend
  • The Little Prince
  • Macbeth
  • McFarland, USA
  • Mississippi Grind
  • Mr. Holmes
  • Mustang
  • Night Owls
  • Road Hard
  • The Second Mother
  • Spy

Crazy how tier four this year looks like most years’ tier three. These are usually the fun, but unspectacular action movies (Avengers, Ant-Man) and classy awards type movies that I liked but didn’t love (The Danish Girl, In the Heart of the Sea, Mr. Holmes, Macbeth, Legend).

Here we have a few really solid foreign films I liked quite a bit, like The Second Mother and Mustang. Boy and the World was a really well-animated movie that is both hand-drawn and much different from the usual crap out there. Road Hard is a nice little indie that works well. McFarland and Spy are two movies I had no expectations for (especially the latter, which I thought would be Unforgivable) that turned out to be really entertaining.

Christmas Again and Night Owls are two indies that got released quietly that were really solid and deserve to be seen. Entertainment was a movie that I did not expect to see at all. And boy, has that one stuck with me quite a bit since I saw it. Chi-Raq is uneven, but unique and interesting, and we know how I respect a movie that tries and doesn’t succeed over a movie that does the same as everything else. Mississippi Grind and Far from the Madding Crowd were also two very solid movies. And The Little Prince was a nicely animated film.

Standouts from this tier are: Christmas Again, Entertainment, Night Owls and Spy.

– – – – – – – – – –

New category! We’ll see if this one manages to hold up in future years or is a one-off.

I had a period around Thanksgiving where I had no new movies to watch, time to kill with things to do and a bunch of documentaries that could have been nominated that I had the option of seeing. So I decided to give them a shot. (Documentaries are great background noise when I’m working.) I called it The Great Documentary Purge of 2015. I watched like 20 or 30 of them. Usually I’m watching maybe five a year at most.

Given that I saw so much, I’m gonna rank my ten favorites. Plus, it allows me to fit more into my tiers up there, since I always rank (and treat) documentaries differently from features and I did have a few that I quite enjoyed.

Top Documentaries:

  • Amy
  • Cobain: Montage of Heck
  • Deli Man
  • Human
  • Iris
  • Live from New York!
  • The Look of Silence
  • Roger Waters The Wall
  • Where to Invade Next
  • The Wrecking Crew

This will tell you my general taste in documentaries: music, comedy or offbeat characters or situations. I really don’t care about most of the political stuff or the true crime stuff. Which is why I typically don’t watch the genre all that much, since most of the Oscar stuff tends to be more “serious” stuff.

– – – – –

I have no wise or insightful message to put at the end of this year’s list. I’m going to reiterate what I said up in the intro: like what you like. You do you. That’s why it’s your list. Learn what you like, not what you feel you need to like. You’re more interesting when your opinions are your own, not regurgitated from someone else.

– – – – – – – – – –


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